Boston CheerleaderI’m not much of a spectator—I’d rather be part of the action. Last year at my wife Natalie’s debut marathon, I jumped in and escorted her the final 13 miles on her way to a magnificent Boston Marathon qualifying performance. Natalie, the self-proclaimed non-athletic girly-girl, was going to the long-distance running mountain top. She was going to Boston!

This was Natalie’s moment to be in the spotlight. So when people asked me if I was going to run with her at Boston, I just politely said, “Nope, I’m going as a cheerleader.”

I escorted her as far as the marathon starting area. What a scene: 26,000 runners camped out on the athletic fields of a small school in Hopkinton, Mass. We picked our little plot of land and Natalie decided she better get in line for the potty. While in line (for 1 hour and 15 minutes!) she made friends with a man who was probably in his 60s, had done an Ironman Triathlon and 29 marathons. This was his first Boston Marathon.

“After this race, I’m throwing away my running shoes,” he revealed to Natalie. “What else is there to do after running the Boston Marathon?”

When it came time for Natalie’s corral to start, I kissed her good bye and wished her good luck. It was time for me to assume my role as spectator.

I tracked Natalie’s marathon progress on my Blackberry, receiving updates every 5K. She was doing well, staying on 8:30 pace, right on target. I wandered around the finish area crowds trying to find a good vantage point.

Natalie’s pace stayed around 8:30 through half marathon, but began to slow between 15 and 18 miles. I was more worried than a dad on prom night, but she was at least making it through the checkpoints. After she passed the 20 mile mark on my Blackberry, I kept a keen eye on the road for her appearance. There she was! I clicked a couple of photos, packed up all my gear, and made my way through the finish line crowds to our assigned meeting place. When I arrived, she was nowhere to be seen. I waited and watched and worried. Man, it’s tough being a spectator!

After wandering the finish area about 30 minutes, I finally spotted her.  She was shivering by a pole, solar blanket wrapped around her, salt dried up on her face, and medal around her neck. We hugged like she had just returned from war.  In a way, she had.

As we shuffled back toward our hotel, she recounted the race for me.  She told me about the roar of Wellesley College students, the hills of Newton, the smothering crowds at Boston College, and the exhilaration of passing Fenway. She high-fived kids and banged on bongo drums. I could feel the excitement in her voice. She had experienced the Boston Marathon, and nobody could take that away from her.

I just hope she doesn’t throw away her running shoes.