The Boston Marathon Is Old, Stained And Unbreakable

IMG_0896I wrote and posted this column a year ago, following my experience at the 117th Boston Marathon. I hope you forgive me for revisiting this one. This one is special to me.

*****

The finish line at the Boston Marathon is a mirage – or so it seems at the conclusion of this 26.2-mile trek. It is only three-and-a-half blocks from the left-hand turn off Hereford Street onto Boylston Street. Runners will tell you though, that the finish-line banners appear to move away from them rather than get closer.

“It’s like a horror movie,” is how one marathon finisher described this floating finish line to me as we chatted affably after the 117th running of the prestigious race. We stiffly made our way through the finish area to receive our Mylar blankets, medals, snack sacks and personal bags of clothing.

Oh how I would remember his words as this grand celebration of endurance, camaraderie and tradition turned dramatically and forever into a crime scene.

The scenes from the carnage caused by a cowardly act are now part of our history. No need to recount the dramatic video and photographs we all have viewed through the media. Those who were there were witness to the weakest of what man has to offer society. And the best man could ever hope to attain.

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My view in Hopkinton just before the start of the 117th Boston Marathon from the last in Wave 1 — in other words, the very ass end of Wave 1.

My story dwells on the joy, fellowship and pride – such pride – I felt as I witnessed Boston at its worst and then quickly and even more dramatically – Boston at its best.

A marathon is simply a party. A long one mind you, but a party nonetheless.

Ricky Mitchell is a sub-three-hour marathoner from San Antonio. As I jogged along at about mile 14, I watched the nimble and way-too-energetic Mitchell break from the current of runners, hop the curb and join a group of neighborhood kids as they bounced on a line of a dozen or more mini-trampolines. How can you not love this guy?

I fist bumped the 30-something Ricky as he returned to the race and we jogged on together and talked. Ricky had pounded out a just-over three-hour marathon last year at Boston in the searing 90-degree temps. “So what are you doing back here with us lackeys?” I queried.

729937_1059_0031-001Ricky had a rough winter of training. Since he wasn’t nearly as fit as he needed to be once time for Boston arrived, he decided to run the race for entertainment purposes only. In midsentence, Ricky left my right side and bolted over the curb again to dive into the center of a posed photograph of five high-school girls lined up shoulder to shoulder in an arc. I laughed as the spectators cheered when Ricky crouched down in the center of these girls and flash a huge toothy grin – freezing a memory of zany spontaneity they will never forget.

You have to be a bit goofy to run a marathon. Having a little Ricky in you helps you cope with covering 26.2 miles on foot. It is why this act of destruction at the finish line is so out of place – so wrong at a party like Boston.

Ricky Mitchell is what the Boston Marathon is all about.

There are no politics inside the ropes of a marathon. There are only runners.

Language is not a barrier at the marathon. Heavy breathing means you’re hurting. That shuffling shoe sound means you’re probably old but committed. Non-stop laughter and cheering might mean you’re running by Wellesley College just before the halfway point.

Ahhh, Wellesley. How I love your history, your all-female tradition and your commitment to trump each other with the craziest sign or act of indulgence. “Kiss me I’m a farmer,” was a new sign for me this year. “Kiss me I’m barely legal,” brought a smile to my sunburnt face.

One runner in front of me stopped twice to kiss the same girl. What a waste I thought! I view the delectable lineup at Wellesley each Boston similar to how I peruse a gourmet pastry shop. And I know pastry. Would you limit yourself to the two blueberry muffins when a delicate cream puff sat wanting and puckering just astride? With all that talent on display for the kissing, why not sample as many different menu items as you can fit on your…uh, lips?

I missed allowing myself to participate in the Wellesley tradition of kissing the passing hoard of runners by about 20 years. Kissing gramps is just gross. Except for gramps. But the two coeds who strategically placed themselves at the very end of the block-long Wellesley kissing line almost got me to bite.

One a blonde and the other a brunette, they held signs the size of a 4×3-foot placard. Both displayed exposed creamy shoulders and milky-white barefoot gams. Not a stitch of clothing was visible this side of their oversized signs. On the placards in neatly printed text they had written, “Kiss me and I’ll drop my sign.”

Wellesley College is what the Boston Marathon is all about.

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Greg Heilers and I pose for the photog just before the start of Boston. Nice threads, eh?

I jogged the first dozen miles or so with Greg Heilers, a tall, lanky Kansas City engineer and running buddy of mine, who had lost some training due to an injury. Heiler’s should have been chasing a time in the low three-hour range but his fitness level had him hoping to just break 3:30 – exactly what I was hoping to do.

“It sure is good to see some other fat guys out here running this race,” bellowed a loud voice behind us. A handsome square-shouldered dark-haired man who reminded me of Elaine’s David Putty briskly strode beside us. “I was starting to think I was all alone out here!” he chuckled.

I don’t know if Putty could get away with riffing on a women’s large frame, but Heilers and I took his ribbing in the good-natured way it was intended. The Boston Marathon is the kind of party where no introductions are necessary.

That awkward period of an early bro-on-bro friendship where you pretend to be politely pleasant and politically correct to each other gets tossed into the trash between male runners at Boston. There isn’t time to allow your immature relationship to mature. You simply go Putty on each other and rip a guy’s saddle bags, Dunlop disease and pigeon-toed gate as you cruise past. Putty hailed from Sacramento. He didn’t come across three time zones to play nice. He came to play.

Sacramento’s David Putty is what the Boston Marathon is all about.

Shortly after Putty passed Heilers and me, Patty and Mary replaced his barbs with their butts.

I ran my first road race in 1981. The last place you went looking for an attractive woman in the early ‘80’s was at a 10K race. Female runners at that time were few in number. Those who did show up to run owned fewer curves than Popeye’s Olive Oyl…and were not nearly as animated.

But cross-training, Title 9, cosmetic surgery and the imagination of lululemon has transformed the female runner of today into the fantasy character, Wonder Woman of my youth come to life. Patty and Mary were full of charms and dressed to advertise those many attributes. They ran stride for stride in butt-hugging mini shorts and crisscross bikini tops. Their first names handwritten in magic marker on their outer arms.

The top of Heartbreak Hill is a happy place.

The top of Heartbreak Hill is a happy place.

Running 26 miles can be an incredibly boring venture without the Patties and Marys of the marathon. At least for me. I am old but I am not dead. Man cannot live by cream puffs alone. These two were just stunning examples of a reason to live…if only to run behind.

The Boston Marathon is about scenic views – some which appear to be too good to be true. A quirk of nature I have never viewed as a problem.

A father and his two sons have greeted runners each Patriots Day I’ve visited their burg from their simple driveway perch just outside Ashland. The father appears to be of Pakistani descent and while his two elementary age sons mimic his dark skin and even darker bushy brows, they are 100% American made. The youngest son rose from his flimsy lawn chair to stand on its seat as we passed. He dramatically gesture to the runners as we aproached.

Like a carnival barker he made a sweeping circular gesture with his arms and hands – slowing the motion of his limbs to attain maximum theatrical impact. In a voice he dug from deep within his diaphragm, the young lad shouted, “The city of Boston awaits you!” All done in a Boston brogue that would make Matt Damon proud.

A family in Hopkinton hang a banner on their front windows each Marathon Monday, welcoming runners to their small rural town. They sit on their front steps and take in the view of the parade of different waves as they make their slow walk to the point-to-point start.

Across the street their neighbors set up a makeshift supply tent that has the phrase, “All Free” written on banners and signs that adorn this small tent on their front curb. Runners clog the small area to reach for free Vaseline, Band-Aids, water, drinks, etc. “We’ll be back here next year too!” shouts the friendly husband of this generous clan.

The Boston Marathon is about fathers and sons and mothers and daughters and families. The Boston Marathon is about sharing, giving and helping.

The Kansas City runners who traveled to Boston experienced sights, sounds and heart-wrenching real-life drama that we may never be able to resolve. Life is hard sometimes. But it gets better. The cowards never win. It is our job to see to that.

I stood on a park bench near an endless line of ambulances hours after the two blasts, talking on my cell phone as a small brown man approached. He pointed to my medal – struggling with his English. I looked down at him and wondered why he was curious about my finisher’s medal. He was obviously a runner just as I. But his eyes told me everything I needed to know. He did not have a medal. He was unable to finish the race.

“Here,” I said as I doffed my ribbon and medal. “Take mine.” I extended my medal to where he stood below. He backed away with his arms outstretched, waving off my gesture. He thought my gift too high a price for me to pay a stranger. What he did not understand is that at the Boston Marathon there are no strangers. He turned quickly and was gone.

My look back at the finish line just after I completed my race in 3:28.

My look back at the finish line just after I completed my race in 3:28.

The city of Boston was magnificent in how it reacted to the explosions. The police were professional yet passionate. The medical personnel did their jobs as they have been trained – and so many people are alive today because they are so darn good at that job. The residents of Boston became immediate surrogate family members to any and all runners who were left without a hotel, transportation, a shower, a meal or simply a friend.

I love the Boston Marathon. I love it with its scars, with its stains and with its creeping old age. Most of all I love it for its people.

The New York Yankees paid a touching tribute to the hated Boston Red Sox the day after the Boston Marathon by playing the Sox’s much-loved theme song, Sweet Caroline in Yankee Stadium.

New York knows pain. New York knows pain is temporary. New York knows sports is merely a game. New York knows they will hate the BoSox again tomorrow and the feeling will be mutual.

Boston wouldn’t have it any other way.

Party on.

[email protected] & Twitter / greghall24

About Greg Hall

Software guy who has been writing my Off The Couch column in KC newspapers, publications and websites since 1994. Has been bounced from some of the finest media establishments this side of State Line Road. Dad first and everything else second...and there are a lot of everything elses.
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56 Responses to The Boston Marathon Is Old, Stained And Unbreakable

  1. kcredsox says:

    Greg, glad you made it back safe, followed you on Twitter after the marathon and knew your story this year would be great. The only thing you missed telling us was whether your nipples were raw or you brought the band-aids with.

  2. John says:

    Interesting:

    What Are the Best Schools in the Kansas City Metroplex?

    http://kansascitygazette.blogspot.com/2013/04/what-are-best-schools-in-kansas-city.html

    ..

    9009876

    • Gavin says:

      Nope. Not that interesting at all. And I didn’t even click on the link.

    • john says:

      actually, that’s incredibly racist and not very well-reasoned. what’s your point? – a different john 🙂

  3. JP says:

    Glad you’re back Greg and made it safe and sound. We were all praying for you. That would have been such a surreal situation to be in, and you handled it with calmness and made the best out of a very tragic situation.

    You are now free to return from the life and death situation in Boston, back to the banalities of life, such as KK’s latest idiotic rant on the Chiefs draft. Welcome back!!!

  4. geo says:

    Greg, I am not a long distance runner (or even a short distance runner, for that matter), so please forgive my ignorant question. What’s with the mylar blankets? Is there some sort of therapeutic benefit?

    Enjoyed the article. It reminded me a bit of your days at the Star.

    • Greg Hall says:

      geo, All I know is that they make us all look like homeless astronauts, weigh almost nothing, yet feel really, really good as your body temp cools down to normal after a race. I don’t know how it works, I just know that it does. Kind of like DQ flipping their Blizzard upside down and handing it to you.

      • The plastic film and aluminum surface (mylar) has very small pores and helps keep your body heat locked in so you do not cool down too quickly because of sweat evaporation once you quit moving. Put the shiny side in for maximum effect – reflects infrared light (heat) back to the skin.

  5. BlackJack says:

    Sorry Andrea, it’s called having a penis. It is encoded by millions of years of DNA..

  6. Mary Beth Hanlon Bisignano says:

    Greg what an uplifting article to read after such an emotional week for the whole country! Glad you are safe and congrats on your run!!

  7. Phaedrus says:

    Im surprised nobody has commented on the picture of Greg that the Star used.

    Greg, how much did you have to pay them to use a picture of you with hair?? 😉

  8. Brenda says:

    Greg,
    I always enjoy reading about your adventures and especially looked forward to reading this one. I love the descriptive narratives that you use and I am in complete awe that you can capture all the beauty that surrounds you on a 26.2 mile marathon. Actually, I am in complete awe of everyone who can run a full marathon! Congratulations on a job well done with both your writing and your marathon. Look forward to future readings.

  9. Read your story in the University Daily Kansan, glad you and the other Kansan Citians made it home safely. God bless.

  10. Pingback: KC Headlines: Royals Lose, Sporting is Back, Kid is Sexy (And He Knows It) - KC Kingdom - A Kansas City Sports Fan Site - News, Blogs, Opinions and More

  11. Tigerpiper says:

    I just started running races again and will run the Garmin half on Saturday. I can categorically say running behind a woman with a tight ass gives me speed, fortitude, and the desire to make my body look as good as it can. Would she have it any other way?

  12. Java Man says:

    Golf clap, Greg.
    Now when the hell are you getting back to KK, the NFL draft, Royals baseball, AND the coaching search at MU?

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