Boston - A tradition that stands the test of time

April 21, 2005|by ANDY MASON

I ran the Boston Marathon for a fifth straight year Monday.

And for the fifth straight year, I'm writing a column about it.

Tradition is tradition.

Why else would anyone want to run the Boston Marathon?

The world is filled with smoother and faster 26.2-mile marathon courses - courses that aren't seemingly designed to chew up your legs and spit them out long before the finish line, courses that don't have a Heartbreak Hill waiting for you at Mile 20, courses that won't sock you with July weather in mid-April.

But for more than a century, the world's elite distance runners have come to Boston every spring to compete for olive wreaths and marathoning glory. To run in their wake on the fabled course is on nearly every competitive runner's to-do list, often at the very top.


Because the Boston Marathon has qualifying standards to keep the masses out, the masses desperately want in. The race has evolved into an ultimate physical fitness test, one that has to be passed before it even begins, for the select 20,000 each year. It takes thousands of miles of training to make it to the starting line. From there, it's only another 26.2 to be able to tell the world all about it in your next batch of Christmas cards.

The Boston Marathon is like Christmas on the runner's calendar with sights (such as the hundreds of Port-a-Johns at the start in Hopkinton), sounds (such as the screaming girls from Wellesley College at Mile 12) and smells (such as those from the hundreds of Port-a-Johns) all to its own.

It's a holiday on every level, especially one from the norm, even before the race begins. Strangers from across the globe will gather in shaded corners of grocery-store parking lots to share a jar of Vaseline. Some homeowners will even seem pleased when their front-yard shrubs are the ones selected for bladder relief. And the manliest of men, those elite stars who will lead the front pack, weigh less than high school cheerleaders.

Of course, it takes a day or two to acquire this perspective. I wasn't taking anything lightly at 2:30 p.m. Monday, as I hit Mile 22 on a pair of legs that couldn't have felt heavier. Four miles to go without a subway token, I was hurting but not quite broken. I had much more reason than rhyme then.

Reason: I don't have to be here but I am. My family doesn't have to be here but it is. My friends don't have to be following my splits online, but they are. I have been given a precious computer chip, which now is attached to my shoe, that must be foot-delivered to the finish line at all costs. There is no delivery insurance, not even in the fine print on my training log back home.

I can go for many long runs on the C&O Canal towpath to train for the Boston Marathon, but I can only attempt to run the Boston Marathon once a year, if I'm lucky.

After I crossed the finish line in 3 hours and 2 minutes, good for 751st place overall, I was relieved but not quite satisfied.

The tradition continues. Look for the sixth edition of this column next April.

Andy Mason is assistant sports editor at The Herald-Mail. 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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