BOSTON (CBS) – An act of terror. An act of hatred. An act of cowardice.
Three things I never imagined I’d write when it comes to the Boston Marathon.
There are things that define a city. In Boston, the Boston Marathon is one of them and it’s right near the top.
I always laughed when friends and colleagues would make fun of the Boston Marathon. They would say it caused traffic jams. They would say nobody cares about these elite runners from other countries. They would say it was just a bad excuse for people to party. On and on they would drone.
And, sometimes, for a moment or two, I would think they were right. But then I would start thinking and come back to the same conclusion: I love everything about Boston Marathon Monday.
For years and years I have soaked in all that is good about the world’s greatest running event. And, I have been a part of this special day from just about every angle imaginable.
The fun actually begins the weekend of the race. You head into the city to find the Marathon Expo. When you pick up your number and t-shirt you get a special feeling. A feeling of a bond. Thousands and thousands of runners, family, and friends are sharing in the pre-race excitement. It’s all running all the time and you bask in the glow of it. And, you carbo load even if you don’t want to. You do it because that’s what the “experts” tell you to do.
And then there’s race day……….
I have been at the starting line in the wee hours of the morning to soak in all the pre-race excitement. I have interviewed people from all over the world prior to the start. It’s amazing to hear all of them say the same things over and over again. My favorite line? If you can only run one marathon in your life it has to be Boston! The history, the hills, and most of all the people. The crowds. Almost any runner that runs Boston says the crowd is the most amazing part. The non-stop cheering can be heard from start to finish and it doesn’t matter if you’re an elite runner or a six hour runner. I have also watched how Race Director Dave McGillivray operates. The amount of work he puts into the race is staggering and he has the unique ability to make it feel like you’re running in a local 5K race. And, the work all of the volunteers put in is astonishing as they do it for the “love of the event.”
I have been on the course as a reporter and spectator at the top of Heartbreak hill. There are families that gather every year at the same houses. They barbecue and proceed to cheer for the runners the entire time they are there. And you are there for a long time. You get to know each other simply because there is a lot of waiting. The fans, the police, the medical folks, and the volunteers. And you get caught up in the day. You find yourself in awe of how fast the elite runners truly are. You turn to the folks standing with you and say, “if you and I ran as humanly possible as fast as we can for 20 yards that’s how fast these elite men and women run for 26.2 miles!” You also find yourself looking for names. Names on t-shirts or on runner’s arms and legs. You start screaming encouragement as they hit the third on final hill just before Boston College. I have met my wife at Heartbreak Hill eight times. The joy of seeing her approach is a wonderful memory my kids and mother-in-law will never forget. You can’t help but tear up with pride as you watch your spouse head to Fenway and the finish line for the final six miles.
I have been on the course near Kenmore Square. I have gone to many Patriot Day games at Fenway and then went out to cheer on runners as they approached the finish. I have done that as a reporter and with my kids. Nowhere in the world can you watch a baseball game and then walk down the street and cheer on thousands of people that have given everything they have for 24 miles. You stand in awe.
I have been at the finish line too many times to count. I have been there as a reporter inside the Copley Hotel headquarters. I have been helped by all the great people of the Boston Athletic Association from Guy Morse to Jack Fleming on down. They make covering the historic race easy. Their love for the race easy to see as they took care of you. And they made you feel part of the Boston Marathon family. I have been there to interview the winners and watch them bask in the glow of victory while proudly wearing the laurel wreath. Some spoke in broken English, but you understood what they were saying every time.
I have also been at the finish line as a host of the race for the old WHDH-AM radio. It was a thrill of a lifetime calling the winners as they came churning down the stretch. The adrenaline rush is something you can’t really describe. I have covered the finish for WBZ radio and of course, WBZ-TV. It is awesome!
And, I have been at the finish line to watch my wife cross one of the world’s greatest finish lines. I have walked the same sidewalks as many others, bumping into party-goers, relatives, and friends of finishers. To see the smiles, the courage, determination and sheer joy is a memory you once again never forget. Sometimes you see runners cramping up or in severe pain as they try to get to that finish line. You watch in awe as they won’t give up. You tear up. And, you realize that this is their Mount Everest. Perhaps their “once-in-a-lifetime” crowning achievement. You also watch the volunteers work their magic as they help those that need it. Those suffering from cramps, muscle pulls, blisters, dehydration, etc. Not an easy job, but there to help.
And, the feeling at and around the finish line has always been one of joy. It’s hard to describe to people that aren’t there. You feel like family. Part of a club. You know and understand that Boston is the greatest marathon there is. And, you know it’s arguably the hardest to run. It’s not easy. And that’s what make it all the more special at the finish line. The end of what is an unforgettable journey. A moment to be shared by all.
And finally, I have had the privilege and honor of running the Boston Marathon. I did it with my wife and loved every step of it. The morning is difficult because of the wait in Hopkinton. You just want to go, but you know you can’t just yet. You get butterflies just like any athlete who is about to take part in a tough event. But, you feel special because you put forth so much time and effort training for that one day. And, you also realize you are going to be on the same course that the elite runners are racing on. It’s like playing the Masters course at Augusta just a few minutes after the greatest golf tournament in the world is finishing up!
I remember taking a moment at the starting line to look around and soak the spectacle in. The smile won’t go away. You just keep telling yourself over and over to go slow. Don’t go out too fast! And, that is a hard thing to do because you go downhill right away. As you hit the bottom of that first hill in Hopkinton, you chuckle as you watch a countless number of people veer into the woods. Why? Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate is all you hear leading up the race and the human body takes over…
You then roll through the towns…..Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick……on you go. I remember running through Natick and hearing radios blaring the call of the race on WBZ-AM. I heard Gil Santos announcing the winners and I remember turning to my wife and saying, “Are you kidding me? They’re finishing and we’re at mile 10!!!!”
I will never forget Wellesley and the Wellesley College girls. I had always heard about how loud they would cheer when you ran by, but I never imagined what it actually was like. It was a wall of the loudest cheering you have ever heard in your life! And, it’s for you! And, it goes on and on and on…seemingly forever. It gets so bad that you actually look forward to it stopping because your ears hurt! Very cool.
Next up, the fire station in Newton Lower Falls where you turn right onto Commonwealth Ave and begin the trek of the three hills known as Heartbreak Hill. I remember turning to my wife after the first hill and saying, “that wasn’t so bad”. She laughed and said, “that’s the first of three.” I almost threw up.
At the top of Heartbreak Hill, you feel relief. You know that you have six miles to go and you will have done it. You meet family and friends there and try to soak in the moment, but it’s hard. You’re all business at that point, but you also realize you’ve just gone through the “make-or-break” part of the historic course.
You then smile when you head by the Boston College campus as you see all the students just hanging out. I also remember yelling “Hey” to my friends selling sausages there. You know you look like heck, but you don’t think that way. You assume you look like your normal self. Ha!
The next five miles are tough. I think you suffer a mental letdown after you pass BC because you think you’re almost done, but there’s actually 6 miles to go. You grind it out through Cleveland Circle and Coolidge Corner and again, the crowd helps you through.
And then for me……paradise! My wife and I stopped just before Kenmore Square to look at Fenway Park. The funny thing was I saw a high school buddy there and he took our picture to mark the special stop. It made me smile as I always used to walk out of Fenway on Marathon Monday thinking to myself how cool it would be to actually run the course. I never thought I could do it. I was doing it!
After Kenmore Square, arguably the best part of the day. Turning the corner from Hereford Street onto Boylston Street for the final kick! It’s something you never forget. The size of the crowd, the familiar buildings on that street, and the sight of the finish line finally in sight! You smile. You soak it all in. My wife and I crossed the finish line together, hand in hand. An emotional moment. The satisfaction of having conquered the world’s greatest marathon course.
The walk past the medical tent leads to getting your medal for having finished. It took over 4 hours to do, but it was worth it. I remember wearing that medal to bed and not being able to sleep because my legs were burning. Maybe the best night of not being able to sleep ever!
The Boston Marathon is a unique and special event. It’s full of memories that last for a lifetime. It’s the people that make it beautiful. The people and the great city of Boston.
But on Monday, April 15th, 2013 it all changed forever.
I love the Boston Marathon, but now this. We will never forget.
An act of terror. An act of hatred. An act of cowardice.
We will move on and there will be many more Boston Marathons. However, they will all forever be different. Things have changed.
I am sad.
We will never forget.