It wasn’t the day we’d envisaged. Arriving at breakfast, too early to check in, we dumped our bags and went for a walk. Boston in the spring was nude—the shutters and lace skirts of the grand old ladies sweeping the boulevards visible through the bare branches of the trees. Taking in the old city, walking the riverfront, eating in style at a restaurant with tablecloths, and perhaps a sommelier, were on my list.
Within a few minutes, at virtually the end of our street, we almost fell over the stations at Mile 21. In that indulgent, touristy way of needing to be nowhere else, we embedded ourselves in a kerbside position, warmed by strengthening sunshine and coffee. It was to be one of the most exhilarating days I’ve experienced. Raw emotion was laid out before us in a tableau of pain, pride, humour, strength and vulnerability. It was a privilege being there.
The first through are the leads in the chair races who are a blur of angled spokes and elbows. They’ve just climbed Heartbreak Hill and glide a few metres down an infinitesimal decline before thrusting forward again. The crowd goes wild.
Then the runners appear. We are standing near a support crew, friends, compatriots of the Ethiopian runners. They wave flags and cheer ecstatically when the male and female leads appear, Ethiopians both. On our other side is Team Japan waving a poster, friends of a runner who streaks past in an early wave, sweat-slicked, smooth. We cheer them all.
I could have reached out and touched those who hugged the barricades, sticking close to the shade as the sun rose high. Could they could even hear us over their interior machine? Foot over foot over foot. Some people did reach out, holding out for a high five.
It seemed borderline voyeuristic at times but, later, some talked of how grateful they were to the crowds, that it did help them, even expressing astonishment that we could go on for hours! Us? And how, with the slightest encouragement, even a smile, we would get louder! Sometimes a runner would whoop up their arms, revving the crowd, and we responded joyously.
If a runner was in distress, we became anxious, heads turned to the nearest aid station. When a man stumbles towards the barricades near us, cramping badly, he is supported, fed a banana, continues to a chorus of: ‘Yeah! You got this! Nearly home!’ Gestures of shared humanity brought the tears; we were with them.
We can’t get close to the finish line, security is tight, the barricades close. This is where the bombs went off in 2013 which changed the marathon for ever. But you don’t need to see the finish to feel it. The vibe is all around. Runners sit, draped in their space blankets, children and partners nearby. In the subway, we offer seats.
Writing is another endurance sport—unforgiving hours with only one’s thoughts and a manuscript for company. Cheer them all.