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UNICORN BY DA N DAL Y


BOSTON. TO A NON-RUNNER IT CONJURES UP IMAGES OF PAUL REVERE, CELTICS, RED SOX AND CLAM CHOWDER. TO A RUNNER, I T MEANS MARATHON. NOT JUST A MARATHON, BUT THE MARATHON.


Te symbol of the Boston Marathon is a unicorn, a unicorn representing the ideal of something that can never be caught. In the pursuit of the unicorn, athletic competitors can approach excellence even if they can never achieve it.


For most runners, the usual progression works like this: you start running for whatever reason, do some shorter distance races, attempt a marathon, then you’re hooked. What’s next? Attempting, and hopefully succeeding, in qualifying for the Boston Marathon.


Te first time I went and ran Boston I fell in love. I’ve gone back year after year, setting a personal best and personal worst on that course. Mostly, I ran and raced it hard, but one year I ran for fun - stopping along the way to take pictures, high fiving every kid I could, kissing the girls at Wellesley, and drinking a Sam Adams over the last two miles (which turned out to be a very bad idea, especially when your finish line adrenaline compels you to run hard). Basically, I’ve continued to run the race and have been grateful for the ability to partake in such a fantastic event.


In 2010, I was given an opportunity to experience Boston in a whole new way. I was invited to join the select few that accompany Boston Marathon course direc- tor Dave McGillivray as he completed his 37th Boston Marathon.


Since McGillivray actually works the race and is at the start and finish lines en- suring everything goes as well as it can, he doesn’t start his run until later in the afternoon. He ran Boston the traditional way for many years until he was hired to help organize the race. Rather than see his streak of consecutive Boston’s fade away, he chooses to run the course a few hours later.


For me, this invitation was not only an honor, but also a novel way to experience race weekend. Since I wasn’t actually racing the course but rather running with a group of guys who had worked all weekend, I knew the pace would be kind. So I took advantage of a less taxing effort and ran the marathon-tied 5K on Sunday, walked around Boston’s North side on Sunday night and even stopped along the way to have a pint at Cheers. Tese types of endeavors are usually avoided the night before a 26-mile run.


On marathon morning I went to send-off a group of training partners at 6 a.m., and thought to myself, “I have 4 hours before the race starts, what to do?” Well, I decided to do what any runner does on a beautiful morning with spare time - I went for a nice easy five mile run along the Charles River. What a great day!


At 2 p.m. I was told to meet McGillivray for the ride out to Hopkinton in the hotel lobby.


While waiting, I bumped into Joan Benoit Samuelson, Bill Rodgers and Gelindo Bordin. As I’m chatting with the great Benoit Samuelson, McGillivray steps off the elevator to pick me up. “I hear your running with Dan today. Take care of him, he’s legit,” says Benoit Samuelson.


It was an odd feeling heading out of Boston just as the rest of the day’s runners were making their way toward the finish and the buzz was in full swing at the end. Crews were working on the teardown and clean up; there were no other runners, no spectators, just row after row of empty port-a-potties. Eight of us gathered at the start line. Tere was no national anthem, no jet fly-over, and no shirts flying towards the curb. We lined-up on the starting line and waited for the gun.


With a Massachusetts state trooper in front of us leading the way, we started our 26.2-mile adventure. Every mile or two we had support vehicles pull over with trunks full of Gatorade, water, Coca Cola, and pretzels.


For most of the run we all stayed fairly close together talking about the day’s race, past races, sharing stories and bad jokes. I equate the experience to being invited to a party where you show up after the host has already cleaned-up, but you’re invited in anyway to share some camaraderie and a few laughs.


We jogged through people along the way who’d yell words of encouragement thinking we were the last really slow runners, since most of the others had gone by hours ago. We’d pass cleaned-up and torn down aid stations that had been a hive of activity just hours ago.


I enjoyed seeing the course, a course that holds so many special memories for me, in a different light. My only problem was that I was very, very well hydrated (having had water all day in advance of the run) and since I was with the race director and a police officer, I would often have to wait until we passed a fast food restaurant to duck inside for a trip to the restroom. No nature trips for my full bladder.


We continued to the start of Heartbreak hill and past the Johnny Kelly statue, past the crazy college kids from Boston College that ran alongside us for half a mile yelling words of encouragement.


As we came into Boston for the final stretch, more people started to cheer us to- wards our end. At first I felt a little sheepish because I wasn’t actually racing. But, I came to grips with it because, really, who doesn’t like to be cheered on?


As we came toward the finish on Boylston there was a large crowd of people waiting for McGillivray and his band of brothers to complete the day’s journey. We were presented with official finisher’s medals -- which I gladly accepted and proudly display with my other Boston Marathon medals.


As much as I enjoyed the opportunity to experience the Boston Marathon in a very unique way, I missed being in the actual race. I missed the build-up and anxiety we encounter in the days and hours leading up to the race and, mostly, I missed the challenge of chasing the unicorn. Tis April, I’ll be back again, but this time, I’m racing.


MYCHICAGOATHLETE.COM APRIL 2011


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