Saturday, April 13, 2013

And then there was ONE ….

Boston Marathon Start
One day until THE race. THE Boston Marathon. The Holy Grail of Marathons, the marathon of all marathons. At least that's the way most marathon runners think about Boston.

There was a lot of proof of that on display yesterday when I went into Boston to pick up my number (15780) for the race (I’ll be starting around the middle of the 27,000 runners). While we waited in line I spoke to a number of runners who had made the pilgrimage to Boston to run it the first time. No question it is one of the oldest and most elite marathons in the world (outside of the Olympics) with qualifying times that will eliminate most casual runners (is there such a thing as a casual marathoner?). As the popularity of running marathons has increased they have even lowered the qualifying times in the last few years. Did I mention you need to re-qualify every year? So to earn a number to be at the starting line did not mean just a commitment to finishing, it was a commitment to racing.

The excitement around the number pickup area was contagious. Runners having pictures taken in front of maps of the course holding their numbers in front of them, trying on the bright yellow Boston Marathon running shirt they just received, going through their bag of "goodies" that come with their number, or registering to have their progress on the course sent to their family’s cell phones. Think graduation day, with the runners receiving their numbers like the graduates getting their diploma. For a short time the excitement and reality of reaching this point replaces the nervousness of the upcoming race.

There is also a runner’s expo where you can sample and buy almost anything that has to do with running. It is amazing to me that I was ever able to finish a marathon 30 years ago without the help of all the new shoe, sock, compression shorts, hat and clothes technology that I’m now told is a "must" for success. Not to mention the energy drinks, power cookies, energy bars, yogurt drinks, gels, candies, grains and mixes I need to be taking before, during and for days after the race. They have catchy names like Reboot, Bioplasma, and Chia Shots that will deliver the necessary proteins, Omega 3, fiber, electrolytes, carbohydrates, fluids and antioxidants. Silly me, I thought I just needed to eat a lot of pasta and drink a lot of water. If I listen to the marketing pitches on what I need to do to survive I should already be dead.


Back to the first time runners standing in line. The stories from those qualified Boston Rookies were as varied as the places they came from. The young guy from the mid-west who ran his first marathon and he said it was a fluke that he ran fast enough to qualify for Boston. He felt he needed to do Boston at least once in his life and felt this might be his only chance. The mom from California who started running 5K’s (3.1 miles) to teach her children about health and exercise and found it has changed her life as well. It was her children who encouraged her to come to Boston and they are there to cheer her on. The older gentleman (had to be in his 70’s) who didn’t start running till late in his life and had this on his bucket list. He and his wife shared a passion for outdoor activities and she will be there to cheer him on. It will be her last chance as she is terminally ill.

But despite the high bar for qualifying, for several thousand dedicated runners, a ticket to the starting line is within reach if they are willing to take on the added burden of not only months of training but also months of fund raising. The BAA and John Hancock (race sponsor) provide charities with access to a limited number of race numbers if the runner is willing to raise $4-5000 for the charity. A friend of mine, Susan Hurley, coaches several hundred of the charity team runners and helps them with their fund raising. Almost all would never qualify and many have never run a marathon before (the equivalent of getting to ride in the Kentucky Derby as your first horse race). I’ve had the privilege of running with a number of these runners and all have stories for why they are doing it and amazingly almost all of them are centered on helping someone else and frequently in memory of someone they have lost.

It all comes together as we stand on the starting line Monday. For every runner, getting to the starting line was a journey and every journey has a story. For some it will be about the competition and the glory but for many others it will be about making their life, the lives of the people around them, and the lives of the families in the charities they support, a bit better. It’s amazing to me the positive ripple affect this one race will have touching so many lives. Now if we could only bottle that and give it away at every expo….

One more day….

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