Let's be clear about something: I didn't grow up running. I didn't run in high school. When I was in college, there weren't any runners that I looked up to. Instead, when I was in college, I thought running races was for idiots. Why would I pay money to wake up early and go for a run? I remember asking one of my siblings, If I ever want to go for a run, I can put on my shoes and just go... whenever I want... for free! And then, I went to the Boston Marathon.
It was my junior year of college, and my brother was running the race - so, without knowing much about running or racing, I was there to cheer on my brother. That weekend, I noticed some things: though I didn't have anything to compare it to, I could tell that Boston had a really positive, buzzing energy in the days leading up to the race. Everyone was smiling to each other; strangers were sharing stories about their pre-race nerves and pre-race rituals. Seemingly random people would pass each other in hotel lobbies and tell each other "Good Luck!" In crowded restaurants with ridiculously long waits, no one seemed to be upset. Despite the fact that we were tourists in one of the largest cities in the country, everyone seemed to be in one big community. And then, it was race day.
I didn't know what to expect, really - I'd never been a spectator at a race before. So, I followed my sister-in-law, Marlene (a badass runner herself) around all day, and I took queues from her. As we bounced around the city of Boston that day, the positive vibe I'd picked up in Boston over the weekend had become palpable. Any time a runner went by, it seemed like everyone in Boston started clapping and cheering - it didn't matter whether the runner was a world-class elite, or whether they were just out there for fun. The crowd, which was generally 7-10 people deep, for 26.2 miles, kept on going nuts.
In most sports, for a person to win, someone else has to lose - that's just the nature of competition. And, coming from a world of baseball and basketball and tennis and football, I'd grown used to that world - the one where spectators had to choose who they wanted to win. But, with the Boston Marathon, people didn't seemingly have to choose: they could just cheer for everyone. And there were amazing things to cheer for:
Take Dick and Rick Hoyt, for example: a father-son dream team from Boston. Every year since 1977, Rick, who was diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy at birth, runs the marathon thanks to his father, Dick, who pushes him through the course. And there's the story of Bob Hall, who paved the way for the wheelchair division, by completing the course in 2 hours and 58 minutes back in 1975. And there were the elites, who set a new course record that year by over three minutes, and the winner, who ran the fastest marathon ever by almost a full minute.
But it wasn't the extraordinary stories at the race that I fell in love with: it was really about the way that ordinary people lined the streets to cheer on strangers who were running their hearts out in Boston. Never before had I, and never have I since, seen ordinary strangers coming together to support one another like that in the name of sport.
And so, by the end of the weekend, a dream of mine was born:
I wanted to run the Boston Marathon.