Monday, April 28, 2014

Boston Strong

            Just 100 yards to the finish line, and I couldn’t help but smile. My quads ached, and if I hadn’t consciously thought about each footfall, my knees likely would have buckled. I tried to speed up, just to reflect the enthusiasm of the crowd. Yet my legs refused to respond. It felt peculiar to let my body give out before my lungs. With the finish line within sight, my pain simply didn’t matter.

            I could share my data—my average heart rate, my paces per mile, my average pace, my time—but for such an event as this one, it seems trite. This 118th Boston Marathon marked the success of a city, a country, and a community of runners. Banded together in blue and yellow, we invaded the city of Boston. Its denizens embraced us. Daffodils lined the streets, filled the planters, and decorated the counters of local businesses. This city lacked nothing in the way of determination.

            Bryan and I arrived Thursday to a cold, blustery city. Just two days prior, Boston and surrounding towns had woken up to 2 inches of snow. The snow had thankfully since melted, but the people appeared frustrated by weather that did not want to let go of winter. It wasn’t until Saturday that the sunshine began to warm up the city in preparation for race day on Monday.

            Monday arrived, and Bryan and I felt ready to enjoy a beautiful, sunny day running from Hopkinton back to Boston. I couldn’t help but pray the 26 miles running back to Boston wouldn’t feel nearly as long as the bus trip out to the start line.

            Before we could even toe the line, we spent about two hours in a field full of thousands of other hobos, or at least that’s what we all looked like. People wore old sweaters I’d expect to see at an ugly Christmas sweater party. Two women passed me in pajamas. One man wore a black, wool pea coat as he stood in one of the likely hundred lines to the porta potties that lined all borders of the field. It appeared as though a myriad of Value Villages and Goodwills across the country experienced a sharp upturn in business. As far as business is concerned, I’m certain they appreciated the onslaught of Boston marathon participants looking for cheap, warm clothes to keep warm and then toss before the beginning of the race.

            We quickly acclimatized to our surroundings and decided to help form one of the lines stemming from porta potties before planting ourselves in amongst the other participants who’d already staked their claim on the grass. Sunshine translated to warmth under our warming blankets, and after about 30 minutes of waiting, we decided to hit the porta potties one last time. The lines had lengthened. After about 45 minutes in line, the announcer informed us of our turn to exit the fields for the parking lot. So began our half-mile walk to the start line.

            Volunteers lined the streets, collecting our trash and clothes to be tossed for donation. A group of college guys offered beer, cigarettes, and donuts out of a neighborhood yard. One last park of porta potties waited to serve us, and runners raced to available commodes. Bryan and I peered into the melee, and we decided to join in and not risk passing up one last opportunity to void our nervous bladders.

            Our bladders emptied, we ushered ourselves back into the long line to the start. The crowds of spectators began to increase as we descended into the town square. Volunteers guided us through the corrals, and before I knew it, we’d crossed the start line without any formal prelude.

            Ashland. Framingham. Natick. Wellesley. It appeared the inhabitants of each town had found the course to cheer us on, kept out of the streets by a barricade that spanned both sides of the street for the entire 26 miles of the course. People cheered. Some even handed out water, facial wipes, bags full of ice, orange slices, and beer. Anything to keep us comfortable, I suppose.

            I felt comfortable up until about mile 15, at which point my quads began to argue with my head. Even the enthusiasm of the Wellesley college girls couldn’t pick me up. I giggled at a girl holding a sign asking to be kissed because she still felt sexually frustrated. Later, I found strength going up all the Newton hills, but only pain attempting to negotiate the other side. After scaling Heartbreak hill at mile 20, my motivation to continue slowly waned. Yet I still had six more miles to the finish line.

            Brookline took far too long for me to run through. I remember passing the cheerful Boston College undergrads, totally impassive. Magnolia trees on Beacon Street. Kenmore Square. Where is Boston? I walked. I ran. I hobbled. I cursed my fatigued legs. When I passed mile marker 24, I somehow found strength to run more often than walk. The depth of spectators lining the streets slowly increased. I’d found Hereford Street. Just 100 yards to the finish line…

            …I couldn’t help but smile. It wasn’t a race I can brag about, as far as my race performance is concerned. Yet I am reminded that my performance hardly measures up to the significance of the day itself. In fact, I’m happily content finding success in the fact I am not injured after this marathon (my left knee pain has nothing on me this time!) Bryan and I enjoyed our first outdoor, nearly three-hour bike ride yesterday. Today's first run one week post-race felt pretty good, too. We both found considerable strength in what the day meant to the country and runners all around the world. It feels good to revel in Boston Strong.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sky blue. Daffodil yellow.

On this Easter Sunday in Boston, I wanted to spend the morning celebrating the resurrection of Jesus in a way I'd never had the opportunity to do before. I awoke to a sky filled with blue and sunshine peaking through the buildings. After one final tune up run to shake out the legs and keep my muscles aquiver, Bryan and me cleaned up, ate breakfast, and headed toward the New Old South Church on Boylston Street.

Upon reaching the front doors 35 minutes before the 11 o'clock service, we became more and more disheartened by our chances to even get into the building itself thanks to the long line that spanned the face of the church, wrapped around the corner lining Dartmouth St, and further spanned the building's back face along Newbury St. We took our place in line, and with each minute we waited, the more I realized how much I wanted to attend this service. 

The line began to move, but its slow pace gave me every reason to believe they'd close the doors 
at their maximum capacity and we'd be left wishing we'd arrived just a little earlier. Yet the ushers kept motioning us forward, and before we knew it, we scaled the steps into the foyer and stood gazing into the marvelous sanctuary, our jaws dropped. What appeared to be an entire orchestra welcomed us with prelude music. We took our seats.

I never realized how wonderful hymns sounded when sung with a choir, orchestra, and a magnificent pipe organ that spanned the entire face of the wall behind the alter. The service commenced with music, followed by the Easter story beautifully proclaimed by the Pastor. A special tribute to the marathon runners soon followed, which highlighted the project known as the Marathon Year of Scarf Remembrance Project and Hope 2014. 

The story:

After last year's tragedy, the New Old South Church began the Year of the Scarf Project. Members of the congregation who knit began making scarves of varying patterns, of different styles, of unique tastes, but with one common theme: colors of sky blue, daffodil yellow. The church members made about 300 scarves; truly a noble effort. Yet they weren't prepared for what followed. Word about their efforts fell on the ears of churchgoers across the country. Before they were ready, scarves of sky blue and daffodil yellow began arriving by the box-full. In fact, the mailman couldn't hardly deliver them all on his own, and additional staff had to assist with the delivery of boxes of scarves each day to the church. In the end, what started as 300 scarves by the Old South Church turned into over 7,000 scarves from churches of 49 united states and 10 countries. 

On this Boston Marathon weekend, members of the church have stood outside their doors handing out scarves to runners passing by. Bryan and I picked out ours on Friday. They had since run out, but during this service, ushers began walking down the aisles, their arms laden with sky blue, daffodil yellow. They had saved some specifically for this occasion. Ushers handed out scarves to churchgoers, who then blessed us with the scarves made by thousands of individuals who used their talents to knit their love and prayers of safety into something we could carry with us this weekend. It was as though God's love flowed through His followers in the form of sky blue, daffodil yellow.

I walked out of Old South Church with teary eyes. I never thought I'd have to use my scarf to wipe away my tears. Up until then, it had kept me warm against the Boston winds coming off the water. Yet it seemed fitting. This entire weekend it has embraced and protected me. 

My scarf came from St. Paul United Church of Christ in Old Monroe, Missouri. A woman named Grace in Royal Oak, Michigan made Bryan's scarf. I plan on sending a note of thanks after this marathon weekend is over. I just have one last endeavor to take part in, and that's to run the Boston marathon tomorrow under blue skies and streets adorned with yellow daffodils. Look for #13529 and #13346. We plan on enjoying a stellar day.

Team BM