Marathon Monday: The Last Great Sports Festival Event
Some time last week, I was going on about how great Marathon Monday is. Talking about this unique Boston (and state, but mostly Boston) holiday where Beantown takes on an almost Carnival-like atmosphere, as this event of such historic and sporting (two of the most embedded aspects of Boston culture) significance ushers in the arrival of spring in the most communal of ways.
“The Boston Marathon matters in a way other sporting events simply do not,” Dave Zirin writes at The Nation. “It started in 1897, inspired by the first modern marathon, which took place at the inaugural 1896 Olympics. It attracts 500,000 spectators and over 20,000 participants from ninety-six countries. Every year, on the big day, the Red Sox play a game that starts at the wacky hour of 11:05am so people leaving the game can empty onto Kenmore Square and cheer on the finishers. It’s not about celebrating stars but the ability to test your body against the 26.2 mile course, which covers eight separate Massachusetts towns and the infamous “Heartbreak Hill” in Newton. It’s as much New England in spring as the changing of the leaves in fall. It’s open and communitarian and utterly unique. And today it was altered forever.”
It is important to note that the marathon experiences its greatest crowds around 2 to 3 p.m. (the point at which the bombs were detonated), a couple of hours after the world class runners cross the finish line. As Zirin says, attending the Boston Marathon is not as much about seeing who wins, but about appreciating the effort of the thousands who participate. Everyone in Boston knows someone who has run the marathon. And everyone, at some point, takes their turn lining the sidelines to cheer on and support those runners. In that sense, everyone is a participant in the event.
So today I find myself appreciating its collective, accessible nature even more.
“The Marathon [is] the old, drunk uncle of Boston sports,” Charles Pierce writes for Grantland, “the last of the true festival events. Every other one of our major sporting rodeos is locked down, and tightened up, and Fail-Safed until the Super Bowl now is little more than NORAD with bad rock music and offensive tackles. You can’t do that to the Marathon.”
Regardless of what the Marathon is next year, it clearly won’t be the same.
“I do not know what happens now,” Pierce continues. “I know the event will never be the same. It is marked now, and it will be marked in the future, by what happened on the afternoon of April 15, 2013.”
For more commentary by Pierce, and then Zirin, click on the 38 minute mark of today’s Democracy Now broadcast below: