Eight years ago I ran the Boston Marathon. I didn't qualify, nor did I run for a charity. In fact, my only motivation was the prospect of being able to eat an entire pizza once the run was finished -- a feat I'd heard a friend of a friend had accomplished after the race the year before.
I was a Runnegade, a non-registered runner who jumps in at the starting line. My bib number: 0000000. My training: minimal. My prospects: bleak. Yet there I was on a relatively warm April morning in Hopkinton at the beginning of what was to be one of the most difficult undertakings of my life. And there, alongside me were qualifiers and charity runners who'd trained hard, raised money, and belonged at the starting line NOT next to a 20-something freeloader on the hunt for a pizza...
... or so I thought. In reality, I was welcomed with that typical hard-nosed New England humor -- a knowing, slightly disappointed look accompanied by, "Well, ya better get in here if you're going to run the thing." That, followed by some general teasing about being herded into the non-runners corral (which didn't exist) put me at immense ease at the prospect of being there and the literal road that lay ahead.
When I hear announcers speak of the marathon after Monday's tragedy in terms of being an innocent soft sport, unable to be completely secure, my first thought is, "thank goodness." After such horrific events from the past 15 years that have spawned my generation to think nothing of shoeless airport lines and body pat-downs at concerts, thank goodness there is still a place where suburban folks can wander to their front lawns, bake cookies, and hand out lemonade, no matter how prestigious the event. Thank goodness there's a chance for a girl who just wants to eat a pizza to not only take part, but be welcomed as part of the tradition.
The Boston marathon is not easy, and it has hence become a testament to athletic prowess for anyone who finishes. But moreover, it's a testament to New England and the folks who facilitate the massive sporting entity running through their streets and front lawns every year. In a stroke of genius -- at least in my mind -- Grantland's Charles P. Pierce calls the marathon, "the old, drunk uncle of Boston sports." In relation to buttoned-up Fenway and the Garden, it pretty much is. But it also showcases the city's resolve and commitment to tradition -- even one that whole-heartedly supports breaking the rules -- and that's what makes Marathon Monday such an incredible, fun-loving day.
It's all too easy to imagine the Runnegade tradition being broken after this past Monday, and neighborhood folks lining up behind barriers instead of on open curbs -- an image that would truly account for a loss of innocence. But I know it won't happen -- the hard-nosed New Englanders of Massachusetts won't let it. And I hope there will be a few rule-breakers next year who'll keep the practice alive. As always, Boston will welcome them with open arms... and a little bit of teasing.