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Andrea Langworthy's column: All who ran were winners

In the days leading up to last Monday’s Boston Marathon, newspapers and television broadcasts reported on runners returning to Beantown for this year’s race — those who had been at the front of the pack and were back in their hotel rooms when the bombs went off and those who never had a chance to cross the finish line.

Boston: the brass ring of marathons. The pinnacle. A runner doesn’t just decide to run Boston. A runner qualifies for Boston by completing a different marathon, one certified by the Boston Athletic Association, within a specific timeframe based on the runner’s age.

You may remember that I took up running when I quit smoking. I quickly learned it’s as powerful an addiction as nicotine. One thing led to another and pretty soon, two miles a day wasn’t enough. I began to train for three-mile races. Then, six. Ten. My husband joined me.

Before long, we set our sights on half-marathons. After completing a few, we started talking about a marathon.

My husband and I and a friend signed up for a marathon training class. The first week we were put into groups with people who ran at the same pace we did. I was with other slow pokes but kept reminding myself of what a woman had said when I signed up for the class. “Our goal is to get you across the finish line no matter how long it takes.”

Over the next few years, our friend set a goal to finish with a time fast enough to qualify for Boston. My husband wanted to better his time from the year before. I just wanted to get to the porta-pottys before the cleanup crew loaded them onto trucks and reach the finish line before the time clock was dismantled.

Had I set my sights on the Boston Marathon, like our friend, I would have had to finish in three hours and 55 minutes. I ran four marathons but never reached my goal to finish in less than six hours. In fact, the last time I participated in “the most beautiful urban marathon in America,” held right here in the Twin Cities, my husband walked the entire way with me. Seven hours.

When you take that long to do a marathon, the only spectators you see are at the beginning. The rest of the way, it was just us and people going about their usual Sunday morning business.

Towards the end, though, those who had finished and were going in the opposite direction, going home, hollered out to us, “Way to go.” Pretty soon, the encouragement changed to, “You’re almost there.” With every shout out, I stepped up my pace.

Thanks to a live stream of this year’s Boston Marathon, I watched the first place male and female runners cross the finish line and saw them crowned with gold laurel wreaths. Not long after, the stream ended. I was disappointed. I would have watched all day long.

I read there were 35, 755 entrants in this year’s race. First place finisher Meb Keflezighi, the first American man to win the race since 1983, finished in a little over two hours. An estimated one million spectators offered support and encouragement along the route.

I hope they stuck around. Even at the Boston Marathon, a race with strident entry qualifications, someone has to be at the end, right? A straggler who needs a, “Way to go, you’re almost there,” to quicken his or her pace.