Boston Marathon and Boylston Magic

When I awoke to my surprise I was alone. That almost never happens. Where is Sue? I did a body search below the covers – nothing. I opened my other eye and noticed her pillow was gone. “That’s weird. Was I talking in my sleep? Did I call out the wrong name?” It’s time to expand the search.


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I slipped on my flip-flops and shuffled into the living room. There she was curled up on the couch with her pillow and iPad happy as clam watching the Boston Marathon. Most women fill their calendars with important events, like wedding anniversaries, but not Sue. She has actually forgotten her wedding anniversary on occasion but she always marks the Boston Marathon and Tour de France on her calendar. In 2007 she ran Boston in weather so awful they nearly cancelled the race but it didn’t dampen her love for the event.

To my surprise an American wearing bib #19, Meb Keflezighi, was leading the pack. An American male had not won Boston in over thirty years and considering it was only fifteen miles into the twenty-six mile race, it was unlikely we were looking at this year’s winner. Many consider the physical and mental halfway point of the marathon to be around 20 miles; there was a long way to the finish.

Some people are just born with the odds against them. Meb started life as a refugee in worn torn Eritrea. His father moved the family to Italy then finally to America in 1987. Meb was twelve years old. His path to citizenship was difficult and reminds me of the struggles many of our forefathers faced to become Americans. Prior to the race Meb wrote the names of the Americans killed in the 2013 Boston bombings on the corners of his race bib.

I have seen Meb climb upon the podium before and often the experts were surprised he finished that high. It’s difficult to predict a winner when determination, sacrifice and strategy each play a role in the outcome but if all those factors come together at the right time for a runner magic can trump logic.

Later in his career, after injuries and perhaps too many birthdays Nike decided not to renew his contract. Meb went knocking on doors and ended up being sponsored by a company known for making skateboard shoes, Skechers. Of course when Meb once again performed beyond expectations Nike showed up with a contract. He told them he was not interested. Meb was sticking with the date that brought him to the dance.

I always respected Meb as a runner but he was going out too early and too fast. His best time was more than five minutes slower than some of the elite runners nipping at his heels. He was not even the fastest American in the race. But he ran on, steady and strong, miles passed and Meb lengthened his lead to a minute, a minute ten and finally an incredible minute and twenty seconds. As he crested Heartbreak Hill in first place I began to wonder if I was watching the Boston Marathon or a “Hallmark Movie Special” but then his lead began to shrink – rapidly.

His smooth, steady gait began to falter. The stride shortened and his trunk began to tip forward. He was struggling. It was a daring move and incredible effort but no one expected the American to win anyway.

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Over Meb’s right shoulder wearing an orange singlet and a bib number more appropriate for a Boston winner, 7, you could see the logical winner charging into view. He quickly cut the lead from a minute and 20 seconds, to a minute, to 40 seconds, then 15 seconds and finally less than seven seconds separated the two men. Meb tried but the reality was he was ten years older and many minutes slower than the orange blur over his right shoulder.

As #7 drew closer and closer Meb began to repeatedly check his watch and look over his shoulder; he appeared to be on the verge of imploding. Further ahead on Boylston Street the crowds were huge, loud and radiating magic. Meb turned onto Boylston, made the sign of the cross and was suddenly reborn. His tired, shortened gait transformed into a strong, confident stride, his trunk straightened, his head rose and he began pumping his fist in the air. The fast approaching runner in the orange singlet began to fade; the gap opened slightly, then became fixed at eight seconds. A second wind had filled the man wearing bib #19 and the city of Boston with a sense of hope and accomplishment. As unbelievable as it was, thirty eight year old Meb Keflezighi became the 2014 Boston Marathon Winner with a time of 2:08:37; a personal best and the first American to take the title since 1983.

Next year the 119th running of the Boston Marathon is scheduled for Monday, April 20, 2015. Just like Sue, I’m marking it in my calendar.

 

 

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Categories: Running, Writing

Tags: , , , , , ,

5 replies

  1. Hi Tom, I really enjoyed your write up . We were watching too. Quite memorable .H.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  2. The best blog ever – thanks, Tom, for that blow by blow account!

  3. This is a great story about an event I overlooked while living abroad. Your telling and the photos were better than any sports broadcast I could have watched. I especially liked the part where Meb turned down Nike when they came calling. It is not easy to turn away from the ‘big dog.’ – Mike

  4. Thanks Mike. It was a great race this year.

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