Friday, May 1, 2009

The Boston Marathon / Marathon Monday.

There are many things which make the Boston Marathon special: being the oldest marathon in America, having a rather tough qualification requirement to compete in it, etc. But what really makes it special is that it always takes place on Patriots' Day, a seemingly made-up Massachusetts holiday. If you follow that Wikipedia link, it will tell you it is a commemoration of the Battles of Lexington and Concord of the Revolutionary War, but you can just ignore that because I assure you 95% of Bostonians have no idea of this. Instead, they will tell you that Patriots' Day is just an excuse for everyone to have Marathon Monday off of work and school, so that the crowds watching the marathon are made up of essentially everyone excited about the three day weekend - little kids, grown up kids, and lots and lots of college kids taking full advantage of the opportunity to have a full day drunken party.

There are huge bleachers set up at the finish line downtown at Copley Square, but we have never actually watched it from there, where I assume it is overall crowded and crazy. We watch it in Brookline, usually somewhere between Washington Square and Cleveland Circle, where it is much less crowded, more full of cookie and lemonade stands guarded by friendly families, right alongside college parties full of barbecue and beer, while the C-line T trolley chugs alongside. There is nothing quite like hopping on one of these T's when the marathon is in full swing and watching out the window as you glide alongside the throngs of athletes, like you are somehow part of the dance.

Here is the sequence of events of the Boston Marathon:
1) Stake out your spot with friends. Get some Dunkin' Donuts, perhaps. Watch for and comment on the cutest dogs, and kids, milling about. There are a lot of both.
2) You hear the faint sirens of police motorcycles coming down Beacon Street, and you know they're coming.
3) The wheelchair contestants come first. 26.2 miles, accomplished entirely on their armstrength. This is when I start to cry, for no easily explainable reason.
4) The female runner leads come, and then the men's. The top ten runners in each category consist of approximately 2% body fat.
5) After the trickle of the Supremely Freakishly Athletic People at the front pass by, the real fun begins to pick up speed: the masses. More, and then slowly more, and more. And then this is what you do:
6) Look for names, painted on shirts, bare arms, thighs. And then you scream.
8) National/state pride shown on attire also works:
10) Beer helps with this constant screaming, but really, it is not needed.
11) Sometimes you will get to see remarkable things like a marriage proposal between two runners right in front of you (three years ago, at Dean Road) or this guy in the picture without legs, running right near the front of the pack. When these things happen, you might have to find me and say, Seriously, Jill, pull yourself together, woman.

Normally, I am not much of a random screamer, but I cannot describe how much fun this is, and how it feels to watch an entire city take part in it. Now the real reason we visited Boston recently, of course, was to see family and friends, but being able to watch the marathon determined when we'd go. There are other really great days to be in Boston - Fourth of July on the Esplanade, Halloween on Beacon Hill. But nothing like Marathon Monday in Brookline makes my chest heave with almost embarrassing emotion, and two weeks ago I thought to myself, yes, yes this alone is worth flying across the country for. It is the accomplishment of the athletes, but mainly just the completely joyful and unprompted cheering on of strangers by strangers. It is one of those moments when I think to myself, See? America can be really, really good.

Many, many hours after we watched the front runners sprint past us this past Marathon Monday, Kathy, Allie and I were downtown, walking up Boylston Street to meet some friends for dinner. It was seven, maybe eight, and it was beginning to get dark. There is also always a big Red Sox game at Fenway on Marathon Monday, and Boylston Street was full of drunken people waiting to get in to those weirdly-fancy-ish sports bars by Hynes Convention Center. They were packing up all the bleachers by the finish line by the BPL. And then, right as we were about to cross the street by that old fire station, a traffic guard stopped us, and three runners slowly passed us, followed by a police car, signaling to us that these must have been the last runners of the Boston Marathon, finally making their way down the homestretch. I felt bad for them, that they only had drunken students and not flashing cameras to greet them, but once we realized what was happening, we yelled and clapped for them as they rounded the corner. And then we kept walking, and once again, I felt that feeling creep up my throat which is always there on Marathon Monday and which is hard to describe, but it feels big, raw, human, and good.


  1. love this entry. makes me wanna go again next year. don't forget about that moment in the marathon when the running crowd is so thick that you can no longer cross the street and you have to shield yourself behind dads with strollers so that the runners won't run you down when you just wanna get to Jill D's party!

  2. This made me mist up a little. You so perfectly articulate why I love Marathon Monday so much! (Glad I got to see you guys too!)

  3. I think it's so great that you guys do this, I can tell you from the runners point of view that this means so much to us- especially when they yell out your name. Maybe some day I'll get to do Boston...

  4. jill d - so, so glad we got to see you!

    sarah - we actually talked about you while we were there, and talked about how great it will be to cheer you on when you're doing boston, which of course you will! :)