For me, the most amazing people at the Boston Marathon are not the winners. To be sure, running 26.2 miles in two hours and change is an astonishing feat. But to my mind, it’s everyone else who runs the Marathon who is the best.
That’s pretty easy sentiment, I know. But consider nearly every marathoner runs knowing he won’t win. Won’t even come close. Can you think of any other sport where that’s the case? Any other event in life? Even lottery ticket buyers hold a small hope for a win. Joe Marathon runs knowing he won’t.
And that’s what’s so great about The Pack. They’re running for the joy of it, for a personal best, in memory of loved ones, to raise money, and for 30,000 other reasons. They run to run.
And man, do they run.
I had the good fortune of covering the Boston Marathon for Boston.com. I reported from the start in Hopkinton and from the finish in the Back Bay. (The media bus with police escorts is the only way you’ll find Stevie “running” the route.) I’ve never seen the rested and carb-loaded athletes at the Start or witnessed their transformation at the Finish. When you see the runners in Natick or Wellesley, they’re still in pretty good shape. By the time they hit Boston, they look like Hell. They also look fantastic. Every quadricep, every ligament, and every other whatever Britt can recall from gross anatomy– they’re on display, steeled for the goal. These aren’t just people who put on a kick to the finish; they kick the finish in the ass.
So yes, I saw the winners race past to triumphant finales. But it was another runner I won’t forget. His fall was dramatic enough, collapsing maybe 50 yards shy of the finish line. And then a fellow runner stopped. He stopped. He likely didn’t know the guy who fell. Maybe he was on pace for a personal best. But he stopped, helped the stumbling runner to his feet, and together, arm-on-shoulder, they finished.
Name another sport where those two “losers” are such winners.
As I write this, I’m in the Back Bay station, waiting for the commuter rail. I feel undeserving of the Gatorade I’m drinking. Runners are here waiting for the train, too. I don’t know why that strikes me– but it does. These champions just ran the freakin’ Boston Marathon, and they’re standing here like any other commuter. They have to go to work tomorrow. They’re just average folks who happen to be the best athletes in the world.