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The Marathon Experience

By Liz O’Donnell

There’s something to be said for being the one behind the scenes making everything run smoothly. That’s the role I gravitate toward in most projects I work on, and most plans I organize for my friends. For instance, I’m the account manager who organizes the editorial, design, and sales teams on CBI magazine each month. You’ll never see my writing or design skills; my talent lies in keeping everyone on track, questioning the process, and ensuring that each magazine prints on time.

And, as with my role at the office, my role in this year’s marathon will be to encourage, cheer on, and make sure my friends who are running know I am there supporting them. If you have ever lived in Massachusetts, you know that the Boston Marathon is an annual event few people miss. Patriots’ Day (today) is a holiday unique to Massachusetts and Maine that commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord, the first conflicts of the Revolutionary War.

I love Patriots’ Day. As a kid, it meant the start of April vacation and, because I grew up only a few miles from the Boston Marathon’s starting line, it meant Marathon Monday as well. I’d get up early with my dad and we’d drive over to Hopkinton to watch the runners warm up, see all the reporters in action, and hang out with my little friends. The start of the Marathon is full of an almost overwhelming sense of excitement; the elite runners have an equal chance of winning, and those running for fun or for a charity are all pain-free and full of adrenaline for the adventure ahead. And then, with the crack of the starting gun, the runners race off. As soon as they were out of sight, we’d dash home to watch the Marathoners’ progress on TV.

As I have grown up and moved around the state in the last few decades, my vantage point for the marathon has inched closer to Boston. I’ve watched in Natick and Wellesley (two towns that are west of Boston), then in Cleveland Circle (a Boston neighborhood that’s adjacent to Brookline), and finally, right before the finish line, as the runners move from Commonwealth Avenue to Boylston Street for the final quarter-mile.

It’s always great to see the potential winners go by, but far and away my favorite thing to do is cheer on those who are struggling to keep their pace. At times, the noise is almost deafening as total strangers cheer on innumerable runners as they colorfully race by. If a runner has his or her name drawn on their shirt, shorts, arms, legs, or face, we’ll cheer for them by name. If there’s a couple holding hands in bunny costumes, we’ll root for them to take a few more strides. Shouts of “You can do it!” help to propel wheelchair racers cranking their hand cycles with tired arms up the Boston Marathon’s infamous “Heartbreak Hill.” The men and women who are stumbling and nearly delirious at mile 22 get high-fives and pats on the back from the sideline, reminding these runners why they decided to do this in the first place. And when the soldiers in full military uniform troop by, I get choked up and the level of noise ratchets up even higher than I could have imagined.

What strikes me each and every year I watch the marathon is this: these people are pushing themselves to the absolute limit, training on icy and rainy roads, through dark nights and chilly morning runs. The physical endurance and commitment to a specific cause is so inspiring to me. It never fails that I watch the marathon and think: “I could do this next year.” Now, I have never been, and likely never will be, a “runner.”  But I think the inspiration and passion can be applied to any type of physical fitness. If the marathon is the extreme, then we can all do a little better using that inspiration to get up off the couch and stay physically active. You can be sure that later today I’ll be full of workout ideas and ways to keep myself on track at the gym in the coming months.

As you read this, I am likely jumping up and down at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Hereford Street in the Back Bay… and if you listen hard enough, you just might be able to hear me cheering.

Reader Comments (1)

Great job, Liz! It's very inspiring to see these amazing athletes from all over the world come together on Marathon Day.

April 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMia Coen

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