Clovis News: Sports

No place for comfort in Boston

This one is a bit personal. I don't often write about myself. It isn't that I'm not interesting, it's just that I'm not as interesting as the people who are usually written about here.

On Monday, I ran the Boston Marathon. It went well. The race, I mean, not necessarily my race.

With perfectly cool temperatures and a tailwind, a Kenyan named Geoffrey Mutai ran the fastest marathon in history: 2 hours, 3 minutes and 2 seconds. According to the Boston Globe, he ran his 20th mile in 4 minutes and 32 seconds.

I did not see Geoffrey myself, but they say he looked really fast. In fact, by the time three of us reached the 16th mile (I ran with two other Fresno runners, Dion Doshier and Mark Dorman) spectators were telling us we were part of history, that the world record had just been set.

That was surreal, being told you were a part of a legendary sporting event, when you were still participating in that event. You know, when you were only 60% sure you would not collapse and expire in a wooded area somewhere in New England. The crowd was also incorrect, as it turns out, since the Boston Marathon course is too downhill to count for official world records.

Until recently, I didn't really understand why marathoning had swept across America like some sort of Canadian cold front. I didn't understand until I tried to qualify for Boston. It was two years ago. I had run seven marathons, none faster than 3:55. A couple of them were slower than a soap opera plot.

I had become friends with people in Fresno's running circles and those people asked if I had thought about qualifying for Boston and, well, it's hard to explain how far 3 hours, 55 minutes is from the 3:10 I needed.

People don't really appreciate the Fresno running scene, but it is a good one. This year, more than 30 people from Fresno and Clovis ran the Boston Marathon. Not just 30 good runners, but ones who were good enough to qualify for Boston and who were traveling across the country this year to be part of the 26,907 who entered Boston, and the 24,338 who started Boston and the 23,879 who finished Boston.

Eddie Nolen was trying to run 2:40, and he wanted it so bad the 42-year-old ran himself into a fog and had to walk a lot of the last mile. He was still the best local finisher by several minutes.

Chris Doos, who was once a professional golfer, sat on a trailer at the finish and said he didn't remember much of the last two miles. The time he thought he'd run was 3 minutes off of what he'd actually run.

The thing is, none of the 30 Fresno people had to do it. There's no money in it, no real glory beyond a post-race hug. They aren't professional runners, they're people who work for uniform companies and sell water softeners and teach golf lessons.

If running a marathon is about health and an accomplishment, then what in the world is the point of running one fast enough to require an expensive trip to the East Coast?

I think it goes back to high school. In high school, you're dumb as paint remover, which is why you think you can do anything. You want to play guitar and be a doctor and write a couple books, and that's just by age 25. Time seems to be a bottomless pit of refills.

At some point, days start to slide away, first weeks, and then months, and then years. You can't name a single thing you did in 2007. You stop dreaming quite as much. You become realistic, which seems a lot like reality.

You become comfortable with your life, which is pretty much the opposite of high school. Nothing was comfortable then, not relationships or fifth-hour speech class or speeding tickets or a curfew.

I made myself uncomfortable last year. I woke at times I never wanted to see. I ran like a kid, along streets and on trails. I tried to achieve something that no one was asking me to achieve.

I finally made that 3:10 last fall in Utah and, after 18 months of this, I ran the Boston Marathon. I cannot really explain what those streets mean, what it's like to hear strangers scream for you and children reach out their hand. I cannot explain the wall of sound when you turn left on Boylston, near the graves of John Hancock and Paul Revere.

I do understand why, though. I can't explain it, properly. But I do understand.