The winds were blowing hard in Copley Square and the silver mylar blanket didn't stop my shivering. Once past the medical tent a volunteer took my timing chip, another put my finisher's medal around my neck, and yet another handed me a bottle of water and a granola bar.
And with that...
... the race was over.
The goal was met and the experience will be eternal. For me - a back of the middle of the pack marathoner - the medal the volunteer put around my neck is the tangible confirmation of victory. A ribbon with its attached pendant provides validation of the chills, cramps, and sweat stains earned on the way to Boston. How is it that a fifty-cent medal could be worth a million dollars?
With no friends or family waiting for me at the finish I was on my own to get back to the Millennium Hotel. I asked a passerby for directions to the Common Gardens and they pointed down Boylston towards Arlington street. Slowly I walked towards the park.
I must have been a sight. One hand clutched the blanket in front of me while the other held onto the bottle of water. A black beenie cap was underneath my white running hat. My nose was red and running, my eyes watered from the cold, I was limping, and I was wearing tight black shorts. The looks I got from the pedestrians had me wondering what they were thinking. It could have been, "Oooh, look at him, he just ran the marathon," or maybe they were, "Eeewwuuuu, look at him, he looks terrible after running a marathon,"? Nonetheless, a few people congratulated me while more than just few only stared.
At the entrance of the gardens I happened to see a familiar face. It was none other than 1995 Ironman Hawaii champion, and cancer survivor, Karen Smyers and her husband, Michael. I called her name and they stopped. She said she knew me from somewhere but couldn't remember my name or the place. I reminded her of the races she hosted in Dallas and when she and I briefly spoke at the St. Croix Ironman 70.3 triathlon last May. Graciously she said she remembered me and asked me to say hello to her the next time we race together.
They continued down the street and I entered the gardens.
The gardens seem much larger when it's cold and you're tired. Walking was becoming more difficult with each step. Upon reaching the far end of the gardens at Temont and Park Street the bells of the Park Street Church rang a sweet hymn. The sound filled the busy city street drowning the sounds of the traffic.
I crossed Tremont and came upon a woman living on the street. She looked to be about 45 years old. Her hair was black but long ago began turning gray. A dirty, heavy black wool coat covered her dark blue sweat pants and black stained high-top sneakers. Her eyeglasses were thick and a trash bag filled to the brim served as her seat on the cold and wet sidewalk. Our eyes met.
"Did you just run the marathon?" she asked with a big, brown smile.
"Yes, I did."
I was stopped in my tracks. Despite her dirty clothes, skin, and circumstances her eyes were big and bright. They caught me off guard.
"Thank you. Umm, Miss... do you know where I can find a public rest room?"
"Sure. There's a Burger King at the end of the block. They have a bathroom you can use," she said pointing the way.
"Thank you very much, Miss."
The restaurant was warm and the customers gave me more curious looks. After using the restroom I left the building into the coldest breezes of the day. My shivers were getting stronger and I decided I would hail a taxi and ride the last mile to the hotel. A worthy $5 investment I thought.
The woman was still at the same street corner and I asked her, "Where can I get a taxi?"
"Across the street by the church."
"Thanks." While I waited to cross the street I heard her begging people for spare change. However, she did not ask me.
I crossed the street and tried to get the attention of a taxi. I reached into the pouch I carried with me from the morning and found the remaining $20 bill. That was the only money I had with me. I waived at the approaching taxis however, all that came my way were occupied with a customer. The rain began to fall again while the church bells rang out the quarter hour. The woman across the street pulled a plastic bag over her head to keep dry. She sat back on her bag and covered up.
Finally at taxi stopped in front of me and the driver rolled down the window and asked me if I wanted a ride.
"No, not today," I said and he sped away.
I crossed the street once again and approached the woman. "How do I get to Faneuil Hall?"
She pointed up Tremont, "Turn right at School Street. It's near City Hall."
"Thank you very much. Here, this is for you."
I handed her the $20. She smiled and put the money in her coat and I began the walk to the hotel.
Two blocks from where I left the woman, at the corner of Tremont and School Streets, stands the King's Chapel. Built in 1688 it was the first non-Puritan church in Boston. There I took from my pouch the enveloped holding the crimson ink note I wrote in the medical tent in Hopkington. Carefully I slid it under the door of the church. My message of love and hope was with me for the entire race and, at last, I could deliver it. Although she wasn't there to receive it personally, the message was delivered all the same.
And with that...
... I was warm.
On any other day of the year the route from Hopkington to Boston is just a twenty-six-mile stretch of pavement. But on this one day the road was alive with pounding pulses and passionate hearts. Referred to by some as alluring and seductive, and by others as heartbreaking, this course has a romantic enchantment for all on or beside her.
Fulfillment comes in many shapes and colors. Running the Boston Marathon produced in me a deep sense of accomplishment and respect. I ran this day knowing it would be tough on my body but unaware that my inner soul would be tested and rewarded. A message was delivered, indeed.
And with that...
... my quest for the Boston Marathon 2008 began.