Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Running Spirit

While in Boston, I had the opportunity to run a 5k which was the day before the big marathon. It started in downtown Boston, wound through the city streets and ended at the same finish line as the marathon. The finish line is a permanent marking in the pavement in Boston, and is clearly a pretty historic place to be as a runner. How could I say no?

So Sunday morning while the rest of the family slept, I got up early and took a cab to get as close to Copley Square as possible. (I would've taken a shuttle but they weren't running at 6:00 in the morning.) I had plenty of time to walk around, grab a bagel and a water, and sit on the steps of a church and take in the sights.

Many of the runners were doing the marathon the next day; this was just their final warm-up run before the big day. The start line for the 5k had markers for people who wanted to run a 5-minute, a 6-minute, and a 7-minute mile. After that, it was an open line-up. Like that's not intimidating.

Pretty soon we were off, and it was a great run. I only walked at the water stops and at one point had to walk up a hill, because so many people ahead of me had started walking that I had no choice but to walk as well. We ran past churches that were probably 400 years old, and historic centuries-old buildings juxtaposed against modern glass skyscrapers behind them.

I completed in 35:35, my fastest 5k time. It was awesome coming across the finish line with the spectator bleachers full of people yelling and clapping for people they don't know. People with marathon shirts were out cheering on their friends or family members. Those spectators were probably going to be running the marathon the next day, but still came down to cheer on others whose goals were not as lofty as their own.

I got my medal, my goodie bag and then headed back down to the finish, as I wanted to make sure I took a good look at it. They were already taking up the chip mat at the finish, as it had been over an hour since the race had begun. But suddenly, from beyond the finish line, you could hear the crowd roar -- there was one more runner coming in. The volunteers quickly put down one portion of the mat again so the runner could get his official chip time, and then he came into view.

He was a middle-aged man who was very overweight. He wasn't going much faster than a walk but was definitely running in short, slow steps. You could see him gasping for breath -- this was clearly a difficult cardiac feat for him.

The crowd went wild.

The encouragement and cheers that this man received were probably as loud as the Boston marathon winner as he crossed the finish line. It was so inspiring to see someone work so hard for his goal, and to see so many people respond positively to his efforts. He crossed the finish line and had several people clap him on the back with congratulations on a job well done.

That was the highlight of that race for me.

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