Among the change in my wallet is a token from the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. It's close to a nickel in size and similar in color to a penny. I’ve had it since 2005 despite the fact that I live on the opposite coast so the thing has no practical use. I’m amazed that I haven’t ever accidentally spent it. I didn’t set out to get a keepsake, I had bought several tokens for my dad and I that weekend and one just didn’t get spent. But I like it. It reminds me of that weekend in Boston, watching my mother run the marathon.
Mom set herself several goals for the year she would be 50, things she had decided she had to do before she got any older. One of them was to run a marathon. At the time I don’t think she had ever run more than five miles all at once. But she found a training program online and started.
This was a huge role reversal in my life. Growing up it was my dad who ran – mostly 10Ks throughout the summer. I would run whatever short race accompanied the main event, and Mom would be there to cheer us on.
She trained hard, and successfully finished her first marathon just two months shy of turning 51. I thought that might be the end of it, but she decided to keep going. Having run one marathon she wanted to do it again, but faster. She started researching how to better train, and eat, and generally improve. After her second marathon, which was faster than her first, she set a new goal. She was going to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
For runners, the Boston Marathon is a huge deal, specifically because you have to qualify. In New York or Chicago or LA you can decide you want to run a marathon, pay your entry fee and you’re in. In Boston you have to have run a previous marathon below a qualifying time for your age and gender on an approved course. You submit that time with your application and your entry fee and then you get in. (There are a certain number of invitations that get sent out so it is possible to run your first marathon at Boston. But it’s rare.)
Mom kept running, and kept getting faster. At one point she missed qualifying by 53 seconds. She spent a day or two depressed and then realized that the problem was her finish, the last six miles she was losing her pace and her focus. Sadly the only way to practice the last six miles of a marathon is to run the twenty before them first, so she signed up for another race. She inspired me to start running again, after all once your mother is running marathons you can at least get out of your chair and make it around the block. I wanted to get home to see her race, but my work schedule kept getting in the way.
Finally, Mom qualified. She was registered to run Boston. I cleared my schedule and flew out to meet my parents. On Sunday Dad and I hung out together sightseeing, letting Mom have a quiet day to prepare, and that evening I caught up with some friends in town to continue to stay out of the way.
Monday morning Mom was off on a bus to the start line and Dad and I rode the T to the house of a friend who lives on the marathon course, just a few miles before heartbreak hill. We chatted with Ryan and his other guests. My mom was only person running that anyone there knew, so the entire group was adopting her. Suddenly a roar came from up the street. We looked over and the first runner came into view.
Distance runners in their stride are beautiful. There is such power and grace in their movement. At this point in the race he was still relaxed. There was more of the course behind him than in front of him and it wasn’t time to push yet. We all cheered as he went by, and then in the distance we saw runner number two.
The runners stayed spaced out for the first ten minutes or so as the elite passed us by. A shout was raised as each new person came into view, and when the first American passed (I think he was eighth at the time) the sound became briefly deafening.
Soon the trickle of runners became a steady stream. It was still possible to see individual people, and shout out specific encouragement. Then the stream became a river, and the street was filled from curb to curb with runners. And they just kept coming. We stood there in Ryan’s front yard clapping and yelling for 45 minutes straight and still there were more people. Dad and I realized that we had to make a choice. We could either see Mom there or at the finish line, but it was unlikely that we could do both. We decided that with Ryan and his friends there to cheer Mom on we’d head to the finish instead.
Mom wasn’t running as fast as she had hoped. Her knees had been bothering her more and more lately, and she said that if it wasn’t Boston she wasn’t sure she would have run that day. Ryan had called while we were underground on the T to say that Mom had passed him, and was moving slowly but moving.
We arrived back downtown and wound our way through the streets and the people, eventually ending up at a barrier right at the road’s edge about six blocks from the finish. We stood there cheering the runners going by and keeping a lookout for Mom, in her white hat and blue shirt. Finally, there she was.
We both screamed her name and waved and I saw her look over and smile so I knew she saw us. She didn’t have a whole lot of energy left for anything else. Dad and I watched her out of sight and then walked around to where runners left the finishing area. Mom came out several minutes later looking completely exhausted. Boston turned out to be her second slowest marathon, due to her knees, but she had done it. That fall I ran my first half-marathon.
Boston was also my Mom’s last marathon; her knees just won’t let her cover that kind of distance anymore. But for five years she was a marathoner, and I carry a token to prove that she got exactly as far she wanted to be and met all the goals she set for herself. Every time I reach for change I see the T on that token and smile. And remind myself that I should go out for a run.