This guest article has nothing to do with wine, although in a wider sense with Greek roots. My long term readers know how passionate my wife is about running. She ran the Boston Marathon exactly one month ago. This is her recount.
“In 2008 I ran my first ever marathon in Athens out of curiosity about myself. The sport got to me and six more followed whilst I kept pursuing two goals ever since:
1. To run a marathon in less than 3 1/2 hours.
2. To participate in the most historic marathon event in the world: Boston.
The first goal required hard training and discipline. The second required a demanding qualifying time which meant achieving the first one!
October 2011: I ran my fourth marathon in Istanbul and managed to break the 3 1/2 hours mark after two failed attempts. I finished in 03:27:12. I was over the moon. Goal achieved and qualifying time too!
September 2012: I applied for the Boston Marathon within the first 10 seconds of registrations opening, and managed to get an entry! I was actually going to be one of 27.000 runners of this marvelous event.
April 2013: I completed the 2013 Boston Marathon. My finishing time was 03:37:21.
Indeed I was fortunate enough to complete the race. The news about the bombing went around the world in seconds. Luckily I was already past the real danger zone, albeit I was standing just 100 meters away facing the finish line and witnessing what was happening.
There is little to be added to the numerous recounts of the events, questions posed, frustrations uttered. However I feel that what was not emphasized merely enough, was how incredibly efficiently this crisis was handled by all organizations involved, including security teams, the volunteers, the BAA (Boston Athletic Association), which is the marathon organization committee, and all runners and participants. In the evening of the same day, when I was sitting in a round of runners in the hotel, everyone’s stories emitted the amazement about it.
After the first bomb went off, immediate action was taken to stop the marathon. By the time the second bomb went off 10 seconds later, fellow runners reported to have seen snipers on the roofs. It was the first time ever in marathon history that a marathon event was stopped cold, and this was executed within seconds and in complete alignment by everyone. Security had been totally prepared for such an unlikely eventuality.
Once the race was stopped, there were runners stranded in the cold for the foregoing 15 – 20 km before the finish line, who needed to be collected and united with their bags (during running events, runners check in their personal belongings for safekeeping before the race starts and pick them up again at the finish line).
There was havoc in the whole city, however within a few hours, buses had been organized to pick up thousands of runners and take them to a park, where all belongings had been transported to. All runners were patient and cooperative, awaited their turn, gave way to the people who seemed most needy, tired, and restless and felt united by the fact that they were all part of this sad event.
When the panic broke out after the finish line and we were screamed at to start running away from the bomb site, there were people around me who could barely move, let alone run, because they were exhausted from the race. They all received help from volunteers and fellow runners. None were abandoned.
Boston excelled in these extraordinary circumstances and its aftermath!
The Athens Marathon is the original, the ‘classic’ as they call it. However, the Boston Marathon is the most historic marathon EVENT, as it has been going on for 117 years. It started out with 18 participants back in 1896.
The event is so unique because a whole city is living it. It is not just a race, on a Monday (they call it Marathon Monday). It is an event celebrated like a national holiday with a series of happenings over four days, culminating with the marathon race.
The marathon expo is a huge fair. Every company or product even remotely related to marathon running is being represented. Presentations, lectures, autograph sessions by celebrities, experts, athletes are ongoing and open to the public. Movies about the history of the race and the course itself are being shown all day.
On the day before Marathon Monday, various kids’ races as well as the ‘elite-mile’ take place right around the finishing area. There are joggers everywhere running their last miles in preparation and everyone in the streets is dressed in Boston Marathon gear.
On the day of the race the organization of getting to the start, hosting runners at the marathon village and getting them to the right corals before the start was flawless.
I had ‘ran’ the course in my mind very often accompanying the recounts of George Sheehan when reading his books. He often wrote about Boston Marathon instances as this race was his ‘super bowl’ every year. And I finally walked in his footsteps: the downhill start stiffening the legs, heartbreak hill (once you run it, you know why it’s got that name), the last miles rolling into town.
The race is 42 km of entertainment. On the course, volunteers, sponsors and the crowd were providing runners with everything one could possibly think of from the most obvious things, water, drinks, fruit, to the most unusual items such as vaseline, pizza, food off a grill.
The signs made by the crowd for the runners are enormously entertaining. The one that had me in tears was: ‘Smile if you are not wearing any underwear’ (yep, I smiled!). Second best was ‘Worst parade ever!’ There were music and bands almost all along the way, and hundreds of children waiting patiently for runners to high-five them.
Half way down the race, the famous Wellesly Girls are waiting for the runners. Women from Wellesley College have made it a tradition to cheer on Boston Marathoners who race past campus. Thousands of women line about a quarter mile of the course, motivating runners with hoots, hollers, high-fives … even kisses – LOTS of kisses. The so-called Wellesley Scream Tunnel is so loud that runners say they can hear it from a mile away.
Crowds never thinned out all along the course. I ran the kilometers without noticing them. I was not doing a run; I was participating in a big fiesta – the ultimate party for runners!
In that festive and light atmosphere, the event honors with great elegance and nobility the roots of the sport. At the start of the marathon there is a statue called ‘The spirit of the Marathon’ of Spyros Louis showing Stelios Kyriakides the way to the finish line. The greatest marathon in the world starts with two Greek symbols. I felt immense pride, that these sportsmen are being so prominently honored, still, so far from our home country.
There is no amount of bombs that can eliminate such a deeply rooted part of this city’s very own unique tradition and culture. Boston, I look forward to returning!”