Monday, April 20, 2009

Marathon Monday: When The Spectacle Comes To You

Patriots’ Day, a state holiday in Massachusetts that's observed on the third Monday of April, commemorates the beginning of the American Revolution. Two hundred and thirty-four years ago the British marched twenty miles from Boston to Lexington and then Concord in an unsuccessful attempt to seize munitions and arrest Samuel Adams for treason. The British ended up caught in a costly retreat that put them under the constant fire of ambushing colonial militias. Certainly, a similar, albeit non-fatal, anguish can still be seen in Greater Boston on Patriots’ Day. That pain is shown on the faces of the roughly 25,000 runners of the Boston Marathon.

The 113th running of the Boston Marathon takes place today (if you're outside the Boston area, catch it here). While it goes nowhere near Concord or Lexington, it does run through twenty-plus miles of Boston suburbs before arriving in the city, which means that one of the coolest spectator sport experiences comes right to the doorstep of thousands and thousands of people across Greater Boston.

Consider it a 26.2 mile block party. Thousands gather along the sides of Route 135, Route 16, Commonwealth Avenue and Boylston Street, which together run through seven towns (Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, and Brookline) and the city of Boston. They watch as throngs of runners prove that they’re capable of what Pheidippides couldn’t do; that they can run the distance from Marathon to Athens without dying. Some people sit on lawn chairs, others stand on the side of the road with their kids’ on their shoulders to provide them a better view. Some people offer paper cups of water, others just moral support and high fives. Street vendors sell sausages and burgers while radios blare with the voice of Joe Castiglione calling the Red Sox game, which fittingly starts at 11 a.m. so that those at the game can file out in time to see the runners as they pass by Fenway and head into Kenmore Square.

Tomorrow, with some family and friends, I’ll walk a half-mile from my house to the place where I’ve always watched the marathon, on Route 135 in front of La Cantina in Framingham. Shortly before 10 a.m. those taking part in the wheelchair race will whisk by us, followed by the top women runners. Then, shortly after the 10 a.m. men’s start, the lead pack of elite runners will fly by, usually led by a corps of east Africans. Then come the throngs of thousands and thousands filling the entire street with no room to spare. People will be running for cancer research, others for ALS or multiple sclerosis, and others just to prove something to themselves or to test their limits. We’ll have our annual sighting of Dick and Rick Hoyt, a great story unto themselves. We’ll see celebrities running, like Will Ferrell, but we’ll also see our own family or friends running for the sake of championing great causes. Couple that with the fact that it’s free entertainment and well, for a lot of us, pretty convenient that it’s passing through our own neighborhoods and you have a recipe for a memorable event year after year.

Once the hordes pass us by, it’s back to someone’s house for a cookout while watching the rest of the marathon on television to catch the drama (like wheelchair leader Jean Driscoll's heartbreaking crash while crossing T tracks in Cleveland Circle in 1997), intrigue (like watching every runner ever as they approach the incline of Heartbreak Hill), and overall…quirkiness (Google ‘Uta Pippig 1996 marathon’) that is the entirety of the Boston Marathon. And as I decide between a burger or a hot dog while enjoying the last part of my three-day weekend, I just might look down to realize that I’m drinking a brew named after the fugitive who helped instigate the whole celebration hundreds of years ago.

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