True Gravity in Boston
Instructions to see Larger Type
They gave me the business at Mort’s Corner the next morning. “Why don’t you write about the human-interest stories in the Boston Marathon,” someone asked, “instead of a column that no one will understand, including yourself?”
It was a good question, but it held its own answer. Because there are two Boston Marathons. One is the outer event. The Boston of the sportswriters. The World Series of distance runners, attracting athletes and characters from all over the world. The Patriots’ Day event filled with funny and odd and touching happenings all the way from Hopkinton to Boston.
The other Boston is an inner event. It concerns itself with what these thousands of runners are looking for. The search, whether they know it or not, for one’s “true gravity.” And that is already, as they say at Mort’s, something no one understands, including myself.
The first I had learned of “true gravity” was in a remarkable book I had read before leaving for Boston, Golf in the Kingdom, by Michael Murphy. Shivas Irons, the golf professional who takes Murphy on this extraordinary golf round, is a disciple of Pythagoras and says we must know the world form inside; that we can come to know the deeper structure of the universe only through our own body and senses and living experience.
With a shillelagh and some primitive golf balls Irons teaches Murphy to find his “inner body.” To forget his images of disaster, the hook, the ever present rough, the familiar curses and excuses. So that, in Murphy’s words, he “played the remaining holes in this state of grace,” and, as he put it, “those final holes played me.”
Somewhere past Wellesley, the halfway point, I suddenly found that Murphy had written something that had an equal application to running and especially to marathons.
This marathon had begun no different from other Bostons. As usual, the weather was bad. The bright Hopkinton sun told of midday heat farther on. The course would run long and slow today. Nine Bostons had made me a realist. And a realist in a hot Boston will wear light clothes, and a handkerchief to shield his scalp from the sun. He will drink everything handed to him and pour what’s left on his head. He will run well within himself for seventeen miles, take the hills as best he can and let it all hang out in Boston.
That’s the way it went. I started near the leaders and at least eight hundred passed me in the first ten miles. My pace however was just right for me and I had survived an anxious moment in Natick at the first Gatorade station, which was empty when I got there.
For a hundred yards the street was filled with discarded Gatorade cartons. I noticed an upright one and picked it up. It had some gatorade left. So, stopping here and there and now and then, I left Natick almost fully revived.
By Wellesley, I knew it was going to be a good one. Not in time, perhaps. The three-hour marathon would have to wait another year. But it would be good for this heat.
And then it happened. After nine agonizing Bostons, nine Patriots’ Days of worrying about pace and time and even finishing, I finally found, if only for a few miles, what running was all about.
Now, people will tell you why they run. And the reasons will change from day to day, because it is like peeling an onion. They get down to deeper and deeper reasons but always failing to reach the essence of the running experience.
But now, heading out of Wellesley toward Lower Newton Falls and the beer drinkers at Mary’s Bar, I suddenly found what must be the essence of running. I was thinking then of Murphy’s golf game. I would, I said to myself, just concentrate on finding the perfect running form. I would find the pace at which I could run forever. Then let my inner body take over.
I ran then oblivious of the other runners. Only half-hearing a nine-year-old philosopher sitting on the curb who shouted, “Smile and it won’t hurt as much.” Still looking, of course, for every orange slice, every cup of water. Still touching the children’s outstretched hands. But in a world of my own where my running became me. I have on occasions in practice been lost in thought, oblivious of my surroundings but oblivious, too, of the running, so that I could not recall how I got to where I was. But this was entirely different. I was entirely occupied with this magic thing I was doing. I was one with what I was doing.
Past Boston College and through Brookline I went, full of running. The course, as Murphy had said, “was now running me.” Three blocks to go and the crowds were building up to the ten thousand waiting at the Pru Center. Two blocks to go and there my daughter and her college clasmates giving me a reception even Ted Williams would have acknowledged.
It was too much. The day. The run. And now this. Suddenly I had the handkerchief off my head and I was twirling it in the air. I ran laughing past those girls toward the finish line, still twirling the handkerchief like Zorba the Greek telling those wonderful affectionate Bostonians that in some way I had found what running and the Boston Marathon were all about.
Mort, I’ll have the coffee black and no chatter.