What I Learned Riding 26.2 Miles at Midnight

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The Starting Line

I rode the rails, then the route. Last night’s Midnight Marathon was a fantastic experience, and one that offered a few life lessons. Thanks to Steve Annear’s ride tip last week, I was able to grab one of the limited tickets on the Hogwarts Express MBTA commuter rail that ran straight to Southborough, a few miles from the marathon’s starting line in Hopkinton.

Riding with a buddy, the 26 miles and 385 yards took us two hours and 15 minutes, including several stops. No flat tires, no broken spokes, no missed trains (despite it being very crowded). I learned about the Boston Cyclists Union and discussed improvements to the Southwest Corridor (more to come on this in a future post).

But most importantly there were life lessons, shared here on an epic day known for testing one’s boundaries, strengths, and general life comportment.

Life Lesson #1: Layer your socks.

Lieutenant Dan kept “Take care of your feet” as a standing order in his platoon for a reason. My feet were really cold. My right foot, interestingly, bore the brunt of Nature’s wrath. Perhaps it was a fluke, or perhaps my nerve endings played tricks on me, but by Natick Center I could hardly feel my toes through my cycling shoes and wool hiking socks worn specifically to combat the wind. Double layers next time.

Marathon Express

Life Lesson #2: The best experiences aren’t captured on a smartphone.

The scene of the night, and one that is etched in my mind’s eye, is from before the official ride even began. Upon disembarking the commuter train at Southborough, riders massed and proceeded south on Cedar Street into the center of Hopkinton, where the marathon route begins. Cedar, also known as MA-Rt. 85, undulates before approaching the center of town. At the bottom of a small valley, I looked up the next hill to see a long trail of flashing red rear lights. A rider behind me had mounted speakers to his frame and blasted Dixieland jazz. The red lights danced left and right across the street, strung out along the incline. There was a faint smell of burning wood from surrounding homes’ chimneys and, as we entered town, I heard the shouts of

I took a few photos on the train and at the starting line, but let’s be real people. Experience life through your eyes, not through a lens and screen. Maybe Walter Benjamin needs a retread, and we should explore how to simply live in the age of mechanical reproduction.

Life Lesson #3: Go Doug.

I’m not a runner. I don’t purport to be. Biking, with its low impact, higher speeds, and long distances is the sport for me. Yet even with a quicker journey, I still felt disheartened ten miles into the ride. Just east of Natick, cold, a little cramped, and tired, I thought, “can we just be done with this now?”

Someone had taped handwritten signs to trees and sign posts for miles, urging Doug #40 onward. I don’t know Doug, but I know he’s running as I type this article. I don’t know if 40 referred to age, number of marathons, or his jersey number.  His signs kept me going too. I can’t imagine Doug’s experience, even five miles into Ashland, much less double that to Natick, and then double that to the Newton Hills. Training in the cold, imagining a few cheers, moving slow and hoping next bend brings a slight downgrade. Maybe those signs give a little levity and recall the training runs, the encouraging smiles, the personal forbearance. Imagining Doug helped me accomplish my infinitely easier ride. Go Doug.

My favorite sign was spread out over two posters, tacked on consecutive Newton telephone poles. “If HEARTBREAK were EASY…” read the first. “It’d be called ‘YOUR MOTHER’,” it concluded.