A Recovery Run: “Boston and Life”

The Boston Marathon has always been a favorite of mine ever since I began running. I thought it would be so cool to run the Boston Marathon some day if I ever qualified.  I felt there were so much tradition; history and atmosphere surrounding the marathon and it became first a goal and then a symbol of life for me.

After many miles, struggles and setbacks I finally was able to step up to the starting line in Hopkinton, MA finally qualifying and then running the dream race for me.  Since then I am proud to have completed four Boston Marathons in total and each one was so much more than simply an athletic accomplishment.  Each was intertwined with whatever spiritual and personal issues I was dealing with at the time.  There was always something I learned about myself, about others or about God that I managed to pick up during those 26 miles and three hundred and eighty-five yards.

In 1996 my running buddies and I had agreed to qualify and run Boston that year since it was the race’s 100th anniversary.  In October of 1995 we all went to Chicago with the intention of qualifying together.  I blew up at mile 19 and had the humiliating experience of riding back to the finish in the “sag wagon” while they all qualified for Boston easily.

It was so pitiful to be in that “wuss wagon.”  What a looser I was and the fact that the van was full of all the other losers.  To make it worse yet, there were no seats in the van and so we all just huddled on the floor in the back of the van in a mass of wussiness.  It was a low point for me in my running career.  Adding to the already pathetic enough experience is that the driver had to stop many times to pick up other losers like me and also course workers.

It took an eternity to get back to Grant Park so I could suffer the additional humiliation of explaining things to my friends. There would be no hugs or pats on the back from my running buddies.  That was never our way.  We were great friends who would do anything for each other, but “not finishing a race”…at best, it was grounds for a lot of well deserved teasing and at worst, a reason to be kicked out of the group.  Their good-natured ribbing made the flight back tolerable and even fun.  “Hey Kirb, what happened? Was there a drive by shooting?  Did you get hit by a car?  Did you break your leg? Oh, you cramped up…seriously?  That was it?  What did you think of the finisher’s medal?  Oh that’s right.  You didn’t get one.  Well how about that race shirt?  You’re surely not going to wear it since you didn’t finish are you?  Can I have it?”  I know it may sound cruel, but this was our group and how we handled things.  It was all in fun, but there was subtle challenges embedded in those comments and in the teasing.  It was also motivating to hopefully next time be the one doing the teasing instead of receiving it all.

Not only did I have to bear the humiliation of not finishing the Chicago Marathon, but I had not qualified for Boston either.  Unless I figured out a way to qualify in a hurry I would miss out on all of the fun of going to Boston with my friends for the 100th anniversary.  I decided to run the Philadelphia Marathon toward the end of November.  This meant I would have to all my training by myself in Chicago including long runs and workouts etc.  It turned out to be a great benefit for me not to try and gut out the last 10K of the Chicago Marathon since undoubtedly I would have tore myself apart and would not have recovered enough to run Philadelphia well enough to qualify.

When the time came to run Philadelphia I ended up having a great race.  I was able to run with some local Philly guys who all had the same goal, to run the 100th Boston.  It was awesome!  At about mile 23 reality sank in for our little group and one of the guys in his thick Philly accent said, “Hey guys, we’re going to Boston!”  I remember how giddy and emotional we all were, like a bunch of 5th grade boys.  I remember even getting a little emotional blinking back some tears that were welling up in my eyes as we finished together.  The finish was in front of the library in downtown Philly, the scene of Rocky’s iconic run up the steps in almost all of his movies.  I couldn’t resist the hokey temptation myself, but I didn’t care.  I was so giddy and happy, that even depleted and cramping I ran up the steps just like Rocky, jumping up and down, shadow boxing and only pausing to ask a couple of slack jawed skate boarder kids to take my photo.

I was in the seminary at the time finishing up my 4th year of theology and preparing for ordination to the priesthood.  I was also taking a class in homiletics and one of our assignments was to write a poem that dealt with faith or spirituality.  It was an attempt to get us to be creative.  I am no poet and because of that I hated the assignment and avoided dealing with it at all costs until the last possible moment.

Having to come up with something was painful enough, but trying to come up with something that was worthwhile and that wouldn’t give my buddies in the class any fodder for making fun of me later.  So the morning of the class, the last possible moment, I sat there and stared at my computer.  I had already been on a six-mile run and was basking in the run’s after glow, hoping to be inspired.

Finally it came to me…”The Boston Marathon!”  Of course what could be more inspiring, spiritual, symbolic and easy to write about?  In a span of about ten minutes I typed out a poem about The Boston Marathon and life.  What you see below is exactly what I typed out that morning in the seminary in the early spring of 1996 with not one edit, addition or change.  It came to me so easily and perfectly.  When I was done I just stared at what I had written.  It was perfect and not only that, I couldn’t wait to get to class and share it.  I didn’t even care what my friends might think sitting there in the back of class.

What you see below is something I am very proud of and I have used this poem in many ways since then, in high school retreats and in many homilies.  It is a way of demonstrating how the great symbol running and this great race is infinitely connected with life and God’s interaction within it.  This poem has been a reminder for me ever since I wrote it and it is the vehicle that I hope am going to use as a guide for many things I have written about running and life.  I hope and pray that it means as much to you as it does for me.

In the Hopkinton Days of my youth you spread the table before me,

The warmth and pleasure of spring days.

You offered me all at once the beauty, excitement and possibilities of life.

You allowed me to share the joys of beginnings with others and you showed me the value     of friends and family.

Blindly and youthfully I rushed down the hills of my early days and you were there to point the way even when I paid no attention.

Down I ran without a care in the world as I relished in the scenery I passed by.

Life was too easy then.

When life flattened out in the days of Wellesley however

You taught me the lessons of my youth.

You gave me enthusiasm to keep going and kept me on the right roads.

You kept me focused and motivated when my mind wondered and you urged me on when I became bored.

You stayed with me even when I ignored you.

When I struggled through the hills of Newton, when life became labored,

I looked for you and you were not far off.  You taught me the continuity of life.  You taught me the value of hard work, tenacity and perseverance.

You encouraged me up the hills when others told me to quit.

You kept me pointed forward when I tired and faded.

When I stumbled you held me up.

In Newton you showed me the big picture that helped me see past the painful moment.  You gave me hope and convinced me that the top was not to far away.

On Beacon Street you gave me the pay off for making it to the top, thanksgiving joy, consolation and gratitude.

At Kenmore Square you gave me the wisdom to see the grace, the joy and challenge of            life that comes not only here, but also all along the way.

From the exuberance of Hopkinton, to the monotony of Wellesley,

to the difficulty of Newton

and finally to the ecstasy of Kenmore Square

you never left my side and showed me the value of life

and filled every moment with your grace.

 

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