I’ve got a history with the Boston Marathon.
My first memory is sitting in an umbrella stroller, being pushed through crowds and cheering for my father. He’s run the race more times than I can remember. I’ve been there to yell encouragement almost every time.
— Tiffany Schmidt (@TiffanySchmidt) April 15, 2013
My two and a half year old twins have joined me on the sidelines the past three years and watched their grandfather run past. These are memories I cherish. This is a family tradition that fills me with so much pride.
The Schmidtlets and I spent weeks practicing our cheers. “Go, runners, go!” “You can do it!” “You’ve got this!” “You look great!”
I’m that spectator, the one who doesn’t stop cheering. My voice gives out before my enthusiasm. My hands get chapped from clapping. The people with names on their arms, legs, shirts are my favorite, because then I can cheer for them specifically. Yesterday a fellow watcher turned to me and said, “You know, I thought you knew all those people… I’m just realizing you’re reading their names.” We shared a laugh and then she joined me in shouting encouragement to individuals.
There are those runners that make you laugh with their costumes (hamburgers, business suits, wedding dresses, bumble bee) – the ones that make you teary-eyed (running for Sandy Hook, In memory of, “I’m so proud of my wife —>”) And there are the military who march past with heavy packs and quiet dignity that make me so proud to be an American.
There is the anxiety of checking my father’s pace and progress on my phone as I stand on the sidelines and wait for him to run past—doing mental math and calculating whether or not he’s on track to qualify to run again next year.
And there’s the happy-sigh contentedness of spending the day with cousins, aunts, loved ones and strangers – in an environment of positivity and comradeship. It’s no wonder I make a pilgrimage back to MA each year to be a part of race history. It’s no surprise that I wanted the Schmidtlets to have this event be part of their personal history.
Running this race is an act of love. Standing on the sidelines in weather conditions that vary from hypothermia to heatstroke is an act of throwing love at those athletes.
Every one of those runners has a story. Boston isn’t a marathon you luck into. It’s one you work hard to qualify for. It’s one you train for through New England winters of sub-zero temps and sidewalks hidden below ice, sleet, and snow. It’s one that throws hills and more and more hills beneath your sneakers. There’s a reason it’s famous for Heartbreak Hill.
Yesterday it broke my heart.
I’m not ready to process the terror of the moments when I couldn’t get through to my father’s cell phone. The stretched-out minutes of silence when I went through every word of our last conversation—him having recently finished the race and waiting in the area for a buddy who was still running. Or the exhalation of hearing he was okay. The bone-melt relief of hearing his voice. Then the stinging anxiety of hearing stories of more bombs found and knowing he was still in the city trying to meet up with his friend. The post-adrenaline exhaustion of him finally arriving back home.
I’m not sure how to work through the thoughts that I HAD THE TWINS THERE. That I took them to an event that was bombed. That something I did, choices I made placed them at an act of terror.
They’re safe. They’re fine. I understand that. I do.
And it’s that but that kills me. The but will I take them next year. The but how is anything safe? The buts and what ifs and what nows? The fact that I’m an anxious parent to begin with and now danger feels like it’s hovering in every sandbox and shadow.
It’s the fact that there were children there who aren’t fine. That all my prayers and grief and heart-deep wishing can’t change that or make things easier for their parents. It’s the runners and spectators and race personnel who won’t ever run again.
It’s the fact that this will never make sense.
AND it’s the fact that people ran toward the explosions to help the wounded instead of running away.
It’s the people who opened their houses to stranded runners, offering them food and water and places to stay.
It’s the fact that Red Cross could announce within hours of the explosions that they had more than enough blood because volunteers had queued up so quickly.
It’s the fact that there were 27,000 runners, 500,000 spectators, countless stories of triumph, humanity, compassion… and ONE act of evil.
I’m not sure how to do that math on that, but I’m sure about one thing: good wins. It overcomes.
Love is stronger than hate.
And I won’t let an act of redefine my past, taint my memories, or direct my future.
I love this city. I love this race. I love those runners. I love those spectators.
And I’ll be on the sidelines next year throwing love at those runners.
113 = Yesterday – April 20th, 2009 – was the 113th Boston Marathon.
25,000 + = the number of marathoners in yesterday’s race.
500,000 = approximate number of cheerers along the course route.
8 = cheerers in my group
389 = sweaty high-fives exchanged with runners (estimated)
5 = cough drops consumed post-cheering to soothe my throat
3:45 = the time he needed to qualify for next year’s race
3:36:25 = his finish time
8:16 = his pace per mile
2:37 = his Boston Marathon P.R. (in 1984)
$1,000,000 = how I felt watching my dad! (pride-splosion!)
Today is Marathon Monday in Boston, the first day of Massachusetts’s spring break, and also Patriots’ Day. It’s Marathon Monday that drew me home this weekend – away from my non-vacationing classroom in Pennsylvania. My father’s running his 14th – or possibly 15th or 16th, he hasn’t kept track – Boston Marathon and if he runs, I cheer.
My first memory is of cheering in the crowds – only really able to see a smear of legs at they passed my toddler eyes and my mother’s too-close, over-smiley face as she bent down and asked excitedly, “Tiff, did you see him? Did you see Daddy?”
I’m sure I lied and nodded. Then she plopped me in a stroller, grabbed my older sister’s hand and pushed me through the crowd to our next cheering vantage point.
I loved it.
I love it. The energy of the runners. The names block-printed in sharpie down arms & thighs. The runners in costumes. The runners on teams. The serious runners. The runners who worry they can’t make it up the next hill. Or the one after that. Or the next one. The course is not flat.
I’m a great cheerer too! If you’ve got your name somewhere on your body, I will yell it out. I will clap, smile and tell you that you are the fastest, bestest, enduring-est runner, and I’ll ask you when you’re going to start sweating, because you’re just making it look too easy. Or I’ll tell you how proud I am of how far you’ve made it, and I just know you can keep going.
The runners LOVE me. My mom and St. Matt tend to slowly edge away, which suits me fine because then I have more room to wave my arms while cheering.
Now that I’m taller than kneecaps, I love being able to look into that sea of runners and pick out my father. There’s a my-heart-might-pop-with-pride feeling that comes from spotting him and knowing all the adverse weather, business travel, and injuries he’s overcome in order to prepare for 26.2 miles on one of the most grueling courses.
Last year he finished in 3:33: approximately 8-minute-miles: 26.2 of them. His best time was 2:37: approximately sub 6-minute miles: still 26.2 of them. Want to join me in a pride-splosion?
I have a post-marathon tendency to think, perhaps, next year, I could join him out there. Maybe I should start training for a marathon. Look how great this is! There are older people, heavier people, runners with so many braces they’re practically bionic. I could do that.
And then I get injured.
So, I’m putting this in writing. Do. Not. Let. Me. Start. Training. For. A. Marathon.
5K’s? Sure. Easy. 5-miler? That’s okay. Any distance longer than that and I might as well start asking for the physical therapy referral now.
I repeat: Do. Not. Let. Me. Start. Training. For. A. Marathon.
And start brewing the post-race tea & honey now. My father will need it for lungs that sawed 26.2 miles. I’ll need its voice-restorative powers because post-race, post-pride-splosion hugs, I’m back in the car and making the reverse of Friday’s journey so I can be back in the classroom tomorrow morning.
Tomorrow after school, no matter how inspired I feel, no matter how beautiful the weather is, or how loudly the trails by my house call my name: Do. Not. Let. Me. Start. Training. For. A. Marathon.
St. Matt may need to hide my running shoes.