BY M. NICOLE NAZZARO
BOSTON, Mass. – Everything you’ve heard is true. The 118th running of the Boston Marathon went off yesterday triumphantly, under near-perfect conditions, a year removed from the attacks that left four people dead and a region in shock.
But what you may not have heard is this race wasn’t just run over a few hours starting Monday morning. For the 72 hours starting on a warm and sunny Saturday, the Hub was a patchwork quilt of kindness, vigilance, and even an opportunity to outrun an NFL quarterback in the granddaddy of all marathons.
This year’s Boston Marathon far more than a one-day road race. The gestures of warmth toward visitors who poured into town to support the race included memorials, lovely Easter services, and even a beautiful knitting project by the Old South Church at the finish line. The Marathon Scarf Project 2014 went viral, resulting in 7,000 marathoners receiving a gift of a homemade blue and yellow scarf (the colors of the Boston Athletic Association, which puts on the marathon), many of which were mailed in from crafters all over the world. When you picked up your scarf at the church, you got a hug and a wish of good luck on race day from a church member.
The streets were full of visitors, especially along the stretch of Boylston Street where the bombs were detonated last year. Police were vigilant and visible, but also appreciative. “Thank you for coming,” I heard over and over again from officers guarding the streets where we walked.
All of these gestures preceded the most memorable Boston Marathon in my lifetime.
It started Saturday morning, with one of the sweetest little 5K races I’ve ever run – and by “little,” I mean little only in comparison to the almost 32,000 people who started yesterday’s Boston Marathon. The Watertown, Mass., police department held a 5,000-meter (3.1-mile) race on Saturday, April 19, commemorating the events in their town a year ago that led to the capture of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.
They expected a few hundred folks to show up. They got over 1,600 runners on a gorgeous early-spring day. A deejay spun tunes, like Pharrell Williams’ hit “Happy.” The first person to crack the bombing case – amputee Jeff Bauman, who identified one suspect from his hospital room last year – exchanged an embrace with the last person to do so, boat owner and Watertown resident Dave Henneberry, who found the second suspect hiding in his dry-docked boat in his backyard during the manhunt. Together, they were the race starters.
After the race, I listened in as my husband, a lifelong boater, exchanged boat tales with Henneberry. Hennberry was given $50,000 by benefactors to replace his bullet-ridden boat after the capture of the second bombing suspect last April. The boat has since been confiscated as evidence in the case. Henneberry decided on a 1987 Rampage fishing boat, list price around $25,000. We heard that he donated the remainder to the One Fund to benefit the bombing victims.
It was that kind of week. Generosity, warmth, and kindness all around – and then, one tremendous road race.
Marathon Monday reminded me of another race that I covered for Runner’s World magazine, but did not run in myself: the 2001 New York City Marathon, held less than two months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Then, too, there was a sense of defiance in the city, a feeling that a way of life had been attacked and that a marathon was going to help the citizens of the city glue their community back together. The police presence was very visible – and the race went off without a hitch.
That’s what it felt like yesterday as we made our way from the Boston Common, the large park adjacent to the finish line, to the buses that would take us to the starting line to Hopkinton. I have never seen so many law enforcement officers in one place – or so many helicopters flying overhead. But it didn’t feel like a war zone.
It felt like we all understood what was at stake. The region had committed all of its resources to ensuring that this event succeeded in reclaiming the race as a day of celebration.
Because I no longer spend Marathon Mondays in the press room, I missed out on American Meb Keflezighi’s astonishing win in the men’s division, and the course record set by Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo in the women’s event. Keflezighi is the real deal. I worked for NBC at the 2004 Athens Olympics, when he won a silver medal in the marathon, the first by an American man in that event since 1976. But he was on nobody’s top-five dance card before this race – except his own. Fellow American Tatyana McFadden won the women’s wheelchair event for the second straight year. Overall, it was a great day for American marathoning.
While Meb gave a rousing speech about this win being for Boston and for America, I was out on the course, negotiating huge crowds of fans. There were the usual gestures of this day (orange slices and ice cubes being handed out by people along the course, in addition to the official Gatorade and water provided by race organizers) and some funny moments, too. A few wise guys were offering beer, donuts and cigarettes to runners in the staging area near the start line. A more virtuous crew across the street was offering Vaseline, sunblock, safety pins – all free of charge.
The early miles were joyous, with larger crowds than I have ever seen in the small towns that make up the first part of the course: Hopkinton, Ashland, Natick and Framingham. Every town had huge crowds at those intersections, extending for many blocks. There were fire trucks and costumes, dance tunes being pumped out from boom boxes, and high-fives from everyone watching the race. I had to stop high-fiving spectators after a while; my arm was getting sore from holding it up so long.
My one brush with true athletic greatness happened just past the 14-mile mark. I caught up with former NFL quarterback Doug Flutie, who ran Boston this year on behalf of his autism foundation. We chatted for a minute or two before his running companion said, “I’m going to be your new best friend right now,” and passed me a tissue. Yes, I was chatting with Doug Flutie while my nose was running, and I didn’t even realize it. Thank goodness that moment didn’t get photographed. (P.S. I beat him. I can now officially say I’ve beaten an NFL star in a world-class sporting event.)
The most challenging aspect of my race turned out to be the weather.
The Boston Marathon course is mostly unshaded asphalt, so a sunny day can feel significantly warmer than the reported temperature. I reached a point around 20 miles where I realized I needed to pay more attention to the water stops, and less attention to my pace. I couldn’t tell if the chills I felt were from the mountains of screaming spectators – or the first signs of heat exhaustion.
I gratefully accepted handfuls of ice several times on the course’s last few miles, as well as an absolutely perfect (and cold!) slice of orange. I sensed the exact moment where I crossed the spot on the course where I had been stopped last year, just beyond the “1 Mile to Go” sign, and took a breath. The race was still happening.
And finally, in my fastest Boston finish ever, despite the conditions, I ran those last 600 meters down Boylston Street, the race I couldn’t finish a year ago, and looked around at the race and the city I knew would come back from the terrible events of April 15, 2013.
Last night I caught up with two of my Seattle running buddies and several friends from the Boston area. We ate chowder and pot pie at a brewhouse near Harvard Square and celebrated a day well run. All around the region, 32,000 people were sharing the same stories of triumph around the family hearth that Boston became this week.
Everything you’ve read is true. It was a grand, grand day in Boston.
M. Nicole Nazzaro’s sports journalism has been published in the New York Times, Sports Illustrated and Runner’s World. Read her Take 2 post last week about running in the 2013 Boston Marathon and why she felt she had to run this year. She is the co-author of “Fit by Nature” (The Mountaineers, 2011) and a journalist and consultant on health and wellness issues. She writes the daily Every48 fitness inspiration blog at http://every48.wordpress.com. Her professional website is http://www.wellnessplaybook.net. She lives in Bellevue. Twitter:@M_NicoleNazzaro
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