Apr 21, 2010

Going the distance

The Boston Marathon came and went just yesterday. For those not familiar with how big an event this is, most of the city shuts down for it. Sure, they say it's for "Patriots' Day", a holiday I didn't think was real until moving to Massachusetts, but when you've got tens of thousands of runners making it impossible to go across town, you might as well close up shop and watch. BC gave us the day off, at any rate.

One leg of the race happened to be really close to where I live so I decided to see firsthand what a river of people actually looks like. On my way to the race, and it being a nice day, I decided to stop off for some ice cream to eat while watching. It was only when I got up to the barricade that separated the spectators from the runners did I realize that stuffing my face full of ice cream in front of people who had already put in about 22 miles of running was about the meanest thing I've ever done.

Not pictured: The Ice Cream of Shame

After then discretely eating the ice cream, I sat and watched people go by me. Lots of people. I don't know the exact number of people in the event, but I saw runners wearing numbers that were up in the mid-20,000's. This doesn't even take into consideration the non-registered runners - people who decided to hop into the race for however long and go for it.

About a half hour into this high-speed parade, it started becoming surreal. I know from friends and family that a marathon is not something you can just "decide to do". It takes an incredible amount of training and conditioning to be able to make it the full 26.2 miles. I may have only seen each runner go 50 or so yards, but each step I saw them take yesterday required hundreds or thousands in preparation. Multiply this effort by the total number of runners in the marathon, and enormity of it all was pretty humbling.

It went on like this for miles. Literally.

In the end, I'm not sure what I personally took away from the experience. On the one hand, my mind was racing with speculation as to what would motivate each of these tens of thousands of runners. Do they do it for personal pride, to show that they can? Do they run for someone else? Do they run for charity? Do they run because they want to compete, either against others or against themselves? Each runner's demeanor, labored facial expressions, and sometimes even clothing offered minor glimpses into what compelled these people to run. It was never a complete picture, but it was also hard not to be inspired.

Other the other hand, the race was a sober reminder that no matter how hard you think you are working towards something, there's always someone else working just as hard, if not harder. This isn't to say everyone raced for the same reasons, but no one seemed willing to stop short of the finish line. I saw great parallels between this reality and the one I live at business school, itself just a controlled microcosm of the business world.

Either way, it was a heck of an afternoon. Only in Boston.

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