Andy Kirkaldy: Boston Marathoners were inspiring in so many ways

To start with, the Boston Marathon wheelchair racers who whip by first are absolute, astonishing beasts who must train for the event by ripping phone books in half. They couldn’t be more impressive. It’s also hard to imagine they make it 26.2 miles through eight Massachusetts towns without crashing — they ride six or eight inches behind each other, taking turns carving though the air, a practice fans of motor sports know as drafting.

Marcel Hug, the men’s wheelchair winner in this past Monday’s 119th edition of the Boston Marathon, covered the distance in less than 90 minutes. Women’s winner Tatyana McFadden was not too far behind and raised thousands for a 2013 bombing victim.

For spectators along the course (that included me this year) the next competitors who came into view were the men’s and women’s elite runners. Like the rollers, they come and go in an instant. Their athleticism is absurd. I mean, 26 five-minute miles in a row — without stopping — for the men? And, again, the women’s pace is only a few seconds per mile off that.

On Monday for the marathon my daughters and I were in Natick, a couple hundred yards from my sister- and brother-in-law’s house, on Route 135, about 10 miles in from the race starting line in Hopkinton. Mary and Russell (said in-laws) every year buy huge packages of select-a-size paper towels and Kleenex and they and their friends and relatives (in this case daughters Kaitlyn and Kiera, niece Jacki, Kiera’s college buddies Chase and Rose, and Russell) hand them out to runners. On warmer days, cups of water get added to the mix.

This Monday, the paper towels and Kleenex were like gold to hundreds of grateful runners who wanted to blow noses and/or wipe off glasses, smartphones and sports watches. The runners were incredibly thankful. I have not been told I was brilliant, awesome and wonderful so much in my life, and by men and women of virtually all ages and shapes — they included a 39-year-old Venezuelan man with a form of muscular dystrophy who has completed several marathons and a woman with a bright pink shirt straining to contain her pregnant belly; it was labeled, “Coming in six weeks.”

That’s right, not all are in this for speed; there were 27,000 runners who started the race and 98 percent of them finished. Many walk, many jog, many mix the two, many are raising money for causes, and they all soak in cheers from folks all along the way. The support is incredible, from the kid nearby wanting to high-five runners to the guy with the bagpipes a few hundred yards down the road.

There were a few National Guard troops in view on either side of us, and a Natick cop at our intersection. But security seemed long forgotten once thousands of runners flooded the road. We shouted people’s names if they had them on their bibs, told them all they were doing good jobs, and tried to rip paper towels off rolls fast enough to keep up with the demand. It was worth it: “This is the best station yet,” one woman said.

So, yes, there were reminders of “Boston Strong.” But there was a whole lot of Boston Nice, too.

GRATEFUL RUNNERS TAKE paper towels and tissues from Kiera Kirkaldy, left, Rose Eppolito and Kaitlyn Kirkaldy near the 10-mile mark in the Boston Marathon Monday. The runners, who were thankful to an amazing degree, used the wipes to blow noses and clear off rain-spotted glasses, smartphones and watches.

Photo by Andy Kirkaldy

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