The Boston Marathon is THE marathon of all marathons, and lives up to its reputation in every way. The Boston experience encompasses the entire weekend, starting as soon as the plane arrives at the airport, through the expo, from the athlete’s village to the finish line, and all the way back to the airport. The whole thing feels electric with excitement so palpable it hangs in the air like humidity, and the spectators are as much a part of the race (if not more so) than the runners themselves. It is an extraordinary atmosphere in which to run 26.2 miles.
Before the race
For me, the entire trip to Boston was permeated with a sense of “Who’s running?!” and it seems to me that, on this particular weekend, marathon runners have a sixth sense for identifying each other. It was a happy surprise to discover I shared a flight up to Boston with a friend from my running group. I was also thrilled to find the Boston airport covered in signs for the marathon. So many people so excited about running!
Packet pickup was smooth and streamlined (how could it not be? They’ve had 120 years to figure it out!), and the expo was so jam-packed it was hard to move (to be expected). This was followed by a photo opportunity at the finish line, along with thousands of other runners and their personal cheering squads/photographers (my group consisted of my parents, sister, cousin, and his wife). Reasonably timed dinner, then laying everything out before an early bedtime.
Before leaving for the race, I told many of my non-running friends that I was looking forward to the experience of a daytime marathon. This meant that instead of waking up at 4am, I would be allowed the luxury of sleeping in until 6! (Although nerves had me up early anyway). Runners congregated a few blocks down from the finish line to pile onto a fleet of yellow school buses for transport to the starting line. Boston is a point-to-point marathon, meaning it starts and ends in different locations, and I can only imagine the logistical nightmare of moving 30,000+ runners in a timely manner! I’m sure they used every school bus in the state of Massachusetts to accomplish this feat. The psychological aspect of running the marathon started here because the ride to the start took almost 45 minutes. If it takes that long to drive the distance, how long will it take to cover it on foot?!
The athlete’s village felt surreal. Runners in various states of preparation, whether snoozing, stretching, or standing in line for the port-a-potties, covered every square inch of the huge lawn. Massive tents had been put in place for shelter, although the weather was ideal at this point and the tents were unnecessary. Gradually, waves of runners left the village to head up to the starting line. I was seeded in the third wave, so I had about an hour to wait from when I arrived at the village to when I headed out to the start, and another 30 minutes at the starting line before we headed off. There was a lot of “hurry up and wait” to get to the starting line, but the waiting never felt boring.
The weather would have been perfect for a spring day in Massachusetts (or being a spectator on the course!) but was a bit on the warm side for running a marathon. Pre-race announcements emphasized the importance of hydration and adjusting time goals to factor in the heat. I didn’t have any expectations for my finishing time anyway, and just wanted to make it to the end in as whole a condition as possible.
The race itself was easier than I anticipated, considering my lack of training. The first few miles breezed by, aided in part by the downhill grade and enthusiasm from the crowd. I made it to the halfway point in under 2 hours, so I deemed the race a success and stopped watching my Garmin like a hawk. Instead, I settled back to enjoy the spectators. The Boston spectators know their race, and they know how to support runners. With the warmer temperatures this year, spectators lined the course with wet paper towels, garden hoses, and popsicles (in addition to orange slices every 1/2 mile and official BAA aid stations every other mile). I didn’t see the popsicles on the course until I hit mile 14, and I knew just by looking at the beautiful, blue ice on a stick that it would be exactly the thing I needed to keep me refreshed for the next few miles. That popsicle was magic! Gave me a major stomachache by mile 15.5, but it was absolutely worth it.
The Newton hills were the other part of the course that stuck out to me, and those things were serious! Heartbreak Hill at mile 21 is widely renowned as the major obstacle of the race, but with the rolling hills leading up to it, Heartbreak Hill seemed to me to be just one more uphill to cover.
Aid stations and med tents came up at every mile starting around mile 20 (good planning, BAA!), which was quite necessary for this race. I had been walking through aid stations for most of the race, and by the time I got to the aid station at mile 24, I took my sip of water and made every effort to fall back into my jog (it was a jog at this point), and then just kept walking. I always hope to run the entirety of a marathon, but I had resigned myself to some walking breaks for Boston because I knew my training wasn’t up to snuff. The last 2.2 miles were bone-chillingly slow (and cold!), but I didn’t feel defeated. I had already proven myself by qualifying for the race, and had surpassed my own expectations of how well I would perform on race day.
The finish line was as seamless as every other aspect of the race weekend. The volunteers ushered us through the finishing chute, gave us heat blankets, water bottles, bags of food, and medals! Most races release pictures of the medal before the race, but try as I might, all my internet searching could not turn up a single image of the 2016 Boston Marathon medal. My personal cheering squad found me at our pre-arranged meeting location. I was lying on the ground curled in a tiny ball because the asphalt was so much warmer than the air and it was the only thing I could think of to do to try to stay warmer than I felt! Finishing a marathon is so much easier when I have other people to hold my bags, open my water bottles, and direct me to the train! I think I’ll start recruiting personal cheering squads for every race.
After the Race
I wore all my Boston swag to the airport the following day, as did most other runners. All the lines at the airport were dotted with teal jackets, blue and yellow shirts, and race medals. Most of the flights leaving the airport that day also offered priority boarding for marathoners. Sweet!
I don’t know how to quantify this, but the Boston Marathon is the runners’ marathon. Everyone knows the drill, everyone supports each other, and everyone shares the same sense of nervous excitement. The individual achievements of the runners become the collective victory of the community (race organizers and spectators alike!). By the end of the race, the entire city is filled with a sense of celebration and solidarity. It was absolutely a phenomenal experience in every way.
Not to mention, I was able to raise an amazing $1,641 for the Orange County Rape Crisis Center! Thank you so much to all of you who donated to this wonderful agency! #trainedinteal #ranbold #notalone