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Donaldsonville Chief - Donaldsonville- LA
  • Tom Licciardello: A different view at the Boston Marathon

  • I’m not certain why runners love the marathon. Maybe anthropologists are right in their theory that running between three to five hours was the time it took our ancient ancestors to run down their prey for dinner.

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  • I’m not certain why runners love the marathon. Maybe anthropologists are right in their theory that running between three to five hours was the time it took our ancient ancestors to run down their prey for dinner.
    We don’t have to hunt to survive now, but the urge to run long distances seems to have remained, and it is evidenced by the amazing participation in marathons. Last year, more than a half million finishing times were recorded, and all the major marathons sell out faster each year.
    There is one marathon, though, that is recognized as the gold standard — the one that is on every runner’s bucket list. That, of course, is the BAA Boston Marathon.
    For 35 consecutive years, the Siren Song of Boston drew me to Hopkinton, Mass., each Patriots Day in my quest to cross the start line and reach Boston 26.2 miles later.
    This year was different. It was time to end the running streak and experience the marathon from a totally new perspective.
    In 35 years, I never stood on the front line nose-to-nose with the fastest marathoners in the world. This Patriots Day, I did just that.
    Of course, my nose was pointed at them as a member of the “human chain.” Our “chain,” captained by my wife, Lyn, is responsible for keeping the runners lined up correctly for the start of the race. With each wave, a new emotional nerve was touched.
    The contestants
    First came the mobility impaired. These incredible men and women rolled to the start line in their race-ready wheelchairs that looked more like Formula 1 racecars. Though their lower torsos were impaired, their upper bodies were broad and powerful.
    Among these finely tuned athletes stood Dick Hoyt, who was about to push his son, Rick, through the course for the 30th consecutive time. I found myself tearing up as I watched the intensity in the faces of each of these incredible athletes.
    Then came the Elite Women’s start. As I watched these women warm up before the gun sounded, I reflected on the fact that it was only the 40th anniversary of women being allowed to run the marathon. It was not so many years ago that the prevailing thought was women couldn’t run more than 1,500 meters. The elite women in this year’s Boston would lead a contingent of women in the rest of the field that would account for more than 40 percent of the entries.
    Next was the Men’s Elite. No shock here, most were from Kenya. What is surprising is that these superstars are built differently than the professional athletes in most sports. In many cases, they almost look frail. Very thin, not very tall, and not at all muscular looking, it is apparent they are built for speed. They have a small frame and a huge heart that pumps out a lot of horsepower — a perfect combination for a distance runner.
    Page 2 of 3 - Getting up close and personal
    As I stood face to face with Wesley Korir, the eventual winner, he looked not at me but through me. His gaze was already well down the course upon which he would soon be doing battle. It seemed as if he was visualizing the execution of his well-planned tactics, and how amazing was it that I was there to see this intensity.
    Finally came the waves of the remaining 22,000 athletes. Each assigned corral contained 1,000 runners from fastest qualified to the slower charity participants. Though the potential winners were already well on their way, these runners were perhaps the most inspirational.
    As each of the next three waves started running by my outpost, each with a unique story, some were dressed outlandishly. The guy in the pink tutu and the group running in cheeseburger costumes got big cheers and lots of laughs.
    Then, there were the National Guardsmen in full uniform and packs. No laughs there, but resounding cheers for these guardians of our freedom, who were braving the same extraordinary heat without the luxury of high tech racing uniforms.
    Likewise, cheers were also garnered for the many runners who were running for charities and often had the names and images of loved ones they were dedicating the race to near them.
    The conditions may have been brutal, but I have no doubt they reached the finish line in fulfillment of the promises made.
    In the end
    Soon, Hopkinton was empty. The circus atmosphere departed with the runners, and their enthusiasm was now spreading through the towns that host the course. Spectators stationed along the route were once again being treated to the show, and in return, they cheered on the runners, while encouraging them to continue, and offered aid when they could.
    My final assignment of the day was to greet runners at the exit chute of the finish line and help direct them to their loved ones. You probably would have guessed that it looked like a MASH unit given the conditions.
    Amazingly, despite 2,100 requiring some degree of medical assistance, 96 percent of the field completed the race. As runners came through the chute, nearly every one described the conditions as brutal, but they had nothing but praise for the event. There were salt-encrusted smiles and occasional tears of joy when these runners found their loved ones.
    The greatest marathon of all
    It may have been the second hottest race in the 116th-year history of the Boston Marathon, but the custodians of this cherished race were up to the challenge.
    Race Director Dave McGillivray said it best at the start of the race when he told the crowd that there is no race better prepared to handle the extreme conditions than the Boston Marathon. The preparations under the guidance of Dave, Executive Director Tom Grilk and the 8,000 volunteers made the race as safe as it could possibly be.
    Page 3 of 3 - I have to be honest, facing this day that ended my streak as a Boston Marathon runner was difficult. Thankfully, I was granted the privilege of looking into the faces of the Boston Marathon runners.
    However, as I write this column, it’s now the day after the marathon, and I’m as emotionally spent as those years that I ran the race. The good news is that this year I don’t have to walk down the stairs backwards.
    Tom Licciardello is a founding member of the Merrimack Valley Striders in Massachusetts. Licciardello has participated in 35 Boston’s and 88 marathons. He has also completed the Hawaii Ironman triathlon. Professionally, he is a Certified Financial Planner and resides in North Andover with his wife, Lyn. He may be reached at tomlicc@verizon.net.

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