On a hot day in Madison, Shorewood native Sara Knutson came up about eight minutes short of qualifying for the 2011 Boston Marathon. Instead, she spent the day as a spectator. Now a grad student at Boston College she describes the experience as inspiring and motivating.
When I tell people in the Midwest that I run marathons, they typically ask which ones, or whether I plan to run more. When I tell people in Boston I run marathons, there’s only one question: “Are you doing the marathon this spring?”
Now I understand why.
Officially, today was Patriot’s Day.
But in local lingo, it was Marathon Monday, a 26-mile block party stretching from Hopkinton to downtown Boston.
In Natick, the 10-mile mark, church bells rang for each new set of athletes - wheelchair racers, elite women, elite men. The crowd erupted at the sight of Americans leading both the women’s and men’s packs, and my friends and I erupted when my Shorewood classmate Nick End and his speedy friends flashed by.
In Newton (miles 17-21 or so), families created their own aid stations with 6- and 8-year-olds handing out water and oranges. Food trucks dotted major intersections, and pretzel vendors carted their tempting goods up and down the street. Picnics and barbecues abounded.
Despite the distractions, crowd support never wavered.
At a typical race, spectators watch for their friends and move on. In Boston, people hang out all day on the front yard of whoever’s lucky enough to live on Commonwealth Avenue or Beacon Street, break out the beer and sandwiches, and yell encouragement to passing runners.
The cowbells and clapping never quieted, and those runners with the foresight to broadcast their name or hometown on their shirts got personalized support. Even the slower participants, usually running for various charities, heard plenty of cheers where a normal course would have been emptied of spectators long before.
One of my favorite things about the American Birkebeiner is that it’s more than a race - it’s a celebration of cross-country skiing. Having spent the day soaking up the Boston Marathon, I can say with certainty that it celebrates running with the same fervor.
You couldn’t help but leave the course inspired. left utterly determined to run Boston in 2012, no matter how many marathons it takes me to qualify.
Spectating was a joy; participating will be a dream come true.