Seth Hasty, of Randolph, had crossed the Boston Marathon finish line about a half-hour before the bombs went off. Same for Bruce Maxwell, of Pittsfield, who was almost back in Hopkinton to get his car at 2:50 p.m.
They are among the last runners of the thousands and thousands who have crossed the finish line of the marathon who will know the pure joy of the experience.
Ask anyone who’s run the Boston Marathon what the best thing about it was, and they’ll say the crowds. Very few conversations about running the marathon don’t include a shout-out to the crowd.
Even with all the words and exclamation points in the world, it’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t run it that very special moment when, with 26 miles in the bag, the runner takes a left turn off little Hereford Street onto Boylston Street with that .2 left to go.
Runners who haven’t done it before are told over and over again beforehand, “You’re going to feel like a rock star.”
As someone who has run it four times, but wasn’t there Monday, I can tell you that’s an understatement.
Many wonder in the last miles how they’re going to make it. Then they take the turn and the unbelievable happens.
There are thousands of people — thousands — screaming, clapping and yelling. Rock star? Forget it. You’re the president on Inauguration Day. You’re Neil Armstrong coming back from the moon.
Down at the end, farther than anything could ever possibly be, is the blue and gold arch of the finish line. Three hundred unending yards of pavement away.
But along the sidewalks, pressed against the metal crowd barriers, are thousands of people, leaning over, shouting your name or number: “You can do it!” “Almost there!” “Looking good!” “You’re awesome!” As old as those words felt six miles ago, now they’re love songs. They’re 50 gallons of Red Bull. They’re the best meal you ever had, eaten on the rim of the Grand Canyon while looking at a winning Megabucks ticket.
That is how good those people make you feel.
They’re there for the people who win the race, the ones who finish in 2 1/2 hours. It also happens for the really good runners, the ones who finish in the 3- to 4-hour zone.
But the really beautiful thing is it happens for the back-of-the-packers, too. The people who finish in, say, 5 hours.
That crowd is made up of people who don’t know you, whom you will never see again. Some of them are holding up signs for Mom or Dad or a friend. But they’re cheering for you, too. They are making sure you finish that race. They mean it. And you fall in love with them — every single one of them.
Hasty and Maxwell got to experience that in all its pure, untainted joy. Among the last runners in 117 years who will experience it that way.
Rebecca Leaming, of Thorndike, running her first-ever Boston Marathon, was stopped and turned back near Boston College, where runners had already finished Heartbreak Hill. Ahead of them was a downhill run through Coolidge Corner, through the drunken happy Beacon Street kids of Boston University, through the equally drunken, happy, Red Sox-winning crowd at Kenmore Square.
They didn’t get that rock star moment. Those among them who never ran the marathon before will never know, even if they run it again, that pure joy shared between the runners and those special people at the finish line.
They’re the first of all the runners who will never know what Hasty and Maxwell and all those others who came before them know.
After the blast, Maxwell, 44, drove back to Colby College in Waterville. He’s a violinist and had to attend a Colby Symphony Orchestra practice.
“He’s a pretty stubborn bugger,” his wife, Jill, said Monday.
True. Runners are stubborn buggers. To put it mildly.
In 2009 a nor’easter was forecast for marathon day. There was talk of calling it off, but organizers knew if they did that many of the 20,000-plus who had trained for it, who were determined to run it, would take to the roads anyway. There was no way to stop them. Better to close the streets, have the police and medical teams out there, and hope all goes OK.
And it did. The weather wasn’t that bad, at least as far as the runners were concerned.
Stubborn buggers, indeed.
Thousands and thousands of people have run the Boston Marathon since those first stubborn buggers took off from Ashland, the start back then, to Boston in 1897. Fast people, slow people. People from all walks of life and abilities. From all over the world.
Stubborn buggers one and all. But anyone knows in a marathon, just like life, it takes more than stubborn to get things done. It takes love and support. Those people on Boylston Street have been there for all of them.
There are few feelings in the world like crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon. People try to describe it, but they can’t. A big part of it is those people, leaning over the barriers, waiting for Mom or Dad, or their son or daughter, or friend, but screaming for you. Telling you how great you’re doing. What a rock star you are. It’s not uncommon to see runners applauding the crowd as they run by. It’s that kind of deal.
Most of the thousands upon thousands who have finished the Boston Marathon don’t know the people who lined Boylston Street on Monday. They don’t know the people, both runners and spectators, who were maimed or died.
But they love them.
Maureen Milliken is news editor of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. She has run the Boston Marathon four times. Email her at [email protected] Kennebec Tales normally appears the first and third Thursdays of the month.