Run through Boston was a test of the spirit

April 22, 2004|by ANDY MASON

Over the past few years, I've learned this: Boston is probably the single-greatest destination for vacationing sports fans in mid-April.

Tourists and residents of the city are treated to the sweet tastes of every big-time sports flavor this time of the year has to offer.

Take this past Patriots Day weekend:

  • The Red Sox played host to the Yankees in baseball's most tradition-rich rivalry.

  • Jim Calhoun, head coach of the NCAA champion UConn men's basketball team, was at Fenway Park to throw out a first pitch.

  • The Canadiens were in town for a Game 7 vs. the Bruins in the NHL playoffs.

  • The Celtics, who got their NBA first-round playoff series started at Indiana, were making headlines.

  • The Super Bowl champion Patriots acquired star running back Corey Dillon.

  • And hundreds of thousands of fans lined the streets for 26.2 miles to cheer on the roughly 20,000 runners competing in Monday's 108th edition of the Boston Marathon, the most legendary footrace on the planet.

For the fourth straight April, my spring pilgrimage landed me in Boston for the Patriots Day weekend festivities.


As a newspaper guy outside of his circulation area, I enjoyed nothing more than waking up each morning and reading The Boston Globe's sports section, which, needless to say, had lots to say about the world right outside its window.

All the hype made me think about The Herald-Mail or, more specifically, our "On Vacation with The Daily Mail" promotion. The Daily Mail, our afternoon edition, publishes photos of vacationing readers holding up a copy of the newspaper during their faraway adventures.

I thought, "Hey, I'm running the Boston Marathon. I'll arrange to have someone hand me a copy of the paper during the race for me to carry just long enough for someone else to snap a photo. It'll be perfect."

But that idea eventually soured. It just wouldn't have worked. The Boston Marathon, no matter how you break it down, is no vacation.

What had been an extremely painful, yet hugely uplifting, experience for me each of the previous three years, was nothing short of a tour through hell this time.

I was undertrained for the long distance and not pre-heated for the even-more-grueling, 85-degree "wicked haht" (native speak) oven of a race day.

Last year, I was somewhat disappointed with my finishing time of 3 hours, 8 minutes. Monday, I felt lucky to be alive after crossing the line in 3:55.

It was my seventh marathon and by far the slowest, ugliest and most painful. I never had slowed to a walk in a marathon before Monday, when a combination of dehydration, exhaustion and severe leg cramps forced me to walk and shuffle-step the final 10 miles. By then, the marathon was nothing more than a battle to stay upright and keep moving forward. For maybe the first time in my life, my ever-ticking watch was neither a source of motivation nor discouragement.

My most lasting memory of the "race" probably will be either the fat guy condescendingly yelling, "Suck it up! Only a mile to go!" at me from the sidewalk, as if he knew exactly what I was going through, or the wheelchair ride away from the finish-line area I received when I couldn't take another step.

Actually, the wheelchair may have made for a more suitable photo with The Daily Mail. That's where my real Boston vacation started.

Hours later, as I feasted on fried oysters and beer while sharing laughs with friends and family, the trip seemed like one I'd gladly request time off work for again.

It's always easier for me to appreciate my relatively painfree existence as a sports fan after I've suffered a little during it.

Andy Mason is assistant sports editor of The Morning Herald. HIs column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2334, or by e-mail at

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