Off the 8’s: Memories of the Boston Marathon

Tom Temin,

Editor’s Note: Off the 8’s is a WTOP Living feature, in which staff inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center share personal stories from their lives.

WASHINGTON – It’s been several years since I ran my last marathon. It was in Jerusalem. I bonked, but the scenery was spectacular.

Each marathon has its own special qualities. And each time you run a given marathon, it’s different depending on the weather, your training, how you feel that day, etc. One of my old running buddies commented, you can go out and have a freakishly good golf game, but you don’t accidentally have a great marathon.

With luck and flawless training you can beat your goal by a few minutes. But you can also inexplicably crash at Mile 18 — even after you’ve completed a half dozen training runs of more than 20 miles each.

Boston is the queen of marathons. Period.

Other marathons are bigger, have bigger prizes, attract more world class runners and even let you qualify for the Olympics. But Boston is the original, and it’s the one us run-for-fun types strive for because you have to qualify to get in.

Boston gives you marathon cred.

When I first started trying to run Boston, males in my age group had to run a 3:25 somewhere else to get into Boston. They would allow 3:25:59. In a Marine Corps Marathon one year, I did a 3:26:25. I missed qualifying for Boston by one second per mile.

Friends in my running club said, “Aw, go sign up. They’ll let you in.” Maybe, maybe not, but I wanted to qualify fair and square.

A year later in Scranton, Pa., I managed a 3:23 and change. I burst into tears of joy when I crossed the finish line. The long-ago picture of our much younger family gathered ’round Dad at the finish area is a little faded and curled, but still magneted to the refrigerator.

You have to run Boston to appreciate it. It possesses a spirit like nowhere else. There’s nothing spectacular about the course — mostly dull suburbs I drove through countless times growing up.

The course nets downhill, but the bad hills start deep into the race, just as you start to “hit the wall.” Downhill can be just as bad. It tears up different muscles. At the first hill, you’re relieved to be going uphill.

The Boston Marathon can be cruel. One of my four Bostons was into a stiff headwind the whole time. Crusted with salt at the end, it took me a day to rehydrate. At 1 a.m. the morning after the race, I stepped across the street from the Back Bay Hilton to McDonalds, just because I craved something salty.

Another Boston marathon was cold and rainy the whole time, which is endurable until you finish. Then I had to walk back blocks to the Fairfield Street townhouse of a friend who was putting me up, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold and stiff before or since.

Yet the crowd embraces you at Boston.

Threading through mobbed sidewalks to get back to the hotel or wherever, clutching my space blanket around my shoulders, the greetings and back-slaps from strangers always made me feel as if I’d won the darn thing.

It’s corny, but at dinner with friends that night you wear the finisher’s medal around your neck. Maybe even wear it to work a couple of days later. The whole city is a party the Saturday and Sunday before the race.

That’s why every Patriot’s Day I get a stab of longing, wishing I was again lying on the grass in Hopkinton, waiting for the call to start.

Slapping hands with the Wellesley College girls screaming along Route 135, giving a quick hug to my sister and her family standing on the curb at the precise halfway point in downtown Wellesley. Rounding the corner onto Boylston Street and seeing the finish line archway and knowing I’ve made it. Having someone’s grandmother, a volunteer, at the end saying, “Good work, deah. Here’s a bottle o’ watah.” Indulging in a cannoli in the North End the next day with my father in law.

Each of the tens of thousands of finishers has his or her own story, but whenever you see someone wearing the jacket, you nod in mutual understanding. Yeah, I ran Boston.

Has it been spoiled for good?

I don’t think so. The cliches about Boston are true. People there really are tough and resilient. It’s a special place, like neither New York nor Washington. And so the race will go on. The staff will adjust the logistics. At Hopkinton a memorial moment will be added to the ceremonies for the three murdered souls.

But how can one sicko wreck one of the finest sports traditions anywhere? There will always be a Boston Marathon. By the Lord’s grace I’ll get back there and have a wicked good time.

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