My last years spent working in the city were spent on Huntington Avenue. It was on Huntington Avenue, a stone’s throw from the end of the Marathon route, where word reached me of airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center.
Patriots Day for me was always a special holiday. I was a history buff as a kid, and remember in the Bicentennial year of 1976, my father taking me and my family to Lexington to watch the re-enactment of the “Shot heard round the world.”
As I grew older, attending the 11:00 Sox game and watching the end of the Marathon was an annual ritual, back when the race was truly amateur and it seemed local hero Bill Rodgers won it every year.
I watched Joan Benoit win the Boston Marathon, and was privileged as well to be on hand to watch her win the inaugural women’s marathon at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. I still have a button that her sponsor (Dole, of pineapple fame) handed out to spectators to cheer her on.
However, one of my fondest memories of the Boston Marathon is of the fictional variety, a 1978 made-for-TV movie called "See How She Runs" starring Joanne Woodward. The Academy Award winning actress and her husband, Paul Newman, lived in Connecticut, and they too used to make the annual trek to Boston for the Patriots Day festivities every year.
One year, Newman brought along his movie camera and took shot after shot of the crowds, the scene, and the race. Afterward, looking at the film, he had an idea there might be a movie in there somewhere. There was.
Now, I haven’t seen the movie in more than thirty years, but what I do remember is Joanne Woodward plays a recently divorced woman, struggling to find her way in a life she hadn’t planned. She has a selfish kid or two not helping things. She’s concerned she might have put on a few pounds.
A geography teacher, she has given up on seeing any of the amazing and interesting places she teaches her students about. As she feels her life circling out of control, she has an idea, a goal she sets for herself: she’s going to run the Boston Marathon.
That first day, waking up early to drag herself outside and into the cold, she doesn’t get more than half a block before bending over with cramps. But she's determined.
The scene I’ll most remember is the final scene. Throughout her quest, she’s received no support from anyone. Not her co-workers. Not her kids. Not her ex. She runs the race anyway.
At some point, she’s knocked down and injures her leg badly. She gets up. She keeps running.
Hours go by. She’s the only one still out there. The streets have reopened to traffic. Cars are beeping at her. She keeps running.
Darkness falls. She keeps running.
Hours later, she approaches the long deserted finish line, where trash and tattered streamers litter the ground. She’s not running anymore. She can barely walk at this point. Still, she keeps putting one leg in front of the other, and as she limps toward the finish line, she looks up.
Waiting for her there are a handful of friends and colleagues. Her kids are there too. Someone looks down and sees a length of yellow police tape. They pick it up, and two of them stretch it out as Woodward approaches. She crosses the finish line.
That’s the Boston Marathon.