Thursday, April 19, 2007

(Athlete's) Village Soup... a Prologue

"I'm a zen marathoner."
"Huh? What's that?" I incredulously asked the cabbie.

"I run the marathon in my mind. And I keep up with the Kenyans too."

"How to you feel after the race?"
"I'm tired but my legs feel good."


I remained silent as the taxi weaved through the downtown Boston streets away from Faneuil Hall in a driving rain. He stopped at the corner near the Park Street Church.

"Here are the school buses. They go to Hopkington. That will be five bucks."
The small plastic bag in my waist pouch had a couple of Hammer Gels, a bunch of Advils, and a few bills... a $20, a $5, and a $1.

"Here's six."

The wind ripped the taxi door handle from my hand when I opened the door. The cold rain stung my cheek.

"Say 'Hi' to the girls at Wellsley," were is final words to me.

I slammed shut the door and waved bye.

A dozen yellow school buses lined the Boston Common Garden on Tremont Avenue and hundreds of athletes stood in separate queus next to each bus. Each person wrapped in something waterproof. Some were in trash bags with holes cut for arms and heads. Some where like me in a thin, cheap rain suit. With my back turned to the rain I joined the queue.

Soon the door opened and we filed in and took seats in a hushed and orderly manner. I sat beside Joanne, a pleasant, young woman, late 20ish, I think, from California. She qualified last year and was running Boston for the first time. We spoke about various races, her husband, her new bike, and the Wildflower triathlon.. At times it was hard to hear her, or anyone else, over the din of voices and the drone of the bus engine. The excitement was thick in the air and everyone was smiling.

The ride took forever. Damn, it felt a lot more than just 26 miles to get to Hopkington. More like 50. It was getting warm in the bus. A little too warm for what waited at arrival.

The bus stopped in the parking lot shared by the Hopkinton High and Middle schools. I stepped on the wet pavement and searched for the VIP entrance to the school. Athletes lined the red brick walls of the building. Some alone and some huddled under sheets of plastic for warmth and protection. I never did find the entrance to the school but I did see what I needed the most, a port-a-pottie. They were lined up on the outer edge of an athletic field a couple of hundred yards from the parking lot. One step off of the sidewalk and my foot sunk into a cold puddle of water. The next step was deeper. I ran/hopped/skipped from one tuft of grass to the next across the field to the end of a line of people waiting for an open hut. Water squished with each leap. Any ideas of keeping my feet dry before the race were now drowned.

I came out of the john and looked across the field for the now elusive VIP entrance to the school. Between me and the school, and at a much shorter distance was a large white tent filled with athletes. Standing together near the end of the tent closest to me were a group of people wearing purple Team in Training jerseys. Again, I ran/hopped/skipped across the grass. It will be good to talk to someone I thought to myself.

Once inside the tent I could sense a marked difference in the mood to that of the bus. Under the tarp was little talking and not many smiles. Plenty of thousand-yard stares looked through me. I knew this is where I belonged. This is where the real athletes were. The ones that qualified -- or didn't qualify as in my case -- the ones that buy the shoes and the gear with their own money, the ones that raised funds for their various charities. No invited VIPs or big shots. Just athletes, trying to stay warm, waiting for the start. We floated on top of and between the puddles and streams of rain water. It was a cold soup of athletes. A virtual vichyssoise of runners. Yep, this is where I belonged. I found an abandoned square of green trash bag, spread it on the ground, and sat down. This is where I would wait. The VIP room in the school would have to get along without me.

The public address announcer gave a 30 minute count-down to the start of my wave and I collected my belongings and headed towards the medical tent. My feet need preparation for running in soggy shoes. Plus, the medical tent was close to the exit of the field of soup. That's a perfect place to go for the last minutes before the start.

I ducked into the Red Cross tent. It was nearly empty but for a nurse and a medic. The medic skillfully applied tape and Vasaline to my feet. We bitched for a minute about the weather and he wished me luck as I wrung the water out of my socks.

This wouldn't be the last time I spoke to a medic today.

Stay tuned...


Lance Notstrong said...

I'm on the edge of my seat waiting to hear the rest!!!

Bolder said...

and so it begins...

Anonymous said...

C'mon, c'mon... we're dying 'ere!! --Elizabeth =)

Cliff said...

This is like watching..err reading 24 :)

Come on Jack..tell us what happen..

Fe-lady said...

We...are....waiting...(and I'm not very good at it!)
Glad you are OK tho!

Wendy said...

Like others, I'm on the edge of my seat!

Donald said...

Nice cliffhanger. Get writing that next report!

ironjenny said...

Boomer! ... are you forgetting us??? Where's the rest of the story?
Are you OK?