Each year around this time, my thoughts turn to Boston. Writing this for the Cape Cod Athletic Club, this of course elicits a big "duh" for anyone reading and even for the person writing it.
I think of Johnny Kelley. Again, "Gee, ya’ think?"
But here’s the thing; I think of Johnny as a young man, cruising painfully home, still striding strong through the physical and emotional burn of winning and losing. I also think of him smiling in the Dennis sunshine, an old man who seemed to do nothing but look at the positive, hopeful side of life.
This speaks of the springtime, of Boston, of running in shorts and actually getting hot (at least for a couple of days here and there.) This is how I see The Man when I think of him. Yet, spring also speaks of a welcome respite from the constant cold, the freezing rain, the icy roads and paths.
What I forget, and what I am reminded of as I reflect upon one of the toughest winters New England runners have seen in some time, is that Johnny trained through stuff like this all the time. He did it without Cold Gear and without Lunar Foam and without wind and rain blocking synthetics. Even when I think about how difficult it was for many of us in terms of the lousy economy, here was a man who ran through depressions and wars and past Hitler. He did it all and did it over and over and over again, come rain, shine, social upheaval, poverty. Nothing stopped him. We do this now and many of us will do it for as long as the BAA sees fit to award us numbers. Many variables change from year to year, be it the weather, the elevation of the entrance fee, the dark, cold weeks of who knows what sort of calamity may befall us individually or as a group.
Still, one constant remains. 26.2 miles of it. Hopkinton to Boston. Same course, same winter that brings us there. Same painful trip down Boylston to glory or something only slightly short of it (never should anyone use the word "disgrace" or "defeat" when summing up a completed Boston Marathon, regardless of how close one’s come to one’s goal.) Something in our DNA as runners dictates that we activate some sort of denial mechanism each year that both convinces us that we will do better than we ever have and that it won’t hurt as much this time, and only one of these can be true at any given marathon, and neither is likely to happen at Boston. But this is part of what makes it so special. Everyone knows a world record is never going to be set here. In fact, the world record holders on both the men’s and women’s sides avoid this thing like the streets are made of lava and they’d be forced to run barefoot. But that’s why people like Robert Cheruiyot and Bill Rodgers and Catherine Ndereba and Johnny are legends. It’s why Kevin Petrovek is, it’s what makes what Bob Borglund did last year that much more difficult to comprehend and it’s what makes Mary Peabody’s marathon debut so gutsy and makes her seeming nonchalance about the result so head-shakingly admirable.
Anyone can run (relatively) fast at Chicago, at London, at Berlin and sure, it takes a toll like any other marathon, but Boston gives you credibility (at least) twice. You get props for just making it to the starting line and then you get to look at your time, forever digitally etched on the American informational landscape and know that you ran that crazy, fast 26.2 on a course that has broken some of the best. If you keep coming back for more, your family and closest friends will consider having you committed, but then they’ll realize that you’ve already committed yourself to something that only the best are able to do, especially given the circumstances.