I was going into this race having heard a mix of opinions on it’s standing within the long list of ‘to do’ marathons. I already had a feeling that this was another race that was going to pull me in and always have a place in my heart. I wasn’t wrong.
Boston’s history as a race is fairytale like having been conceived after the Boston Athletic Associations coach and manager was inspired to create the event after seeing the marathon at the first modern Olympic games in Athens in 1896. Originally called The American Marathon, it still largely retraces it’s original steps, although since 1924 to fall in line with the Olympic standard distance, the start was moved to it’s current location in Hopkinton from Ashland.
This little part of Boston’s history worked out well for me, as I was lucky enough to be staying with a friend I had got to know through MCM who lives in Hopkinton.
It’s hard not to think back to the reasons why I ended up in Hopkinton on Patriots Day. The reason I got back into running, the encouragement Sharon gave me and how it’s helped me since. It’s like she knew.
It led me onto the Runner’s World forum toward the end of 2014, the decision to run Paris in 2015 and meeting amazing friends all over the world. The inspiration they gave me to run more, which in turn led to the improvements in my performances, the race reports of friends that led me to MCM, to new friendships and more.
So I landed at Logan International Airport, Boston on Friday afternoon after the statutory sneeze filled flight from LHR. The flight was full of other Boston hopefuls and talk abounded of both the privilege of running and inevitably the weather.
Suzanne’s huge smile greeted me as I walked out into arrivals, always a welcome sight after travelling alone. We made our way straight to the Expo in the Seaport District, where it had been moved to for this one year only.
Bib pick up was pretty straight forward, so we made our way into the Expo to buy one of everything. I guess I can’t use the excuse “well it is Boston”.
After the normal mutterings of how horrified we were about people already wearing the hallowed jacket pre-race, we did a quick loop of the stands and headed out to pay the $40 parking fee. Boston parking is ridiculous !
I was feeling pretty exhausted after the flight and with the time difference so we headed to our host Jaimee’s house in Hopkinton, then for a quick bite to eat and an early night as we had the BAA 5K in the morning.
After a pretty good sleep we left the house before anyone was up about 6.15am to drive back into Boston as we couldn’t wait to pay another $40 to park in the city. Unfortunately public transport from Hopkinton doesn’t really exist.
Anyway, we were excited to be there and wandered to Boston Common along with another 10,000 or so hardy souls braving the bracing winds. I was wearing my newly purchased Union flag shorts for this one, and soon wished I wasn’t as the flag pole was certainly getting chilly ! There was a great atmosphere around the course with lots of support, the sun was out and we managed to get Suzanne a new 5K PR to boot, I’m thinking I should wear the short shorts more often.
After collecting our medals and checked gear we made our way to the marathon finish line on Boylston Street to meet up with our charity teams from One World Strong and the Semper Fi Fund for a photo shoot.
Running with and for OWS was a real honour and really added to the Boston experience for both Suzanne and I. Spending time with survivors from 2013 really did make us appreciate the whole concept of Boston Strong, and the response by not only the survivors and their families, but also by regular Bostonians, can’t help but inspire you to just do better in everything.
It was probably around this time that I gained a whole new level of respect for charity runners, and changed my opinion on this method of running Boston.
I personally always wanted to qualify for Boston, it’s the only way I wanted to do it. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Boston, like other races, would not be the amazing race it is without charity runners. Some of them may not be so fast, but what they lack in speed they more than make up for in passion, determination and pure selflessness.
I was surrounded by them for my whole time in Boston and without them my experience wouldn’t have been anywhere near as positive as it was ……. and just by their comments they all made me feel so much faster than I actually felt, great for the ego !
After catching up with friends both old and new we grabbed some brunch and headed back to Hopkinton to relax for the afternoon. Jaimee was the most gracious host allowing us the run of her beautiful home set above a lake with amazing views and great facilities.
Although we weren’t lacking for inspiration we settled down to watch the Boston Marathon documentary and put our feet up. If you ever have a desire to run Boston, actually even if you don’t or you have, you need to watch it. It certainly helped build up race day even more. Learning about Boston’s history including 2013, made me feel like I was about to become so much more than just another runner in a race and I couldn’t wait despite the storm clouds heading our way.
Sunday was spent largely relaxing and spending time with Jaimee and her young children who were a cute distraction from all things race related. Funny how two little girls showing you there favourite toys and books does that, we loved every second of their company.
Sunday evening we headed back into Boston with Jaimee, via a quick recce and photo opportunity at the start line, to attend the One World Strong pasta dinner. Intensity level up another notch after sharing dinner with survivors of conflict zones and terror attacks including Boston 2013.
We also had a stark warning from one of the BAA organising committee in attendance to take personal responsibility for ourselves in the morning as the weather was only going to deteriorate. Even then I was completely ready to attack this race and leave it all out there.
Patriots Day arrived and a quick glance out of the window at the light dusting of snow being slowly washed away by the rain brought a wry smile. I’d accepted a while ago that I’d expect the worst and take anything, I couldn’t do much else I guess.
I kept my pre-race routine as normal as possible taking advantage of my 10am start time and our proximity to the start. Porridge pot and banana nicely down with plenty of digestion time I relaxed as the rest of the household woke and two little girls excitedly made their preparations for the day, Reagan and Noelle, not Suzanne and Jaimee !! The girls were so proud that their mom was running Boston again and had been busy making signs to hold up during the race.
I got myself ready as our time to head out approached, and I opted for a two base layer / charity vest combo on top, naively a little concerned that I may be too hot, a thermal beanie / baseball hat combo with ironic MDS buff, thermal gloves with handwarmer inserts and shorts to go. All glided up we posed for photo’s before Suzanne drove Jaimee and I as close to the start as she could. By now it was throwing it down and the wind was picking up.
We jumped out on to the sidewalk and headed up to Hopkinton Arts Centre where the charity athletes could congregate in the warm with use of proper facilities rather than queuing for the portaloo’s in the rain. On our walk up in the pouring rain, our ponchos were being continuously splashed as the athletes buses rumbled past to drop runners off at the athletes village which apparently resembled a sodden battlefield by now.
We were already hugely indebted to Jaimee for her kindness in letting us stay with her, but little did I know that accepting Suzanne’s invitation to that Semper Fi dinner in 2016 would help make my Boston experience a couple of years later so much easier to bear. Not only did we shelter from the rain here, but Jaimee and the Semper Fi possee had the inside line on another refuge just steps from the starting corrals.
Officer Phil is with the Boston police department and works each race day helping runners around the village. He also opens his home on Grove Street to the Semper Fi and OWS team as a final pit stop before heading to the start.
Jaimee and I headed there for a final use of the facilities, a drink and hugs a plenty from fellow runner’s. I left Jaimee to it and headed to my corral with 5 minutes to spare and relatively dry. I got to my corral, disposed of my poncho and sacrificial warm clothes and was drenched within a minute or two !!
Suzanne was also at the start line somewhere while I made small talk with the runners around me in my corral, we were at the back of the first wave to start and made it through the start line in around 6 minutes. Unfortunately those 6 minutes were enough to make me want to get moving more than remember to keep a look out for my most eager supporter, sorry Suzanne.
I settled into my desired pace early on despite the course feeling pretty congested for the first few miles. The course is mainly downhill and passes through the same towns it has for 121 editions of this mesmerising race. The 122nd edition would be no different and we soon approached Ashland where it all started before the course was lengthened to the now official 26.2 miles.
Support was pretty good considering the persistent rain and 35 – 40mph headwinds. I looked out for Jaimee’s girls around 5K hoping for a boost, but realised they probably wouldn’t be there until a little later for their mom.
Framingham and Natick came and went in a blur of rain and cold, but I kept pace occasionally trying to check my Sub3 pace band I was having trouble focusing on.
I was sticking to pace and my fueling / hydration strategy well, taking water from cups at the water stations when I felt the need and taking gels every 5 miles and a salt tablet every hour. It seemed to work well as I felt strong throughout.
I was glad to be feeling anything up to that point, because things were to change around halfway approaching the famous Wellesley College with it’s screaming tunnel. I was so happy to see Suzanne around this point and really felt for her and how drenched she’d become patiently waiting for me to arrive. All of the supporter’s were amazing standing around in that, at least we were moving.
Each time the rain seemed to get as heavy as it could, it got that little bit heavier as though it was intentionally trying to batter us into submission. It wanted people to quit, or that’s how it felt.
I realised that my hand warmers had stopped working long ago and I thought about ditching them but realised that my gloves were so wet that I couldn’t get them off without a fight. I then realised that I couldn’t feel the hand warmers anyway because I couldn’t feel my hands ! I’ve had this issue before but never usually this early in a race and not to such an extent.
I don’t think this had a massive impact on how I was feeling particularly, but my pace did start to slip on the ascents but I felt like I was pulling it back on the descents a little.
I got to Wellesley within distance of the screams and soon realised that those small margins each mile were slipping away and the day wasn’t going to quite go to plan. I knew I was going to have to really go some to claw back what I was losing and despite feeling ok and with the best will in the world it wasn’t happening.
It surprised me how ok I felt with this realisation. This was Boston, I’d trained so hard for it, moreso than usual, used the track for my interval sessions, tried treating myself a little better and really targeted it. I was confident I could do something. I think sometimes no matter how badly you want something, you just have to accept you can’t control everything. I’ve had to get used to that feeling.
And so I did what any person would do. I got to the scream tunnel on roads that resembled streams and promptly started kissing college girls, they were asking for it. No really, they were literally asking for it holding their placards aloft, and after seeing this particular tradition on the documentary we watched in the dry comfort of the house, I thought it would be rude not to !
After all what’s 30 seconds between complete strangers ?! I’d already lost a minute or two at the previous aid station as a volunteer found the salt tablet that my own frozen hands couldn’t.
I think as I relaxed into the race and the acceptance that my target time had gone, I started acknowledging my surroundings more. Newton and it’s hills approached and I noticed a wheelchair athlete struggling by the side of the road being helped by another runner, so I went to help and we both pushed him to the summit and as we let him freewheel down we fist bumped feeling good that we might’ve made a difference. It probably wasn’t too long after this that the emotions started kicking in.
I’d said to Suzanne a day or so before the race that I was feeling it for some reason. Maybe it was a little disbelief that I’d made it to Boston. I’d thought about how far I’d come, and I felt that at this point in the race. Suzanne was on the course at this point but I missed her as I was probably distracted by my thoughts.
I still felt like I was running strongly despite the obvious drop in pace, and I never really felt like I hit the wall but it was getting tough. I was shivering pretty badly by about 20 miles but I started repeating to myself out loud “you’re running Boston, you’re running Boston”, choking on my words.
I found myself not wanting the race to end, but in what seemed like no time I turned right on to Hereford Street in downtown Boston where the sidewalks were pulsing with people and the street was littered with discarded ponchos as runners realised they were approaching the finish. I choked again and turned left onto Boylston Street, I could see the finish line.
I could see everything clearly. I still can now. I saw the rain drops flicking off of my gloves as my arms moved, I could see the parents, wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, college friends and kids looking for their runners, I could see in the distance those two spots where it all went tragically wrong 5 years since. I could also see Boston’s response, I could actually see Boston Strong. Not just in signs but in action. Boston was being strong in the best way possible, people were standing there willing on perfect strangers in the worst of weather’s because they weren’t going to be cowed by cowards. That ain’t what this city is about, and in that moment it was easy to see that it was the spectators that were the brave one’s out there on this beautiful Patriots Day. They were Boston Strong and it was an honour and a privilege to be just one tiny part of their races history.
I blew kisses, crossed the line, mangaged to stop my watch at 3:15.38 and promptly froze !
I was spotted by a volunteer who wrapped me in a thermal blanket which did little to prevent my incessant shivering. I was taken to the VIP tent where I don’t remember much about being given my medal and soon after I made my way to the charity’s hotel nearby. As unlikely as it was Suzanne found me in the street here trying to find the hotel, what a sweet and much appreciated sight. She walked me to the hotel and up to the OWS /Semper Fi room where she and a Semper Fi volunteer helped me out of my soaking tops and warmed me with towels.
A massage and shower later as we waited for other runners to trickle in with their own stories of the day, we learned about the toll the conditions had taken on many fellow runners including the elite’s. Jaimee made it back in good spirits as always as did most of our friends. Only one that I know of from our charity DNF’d but he was there congratulating us all.
As the day went on and everyone returned we learned the amazing stories of the winners that day …… all of us and Boston, staying strong.