Had family obligations landed differently on the calendar, I’d have come to Boston earlier, to watch Shalane Flanagan, Anna Willard and Ian Dobson run the Invitational Mile yesterday, and to attend the Expo. The Expo is nearly as inspiring as the marathon itself. Wandering around in a mass of the best marathoners in the country, at the peak of their fitness, I get jumpy with the thought that I want to belong to this fast tribe! But, for this year, at least, I would just swoop in and out to watch the race.
JG and I watched the women’s 9:32 AM start on TV then gathered up our stuff and headed to the finish line to wait for a couple of hours. The announcer was pretty good about calling the race for us, letting us know who was leading and falling off the pack; I also had my trusty UK correspondent TS emailing me updates to my Blackberry. JG is easy, lighthearted company, and we stood there swapping stories and complaints, catching up the way only two women can (ceaseless chatter punctuated with laughter and exclamations of astonishment). I’ve somehow taken on Matt’s bias towards runners who train in Colorado so I was thrilled to know that Colleen de Reuck and Elva Dryer were hanging on tight with the lead pack for so long. But really, it was just encouraging to see these three American women leading the Africans. Around Mile 19, two things seemed to happen at once: Kara began to push the pace to break up the pack, and Deriba Merga completely pulled away from the rest of the elite men. Both exciting, gusty moves and I wished I could have seen them. (I will later.) By the time Kara was at Mile 23, I was fidgeting anxiously, pulling my course map in and out of my pocket, futzing with my tin of lip balm, and scrolling crazily through my Blackberry’s inbox. Fandom is a strange affliction, and having Kara so close to victory, so close at hand, was more than I could bear calmly. JG laughed fondly at me. When it became apparent that Dire Tune and Salina Kosgei were not only at Kara’s shoulder but also inching ahead of her, I began to pray. I was afraid of Dire’s bitter kick. Finally, finally the women turned onto Boyleston Street and sprinted towards us, where I stood in a mass of people, screaming my head off. It was clear from where I stood that Kosgei had it; I watched the two yellow singlets streak by and tears welled up behind my sunglasses. Kara would be third. She came by next looking like a giant after the two diminutive African women (Kara is the tiniest woman I’ve ever met). Her legs seemed heavy even though she was moving at an incredible clip, and her face was dismantled, whether it was from physical struggle or emotional distress I was unable to tell. All I could think was how the disappointment must be crushing all the air out of her; my heart ached for her. She has to face a cold reality when she considers her third place finish: even though it’s amazing to have two Americans on the podium at Boston, it’s all conciliatory small talk, really.
Then a few more Africans trundled through, and Lidiya Grigoryeva, and I had to pick my spirits up and cheer like a madwoman for Colleen de Reuck, who finished 8th as the top women’s finisher. Wow, what a comeback, what an amazing finish! 45 years old! And she looked super-fit, lanky as all get-out. I was so happy for her, and that we had two American women in the top ten. I also recognized Veena Reddy when she pranced by with her black hair streaming loose behind her; I saw her race here at the trials last year.
Soon, Merga was there in his orange singlet (because the women’s race was so slow, he caught them), bounding towards the finish line. I couldn’t help but be happy for him; he was grinning from ear to ear and he had so much to vindicate, most notably how he hit the wall at the Olympics, his whole race falling apart on the track with less than 400 meters to go to a bronze medal. I was glad he won. Some African dude I’d never heard of came in second. And Ryan Hall our Great Golden Hope, pulled out a third place finish, which frankly I am jazzed about. We all cheered our lungs out for Ryan–he is such a beautiful runner–and I had flashbacks of his inspiring finish at the trials in Central Park, where we were chanting his name. I am impressed with the way he reeled in half a dozen runners to get back into podium position in the final miles of the race.
Elva Dryer dropped off the pack to finish 12th, and Brian Sell, who looked like he was hurting at the end (his form was all crumpled forward, poor kid), finished 14th, in 2:16:31. Awe, Brian. JG and I lingered for hours more, watching the crowds pour through. I saw my physical therapist run by, and an old TNT coach. We cheered and cheered. My thoughts kept wandering to Kara, what was she doing, how was she feeling? I was glad she had Adam there. Back on the course, I saw more than a few women sporting pigtails. At a certain point I had a pang of sadness as I realized my moment at the finish line has been indefinitely deferred. I smiled when I saw couples running across the finish line, hands clasped together and raised like champions. I was excited for all the runners, understanding everything they’d done–training for their qualifying race, grabbing the brass ring, training through one of our worst winters ever, and finally beating those hills and that headwind– to get to the blue and yellow finish line in Copley Square. I admire them, every single one.
Last year, when I watched this race, I wasn’t yet sure if I could run a Boston-qualifying time, or if I even dared to believe I could. But now, with NYC in my pocket, I do dare. This knowledge made for a different spectating experience, definitely more vicarious. One day I will be you, I thought as my gaze pinpointed a woman striding towards the finish with a grin spread across her face. I am injured now, but that’s just for right now.