As the holiday of Pesach (Passover) came to an end, my excitement grew. The Boston Marathon was less than two days away, and, along with my family, I’d be “Shipping Up to Boston” the next morning. On Thursday I had heard that it might be a bit warmer than usual, perhaps as high as 70 degrees. With no access to the web over the last days of my namesake holiday, I hadn’t given it much thought. As I checked the weather on my cell phone, I almost fell over. There were reports that it might reach the mid to high 80s for the day of the race. The Boston Athletic Association, the organization that puts on the race was recommending that runners not run, and, contrary to their usual policy, and offering a deferral for next year. For a few moments I thought about it. I hadn’t been able to train properly due to my stress fracture. Even with cool weather, I knew I would not be at my best. Then, the better side of me took over. I had chosen to run this race. I had worked hard to train for this race. This was the race I would run.
Race Start- I took the shuttle to the race start in Hopkinton, a picturesque New England town, with narrow brick house lined streets, put on the map by the marathon. I check Facebook, for the 187th time and there is a small note from my friend Roy wishing me luck. He reminds me of how far I’ve come. He tells me to “Run Happy”.
As I walked towards the baggage check, a young boy approaches me and asks me to sign his poster. I almost fall over. Totally flattered and knowing this might not ever happen again, I oblige, adding “The Running Rabbi” after my name.
A fellow runner offers me some sun tan lotion. Knowing that I “never burn”, I pass. Big mistake. VERY big mistake.
A guy covered in orange, this year’s race color, passes me. It’s noot just his shirt and shorts that are orange. His entire visible body is covered in orange something. I must admit that I am not a fan of dressing in costumes for races. The Puritan in me feels like it cheapens the race. Worst of all, judging by his lower bib number, the bugger is faster than I am.
Then we are off.
Mile 1- It is hot and only getting hotter. I try and start off slowly. With adrenaline rushing through my body and the beginning of the race being mostly downhill, this is easier said than done.
Unlike the New York City Marathon, which takes place within the confines of the city, The Boston Marathon is actually run to Boston with less than 2 miles being run in the city. Starting in Hopkinton, the residents of each small town show up in droves, cheering us on with all they’ve got. Equally important on this day, they literally seem to give us all they’ve got. Orange slices, bananas, Twizzlers and pretzels. It’s a veritable fourth grade birthday party. Most importantly they give us water; in cups and from water guns, garden hoses and open hydrants. Some pass out ice cubes. They think they are spectators. Today they are also life savers.
Mile 3- I take Roy’s words to heart. Today is not a day for PRs. I decide to enjoy this race and treat it as a victory lap. Much to my regret, I can’t high-five each of the thousands of children lining the course. Each time I high-five a little girl, I tell her that I only high-five the prettiest girls. They respond like, well, school girls.
I’ve never run with my name on my shirt, but I’ve heard that Boston is the place to do it. On the front of my shirt, my lovely wife has written “Running Rabbi”. For the only time in the race, someone calls out “Go Rabbi”. Later on I realize why. Looking down at my shirt, the writing is gone. Next time I’ll get a permanent marker.
Mile 5- We enter Framingham, pronounced like what you would be doing if you were into pig art. It is the town we stayed in last night, and where Rochie and the kids will be cheering. I am very excited.
Three little girls are doing the cutest cheer about going to Boston. I wish I was carrying my cell phone to record the scene as I want to remember the tune.
Having started at the end of the first wave of runners (the fast ones, thank you very much) and running slowly, I have the street mostly to myself. I play to the crowd. As I wave my arms, the cheers get louder. I ask them if I am winning.
Mile 6- This where I am supposed to see my family, but I do not. I am REALLY bummed. Even worse, I feel a blister developing. Not only do I NEVER get sun burns, but I NEVER get blisters. Perhaps I should buy a lottery ticket.
Mile 8- Having resigned myself to the fact that I missed seeing my family, I run on. Then I get a wonderful surprise. There they are on the left side of the road. Each time they have come to cheer me on at a race, I have always been too obsessed with a time goal to stop. This time I stop. I kiss my sons, I kiss my daughters and then, in my personal Wellesley moment, I [TRANSCRIPT INTERUPTTED].
Mile 9- I see a VW Bug as I am about to pass a group of boys watching the race. I go onto the sidewalk and VERY gently give one boy a punch and say "Punchbuggy yellow". Fortunately, his mother laughs hysterically instead of calling the cops.
Miles 10 & 11- We are in Nattick. This is the kind of scene that inspired Norman Rockwell. Bucolic New England town, men outside of their homes in lawn chairs listening to “The Sawx”, cute children cheering, towering spires. Wow.
As I run, I hear Sox updates on spectator’s radios. Just another advantage of running Boston.
I have no idea why, but there is a row of kids jumping on trampolines. One kid gets off. Channeling my inner Roy, I jump on for a few jumps.
Then I see them; two of the most iconic Boston Marathon figures; Dick and Rick Hoyt. Rick who is 50 has Cerebral Palsy. His father Dick, who is almost 72, has run The Boston Marathon almost every year since 1977 (as well as other marathons and TRIATHLONS) pushing Rick in a wheel chair. I don’t know whether he is hurt but Dick is sitting on the curb with his shoe off as a photographer takes pictures from a distance that is was too close if you ask me. Thankfully, as I find out later, the Hoyts finished their 30th Boston that day.
Thankfully, partially so I can go there. You had to know it’s coming…wait for it…wait for it…Dick and I Rick, today, I Hoyt as well.
Mile 13- I reach the half-way point in 1:57. I am feeling ok, but I know that I am going too fast and will pay later.
I hear the shrieks. I am approaching The Tunnel of Love, where Wellesley co-eds are shrieking and waiting to kiss the passing runners. They are on the right side of the road. I stay to the left, thank you very much. Some of the signs are funny. No, I will not tell you what they said.
One woman holds a sign identifying her as Teddy Bruschi’s daughter. Bruschi, a former New England Patriot, had a stroke a few years ago and has a foundation that raises money to help stroke victims. My son Meir is hoping to see him. At this point, despite the fact that I am not much of a drinker, I would prefer a different kind of Brew-ski.
Miles 16-20- Newton. The four hills of Newton are brutal on any day. Today they are worse. I love hills, but with a growing blister, sunburn and rashes in places you don’t even want to know about, I am afraid. Very afraid.
My heart is racing and I don’t want to end up in the hospital. I start a pattern of walking for a minute each mile, so that I will slow down. I’ve never tried for a slower time, but today is not a day to be a hero.
I trudge along, my back now hurting, due to altering my gait because of the blister. I want to punch the people who tell me “looking good”. No, I don’t. I look I was run over by a bus and then had my skin rubbed raw by a grater.
Heartbreak Hill. I alternate running, limping and walking. I know I will finish. It’s just a question of fighting through the pain.
“Go number 8813”. The spectators are awesome finding a way to cheer, even without knowing my name. As many of us take walk breaks, I hear “way to keep moving”. These are, by far, the best spectators in the world.
Then we are over the top. Normally downhills are a runner’s friend. Not today. As I let loose, my legs are begging me to stop. Boston College students line the streets shouting. I high five as many as can.
Mile 23- Brookline. This is the second time I am supposed to see my family out on the course, only this time I have mixed feelings. I don’t like the idea of my kids seeing me walk when I should be running. As much as I can, I run during this mile. Either way it doesn’t pay off, as I don’t see them.
I see the “Citgo” sign made famous by its proximity to Fenway Park. As much as I want to follow its first syllable, I try and follow its second one.
Mile 25- Welcome to Boston! I am pushing as much as I can. Then I see him. Orange guy is much less orange. Not only that, he is about to lose to the newly mostly red guy. MOOHAHA!
Mile 26- As I turn onto Boylston Street I am fighting back tears. The pain no longer matters and I am sprinting. I play to the crowd and the roar carries me. I am not Alberto Salazar, or Dick Beardsley, who made history on this course 30 years earlier (and who I met on Sunday!), but they could not have been any more excited as they raced to the finish than I am.
Finish Line- 4:09. 88 degrees. I simultaneously feel pain and pride. I am exhausted and exhilarated. A deep feeling of satisfaction washes over me. For the first time in forever, I have no idea what comes next. For the first time in forever, it doesn’t matter. Today I ran happy.