by Paul Thompson
The 2012 Boston Marathon was one of the hottest on record. It was already in the 70s (F) by the mass start at 10am and in the high 80s by noon. I did something I rarely do. I watched. I was mainly there to cheer on team mates who I’d trained with throughout the winter. And I was keen to see them finish the job.
When I heard the weather predictions on Friday evening I felt fortunate to be watching. At the dinner with team mates the night before I made no secret of this. But watching them and thousands of others run by me at Kenmore Square, just after the 25 mile point, I began to wish I was out there too. My sense of relief at not having to run gave way to a feeling of envy that I was not taking part in it. To share in the pain, the emotion, and whatever else they were experiencing. For I came to realize that I was witnessing something special: how the human spirit can endure and overcome when tested. And I wanted to be part of that.
On the best of days Boston is a tough marathon. Traditionally the winners run 3-4 minutes slower than the fastest courses like London or Chicago. But because it is an A to B, West to East course it will never qualify for world records: the course is downhill and there can be chasing wind like last year.
In 2008, after passing half way in 1:14 and cresting Heartbreak Hill I thought a 2:29 PR was on the cards – only to find the hills had sapped whatever I had left and the muscles starting cramping on the long steady descent into the finish. I ended up running 2:38:52, losing almost 2 minutes a mile in the last 4 miles. Ample proof that the race really does not start until 20 miles. Boston can break you like no other Marathon Major. After the race Shamala said that I was running at her pace near the end: actually I walked sections with cow bells ringing in my ear.
What kept me going that year, and what kept the 22,500 on Monday going, was dogged determination. To finish what you had started months ago in the depths of winter – those long training runs in all weathers etc. There is neither rhyme nor reason to it. All you know is you have to do it. In the last mile I, like many others on Monday, was like a lame donkey. And when you are like this you do not give a fig for what you look like or your time. It’s all about the finishing.
The Boston field is better prepared than most for the hills and, this year, the weather. For many runners Boston is the holy grail of marathon running. Until a decade ago the only way to run Boston was to qualify by running another marathon within a specific time. Today running for a charity, being a celebrity or a sponsor can get you a spot on the starting line. Owing to the heat the organizers gave all entrants the option of deferring their entry to 2013. Some 4,500 out of 27,000 did, I suspect most being those who hadn’t qualified.
The Warren Street team was led home by Sebastien B. in a scorching 2:33:13 and coming in 30th place (33rd if you include the elite women). Truly amazing in the conditions and barely 20 minutes behind the winner, Wesley Korir, who ran 2:12:40. Just after the 25 mile marker he even had the presence of mind, which I never have, of hearing us cheer and hi-fived us.
Then came Fabio Casadio, enroute to 2:47:29, gesturing to the crowd to give him a helping cheer. Larry Ikard in 3:14:56 anchored Warren Street to 6th Open Men’s team. Simon Elsaesser, making the trip from his adopted home country of England, ran 3:15:58. The Warren Street women also scored as a team. As far as I know all of the Warren Street team members that started finished. No PRs but immense relief and pride in what they had achieved.
On the drive home Shamala and I stopped for a bite at a travel plaza. And here there were dozens of battered and bruised, but not beaten, Boston 2012 veterans heading home. To New York, to Philadelphia and further afield. With family or friends or with just a Big Mac. Most wore their finisher medals to prove they’d been there, seen it and done it. Indeed they had done something truly outstanding, something that the 99.9% can never imagine. And for this day they were quite Simply the Best.