by Barbara Anne Radtke
April 17 was the running of the 127th Boston Marathon. When I moved to the city 47 years ago, I was surprised to learn that sports were a thread that tied Boston together. I had come from a place where politics and government drove the agenda and the evening commute.
My first encounter with the Boston Marathon was incidental. I was a doctoral student in Spring 1977. One morning, on the way to the library, one of my professors stopped me and asked if I was on my way to the race. I had no idea where the Marathon route was, and that, on that day, I would be able to view the runners right after Heartbreak Hill. What was Heartbreak Hill? I followed my professor to the curb of Comm Ave and she initiated me into the Marathon terrain as well as its lore.
Women had only been running officially in the Marathon for 5 years. They were scarce that first year. The wheelchair competitors wove in and out among the runners. When the first women and wheelchair contenders crested the hill and came into view, a realization dawned. I, too, was engaged in a race. Mine was for a final degree in a field where there were primarily men. The Marathon became a metaphor to describe to myself what I was doing.
Although studying was the reason I came to Boston, it was not the reason I stayed. As years passed, my life became entwined with a family, friends, neighborhoods, and co-workers. As the race itself became more international, the stories of the race that I knew by heart became more local. Today I would not be a good contestant on any quiz show with the category “marathon elite winners,” but I know a pantheon of “also rans” – their training stories, the weather on the day they ran, their times, their successes, their defeats, their injuries, their blisters. It is impressive how this oldest marathon in the country has developed over time. The categories of runners speak for themselves. This year Boston added a non-binary division.
Whether it is sun, rain, or snowflakes, the spirit of the race is infectious. I knew it for years as a day of joy and fun. Jostling next to families or groups of friends who shared their snacks and chatted with me and my friends, we waited for the waves of runners to come by. We made room for Red Sox fans swarming down from Fenway Park to Kenmore Square after the morning game to watch the runners finish the race. That is why the bombing in 2013 was so sinister. It took a carefree day of happiness with friends and family and made it a day of confusion, fear, tragedy, and sadness. Yet, like the message of Easter, which usually falls sometime around Marathon Monday, death and devastation are not the end of the story. Being “Boston Strong” is now part of the Marathon’s legacy. Despite our loss of innocence, urban joy is still Boston’s hallmark on Marathon Monday even if that joy has a poignancy.
And "marathon" is still a good metaphor for life even though I achieved the goals I had when I first experienced the race. As I grow older, I relate more to the spectators lifting runners up on eagle’s wings as they grow weary or begin to doubt themselves. And in a country so torn by division and discord, pausing for a day to cheer each other on, to lift each other up, and to defy defeat of many kinds is a fine ritual to bind us together.
by Kathy Hendricks
Since my husband, Ron, is a long-distance runner, I can easily relate to your account of the marathon and its meaning for the people of Boston. Over the years, you gave me an inside look at the local lore around this annual event. I recall our conversation after the 2013 bombing and the touching account of how students at Boston College brought blankets and use of their cell phones to runners who were diverted to a church adjacent to the campus. It does indeed illustrate the power of “Boston Strong.”
Ron has run several full and half marathons, including several up and down Pikes Peak. The elevation gain of 7800 feet make it one of the most challenging races in the country. Like you, I hold a lot of memories as I waited at the finish line along with family members, friends, and others who formed a support system for their runner. In addition to going the distance, the Pikes Peak Marathon contains another metaphor – that of scaling a mountain despite the rocky terrain and uncertain path. I am always heartened by those at the back of the pack. They are often the ones enjoying it the most and reveling in the sheer joy of crossing the finish line. Like you, I find hope in those who keep striving, no matter what challenges they face. In doing so, they are an inspiration to us all.
Ron at the top of Pikes Peak after running the Ascent in the summer of 2022. He won second place in his age group!