Part of the thrill of crossing the finish line at the Boston Marathon Monday — aside from being surrounded by cheering throngs, having a pretty woman slip a lanyard with a finisher’s medal around my neck, and eventually hugging my son, Tom, who set a new Fagin Family speed record — was the realization that my life could finally get back to “normal.”
Every marathoner I know, including several former champions, has a love-hate relationship with long distance – from those who train with friends embracing camaraderie to those who train alone, savoring contemplative solitude.
Though we all exult in endorphin-pumped surges during tough cardio workouts as well as transcendental, meditative reveries during LSD (long, slow distance) trips, we also dance along a precariously narrow path that leads either to the glorious summit of superior fitness or to the deep, despair-ridden chasm of sore muscles and exhaustion.
For every joyous ramble on a sunny day we endure a miserable slog in sleet and wind – staring at Patriot's Day marked on the calendar like the Sword of Damocles waiting to fall.
A recap: Last year was to have been my 10th and final Boston, coinciding neatly with the first Patriot’s Day marathon for Tom. He dashed through the course in 2 hours and 42 minutes, but some two hours later, terror bombs stopped me, wingman Phil Plouffe and thousands of others less than a mile from the finish. Like most we resolved to return.
I spent much of the winter and early spring training with 1968 Boston Marathon champion Amby Burfoot and his extended group of family and friends, with the intent we all would run together this past Monday.
As much as I groaned during those hilly training runs up and down Fort Hill in Groton and Brook Street in Noank, I delighted in loping alongside Amby and his wife, Christina; brother, Gary; brother-in-law, Bill, future daughter-in-law Kris; and a rolling gang of others — Kip, Neal, Ed, Bob, Jenna, Laura ...
M-Day: Herded in a mob of more than 36,000 runners in Hopkinton we not surprisingly became separated during a chaotic start, but I bumped into fellow Burfoot acolyte Kip Parker of Stonington, and we decided to stick together, regardless of how many times we stopped to greet friends, chug water, take pit stops and otherwise interrupt the business of moving toward Copley Square.
“This isn’t a race,” we agreed, “it’s a celebration.”
Somehow at the top of Heartbreak Hill near the 21-mile mark I lost Kip and wound up lumbering the final 5 miles or so in a sea of strangers, propelled by wildly enthusiastic throngs. I choked back a sob on Boylston Street.
My son, Tom, meanwhile, already had bounded across the line in 2:38:19, good enough for 269th place overall. When we finally reunited a couple hours later at Boston Common we embraced, just as we had after last year’s horror.
“A great finish,” we both agreed.
Anyway, now that Boston is in my rear-view mirror I’m looking forward to resuming other favorite activities I bypassed while preoccupied during training runs.
I’ve missed a number of kayak outings with my paddling pals. Ian, Phil, Robin – can’t wait to get back on the water.
I skipped a fun hike on the Nehantic Trail with newsroom buds.
I’ve also missed hiking in the mountains all winter. A month before last year’s marathon I injured my Achilles tendon while backpacking with Phil and Steve Kurczy in New Hampshire’s snowy White Mountains, and didn’t want to do that again.
Over the past month or so I also scaled back on my wood-splitting and rock-moving to avoid wrenching my back. The maul and prybar now await; there’s a woodshed to fill, walls to build.
I also have more trees to transplant and a garden to tend.
Soon enough we’ll be plunging in the pond and Fishers Island Sound — I’m already getting emails from swimmer friends.
Finally, I just want to run again without obsessing about those 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston.
Don’t get me wrong: Running the Boston Marathon is an extraordinary experience, always rewarding in retrospect. But as I’ve often remarked, a marathon is like a plane-landing – any one you can walk away from is a good one.