14 March 2012

Boston in Red

[Ed Note: This article was written for the Greater Boston Track Club newsletter.]

The Boston Marathon again looms, a mere five or so weeks away. Again, I’m working the long runs into the schedule. Again, I’m planning out the preparatory races, trying to balance maximum conditioning with maximum health and readiness. Again, I’m not exactly fretting over the weather, since there’s nothing I can do about it, but let’s just say harboring healthy concerns as usual.

There are a lot of “agains” surrounding this, my sixth Boston and sixteenth marathon. But this one stands out. There’s nothing whatsoever “again” about the fact that this will be my first Boston wearing the red jersey of the Greater Boston Track Club. I have to admit that even in my advanced years, I find that to be pretty exciting.

The irony is that before getting that email last fall inviting me to run with GBTC, I was pushing for a team effort, trying to convince my local club, the Highland City Striders of Marlborough and Hudson, that we should register as a team. One might say that enthusiasm was muted. I love my local cub for its character (and its characters), its camaraderie, and its encouragement and fun, but it’s not by nature a highly competitive group. They didn’t seem all that worried about scoring Boston as a team.

Enter GBTC. I got what I hoped for, indeed much more. Ironically, instead of leading the team of locals, it’s pretty likely that I won’t notch a scoring top three time amongst the depth of the GBTC masters (hey, age fifty isn’t far away for me, wait till next year!). But no worry, scoring position or backup, ready to notch in if someone has a bad day, I’ve got my team, and it’s not just any team.

As a high school cross country runner in Upstate New York in the late seventies, I watched what was happening in Boston with awe, drawing inspiration from the world-class runners of the day. After a nasty illness heading into college knocked me off the roads and trails, decades passed before I returned to running, and it was twenty-five years before I finally ran that marathon I’d wanted as a schoolboy. Less than two years later, there I stood, qualified and lined up for the famed Boston Marathon, another youthful dream fulfilled. Of course, after that long wait, the famed Nor’Easter race of 2007 was somewhat of a slap in the face, but really, who cared, it was Boston!

Now, just a few years after that, it’s not just Boston, but Boston for the home team, Boston in the shadow of those who lit my fires me long ago. Seriously, how many people get the chance to grow up and live that dream? (Wait a minute, grown up? I’m not sure I have yet – I still feel like a kid in a candy shop.) What a ride it’s been!

In the brief time since I joined the GBTC last fall, I’ve been re-introduced to the fun of cross country, come back to the intensity of track racing after a thirty-year hiatus, and had the opportunity to toe the line wearing a nationally known club name at a national championship meet. Of course I can’t match the big boys, but it’s heady stuff just the same, and most of all, it’s been fun. Even a few personal bests have tumbled in, driven by the uplift of being surrounded by confident, competitive, and capable comrades. And that’s after just four months.

I’ve been warned – or perhaps that’s not the right word – excited – by some of the other GBTC people telling me that running Boston with Greater Boston plastered across your chest is different. You’re the home team. The crowd responds. Frankly, I can’t wait to find out just how true that might be. Boston crowds are amazing to begin with. How they continue cheering so long after the truly fast guys have passed mystifies me, but they do. How they amplify those cheers for the home team might just carry me over those rugged spots, like that last lump over the Pike at mile twenty five, in my view the worst insult of the course.

Boston Number Six, Boston in Greater Boston Red, will be different. Best time or not, it’s lined up to be the best ever.

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