REILLY: TO APPRECIATE THE BOSTON MARATHON, LOOK BACK

WICKED LOCAL SHARON

On Monday morning, April 16, the alarms will sound well before sunrise, as early as 3 a.m. for many, an absurd cushion considering the mid-morning start time. But runners are nothing if not an anxious and peculiar lot.

There will be some uneasiness as the day breaks, but these runners will not worry about forgetting to pin their bibs neat and level to their singlets in this hour of darkness, as that task will have been completed twenty-four hours in advance in order to assure that race numbers are centered and aligned perfectly for race day photos.

They will also not worry about digging through cluttered bureau drawers at the crack of dawn to find that perfect pair of running socks, as those socks will have already been folded at the foot of the bed, alongside the perfectly pinned jersey and the race-ready shorts; staged to be picked and placed when the alarm starts singing.

If plans go accordingly, they will be healthy and strong. This educated assumption is based on the fact that over the past several weeks these runners will not have approached a doorknob or offered a handshake unless they were within spitting distance of a nuclear strength hand sanitizer or a 5000-psi commercial-grade pressure washer. Anxious and peculiar for sure.

They will bundle up with throw-away sweatshirts, hats and gloves; inhale several cups of morning coffee and devour a banana and a bagel to help preserve a routine cultivated and sharpened over five months of faithful preparation. Then, three hours after their alarm first sounded, they will board the buses to start the long journey backwards, from Boston to Hopkinton, for the 122nd running of the oldest and greatest race in the world - the Boston Marathon.

They will have to wait in Hopkinton, a town whose population will triple on this morning, and hope to find a quiet nesting place to stay dry and rested for the next several hours, as bedlam erupts over every square foot of land within a one-mile radius of Hopkinton Town Green.

And finally, they will be called and they will march to their respective corrals, butterflies intensifying with each step they move forward. But here’s the thing. The great and beautiful paradox of this race and this day is that, although these runners will have their hearts and minds fixed securely three hours into the future, the Boston Marathon is just as much about looking back as it is about moving forward.

“I am running Boston this year on the 50th anniversary of my win in 1968,” Amby Burfoot, now 71 years old, told me. “The passing of time has changed everything Boston Marathon related for me. Once I ran Boston as hard and fast as I could, stretching for every second. Now I run Boston to celebrate the health and good fortune that I have enjoyed for so long, and to thank Boston Marathon spectators for their decades of unyielding support for all Boston runners.”

“What makes Boston so special is the history of this great race,” former Chief Running Officer at Runner’s World magazine (and the aptly nicknamed “Mayor of Running”) Bart Yasso said. “As a runner and a student of the sport my favorite part of the weekend is seeing the icons of our sport, Amby Burfoot, Boston Billy (Rogers), The Hoyt’s and Joanie Samuelson just to name a few.”

“I have been involved with the Boston Marathon as an athlete and/or as a director for 46 years,” current Race Director Emeritus Dave McGillivray told me. “I am now 63 years old which means that I have been involved with the marathon for three-quarters of my entire life!! To say that the race is in my DNA would be an understatement. As the Race Director now, I simply consider myself one of its caretakers...it was here way before I was born and it will be here long after I am gone. I’m just helping to take care of it for a little while.”

“There are no crowds to match Boston crowds, no fans as loud and knowledgeable,” Burfoot said. “The 2014 Boston Marathon, specifically, was the greatest footrace that will ever be held. It was impossible to tell whether the spectators were more appreciative of the runners, or the runners more appreciative of the spectators. It was a huge 26.2 mile lovefest the whole way.”

“The Boston Marathon has a special place in my heart and I have such fond memories,” three-time winner and forever an adopted Bostonian Uta Pippig told me. “To me, the Marathon means the stunning atmosphere and the caring people who love this race so much. The enthusiastic and knowledgeable New England crowds who pack Boylston Street ten deep to encourage the runners - and the tremendous traditions and history. I will always remember the scent of spring and energy as we run from Hopkinton to downtown Boston.”

So as the history books are pulled from the shelves and readied for revision with the stories of this year’s race, it is important to note that these new chapters are really only significant because of how magnificently the previous ones were written.

“This year I will walk the final stretch of the course, from the location of the second bomb explosion to the finish line,” Burfoot said. “I will hand out about 500 “thank you” cards mostly to the kids with outstretched hands. There’s no hurry. If I could stay out there on Boylston Street forever, I probably would.”