The Hopkinton Lions Club will turn Center School (kindergarten through third) into a restaurant for visitors, with a pancake breakfast on race morning. A service will be held on Monday morning on the lawn of the First Congregational Church. In other years, the sign in front of the church has proclaimed AT HEARTBREAK HILL, REMEMBER, 'I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH JESUS CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME'. The green-and-white line across Main Street—sure to be repainted before the great day—is where the whole thing begins. The best runners will be in front, the rest behind them. The spectators will be everywhere, covering the sidewalks and the town green and letting out war whoops.
On marathon day, the electricity will start in this New England bedroom town of Hopkinton, with its postcard colonial scenery, and continue for 26 miles, 385 yards through Ashland and Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton and Brookline to the heart of Boston. Runners from around the corner and around the world will cover the course, and at each place they pass they will turn everyday black-and-white living into Technicolor. A Monday in April once again will become the most exciting day of the local year.
"Some of the runners get their numbers and check in here in the morning," says Joseph, standing in the Hopkinton High gym. "There are tables set up at the end of the basketball court. This place is a mob scene. The greatest runners in the world. They've all been here. I ran the race once. Just before the start I had a call of nature and went behind the Congregational Church. I'm standing next to the wall and turn to my left and there's Frank Shorter. The Olympic champion. Standing next to me."
"The kids all go to the start to see what kinds of sweatsuits they can grab," Scanlon says. "The runners wear sweatsuits, then just throw 'em to the side a few minutes before the start. The race leaves, and there are sweatsuits everywhere. Every kid in Hopkinton has a great wardrobe of sweatsuits. You see sweatsuits from all over the country on these kids all year round."
The magic here is a morning magic. The start is at noon, and 30 minutes after the herd leaves, the town will be on the way back to its normal condition. Discarded plastic garbage bags, used by the runners as prerace raincoats, are cleaned from the streets on wet days, along with discarded cups and orange peels. The spectators will be gone. The runners will be gone.
They will have taken the excitement with them down the road.
One minute to go...30 seconds to go...kaboom!
Dr. Bob Johnson lives in the first house on the right side of the marathon course. He is a good runner—good enough to finish 35th in the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials—and the race starts 50 yards from his front door on Route 135. About the only thing closer is the World War I doughboy statue, which, rifle on one shoulder, stands prepared to leave Hopkinton Green to fight the Hun.
Every morning when Johnson drives to his dental practice in the neighboring town of West Upton, he crosses the starting line. Every time he runs a workout loop he covers part of the course. He lives with the imaginary trumpets of the race for 364 days of the year, and on that one important day in April his sport lands at his feet as if it were a rolled-up morning newspaper.
"The house is almost as old as the marathon, almost 100 years old," the 33-year-old runner says, sitting in the living room of the house he bought in 1984. "That's kind of neat. The house has been here for the start of every marathon except the first few, when the course was measured differently and the race started in Ashland.