Run-up to Boston – Part 4 – Why Bother?
One thing – maybe the thing – that makes Boston different from nearly all other marathons, is the qualifying requirement. Where other events welcome all comers, and manage their numbers – if necessary – via lottery or ridiculously fast sell-out, Boston is unabashedly elitist, using its multi-tier registration process to ensure it admits only the fastest of those who apply each year, which pretty much guarantees that MPRs who make the cut at all will start and finish at the back of the field. Yup; a person used to finishing in the middle of the pack at other events, could well find herself a ‘squeaker’ here, lining up in the last wave wearing bib number 26,236 out of 28,000 and, thanks to the multiple waves with multiple corrals in each, finishing hours after the big names have received their awards and headed for the showers. On top of that, it’s expensive to travel and stay in Boston, an hours-long cattle-call getting to the starting line (which temporarily consumes the tiny town of Hopkinton like a nebula-cloud enveloping the Starship Enterprise), almost impossible to find friends at the finish, and requires seven to 14 months of forethought and planning. So why bother? Well, there’s…
Bragging rights – to a lot of your family, friends and people you meet now or in the future, the Boston Marathon may well be the only running event they know by name (except perhaps the Olympics, which is even more difficult to get to). Civilians who know nothing else about this sport (pastime? addiction? religion? – whatever it is to you) will know that running this one is a landmark, so being able to say, with utmost casualness, ‘yeah, I’ve done Boston’ is one of the most satisfying ways to reassure yourself that you actually are ‘A Runner.’
Schwag – the BAA folks, who put on this event – have great taste. Their unicorn logo is cool in an ‘old-patrician-establishment meets new-age-mysticism’ sort of a way, and pulling out your participant shirt is always reassuring after a disappointing workout. I have to admit though, to being of two minds about the jacket – seeing someone show up at a 5K wearing one engenders an odd mixture of respect with disdain – ‘you ran Boston – you must be good’ is immediately followed by ‘but what are you trying to say by flashing that here,’ which flows all too quickly into ‘are you gonna’ be good enough today to justify that flash?’ On the other hand, it’s a great way to connect with others who have shared that same experience. I manage my jaundiced attitude by wearing a t-shirt, logo-cap or visor – recognizable to those in the know, but less flashy than a bright yellow jacket with ‘BOSTON’ plastered across it. Yeah, I didn’t buy the jacket ‘cause I didn’t need to go around ‘showing it off’ – but now I wish I had.
Ego – those jacket-musings point up the mixed emotion this MPR feels. Is wanting to run Boston a grand aspiration that helps you ‘be all that you can be’ or is it evidence of an unenlightened ego with something to prove? My current platform position – subject to change as the election cycle progresses – is that it’s all of the above and more, in which vein I take some solace from stanza 68 of the Tao te Ching –
“The best athlete wants his opponent at his best….
All of them embody the virtue of non-competition.
Not that they don’t love to compete,
but they do it in the spirit of play…
and in harmony with the Tao.”*
That’s an attitude I am happy to admit – we MPRs go to Hopkinton for the joy of measuring ourselves against its yardstick – not to prove how good we are, but that we have done our best.
(we also go for THE CROWD – but that’s a story for another day…)
*Credit: Tao te Ching, A New English Version, translated by Stephen Mitchell, Harper & Row, 1988.