— Jacqueline Gareau
Boston Marathon champ (1980)
(b. March 10, 1953)
Never having run an organized marathon like those 30,000-something folks did last Monday in Boston, I figure at this point in life I probably never will.
But I truly admire those folks ... every one of them, regardless of their reasons, pace or time. It’s got to be a special moment in a person’s life to look to the clouds at the finish line and beam, “I did it! I really did it!”
I’m guessing those are the genuine moments in a runner’s world, especially those who have just pulled off their first 26.2-mile trek. Whether they ever do it again is hardly the question. The point is, they did it once. And if it was one of those big shindigs like in Boston or New York City or Chicago or wherever, then it’s just frosting on the cake.
Several years ago I ran a marathon distance, but that’s different. It wasn’t part of something big like Boston Strong pulled off last week on Patriots Day.
It wasn’t a team effort like the Run Now Relay troopers choreographed over a tiring 8-day, 1,075-mile voyage from Cleveland to Boston. Those courageous men and women — 25 runners, seven support crew members and one gal who handled both roles — pulled off a miracle that is being chronicled in hometown history books and documented in household scrapbooks here and afar. Undoubtedly, they’ll never forget the experience nor should they.
What those folks did should be remembered.
What those folks did set a modern standard for community pride.
What those folks did renewed our faith in the good in people and the immeasurable power of mind over matter.
While following their daily updates en route to Boston, and in reading the perspectives of the four who went on to leg out Beantown’s legendary marathon two days later, it took me back to that Saturday morning years ago when something inside me yearned to see if I could do it.
Like I said, there’s no comparison here.
My run on the Huff’n Puff Trail at Oak Grove Elementary was like a pick-up basketball game compared to the Boston Marathon which is like Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
But still, I guess pain is pain regardless of race. Distance is distance regardless of town. And running is running regardless of course. In Boston, the streets were lined by about a million bystanders. At Oak Grove, the only observers on that day were the half-dozen squirrels that dangled from tree limbs above tossing acorns onto my dirt path.
This jaunt came before the paving of the oval Huff’n Puff. Back then, the track was mostly dirt and gravel, a couple of ruts and a few landscaping timbers buried into the trail to prevent erosion. One end meandered through the school playground and a forest of towering oaks, and the other stretched parallel to Durkee Road.
The surface changed a few years ago when Oak Grove secured one of those health grants that paid for a layer of asphalt that now covers the one-third of a mile track.
Back when I ran that Saturday morning make-believe marathon, I was running regularly with few missed days so I was in much better shape. I’m still a regular, but work, fatigue and ... life ... keep getting in the way. Subsequently, I now miss more days and last winter I put on some pounds that I’m struggling to take off.
Before that run years ago, I had occasionally imagined the one-man-only, make-believe marathon. Frankly, I didn’t know if I could do it. So I didn’t tell anyone I was trying. Not even my wife. Had she known, she might have demanded, “Are you crazy?”
I would have replied, “Yes, dear.”
To avoid interrogation, I left the house early that Saturday morning. It was still dark. She was still asleep. Seems like this was a warm August morning so my running duds consisted of shorts, tank top, shoes and stopwatch ... and water bottle.
My journey began at 6 a.m. Even those pesky squirrels were still snoozing.
Without mile markers like in Boston, all I could do to know my distance was to count laps. That’s a lot of laps; in fact, it’s 26.2 x 3 = 78.6 laps. I’m thinking I ran ... jogged, strolled, whatever ... 80 laps for good measure. Fortunately, back then I could still keep a lap update in my mind without losing count. Age later changed all that.
I remember starting my pace slowly. Real slow. Like tortoise on valium slow. If this was going to happen, my legs would have to buy in to the plan. The feet weren’t a factor. They were good feet. They were patient feet and they complained very little of being mercilessly stomped upon.
Knees, calves, hamstrings and buttocks ... these, as I knew they would be, were the problem children of my make-believe marathon. They would require humoring. And make-believe marathons were no joke.
The early laps were predictably easy. I breathed in the fresh morning air and took delight in the red sunrise above the Durkee Road horizon. The track remained free of users other than the squirrels who were beginning to stir, and me.
They giggled at my methodic step; I frowned at their sassy ways. For any who have never heard a squirrel giggle ... trust me.
I don’t really remember when pain found my path. But it did. Cardio-wise, I was fine. The knees stayed surprisingly calm, but the legs began to tire and the hammies started to tighten. By then, I was probably well into the run’s second half. The squirrels were playing chase up and down the trees and forever crisscrossing the track, sometimes right in the path of my next step.
My legs began wilting sometime around the 23- or 24-mile mark. I succumbed to fatigue. Like it or not, I had to walk a couple laps. As much as I didn’t like it, the barking buttocks liked it even less. They began to cramp and complain. So I resumed running. They grumbled even more, but lightened up a lap or two along the way.
The sun was now bright and the squirrels sat on their haunches atop the lowest limbs. I ignored them. I even squashed ... intentionally ... the acorns they tossed in my path.
The feet continued their step. The legs cranked slowly toward their cause. But I was stiffening. No longer a darling of distance, I became more a sloth of unwilling step.
Laps 78 and 79, as I recall, hurt the worst. The buttocks burned. The hammies howled. And the knees knocked.
But Lap 80 numbed the pain. My step didn’t hasten, but belief now ruled the morn.
Crossing the mythical finish line, I limped through a victory lap that may have set Oak Grove history as a record slow.
But that’s OK. Because I did it. My make-believe marathon was over. And I was still standing.
As I recall, the time was about 4 1/2 hours.
I’ll probably never do it again. But I will always admire those who do. Whether Boston Strong or Oak Grove Outcast, pain is pain. And distance is distance.
Those 26 heroes of Run Now Relay last weekend delivered a powerful message that all should hear.
And the 30,000 warriors of Monday’s Boston Marathon grasped their shining Cleveland baton in full stride, then soared into the welcoming arms of history.
Nice work, folks. You took a stand. And it wasn’t make-believe.