ESSAY- Brave bounders: How I met the living dead in Boston
They staggered through the hotel lobby– men and women who were curiously fit, yet all of them pale and drawn, their eyes vacant, faces drained of all expression. The living dead.
Some limped, many were swaddled in shiny space blankets, bare arms and legs protruding. They could have been refugees from the apocalypse. I kept thinking they should go lie down– on a bed or an ambulance gurney. Surely, some kind of intervention was needed.
And, in fact, these were survivors of an event that could kill people of lesser abilities. It would be the death of me, I can tell you that. Imagine someone forcing you to run more than 26 miles, all in one day. If you were a prisoner of war, it would violate the Geneva Convention.
But these were people who had willingly made just such a journey. They had run over 26 miles, including four serious hills, from the quiet burg of Hopkinton, Massachusetts into the heart of Boston.
I watched their joyless faces and wondered why they had chosen such a grueling path for themselves. Such was the aftermath of the 2010 Boston Marathon.
My husband, Harry Landers, and I were guests at this hotel– a block from the finish line– as were a group of Harry's Charlottesville colleagues, long-distance runners known as the "Boston Bounders" who had trained together under the guidance of their coach, Mark Lorenzoni, owner of the Ragged Mountain Running Shop.
The afternoon passed, and the marathoners slowly came back to life as they withdrew for a blessedly hot shower and returned to the lobby, compelled to rehash endlessly the details of their ordeal with their fellow survivors.
Tales of blood blisters, black toenails, swollen Achilles tendons, and bodies screaming with every cell for the runner to stop, just stop, filled the air in the hotel meeting room reserved for Charlottesville's hardcore runners.
Color returned to cheeks, smiles and weary laughter reappeared, and I stopped worrying that someone was about to fall over.
In my estimation, there were two stars among this group: 26-year-old Seth Hutchinson, who completed the marathon in an astounding 2 hours and 20 minutes, finishing 21st out of 23,126 runners; and 44-year-old Paula Capobianco, who, at mile 17– right before the infamous Heartbreak Hill– developed an unrelenting, sciatica-like pain that raked her side, from buttock to knee. Paula kept going for the remaining nine-plus miles, even though it felt like her right leg was on fire, finishing in 3 hours, 56 minutes.
As I listened to Paula and others debrief one another over beer and soft pretzels, I vacillated between horror and admiration. What kind of person does this? Seriously, what is wrong with these people?
I tried to imagine myself undertaking such a challenge. In local terms, imagine setting out on foot from Barnes & Noble at Barracks Road Shopping Center, and going all the way to the Pig-N-Steak in Madison. That's the length of a marathon.
Let's have a moment of silence as we all attempt to wrap our minds around that.
Now imagine running the entire way. (You would so earn all those calories you'd scarf down at the Pig-N-Steak!)
And now, imagine that you're in pain while you're running. And you don't stop. You don't drop out. You don't flag down someone, anyone, to rescue you.
If I could do something like that, I would have the confidence to attempt just about anything. Run for the Senate? No problem. Go to law school? Piece of cake. Read Ulysses all the way through? Even that!
Although, when I compare myself to the Boston Bounders that I have come to know over the past few years, I have to admit that, as a disorganized person, I don't have what it takes. These are the kind of people who alphabetize their spice racks and their CD collections. The marathon appeals to them because it requires control over multiple variables throughout the months-long training period.
The training strategy dictates what time you'll get up in the morning, what you will eat throughout the day, your exercise and running schedule, and what time you hit the hay.
On the day of the marathon, there are many variables, both in your own body and in the course, and as they shift you have to reanalyze and change your strategy to accommodate the new reality. You are taming and imposing order on what could otherwise be a chaotic situation.
And then there's the Boston Marathon: You gotta be smart to tame this one. The first four miles are downhill, which is good news, right? Wrong.
You have to hold back and take that downhill slowly. Not easy when your adrenaline is cranked up, the crowds are cheering, and the Air National Guard of Massachusetts has just done a flyover in your honor. If you succumb to the siren song of the initial downhill and go too fast, you'll hurt your quads and you'll pay for your initial speed once you get to the Newton hills. The searing pain in your legs will leave you with all the oomph of a car running on fumes.
So, what kind of person decides to run in a marathon? Don't look at me. I'm content to be the scatterbrained cheerleader.
But if you have obsessive tendencies and your idea of a good time is putting yourself into a tough spot just so you can puzzle your way out of it, there may well be a shiny space blanket in your future.
Free Union resident Janis Jaquith often finds that her essays have been picked up for audio broadcast on area public radio stations.