“So, how was Boston?”
I have been asked that question by just about everyone since we got back home from Massachusetts. It only makes sense. I had not run Boston since 2008. Outside of the Marine Corps Marathon and the Walt Disney Marathon, I had done nothing under the current 3:05 qualifying standard. I registered for the race in September and became an official competitor by October. Then followed six months of waiting and training. Waiting for a dream to come true again, and training in the worst weather I have ever experienced.
Then, all of sudden, it’s April: Hotel is booked, flight is booked, bags are packed. The only mishap was the USPS not handling my Runner’s Welcome Packet properly, causing my Passport to fall out somewhere between the B.A.A. and Green Bay.
During this time, the hype begins to build. Expectations begin to rise. With most, if not all races, you hope the race gets within shouting distance of those expectations. Maybe it’s because I love the Boston Marathon so much, but two times completed, two times absolutely blown out of the water with everything that is part of the marathon weekend in the city of Boston.
The expo was enormous. I held my wife’s hand the whole time so I knew for sure I wouldn’t lose her. Number pick up was relatively painless because of our mid-afternoon visit, despite having to pick up a new runner’s passport. Volunteers are what makes this process work and the B.A.A. had over 10,000 of them all over the place from Friday through Monday. When you have a lot of volunteers, you are able to make the pickup stations smaller, which is key for a race this size. After I got my new passport, I received my bib number, my t-shirt, and my swag bag extremely quickly.
We took the escalator down to take in presentation on the course, and also walk up and down the booths sampling all sorts of different bars, chews, and drinks. There were obviously a large variety of apparel to buy, and race day items to purchase. I was a little disappointed with the latter, since they didn’t have the flavor of double shot gels I prefer. The best sight was a long line for a free taste of Sam Adams that needed security to direct traffic, so as not to block cross traffic between the two halves of the expo. Afterwards, it was nice to realize where we were in relation to the finish line. I am a little superstitious when it comes to crossing such barriers, but it was great to get some nice pictures with the missus, since we knew it would be tough to return to the area after I finished on Monday.
One of the nice things about this marathon is the fact the race includes the pasta dinner with the registration. Yes, dining in the North End in one of the countless Italian restaurants would have been fantastic, but at the same time this trip is expensive enough.
We encountered a long line to get into the Boston City Hall for dinner. The line moved relatively quickly, but slow enough that we were able to meet a lot of cool people from across the country, including two couples with whom we would later dine.
The pasta was good considering they had to make enough for thousands of people. The volunteers made this a very enjoyable experience and got us through the lines with everything we possibly could have wanted in a timely fashion. My wife commented on how well-oiled this marathon machine truly was. Walking out, they gave us a dessert bag. In 2008, it was a more health conscious bag of fruit and Greek yogurt. As you know, Patriot’s Day Weekend was also Easter Weekend, so my wife particularly enjoyed the huge bag of chocolate they gave us to resemble what we would have received if we were home for Easter.
The waiting truly is the hardest part with this marathon. I arrive on the same day for most marathons (the Saturday before), but this marathon is run on Patriot’s Day, which is on a Monday. That brings us to the Boston Common…at 6:00 in the morning. The marathon starts in Hopkinton, which is about forty minutes via rented school bus from the Common. I arrived at the Common not because I wanted to, but because my hotel, unlike in 2008, didn’t have a direct shuttle to the Common. The T ran efficiently that morning and I had even more time to kill. The bus ride was uneventful other than sitting with a person who all but admitted being a bandit. It sounds like he just jumped in, but I still sarcastically congratulated him for running his first “legit” Boston.
The areas behind the high school and middle school in Hopkinton were justifiably busy. The extra 9,000 runners, no matter which wave you put them in, still put stress on the Athletes’ Village. That being said, the B.A.A. went all out on medical tents, porta-potties, and food tents so there weren’t ever long lines for anything. I just felt like I had more room in 2008 to lay around with my big gear check bag. We didn’t have any of that this year, and it took some talent to stretch out a little bit.
The walk to the race start was pretty special. Hopkinton is a town of about 15,000 people. At least 30 of these people lined the course giving away stuff pre-race (including Bud Light, doughnuts, and cigarettes) and cheering on the runners walking to the race start. Needless to say that’s where a lot of my emotions from the day started. The town square and the space around the starting area were packed and it got me really jacked up to run.
The race started under what were probably cool temps for the women, but I was pretty warm throughout the race. I started out with full sweats and hat and ditched most of it before we got to the corrals. My arm warmers and glove didn’t last a mile and I wondered what training in the Wisconsin winter would do to me today. It turned out to be a lot. In 2008, the winter wasn’t as bad and I lived closer to big hills for me train on for uphills and downhills. I didn’t get a chance to do that for this year’s training, so my legs were pretty beat up before we got to Newton.
The crowds along the way were fantastic. Words will never be able to describe the feeling I had as we traversed down hills through Ashland, Framingham, and Natick. I thanked the towns as we ran through and for whatever reason, they thanked me back. They help the runners with their positive signs and words. I never realized how much our running that day would help them as well.
I felt pretty good other than my legs after Newton, but a little warmer. By Brookline though, the heat and the hills caught up with me. I saw plenty of other runners stand up in pain when their legs cramped, and I quietly prayed that my legs weren’t next. Needless to say, they were. I had been averaging anywhere between 6:10 and 6:20 the first 17 miles of the race, with one exception when I had to take a bathroom break and I used that as an opportunity to reel in my pace.
The Newton hills slowed me up, pushing my pace back to about 6:30/mile in Newton. When the heat not to mention the hills, reared its ugly head, I felt like I needed to take better water stops and take it easy to prevent cramping, I had a 6:55, 7:25, and a 6:57. On any other course, I would have been furious and it would have soured my experience. Instead, it was Boston. I had people ten deep on either side of me yelling “Let’s go, 936” or “Do it for Green Bay, come on now.” I even had my wife at miles 17 and 25. I was going to finish no matter what, and I teared up when I thought about what this meant for me, and what it meant for Boston.
WHAT’S AWESOME ABOUT THIS RACE?
Everything. I’ll focus on the value. Chicago and Boston are the same price at $175 and New York is north of $200. Yes, that’s a lot for a marathon, figuring I’ll be running Detroit later this year for $70. However, there is value with Boston. The swag is better. Boston has sufficient transportation that boasts the longest ride provided by the organizing committee. While additional ticket prices could be debated, the runner tickets for both the pasta dinner and official post-race party are free. In addition to the value, it’s hard for a marathon or anything in life to live up to the hype that proceeds it. Rarer still is exceeding those expectations, something the Boston Marathon is “two for two” when it comes to my experience.
WHAT WASN’T AWESOME ABOUT THIS RACE?
I am grasping at straws on this one. With all of the moving parts this marathon has, and then pour in an extra 9,000 people, I thought it was flawless. You could definitely tell at some of the events why the B.A.A. caps it at 27,000 most years. The only hiccup I had was with my runner passport, but that is the USPS screwing up, not the B.A.A. unless you want to blame the B.A.A. for not properly hydrating the guy licking the envelopes. I thought everything else was handled as well as any other race, if not better. I am also waiting for the extreme weather situation to render the heat sheets New York and Boston have trotted out recently. I still wish I had my big bag of stuff closer, but even the Boston Common thing worked because it was easier to find my wife this year than it was to find my family in 2008.
Until now, New York had the best swag I had ever received, between all the drawstring bags, the sweet shirt, the medal, and so on and so forth. Well…Boston has taken the top spot. That’s more impressive when you take in account the tradition. The shirt outside of colors hasn’t changed much since I ran in 2008, and it wasn’t much different than the shirts a couple years before that. The medals have gotten bigger, but once again, they haven’t changed in a long time. The official program featured a couple of good reads like most do. I love the zoomed in unicorn logo B.A.A. busted out a few years ago, so since I missed out on the hat, I’m glad the shirt has the logo. Samuel Adams included an awesome bottle opener with their 26.2 Boston Brew branding and John Hancock gave the basics, including a wristbands made from banners from last year’s Boston Marathon. The heat sheet was pretty amazing. I like the hood and the sleeves and it really should be what all marathons have. I am still skeptical if these would suffice for an extreme weather situation, though. A lot of comment was made about the bright orange finisher jackets, but that’s Adidas. Here is the B.A.A. doing their thing with their sponsors and doing it well.
SONG THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ON THE iPOD BUT WASN’T
I wish I would have heard some Dropkick Murphys on the way to Boston (shocked I didn’t hear it at all, actually), but wearing headphones would have cheated me out of everything great about the Boston Marathon.
I should have visited the alma mater to do some more hill training. I went from craving hills in 2008 to dreading this year. I still took people on the hills, but the early down hills really took it out of me. I should have also worn either more layers or gone somewhere warm to prepare for the heat. Both would have made a world of difference.
I am slowly making my way around the country to run other marathons and see if any one of them will ever come close to Boston. New York came close to the 2008 marathon, but nothing in my life will ever come close to this one. This marathon was three minutes slower than my best. My legs were pain more than they have been in a long time. Was this my best marathon? No. Was this my most important marathon? I will believe that until the day I die.
I didn’t need to check out the Dear Boston exhibit to see what last year’s attack did to this city. I didn’t need to read books or magazines for first person accounts. I experienced the love this city and this region has for its marathon for 26.2 miles. I felt it in the high fives. I saw it in the faces and in the signs along the course.
We as marathoners need the cities to help us accomplish our goals and achieve our dreams. I never realized there would ever be a situation where marathoners, just by using legs, could help a city. You run Boston not just because it might be on your bucket list or your local race. You run it for an unmatched experience, one I know won’t be topped for me for a long, long time.
Green Bay, Wisconsion
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