Three days before the start of this year’s Pursuit of Justice Conference, I ran the Boston Marathon. The Boston Marathon is considered by many to be the Holy Grail of distance running. First run in the 1890s, Boston has become the mark of the serious runner, the quest that amateurs, especially, use to motivate themselves to run a few extra miles on a Saturday or another 800 meters on a day of speed work. Other marathons attract more runners—New York, London, Chicago, Berlin—but Boston carries the prestige that others do not simply because it is the only marathon that requires all runners to qualify by finishing another marathon with a fast enough time. The Olympic stars and collegiate standouts have little difficulty with the required times. But most of the twenty-three thousand who lined up at the starting line on April 15, 2013, for the running of the 117th marathon were not professionals. They were regular people with day jobs—teachers, accountants, plumbers—congratulating themselves and each other for joining the exclusive club of Boston Qualifiers, or BQs, as the fresh tattoo emblazoned on the arm of a nearby runner reminded us all.
By running standards the day was ideal. Temperatures were hovering in the fifties and expected to stay that way. The sun was out, helping to warm runners as we made our way to the starting line in shorts and technical shirts, conscious that our bodies would soon heat up as we began the 26.2 mile trek on the point-to-point course from Hopkinton to Boylston Street, just off Copley Square in downtown Boston. There was little wind. My friend and I were running the race together. It was his second time and my first, but we had agreed to run it at a comfortable pace, soaking in the atmosphere of this historic race. My wife and two kids had sketched out two places along the route where they would cheer for us. The first was roughly six miles from the start, in Framingham; the other was at the finish line, on Boylston Street.
The organizers carefully orchestrated a staggered start, with the elites going out first followed by the fastest amateurs. My friend and I were further back, in a dense crowd that would remarkably hold together and pack both sides of the street for the entire race. As we headed out it did not take long before the first spectators started shouting encouragements. Bostonians had long ago decided to make the day a holiday—they call it Patriot’s Day—and residents had fully embraced the spirit of the occasion. They came out in droves, often with their favorite beverages despite the early hour. They rang cowbells and blew whistles. Little kids held out their hands for high-fives. The women of Wellesley College, following tradition, held signs that told us to stop running because we had found what we were looking for. Mile after mile the crowds lifted us up and kept us going, cheering as hard for random runners as they had for the famed Joan Samuelson (1979 and 1983), still setting records thirty years after her last victory by running the fastest marathon by a woman in her age group. It was a spectacular race in a spectacular city. It was the easiest 26.2 miles I had ever run.