The Boston Marathon’s True Champions


In honor of the Boston Marathon spectators, who year after year bring out the best in those of us who compete. Thank you for your support now more than ever

By Michal Kapral; Photo By Peter Farlow, via Wikimedia Commons

The final stretch of the Boston Marathon leads to one of the most iconic finish lines in sport. Almost 26 miles into the 26.2-mile race, you make a final left-hand turn off Hereford Street and onto Boylston, and there in the distance, you can see the blue arc of the bridge that’s mounted above the thick blue and yellow finish line that’s painted onto the road.

I’ve run the Boston Marathon five times and this last quarter-mile always brings me to tears. Runners are always a bit of an emotional wreck this far into a marathon, but there is something magical about Boston, with its 117-year history, that brings out a powerful sense of being a part of something big.

When you cruise down that last straightaway, you can’t help but feel an incredible bond with the spectators who line the street on either side 10 or 15 people deep. Their cheering, clapping and high-fiving propels you through those final torturous strides toward your goal.

The two explosions that struck near the finish line at the 4 hour and 9 minute mark of Monday’s race hit densely packed areas of crowds, probably some of the same people who cheered me on the last time I ran Boston in 2011. And the thing about spectators in Boston is that they’re not just there to cheer on friends and family. This race has enough of a tradition that it brings out families, college kids, construction workers and just about anyone, to cheer on some 24,000 runners they’ve never met.

You might think it would be boring to stand on the street for hours watching people drag their tired selves through the end of a race, especially hours after the winners have come through, when the throngs of mid-packers come pouring in. But Boston Marathon spectators know better. They see the looks of determination on the races of these amateur athletes. They know how hard we’ve worked to get to this point. They care.

If you’ve ever set your mind to train for any kind of athletic endeavor, you know how much it means to have other people recognize that commitment, and the marathon offers a unique experience have thousands of people cheer you on as if you were a pro sports star. With 500,000 spectators along the point-to-point course, the Boston Marathon is the Super Bowl of amateur athletics, and the cheering crowds make you feel like you just caught a game-winning Hail Mary pass.

My best memories of approaching the Boston finish line are seeing the looks of excitement on the faces of all the little kids that I high-fived. It’s incomprehensible that one of those boys was killed. Some of the runners were clearly injured in the blasts, but it was the spectators who appeared to suffer the brunt of the damage. They are the real heroes of the race and the champions of fitness.

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