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home > community > viewpoint > boston marathon - the ups and downs

Boston Marathon - the Ups and Downs
Last fall, in planning to run the Hartford Marathon, I realized I was aiming for my 49th marathon finish.

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By Don Allison
Posted Wednesday, 30 April, 2003

Thus, I told myself that if I made the qualifying time, I would run Boston in the spring for my 50th lifetime marathon. I made the standard with just two minutes to spare, so it was onto Boston in April.

Returning to the race for the first time in seven years brought back some familiar memories. I was also pleasantly surprised by how orderly the bus trip was out to Hopkinton. There was little commotion, and once we arrived in the small town that annually hosts the start of the race, most everyone proceeded quietly to the field behind the high school. I was amazed at how peaceful and relaxed the entire scene was. With close to 20,000 anxious runners in an enclosed space, I was expecting a much more frenzied atmosphere.

Then we all headed to the start-and all hell broke loose. That might be to strong a description of what took place, unless you were a homeowner on Grove Street. As the mass of runners made their way to their respective starting corrals, many fled from the street onto the front lawns, back lawns, bushes, and gardens of the homes along Grove Street, with one, single urgent purpose: to relieve themselves. Men and women together, many not even making even the slightest attempt to seek privacy, overran the property. Most homeowners remained inside, if they were home at all. It was truly an astonishing display. Never was the phrase, "If you gotta go, you gotta go" more graphically evident than in the minutes leading up to the start of the marathon.

Soon enough the congregation of marathoners slowly departed Hopkinton, but they were not so quickly forgotten, as the damage they had wreaked and left behind raised the ire of town residents.

As reported in the Boston Herald, Hopkinton resident Deborah Finney said one of her neighbors saw some male runners dropping their shorts to rub down their private parts with Vaseline to avoid chafing. Other neighbors reported that runners were wiping themselves with toilet paper and sticking the used paper in their fences. "They were wiping themselves with toilet paper and throwing it right on the lawn," said Kathy Arena, of Littleton. "When my sister told them it was private property, they looked at her like she had two heads."

Hopkinton residents were not the only group of people less than enamored with the marathon. Boston Herald columnist Margery Egan wrote, "I've lived off Beacon Street (in Boston) for 20 years. Only yesterday I learned that a car cannot cross the Big Race Route until The Big Race ends. Not Beacon Street or Commonwealth Avenue, not Route 135 in Wellesley, Framingham, or even Hopkinton. No, runners have the right of way. The hell with the working stiffs."

What is one to make of those who do not openly embrace the Boston Marathon, or other big city (or small town) athletic events that usurp the freedoms residents feel are their inaliable rights as citizens and homeowners? Have road races overstayed their welcome? Do they do more damage than any civic good they create? These are all questions that are becoming increasingly critical as the number of road races, charity walks, and other such events crowd the calendar-and city streets-year round.

On the surface, these athletic events seem harmless, awash in good feelings and personal achievement. There is a downside however, as the residents of Hopkinton and Boston are all too happy to talk about. That downside has a cost, and in events such as the Boston Marathon and others, it can be (and is) measured and paid for in dollars and cents.

Many runners and their families are amazed at the welcome mat that is rolled out for them when they attend a big city marathon such as Boston. It seems almost too good to be true: they are embraced by the city, transported to the start of the race and then allowed to run unimpeded through the streets to the finish line while local residents step aside.

But dig a little deeper and you will see that those doing the welcoming are often reaping a healthy financial reward for being so friendly and accommodating. Hotels and restaurants experience a surge in business when the marathoners roll into town, as do taxi drivers, street vendors, and just about every other kind of merchant. City and town officials welcome the economic windfall, as do the myriad police and fire officials, who gain prime paid detail work on race day. For an event such as Boston, in which thousands of participants and their families are coming in from out of town, the numbers can be staggering, and the income can so reliable each year that it is literally like money in the bank.

This influx of cash is cold comfort to those who feel inconvenienced in a major way by the marathon. Any economic trickle down effect felt by homeowners on Grove Street in Hopkinton on Patriot's Day was surely minuscule compared with the actual trickle down from runners relieving themselves on their lawns.

What to do? There really is no perfect answer to this dilemma. The Boston Marathon is not likely to be cancelled anytime soon, simply because some homeowners in Hopkinton were outraged, or because a commuter in Boston could not get across Commonwealth Avenue. Perhaps however, those on each side of the marathon equation can give a little bit in order that a more peaceful coexistence can be attained.

Race participants can and should try to be more respectful of private property. Reverse the roles, and see how many of this year's marathoners would like to see others peeing on their front lawns. Not too many, I would guess. We should all try to use the portajohns provided by the race. But those portajohns at the athlete's village in Hopkinton had at least a 45-minute wait, based on my own observations. And at $125 a pop, who can blame race officials for not wanting to provide each runner with their own portajohn? Perhaps a long open urinal as has been used in the New York Marathon might help mitigate the problem.

As for those marathon party poopers who see the race as one big hassle because they are unable to move around as freely as they are used to, well, there is probably not too much that can be done for them. One might suggest that they try to stop and see the event for what it is and perhaps even get into the spirit of the day. If you can't beat 'em then join 'em is not a bad philosophy. These folks might be surprised at just how much fun the marathon can be. Otherwise, grin and bear it. Such is life in the 21st century, that every once in a while, the automobile is forced to give way to the runner. That's not such an awful thing, is it?

As runners, we should realize that taking over a city on marathon weekend is not a god-given right. We are all guests of the cities and towns that we visit and should act accordingly. By and large, the Boston Marathon has a terrific reputation in the city and beyond. It is annually anticipated and celebrated as a true right of spring. Let's hope it stays that way; I've got another 50 marathons to run!



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