Yesterday I had the honor of handing out water to the runners at this year’s Boston Marathon at the Mile 16 Hydration Station. What a day it was! We finally had great weather – it started off sunny and in the low 40’s, increasing to the low 70’s over the course of the afternoon.
Expectations for this years marathon were running high in our city and the day was emotional on many different levels. This is my first year as a runner and I was so excited to be part of the marathon experience. I enjoy being part of a team, and, while I have no desire to run a marathon I am absolutely thrilled to support all of those who do run.
If you aren’t familiar with the course Mile 16 is just about at the start of the Newton Hills and not too far from the famous (infamous?) Heartbreak Hill. It’s an extremely tough section of the course as the runners hit those hills on tired legs.
My job mainly involved filling cup after cup after cup full of water (I was advised to avoid the Gatorade table if I didn’t want to be one sticky mess at the end of the day and I am thankful that I got to do water instead. Those runners do aim for the trash when they throw the cups but a lot of it ends up on the volunteers) and then hand out cup after cup after cup of water. I thought my shoulder was going to give up and go home about halfway through the day. Talk about workouts!
We were far enough from the start that we had some time to get all the tables up and take a quick break at Starbucks. However, once the elite runners came through we were at the tables non stop.
Watching the elite runners come through is an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. The women came by first, led by Shalane Flanagan and they looked beautiful. Perfect form, just floating across the pavement and not even bothered by that pesky little hill. I like to think that’s what I look like on my long runs (it’s not, mind you, it’s just what I like to think).
Then came the hero of the day – Meb Keflezighi. He was absolutely flying and all alone. His nearest competitor had to be about 2 tenths of a mile behind him and the elite men’s pack was even further behind that! I don’t even have the words to describe Meb. I can only say to run like that is a gift. A huge cheer went up from the crowd when he came around the corner and it followed him as he disappeared up the hill – Meeeeeeeeeebbbbbbbbbb! Kinda says it all doesn’t it??!
After Meb, came the 4 waves of runners. One thing that struck me as interesting was how many runners were in Wave 1. (Wave 1 is the really fast but not elite runners. These guys and gals can all finish the marathon in under 3 hours so they are running somewhere in the 6-7 minute mile range.) They were all incredibly fit, strong and taking on that hill like it meant nothing. Seeing how many of them were in that wave though made me think that the key to running fast is more about fitness and determination rather than just genetics. Don’t get me wrong, to run like Meb and Shalane you have got to have the genes. However, I think any “regular” human being who has some talent and the ability to work incredibly hard and push themselves has the potential to be in the fast group. This gives me hope as I was starting to feel like I might be relegated to the back of the pack forever!
The last 2 waves were the slower runners and all the charity teams. These are people with pure heart, grit and determination. Many of them are new runners, perhaps signing up for the marathon as a way to get in shape. They have spent hours, days, weeks, and months training for this one event. They might have raised a lot of money for charity just to get the privilege to run that course. They came in all shapes, sizes and ages which lends further credence to the fact that ANYONE can be a runner. You don’t need to be Meb, you just need to put those shoes on and get out there at whatever pace your legs can manage. As the saying goes, if you run you are a runner.
Many of the later runners walked through the water stop. Some looked dazed, hot and tired. Others looked determined and focused on the road ahead. One gentleman took my cup of water and hobbled up the hill, crying the whole way. I hope he made it to the finish. Still, there were many runners who were joyful, happy, and embracing the energy of the crowd. To quote a favorite blogger, Janae Jacobs of Hungry Runner Girl, I realized that it’s possible for us normal folk to do hard things. You can do it, it’s just one foot in front of the other.
Sometimes a runner would come through and say a heartfelt thank you to us volunteers. I have to say, these thankyou’s made me tear up more than once. It’s a bit hard to describe what it means to be a volunteer this year. I’ve been part of a local running club for almost a year now and several of our members were running so I was looking forward to supporting them after watching them train all winter in the brutal cold. I have, like many of you, watched the news reports on last year’s events and know people who weren’t able to complete last year’s marathon – so this year they are back to finish what they started. There’s Team Hoyt running their very last Boston Marathon this year and they will be greatly missed in the years to come. Then there’s a guy like Meb who puts the names of the 4 victims from last year’s event on his bib and runs his heart out for them, for this city, for this country and for himself. I have huge respect for those of you who ran yesterday. You crushed it out there. You will forever be woven into the fabric of this city’s memories, on one of our most special, profound and meaningful days. I’m proud to have been a part of your marathon experience. I hope you are proud of yourself as well and I look forward to seeing you in 2015.
Until next time – ice bath, foam roll and rest up. See you on the roads…