It’s April, and in two short weeks more than 30,000 runners will make their way from Hopkinton to Boston. I won’t be one of them this year, but this race hasn’t been far from my mind. I wasn’t writing about running after I finished my first Boston, but I was after my second. So this week’s post comes from my 2011 write-up for the Deseret News about the experience. The race is special in a way no other race will ever be. Even if you never set foot in the Athlete’s Village, the experience is worth the trouble because it’s not just about the runners. It’s about the spectators, volunteers, at-home cheerleaders, and the work behind the bib. Enjoy.
Dear Boston Marathon,
I was taught at a very young age that I should always send a thank-you note to anyone who has given me a gift. In keeping with this lesson in etiquette, I just want to thank you for the wonderful weekend you provided for my family and I.
First, I want to thank you for playing hard-to-get. They say that the chase is the most exciting part of the hunt, and you sure proved them right. I’ve made it a personal goal to chase you at every marathon I’ve run. You certainly don’t make it easy. In fact, in recent weeks you’ve become even more elusive, but I like that. You seem to know that we runners like a good challenge. Tell me I can’t, and you can bet that I will. Your constant nagging in the back of my brain has given my weekends structure. Who am I kidding? It’s given my entire year structure. I have calendars with long runs, tempo runs, hill repeats and speed work all laid out in a carefully formulated plan just so I can earn an invitation to your party.
Sure, I had to give up a few things. Waking up at 7 a.m. is now what I consider to be sleeping in. My high heels sit in the back of my closet gathering dust thanks to the sweet bunion I’ve acquired over the year. I’m not much of a party animal anymore since I start nodding off somewhere around 8 p.m., but it’s all good. Seeing your blue and yellow party confirmation in the mail makes it all worth it, and the fact that I had to earn a spot at your table makes me appreciate the invitation even more.
Your challenge didn’t just lie with your party invite standards, either. You set a pretty tough course. Everyone says you are a downhill race, and I guess that’s sort of true, but it’s a rolling downhill. The ups and downs of the course truly mirrored the ups and downs of my moods. After the race, my fellow runners and I would exchange knowing glances as if we had all done battle together, which, in a sense, we did.
Secondly, I have to thank you for the incredible party planning. Seriously, Martha Stewart could take some notes on organization from you. How you organized over 27,400 runners into an orderly corral system as we headed down the narrow streets of Hopkinton is nothing short of amazing. You had to sift through all of our qualifying times, double check the list to make sure they were accurate, and then divide us up into waves and corrals so we wouldn’t have to jack-rabbit around each other at the start. Nice job.
And your volunteers? I saw more cheerful volunteers than ever this year. Those working the treacherous water stops were happy even when getting sloshed with water from sloppy runners like myself. Unfortunately, I saw a man collapse on the course and before I could ask for someone to help him, the volunteers were on it, calling for medical help and guiding the runners around to keep the man safe. At the finish line I was greeted with smiles and congratulations as well as medals, heat sheets and Gatorade. To think of how long they were out there and were still smiling, well, it’s a marathon in itself.
Thirdly, you invite some of the most incredible cheerleaders. And their stamina matches that of the volunteers. They don’t just come out on race day. No! They are out there all weekend long. At restaurants, shop, and sidewalks there are signs of welcoming and congratulations to all the runners. I’ve never felt so celebrated.
And the race itself? Well, my own personal race wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be. Maybe it was the travel or the lack of sleep, but my legs lacked a little of their usual luster this year. But it was still a most joyous day. There was not a mile on the course where I didn’t hear my name or didn’t see someone clapping, smiling or ringing a cowbell for me. I admit, I put my name in big letters on my chest, but those Bostonians didn’t disappoint. If I ever needed a little pick-me-up during a dark time in my race, I simply pulled out my Flip cam, pointed it at the crowd and they went nuts. Their spirit was better than any GU or Clif Shot. I heard my name called out so many times, I was convinced that everyone I knew had flown out from Utah to see me race.
The girls of Wellesley College — they have quite a reputation. While I didn’t head over to get a kiss, many guys I ran with did, and those girls didn’t even flinch when random men, all gross, stinky, sweaty and even hairy came over for the obligatory show of affection. I could hear those girls screaming a mile away. Literally.
I have to admit, though, that my heart belongs to the boys of Boston College. For two years in a row, as I ascended Heartbreak Hill, I heard those boys chant my name, first slowly, then faster as I got closer to the top. Once I had reached the peak, they exploded in cheers and claps. Now, I ask you, how many times is a 35-year-old mother of two going to hear a group of college boys chanting her name? Yeah. It’s pretty special. It almost made me want to run back and do it again. Almost.
Next, I have to thank you for the fantastic weather. Thanks for the tail wind and the sun. I’d thank you for the sunburned face and shoulders, but I think I’m to blame for that.
But what I really need to thank you for most is simply for the opportunity to do something extraordinary with my ordinary life. I will never make it to the Olympics, but I still ran with Kara Goucher, Ryan Hall, Desiree Davila and too many others to mention. I ran alongside Team Hoyt at Mile 10 that put my own suffering in perspective. I met Katherine Switzer at the Expo where she signed my bib number so I would have some much-needed inspiration at the toughest of moments. I chatted with Bill Rodgers at his running store, and to make it sweeter, Amby Burfoot and Bobbi Gibb were there, too. I have more autographs than wall space!
Thank you for allowing me to follow in the footsteps of some of our country’s greatest, and often underrated, athletes. As I ran by some of your more famous landmarks — the firehouse that takes you to the Newton Hills, the Johnny Kelley statue, the Citgo sign at Mile 25 — I was overwhelmed to the point of tears by the history of this party and the fact that I, a formerly overweight bookworm turned simple recreational running mom from Utah, was invited to take part. Really, there aren’t enough words of gratitude that will do justice to how I feel.
As I ran down Boylston Street to the finish line, I saw my husband cheering me on along with thousands of other perfect strangers. I simply can’t believe that this is my life. I can’t get over how blessed I am to do this. I can’t thank you enough for giving my life so much joy.
So I will just say, thank you.
Sincerely, Kim Cowart, wife, mother, and two-time Boston finisher