BOSTON – Marathon Day: Athlete’s Village

We finally arrived at the Hopkinton high school and Athlete’s Village, and I told Emi, “there’s no going back now, we’re really here.” Everyone nodded their heads in communal commiseration. Everywhere you looked, there were happy, helpful volunteers in bright yellow jackets, ready to direct the runners to the places they needed to be. With anticipation, nervousness, and excitement, Emi and I stepped off the bus.

Large white tents were set up with bagels and water, but most runners decided to stay out in the open hoping to catch a few rays of warmth from the sun. The weather was beautiful, but the wind was bitterly cold. The ground was wet but not too muddy, and most people had brought plastic trash bags to sit or lay on. One ingenious guy had even brought a blow-up air mattress like you see in swimming pools, and was comfortably fast asleep (he must have been here before).

Emi and I found a place to sit out the long wait until we got called to the starting line. There was loud music blaring from huge loudspeakers, and an announcer telling the wave one runners where their buses would be located to drop off their bags before the start. People came and went, plastic bags were abandoned and reclaimed by others, and everyone was anxious to begin.

The port-a-potty lines were getting longer and longer, so Emi decided to go one last time before her 10:00 wave one start time. Steve Johnson called from his charity center and asked where I was sitting so we could see each other before the start. We never found each other. I looked for Will, whom I knew was starting in my same corral since we qualified with almost the same time in St. George, but I never saw him either. With almost 26,000 runners coming and going, I knew we could easily not see each other the entire run.

As I waited for Emi to return, I took it all in. Though all ages were represented, most of the people around me seemed to be my age or slightly older. I wondered if this was because we were mostly second wave runners, who were the slower, older qualifiers and charity runners. The announcer kept telling which start numbers should begin making their way to the corrals, and the field slowly became less and less crowded.

Two fighter jets flew overhead and I knew the race had officially begun. I thought about the elite runners, and what a momentous feeling it must be to win the Boston Marathon. I imagined what it must feel like to be Ryan Hall, so young and talented, and how fast he would run the same course I would follow. I thought of the elite women, and wished Kara, Deena, or Paula was running Boston this year.

Emi eventually returned, and I asked her if she was trying to PR today. She said yes, and she told me she never wears a Garmin. I gave her a confused look and she shrugged. Because I constantly strive to be less concerned with pace and time, but have so far failed miserably, I am in awe of Emi. We said our goodbyes and good lucks, and she rushed off. The runner from Boston on the bus had told us it was a .7 mile walk to the start line and would take about 30 minutes to get there with so many people, so she would have to hurry. After she left, I felt alone once again, even though I was still surrounded by thousands of runners.

I offered to let a woman from Florida share my plastic bag, happy for the company and conversation to fill the time, and we talked about how cold it was. This was her second time to run Boston, and the first had been two years earlier when it was even colder and wetter from a nor’easter that had blown in the day before. We discussed the agonies of training in a warm, humid state, and the joys of running races in cold locales, and if we had worn the right clothing for the race. Starting to get antsy about the long port-a-potty lines, I considered darting over to a grove of trees and bushes but noticed the area was being patrolled by National Guardsmen. I wondered if they were protecting me from terrorist activity, or protecting others from my indiscretions. We lined up for the port-a-potty one last time before the race, and I never saw my Florida friend again.

By this time it was around 10:00 and I knew Emi was starting. I wished her well in my head, and thought of Nick, Michael, Clive, and others I knew who were starting in the earlier wave. I also realized that if it was true that it would take me 30 minutes to get to the start, I better hurry. I found my drop-off bus, shoved my $7.48 Target Hello Kitty girls size XL sweat pants and St. George jacket in my bag, and joined the crowd heading to the start line.

A seemingly never-ending line of runners walked together down a long narrow road between historic wooden houses, and almost all of the homeowners stood in their front yards clapping and wishing us good luck. One nice woman told us not to worry, it would get warmer, she promised. Volunteers were collecting throw-away clothes on the sidelines, but I decided to keep my $3.48 Target motocross boys size XL hoodie on until I at least got to the start line.

A young college student from Long Island struck up a conversation with me on the walk down, and even she had run Boston the previous year. She was training to be a teacher, so I guess my “teacher look” gave me away even in my runner’s garb. She assured me that the hills weren’t really that bad on the course, and that this year she didn’t care what time she finished the race in, she just wanted to enjoy the experience. I asked her how she got to be so wise at such a young age.

We arrived at the corrals, which were bursting with runners, and she stepped off to the side to stretch. I had lost another friend and, once again, amidst thousands of runners, I felt totally alone. As I stepped into my official corral, I heard the starting gun go off. I was running in the 114th Boston Marathon.

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