In a symbolic comeback, the return of the Boston Marathon will lift the city and the country
Until no. For nearly two years – over 900 days – the marathon has remained silent in a cycle of pandemic postponement.
Come Monday, the silence ends happily, happily and triumphantly. The metaphorical weapons – and the familiar streets – of Boston are once again open to the Marathon, ready to welcome all those runners who have come back from their loneliness. What day it will surely be.
“It’s like the world was turned upside down last year,” said Bill Rodgers, the four-time Boston champion and all-time marathon ambassador. âWhen I ran all last year, every time I saw a runner, walker, or biker, you put on your mask, and it was terrible. . . I remember thinking, âThis is bad news. But the people were there and it was important.
âFor me, it was a way of fighting back. This is how marathoners are. We are fighters. We are like boxers. We are in the ring. Like going to war with COVID. And we all feel the same. We have all taken a beating psychologically and physically. It was hard for everyone. But what we’re doing really well in the United States is we find a way to make a comeback. This is what the Boston Marathon has always been. For me, it’s symbolic.
âWe all know it lifts the city. It lifts the country. It is an international event. So let’s encourage the runners. No one does it better than Boston.
The 125th edition of the race brings unprecedented challenges, not the least of which is the unprecedented date change from April to October which obviously changed many long-standing logistics. But the rescheduled race will be different in other ways. There are fewer participants overall, a nod to a semblance of social distancing. There are clear and mandatory health protocols, with proof of a negative COVID test or vaccination required to participate in any official capacity. There is no Red Sox morning game to pair with the Patriots Day run, but rather a Sunday afternoon playoff game, the celebratory hinge between the Marathon and Indigenous Peoples Day.
But there will also be a lot of pomp and familiarity, from the official starter who will get things going to the traditional olive wreaths at the finish line which will crown the winners. Three-time Boston Marathon finalist and Mi’kmaq member Patti Catalano Dillon will set the American marathon record she set in Boston 40 years ago by starting this year’s Men’s and Women’s Open races. Like so many of her colleagues and friends at the Boston Athletic Association, she felt carried away by the energy, not only because face-to-face events have replaced the Zoom calls of our past 20 months, but because there is so many emotions running through the precious interactions.
âIt’s so great to be back,â said Dillon. She repeated to herself, as if she was still erasing her disbelief. âIt’s so, so great to be back. And it’s a happy honor for me. It’s a nasty honor. I am the first Indigenous woman to start the race – Billy Mills was the first Indigenous man in 2016 – and the representation is so important.
âMy place in all of this, I am a thread in the fabric of this whole story. It’s so wonderful that I can really play a part. With that, it becomes a responsibility. Taking back this mantle is sacred and I feel like I really have to get into it.
Part of the charm of the race is how its history keeps pace with its present, the BAA’s thoughtful effort to remember milestones and breakthroughs along the way, to bring together luminaries from past marathons and, for example, putting them together in a duck. to cross the course, as they are doing this year. Sara Mae Berman will be on that boat, her unofficial victories from 1969 to 1971 paving the way for the 1972 policy change that allowed women to enter the race as full competitors. At 85, Berman remains as active as ever, busy with both orienteering and cross-country skiing. But the race that launched her and the race that catapulted her to such unexpected heights are close to her heart. To her, putting this race back on the road this year looks like nothing less than a triumph.
âIt is a very good symbol of the city and the state. . . It celebrates accomplishment and how you feel when you put in and come out of work. It’s very satisfying, âsaid Berman.
âIf you’ve lived in Boston for more than a minute, you know it’s one of the city’s top landmarks. Celebrating 125 years of racing – last year was virtual, which wasn’t satisfying – it’s always been something to aim for, something to aim for. When my husband started me running in the 60s, that was not the immediate goal. But eventually, it became the goal.
For her, for the generations before her, for the generations after her, for the generations to come, this remains a laudable objective. In some ways, the feat of hosting the marathon is matched only by the feat of completing one.
âAnyone can run. Running is fun, âsays Dillon. âWhen I started it was hard on my body. But I was enlightened enough to grasp the need to hold on to the feeling afterwards. Then I thought, “eh, if I have to pay that price to feel this good, I do it.” Because I knew what I was feeling, no one gave it to me. I remember standing in a shower, my hand on the shower head, thinking, “Well, if nobody gave it to me, then nobody can take it away from me.” I won that. And I wanted it. So I was left with that.
âEvery part of my body was painful. But it was okay. Because the effect I felt was happy.
Even if the pandemic retains some of its grip, the fact that there is room for some joy is reason to rejoice.
âI’ll be downtown cheering on the runners,â Rodgers said. âI love going to the finish line and seeing these hard working people do their best. It’s just amazing. It’s always that positive thing. The overwhelming feeling you have is that of goodwill. And in today’s world, we need goodwill.
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