Then, walking to the starting line, I saw a gasoline station with a thermometer on the wall. It read 116�. I passed by undeterred.
At the starting line there were hoses to fill our cups, to douse our heads and the caps and shirts we wore. The family of man was already operating. The people were already taking care of their children.
And that was the way it was. The whole thing was absurd. The race should have been postponed or set for later in the day. There was no way for a runner to go those 26 sunbaked miles to Boston without help. Yet I set out, knowing I would get whatever help I needed. Knowing I would survive.
For one thing, Boston Marathon crowds are special. I recall my first Boston and how astounded I was that people called me George all along the way. They stood in groups with one person picking the names out of the Globe so that when I got to them there would be cries of, "You can do it, George," or, "George, you're looking strong," or, in the late stages, "Keep it up, George, there's only three miles to go."
What that can do to a childlike runner, previously known only to his own family, is unbelievable. I felt capable of anything, even of completing the Boston Marathon.
In 1976 the crowd outdid itself. Within two miles we were running in the rain. It was 92� and the sky was cloudless, and we were running in a rain provided by hose after hose after hose. There was water everywhere. Mile upon mile of people and children offering water to drink and pour on me. Swarms of young boys giving out Gatorade, with the same enthusiasm they had shown an hour before while supplying the leaders. Others with buckets of ice. Some with the traditional orange slices, many of the children just holding out their hands to be touched by the heroes passing by.
From Ashland on, there was nothing but applause and cheers. Then came the reception from the girls at Wellesley, and farther on the children in the Newton Hills outdoing each other to get us ice and water. And there I saw this solemn 4-year-old girl, just standing with a tiny cup, hoping someone would stop. I did and drank the two ounces and told her, "You're my honey." Boston is like that: a voice, a face, a child that you remember forever.
I was in Boston now and should have been home free. I wasn't. I was running a poor marathon, and when you run a poor marathon you not only hurt, you hurt longer. In all my years of running, I had never been out on the road longer. But through all the pain and not knowing whether I would finish, through the dragging out of those last terrible miles, I always felt safe, knowing I was surrounded by friends and family and those who would take care of me no matter what happened.
And knowing, too, that if I stopped they would say, "You gave it your best, George." Knowing that whatever I did, I would not disappoint them. There would always be a meal and a soft bed and a good day of running tomorrow.
Only the child still lives in a world where such days are possible.