Tom Licciardello: In the long run, there is no finish line

Tom Licciardello

April 18, 2011: That date probably doesn’t mean much to most, but for those of us who ran the Boston Marathon this Patriots Day, we know that’s the date of the 115th running, and we plan on being there.

I have to admit that I’m a little surprised that I’m already planning my 35th consecutive Boston run based on my last two races. It’s taken two years to figure out that incredibly tight Iliotibial Bands (ITBs) have been the root cause of limited training and maximum discomfort in the race. But in the long run, it really doesn’t matter. It’s all about the journey.

Here are the quick facts about the 114th Boston Marathon.

- More than 500,000 spectators lined the streets to watch the 23,071 starters of the 26,776 entrants. Some entrants were injured, while some sidelined by a volcano in Iceland.

- 22,588 completed the trek, an amazing 98 percent.

- Helping to make the experience as positive as possible were the 8,000 race day volunteers — one volunteer for every three runners.

- 1,350 athletes raised more than $11 million for 24 charities; since the start of the charity program, more than a $100 million has been raised.

- Teyba Erkesso of Ethiopia won the women’s division in 2:26:11, while Robert K. Cheruiyot set a course record in 2:05:52. To put that record in perspective consider this: His pace was 4:48 per mile. Kirsten Kasper set the all-time best mile for high school girls in Massachusetts in 4:49, and she didn’t do a 25-mile warm up before running that time.

Behind the headline stories lie the other 23,000 stories. Here is mine.

On the Monday before the race, I was on my physical therapist’s table enduring excruciating pain as Greg attempted to loosen those pesky ITBs. Had it been race day, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have made it to Ashland, a mere two miles from the start in Hopkinton.

Along with my physical therapist, Greg, my acupuncturist, Sarah, massage therapist, Lou, and hot yoga instructor, Terri, they all pitched in to get my reluctant legs ready. We runners tend to be very stubborn and find the option of not running totally unacceptable.

Race morning dawned clear and cool with a brisk northwesterly breeze — perfect conditions. I hadn’t run in 10 days. I was wearing my Vibram Five Finger “shoes” (the minimalist shoe that is virtually like running barefoot) in my attempt to complete the race with the least amount of training miles that I’ve ever logged. Yet, I had no doubt I’d finish. I just hoped it would be on the same day I started.

My training buddy and fellow Ironman Ken and I decided to run together. At the sound of the starter’s gun, we began our race with a slow 10-minute walk to the starting line. There, I got the chance to kiss my wife, Lyn, who is the captain of the “Human Chain” — the folks who stand at the front line to keep the world’s fastest runners in check until the gun fires.

The road opens up at the start line, and Ken and I began running at our target pace. To my surprise and delight, I was relatively pain-free. Of course, I was only one mile into the day and we were running downhill.

As the miles passed, I found my modest pace kept potential problems under control and allowed me to really enjoy the spectacle that unfolded along the way. Many of the runners around me were sporting their names on their racing singlets, which made it easy to strike up conversations. Some were running for charities, some in memory of loved ones, but all were happy and very eager to share their stories.

At 10 miles, the happy chatter began to slow as the enormity of the day’s task began to sink in.

At the halfway point, Kenny dropped back a bit, and I mentally prepared myself for the task ahead.

At 17 miles, I took the right-hand turn off of Route 16 to head into the fabled Heartbreak Hills — a series of three hills. The challenge is not the steepness, it’s the timing.

From 18 miles through 21 miles, the hills are unmerciful on tired quadriceps, and my ITBs began to remind me how unhappy they were.

Coming off the hills into Cleveland Circle provides a welcome downhill, which I really needed, because my next pursuit was to get past the famous Citgo sign that marks Kenmore Square and the final mile.

The big treat for me, though, came at 24 miles where my wife and my niece, Megan, were waiting to run in with me. Though Lyn and I have experienced the excitement of Boston for 34 years, it was Meggy’s first, and seeing the amazement in her eyes as she took in the sights and sounds of the last two miles was wonderful.

At 25 miles, I crested the Mass. Ave overpass and my legs were on fire. But it didn’t matter. My time didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I was again granted the gift of traveling down the same roads that world-class runners of today and the past 114 years had traveled.

Up Hereford Street and onto Boylston, and there it was — the finish line.

I crossed the line and completed the pair of kisses with Lyn — the one at the start and now at the finish.

Meggy said: “I think I’d like to run the whole thing next year.”

Later that evening, my 4-year-old granddaughter, Lexi, told her mom: “Someday I’d like to run the Boston Marathon, just like Poppy, but I’ll be a girl Poppy.”

So, yes, I am planning to run number 35 next year; Meggy and Lexi would expect no less.

Tom Licciardello is a founding member of the Merrimack Valley Striders. Licciardello has participated in 86 marathons including the last 33 Boston Marathons. He has also completed the Hawaii Ironman triathlon. Professionally, he is a Certified Financial Planner and resides in North Andover, Mass., with his wife, Lyn. He may be reached at