The Boston Marathon Night Shift
I began running the Boston Marathon at the age of 16 when I borrowed a friend's cross-country bib number, pinned it onto my t-shirt and jumped into the race. That first year, I dropped out at Heartbreak Hill with blisters and muscle cramps and was transported to Newton-Wellesley Hospital in a police cruiser.
My grandfather was waiting for me at Coolidge Corner (23-miles) but I never made it that far. When I got home, I kept calling him but he waited until around 7PM for me, then left to go home. Finally I reached him by phone and he said that if I trained, I could finish this race and that he would be waiting for me again next year. Sadly, he died a few months later. Ironically, he was buried in a Brighton cemetery which is actually on the race course. We both kept our promise - I ran the race the next year and he was there in "spirit" at about the 21.5 mile mark as I ran past the cemetery.
It was at that very moment that I pledged to myself to run the Boston Marathon in memory of him every year for the rest of my life.
I have run it every year since, making this my 28th trek of the infamous course and my 103rd marathon overall.
However, in 1988, I was faced with the difficult decision of choosing between running in the Boston Marathon or helping to actually "run" the race as the Technical Director, a position offered to me by Race Director Guy Morse.
After much deliberation, I opted for the job, but still felt where there was a will there was a way. I was determined to also run. I decided to do both, i.e., work the race and then run it at night after "punching out" for the day.
I called Chris Lane of the Massachusetts Track and Field Officials Association and asked him if I still could receive a finishing time. Chris responded, "as long as one of us hangs around long enough to give you your time, but it will have to be an overall time from the official noontime gun." "Not a problem," I replied. As far as I was concerned, I was just getting a late start.
No matter how you run it, 26 miles is a long way. Certainly, it doesn't make good sense to spend 12 hours on your feet, under unenviable conditions and with no nutritional intake and then find yourself at the starting line of a 26.2-mile trek. When I start, I feel like I have already run half a marathon.
I can remember one year after a clean race start, I was riding in one of the lead vehicles. As we entered Wellesley, a rotund fellow holding an alcoholic beverage yelled, "hey, you lazy bum, why don't you get out and run like everyone else?" Little did he know.
The post race "race" has become a routine for me now. At about 5PM I begin making the long ride back to Hopkinton with my brother Bob and friend, Ron Kramer. I usually plan to start my run around 6PM, just about the time all the usual post race parties are in full swing. This year I am hoping for an even earlier start if everything is going well with the "main" event.
Each year, rain or shine, the entire Hopkinton Marathon Committee is waiting to see me off. Knowing that I've worked with all of them for the past five months makes it extra special and helps me overcome the nervousness that is now settling in. But once I start, I am fine. A sense of relief and peace overcome me. The tough part of the day is over. Now it is time to "enjoy" myself and reflect on the day.
Each year, Jack Leduc, a member of the Committee, paints the starting line for the race. He now paints a small crescent-shaped mark on the road next to the starting line which reads "Dave's Moonlight Run" and the number of Boston's I've run. That's real special. How flattering it also is each year when I arrive in Hopkinton and both Boston and State Police cruisers and motorcycles are waiting there to escort me the entire 26-miles into Boston. By driving directly behind me with their lights on, it certainly helps me seeing where I am stepping and gives me a nice feeling of security, too.
It is amazing how many house parties are still going full tilt as I run by. "Hey you slug, the race was over a long time ago," is a typical "greeting". It isn't easy, but I ignore the insults and shuffle along. And there are a few honks of the horn and friendly waves - at least I take them to be friendly.
The course is so different at night. No water stations. No mile markers. No ChampionChip mats. No Red Cross stations. And, virtually, no spectators. And, it is dark...very dark. And cold. However, running at night has a special solitude; appropriately, like the calm after the storm.
And the trash! As one who is partially responsible for the race, I feel guilty running by and seeing all the debris left behind (not by the official stations but by the spectators). My first reaction is to grab a broom and trash bag, but I do want to finish the course before the following Wednesday.
I am not totally alone out there. Friends tend to run with me and pop up unexpectedly either to wish me well or to run a few miles with me. Their support helps push me through the difficult miles, just like it does for the "real" runners. They know what it means for me to "stay the course" as Johnny Kelley has stated so many times.
In 1995, Jack Fultz, who won the Boston Marathon in 1976 (the hot year), ran the entire course with me. As we crossed the finish line, he slowed down a step, making him the actual last finisher of the day. Jack now proudly proclaims that he is the only runner to finish both first and last in the Boston Marathon.
I am overwhelmed by the Newton firefighters who have waited outside at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue just before I begin to climb the dreaded Newton hills. It is difficult not to think back just a few hours. As I rode through this area on the lead vehicle, the area was filled with thousands of spectators. These spectators are now gone, but the firemen are still there...clapping for the last runner and offering a cup of water.
Although traffic usually is light, the red lights certainly don't encourage you to run a "personal best" time. As I crest the infamous Heartbreak Hill, I always question - like the 12,000 or so who have passed before me this day - why I am doing this, especially since I could be at one of the numerous post race parties celebrating the day and all the hard work leading up to it.
The last turn on to Boylston Street is so gratifying. In the distance are those friendly faces who kept appearing out on the course. The cleanup crew is the only other reminder that something spectacular had happened here earlier in the day. The workers are busy disassembling the bleachers and clearing the road for the morning commute. In the early years, there was no fanfare, no crowd, no announcer. Just the feeling of satisfaction of crossing the line. Dead last. My time - 9 1/2 hours after the gun. Nowadays, however, as I run down Boylston Street it is like running into the Olympic Stadium. I have the entire road to myself, the police lights are flashing and sirens are blaring. People are running out of the restaurants wondering what the heck all the commotion is. Last year, the Boston Police officer who had escorted me all the way from Hopkinton, jumped out of his cruiser and ran the last 1/2-mile with me in his uniform and boots! It really is quite amusing.
After I had finished my run a few years ago, I was walking into the Copley Plaza Hotel when I bumped into Johnny Kelley. He asked if I had just finished and shook my hand. He commented that he hoped it would be me that would eventually break his record for number of Boston's run. I said, "No John, that is one record that will never be broken." Kelley, who is recovering from illness in a nursing home on Cape Cod, recently talked to me and asked that I call him the moment I crossed the finish line this year. It will be an honor to do so. I just hope he will still be awake!
I consider myself fortunate to have had the love of my grandfather to get me through those first marathons and the support of one of the greatest running legends of our time to encourage me more recently. Running at night is very difficult, but it is the support of these heroes that lights up my way.
This will be my 12th year running at night. I dedicate this year's run to both of them...my heroes.
Return to Dave's Home Page