“There’s still something so unifying about sport in its purest form, when athletes rise above themselves and touch greatness, and in doing so, remind us all that we also have greatness inside of us.”
April 19th, 2015: the day of the 119th Boston Marathon* – the second since the bombings – found Boston in the midst of the defendant’s trial. The morning was cold, dreary, and grey with rain threatening otherwise manageable running weather.
As I set out on my customary morning run down Beacon Street**, I was greeted by a heavy police force and military vehicles that looked out of place. I couldn’t help but wonder about the day: Which history will repeat itself? Will today be like 117 of the last 118 Marathon Mondays? Will it be a triumphant day full of sweat, tears of joy, and accomplishment? Or a darker day with the world’s attention focused on Boston for all the wrong reasons?
Nevertheless, I headed back to Beacon Street a few hours later, umbrella in hand, just in time to see the wheelchair race and the women’s leaders. Standing there with chills running through my body from both the intermittent rain and inspiration I felt from watching the runners, I was struck with the realization that the enthusiasm for this race can never be deafened – that, despite the memories of watching everything unfold in 2013, despite so much unnecessary tragedy being brought to the lives of so many innocent people, and despite this winter’s less-than-perfect weather, the Boston Marathon stands for something great and that Boston really is very strong.
For hours, I was glued to the marathon, watching thousands of runners go by. Runners of all ages, races, occupations, physical abilities, cities, states, and countries were crossing in front of me, running for themselves or to honor people they do and do not know, running in defense of or to capture titles and personal records, and of course, running for the city and spirit of Boston.
Take for instance the service men running in uniform, clapping for the wheelchair participant right next to them. Or take the 2014 champion Meb, who grabbed a woman’s hand and crossed the finish line with her, the man with one leg and a crutch, who battled through every mile at a swift pace, Marathon Bombing survivor Rebekah Gregory, who after having her leg amputated only 6 months ago ran the final 3.2 miles, or the countless blind runners buddied with a running guide. Perhaps one of the most impressive finishes is that of Maickel Melamed, a Venezuelan with Muscular Dystrophy, who despite his disease, finished the marathon, his fifth, in just under 20 hours.
Every year, rain or shine, such victories are witnessed by thousands of spectators, who, squished like sardines next to the road barricades, cheer for thousands of people they have likely never met. And if you’ve ever run a race, you know how helpful cheers from the sidelines can be.
What runners may not realize, however, is that this is as cathartic for the spectators as it is for them. Because of stories like Meb’s, Rebekah’s, and Maickel’s, along with all of the others that are seemingly more “ordinary,” those watching and cheering immediately feel closer to greatness.
Even towards the end of the marathon, when the finish line seems further away than ever, runners smile despite obvious pain and shortened strides, finding the energy to say thank you to complete strangers, doling out high fives to get the crowd cheering even louder, and most impressively, cheering on their fellow marathoners. Their mental toughness radiates through every town and through every step, and each moment brings another ounce of inspiration to anyone watching.
There are countless stories like those above of runners reaching greatness on Patriots’ Day in Boston, and a quick scan of images tagged with the “#BostonMarathon” show the impact the race has on this city: one of beauty and pride, courage and triumph, respect and support, resilience and compassion.
It is these stories that remind me why I choose to start each day with a run along part of the marathon route – and why, whenever I need some motivation on those extra cold, wet days, or on days when I’d rather stay in bed, I will think of the strength, determination and will of the Boston Marathon runners I excitedly cheer on each year.
And so, although Beacon Street appears back to “normal” now – void of the medical tents, water stations, and marathon banners – it is surely anything but. The memories and impact of the 2015 Boston Marathon, like all of those before it, are a constant reminder that even amidst roadblocks and hurdles and even if it takes longer than we had hoped, we can all achieve greatness.
*The Boston Athletic Association’s Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon. It was inspired by the Olympic Marathon and was first run, only by men, in 1897. Women began running unofficially in 1966 and officially in 1972, and in 1975, a wheelchair division was added. The race, with a field of 30,000 runners in 2015, has become so popular that it is as great a challenge to secure a bib as it is to train for, run, and finish it.
**For those unfamiliar with the course, Beacon Street comprises miles 23 and 24 and take the runners via into Brookline, the last of seven towns before the Boston finish. It’s a beautiful straightaway with an ever-so-slight set of rolling hills. After passing brownstones, shops, and restaurants, the hills peak with a view of the famous Citgo sign. It is an indication that the finish line is near and is followed by a rewarding decline that precedes the final 2.2 mile battle.
This post is dedicated to all runners of the Boston Marathon. The strength you bring to this city and its people is immeasurable.
Laura O’Neil is currently the senior accountant at Acceleron Pharma in Cambridge, Massachusetts and previously worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers after graduating from the College of the Holy Cross. She is licensed as a Certified Public Accountant, an avid distance runner, and a lover of baking and algebra. Her true passions include laughing, reflection, understanding human behavior, and making others smile. In a perfect world, she would spend every sunny summer day on the coast of southern Maine with a lobster roll in hand. She previously wrote a piece for ATG on the Luck of the Irish.