I am sitting on a bed in the Park Plaza Hotel at the corner of Arlington and Stuart streets in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston. The Boston Marathon starts in 23 hours 45 minutes. It is a pretty lonely endeavor waiting out the pre-marathon day on a destination race. After many, many races doing it the wrong way, I have learned I just need to sit here with legs in the air. So I brought some work and an excellent John Le Carre novel -- The Spy Who Came In from the Cold -- and except for a light jog this morning and a little walk to see the stragglers at the 5K that was run this morning, I am pretty much staying put.
This is my third annual pilgrimage to worship at the temple of Marathon. I have not run the great races in the runningprofs' various home metropolises, so I am not able to opine on a relative basis, but as an absolute matter it is difficult to imagine an event that is more of a cultish endeavor than is the Boston Marathon.
Everything from boarding the train in DC yesterday until I arrive at home on Monday (hopefully satisfied) is part of a collective spiritual event. In line for the Acela I see others who are obviously heading north to run. On the train we exchange curt nods as we make our ways back and forth to the dining car and to the restroom, and I share the occasional brief conversation about how the weather looks better than last year. Disembarking at Back Bay Station and walking to the hotel I start to experience the throngs of skinny people wearing branded running garb, much of it reflecting far-flung nationalities. Checking in at the hotel is like joining a parade, and seemingly every conversation begins with "where did you qualify?" or "did the training go as you had hoped?" The race expo is a madhouse that I depart as quickly as I can. My jog this morning around the Boston Common felt more like a pre-race warm-up than a run a full day prior to the race. Literally hundreds were out there and to a one they looked ready.
I know what it will be like going home, too. The whole city is supporting this race, so on the subway to Logan, during the check-in process, in the security lines, even boarding the flight and taking my seat -- I would bet 25% or more of the passengers are on their post-marathon exodus -- people will be offering congratulations and back-slaps. (In 2011 I missed my flight. The gate agent waived the change fee without my asking -- "I wouldn't be able to get up that early after running a marathon, either!" -- and the flight crew on the plane I did take polled the runners while taking tickets about their finishing times.)
It is finally getting to me. I have been in a running funk for the last several weeks, so much so that I am already looking ahead to the next opportunity to attempt a PR. But as I finish my walk this morning and watch the stream of 5K finishers with their medals and bags of post-race nutrition, and I see the race-day infrastructure being set up and being tested -- my teeth began to itch.
Itchy teeth: that has always been how I know I want to run. It does not mean I will have a good race, but it does mean my heart will jump when the gun sounds.