Past the roars of the crowd, past the distinguished victory stand packed with political dignitaries, the runners who completed the 26 miles and 385 yards of Boston Marathon herded into one of the Prudential garages along Boylston Street.
For winners like Bill Rodgers and Gayle Barron, the garage was a friendly holding area--a chance to enjoy the smiles and congratulations of onlookers, the avid attention of the media, and the welcomed trophies and plaques.
For others, like Jeff Wells, Edsa Takkanen, Penny DeMoss and Kim Merritt, the garage was a place to sit and contemplate what it was that made the difference between a win and just a good effort.
But for the majority of the more than 4000 runners who tackled the arduous race course, the cement walls and damp, chilled air of the garage was a welcome end, a retreat from a grueling test of stamina and determination.
Coming down the ramp, which was overflowing with spectators and fenced in by policemen, the runners entered a cavern filled with the aftermath of a marathon.
Within a half-hour of the time the victorious Rodgers entered Prudential Plaza, the garage was mobbed with athletes, some limping with blistered feet, others leaning on the shoulders of friends who had come to greet the heroic conquerors of the distance test.
Clad in yellow plastic blankets, lined with cloth, the athletes who had gone the distance came to the garage for the start of the recovery period. For some, that recovery was uneventful--just a question of imbibing some food and drink and getting off their abused feet. For others, the end of the race was torture.
Immediately after entering the garage, the runners walked into the medical area. Some took blankets and walked out to get refreshments and their baggage. But many others sprawled across a cot, succumbing to the pain and violent shivers of exhaustion.
For the most serious, the doctors had plasma on hand for transfusions; for others, there was just a blood pressure check and a long rest. There were mutilated feet that needed tending, and agonizing cramps that needed massaging.
Outside that improvised clinic, the masses devoured oranges, juices, and even beers. The National Guard dished out thick beef stew for the competitors, and the loudspeakers echoed through the room with calls for runners to come up and receive their awards.
But everyone had their own way of dealing with the return to normalcy. The first step for many was to battle the chaotic crowds around the baggage area and fight for reclamation of a warm-up suit. Then it was warmth, in a blanket, in sweats, or in a loved-one's arms. With lockerrooms overflowing, runners stripped down amidst the crowds, trying to get comfortable and get off their feet.
Some hunched against the cement pillars, battling vicious stomach cramps and fighting the post-race nausea that caused many to return their food to the garage floor. Almost everyone hobbled on their heels or the sides of their feet, avoiding blistered toes and sore soles.
Many flocked to the showers for a relaxing retreat with soap and water; some just dropped to the ground and drifted off to dreamland.
And right in the middle of this mass devastation, the winners enjoyed the microphones and the cameras. Barron was all smiles, Rodgers was a calm and collected victor, Wells was subdued, and DeMoss carried her second-place trophy saying, "I feel fine--really good."
There was agony, ecstasy and ambivalence. That's what 26 miles, 385 yards of running do to the human body.