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What It Was Like to Be at the Boston Marathon Yesterday

April 22, 2014 at 2:37 PM | by | ()

Our Assistant Editor was in Boston for the marathon this weekend. Below, he shares his experience.

This weekend, a friend of mine wrote an email wishing me well in Boston, saying that we just missed each other. She was up here a few weeks ago and comes often, but said she avoids the marathon and Patriot’s Day like the plague. I’m sure a lot of people feel that way, scared off by the crowds and cost of the busy weekend.

On the surface, she was correct. Hotel rates are inflated, the T is absolutely jammed, and the extra congestion means you can forget about getting anywhere in a hurry. Thirty-six thousand runners participated in this year’s marathon, 9,000 more than last year, many coming from out of town and accompanied by friends and family. Any way you slice it, it’s a lot of extra feet on the ground, and it was reflected in the security. Helicopters flew overhead. Police patrolled on ATVs and bicycles. After last year, there was no escaping those realities.

Since so much of my personal travel experience revolves around how I live and breathe a destination, I can see how someone would think, in any other circumstance, that the influx of so many non-natives and heightened security would work against a genuine atmosphere. Yet I can tell you very honestly that, in a transparent and beautiful way, the mighty marathon community was able to turn the city of Boston into a small town this weekend. I could see the copters and the law enforcement officers, but I could only feel the sense of community that came from the people they protected.

On a whole and in general, northeast American cities are typically some of the toughest eggs to crack as an outsider. Not true this weekend. I don’t want to sensationalize, but I can’t ignore the facts. Communal feelings were maxed out across town, locals and tourists alike supporting the “Boston Strong” cause, using the race as a vehicle and metaphor for success, failure, and perseverance all in the same breath.

I think the best way to describe it is to point out that there was an overwhelming sense of mutual respect prevalent in the eyes of everyone I met. The skepticism of strangers that often prevails on city streets had completely vanished. Nothing could have gotten me farther down the rabbit hole with locals than a marathon T-shirt, not even a Bruins jersey. There was a safety in numbers, an impression that everyone was on your side, that no one was afraid to smile. The pride went far beyond the race itself.

On Monday, I took the green line out to Chestnut Hill to cheer on my sister as she climbed Heartbreak Hill, named appropriately for being a morale killer at mile 20. The atmosphere was energetic, encouraging, and as a result, inspiring. People cheered for everyone, whether they knew them or not. Signs of all kinds were made to support the entire effort, not just individuals. Some were funny and held by pretty girls. “There’s no place like the finish line.” Some were more direct and held by quiet, older men. “YOU make Boston Strong.” The most memorable for me was a huge, inflatable sign at the top of the hill out in front of Boston College, where the road peaks and spills back towards downtown and the finish line. You can see it in the cover photo. “The heartbreak is over.”

It had a very literal meaning, for sure, but in that moment, with the sun shining and the cheers belting out all around me, the runners pushing through the pain of the hill and heading off down the other side, the parties spilling out of the homes and onto the sidewalks, the children with ice cream on their faces and the people dancing along with the band, it became very clear that its message went far beyond the crest of the course.

Congrats to all the runners, and it's great to see that Boston is officially back.

[Photos: Will McGough]

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