Monday, April 19, 2010

Marathon, By Surprise

In 490 BC, the Greek messenger Pheidippides was said to have run from the battlefield of Marathon (where he had just been fighting) to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated. The story goes that Pheidippides ran the entire distance without stopping (he had to run around Mount Penteli, which stands between Marathon and Athens). Upon arriving in Athens, he burst into the assembly, exclaimed “We have won!” and then collapsed and died.

The grand and popular tradition of abusing one’s body by running obscene distances was born.

the Boston Marathon was inspired by the success of the first modern-day marathon competition during the 1896 Summer Olympics, Continuously run since 1897, it is the world's oldest annual marathon and ranks as one of the world's best-known road racing events. This year, the event attracted more than about 23,000 registered participants.

Including our own Uncle Mahk.

Mahk has run the Boston Marathon before. In fact, his father used to go stand at Newton Town Hall to stoically cheer him on. It was a tradition that meant a lot to Mahk and, when his father passed away last year, the rest of the community began the whispered conversation of how to continue this tradition. It was to be a surprise, which meant that Lisa needed to figure out the details of where his dad used to stand, when Mahk would likely pass by that spot and coordinate how to get in and out of Newton on Patriot’s Day. She was emailing us last night the final details and wrote, “It's like pulling teeth.”

Two vehicles left Wayfarer House this morning to drive to Newton, complete with cow bells, posters, snacks and 80’s music (that was for us). We arrived and found parking not too far away from the race route, and were cheering racers on at the 19-mile marker by 11:45 -- in plenty of time to surprise him when he went by at 12:15 or so. At just after noon, I walked upstream a ¼ mile or so in order to alert the rest of the group that he was coming (the little ones’ attention spans would only hold for that moment of excitement). At that point, the elite runners had passed and the early batch of regulars had started coming in. By the bib numbers, Mahk was still a way off, so I settled in against a tree and tried to look for his face in the stream. At 12:20, the stream thickened considerably. If you’ve never been to a marathon, imagine a two-way street full all the way across with people running. Like, a lot of people. Like, so many people going by so fast that your eyes can’t catch them all. I hoped I wouldn’t miss him.

I did.

By 12:40, I knew he had to have gone by. I called down to the group. Nope, they said, they hadn’t seen him either.

I walked back down to the group and we gathered the kids and posters and cow bells. We asked someone nearby to take a picture of us so we could send it to Mahk’s phone. At least he’d know we were there after the fact. Then we waited for the stream of runners to thin out so we could get back across the street. Did I mention there were 23,000 runners? You can spread out 23,000 runners a long way.

We found a pizza joint not far from where we’d parked. Mahk checked in with Lisa while we were gnoshing to say he’d finished, and he was genuinely surprised when we all cheered him over the phone! He was also genuinely honored we’d come and disappointed he’d missed us (apparently, we were on the wrong side of the road anyway). Sorry, Mahk! We’ll get it right next time!

And since it won’t be a surprise next time, we can actually tell you we’ll be there! That’ll probably help.

The credit for this photo belongs to Blaise, a friend of Mahk’s who DID happen to see him and who, as it happened, was right near where we were. I’ll post the pic we sent to Mahk’s phone as soon as someone can get it to me.


Laurie B said...

I celebrate the athletes that run this race. Since Phillipades, we have acquired cell phones. Call ahead, tell somebody that "we won", hang up and catch a nap. Why run for 26 + miles?

the passionate hairdresser said...

Awesome reporting,Wayfarer!!! I can NOT believe his friend was right near us!!!