Many months ago, in a fit of suicidal hubris, I decided that I was going to run the Boston Marathon.
If I stay sane, I'll never do it again.
It was an incredibly fulfilling experience, a challenge that I've always wanted to overcome. But it was also very very tough. It was not nearly as much fun as getting my teeth drilled.
Despite my best efforts, however, I finished and survived. The really dumb thing is that I knew exactly what. I was getting myself into. You see, everyone who lives in the Boston area knows everything about the Marathon.
Long before the "running boom" boomed, Boston was obsessed with its Marathon. It still is.
In Boston, fat guys who only run after buses can tell you, in detail, all about the course layout, the previous winners, and the legendary heroes. Weathermen predict the order of finish. Everyone either runs the race or wishes he could.
Not surprisingly, a huge number of Marathon cliches have developed over the years. Most are true. Here are a few:
The first 10 miles are all downhill. Don't go too fast or you'll burn yourself out.
Every year thousands of fools ignore these words. Monday, I was one of those fools.
The marathon begins in sleepy little towns remembered by runners only for their long, downhill stretches and beer-chugging, keg-bellied spectators who yell "The Prudential Building is right around the corner!"
Blithely running down innumerable hills, it becomes awfully tempting to sprint at a maniacal pace. I have never been good at overcoming temptation. So I ignored all the pre-marathon promises I had made to my ever-worriful mother not too go out too fast.
I really thought I could get away with it. Until the hill.
Heartbreak Hill is so tough because it comes at the worst possible time.
Uh-huh. Just as most runners are smacking into "the Wall"--the point at which one's legs become disobedient slinkies--legendary Heartbreak Hill looms in the distance. Bunched around the 20-mile mark, this mountain range is not just a single hill but a series of hills, the last of which vaguely resembles Mt. McKinley.
Actually, people have told me that Heartbreak Hill is not that big, unless you're under the influence of 20 miles. Maybe, maybe not. All I know is that the hills sure seemed big as I approached them.
Perhaps that's because I was very close to death.
The crowd is unbelievable. That's what keeps you going.
To be perfectly honest. I'm not so sure about this one. Yes, the swarming crowds yell themselves hoarse encouraging you, and it's heartening to know that all those people are turning out to watch you suffer.
But the hundreds of thousands of spectators lining all 26 miles of the course were more of a hindrance than a help to me. That is not true for most runners, perhaps. But for me, the marathon was an intensely personal experience that forced me to look deep into my body and ask, "How fast can I run? Can I continue?"
While waiting for my body to answer, I found it distracting and even painful listening to people respond for me. "Pick it up!" they yelled. "You can do it! There's beer only six miles away!"
There's no better feeling than the thrill of crossing the finish line of the Marathon.
Probably the thrill would have been bigger if I could actually feel anything except pain. Nonethless, it was good pain.
It was not the pain that I had felt when I tried to scale Heartbreak Hill. It was not the pain that I had felt when I was running past Boston College, with the Prudential Center only a blip on the horizon.
No, the pain I felt crossing the finish line was the satisfying pain that I had been waiting to feel for a good part of my life.
The Boston Marathon is the greatest running event in the world.