Descending the hill from Boston College, I feel these inner events for the first time. And I know again that the last six miles at Boston will be the worst six miles I will ever run. From now on, pain is a constant companion. The slightest downgrade is a torture to my thighs. My legs get heavier and heavier.
The same effort that made a romp of a seven-minute mile outside of Hopkinton barely gets me through a 10-minute mile on Commonwealth Avenue. I experiment with strides and body positions to see if there are any muscles still willing to respond.
By now I can see the Prudential Tower, and then come the unkindest miles of all. Miles where I must will every step toward a goal that never seems any nearer. I spend a mile in agony and bring that tower not one inch nearer. Minutes pass, but the Pru—and with it the finish and the relief from pain and my chance to get into a hot tub—seems just a mirage.
But somehow I reach Beacon Street and I know I have made it. Like a horse that smells the barn, I am suddenly refreshed. The last mile brings with it a joy, an elevation of the spirit that makes everything that went before worthwhile.
And worth doing again next year. One mile at a time.
Like most distance runners, I am still a child. And never more so than when I run. I take that play more seriously than anything else I do. And in that play I retire into the fantasy land of my imagination anytime I please.
Like most children, I think I control my life, believe myself to be independent. I am certain I have been placed on this earth to enjoy myself. Like most children, I live in the best of all possible worlds, a world made for running and racing, where nothing but good can happen. And, like most children, I am oblivious to all of the work done by other people to make it that way.
This is more than faith. Faith is the Breton peasant praying for rain and then taking an umbrella with him when he leaves the house. Faith is a nun friend of my grandmother's who periodically herded 30 to 40 orphans onto a train at Poughkeepsie and set out for Coney Island without a penny in her purse. "God will provide," was her motto. That's faith.
Faith is an act of the will made by an adult. The child acts before will and reason and dogma. He simply knows. And the child in me knows that I am in a game that always has a happy ending. That I can enjoy the anxiety leading up to the race, and the tremendous challenge in the running, and the sweetness or bitterness of the ending, knowing that, whatever happens, I am already a hero, a winner. Knowing that in the end, whatever the crisis, there will always be someone to take care of me.
I hadn't realized this (although it may well have been evident to my family and friends) until the 1976 Boston Marathon. The official temperature on Patriot's Day was 92�, a level listed as dangerous for livestock, and death-dealing to runners. Any thinking adult would have sat this one out. But there I was with nearly 2,000 others dressing at the Hopkinton High School gym.