Race: The 122nd Boston Marathon
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Time of Year: Marathon Monday; Patriots’ Day; the third Monday in April
Weather: raining cats and dogs, sheeps and cows at times; temp around 40-43 degrees; strong breezes
What I Wore: Nike Lunar Boost running shoes, full-length Lululemon tights, my Athlettuce tank top, a Mammut base layer that I usually wear skiing, a Patagonia quarter zip pullover, a Mammut/Gore-Tex/REI jacket, and my trusty red running hat. I wore spare socks on my hands and had throwaway shoes and sweatpants that I discarded before the start.
What I Listened To: The sounds of rain hitting Gore-Tex, the wind blowing past me, feet splashing through puddles, the cheers of half a million spectators, my internal reflections on my Boston journey… no music, except Eye of the Tiger and Sweet Caroline played at a couple of points on course.
Size: 30,000 marathoners strong
Logistics: Let me just start by observing that the BAA knows what it is doing. This race has a lot of runners and a lot of spectators and a lot of media and hype, and since the bombing five years ago, a lot of security. But they put together a pretty awesome experience, and that includes all the pre-race and post-race logistics.
We flew direct from Denver to Boston on Saturday morning. Our flight was delayed but luckily we had given ourselves plenty of time before the Monday festivities to get to town. The Boston airport is very convenient to the actual city of Boston, so we took an Uber to our hotel to get changed before dinner. We stayed at the Ritz Carlton because it really wasn’t that much more expensive than several of the other options near Boston Commons (where the buses pick us up in the AM, but more on that in a moment). The location was very good, but (1) we had a disappointing check-in experience (our room wasn’t ready, among other issues; the hotel did comp some things to make up for this once we complained), (2) it does not — I repeat, DOES NOT — have a hot tub, and (3) the use of the gym facilities will set you back $15 a pop. Also, if you book through the marathon vendor and not directly, you won’t be able to use your rewards status for free wi-fi. Also, no in-room coffee, but free coffee was available in the lobby. There were a few race-related perks, such as a welcome bag with a banana, Gatorade, ice pack, etc.; free bananas and bars on race morning; and post-race balloons, a marathon-themed cookie, and a personalized congratulations note complete with each guest’s personal finish time. Anywho, we found it very easy to walk around town from this location and only needed an Uber when going to and from the airport and to get to dinner on Monday night when we were in a little bit of a hurry.
On Sunday, we explored town a bit with friends who live in the area and swung by the finish line to get a preview and snap a few photos. I also took the chance to purchase my Celebration Jacket at a pop-up shop near the finish line rather than waiting in line at the expo. Pro move!
The expo, detailed below, was at the Seaport World Trade Center. This was about a 25 minute walk from our hotel but not too painful. Packet pickup was very easy and organized and separate from the vendors. T-shirt size swap was also easy.
RACE MORNING! I slept in because my wave (Wave 3) didn’t start the race until 10:50 am. I got up at 7 am or so, put on allll my layers, and at 8:15 I left the Ritz to find the buses that would drive us to the Athletes’ Village and start area in Hopkinton. They were very easy to find and I had no issue hopping on one without any wait. Wave 3 runners were supposed to board between 8 am and 8:45, and Wave 4 runners were supposed to board after that. It was clear that many runners had boarded earlier than their designated times, which meant there were a bunch of people in the way at Athletes’ Village, taking up room under tents, totally in the way of people trying to get to the start line, taking seats on buses, etc. For future runners, I’d recommend just going at your designated time — trust the process.
Probably the only logistical complaint I have is that racers could not check anything at the start area/Athletes’ Village. So anything you take to Athletes’ Village needs to be thrown out or consumed. I get why this is the way they do it, but I saw so much waste — food, shoes, clothes — at Athletes’ Village. I know there is some effort to donate some items but good luck sorting through all that… Anyway, not a huge deal in the scheme of things.
Not a complaint, just a note: there were a shockingly good number of porta potties at Athletes’ Village, but you had to maneuver through a veritable mud pit swamp situation to get there. Luckily we stopped at Marshall’s on Sunday night and picked up a spare pair of throwaway shoes and some throwaway sweatpants that I wore on race morning. And luckily I did not fall in the mud or lose said throwaway shoes in the mud (very close to happening!).
After just a few minutes of hanging out at Athletes’ Village (which I guess sounds a lot cooler than it is…), they called my wave to start progressing towards the start line! Woohoo! Everyone is assigned a Wave (1-4) and a Corral (1-8). I was fortunate to be in Wave 3, Corral 1, so I walked all the way to the start line to wait for the gun to be fired for my wave. There was about a 10 minute wait once I was lined up (see, people who were freaking out and running? — trust the process). And then we were off!
After the race, my husband and I had agreed to meet at the Family Meeting Area. Good thing! There were about 1 bazillion people, but it was easy to find him at our designated letter. There is a bit of a maze to get out and back to the hotel, but we made it without me freezing to death. Success!
Expo and Swag: All runners were given nice Adidas long-sleeved tech tees, which were in the classic BAA blue. I had requested a size small shirt but when I saw that it was a long sleeved tech tee, I decided to size up to a medium because who wants a tight-fitting long sleeved shirt. Note that the Celebration Jackets are not included — everyone just seems to buy these, and obviously I did the same ($110).
Although I sometimes dart in and out of expos, I really wanted to take the chance to soak in the Boston experience, so my husband very patiently walked through every single aisle of the expo with me. There were various celebrity runners hanging out at sponsors’ kiosks, in addition to various other official speeches and events throughout the day. We didn’t stop at any of these, but I did walk right past Katherine Switzer. There were good sampling opportunities, although most foods were race fuel-type snacks. There were also several stick/foam roller/massager/leg compression options to try out if folks needed some last-minute muscle work.
Runners were given free entry into the pre-race pasta party at City Hall, with an assigned entry time on the ticket. I was given 4 pm… Guests cost $25 each and tickets needed to be purchased at the expo, not at the door for dinner. We decided not to go, for several reasons, including the 4 pm entry time, but I’m sure it was a fun event with lots of energy.
On race morning, I think there was Gatorade at the Athletes’ Village, but if Dunkin had set up a stand, they probably could have charged $20 per coffee. But no. Just cold, wet, mud and Gatorade.
On course, there were plenty of well-stocked hydration stops with water and the most delicious Gatorade I’ve ever drank. There were also three CLIF stations giving out gels. I ran past some folks giving out oranges and bananas but I’m not sure if these were official race snacks.
At the finish line, we were given a very nice race medal, a water bottle, some snacks (Hawaiian rolls, fruit cup, apple, Terra Chips, a mini CLIF bar), and a fancy heat blanket. Wouldn’t have minded a little more, higher quality food — come on sponsors, this is the BOSTON MARATHON! Particularly disappointed that there was no protein 😦 except for the little CLIF bar that just wasn’t sounding good to me — would have loved some chocolate milk or a protein shake at the end but maybe CLIF needed to be the official protein source…
Racers were also given free entry into a post-race party at Fenway Park on Monday night. I don’t think this included food, but we didn’t go so I can’t say for sure. Guest tickets were once again $25 and needed to be purchased at the expo.
Overall, I’d say this had standard race-provided swag and above-average expo sampling opportunities.
The Course: The Boston Marathon is a 26.2 mile point-to-point road race with a net downhill profile but 332 feet of climbing. Nearly every inch was lined with cheering spectators, even in the driving rain. The course begins in the town of Hopkinton, then goes through Ashland, Framingham, bustling Natick, and Wellesley, including the “Scream Tunnel” of Wellesley students. Next up are the hills of Newton, climaxing with Heartbreak Hill, which really isn’t very steep at all. Then runners go (mostly) down into Brookline and finally Boston proper. In the final mile, the course turns right onto Hereford Street then left onto Boylston Street, finishing near the John Hancock Tower in Copley Square.
How It Went: OK, so if you didn’t read my past… let’s call it three posts, go back and do that now. In short, I was not in perfect physical condition for this race and wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to go. I legitimately thought I might need the whole 7ish hours before the cutoff, and just hoped I could hobble through and say that, yes, I completed this race. But, as you might have heard, it was crazy crazy rainy and also quite cold and windy, and moping through seven hours of that weather sounded legit terrible to me. So I decided I’d start running at an easy pace and would see how far I could make it before my back and glute and hamstring inevitably seized up on me. I was guessing I’d make it about halfway.
All of the other Wave 3, Corral 1 folks were feeling speedy in the first few miles, but I let them all pass me and reminded myself to run my own race. I also knew that the first few miles were downhill and that people often go out too fast on this course. (Thanks to Hungry Thirties for the podcast recommendation — The Most Pleasant Exhaustion — which provided some great last minute strategic tips!) I quickly remembered that Boston is a World Marathon Major, which means that splits are provided every 5 km — because, you know, metric. Knowing that a few folks at home were likely tracking my splits, I decided to break the race down into 5ks, with my motivation being to check in at the next timing mat, and then the following timing mat, and so on for 42 km. This broke the race into smaller pieces than I am used to, but I really felt like my body couldn’t be guaranteed for longer distances; I was content to run this thing three miles at a time.
I won’t go into too much detail because most of it was a blur, but there were so many spots of amazing crowd support that made me feel so great, especially the fact that alllll those people were out there standing in the horrible horrible rain to cheer on the runners. That was huge. Then, there were my fellow runners, who had all either worked super hard to qualify or had worked super passionately for a charity team — it was just a totally different level of energy compared to most races. We each had our own story, our own journey, and we all wanted this so much. That’s really special. And how about that rain? It was like I was ten years old, out stomping through puddles and feeling alive and letting my tongue catch the giant drops descending from the heavens. It was falling hard all day, but occasionally the rain would pick up and the wind would get a little louder and my Goretex hood felt like a little shelter and we would all be laughing at the wildness of it all. Somewhere along mile 9 a woman yelled out “DES LINDEN JUST WON” and I beamed and thought I might cry and wondered why these days I keep crying when American women win big races.
Around the 20 km mark, I was feeling good and noticed that I was still on pace to go sub-4. I decided that would be awesome, given the situation, so I set that as a goal, understanding, of course, that my body could seize up at any time and render me immobile. I had enough of a buffer that I tried to tell myself to go mellow, mellow until after Heartbreak (mile 20.5). If I still felt good after that, I could pick it up if I really needed to do. Somewhere a little before or during the Newton hills, I definitely noticed that my cold legs were feeling tight and a little numb, like they weren’t part of my body. But they kept moving and I didn’t have pain in my back so I figured I’d just keep going. I used mellow, mellow as a mantra for my pace but also with the hope that it would keep my muscles relaxed enough. So it was mellow, mellow until 30k, mellow mellow, and then OK, you’re in Newton, mellow mellow until 35k, mellow, mellow, and then you’re not done yet, better stay mellow, mellow until 40k. Going up Heartbreak, I kept thinking, is this it? It was longer than the other hills, and my legs certainly weren’t fresh, but it wasn’t particularly steep. I thought about how I dig deep when I’m running up the Boulder hills, plodding along with one foot in front of the other, and then it was over.
I decided that my legs were too cold and stiff to try to push the pace in the final miles, so I just kept an easy pace. Finally I took the famed right on Hereford and left on Boylston and saw the finish line. I could tell it was still quite a good bit away — I hadn’t even hit 26 miles at that point — so I held back until I was two blocks from the end. Someone yelled out “you are doing it!” And I remembered how when I was running my BQ race, I kept having that exact thought. I unzipped my jacket so that my number was visible to the MarathonFoto folks and raced over the finish line, beaming.
Official time: 3:54:16.
Overall Impression: LOVE IT. Duh.