Training for a marathon requires dedication, perseverance, and mental fortitude. Sophomore year I decided to test my limits by running the 2013 Boston Marathon for Boston College’s Campus School.
When the 2013 spring semester started so too did my training. Three mile runs, then four, then five. On Sundays—following the training plan given by BC—I started to air it out to seven, eight, nine miles. My legs felt stronger: they moved more efficiently. My body was learning.
Prior to that January I had never been a runner. I only did wind sprints and shuttle drills and pyramids for football in high school.
Training for the marathon became my competition, my drug. I ran because it felt good. I ran because it made me smile. I ran because there is nothing quite like a runner’s high— where your mind drifts off and you run in rhythm with your heart and each cog in your body syncs to that rhythm. Running gave me time to think about whatever struck me in those quiet moments: life, school, love, success, failure, pain.
So much like baseball. The season lasts 162 games. And that’s not the half of it. There is over a month of Spring Training before, and if you play well for 162 games, a few more games in October after that.
You can start slow and still finish strong. You can start fast and burn out before September. Without respecting the cadence of a marathon or a baseball season, one’s body and one’s spirit will fail.
For three plus months I trained and visualized the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Thick with short-shorts and dri-fit tee shirts the route meandered west towards Boston, towards Boston College. When I hit Heartbreak Hill I was feeling good and confident.
The hill broke me. Just like those dog days of in the scorching heat of July and August.
Not half a mile from BC my left leg started seizing up with more and more frequency. I proceed to clench my fist and beat my quad into submission. The catharsis was raw—no matter how hard you fight sometimes your body succumbs to the wear and tear of 26.2 miles, to the wear and tear of 162 games over just 6 months.
I fought and battled and found myself at the top of the hill, mile 21, where all my fellow BC Eagles stood drunk, cheering. Like ten-dollar beers at Safeco that empty not only your wallet but your inhibitions as well.
I was exhausted and ready to quit. But those faces ignited my spirits; my closest friends hopped into the street and ran with me all the way down the hill, yelling and screaming in support. In baseball the fans need the players just as much as the players need the fans. It is a co-dependent relationship; each exists for the other in a love-hate relationship.
The blue and yellow mile 25 mile marker loomed large over my head. Spectators were still cheering but I couldn’t hear them. My leg had seized up for good it seemed. I was under the sign stretching and cursing at my body’s weakness.
Finally I felt loose enough to move again. I started to get my rhythm back as I approached an overpass bridge less than a quarter of a mile from the finish.
A golf cart came racing towards me from under the bridge. It stopped in the middle of the street and Boston PD and Marathon volunteers scattered across the road and stopped the runners dead in their tracks. I was one of the first held up.
It got cold quickly. There was no water and no blankets. No one knew what was going on; droves of spectators were moving quickly our way along the fringes of Comm Ave. I caught sight of a dear friend—Sullivan McCormick—who was moving with the masses. I yelled to get his attention and he jogged down to me.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“They didn’t tell you?”
I shook my head. No.
“There were two explosions at the finish line. Chaos. It blew up and ambulances are everywhere. It’s a nightmare back there.”
Sometimes a race, a season, can be derailed by something beyond the run, beyond the team, beyond the expected. Injuries pile up, the weather takes a turn for the worse, team chemistry no longer exists and bad blood pervades the clubhouse.
But with the end to every season, with the end to every run– no matter how debilitating or successful– there is the hope of another year, another race, another opportunity.
On January 10th, 2014, while I was running along the Seine during my first week abroad in Paris, it finally made sense to me: running in itself is an act of resilience, an affront to weakness and a testament to the fortitude of the human body and spirit.
A baseball season tests everything a player, a manager, a fan has: mental and physical strength, a sustainable routine, the will to win and persevere through adversity. It is at mile 21, it is in the hot Wednesday getaway games, it is in the cramps and injuries and dehydration that everything you have is tested.