The Boston Marathon starts in a few hours, and I just so happen to be visiting the city at the same time. Boston was crackling with anticipation this past weekend, high on the mounting combined adrenaline of the soon-to-be competitors, welcoming the runners with banners and discounts all over, offering running tours of the city to enthusiasts. The sun- and tourist-flooded city was throbbing with live music, including the incredible drumline we ran into from New York State’s Mamaroneck High School, known as “The Force.”
Buskers were filling the air on posh Newbury Street and pissing off some of the neighbors, with a nice police officer apologizing to young musicians – and putting dollars in their guitar case – for asking them to move one block over to appease the grumpy complainants. Meanwhile, flower vases on the steps of the brick stores invited people to come in but signs forbade them from sitting on the steps or “loitering.” The street was a parade of fashionable outfits and heavy makeup, expensive-looking pedestrians and drivers revving their sports car engines. This differed from other parts of Boston with a community feel we’ve experienced, such as the Boston Common park, where apparently a table was lined with sweaters and other donations for the needy, handed over personally by locals; and East Boston, where we spotted a woman carrying a large tub of food on her head and I had cheap, self-served coffee from a dispenser in a styrofoam cup, and 3-day-old pastry, at a small Hispanic bakery close to our Airbnb accommodation.
In Boston, the advent of spring always means Boston Marathon season – always the third Monday in April. The race, one of the “big six” marathons in the world, has been going on in Boston since 1897, which makes it the world’s oldest annual marathon. An average of half a million people come to see the race every year, and 30,000 to participate in it. The “running tourist,” sometimes in full running garb, could be identified in the middle of the throngs this past weekend, alone or with friends and family tagging along for support. I spotted several while walking the “Freedom Trail,” a red-white-and-blue brick road of must-see landmarks connected to the American Revolution and the “forefathers,” laid out along four or so kilometers. One of the most prominent objects I’ve seen so far on this trail has been the obelisk-adorned tomb of “forefather” Benjamin Franklin’s parents, for which he wrote the epitaph himself. The precocious Ben was born in Boston and lived there until a spat with his older brother and newspaper boss caused him to run away, at age 17, to Philadelphia (the next stop on my little historic tour of the US), and that’s where he really started to make his mark and where he died and was buried, at age 84.
Apparently, the New England rebels used to hang out at Boston pubs a lot – my boyfriend and I ate at one of them, The Green Dragon – and conspire for independence from the British Crown over beer mugs. A postcard I happened to see at the gift store of one of the attractions quotes Ben Franklin himself as saying,
“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
Although the true authorship of this statement has been disputed, few would dispute the truth of the statement itself, which I must say is reinforced by Boston’s local beers (thanks, Samuel Adams).
But the runners have to stay away from the pubs and concentrate on loading their bodies properly – there’s even a carb-loading party with plenty of pasta. On the day of the race they have to wake up extremely early; the runner who happens to be sharing our Airbnb told me he would have to catch a bus at around 6 in the morning Boston time to go to where the marathon starts, the rural town of Hopkinton. Then he’d have to run more than 42 kilometers back. This, after having prepared by running 120 kilometers some weeks for 12 weeks. Doesn’t sound like that much fun to me, to be honest. What do you do first thing Monday morning? Usually before 10, I can barely crawl out of bed to make some coffee or hurry off to work without having had time to eat or drink anything.
The runner we met is named Florian, a 30-something account manager from Graz, Austria, who is about to move to Berlin, where his girlfriend lives and where he has also run a marathon before. He tells me he’s run a total of six marathons in European cities. He tells my boyfriend that he used to play football, but an injury took him out of the sport and he took up running for therapy. Now it’s gone from challenge to lifestyle, and running 10 kilometers a day for him is like walking. I can’t even run to the tram in the morning without huffing and puffing. Incredible what the human body can be trained to do…
Now I’m off to the sidelines of the marathon, and then to catch a Megabus. Will write next from somewhere else along our US journey that will take us through parts of the Northeast to the Midwest.