THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
On Second Thought

Running out of interest here

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / April 18, 2010

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The Marathon is tomorrow, and if you have to ask, “What marathon?’’ then you also probably haven’t figured out the riddle wrapped up in the enigma that is “The Country Club.’’

We are Boston, and we are all about The.

Registered runners (26,696) and interlopers included, we’re likely to see a crowd approximating a full house at Fenway pound pavement from the Hopkinton start to the downtown finish. Back in 1897 when this fun run began, the field totaled only 15. Better than a half-century later, as recently as 1960, it still had fewer than 200 official entrants.

It took us decades, a couple of World Wars, and a whole lot of inherited leisure time and a burning desire to feed the nation’s orthopedic industry to work up a sweat over the whole thing.

For all the thunder rolling in from the western ’burbs tomorrow, this remains a race for fewer than 100 entrants, and in local terms, that’s being wicked generous. Focus in on the elite male and female runners, along with some amazing wheelchair athletes, and the true challengers to crack the tape could all fit comfortably into a boutique hotel lobby. And remember, they’re thin, so there would still be room for at least three fat sportswriters to assist with the postrace buffet.

OK, tomorrow’s winner is?

“Oh, probably a Kenyan or Ethiopian,’’ mused fellow staffer Shira Springer, a key member of the Globe’s team that will be on the case tomorrow. “You definitely want Africa in the office pool.’’

Look, I have nothing against Kenyans, Ethiopians, all of Africa, skinny people, or anyone of any race, nationality, religion, gender, or diet (although I have yet to find a fruit that makes granola tasty).

What I don’t like about The Marathon is that no one from here — and I mean here, the hub of the harrier universe — really has a chance to go the full 26-plus, crumple at the finish line, weep in the street, kiss the pavement, wear the crown, smile for the cameras, gush for the papers, and ultimately tie the rest of us slobs and hackers to both the race and its underlying dream.

When the pros came marching in, everyone else shimmied dutifully to the back of the pack. Without offering an apology here, that tossed a big bucket of cold water over what was once, for me, a shining moment on our sports calendar.

Although it may still shine for some, to me it’s just not sporting to see someone from another continent, with a name I can barely pronounce, never mind spell, dash into our town, snatch a piece of our heritage, pocket a huge wad of cash, then bolt for the next big city on the marathon map that offers up its pot of gold and glory.

Really, what we had here for decades was the equivalent of the mom-and-pop restaurant, with its quirky menu of mac-and-cheese, fish cakes, and baked beans, and now we’re left with just another Olive Garden or Macaroni Grill experience. Oh sure, bigger menu, but nowhere near the flavor, not nearly as filling. And atmosphere? Heck, we sold paradise — albeit with some potholes — for just another big box experience.

No Johnny Kelley to capture our hearts.

No Bill Rodgers to talk it, run it, cherish it, bring us along for the ride and the run.

No Joan Benoit Samuelson to encourage us off the couch, to recover from our injuries and the dreams they threaten to shatter.

Heck, even no Rosie Ruiz to throw us a curveball, catch us with our egos high and our shorts down.

Virtually none of us by the end of this week will be able to name tomorrow’s winners. Like so much of what we do now, the race will capture our consciousness for only a few hours — especially if we are trying to navigate our cars in the congested neighborhoods along the route. Then we’ll be standing next to the office water cooler on Tuesday, the day after The Marathon, with next to nothing to say about what happened on Marathon Monday.

It has become this tree, falling in the forest, with all of us here to witness it, but we’re left to wonder if we really saw it, heard it, felt it.

Before the race is run, we know the ending. A pack of way-out-of-town elite runners will bolt to the lead, averaging about a five-minute mile from start to finish, and one of them will cross the finish line looking as if he is almost on the verge of breaking a sweat. Same deal for the women. Instead of crumpling over the finish line, they’ll skip over it like children in the playground.

Come on, that’s running? That’s Boston? That’s why we’re all excited?

OK, fine, they’re elite runners. I get that. In fact, I admire their skill, their athleticism. When I see this same pack of anonymous characters in the Olympics, I’m in awe, as I probably should be when they run the same race here tomorrow in the city that fashions itself as the marathon’s adoptive mother. But by opening up her arms to all the world’s best, she turned the rest of us into forgotten middle children, some of us capable of logging a 2:58:10 or a 3:02:26.

You know what you can do with those times, don’t you? Take them to the water cooler Tuesday, pour yourself a cold one, crumple up the paper cup, and toss it all in the trash. And circle April 18 on the 2011 calendar. Your accomplishment didn’t change. It just got lost at the side of The Road.

Kevin Paul Dupont’s “On Second Thought’’ appears on Page 2 of the Sunday Globe Sports section. He can be reached at dupont@globe.com.