LONDON — By Monday morning, almost no visible signs of the London Marathon remained on the Mall. A couple runners provided a rare reminder of the sports spectacle that transpired less than 24 hours earlier. Hobbling toward St. James’s Palace, one still proudly wore his finisher’s medal.
That is the nature of the marathon. Painfully long on preparation and pragmatically short on post-race celebration.
That said, the Boston Marathon has always seemed a little different, the passion of the runners who come to the city a little more intense. Following the Marathon bombings, that passion is even greater, if the sentiment in London is any indication.
The 2014 Boston Marathon now seems to be the race every devoted marathoner wants to run, including myself.
Before the terrorist attack, I hadn’t planned on running, but now I’m scrambling to find a summer qualifying race. And I’m not alone.
From what I’ve heard in London, marathoners want to be at the Hopkinton start regardless of the expense, the travel, the difficulty of qualifying. Some marathon community chatter is suggesting that next year’s race should be bigger than the 100th Boston Marathon, which saw a record 38,708 entrants.
That is the nature of marathoners.
Runners who finished London with qualifying times talked about being in Hopkinton on Patriots Day next year. Runners who made their marathon debuts at London as part of a charity team wondered whether they could gain entry into the 2014 race as fund-raisers for a Boston group.
Runners long past their running primes thought about dropping weight and training again for 26.2 miles so they could be part of it all next April. In the London Marathon finish area Sunday, some runners even said they had already booked hotels in anticipation of entering the 2014 Boston Marathon.
“I came here [to the London Marathon] to get a Boston qualifier minus 20 [minutes] to pretty much guarantee me a place next year,” said Tom Farsides of Brighton, England, referencing the Boston entry system that gives highest priority to the fastest qualifiers. “That was my whole focus. That was my motivation and I was well under the 3:10 I needed.
“I very much want to be there next year with all my friends. I know a group of about 50 who ran Boston last week and I went over and ran it before. I was following them online when we heard about the bombs. Everybody was confused, scared, anxious, cross. Then, immediately, we were all saying, ‘Whatever it is, we’re going to come back next year.’ I’ve booked the hotel the same as them. We’re going to have a party. It’s going to be great.”
The sport makes marathoners determined and defiant, unwilling to back down from challenges and challenging situations. I cannot tell you how many times fellow runners mentioned with pride the Boston Marathon participants who ran from the race to local hospitals to donate blood.
Or, how many thought comedian Stephen Colbert captured the tough mentality of marathoners when, in his opening monologue, he said, “But here’s what these cowards really don’t get: They attacked the Boston Marathon, an event celebrating people who run 26 miles on their day off . . . for fun.”
But every runner knows that marathoners and marathon spectators help each other through the toughest times of the race. That is why runners can be heard encouraging other runners during the final miles. Almost there. Keep it up. You’ve got this. In that way, London is very much the same as Boston. That eagerness to encourage is also why crowds are thickest approaching the finish, shouting the same messages.
Marathoners know that spectators want to help them when it’s hardest to put one foot in front of the other. And marathoners know that spectators want to share in their accomplishments. As a result, marathoners and spectators enjoy a race-day camaraderie unique in sports. I’ve experienced that countless times finishing big and small races.
Perhaps nowhere more than at the Boston Marathon is that special bond felt and observed. I’ve run Boston six times and long ago lost count of how many orange slices and fruit-flavored freeze pops I’ve accepted from kids along the route. I also long ago lost track of how many familiar faces I see in the crowd, people who I now know cheer from their special spots every year. And this is common among athletes who run Boston, whether they live in the area or on the other side of the country or overseas.
Among runners in London, the Boston Marathon is well known for enthusiastic crowds, as it is throughout the marathon world. Past participants recalled how fans line the entire 26.2 miles, a rarity even at some of the world’s biggest marathons. They talked about the interaction between runners and fans, especially when it comes to updating the score of the Red Sox game on Patriots Day.
It’s memories like those that inspire loyalty to the Boston Marathon. And that loyalty wasn’t tested, but rather strengthened by the bombings.
Robert Phay of Chapel Hill, N.C., had run 10 consecutive Boston Marathons before an injury sidelined him this year. He knows firsthand how addictive running Boston can be, how other marathons cannot compare. He was medically cleared just before London and set his sights on a qualifying time. He ran one, but before the race he had a contingency plan. “I may have to run as a bandit,” said Phay. “But I will be back for 118th Boston Marathon.”
And he will have plenty of company on the course and alongside the route.
True to the spirit of the sport, marathoners want to show resiliency and contribute to something bigger, much bigger than a race, to give back in their own way by coming back.