Boston Marathon 2011 

BW contributor checks an item off her bucket list

A smiling Sarah Barber sits--because she can barely stand--on the subway after completing the 2011 Boston Marathon.

Sarah Barber

A smiling Sarah Barber sits--because she can barely stand--on the subway after completing the 2011 Boston Marathon.

Much fuss was made over the 115th Boston Marathon. The fact that registration closed in less than a day, for instance, so race directors reduced qualifying times for next year--runners will now have to run five minutes faster to gain entry. Or the fact that it was the fastest marathon ever run, yet missed world record status due to the course's 457-foot net loss in elevation--too easy to make Guinness. Or the fact that ideal race day conditions, including a rare tailwind, conspired to create blistering new records and the best finish by an American woman in more than 10 years.

Because I knew my first trip to Boston might be my only, running the marathon was just one big part of an even bigger experience. After an injury-induced extra-long taper into the event, I was thankful to be able to run. Mile splits and finish times seemed irrelevant, which is unusual for a born competitor. Instead, I focused more on tourism than on the event that drew more than 26,000 runners and countless fans to Boston on Patriot's Day weekend.

My husband and I cheered the Boston Red Sox to victory from seats directly behind home plate. We feigned intellect at Harvard Square, sought education at the Harvard Museum of Natural History and then quaffed seasonal ale at Sam Adams Brewery. For a self-guided history lesson, we hiked the entire Freedom Trail, including a wicked 294--step ascent of the monument at Bunker Hill. Not surprisingly, the muscle contraction during our descent of the steep spiral staircase left our legs trembling as though we were standing on the San Andreas fault. And so, if I toed the line with aching quads and drum-tight hamstrings the next morning, I had only myself to blame.

But it was worth every step to experience the most storied 26.2 miles in the sport of long-distance running.

In terms of crowd support and enthusiasm, the Boston Marathon is unrivaled. To claim that the concentrated energy rallied for a common purpose was enough to carry me along effortlessly would be a slight exaggeration. The infusion of oomph generated by hordes of people yelling themselves hoarse on your behalf is more than any power gel can deliver.

From the crescendo of screams at Wellesley College--which were audible nearly a mile before their sources were visible--to the raucous noise on Heartbreak Hill (any Race to Robie Creek veteran would chuckle at that hyperbolic moniker), every step I took was implored by a giant audience whose size was beyond comprehension.

From a physical standpoint, the last few miles of the race were forgettable, as with my stiff-legged shuffle, I must have looked as wobbly as a newborn colt. However, the passion for the Boston Marathon, shared by participants and spectators alike, is something I'll always remember.

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