Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Rejoice, we have conquered! Boston 2014

I generally don't reference my age, but I was born in 1986. Since I have been alive, no American, male or female, has won the historic, beloved Boston Marathon. The last American man to win was Greg Meyer in 1983. The last American woman to win was in 1985. I haven't followed Boston my entire life, but since I got into running and marathoning, I have (along with many) been hoping for an American to pull out the big win. There have been some close ones - Desi Davila even came in second when I ran in 2011. But if there was ever a day where an American needed to win, it was today. It was to show the bomber, and the world that what American do is overcome and conquer, even in the face of adversity.
I watched the first hour of the race at home in Rochester, then headed to the airport to fly back to DC. I was checking the 5k splits, anxiously watching Shalane hold onto her lead, hitting the half marathon point at course record, and whoopnng with surprise when Meb took the lead in the men's race. But really? A 38 (soon to be 39 in 2 weeks) year-old man, who was ranked 15th going into the race, leading? Could he win?
I was wearing my 2011 yellow Boston Marathon shirt while I was at the airport, and at security, a man with a 2013 Boston Marathon jacket came up to me and said "Boston Strong." His name was Mark, and we ended up on the same flight, which was delayed. Mark and I sat and chatted, as if old friends swapping stories, instead of perfect strangers. Because when you've run over the hallowed ground of Boston, you know the 26.2 mile course and the beauty of this magical event, which made us kindred spirits. And while we can't watch it live, we were tracking Facebook (I'm glad my friends were posting so much) and tracking the splits, we let out a woop when we heard that Meb won the race.
This was a big deal for so many reasons. Increasingly, there has been frustration - the Americans keep coming close, nabbing 4th, 3rd, even 2nd place, but still no win. So Meb's victory ended the drought. But his own story is one of persistence and dedication. He had a silver medal from Athens almost 10 years ago. He won the NYC Marathon in 2009 - when I hadn't heard of him yet. Meb could have been com placement - he went to the Olympics 3 times, was one of the fastest American marathoners, has a wife and three girls, and could have rested on his laurels. But his story is also one of overcoming - an immigrant from war-torn Eritreaa, suffered a devastating stress fracture and lost one of his friends due to cardiac arrest at the 2008 Marathon Trials, and a number of other injuries and challenges. He finished 23rd at NYC last yaer - his worst performance of his career, but he finished to show that NYC could overcome after Superstorm Sandy. Likewise, he signed up for Boston again to show that Boston Strong is real, and that the city and marathon would overcome last year's tragedy. Meb even had the names of last year's victims on his bib - he took this personal and wanted to honor the victims.
This wasn't just a superficial act - he took this personally, and ran with huge heart, and tremendous tenacity.
I was very weepy watching the recap video and Meb listening to the Star Spangled Banner - it was just a perfect moment. And the joy in the air was palpable - online, everyone is abuzz with it - this was a big deal and offered hope and joy. You don't need to be a marathon runner to appreciate it - the event is generally-recognized as one of the greatest physical tasks one can do.. To think that it's been three decades since an American was the first to complete the 26.2 mile journey. Meb changed the game and wiped the slate clean.
Look at this picture - his excitement and joy was electric.
The first man who ran a marathon, Pheidippides, may have died when he completed his journey from Athens to Marathon, but his words are immortal, "Rejoice, we have conquered!" They still ring true today.

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