The last time I watched the Boston Marathon from my couch, 2,552 miles away from the action, I screamed and cheered so loud that my dog cowered under the kitchen table until the entire ordeal was over.
It was 2011 and Desiree Linden was surging through the final miles, giving every U.S. distance-running fan a tease of what it might feel like for an American woman to win the coveted title for the first time since 1985. In front of the Walgreens on Boylston Street, Linden pushed to the lead for a few tantalizing steps, but Caroline Kilel, of Kenya, beat her to the tape just 300 or so meters later—by a mere two seconds. Two seconds.
Linden’s race was bold and fierce. Her grit that day has stuck with me—it epitomized what Boston is all about; everything a runner wants to be, illustrated.
You see, on the third Monday in April, every year since 1897—for better or worse—history is made. And, on the third Monday in April, there’s nowhere that feels more like home than Boston, Massachusetts.
It’s a four-day running family reunion, where a city embraces and uplifts a sport that otherwise gets little attention. A spot on the starting line is earned, and tradition is revered, and the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Copley Square is hallowed ground. To be part of this race is nothing short of magical. It’s the 120-year-old marathon that never gets old.
I ran my one-and-only Boston in 2010. At the time, it was my fastest 26.2 miles ever. And although I’ve surpassed that mark since, it remains my best marathon in ways that matter much more. It was the only one that I genuinely enjoyed from start to finish, that I executed nearly perfectly, that I fully absorbed all its prestige and legend and lore. I was the jerk who asked, “When do we get to Heartbreak Hill?” after we had already passed it.
The camaraderie, the boisterous spirit, the fellowship—the beer, the chowdah, and the lobstah rolls…I fell in love. The city and the marathon have officially owned a meaningful piece of me ever since.
In more recent years, I’ve attended Boston as a reporter. I experienced the horrific events of 2013 in the company of colleagues, friends, athletes, and race officials. And like all of them, I was wrecked and devastated in a way that still defies words.
“You will run again. Because that’s what the people of Boston are made of,” Barack Obama said, in the days after those bombs went off.
He was, of course, correct. Unfathomable grief gradually gave way to resolve. And suddenly everybody wanted a chance to reclaim Boylston Street in his or her own triumph and celebration.
No less determined was Shalane Flanagan, Boston’s hometown girl whose mission became giving her city something to cheer about. Her preparation for that 2014 race was meticulous—I had the fortune to witness snapshots of it in Flagstaff along the way. Her desire was electrifying. And while she didn’t win that day, she played a critical part in bringing Boston back and giving the running community hope.
It turned out to be Meb’s big day, of course. For all the darkness, terror, and heartbreak of the year before, there was awe and laughter and somewhat restrained (objective, journalism-style) jubilation. A man who few had talked about as a podium contender became the first American to win in 31 years, with the names of those who had died in the bombings written on his bib. What more could a room full of sports reporters hope for? The stories basically wrote themselves.
The event has come to represent so much more than running. Obama called it “a 26.2 mile test of dedication, and grit, and the human spirit.”
“There’s a piece of Boston in all of us,” he said.
Tomorrow, another Marathon Monday is upon us. And although I’ll be watching from thousands of miles away, I’ll hold my piece of Boston close. On every third Monday in April, it will always feel like home.