Tokyo, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York, and… Hopkinton?
Those six municipalities hold the distinction of hosting the starting lines for the six races that constitute the World Marathon Majors series. The first five are world-class cities, each a teeming metropolis with millions of inhabitants. The sixth, Hopkinton, is a sleepy suburban town of 13,000 squeezed just inside of Interstate 495, which for those in Eastern Massachusetts, marks the edge of known civilization. It is a curious thing that for one day a year Hopkinton, of all places, becomes a bustling city of 50,000, and stands proudly, if a bit reluctantly, in the world’s spotlight.
It’s not just Hopkinton that’s transformed by hosting a part of the Boston Marathon course. The marathon route winds through Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, and Brookline before finishing in Boston’s Back Bay. But why am I repeating what every school child in Boston and surrounding towns learns along with the story of Paul Revere and the battles of Lexington and Concord? We are so steeped in the history Boston Marathon that we forget what a strange thing it is that such an event should take place on OUR humble streets, on former cowpaths so winding and narrow that they might give pause to a race director looking for a suitable course for a local 5k.
It is one of the many miracles of the marathon that for one day a year, drab and commercial strips in the western suburbs and heavily traveled everyday arteries in Newton and Brookline are transfigured into hallowed ground.
As a resident of Newton, I drive and run on the marathon course almost every day. And in doing so, I am reminded often of how these roads are part of my life, whether I’m running, or just running errands. It is startling to realize how much Commonwealth Ave and Washington Street have been my lifeline in so many senses.
In the winter, Comm Ave is a municipal resource and one of the only safe venues for getting in frigid out-and-back training. In the summer, it forms a part of my “morning loop.”
When Joni was born, Ann and I drove on the marathon course on our way to Brigham and Women’s Hospital. With Loren, we drove the other way on Washington Street to Newton-Wellesley Hospital, and welcomed him into the world at the 16.4 Mile mark of the Marathon course. These days, I take Washington Street every few weeks, visiting that same hospital for the blood tests I need
Talking to Joni last night, she told me how emotional it was to think about running on the roads where she did workouts in high school. That reminded me of all the nights that I’ve sweated through repeats on Heartbreak Hill with Terry and Patrick.
I think that other people in other towns must feel the same way about their segments of this odd provincial marathon course. I’ll bet there are folks in Ashland who feel the same way about Route 135, and see in it more than a boring, featureless state highway that goes from nowhere to nowhere. There was that story this winter about the guy who, obeying an instinct more profound than he could explain, spent several hours shoveling snow off the Marathon finish line in Boston. I think I know how he must have felt.
My head says it’s just pavement. It’s not especially attractive, especially not in April when it has barely survived winter and presents itself as piteously scarred and pitted. Maybe when the leaves come out it will become a graceful boulevard, but not now, not when the trees are still bare and the municipal road crews haven’t managed to patch all the potholes.
But my heart says that this pavement is sacred. Not a single step on this pavement do I take without thinking about all the running that has been done here, by me, and by a million others. I once had a notion that most everything in my life was a dream, and that every so often I would wake up to find myself running up Commonwealth Ave in Newton, and I would realize that I had never done and never would do anything other than run this pavement, step by step making my way to Boston.