“The roof will be there, let’s go watch the race.”
It was tough keeping the pack at bay, because let’s be honest, the view from the roof is incredible. Sixth floor rooftop at the crest of Beacon Hill with panoramic views from East Boston to Watertown, Downtown to Fenway. It’s tough to find much better.
Still, there were different points of logic that went into that phrase, which I found myself repeating over and over again. This Marathon is unlike other Marathons. We should be out amongst the people. And, well, the roof will be there later.
As much as the day means—and this year that was a whole helluva lot—a great deal of it still comes down to running. When you think about it, road racing is the purest form of competition on earth. The first athletic competition many of us enter comes at a young age when a classmate or friend simply says, “Let’s run and see who’s faster.” We learn to race before we learn to shoot a basketball or swing a golf club.
The roof being available later in the day was a big part of it, but the need to watch the runners was paramount. I wanted to see the faces on the runners as they turned onto Hereford, just steps from Boylston. I wanted to see the working folk who wake up early throughout the winter to hit their mileage goals and throw in a monster 20-miler on Saturdays. I wanted to see parents, roughly 26 miles into the journey, stop on the side of the road to give their kids a hug before making that one last push. That, as Robin Williams’s character from Good Will Hunting would say, is the good stuff.
I’ve never run a marathon, but it’s on the bucket list. What I have run is a 10 miler through the Newton hills back in high school, and for those who’ve never experienced, there are some sections that just ascend and keep rising for nearly half a mile. If these runners are going to train for six months and put themselves through 26.2 grueling miles to test their physical limits, then we’re damn sure going to take the time to watch them and cheer them on.
Standing at that corner in Back Bay, something strange happened. The entire cheering ecosystem was flipped around. At first, we yelled and clapped for a couple minutes, then took a break. A few minutes later we clapped some more, but it was fleeting. Outside of rare standing ovations, how long do you usually clap for? So we clapped when a big wave of runners came through and then took a little rest.
Thankfully, the marathoners wouldn’t let us rest. Why should we? They just willed themselves here from Hopkinton and all we did was navigate a crowded sidewalk. Runners not feeling the proper amount of love would wave their arms, as if to lift the crowd itself. With every gesticulation came a roar from the crowd, a renewed sense of spirit and celebration.
Watching the elite runners is to marvel; watching the weekend warriors is to be in awe. The elites are running sub 5-minute miles, nonstop, for over two hours. Everyone else is trying to finish, maybe in three hours, maybe in four, maybe just at all. We’ll never be able to fathom what the elite runners are capable of so we just smile, wave, and hope we get to see a course record. Thing is, we can kind of envision ourselves in the racing shoes of everyone else on the course. Most work regular jobs, have regular families, and live regular lives. They’re the ones who inspire us to think that, someday, we too could run the 26.2 mile gauntlet from Hopkinton to Boston.
Before we watched the throngs trying to finish in under three or four hours, we did catch the elites at the finish line. Given the anticipation surrounding the day, it was shocking to find decent viewing points near the finish line at the last second. Arriving on Boylston, between Dartmouth and Exeter, the crowd wasn’t as deep as we assumed it’d be. It went about 8-10 deep but not much more. Standing on our toes, we could see the elites coming in.
Security was airtight, with officers patrolling the streets in droves and checkpoints set up at every neighborhood entrance point. The only person who made me the least bit nervous was some crazy old guy in a beat up tweed jacket who was swaying about and holding plastic bags filled with bottles. And even he was probably just a harmless vagabond. Our spot was right in front of Marathon Sports, site of the first explosion last year. The little crystals on the sidewalk tiles shone brightly in the sun, but it was hard not to imagine the blood stains that adorned those tiles at last year’s race. Speaking of the sun, law enforcement efforts made it so that my only worry in the world was how bad the sunburn on my forehead would be. The sun was unsuspectingly strong and unrelenting as the spirit of the city itself.
Like I said before, it’s hard to get a group to do one thing at the same time, and because of that, we missed Rita Jeptoo win her third Boston Marathon. What we did arrive in time for was Meb Keflezighi’s coronation.
Meb is an older guy—he’ll be 39 in two weeks—meaning he was in his prime right when I got into running during high school. He’s not a deity like Prefontaine or a machine like Rodgers. Hell, he wasn’t even born in America. He’s of African descent and made an American ascent. He was raised here, educated here, and trained here. He’s run in the Olympics for the United States, and on Monday, he won the Boston Marathon for the United States—the first time it’s happened in 31 years. Who gives a damn that he wasn’t born here? We’re still healing and more than happy to accept a triumph, so yeah, we’ll take the win going away and set aside the skepticism for another day.
After watching the grinders conquer the course, and only after that, did I allow the group to join the rest of the city for the unofficial alcohol marathon, which takes place shortly after the real thing. A friendly BAA volunteer let us walk along the south side of Boylston over to a rooftop bar called Rattlesnake. Oh, that’s one other thing about Patriots’ Day: Everyone is nice. Boston can be a testy town at times where everyone’s got a chip on their shoulder. Not on Monday. If you’re in Boston on Marathon Monday, you’re holding doors, letting people cut in line at the bar, and even saying “excuse me” when you bump into someone. It’s the one day of the year where people put aside their attitudes for the greater good.
We had a few drinks, watched the Red Sox fall short, and then left. Walking back on Boylston, runners were still finishing, wrapped in those metallic silver blankets that have some medical effect I still can’t quite figure out. It looked like a scene from a sci-fi zombie movie, an army of half-dead bodies wandering aimlessly in their shiny space suits, only with various forms of Vitamin C and water.
There was no need to say “nice job” or anything like that because it felt patronizing. These people just ran the race of their lives and we’re just the dopes leaving the bar. They didn’t need our approval; we needed theirs. Given what they’d just accomplished, we weren’t worthy of them, so we politely nodded, tried not to stare, stayed out of their way, and kept moving.
Over and through the Public Garden we went, passing families picnicking, runners laying out in the grass, and the swan boats in full force. A more majestic scene is hard to envision. The jaunt through the Garden could have lasted hours and I wouldn’t have cared. It was that perfect. Alas, we reached Beacon Street at the foot of Beacon Hill. And then?
Then we went to the roof.