SPOTLIGHT:  Merry Marathon! Slack finally makes it to Boston

MARATHON MAN SUPPORT GROUP: Shreveport’s Hayden Slack (in tank) finished the Boston Marathon Monday with support from (L to R) dad Terry, wife Hailey, and mom Peggy.

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

Halfway through running his first Boston Marathon Monday, Shreveport’s Hayden Slack saw a familiar face.

Santa Claus.

“Hey, you’re one of my favorite people!” Slack shouted.

“You’re on the nice list!” shouted back his new friend, one of thousands who lined the 126-year-old route of America’s most famous long-distance race to encourage the approximately 30,000 athletes of all shapes, sizes, abilities and nationalities who ran, walked and stumbled in clear mid-50s weather toward most any runner’s most anticipated finish line.

Slack’s main support group — parents Terry and Peggy and wife Hailey — were there to meet him, although, in the sweaty mob, it took a while to find him.

“And he was ready to be found,” Terry said. All he needed was a ride to the hotel — the rental car was parked in a lot “reasonably close to the finish line, praise the Lord,” Terry said — and a protein drink.

Except Hailey had forgotten it.

Whoa. An ugly hydration situation?

Hardly. Hey, they’re newlyweds. First Boston Marathon. A tiny error. Besides, Slack was not far away from relaxing in a hotel bed, eating a giant pizza, and enjoying the Marathon Party at Fenway Park.

One at-large drink could hardly compare to what Slack, 31, a former tri-sport star at Calvary Baptist and walk-on football player at Louisiana Tech, had overcome to get here.

Monday was, as Santa’s appearance illustrates, an early Christmas present for what was the end of a long road for Slack. It took him just under four years or just over three hours to run Monday’s race, depending on how you look at it.

In summary, really just to see if he could, just to test himself, he ran his first marathon in early 2018 in Lafayette and ended up 10 minutes away from the three-hour qualifying time for his age group for Boston, a race he “didn’t know much about,” he said. “I was told, ‘Oh yeah, that’s the Granddaddy of Them All.’ So I thought, ‘OK, I’ll see if I can make it.’ ”

He started training seriously and qualified that fall with a sub-three-hour time in Fort Worth — but the Boston field was already full. He was pushed back to 2020. Then the whole world was pushed back.  Pandemic and all.

“There was a little bit of determination involved in all this,” Terry said.

But it was all worth it, an experience to share with his parents, with his newlywed wife, and with his other family, the “Shreveport running community that’s so great to be a part of,” Slack said. Several were in Boston to run Monday.

Slack’s day started with breakfast around 5 a.m., getting on the bus to ride the 26-miles-plus to the starting point, waiting in the “Athletes’ Village,” which was basically a big field with Port-o-Lets and tables with food and drinks, for the race to start.

Then, after the professionals had taken off, he got those size-10 Nikes moving toward Boston.

“It’s really unbelievable,” he said, “to see how it works.”

Practically shoulder-to-shoulder running much of the way. Every couple of miles, the tables lined for 100 yards alongside the route with water and Gatorade and banana slices and energy gels. People encouraging and throwing runners bags of pretzels, handing out orange slices. All these thousands of heads in front and behind, bobbing, running, all toward the same goal.

“The race today, the hills were a bit tough,” Slack said. “I had in mind a goal of under three hours, maybe even 2:50. But it was one of those days when your legs don’t quite have it. I learned to enjoy the experience, to soak it all in. Finished around 3:20. Just … really amazing, a really, really neat experience, just to understand all it takes to put it on. You meet people from all over the world who’ve worked really hard to qualify and get in.”

And at the finish line, “they put the medal on you,” he said, reliving the moment. “I’ve had so much support and help along the way … maybe I’ll do it again. Or maybe this is a bucket list thing. You never know. But what an experience. Something I could never forget.”