Many times during the past six years, I’ve had to answer the following question. “Why do you run so much?” The answer was always the same. “I want to get faster and run the Boston Marathon.” I don’t think many people asked the obvious follow up question: “why is Boston so important?” What is it about running the Boston Marathon that gripped me so tightly? Why did I sink so much of my time and effort into that singular goal? The truth: I didn’t quite know. I never had an easy way to explain my infatuation with chasing the unicorn. But after floating down Boylston street on Monday, I will never struggle with my reasoning again. Here is my Boston Marathon review, a recap of the greatest race on earth.
I think Boston became such a giant part of my life out of necessity. I needed a large goal to chase, and running on Marathon Monday seemed far out of reach. So many times, Boston felt like an impossibility to me.
My first BQ attempt was a disaster. I blew up in the second half and finished more than 40 minutes off goal pace. When I finally qualified, my time wasn’t good enough. I expected to be able to keep progressing and qualify for 2016 easily. Then my 1:35 cushion wasn’t enough to get in a second time. Multiple times during my BQ attempts, I wanted to give up. Especially after I didn’t make the cut for 2016. I thought maybe I wasn’t meant to run this race — I was running myself into the ground to get faster, but Boston didn’t care anything about me. I watched so many friends run last year, and I felt jealousy and anger mixed with my happiness for them. But that’s the beauty of Boston. If you don’t get in, there is only one thing you can do about it: improve.
Those failures pushed me to work harder. I earned my starting place on Marathon Monday, and it means far more to me now.
So, after all of the buildup and hard work, on Monday I lined up in Hopkinton and ran 26.2 miles into Boston with nearly 30,000 other amazing runners. The experience will have an impact on the rest of my life.
Boston is the longest running marathon in the world. It’s the most prestigious. People who don’t run understand that it’s a big deal. But all of that history would mean nothing without the people on the course — both the volunteers and spectators. They are what really make Boston the greatest race in the world.
I was supported in every single step I took on Monday. From volunteers welcoming me to the starting village to the spectators and residents who congratulated me all the way to my airport gate and onto the plane on Wednesday, Boston wrapped me up. I’m tearing up now writing this, thinking about how much love I felt on the race course and in the city.
Monday was unseasonably hot along in Boston. Runners could feel the heat even before the race started, and those around me went out much slower than my goal pace. Pacing was even more of an issue for me, because I ended up in the very back of my corral (even though I was just a few spots from bing in corral 3). Most races thin out quickly, so I didn’t think my placement would be much of an issue. In typical races, runners who don’t belong in the front corrals fall off pace, and the crowd is spaced out within a mile. Not Boston. There are so many quality runners on a tight course, that if you aren’t seeded around your goal pace (my BQ time was more than 10 minutes slower than my goal on Monday), you have no chance.
I realized immediately I wouldn’t be able to run the first five miles as hard as I planned. In most races, I would have panicked and been frustrated about being off goal pace so early. But there were so many people along the course encouraging me, I switched my mindset to enjoying every step. At no point did I stress about being slower than my planned pace. Instead of doing my normal pace-obsessed racing, where I live and die with every mile, I relaxed. I enjoyed each city we ran through.
I started making mental notes of everything I saw.
The following things stuck out the most.
There was a group of guys laughing and drinking in Hopkinton, wishing all of the runners good luck and offering us free beer as we walked the seven tenths of a mile from the athletes village to the starting line. “How can you ever turn down a free beeah?” Their cheerful partying set the tone for the whole day. The entire course was lined with happy, loud, supportive people.
I think every person who lives in Hopkinton came out to cheer us on in the first few miles. I was high fiving kids the entire race, and that started in Hopkinton.
After Hopkinton came Ashland, then Framingham. Framingham featured a loud tunnel of people doing arena chants in unison. It sounded like a soccer crowd filling a whole stadium (that particular section also smelled a bit like Woodstock).
Right before entering Natick, we ran past a beautiful small lake. That section of the course had no spectators, so it was entirely peaceful. But still, we could hear the roar of the crowds ahead.
After Natick came Wellesley — the famous scream tunnel. While loud, it wasn’t as deafening as the Boston College Section a bit later in the course. I did high five around 20 people in that section, but don’t worry Rachel, I didn’t stop for any of the famous Wellesley kisses. There were so many signs asking for them, though. My favorite sign, however, simply said: “kick me.”
Somewhere between Ashland and Wellesley, I saw a man dressed as Santa. I saw a volunteer with a homemade Pesky Pole (the famous foul pole at Fenway Park) sticking three feet off the top of his Red Sox hat.
One man held a giant (like 6′ by 6′) sign with the third quarter score from last year’s super bowl right before the Patriots made their record comeback. “How did that end up?” I yelled at him. “I don’t know, I fell asleep,” he shouted back with a smile.
My second favorite sign came around mile five and simply read: “You’re almost done! #alternativefacts.”
The entire crowd knows the history of the Boston Marathon, and it seemed each person understood how the heat would affect all of the runners. So many people, not official aid stations, were offering ice in cups and extra water. Some were spraying runners with hoses. I saw a few fire hydrants partially opened to spray runners as well.
I made sure to take two cups of water at each aid station. And I grabbed ice any time I saw it. Still, when I finished, I was massively dehydrated.
When we hit Newton around mile 16, I realized the race was flying by. I felt like I had just started a few miles before. My patient start paid off in the final 10 miles, as I surged through the heat and hills.
A strange thing happened to me during the Newton hills (four extended inclines that end with Heartbreak Hill at mile 21). I watched the crowd pick struggling runners up. When one man started walking, the spectators started screaming encouragement to him. “Don’t quit, keep going!” Then, they started to chant in unison with each footfall. “Left, right, left right.” They increased their cadence until he started running again. It was an amazing moment.
Sometimes in races, I see people who appear to be in my age group struggle, and I have a selfish thought about my finishing place. I might sprint past, trying to get a racing edge. On the Newton hills, instead of looking at the other runners as competition, I started encouraging every single person I passed. I patted several people on the back and tried to pump everyone up. I did it without thinking about what I was doing. Later, thinking back, I realized that Boston is special in that way. I wanted everyone to run well and finish strong.
As we ran through Brookline and into Boston, the crowds kept growing in size and volume.
Boston College was amazing. I was running next to two guys with BC singlets on. When the crowd saw them, it erupted. The runners responded as well and used their arms to flap their way through that section. It was incredible to watch the energy transfer.
I will never forget my first glimpse of the famous Citgo sign outside of Fenway Park. The second I saw it, I knew I was closing in on the finish line. While that sign marks the 1-mile-to-go point, you can see it a mile before passing it. My feet didn’t hit the ground after that point.
As stirring as that Citgo sign was, the final two turns of the course are even more incredible. I’ve heard “right on Hereford, left on Boylston” over and over for years now. I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that flooded me in those two turns. By that point, the crowd is a living thing. A massive hum of energy urging each runner on. I hugged the corners and blinked back tears. Then I felt a wave of gratitude and joy. I had a silly grin all the way to the finish line.
I can’t describe my happiness as I sprinted the final half mile to that finish line. If you want to see humanity, go to a marathon finish line. You will see joy, pain, support. At the Boston Marathon finish line, the spectrum of emotion is magnified. It is a place that has experienced tragedy and anger after the bombing in 2013. Resiliency and determination in 2014. As I crossed that sacred marker, I felt a connection to all of the runners before me. Most of all, I felt joy.
More than six years after setting my Boston goal, I got to cross that finish line. My official time was 2:51:03, slightly slower than my goal pace. But that didn’t matter. I ran my best race, I finished strong, and I loved every single second.
It’s an honor to run from Hopkinton to Boston on Marathon Monday.
I will never forget my first Boston. It was more special than I ever imagined.
I’m already planning my 2018 return.