“Sit on the right side,” I suggested. “Maybe next to the window.”
Katie and I boarded one of the 100 or so school buses lined up between Boston Garden and Boston Common. It was about 7:15 a.m. on Patriot’s Day. We wore sweatshirts we intended to throw away. Katie wore some hideous orange and green pajama bottoms with “Irish” and “Get Lucky” printed on them. No guessing why we found them on the Target sale rack.
Already bright in the eastern sky, the sun filtered through gray, bare trees. The air felt warm. Katie opened the bus window.
The first bus in the line moved. Ours followed. Katie clapped. We were on our way.
We drove through Back Bay and merged onto Interstate 90. People around us got to know their seat mates. Nervousness makes runners chatty. We had an hour or so to ride. Then we had two more hours to sit on the grass beside Hopkinton High School. Buses stretched into the distance ahead and back as far as we could see.
“Is this why you wanted me to sit here?” Katie asked.
She pointed to the Charles River. Rowers paused in a boat near shore to receive instruction from a coach. A single skull rowed northwest. A four pulled steadily in the opposite direction leaving four perfectly round swirls in the water behind.
I nodded “yes.” I had thought about this moment.
“This is where I trained for this race almost every morning,” Katie said. “So this is where I rowed Head of the Charles and where I trained for the Boston Marathon. Pretty cool.”
The river disappeared behind a building. We headed west.
The moment had been a long time coming.
Parenting is a long build up. You dream big dreams for your kids but you have to take it a step at a time. There is no single moment, not one life’s lesson that makes your kid all you dream he or she can be. It’s a long, slow road when they are little and over in a flash when they leave for college.
Standing on an embankment facing the Hopkinton High School, I realized that I had suffered a lack of vision. Katie and I were about to walk toward the start area a half mile down a gently sloping hill. I held out my hands and made a shape just about the size of an eight pound baby.
“This big,” I said.
“What are you talking about?” Katie said.
“This is how big you were when you were born. I didn’t imagine this day coming.”
Precocious child: She read the tee shirt.
Katie won her heat in the toddler trot during Twin Cities Marathon weekend when she was four. She ran track and cross country in high school but was most noted for being a good sport rather than for being fleet. She was a better high school Nordic skier, the fastest girl on her team.
In college she found her sport. Katie was an accomplished and decorated rower winning some of the most prestigious college races. But the transition from rower to runner wasn’t obvious. Not all rowers are fast runners or vice versa.
Rowers and Nordic skiers race harder and suffer mightily, more severely than any other athletes I know. Katie demonstrated something more important than aerobic endurance or foot speed. Katie had grit.
After talking smack to the four year-olds she clobbered in the toddler trot. With Nancy “Nanna” Ross, Twin Cities Marathon weekend 1996.
Some Lady in A Purple Nike Shirt
While Katie and I bounced around in a bus for more than an hour, Margy and Marcus had a chance encounter. Marcus wore his Bowdoin tee shirt. A small woman with gray hair walked toward Marcus and Margy and asked if Marcus had gone to Bowdoin. Marcus said he had. She extended her hand.
“Bowdoin class of ’79,” the woman said.
Take a look. There’s a building named after her on the Nike campus. Yeah, a building.
It took Margy a few seconds, then she was thunderstruck, starstruck.
The three of them chatted. Marcus had run with Joan Benoit Samuelson’s son Anders at Bowdoin. Joanie had just left her daughter at the buses like Margy had. Like Marcus, Joanie’s daughter Abby also worked at Nike. The three discussed the weather and the prospects for Katie and Abby to go out and race on what threatened to be a hot day. They exchanged email addresses so that Marcus and Abby could make contact once back in Portland at Nike. Margy and Joanie agreed to get in touch.
Back in Hopkinton
Katie and I ditched our sweats in big bags for donation to the poor. Then, under a bright blue sky, we strolled down a small town street with thousands of other runners. Neighbors stood in their yards and cheered as we walked by.
On the main street, Katie and I stood in Corral 5 of Wave 2 waiting for the Boston Marathon to start. It was 10:25 a.m. The sun felt hot. We were on the opposite side of a small hill that hid the start line. We heard someone say, “You’re underway.” Neither Katie nor I heard a start gun or the National Anthem or anything. We could just see people at the crest of the hill begin to walk. In another minute, we began to walk, too.
“Careful, Peanut. You’ll start to run and then suddenly stop dead, then start running again.”
We began a slow jog. Within ten seconds, we were stopped. Katie gave me a big smile. We began to move again and crossed the start line almost exactly three minutes after our wave officially started.
At Boston, runners sort into waves and corrals that very, very tightly group runners according to qualifying times. This is good and bad. The good: Few in front have placed themselves ahead of faster runners. Not many posers get in the way, though there are always a few cheaters. The bad: With a group so tightly clustered, runners stay clustered. For the first few miles, it was hard to place one foot in front of the other without clipping someone ahead or getting into the way of someone behind.
Katie and I ran as close together as possible, separating only as necessary to pass someone or to let someone pass us. Some people were determined to work their way up through the crowd. Others relaxed. Most stayed steady. The animal spirit in Katie rose. She was one of the passers.
The west-northwest tailwind did little to cool us. The air felt still, the sun hot. Savings and loan signs showed temperatures in the low 70’s early, mid 70’s later. Shade from trees on the south side of the road felt good but without leaves, even the shady spots weren’t all that cool.
The crowd thinned. Katie and I ran closer together. Where possible, we ran tangents, the inside of the curves, to keep the race distance as short as possible.
In Wellesley, we ran through the “Wellesley College Scream Tunnel.” The girls held naughty, suggestive signs and offered kisses. Some runners took them up on the offer, though most kisses were planted on cheeks.
After the mile 15 marker, the long Wellesley downhill started. My thighs, left hamstring and Achilles tendon hurt. Katie and I stuck together for the long uphill. At mile 18, Katie got through the water stop about 30 yards ahead of me. I struggled to catch up. I ran aggressive tangents to regain Katie’s side at mile 19 or so.
At mile 21, Katie turned to me.
“How are you, Dad?”
“Bad. You go ahead.”
Katie shook her head “no.”
My thighs hurt with every step. One of my calves threatened to cramp. I altered my gait to keep running. I had seen Katie turn to look for me several times. I lost sight of her between Newton’s first big hill and Heartbreak Hill.
Katie slowed her pace hoping I would catch her. I kept at it as best I could, trying to catch up. I couldn’t. I walked through the water stop at mile 23. I walked another 200 to 400 yards trying to regroup. The thought that Katie might wait kept me running. I wanted her to get her best possible time. But I was hanging on, hoping to finish.
Katie crossed in 3:25:46, more than nine minutes faster than required to qualify for Boston again in 2018, though both she and I will use our faster 2016 Twin Cities Marathon time of 3:18 to enter. I finished just a little over ten minutes after Katie and felt lucky to have stayed right side up. I had passed at least two runners who had gone down hard within sight of the finish line.
“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” – Woody Allen
So here was the plan. Katie and I would run this marathon like we had run our two recent Twin Cities Marathons: Side-by-side, step-for-step, stride-for-stride. Like most parents, I wanted to be right there to help Katie along. But, like most parents, it didn’t work out that I was able to stay with my kid as long or as far as I wanted. She needed to push ahead and that was OK. It wasn’t the plan for that day but it was the ultimate plan.
Maybe this was my parenting metaphor. I did absolutely everything I knew how to do, everything I could, to set Katie up for success. We ran together side-by-side, step-for-step, stride-for-stride for 18 miles. Then my help became inconsistent. I showed up again, helped for a little bit, then faded. She was on her own. We hadn’t talked about it, didn’t plan it or acknowledge it at the time, but I had passed the torch.
I feel fiercely proud of Katie and hope that I taught her well. It’s her torch to carry.
I sat down extremely stiffly into the middle seat on our Tuesday morning flight to Minneapolis. The guy by the window asked if I had run the marathon. I said that I had.
“So how many marathons have you run?”
“I meant how many total marathons have you done,” he said, looking a little puzzled.
“Well, I have run four Boston Marathons. Yesterday’s was my fourth Boston but it was my 81st marathon over all,” I said, hoping to clarify.
He looked surprised. Margy leaned forward and nodded to confirm the count.
“That’s a lot,” he said.
“Feels like a lot right now,” I said. My legs felt like I had run all 81 the day before.
Thanks to Margy Ross, who engineered all of our travel, spotting and cheering us four times on this year’s Boston Marathon course. Thanks to Marcus Schneider for flying across an entire continent to support us. Thanks to Holly and Jeff Schneider for good dinner conversation and great support on the course and beyond. It was nice to meet Andrew, too. Thanks to Dale and Barbara Edmunds for offering their driveway in Wellesley for parking. Thanks to both Emilys, Luisa and Doug. You were right where we needed you. Thanks to all of our friends and family for cheering us on, whether in Boston, Des Moines, Minneapolis, Maine, North Carolina or elsewhere. We have the most wonderful support we could imagine – and maybe not even imagine.
For Bob Ross. The aerobic capacity came from somewhere. I blame him. Mostly, though, he modeled grit.
Pictures from the Weekend
At the Expo: Shilling for Adidas.
All swoosh: Katie with Marcus Schneider near Boston Common before boarding the bus for Hopkinton.
25 years after the hospital picture: Katie grown up, parents unchanged.
After the race: Margy and Marcus wisely kept their distance.
Katie’s oil painting of Bob Ross, Grinnell College, Class of ’53, pictured circa 1980 engaged in a thoroughly non-aerobic sport.