Mark Sutcliffe: My Running Life “My feet barely touching the ground.” On crossing the Boston Marathon finish...

“My feet barely touching the ground.” On crossing the Boston Marathon finish line.


This is not reverie. This is Boylston Street, the most cherished half-mile in marathon running. It is the summit of Everest. It is Santiago’s marlin. It is Homer’s Ithaca (not the Homer who crosses Springfield Gorge).

The official start line is only twenty-five miles behind me, my home barely a ninety-minute flight from here. Yet I have traveled thousands of miles on foot, a passage that started years ago. Much of that journey was running in circles, until I finally sorted out the best way to get here.

I have been blessed with so much good fortune in my life, an embarrassment of riches, that dreams feel greedy. I dare not ask for more. On birthdays, I am the guy who is impossible to buy for: I have everything and want nothing. But this I have allowed myself to covet. I have craved this tableau for a long time. Beyond the health and happiness of my children, nothing has inspired more hope, stimulated more hard work, caused more doubt and disappointment, evoked more fear, courage, anxiety, determination, fancy, desperation, anticipation.

Once there was the woman I thought would never be with me. Then I married her. After that there was Boston. Nothing else has captured my imagination quite like this.

It is not of great consequence, of course. I could have survived without ever completing the Boston Marathon. It’s just a silly race with nothing at stake for me except a box being ticked.

And yet it matters to me, on a level that I’m almost embarrassed to acknowledge. When something is far beyond your reach, it can easily be written off as impossible. But once it is just outside your grasp, you must have it. That which is almost achievable is so much more tempting, so much easier to taste than pure fantasy. It is harder to accept losing the Super Bowl on a last-second field goal than to get blown out in the first half. Once I got close enough to it, Boston was a siren’s call that I could never block out. I can, therefore I must.

This, then, is my Olympics. This is my presidential election night. This is my lifetime achievement award. I have just hit the game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, and I am rounding third and heading for home.

I am running with my hands in the air, my feet barely touching the ground. After traveling crowded, narrow streets for more than three-and-a-half hours, I have turned onto this wide avenue in downtown Boston, the Boulevard of Woken Dreams.

There are other runners, of course, but they are blending into the background. It feels like the course belongs to me alone. I am waving at spectators, total strangers all of them. They are pointing at me and smiling, yelling, cheering. I am pumping my arms like an NFL linebacker exhorting the crowd to get even louder.

For the first time in a marathon the sight of the finish line does not make me want to speed up, to get the whole thing over with, end the agony or shave as many seconds as possible from my recorded time. It has taken an eternity to get here, but I am in no hurry for it to be over. The one race that demands of you a fast previous time, the one that can punish you for wasting even a few precious seconds, is the very marathon that you want to go on forever.

I may never do this again. Even if I do, it will not be like this delicious first experience. The journey has been extraordinary, empowering and meaningful. But the destination is sublime.

In the final steps of a thousand training runs, I have gone to this place in my imagination. Now I am actually here. This is my victory lap. Today, at last, I am finishing the Boston Marathon.