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. AndreaA says:

    You lingered a little too long on your obsession with women’s attractiveness. Even while praising their athleticism, you were able to determine their worth by your idea of beauty. Congratulations.

    • chuck says:

      It’s an intrinsic, cellular, parasympathetic, affliction (?), common amongst most males, without which the species would be forced to negotiate procreation after amenities and a resume.

      Then, after lawyers review the paperwork (Originally penned by Gloria Steinem in front of a mirror ala Edgar Alllan Poe.) a marraige resembling a Hieronymus Bosch painting inspired by Virginia Woolf would begin with public copulation on Oprah’s couch.

      I know I got wood.

      (How do like that shit Gavin?)

      Nice article Greg.

      • chuck says:

        The Poe reference is arcane, but worth it Andrea.

      • Gavin says:

        Not bad, Chuck. But, considering that Bosch predated Virginia Woolf by a good 400 years, I’m not sure how he could have been “inspired” by her. I know, I know, she wasn’t conventionally attractive and wrote from what could be viewed as a feminist perspective so she sort of fits the bill here. Still I’d have liked it if you’d gone with a classical reference like, say Medea, a woman scorned and often claimed by feminists as one unjustly villainized. Yes, she was a physically attractive woman, but certainly Bosch would have made her less so after her had his way with her image. Of course, it might ave been a bit pedestrian, but is there something wrong with Medusa?

        • chuck says:

          I have to get stoned to think about Medusa.

          Post colonial feminism and Bosch seem to be a natural fit.

          Virginia Woolf IS terrifying.

          🙂

    • Greg Hall says:

      Andrea, I will admit to “obsession” in my younger days, but I believe that is a key component to procreation. I would prefer to think that my obsession has matured to “admiration,”…with a dose of obsession on the side.

    • OptimusJim says:

      *sad trombone sound*

    • Will says:

      Greg writes those types of things all the time and I admire his honesty in writing what I also think but would not say or write.

      I missed the part where he determined their worth.

    • Gavin says:

      And, AndreaA, I’m not sure Greg ever even commented on the worth of the women he encountered in Boston, let alone DETERMINED it. He did comment on their physical attractiveness, but I don’t see anywhere did he make an accounting of their VALUE because they were (or were not) pretty. He did admit that he was motivated by pretty woman. I consider myself a feminist and I’m also motivated by pretty women. Sorry about that. I can’t help it. I also admit, weird as it may sound, that I have a naked woman fetish. I can’t help that either. I see a naked woman and I have sexual thoughts and undergo what could be considered sexual arousal. I’m sure this makes me a deviant in your eyes, but I am what I am. However, despite enjoying pretty women and despite my naked woman fetish (it is so embarrassing o admit that publicly!), I don’t think that I ascribe any actual “worth” to women because of that. I think you may have jumped to a conclusion here about Greg.

      You may wish that he didn’t notice pretty women, you may really want him to not comment on it and it’s okay for you to want those things. But when you criticize him, be fair about it. Don’t suggest that he is determining a person’s value based on their beauty when he did no such thing.

  2. The Smartman says:

    Let me be the first to say Welcome back! Wonderful story Greg! Glad that none of the KC runners were injured.

    I’ll never forget visiting Ground Zero in NYC shortly after 9/11. Still a smoldering pile of rubble that offered an ethereal sense of hope and the pain of tragic and unnecessary loss. I can’t recall the number of times after the tragedy on Monday that I looked at the faces of all the runners in your dinner photo asking God that none be harmed. God answers all prayers. Sometimes the answer is no. This time it was yes and for that I give Him thanks.

    Acts like this don’t call for justice they call for revenge. I don’t need to hear the excuse that revenge makes us just like them. When we look into our collective American souls, we are just like them. We just don’t want to admit it, or even worse, report it. We didn’t used to be that way.

    Perhaps the perpetrators had family, innocents that got tragically maimed or killed in a drone strike. We may never know. Was this a call or a response?

    It’s unfortunate that we live in a world where actions like this seemingly become part of our everyday existence and in some parts of the world, expectation. In Chicago last weekend 4 people were murdered and 21 were wounded. In Kansas City it’s Flash Mob Season……again. We can no longer assume that the promise of a coming day will be kept.

    The innocence of everyday life has forever been changed in Boston. This event will become woven into that city’s fabric of history like the (original) Tea Party, Celtics, Bruins, Pats and Sox championships, Irish Mickey Ward, Whitey Bulger, Southie, Harvard, The Big Dig, and so many other iconic Boston things. To the perps, Will Hunting would say, “Howdya like them apples?”

    Carpe Diem!

  3. MightyMo says:

    Andrea, you’re killing me. Greg has an audience, and he knows it. His takes on distance running are compelling. He admires the beauty while acknowledging his own aging. Its harmless, but its also honest and real and relatively un-filtered – what his readers expect. To not focus on one of his favorite aspects of distance runs, as an older man, would be to deny we the readers his true perspective. Party on, Greg.

  4. The Smartman says:

    In light of the bigger picture in Boston I did not want to enter the feminist fray. As an homage to Greg’s recognition, admiration and respect for the feminine form I will let my buddy Pablo Neruda do the talking.

    Naked you are simple as one of your hands;
    Smooth, earthy, small, transparent, round.
    You’ve moon-lines, apple pathways:
    Naked you are slender as a naked grain of wheat.

    Naked you are blue as a night in Cuba;
    You’ve vines and stars in your hair.
    Naked you are spacious and yellow
    As summer in a golden church.

    Naked you are tiny as one of your nails –
    Curved, subtle, rosy, till the day is born
    And you withdraw to the underground world,

    As if down a long tunnel of clothing and of chores:
    Your clear light dims, gets dressed, drops its leaves,
    And becomes a naked hand again.

    Check out the YouTube version of Sting reading this poem called “Morning” from the il Postino soundtrack. Simply Brilliant

  5. Brian says:

    Great article as I would have expected Greg. Keep up the good work.

  6. Kyle Rohde says:

    Well written Greg and glad to hear you’re ok – welcome home.

  7. Richard Cranium says:

    Fantastic. I can’t stand the idea of long distance running, but look forward to this read every year, and even suggest others to read as well. On the other hand, AndreaA your opinion, lack of worldly views, and overall pettiness makes me hate you. So congratulations, you’ve brought more hate to this story, if it were possible.

    • Will says:

      Lighten up Francis…er Richard. Save your hate for someone or something “a little” more worthy. Like the bomber perhaps.

  8. Sad sad harley says:

    glad you and the other runners are home safe greg. One person who has stood out was
    the cowboy hat hero who i had the opportunity to communicate with via email/letters and
    photos.
    He saw a story about me on the front page of USA Today. His name was Carlos Arrendondo.
    Several months before my story he had lost a son in Iraq. Upon learning that his son was
    a casualty he attempted suicide inside a marine van that carried the marines who came to
    his home to tell him of his sons death. He suffered severe burns on his body but surtvivived
    only to see his other son committ suicide after returning from iraq.
    He wrote me thanking me for what I had done to remember the fallen heros in iraq.
    He also sent a special flag and photo that i posted next to the the 2000 others.
    If you view the videos from the scene you see the man ran into thearea to save lives
    and one family credits his bravery with saving their son’s life although the young man
    lost both legs. We have since communicated every year that i did the special event
    and he’s always made sure to get me motivated with his story when it came christmas time.
    Life is strange. it takes so many wretched paths.
    So far there have been several controversial comments on your story. It’s not needed
    to takeaway from the sadness of what has happened. We all have a deep sadness for
    what happened and sometimes it’s hard to explain our feelings when tragedy hits
    our own famiies or people we’ve never met.
    We see it everday in this nation. anger//hate will never stop anything! This act just follows the road down we’re facing not only in this nation but in the world.
    With diversity and a changing population and a massive change in ours and every other
    society in the world…we’d better learn to get along or there will be more and more
    newtowns/auroras/va. techs/boston marathons/ plus other deadly forms of hate all
    over the world.
    Hate is a terrible emotion to carry. We saw it monday ….we’ll see it tomorow and the
    day after.
    Something has to change.
    The craziness has gottn way out of hand. We need leaders (not commentators or
    writers) willing to go out and change this mess. If you’re not part of the solution…you’re
    part of the problem. Until we speak up and tell the politicians that we want action and
    not divisive bullshit…this and other violence will continue. WE must demand change and
    change soon. is it cutting down on gun magazine? Is it registering guns? is it
    tougher laws and full enforcement of the laws we now have. I can’t intelligently say but
    something must be done and we can ‘t wait 3 or 4 more years to figure it out. Praying for
    those in boston/kc/st. louis/chicago/and every other innocent victim of hate no matter
    what color of skin/religion/or where they come from. ” When we save one…we save them
    all!”
    god loves ya.
    Harley

  9. Gavin says:

    Greg, every year I look forward to your Boston piece even as I can’t imagine what the hell possesses you to do something so stupid as to run 26.2 miles without stopping. I’m glad you’re back safe and I’m already looking forward to next year’s piece.

    • Greg Hall says:

      G, I finish Boston each year and have very similar thoughts. I am not sure old men should be running marathons — let alone trying to do it against the clock. But my jumper is long gone, I can’t cover a post let alone a reciever and I get hurt just saying the word softball. So I run.

  10. Anfo says:

    With everything chip timed, and linked to a bib number and name, you would think that they could tell who finished, and who didn’t. They could then mail medals to those who couldn’t finish due to the terrorist actions.

    • Greg Hall says:

      Anfo, I saw on the news that they were handing out medals on Tuesday to runners who were not allowed to finish as they picked up their yellow clothing bags. I am sure the BAA will make every effort to get those folks their hardware.

  11. Phaedrus says:

    Give Greg a break. He’s an equal opportunity sexist. Just look at how he described Putty…

    “A handsome square-shouldered dark-haired man”

    It’s clear that Greg determined Putty’s worth based solely on his physical appearance.

  12. ken says:

    Greg, great tribute to Boston and the spirit of the marathon. loved it. see ya on BR. ken

  13. Mark X says:

    @AndreaA

    ” obsession ” ??
    It’s a man thing, you wouldn’t undertand.

  14. J Rok says:

    Welcome back Greg! Glad you’re ok.

  15. brett says:

    good stuff. welcome back

  16. LoperMan says:

    Greg, great story. I’m glad you made it through safe. I enjoyed the positive perspective. I guess that’s what makes you a glass half full type of guy. Long live Boston and Sweet Caroline! Hey AndreaA, I heard Caroline was a babe too.

  17. Uncle Dick says:

    I hope Andrea and her cat didn’t miss Days of Our Lives due to the coverage of the bombings.

  18. Trish Herzog says:

    Great blog, Greg, I felt like I was there running right alongside you. However, I’d be one of those you’d hear huffing and puffing in pain. We golfers don’t do much endurance training. Heck, I don’t even play eighteen without a cart. I loved reading your previous blog with the back stories of some of the Kansas City participants. Great insight. Glad you are all safe and sound!

  19. Michael (mitch) Hall says:

    Glad to here you are okay uncle Greg. 3 hrs 28 mins 2 seconds? Not to shabby! God Bless

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