Now I'm recovered I thought I would regale you all with the adventures of a running idiot abroad and tell you all about my Boston Marathon Experience.
I shall start with a brief History lesson for those who aren't familiar with the event, hopefully you can all work out from the title that the event has been running for 126 years and is the oldest marathon running today. It ran through two world wars (albeit in an altered format) and has only had to cancel once during covid with the event run virtually around the world like many big races that year. It forms one of the 6 world majors and is often considered the most prestigious of the bunch. It is always run on Patriots day which is a Monday bank holiday in New England. For many women marathon runners it also has a second meaning as it was often a battle ground where women took a stand to be allowed to run marathons. Before our enlightened times women were not allowed to run marathon distance competitively as there was a general belief that they weren't strong enough and their uterus may drop out on the run. Prior to finally being granted entry to run the race officially women
could often be found hiding in bushes around the start in Hopkinton, they would then jump into the pack and run the race anyway without being given any recognition at the end and definitely no medal. in 1967 Katherine Switzer (now heroine and running legend, and a personal favorite of mine) entered the race and fooled the officials by stating her name as K Switzer to be issued with a bib number. As women weren't allowed to enter there was no section asking for her gender at sign up. On the day she duly arrived wearing bib number 261 and started the race running with then boyfriend and running coach. Al the other participants of the race were supportive of her as she ran. During the race One of the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) officials Jock Semple saw Kathryn running and was furious, so furious he ran onto the course and attempted to remove the bib number for Kathryn and force her from the course, he was physically rammed by her boyfriend and they carried on the race with Kathryn finishing without having dropped her uterus on the course. Finally in 1972 women were allowed to officially compete in the Boston Marathon and this year marked 50 years of women entrants, making it another special run for me!
Another unusual thing about the marathon is its not a loop and doesn't end anywhere need the start, its a point to point marathon. You run in basically a straight line from Hopkinton to the center of Boston. You run through seven towns on your way to the finish on Boylston Street and each town tries to outdo the last with support for runners. Of note on the course are the women's college in Wellesley which is notoriously the loudest part of the course with free kisses for those wanting to stop. The hardest part of the course comes around mile 21 when you hit the hills of Newton, although not the worst hills in the world any elevation at that mile in a marathon is going to be a killer. The worst of the hills is appropriately named Heartbreak Hill.
Unlike London Boston does not have a lottery for mass participation and runners must been a qualifying time to enter with the exception of a few thousand places reserved for sponsors and charities. Prior to covid even getting the qualifying time did not guarantee you a spot as they accepted faster qualifiers first and then moved down the times until all the spots are filled. Prior to covid you ideally needed at least 7 minutes under the qualifying time to stand a chance, add to this the year I originally qualified they reduced the times by 5 minutes too. But in 2019 I did it, I had a qualifying time with a 7 minutes window and I was accepted, over the moon did not cover it. This has always been my dream marathon. Then my luck struck and a world wide pandemic stopped play and the 2020 race was held virtually, I can tell you a solo 26.2 miles around the forest wasn't the same. The race returned in 2021 but with covid still in the air and travel restricted I didn't enter that year, this left me having to qualify again. Fortunately I did with my London time but I didn't have the usually required 5 minutes under the time so wasn't holding my breath for acceptance. But this year I could thank covid, as it led to less people entering and everyone who applied getting a place! For once covid did something good for. Boston 2022 I was on my way!!!
I collected my number on the Friday at the expo, and duly purchased lots of overpriced running gear with the iconic BAA unicorn logo on. And the celebratory runners jacket that I will be wearing everyday for ever. Even the expo was better than London, that may have something to do with the free beer supplied by Sam Adams who brewed a celebratory beers called 26.2 brew which was rather nice. Then it was time to relax and be a tourist until the day itself.
Unsurprisingly for an event that has been running 126 years it was well organised, with busses laid on from the center of Boston to the start in Hopkinton, yellow school busses like in the films too! On arrival at the athletes village in Hopkinton the atmosphere was buzzing, even the houses that lined the street walking down towards the start corral area were holding parties and cheering runners on. I was in the 3rd wave and wasn't setting off until 10:50 so I soaked up the atmosphere and joined the toilet queue. At this point I made a fatal mistake, I bypasses the free sun cream ..... well it had snowed the day before so I wasn't expecting a hot sunny day. Obviously it turned into a hot sunny day and I ran in a straight line for 26 miles, I now know it is possible to burn on only one side of your body.
Every town that the marathon runs through, loves having the marathon take place. Unlike our home town run where there are lots of complaints and drivers getting irate, the towns of Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline and finally Boston gear up and go all out. There are 9000 volunteers on the course with the marshaling being completed various law enforcement. From state troopers, to town cops and even some secret service thrown in for good measure. Everywhere there are crowds and parties going on and supporters screaming and hundreds of kids to high 5, I don't remember a single quiet patch where there was no one around.
When my time came I did find the first mile rather congested and had to work my way to the side to enable me to run past people. I had gone with no game plan and no time in mind, having had 3 weeks out of training due to Covid and a post covid chest infection I wasn't sure how I would get on. I had had some good races leading up to Boston though and though I may just scrape a PB if I was lucky. With this in mind I decided to run without checking my watch for pace and just go with how my body felt. And from the start I felt good!!! One of things I love about this distance is that you can train for months and on the day you either have the best day or the distance chews you up and spits you out. I made to town number one where fellow TRC member Giant was waiting to wave me on.... apparently I was then going faster than expected and he panicked that he may not make it back to Boston before me as the rail network is rather pants. (coincidently we stayed with his brother in Boston who happens to be the director of the Boston rail network... so not too far to go to complain then). My next shout out was from Giants brother and family somewhere near Wellesley (weirdly he had driven and not taken his own trains) and not far from Heartbreak Hill.
When we got to the hills of Newton at mile 21 I can honestly say either Americans don't know hills, or TRC hill sessions are the best. I had read so much about Heartbreak Hill and how bad it was that I was a tad worried about it. That is until whilst running along a gentle incline I looked up and saw a sign telling me I had just conquered Heartbreak Hill. I genuinely did not realize I had run up the famous and reportedly worst hill of the race. Looking around me though I could people were struggling, but not with the hill itself it was more the aftermath of the hill. Having reduced their stride to keep going uphill runners were finding it difficult to switch back into their longer stride when on the flat again. And this is why they say for Boston you have to train for the down-hills more than the up-hills. Fortunately with the terrain we train on i was able to get the swing back in my legs once all the hills were in the past. Blissfully the last few miles are almost completely flat with a few dips and ups that are minimal. With the hills behind me and my stride once more lengthening I was on the homeward leg and finally heading into Boston.
And hitting Boston did not disappoint, the route was lined with supporters to deafening pitch which is great to make sure you don't flag in those final few miles. Also at this point I tend to start looking around me to feed off the crowd to keep me going and take my mind off my legs. And at some point about a mile and a half from the end I looked around to a find a woman against the barrier in a crowd of people 5 deep. Screaming in her loud Bostonian accent "go on runners" ALL while holding in one arm a live goose!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I mean seriously, only in America right? Giant did think I may have imagined it when I regaled them with the story in the pub later only for some other runners to confirm they had also seen crazy goose lady. I'm now thinking of a new hobby where I appear at this point in the crowd at other marathons holding something just as random. It certainly kept my mind from thinking about my legs!
I was soon turning the corner onto Boylston Street for the famous final stretch and unlike London where they have seating on the mall so the finish is very quiet. Here its packed and a wall of cheering greets you on the final run in, exactly what you need at the end of a marathon. And we this ringing in my ears I managed to pull a final surge and speed up for a kind of sprint finish coming over the line in an official chip time of 3:18:42. A massive PB and much better than I could have dreamed of. I can also confirm that my uteros didn't fall out either.
A massive thank you to My buddy Giant for getting his brother and his family to adopt me for a week and save me a hotel bill. Special mention to my Andy for staying home with the children while I swanned off to the states for the week. And of course TRC for the training and all my running buddies.
I was a tad overwhelmed at the end and then again the next morning when I finally found time to look at Facebook and saw all your lovely messages and support. Also the ones of the Boston wall which apparently were displayed when I crossed the line but I wouldn't have seen through the tears.
My goal marathon done after all the set backs with covid, the torn hip and having to re-qualify. And to then get a PB there on top. I could not have asked for better. Would I go again? In a heartbeat. My goal is to run all 6 world Majors but I would forfeit that to run Boston more instead. My life goal lived up to the hype!
Next up Berlin in September, then Chicago in October!