Here’s a confession. This is the fourth year that J and I have walked from our house in Newton to watch the Boston Marathon, and every year there’s at least one moment when the experience of cheering for complete strangers gets me choked up. (You can read previous years’ marathon posts here and here and here.)
J and I always arrive at our usual intersection near Mile 18 in time to see the men’s wheelchair runners barreling toward Heartbreak Hill: an inspiring sight, but not typically enough to drive me to tears.
Watching the elite women runners (above) and male frontrunners (below) is similarly inspiring…but these slender, fleet-footed runners are professionals, and watching someone simply do their job isn’t usually enough to get me all mushy, either.
After J and I have spent about an hour or so cheering on (and photographing) the elite front-runners, we start seeing the ordinary folks who make up the rest of the race, and that’s the point when I always seem to get misty-eyed. There’s something about seeing regular runners–people who aren’t elite professionals–focusing on a personal goal that gets me choked up every time.
We all have goals we strive for in life, and some of them might feel as daunting as a marathon. We all have goals we strive for in life, but not all of us work toward those goals in a public place with throngs of strangers watching, cheering, and waving signs to encourage us onward.
Every year, locals throng the marathon route not only to cheer and wave, but also to hand out cups of water for anyone too thirsty to make it to one of the Marathon’s officially sanctioned water stations. What better way to be a good neighbor than to offer something as simple as a cold cup of water, either for drinking or for dumping on one’s head?
Because the weather today was hotter than usual, today’s bystanders offered a wider range of refreshments. One man, for instance, sat at the end of his driveway with a plastic cooler full of ice which he distributed by the handful, and another enterprising family handed out wet paper towels: an ingenious way to keep the runners (temporarily) cool.
My favorite variation on the usual cup of cold water, however, was the family who had stocked up on freezer pops that they handed to passing runners. Could there be anything sweeter than sucking a freezer pop before facing Heartbreak Hill?
Typically, running is a highly individualistic sport: it’s just you, your thoughts, and the pavement beneath you as you strive for your Personal Best. What chokes me up on Marathon day, however, is the way spectators show up to cheer on strangers, shouting all sorts of encouragements: “Keep going!” “You can do it!” “You’re amazing!”
Can you imagine a world where we cheered each other on like this everyday, not just on Marathon Monday? Can you imagine a world where strangers shared simple kindness with one another, simply to keep them motivated and moving?
We all want to feel like we’ve made a difference in someone’s life, either by handing them a cup of cold water, sharing a slice of fresh orange, or saying something encouraging when they’re down. It takes strength, determination, and a huge amount of commitment to run a marathon, and helps if you have a village of onlookers to cheer you along the way.
Click here for the complete photo-set from today’s Boston Marathon: enjoy!