Marathon Monday

J and I awoke this morning to thunderstorms and pouring rain, and as I write these words, the wind is rattling our windows. But this morning when we headed out to watch the Boston Marathon at our accustomed spot on Commonwealth Avenue between miles 18 and 19, the raindrops stopped. It was largely overcast with only occasional moments of sunshine, but it was nothing like the frigid washout we’d (briefly) weathered last year.

Wheelchair runners

Although J and I couldn’t stay and spectate as long as we have in past years, we observed our annual ritual of cheering for the last of the wheelchair runners, the elite women and men, and then the start of the stream of Everyone Else.

Women's winner Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia

When we saw her, front-runner (and eventual winner) Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia was nearly five minutes ahead of the rest of the elite women.

Elite women runners up

When the elite men passed, eventual winner Lawrence Cherono of Kenya was in (but not leading) a tight pack of fleet-footed fellows.

Men's winner Lawrence Cherono of Kenya

Elite marathon runners move so fast, it’s easy to imagine them outrunning even raindrops.

Gone past in a flash

J and I move a lot less quickly, but we were grateful to have found a spell between storms to observe Boston’s annual ritual of spring.

Fleet of foot

Click here for my full photo-set from today’s Boston Marathon. Enjoy!

Yuki Kawauchi (center) - eventual men's winner

This is the tenth year that J and I have watched the Boston Marathon as it passes through Newton, and today’s conditions were by far the worst we’ve weathered. I’d thought the chill and drizzle of 2015 was bad, but this year was colder and windier, with temperatures in the 40s and torrential downpours that drenched the runners and kept many spectators at home.

Eventual winner Desiree Linden on left

Usually, J and I watch the Marathon between Miles 18 and 19, arriving at “our” corner across from the West Newton medical tent in time to see the last of the wheelchair runners, the elite men and women front runners, and then the Average Joes. Our regular routine is to watch the race until the street is thronged with runners, then we walk down to Newton City Hall before heading home.

Flags

Today, we didn’t last that long. After cheering runners who at times outnumbered spectators, we headed toward home and warm clothes soon after the elite runners passed. We can only hope that other spectators showed up to cheer on the later runners who finished the race despite the miserable conditions.

Running as a pack

Congratulations to all the hardy folk who finished the race (or braved the elements to watch it). In good weather, you have to be Boston Strong to run 26.2 miles. Today, you had to be stronger than the rain and cold.

Some Kinda Strong

Click HERE to see my complete set of washed-out photos from today’s Boston Marathon. Enjoy!

Nothing is stronger than love

Today is Patriots’ Day–Marathon Monday–so J and I walked to our usual spot on Commonwealth Avenue here in Newton to watch today’s Boston Marathon. The daffodils and crowds of spectators were both out in force, it being a beautifully mild, sunny day.

We run as one for Martin Richard

I took the usual assortment of photos–pictures of runners, wheelchair racers, runners pushing teammates in wheelchairs, cute dogs, clever signs, and people handing things out. Every year, there are spectators who stand on the edge of the course handing out slices of fruit, cups of water, wet paper towels, and handfuls of ice. Even though there are official water stations and medical tents offering pretty much anything a runner could need, bystanders go to great lengths to lend a hand to passing runners, the same folks and families showing up each year to offer handouts.

The ice guy

I normally think of running as a solitary sport: it’s just you, the road, and the sounds of your own two feet as you try to settle into your own stride. But watching the Boston Marathon makes me think that perhaps running–at least long-distance running–is actually a team endeavor. Yes, you and your sneakers might be out there pounding the pavement on your own, your mind providing its own endlessly looping soundtrack of self-encouragement: You can do it! Push through the pain! Pace yourself, pace yourself! But beyond this inner loop is another, louder litany fed by others: the cheering of strangers and the well-wishes of friends.

Orange slices

It can be difficult to remember your training over the long haul: there occasionally are lonely miles when we all yearn for encouragement. Anyone motivated (or crazy) enough could run the Boston Marathon course pretty much any day of the year if they were willing to dodge cars and swerve around pedestrians. On any other day, you’d be just another jogger, just another runner training for that long race in April. Only on Marathon Monday do entire towns (literally) stop traffic on your behalf, closing down schools and businesses so there will be plenty of people on the sidelines, on your team, cheering and pulling for you, some anonymous stranger they’ve never met.

Wet paper towels

After the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, security for subsequent races has been tight: you’re always aware at the back of your mind of the state police officers and military police in their black uniforms, watching. While the rest of us clap and cheer, security officials stay on high alert, looking for anything unusual.

Blue and yellow mohawk

This year, after terror attacks in Nice, Berlin, and Stockholm taught us all that hijacked vehicles can be used as weapons, authorities here in Newton beefed up the barricades blocking off roads leading to the marathon route. The giant plow-equipped salt-trucks parked where there used to be sawhorses and parked police cruisers were clearly intended to send a message to anyone thinking they might plow a vehicle into runners and spectators: Not so fast, buster.

Road block

Although it is obviously (and perhaps sadly) necessary to have police, medical personnel, and other official helpers on hand to ensure a safe and smooth race, what I want to remember from today’s Marathon are the unofficial helpers: the folks who decide to hand out water, ice, or fruit simply because they had those things on hand and other folks needed them. We appreciate that people in the helping professions show up and do their jobs, but that doesn’t excuse the rest of us from lending a hand.

Have a drink

Click here for more photos from today’s Boston Marathon. Enjoy!

Daffodils

Monday is Patriots’ Day, also known as Marathon Monday: my favorite day of the year. Boston is a city of champions, and although I love cheering for all our teams, the Boston Marathon is my favorite sporting event because it encompasses the entire range of athletic achievement. On Monday, there will be elite runners from all over the world pushing themselves to compete at the highest level of their sport, and there will also be countless ordinary folks happy simply to drag themselves across the finish line.

Rhododendrons in bloom.

On Marathon Monday, there are no losers. Even if you are the last to cross the finish line, you can brag forevermore that you ran Boston. And even if you don’t finish the race, there is the comfort of having tried your best, along with the camaraderie of being in an exclusive club. The process of earning a Boston Marathon bib is its own kind of accomplishment, and anyone in possession of one earns the right to swagger.

I’ve never run a marathon, and I doubt I ever will: I’m too slow-moving and asthmatic, my stocky legs built for walking, not running. But even sedentary spectators like me “win” on Marathon Monday. Patriots’ Day often falls on one of the first warm-weather days in Boston, and simply being outside after another long winter feels like an eagerly awaited award.

Almost. #signsofspring #daffodils

On Marathon Monday, locals shake off their winter dust and get down to the business of serious spectating. Patriots’ Day celebrates a revolution that gave birth to a union, and Marathon Monday celebrates the ongoing promise of a solemn social contract. You run; we watch. You sweat; we hold out cups of water. You limp; we urge you along with drums and signs, cowbells and kisses.

For one day, anyone in sneakers is a rockstar superhero, and for one day, New Englanders’ famous reserve melts in the spring sunshine as neighbors come outside, unfold like new leaves, and Get Loud, cheering our collective self hoarse. Marathon Monday is my favorite day of the year because in a city of champions, everyone comes together and everyone wins.

2016 Boston Marathon

This coming week is the last week of classes, and I’ve been buried in student essay drafts. My first-year writing students have been writing essay drafts all semester, and I need to comment on those drafts before my students revise them for inclusion in their final portfolios. My students are always shocked to see in retrospect how much they’ve written over the course of the semester: when you write one paper (and one page) at a time, it’s easy to lose track of how many words you’ve produced.

2016 Boston Marathon

A college semester is a marathon, not a sprint. The only way to write a college essay is word by word, and that’s also the only way to read and comment on student essay drafts. For most of the semester, I drag my feet and do anything in my power to avoid my paper-piles, but during the last few weeks of the term, I turn into a paper-reading machine. Every year, I wonder why I assign so much writing; every year, I wonder why I went into English, a field where assigning and reading student papers is unavoidable. Whereas my students are shocked to realize how much writing they’ve done, the cumulative weight of their words comes as no surprise to me. The marathon that is a college semester is a course I’ve run many times before.

Click here for my complete photo set from this year’s Boston Marathon. Enjoy!

Marathon bombing memorial

This morning on my way to meet friends in Harvard Square, I stopped at Copley Square to visit the Boston Marathon finish line. Yesterday was One Boston Day–the anniversary of the 2013 Marathon bombing–and on Monday, I’ll watch this year’s race here in Newton, cheering the runners before they face Heartbreak Hill. Today, I wanted to visit the two spots on Boylston Street where three people died and hundreds were injured: a chance to pay my respects at a place simultaneously festive and somber.

Four crosses

There is no permanent memorial commemorating the Marathon bombing; instead, impromptu offerings of flowers, handwritten notes, and homemade crosses mark the two spots where pressure cooker bombs turned a festive event into a scene of mayhem. If you didn’t know that lives and limbs were lost in front of Marathon Sports and the former Forum Restaurant, you’d notice nothing remarkable about these two stretches of sidewalk. But if you know the hidden history of these sites, you recognize them as invisible portals between the Here and the Hereafter: two otherwise ordinary places where souls prematurely crossed to the other side.

Remember Martin Richard

Today when I arrived on Boylston Street, a 5K race had just finished, and throngs of people were watching an awards ceremony for the winners. Boylston Street was closed to vehicular traffic, and tourists posed for pictures at the finish line: a festive scene. This is the disconnect that will forever mark the Boston Marathon finish line: a site of both triumph and tragedy, the sidewalk here holds a hidden history of heartbreak.

Johnny Kelley - Young at Heart

The statue of Boston Marathon legend Johnny Kelley at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Walnut Street here in Newton serves as a kind of shrine for long-distance runners, many of whom leave medals or race bibs from the races they’ve completed: an offering left to honor a man who still inspires.

Shoe offerings

I always wonder about the people who leave these mementos. Why not keep the keepsakes they trained so hard to earn, and why give them to a statue rather than a flesh-and-blood person?

But in asking these questions, I reveal how little I understand of a marathoner’s mind. In the the course of training and then running a marathon, there must be many times when runners hearken to their inner pantheon of heroes, reminding themselves that if Johnny Kelley could run the Boston Marathon 61 times, win it twice, and complete his final race at the age of 84, they can finish their own marathon, too.

Johnny Kelley - Young at Heart

The title of Johnny Kelley’s statue is “Young at Heart,” and it shows a youthful Kelley running his first marathon hand-in-hand with his older self. I can only assume that the runners who leave well-worn shoes at Johnny Kelley’s feet do so because they feel he somehow ran alongside them during their marathons, too.