On the third Monday in April, the citizens of Boston have a day off for Patriot’s Day. There is usually a home game for the Red Sox at Fenway, the ballpark is packed and the streets are starting to fill with spectators for one of the most storied events in all of sport- The Boston Marathon. Now my connection to the event starts with telling you a little more about Hot Harry Kirsch. Harry is an ex Marine who started to run in his 50s. Today Harry is 89 years old and has run over 50+ marathons in his life. He is most proud of his association with the Marine Corps Marathon for obvious reasons and always had several buses from North Park filled with marathoners competing in the event. Harry always told me about the Marine who stands at attention on top of one of the hills citing the phrase,” pain is fleeting, pride is forever.” Tradition in marathoning is embodied in Harry’s life and I am proud to know him.
In years past I have cut into my ski time a little bit to run. I found myself training for the Boston Marathon and actually did my required 20 miler on a day that I should have been skiing. It was snowing heavily as I ran four times around North Park Lake. I felt good and made arrangements to travel with Hot Harry, Les Brodie, and Carl Trimbur. Les is a few years older than me and Harry and Carl were the senior citizens of the group. They were amazing athletes for their age and we all crammed into a hotel room together. Now with the excitement of the race and the chainsaw snoring that drove Les into the closet to sleep, I didn’t get much rest the night before the event, but I was ready. Harry was ready too. He traveled to the event on the plane with his running singlet and running shorts and shoes. He had a little giveaway bag from the Great Race that had another singlet, another pair of shorts,……..and a toothbrush! These Marines travel light.
One of the cool things about the marathon was the expo. Here you get to see all the running gear booths along with the superstars of the sport. You can also buy all the Boston Marathon paraphanelia. I was presumptious enough that I was going to finish the event that I bought a sweatshirt, a jacket, a hat and if they would have had Boston Marathon boxer shorts, I probably would have bought those too. In typical 7 degrees of separation for Pat McCloskey instead of Kevin Bacon, I had a soulmate in the Nike booth. Joan Benoit Samuelson was the innaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon Champion from the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. She was in the Nike booth and she was a goddess at this event. But you would never meet a more unassuming individual in your life as I came to meet her at the autograph table. I couldn’t wait to tell her hello from her old ski coach from the University of New Hampshire, Jace Pasquale. Jace is my friend who runs the ski race program at Seven Springs Resort here in Westen Pa. Joan was thrilled to talk and inquire about Jace and our whole conversation was catching her up with news of her old coach. Nothing about Joan Benoit Samuelson the Olympic champion, but the humble and happy conversation of someone who was reconnecting with an old friend through me. The people in line were getting antsy so I bid the Olympic Champion goodbye and moved on to talk to Frank Shorter, another Olympic champion. We had a 7 degrees of separation moment too in that I had met him several years earlier in Taos, New Mexico where he was living and training at altitude. The resort at the time was pretty empty and Ernie Blake, the owner of Taos, ate breakfast with our ski group every morning as was his custom with weekly guests. Frank Shorter would join us and we would have many conversations about training and the Olympics during the trip. Now as expected, at the booth, he didn’t know me from a cake of soap, but I told the story and we talked about his years in Taos. I was so pumped after my visit to the Nike booth with all of my purchased schwagg. I felt like I could run right out the door and start the Marathon.
I met Sad Bill Schillinger at the bus stop in downtown Boston and loaded a school bus for the 26.2 mile trip to the startline in Hopkinton Green, Mass. As I sat on the bus, I heard a little knawing voice in my head that said,” I hope you make it man.” The distance of the marathon dictates that anything can happen and you always hope that your training was enough and that nothing happened with your health on race day. Sad Bill was a dedicated marathoner from North Park and was kind enough to give me some pointers about the course seeing that this was my maiden voyage for Boston. Why Harry calls him Sad Bill is a mystery. He is a serious fellow but anything but sad and a wonderful running partner as it turned out. As we approached the start line and found our place, the adrenaline and excitement shot through me like a loaded howitzer as the gun went off. The wheelchair racers were on the course and the crowd noise was deafening. The hair stood up on my arms as we were underway. It took Bill and I three minutes to get to the start line because of the depth of the field and I started my watch as soon as we crossed the start line. I eased into a relaxed shuffle as we made our way through the crowd finally settling into a nice pace that we shared with several other runners. I was running in the storied Boston Marathon and the history of the event filled my senses as I made my way through little towns like Framingham and Natick. Bill kept telling me to run within myself as Boston can be demanding in the end. I listened and we conversed and ran comfortably until we started to hear a roar in the distance that sounded like a Penn State Football Game after a touchdown for the Nittany Lions. I had heard of the girls from Wellesley College but had never thought that the noise could be heard from miles away. What happened next as we approached Wellesley will have to wait until the next post. Stay tuned and thanks for reading. The story has only just begun.