The Boston Marathon is all about tradition, and not just for the runners.
I’ve lived within walking distance of the marathon for most of my life, going back to my childhood not far from the Commonwealth Avenue route in Brighton. I remember actually watching the legendary Johnny Kelley. Later, from spots in Wellesley, Newton, Brookline and Boston and at Channel 5’s studios I’ve marveled at the likes of Eino Oksanen, Bill Rodgers, Alberto Salazar, Ibrahim Hussein, Cosmos Ndeti, Bobbi Gibb, Joan Benoit, UtaPippig, Ernst Van Dyk and Jean Driscoll. I remember when women runners were forcibly pushed out of the race and when Rosie Ruiz “beat” Jacqueline Garreau by cheating.
It’s ridiculous that the IAFF put an asterisk by the name of Geoffrey Mutai when he ran here last year the fastest marathon ever. As today’s Globe editorial correctly notes, the ups and downs of Boston are far more challenging than other courses, such as London and Berlin.
For the last 34 years, I’ve been a little over a mile’s walk from the 16.2 mile mark on Route 16 (at about the Newton-Wellesley line). And every year the event gets more inspirational.
We know the superlatives that apply to the elites, well honed running machines. But the real tradition of Boston is much more than its being the oldest annual marathon in the world and the talent it attracts.
The magic ingredient is the people on the sidelines and their special connection to the unsung standouts on the course. I love being part of the throng of spectators who cheer them on and, we think, visibly inspire the runners to pick it up a pace.
My spirit is buoyed by the engagement, especially with the wheel chair participants and those being pushed by guides, the runners with prostheses, the elderly, those nearly broken but laboring through, all responding to the cheers of the crowd. For several years, my husband and I watched with our dear friend Loretta Kowal, the former head of the Mass. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. No woman runner ever passed without hearing her cheer of “You go, girl,” even when our friend was herself succumbing to colon cancer.
Last year our grandson and some of his friends set up a table at the Quinobequin intersection of Routes 16 and 128 to sell cookies and lemonade to benefit breast cancer. This year, at that same place, we ran into UMass Boston Chancellor Keith Motley, there with his family to cheer on UMB folks running to benefit GoKids Boston: an initiative of the UMass Boston College of Nursing. Children’s Hospital and Dana Farber are always well represented among the runners. So many of the participants are doing the grueling run to remember a loved one or honor someone still in the struggle against disease.
It’s their individual stories that keep us going back year after year. Back to cheer, that is, and never, ever to run….not even a little.
I’d greatly appreciate your thoughts in the comments section below.