Marathon and Beyond Monday: Finding Friends

May 30, 2011
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On this episode, we feature Marathon and Beyond magazine editor’s pick, “One Boston, One New Friend” by Kirk Flatow. Click here to get a full-color PDF file of the story with pictures, free compliments of M&B magazine. And don’t miss out:  Marathon & Beyond Monday magazine is offering a special gift to EP listeners who subscribe to the magazine. Enter code “EndurancePlanetVIP” in the coupon code at checkout when subscribing and get a free, deluxe rain poncho. Click here to subscribe.

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One Boston, One New Friend
You never know whom you will meet on the road from Hopkinton.
BY KIRK FLATOW
Any runner’s first Boston Marathon will be stressful. If the first Boston was 2007—the year of the nor’easter—then the stress was probably a lot higher.
I had been checking AccuWeather for two weeks prior to the race date, logging in every hour. My stomach cranked tighter every time the predictions became more dire. The day before the race, I was still running through endless clothing options as if I were preparing for an assault on Everest. During dinner I looked out the restaurant window and watched rain whipping down on the streets and walkers’ umbrellas turning inside out in the wind.
The bus ride out to Hopkinton was a horror. The trip was dark and dismal, with dirty water dripping off the runners and sloshing around the floor of the bus. The Athletes’ Village was a mud pit, a perfect cauldron for 20,000 runners to stew in. After a couple of hours in the pot, I was ready to be served up to the historic Boston Marathon course.
The gun going off was a relief, and yet my weather epic continued. My rain jacket got too warm right away, so I stripped that off and tied it around my waist. Hmm, are these wet gloves helping or hurting? Take them off—nope, back on— ugh, off is better—oh, heck, back on again and leave them on! Long-sleeve shirt . . . take that off, too, and toss it to a kid on the side of the road. Time for the first gel; did I really put my waist belt on upside down? Take the belt off, subdue it like a writhing python and get it back on without dropping it, wiggle the gel out, and choke it down.
All that in the first three miles!
The fourth mile was finally drama free, but now I found myself becoming bored. In the midst of 20,000 runners, I felt alone.
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I never bought into The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. I’m a social runner and enjoy having my friends around me on the road. I happily help rally our Running Revolution group. There is a big turnout for our workouts, and it’s not uncommon to find more than 20 of us at a session. We chat during long runs and all but the most stressful workouts. This friendly camaraderie is an important part of running for me.
Racing is more individual, yet I still make racing as much of a team event as possible. Sharing the tension before the race and the happy (or even not so happy) aftermath of a race, planning the contest or rehashing the course and the sensations of the run, are all part of my enjoyment of running and racing. With a little effort, we can usually get a half-dozen or more Rev runners to travel to a good race.
Usually, though, the race itself is a solo effort. Even with the best intentions and well-matched training partners, at some point one of the partners starts having a better day and pulls away. I know this is going to happen, but still, as a congenital chatterbox, I miss having someone to share the experience with.
So four miles into Boston, I was looking for company.
In front of me was an odd-colored singlet with “Aussie-Aussie-Aussie! Oy- oy-oy!” on the back. I figured that this shirt could be a conversation starter and moved up a bit next to the runner. Something told me he was a likely candidate for sharing the Boston experience.
I started the conversation with some witty phrase like, “So you’re from Aus- tralia?”
“Yep,” he said. “Your first Boston?” “Yep.” “Where did you qualify?” “Gold Coast.” “Huh. Is that a good marathon? Any other marathons in Australia you would
recommend?” About this point I remember him looking at me and trying to assess just how
much of an idiot I was. I see the point. Here I am, in the midst of the Boston marathon, striking up a conversation about other marathons with a total stranger. I can be a goofball.
But despite my nuttiness, we introduced ourselves and continued to chat. Peter and I were both trying to run around 3:20, so we decided to be a little pace team. In my obsessive fashion, I had read everything I could about the course (includ- ing Duel in the Sun, 26 Miles to Boston, and anything else I could find online), and I was wearing one of the course-specific Nike pace bands (so cool!), so I gave course updates along the way and told stories or made random comments on whatever came to mind as we ground out mile after mile.
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Top: About 22 miles into their friendship, Peter Muzikants (10255) and the author (8271) conquer the Newton Hills in the 2007 Boston Marathon. Center: The author pulls onto Boylston Avenue, with Peter coming off Hereford right behind him. Peter catches him, and the two new friends finish Boston side-by-side. Bottom: The author cel- ebrates his 2008 Boston finish wearing on his left wrist the Australian flag wristband worn by Peter during the 2007 Boston Marathon.
Peter and I ran 17 miles together, chatting the whole way! Almost every other time I’ve tried to put together a pace group on the fly during a race, the group has broken up within a few miles.
At the top of Heartbreak Hill I was feel- ing frisky and pulled away from Peter on the downhill. Little did I know that Peter was tracking me the entire time. When I got to Boylston, he was right behind me, though I still did not know that. I finished, and I was happy and thrilled, soaking in the sensation of finishing my first Boston Marathon. The only thing missing was having someone to share the feeling with. I turned around and there was Peter, and we were jumping up and down and hugging each other like little kids!
(Full disclosure—we finished together, but Peter was much faster! I had quite a bit of chip time on him.)
I have a video of the finish and can see the moment when I realized that Peter was there. I choke up every time I watch. It was wonderful to have someone to share that moment with, and I think that Peter feels the same way. We had our own little Olympic moment—I gave him my Running Revolution hat, and he gave me an Australian-flag wristband that he had worn during the marathon. We exchanged e-mail addresses, and off we went to find our wives and some dry clothes.
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Most times, that’s the end of a story like this. The scrap of paper with the e-mail address gets run through the wash, and that’s that.
But not this time.
Peter and I really hit it off. Whether it is because we shared a truly big event—a first Boston Marathon—or because chance threw together two guys who think the other guy is pretty neat, we became friends. From California to Sydney, Peter and I keep each other updated on our training, races, running goals, work, and life’s little happenings.
In 2008, we met again for our second Boston Marathon. This time, we had dinner together the night before the race and met each other’s families. We rode the bus to Hopkinton together with a couple of other friends and shared our memories of the last year’s ride in the dismal rain. We camped out in the vil- lage together as we awaited the start. We crowded into the start corral together and exchanged a “good luck” as the gun went off. I started running my second Boston Marathon, wearing the same Australian wristband that Peter had worn in his Boston the year before.
Peter took off and left me early in the 2008 marathon, but I was much more at peace than I had been the year before. I don’t think it was only because we had a perfect, sunny race day. I believe it was because I knew that a good friend was going to be waiting after the race and that there could be another new friend just waiting to be found among the other 20,000 runners hammering toward Boston.