Thursday, April 19, 2012

Boston Road Trip Redux

Just outside of Gettysburg, PA on Monday evening, the stoplights and strip mall storefronts disappeared in my rear view mirror along route 15. Bucolic fields dotted with cows and budding trees rolled across the dusky landscape and the sky glowed orange just above the mountains. I clicked the cruise control and readjusted in my seat for the final 90 minutes back to Virginia. Of the seven hour drive home from Boston, this is my favorite stretch, so it came as no surprise to me that the euphoria from the weekend hit me here. Truly, I love the Boston Marathon.

Two days earlier, my friend Ebo and I stepped off the T and came above ground. That’s where I spotted the first orange bag. That’s when I felt the first pangs of jealousy. We made our way under gray New England skies to the Boston Marathon Expo to meet up with his girlfriend who’d be running the race for the first time on Monday. The crowd thickened and the air buzzed with anticipation and excitement. We waded into the sea of people going in and out of the Trade Center and Ebo turned to me and said, “This is unlike any expo I’ve ever been to.” And my first thought was, That’s because there is no other race like Boston.

I’ll admit, when Ebo first asked me if I wanted to road trip up to the race with him, I had some reservations. I’d run the last two Bostons and wasn’t sure what it would be like to head to the race and not run it. But, it’s hard to turn down a road trip, and part of me wanted to experience the race from the other side, soak in all the revelry without all the anxiety of actually running (plus I’m qualified for 2013). In short, I was in.

When the weather reports started rolling in for race day – as well as the subsequent warning e-mails – I found some solace in the fact that I wasn’t running. I survived the 2007 Chicago Marathon meltdown, and one 88 degree marathon is enough, thank you.

Ebo’s girlfriend ran as part of the Tufts Marathon Team. Tufts trains its team members to prepare them for the race and provides a sweet setup for not only the runners but also their friends and family. This is the way to spectate at a race. After a team-sponsored pasta dinner Sunday night, Tufts provided buses to take us to mile nine in Natick to cheer on the runners. Once the roads opened back up, the buses took everyone to the finish line, and then back to campus. I, however, drove myself so that I could hit the road back to Virginia once the roads opened back up.

The air felt heavy and warm when we arrived at mile nine. Morning clouds had burned off and the sun beat down on us. We munched on Dunkin Donuts and chatted with his girlfriend’s parents, checking our watches and Twitter to find out when we’d see the first runners.

Ebo and I posted up on the side of the road as the first wheelchair participants zoomed by. It wouldn’t be long now. I likened the experience to running a relay like Ragnar. Time slows when you’re waiting to start, but as soon as your van takes off, it’s suddenly 30 hours later, you’re exhausted, hungry, haven’t showered, and are closer to five other people than you ever thought you could be. Ok, so perhaps it’s not exactly like running a relay, but time does fly.

A car driving Meb came by, which elicited shouts of the only thing I could think of, “Meb!”

Then the elite women gracefully flowed by us, followed not long after by the men. I’ve never been up close when a pack of world class elites have gone by. It is awing and beautiful all at once to watch them cover ground so swift and elegantly.

From there, Ebo and I went into full spectator mode, practically clapping for two hours straight and calling out the names runners had drawn on their shirts. We commiserated over how good it felt to get the thumbs up from a runner passing by, a “thank you,” or simply when someone started running again after walking by you.

Ebo’s girlfriend came by looking strong despite the climbing temperatures. We resupplied her and then she was off again.

The river of runners eventually dried up and we retired to the tent for another Tufts provided meal. The exhaustion began to wash over us as well.

The road opened back up not long after 1:45. I said good bye to my friend and pulled out of the lot aimed south toward Virginia.

I may not have brought home another Boston jacket, but I packed with me another year’s worth of Boston memories. The trip became all the more rewarding to experience the race through a beginner’s eyes. Though, I wasn’t at the finish line, Ebo’s girlfriend raised goosebumps in her race recap abouther final stretch down Boylston Street. It’s a quarter mile you’ll never forget.

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