Last week I traveled to Boston to run the BAA 5km. Along with racing on Saturday, I was able to stay and watch the marathon. It was an experience that I will never forget, to say the least. I have been to hundreds of races through out my running career and none match the energy of the race, including the World Championships last month.
Reebok gave us these laces to commemorate last years bombings.
As many of you know, last year the Marathon was beset by tragedy when two men detonated bombs along the famed Boylston Street. This single act made this year’s marathon so much more significant. For many people it was no longer just a race, but a way to “reclaim the finish line.” This idea brought fans and runners out in droves. On Marathon Monday, Cole and ran the along the final 6 miles of the course, and I was awed by the amount of people that were there to cheer on the runners. There was hardly a single spot without a person. There was a constant chatter, which would turn in to defining roar, as the runners would fly by. The energy in the air like no other race I have been to, and in the end it led to amazing performances the men and women’s races.
The Boston Marathon is one of the most prestigious races in the world. Athletes come from all over the world to compete. Lately, American distance runners have not had much success in winning this storied footrace. It had been 31 years since an American last won Boston (Greg Meyer, 1984), which has been a chip on the shoulder of Americans distance runners. With the tragic events of last year it would have meant even more if an American won the race.
Coming into the race there was one American who was seen as having the best chance of winning, hometown favorite, Shalane Flanagan. Unfortunately, she finished 7th after a valiant attempt. She blazed through the first half of the race well under course record pace, only to be broken up the infamous Heartbreak Hill. What Shalane did was bold, brave, and risky and did the cards were not in her favor. Rita Jeptoo, the defending champ, was unbeatable. She ran a 2 minute course record, along with becoming the 6thfastest woman in history. Even Shalane admitted that Jeptoo deserved to win. But she has vowed to come back next year and as many years as it takes to win.
On the men’s side, the chance of an American winning was seen as very slim. The BAA had assembled the greatest field ever for the Boston Marathon. There were a slew of guys that had run under 2:07, with only one American among them, Ryan Hall. But it was the near 39 year old Meb who would wear the golden wreath. In a move that was bold and underestimated by the rest of the field, Meb broke away and built up a lead that was insurmountable to close. Meb took an early risk and it paid off. Seeing him and Shalane show no fear was very inspiring. Both ran the race to win, but unfortunately only one was able to do so. It reminded me that this is the way to run races, the way to win races. You have to be willing to put it all on the line with the dream that you can win the race. With out the dream of winning, the reality becomes impossible. But there is always a risk, and often times it is just dumb luck that lets you take advantage of your gamble. For Shalane, her risk did not pay off as the rest of the field went with her. But luck was on Meb’s side as the “big guns” let him get too far away.
One thought that I have about Meb’s victory is that there was no one better to win Boston this year. He is a very genuine person and has dedicated his whole life to the sport. In a post race interview, he said that this win was “for the people” of Boston and the United State. And there is no better representation of the quintessential American than Meb. His family came to American as refugees from Eritrea when he was a young boy, escaping a horrible war. He has grown up as an American and after winning this weekend; I could tell just how proud he is to be American. He is holding back tears as the National Anthem is played. It is often forgotten that Meb has also had many struggles. After his win last Saturday, no one was talking about his race at the New York Marathon, where he hobbled home in a disappointing 2:23. That race was five months ago! After that race he could have retired. He could have said, “I have given everything I had to the sport, it was a great ride.” But instead, nearing the age of 39, he was able to come out to Boston and run a personal best and win.
My last thought is that having been to a major marathon, let alone one as inspiring as the Boston Marathon, I now am even more excited to debut this fall. I watched guys that I have been competing against in shorter races, run very fast, and I know that I can match those performances. And after this weekend, I know that at some point in my career, I will run the Boston Marathon, and I will dream of putting on the golden wreath just like Meb.