Bradford: Why we run the Boston Marathon

Rob Bradford
April 14, 2019 - 10:10 pm

I hate running. Hate it. Yet I have run five Boston Marathons. Monday will be my sixth.

Doesn't make sense, right? Let me explain ...

Marathon Monday means a lot of things to a lot of people. The beginning of school vacation. An opportunity to imbibe in the A.M. hours. Having to walk into a baseball clubhouse at an ungodly hour. Or maybe even trying to educate young minds by watching a historical reenactment before storming the Lexington Cumberland Farms. I get all of it. But there is nothing -- NOTHING -- that can make one feel like that one day, more than the other 364, was worth waking up for like doing this thing 30,000-some-odd people have put on their schedule for April 15.

The reason for this cathartic experience isn't easily explained, but we will give a shot.

To begin with I have to remind you: I really hate running.

What I love is finishing.

Finishing something that seemed so illogical to start in the first place. Finishing something you know will help others. Finishing something that will make your Dad have that prideful moment Rudy's father had when walking into Notre Dame Stadium. Finishing something that is so hard and hurts so much you wonder 1,000 times why you started in the first place. Finishing something your kids can brag to their friends about. Finishing something that makes the rest of your life seem so easy for at least a few hours.

When I have bitten down hard and actually had the gumption to dive into this sort of commitment the responses come like clockwork. "Good for you." "I could never do that." "Why would anyone want to do that?" "I can barely run a mile." "Why? ... I mean, good for you."

My canned responses have also become predictable. "If I can do it anyone can do it." "I don't know ..." "Thanks?!?!?" I've gotten those down. Five marathons will do that.

The truth is that I can't really articulate in a passing conversation why this is done. It's hard enough to remind myself when waking up at 3 a.m. in Fort Myers to run 15 miles before the sun comes up or on all those January, February and March days your Achilles tendons make you wonder why Achilles tendons actually have to exist. Those are difficult internal debates. The race may be the ultimate exam, but another true test is deciphering on a daily basis for four or five months why this has become one of your life's chief priorities.

This time around it certainly helped to know that I was raising enough money to fund heart surgeries for two kids thanks to the charity that was kind enough to sponsor me, the David Ortiz Children's Fund. You aren't human if you don't think about something like that, and what that actually means. That is undeniably one of the reasons we run. Watch and you will see the sea of great causes that have teamed up with these runners to do so much good for so many.

There is also the opportunity to honor. To honor the Boston Marathon bombing victims. To honor family and friends who have passed. To honor those who would love to hold your hand for a few feet on the course but can't.

All of this is true.

But what puts me back in the middle of these kinds of conversations is something that I won't really be able to truly articulate until Monday. You see I remember just enough from those previous five marathons that made me want to run again. Just enough.

I remember that first one in 2002 when I didn't know what I was doing and felt obligated to high-five and chest bump my way through the first three miles only to figure out conserving energy was a fairly important thing. I recall the pain, but I also recall the accomplishment of saying for the first time I was a marathoner. (I also remember my wife asking if I wanted to induce our third child before or after the marathon.)

Three years later I was going to write a book about a non-runner running the Boston Marathon and got the life coach for Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey to coach me. I remember how awesome it felt to be so locked in I could actually target a 4-hour finish. I also remember finishing at 4 hours and 3 seconds, trying to this day figure out how I might have been able to make up those four seconds.

I remember running the following two years knowing enough what to do and what not to do and how to soak in the whole thing. That was when I truly could look around, throw a bunch of PowerGels down my gullet and feel like I had a handle on my existence for those four-plus hours. That was a good feeling.

And, finally, there was the desire to give it one more go-round in 2014. That was for obvious reasons. If you had any connection to the race, the city or anybody who could claim a relationship with either it seemed like immersing oneself back into the fray should be a thing. There were a lot of reminders that day.

Now we find ourself back in Hopkinton. 

As I write this I'm nervous because, well, I hate running. I trained enough I think. I'm excited about being part of the day. And it is nice to be interrupted by so many text messages from well-wishers who I don't even mind are pushing the envelope of pre-Marathon curfew. It is all starting to come back, why we all choose to run this thing.

I will listen to Pearl Jam's Greatest Hits on a loop. I will talk into my phone every mile and piece it together for a podcast. I will tweet until I don't feel like tweeting is conducive to finishing. And I will remember that feeling of finishing. 

That is why we run.

(Did I mention I really hate running?)