Racing with Heroes, Real and Imagined

Waiting at the starting line of this years’ Boston Marathon (my first), I spotted a few unexpected faces in the very crowded field.  Apparently, Spiderman and Wonder Woman were taking time off from saving the world to run (or crawl) the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston.  The perfect weather also brought out Dolly Parton, Homer Simpson, and yes, even Elvis made an appearance.

These superheroes and iconic characters brought a smile to everyone’s face and added some much needed comic relief to a grueling voyage.  But the real superheroes were the courageous people who ran in the face of great adversity, difficult loss and against the odds to accomplish something so many runners start off by taking for granted.

“Legally Blind” read the sign on one runner’s back—running at a steady clip, guided by another runner;  “Running in Memory of …” was a common sight, as was “Running for a cure.”  So many running for others who couldn’t make the trek.

While countless of us able-bodied, well-trained and dedicated runners were cursing heartbreak hill, wondering “Why? Why do we do this?” amputees and wheel-chair bound participants surged past, seemingly without a doubt in their mind.  There were thousands of these inspired and inspiring stories all along the route.

The other real heroes were the throngs of spectators that lined the route for more than five hours and cheered everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, to the finish line.  I wonder if they know how many runners “keep on running” to accomplish a dream that might otherwise die at mile 14—when so many of us hit “the wall,” or just before the crest of the dreaded Heartbreak Hill.   The sponsoring brands (Gatorade, Poland Springs, Power Bar, John Hancock, etc.) played a huge part as well—they have figured out how to really connect with the racers and spectators by providing amazing value throughout the route.

Ultimately, it’s the Boston Athletic Association that mounts this heroic effort year after year, and does so flawlessly, creating a truly unique space where everyone—superheroes and mere mortals like myself—can converge, test our limits and pursue the dream.

I finished the race, but could not have done it without the help 28,000 other runners, the sponsors and the intricate and perfect execution of the race, as well as my friends, family and coworkers who believed in me when I doubted myself.