Finishing Boston

Why the 2018 Boston Marathon will go down as the "worst wet T-shirt contest ever."

Marathon runner and volunteer (and now golf cart guru) Caroline Merena. Photo by Erick Gibson.

My introduction to volunteering at the Boston Marathon this past April was a rough one. I’ve run the race about 15 times, but I’d never spent the day on the other side of the finish line. I had no idea what to expect as a volunteer, and the marathon ended up having the worst weather in the race’s 122-year history. It was 38 degrees and wet. The only change in the weather was when the sky opened up and it rained even harder.

Boston is a point-to-point race. The runners start in a town called Hopkinton and finish 26.2 miles later on Boylston Street in Boston. The finish line is empty at the start of the race (except for a few staff and volunteers) until the elite runners begin to arrive roughly two and a half hours in. I had assumed I would be working the bag check, but thanks to a social connection, I was assigned to the finish area as assistant to the finish line director. I was elated.

Four minutes after my arrival on marathon morning, I was speeding past tables of medals and Mylar cloaks, in a golf cart with a man named Ed. Halfway down the five-block, secure finish area, a volunteer at one of the food tables hailed us with a box-cutter emergency.

Ed sprang out of the cart, barked at me, “Go to 200 Berkeley, get three wheelchairs and take them to DQ!” and then vanished. I knew what none of those words meant and did not know how to drive a golf cart.

About an hour later, having become the Zen Master of golf cart driving, I had found DQ (disappointingly, it was not a Dairy Queen), delivered said wheelchairs and met a lovely EMT with a killer Boston accent. His volunteering advice to me was this: “Welcome to the Boston Marathon, hon, just do what makes sense.”

He had been near the bombs when they went off near the finish in 2013. He recounted the initial confusion, followed by the sight of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy killed in the blast. “It was very obvious he wasn’t going to live,” he said. I honestly don’t know what I replied.

I’m a huge running nerd, with 33 marathons behind me, and Boston is The Show. While I’m capable of acting like a normal person when I meet famous people like Oscar De La Hoya and Matt Damon, I tend to go all fan-girl around famous runners. Just ask 1973 Boston Marathon winner Jacqueline Hansen, who somehow became my friend when I was up for the race in 2016, and kindly tolerates me. I was beyond excited to be at the finish line with an all-access pass, no matter how cold I was.


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