Stop Me

Stop me before I run again.

Tomorrow is Marathon Day. That may not mean much to people outside of Boston, but here it’s huge. I grew up close to the one mile mark, where the runners are fresh and there’s nothing like the electricity that reverberates from the starter’s gun. Being there is a contact high powerful enough to suck me into its vortex again.

even one of my daughters caught the running bug -- for a while anyway

Tomorrow I will go back to Hopkinton to enjoy the spectacle: runners so accomplished that they start in Boston before dawn, trek to the starting line, then turn around and run back to Boston with the rest of the pack; residents and visitors vying for best view on rocks, fences and in trees; disabled athletes competing in wheelchairs or with guides or on prosthetics; friends and neighbors comparing the year’s take of discarded jackets, gloves, and hats. I’ll go knowing I’m only running a max of 5 miles right now, and have no intention of doing another marathon. Yet I’m feeling vulnerable.

Running is a strange pastime. One may start running for weight control or to improve cardiovascular health, but under sustained conditions it can become a passion, an obsession. Although I’ve been running off and on since about the age of 10, there’s something about purposeful running over the age of 30 that makes it a very different endeavor due to the level of commitment. About 10 years ago I was running around my neighborhood, lucky to do 3 miles before I quit. But soon it stretched to five miles, and the endorphins became irresistible. Weekend activities were predicated on my run, which stretched to 8, 10, 12 miles. I was probably a little grouchy on days when I didn’t get out as planned (ask my spouse).

My Boston Marathon run (unregistered) was in 2003, made possible because I was working a flexible schedule for the Globe and finishing college. It was painful, grueling, and took far longer than I’d imagined (5:15), but I probably think about it every day. I think it changed my view of myself — unusual so late in life — because I’d always been a participant but never thought of myself as an athlete. Outside of giving birth, what opportunities do average people have for such transformation?

One of my favorite memories of the race, aside from my family finding me in several places along the way for hugs and encouragement, was the sound of metal rakes clearing crushed cups at the water stops. That scraping meant I was so far in the back of the pack (if you could call my bunch of stragglers a pack) that they were cleaning up the water stops. It motivated me to concentrate on my pace, to try moving my stiff muscles a little faster. I laugh when I think about it. At least the water stops were still set up when I was limping through Brookline, Kenmore Square, and on to Boylston Street.

Like giving birth, it takes a while for the memory of the pain to subside. This year, the pieces are falling into place: I’m making choices about my future work schedule, seriously considering maintaining a high level of flexibility so I have time to do more than commute to and from an office. I’m running again, and feeling strong. And tomorrow I’ll reconnect with people who are running for important causes (like the Dana Farber Marathon Challenge).

Resistance may be futile.

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