Standing in Hopkinton, MA, on April 16, 2018 behind a barrier of white fences. Police men line the streets and volunteers in red jackets are blocking anybody from passing the starting line. This is an iconic day in not only Massachusetts, but the world. Where am I, you may wonder. Waiting, at 8 in the morning, by myself, for the 122nd Boston Marathon, 2 feet from the starting line, in the rain.
It is no secret that Boston is a strong city. Not only are the sports teams exceptionally good, so are the ordinary people. After months of freezing wind and cold, snow banks up to our ears, and the sun setting at 4, the spring comes, and the city comes alive. Tourists come to explore all that this city has to offer, and the residents start to enjoy their lunch outside. And then, as the oldest tradition in not only Boston, but the country, the Boston Marathon comes, and that is when we know, it is officially spring.
It started in 1897 in Ashland and had only 15 competitors. Women were not even allowed to enter the event until 1972. Up until 2005, the race began at noon, with everyone starting at the same time. Now, the race begins in waves, with the mobility impaired and wheelchair racers first.
This year, The Boston Marathon had 9,500 volunteers, and over 500,000 spectators. As the runners shed their clothes, the volunteers pick them up, put them in bags, and take them to a place to wash them. They are then donated to the Big Brother Big Sister foundation. An organization that collects clothes, and turns those clothes into cash, and then donates 100% of the cash to youth mentoring programs across Southeastern MA and Southern NH.
So there I was standing next to a 6th grade girl and her Dad on one side and a couple from Ohio on the other. I was standing behind a volunteer who had been volunteering for 18 years, and one volunteer who just started this year. The crowd was smaller this year, but still just as loud.
Most people go to the finish line. They want to be there when the first people cross, or their friends cross. They want to see the look of pure happiness as they have finished the race. I get that. I do. It is amazing to see that. It’s a crazy feeling, unlike any other, both for the spectator and the runner.
But, not me. Aside from the fact, that I like to be weird and different, the starting line, to me, is a place of equality. Everyone there is the same. The race could go any way at this point. Someone could come of left field and blow everyone else away. Or the person who everyone predicted to win could fall down and not be able to get up to finish the race. Or maybe the person who started out really great, finishes really great. That’s all up to them. But, the starting line, everyone is equal there. And I like that.
The runners have done everything they can do. They have trained, they have made specific meal plans, they have picked out the perfect apparel, perfect sneakers. Their families are there, ready to cheer them on as they embark on a 26.2 mile journey. There is officially, nothing else that they can do. And this may be the only time in their life when they can say that.
First was the mobility impaired. Each runner has a guide, who runs next to them to make sure they are ok. They were ready, they were excited. Some of them were listening to their music, and some were standing there not talking to anyone else. They were focusing. Then comes the men’s wheelchair, then women’s wheelchair. The upper body muscles on them is incredible. Some of them were shaking, either from the cold or the nerves. Maybe both.
Next was the handcycles. Can you imagine going 26.2 miles only using your hands? What determination. Whenever I watch events like this, I always am amazed at what the human body can do with enough willpower.
As soon as they went, it was time for the elite women. They were warming up (well as much as they could on a day like today) They were doing their knee lifts and their light jogs to get the muscles going and ready.
Then the elite men, who were just as impressive as the elite women. The streets of Hopkinton were flooded with people from everywhere. They were cold and they were nervous but they also had a rush of adrenaline from the crowd cheering them on, knowing that they can do this. Wave 1, Wave 2, Wave 3, then Wave 4. After the gun signaled the start of the race, it took some of them 15 minutes just to make it to the starting line, there were that many people.
As each of the runners take off on their 26.2 mile journey, they know that they all have different paths in front of them. Some may win, some may not even finish. It may take some 6 hours to run it and others only 2 and a half. Some may fall down and a nice runner along the way will pick them up. Some may have to drop out mid race. The will face hard times, heartbreak hill, or maybe they will get too cold and have to stop. But they will also face fun times like “Scream Tunnel” and that final turn onto Boylston Street. Many will never think about the starting line again, they will just be proud that they did it, proud that they made it through.
Perhaps the most interesting fact about the Boston Marathon is: Why is the symbol a unicorn? Honestly, whenever I saw the unicorn on the signs and the jackets, I just assumed it was a race symbol, I never thought that there could be a background to it. Upon further research, it is said that the unicorn is the symbol because a unicorn is something that one will never find, and it inspires you to continue trying. “The unicorn is a mythological figure that is meant to be pursued, but, in that pursuit, you never catch [it],” Fleming said. “So it inspires you to continue to try — to race harder in the case of running — and though it may be elusive, it really is the pursuit of the unicorn that makes you better and better and better.” (https://www.boston.com/sports/boston-marathon/2018/04/06/baa-unicorn-symbol-history-boston-marathon)
As they cross the starting line, the unicorn is looking down on them, encouraging them, and inspiring them to keep going, to keep trying until you get what you want. The unicorn will be there throughout the race, until they get what they want. For each person that “Thing” they want will be different, and their journey to it will be as well, but at the starting line, everyone is equal, they have all done all that they can do, and perhaps they did the most important thing that they could ever do, they showed up.