By Fred Koenig
In April I was back in Boston for my second go at the Boston Marathon – as a spectator. I’ve been a runner for several years and really enjoy it, but don’t run anywhere near fast enough to qualify to compete in the Boston Marathon. After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 my wife Ann decided she wanted to run the marathon, as a show of support for marathoners and a show of resistance to those who perpetuate acts of violence.
She didn’t know you have to qualify to get into the Boston Marathon. I tried to explain to her that I knew some very good runners who had been trying for years to get into Boston and spend virtually all of their free time training for it, but this didn’t interest her. Instead of listening to my naysaying, she checked out books from the library on how to run a marathon. She used to marvel at me getting up every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 5 a.m. to drive to my running group. Soon she was getting up at 4:45 a.m. so she could run to my running group. She qualified on her second marathon.
But enough about her, let’s get back to me. Being a marathon spectator is no piece of cake. The event lasts for hours, but you only get to see the athlete you are there to watch for seconds. The Boston Marathon starts 26 miles out of town and runs in a semi-straight line due east to downtown. The first time I went to watch Ann I took the subway as far as it would go, about 15 miles, then walked a couple more, waited for hours, and when she ran past me in the crowd of runners I never even saw her. I apparently wasn’t much better at watching marathons than I am at running them.
This year the weather was brutal. The race started in the high 30s, with rain ranging from a heavy to a torrential downpour. Thousands of runners had to seek emergency medical services. Fortunately, my wife splashed on by and finished the race. You can credit her fortitude and the ample harsh training conditions that Missouri weather provides. Brian Hammons, leader of our Missouri General Conference delegation, made the race a family event, and finished it (for his 12th time) along with his son Adam and his daughter April.The next day on the front page of the Boston Globe were three hero stories. One about the woman who won the women’s division, the first woman from the US to win at Boston in 35 years. Another about the man who won the men’s division, a school teacher from Japan. And a third about a local United Methodist Church.
Race organizers were doing what they could, but they were unprepared for such a large number of casualties from the cold. A pastor at a United Methodist Church in Wellesley along the route opened their doors and provided a warm place to be while runners who weren’t able to finish awaited a bus ride back to the finish line, which took hours. They had a big fire in the fireplace, and provided towels, dry shirts and socks, and snacks.
This was not a big, booming church. It doesn’t even offer weekly worship. It merged with another church in 2016 and is still in the visioning stage. This was its first public event. The pastor said the runners they were assisting were all very surprised that a church would offer so much hospitality to people outside of their own flock.
She was surprised that they were surprised. This church opening its doors as a place of refuge from the storm isn’t surprising to me – I know we have several hundred United Methodist Churches in Missouri who would have done the same thing. But people outside of the church don’t know this – it’s surprising to those being helped and striking enough to make front page news in one of the nation’s top newspapers.