I have one of those jobs that comes with the added benefit of traveling. And while I’m obviously not visiting cities big and small for the sheer joy of traveling and seeing new places– meaning, I’m not there on a vacation where I can explore and mill around leisurely and I usually have about a million things to do to get ready for my meetings on top of staying on top of the usual blizzard of emails that come through while I am physically out of the office– I’m naturally curious, so I try to take some time to explore the places I go.
Last week, work took me to New England starting first with a fly-in to New York City followed by a 3.5-hour drive north to Eastern Massachusetts. Logistically, I knew this trip was coming so I had some time to look up the area where I would be to find anything interesting to visit while I was there, and it just so happened that I was about a 15-minute drive away from Hopkinton, Massachusetts. My heart soared– I had to see the little town where the greatest race on Earth began. I had to make that happen.
My goal for that first night was to save Hopkinton for the next day before I drove out of Massachusetts and instead drive into Boston, or find the nearest place to drop off my rental and take the train into the city, but the weather in New England last week was colder and drearier than expected. I originally wanted to throw on my running garb and go on a mini-running tour of the city, but after an entire day of flying and traveling and all the crappy fast food and GPS-oriented frustrations that come with an already diversely multi-modal day of transportation, I just didn’t feel like freezing in my running shorts and arm warmers exploring an unfamiliar city. Besides, I had a TON of work to do to get ready for my meeting the next morning. So I jumped in my rental and drove into Hopkinton.
First of all, may I say that New England is ADORABLE, and Hopkinton did not disappoint with its tucked-in coastal-ish, gabled houses painted in bold yet classic pastel blues, yellows, and whites and humble Americana cathedral architecture sprinkled throughout some of the most lush forests I have ever seen. I’m pretty sure that some of the people who had the misfortune of getting stuck behind me on some of the roads I was lucky to get lost on were totally frustrated at how slowly I was driving and resisting the urge not to use my smart phone camera behind the wheel, but I was in love. I just hoped they were cursing my rental’s New Jersey plates and the laggard jackass driver they thought was driving it instead of me!
Admittedly, I didn’t know where the start line of the Boston Marathon was and I had to Google it. That’s how I got lost through Hopkinton’s forested neighborhoods. I didn’t quite understand why it looked so different on the news– there was no humble white church, no signs, nothing. It was almost like the Boston Marathon itself was a town that I was nowhere near. But I did finally find it, first after having driven right over it on my multi-looped drive around the town square.
I got out of my car and walked toward the start line, feeling in a weird way like something was off. Like it wasn’t real. There were cars driving past me in both directions. No one walking on the street but me. And all of a sudden, I looked up and saw it– yellow and blue paint spanning the road, unassumingly there as if the world’s fastest men and women hadn’t just met at that spot a week and decades earlier to run one of the best or worst races of their lives after trying countless times to be better than the last time they were there. As if not that long ago, my own kind– a female runner– wasn’t even allowed to cross that line. As if people like myself and my sister Lauriel weren’t dreaming obsessively of the day we’d be able to start the most time-honored foot race in the world and all the humanity that comes with just getting to that point. As if scores of books and articles and blogs hadn’t been written telling people how to get here. As if down the road and one year earlier, the core of our national fabric hadn’t been rattled by another act of senseless cruelty, and as if the sheer fiber of our human existence hadn’t risen to the occasion to refuse the intention of failure that came with such tragic nonsense.
Okay, maybe that all sounds dramatic. I mean, here I was– just standing on an unassuming street curb with a quiet church cemetery to my back with my iPhone camera on, waving embarrassingly to drivers who stopped just before the starting line and causing minor traffic jams so I could snap a few pictures. My running jacket felt obviously fluorescent in the looming twilight. And overall, I just felt like there was a marquee sign above my head that announced to everyone “I DIDN’T QUALIFY BECAUSE I SUCK!” Yes, honestly, the vanity of wanting to get a picture of my feet standing on the start line and hopefully a selfie or ten combined with knowing that I was nowhere close to qualifying to run this race was crowding all the thoughts of what that start line represented out of my head. But I literally–literally–couldn’t walk away. I couldn’t pull myself back from the starting line. If the starting line had been painted on some quiet country road and not on Hopkinton’s main drag, I’d have probably sat there for about an hour just staring at it. Instead, I went to Bill’s Pizza, ordered myself a cheese pizza and a glass of Sam Adam’s 26.2 brew and just…absorbed. I couldn’t believe the ground was shaking with 36,000 runners only a week earlier.
I’m writing this a week later and I wish I had something glorious to say to cap all the emotions of that quiet Monday night in Hopkinton, but I don’t. Yeah, the impact of being there was profound. I’m only now able to put that 20 minute experience into words and I still don’t know what to say about what it meant to me. Sure, I promised myself that it was time to do everything I could to get back there as a runner. That I was finally going to get serious about training hard to earn my spot at that race. I visualized myself there in the future, remembering this visit as I turned my eyes down the tree-lined street toward Boston and smiling at myself for finally making it and getting the chance to run with the best of the best– the people who didn’t just accept “good enough.” I wondered if I would ever make it. I wondered how I would make it. I always said that if I get to Boston, great, and if not, that’s fine, too, and I’ll still say that. But I think going there, seeing it, feeling it…it changed me, and that’s a feeling now in my heart that I can’t ignore. Even if I have no idea what it means.