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'The old drunk uncle of Boston sports,' and writers who love it

April 17, 2013|By Matt Pearce
  • Residents hold aloft American flags and candles during an outdoor candlelight service for 8-year-old Martin Richards in Boston.
Residents hold aloft American flags and candles during an outdoor candlelight… (CJ Gunther / European Pressphoto…)

Here's a true story about the Boston Marathon. In 1980, Jacqueline Gareau, a Canadian, ran the fastest time of any woman in the race, crossed the finish line and discovered somebody named Rosie Ruiz collecting the winner's wreath.

Nobody remembered seeing Ruiz ever lead the race. It was one of the biggest shams in sports history. Weeks later, the organizers, having stripped Ruiz of the title, staged a mock finish line so Gareau could fake-win the race that she'd already actually won in the first place.

This is the thing about the Boston Marathon: The rambunctiousness of the race -- plus its close embrace with Boston's throngs, which apparently allowed Ruiz to cut ahead, and perhaps also for a bomber to quietly plant two weapons -- has brought out the best of many writers and journalists laboring, with words, to transcend the horror of footage still looping on CNN.

"It started, as it always has, with a pistol, and ended, as it never has, with a bomb," runner and writer Kathryn Schulz wrote for New York Magazine on Tuesday, one of the many vivid tributes to Boston and its marathon to pour out since Monday's bombings.

Here's a short tour of some of the finest work, starting with Schulz's.

"Runners, myself included, routinely invoke 'suffering' and 'endurance.' That kind of talk has a place within sports, and I am not advocating against it. But these are the metaphors of the fortunate. Real suffering is not chosen. Real endurance involves not having any idea at all where the finish line is, or if there is one. And this is where I keep getting stuck. The fact is that running is simultaneously trivial and, for some of us, a daily freedom, a profound gift, and a metaphor for nearly all the rest of life."

-- Kathryn Schulz, "On Running, Freedom, and the Boston Bombing," New York

"The Boston Marathon started in 1897. It’s held on Patriots’ Day, a Massachusetts state holiday marking the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Patriots’ Day is the kind of holiday that even people who hate holidays love. Runners come from all over the country and all over the world — their flags fly over the finish line — and many of them are raising money for charities. Schools are closed, and reenactors wearing tri-cornered hats tramp all over the place, their woolen cloaks and cowls billowing as they stride."

-- Jill Lepore, "Two If by Sorrow: Boston and Its Losses," The New Yorker

"Nobody loves the Boston Marathon as much as the people who make fun of it year after year. This was the race that previously offered as a prize a not particularly expensive medal, a laurel wreath, and a bowl of beef stew. This was the race that, on one memorable occasion, nobody knew who actually won. I don't know anyone who loved the race that didn't mock it for its monumental inconvenience, its occasionally towering self-regard, and the annual attempts by Boston-area television stations to use it to win another shelf full of local Emmys. This includes me, and I've been around 25 or 30 of them, more or less, in one way or another, watching from the press truck, from the firehouse in Newton, from somebody's roof, and very often from just barely inside the front door of the late, lamented Eliot Lounge. The Marathon was the old, drunk uncle of Boston sports, the last of the true festival events."

-- Charles Pierce, "The Marathon," Grantland

"This being Boston, college students are a big part of the tradition. The women of Wellesley can be heard well before they are seen -- three and four deep behind the barricades for what seems like a quarter of a mile, all screaming to be kissed. (Or holding signs to that effect. Among this year’s: 'Kiss me, I’m gluten-free,' and 'Kiss me, I’m sexually frustrated.') About eight miles later, you reach the campus of Boston College, where, as is the custom, students offer you beer. Soon enough -- or maybe not -- you’re entering the long straightaway of Commonwealth Avenue, and then turning onto Hereford Street, for the loud, grueling, final quarter-mile."

-- Jonathan Mahler, "Why Boston’s Marathon Is Special," Bloomberg View

"The finish line at Copley Square is something sacred, an experience you cannot adequately describe or explain to a non-runner. It is hidden from view until you round the corner onto Boylston Street, and for much of the last mile your tired limbs are beginning to question whether you will ever get there. Then suddenly, there’s the big turn, and there it is, the five hundred meters or so to the finish, an apparition of glory, a moment when you feel yourself — intoxicated with adrenaline and fatigue — preternaturally connected to tens of thousands of cheering strangers who seem to be thrilled and astonished that you have made it at all."

-- Hugh Eakin, "The Unfinished Race," The New York Review of Books

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