Jennifer Graham

Home is where the start is

For a runner, there is no finer place to live than where it all begins

The annual start of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, and the surrounding hoopla. The annual start of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, and the surrounding hoopla. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
By Jennifer Graham
April 12, 2011

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WHEN WE were house-hunting and first looked in Hopkinton, the real estate agent said, apologetically, “The only problem with Hopkinton is that the marathon starts here, and some people hate all the noise and hoopla, and the roads being closed for so long.’’

“Sold!’’ I said, wondering what sedentary rube would consider this a problem.

Hopkinton, for runners like me, is the Holy Grail of real estate. Every long-distance runner knows where it is: 26.2 miles from Boston. There are many fine Metrowest communities, but none better for runners. They should charge extra for the privilege of living here. Not only do we get to see the world’s greatest athletes run by, but sometimes they take off their pants.

True story: Every year, my neighbors and I gather to cheer on the runners. We are there from the first press car to the last juggling bandit. One man brings hot dogs and beer, and yells, “That’s what I’m talking about!’’ every time an especially pretty marathoner runs by.

Our usual spot is near the one-mile marker, where runners shed their throwaway clothes – the ratty sweats and old T-shirts they wear to stay warm in the chilly hours before the start.

A few years ago, my neighbor Bob and I were standing together, clapping, when a woman darted out of the pack and peeled off her long black pants to reveal nylon shorts underneath. “My address and $5 are in the pocket,’’ she said. “Would you please mail them back to me?’’

Would we? Heck yes! Bob and I were so proud. We spent the rest of the race arguing about who got to mail the pants.

Bob won. Age before beauty, you know. But a few weeks later, he called. “We’ve got a problem,’’ he said. “There was $5 in the pocket, but no address. I have no way to mail that lady her pants.’’

We figured the paper fell out when she took off the pants, and it was lost in the damp sludge of smashed paper cups. Bob felt badly about it, but not so much that he couldn’t spend the five at Dunkin’ Donuts. He was going to give the pants to the local Goodwill.

I would have none of it. I swore a solemn oath to reunite the woman and her pants. I wrote to a running magazine, which agreed to publish the tale. And so it came to pass that, a few months later, a professor in California was thumbing through Runner’s World and saw an artist’s rendition of her long-lost pants. They were soon reunited, and now I have a friend in San Diego.

No offense, but this never would have happened in, say, Acton.

Another cool thing: Some of the elite runners stay here, and, except for the year the chicken pox was going around, the Kenyans visit the elementary school my kids attend. The day I walked into my fourth-grader’s bedroom and heard him playing the Kenyan national anthem on his recorder was the day I knew I wanted to live here forever.

Once, a few days before the marathon, I was running the back roads of Hopkinton at my usual 11-minute-mile pace when I came upon one of the Kenyan elites. Tall, thin, majestic, he was jogging even more slowly than I was; for him, my pace was mere stretching. We passed each other, and he never looked my way. No matter: It was enough for me to run, momentarily, in a world-class athlete’s shadow.

This is why I don’t care that the Boston Athletic Association tightened its standards, making the marathon an even more impossible dream for casual runners like me. I run three times a week, have for 20 years, but realistically, I may never run Boston. Its luster and prestige derive from its history, yes, but also from its standards, which necessarily exclude runners like me. And that’s OK. After all, I get to cross the starting line every time I drive into town.

Jennifer Graham is a writer and editor.