Running the Boston marathon is a dream for many runners, and the pinnacle of their running achievements for many others. But what is it about this race that makes it such an iconic event. Is it because at 120 years it is the world’s oldest annual marathon? Is it the picturesque course that takes you from Hopkinton in eastern Massachusetts into the centre of Boston? How about the crazy and passionate support of the locals along the route (race day is held on Patriots’ Day, a public holiday)? The challenge of conquering the Newtons and Heartbreak Hill? And the ‘Scream Tunnel’ of Wellesley College girls offering kisses to runners? Or the opportunity to earn and proudly wear your Boston Marathon jacket around the city?
Well, it’s all those things, and so much more. But the real standout for me is the fact that this is about as exclusive a race any of us will ever run in. There’s no ballot, no charity places: you have to qualify, and that means being fast. To give you some idea, in 2016 the qualifying time for men aged between 60-64 was 3:55! On race day everyone has different expectations based on their fitness and preparation, but as you stand at the start we all know that at some point in the last year everyone one of us earned our place. You are there on merit.
It was my desire to qualify for Boston that drove me to my best ever running performances last year, and my qualification that started this crazy idea of the Timmyslam, running all six world major marathons in a year. And because of this the Boston Marathon is an event that goes far beyond the running of 26.2 miles on a sunny Monday morning. It’s an experience that encompassed my whole stay in Boston. The city and the people make a big deal of the marathon, and just being there is the real achievement, regardless of how you run in the race. I also think the tragic events of 2013, where three people were killed when a bomb went off just 200 metres from the finish line, has reinforced these feelings, both for all those who live in the city and along the route, and for those who travel from all round the world to take part in the event. Boston Strong.
Boston is a fantastic city to visit, particularly for a student of American history like me. It seamlessly blends its colonial and Revolutionary past with the modern, and yet never loses its intimate feel as a small and friendly place. Proud of their history, sports mad, an iconic marathon, the Cheers bar, world famous ice cream: the place was simply made for me! I had a terrific few days exploring all that Boston has to offer, much of which can be done on foot or via one of the numerous river taxis. Too many places to mention (and not wanting to risk turning into a travel blog) but my highlights included the famous Freedom Trail, JFK Presidential Library and Museum, walking around Harvard and taking in a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. A particularly special moment was visiting Saint-Gaudens’ famous bronze memorial dedicated to the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, on Boston Common. The 54th was the first regiment of black soldiers in the American Civil War and the subject of my undergraduate dissertation, so has been something I’ve wanted to see for many years.
And the race itself? It’s a very early start as runners are transported to the start in Hopkinton in a fleet of traditional yellow school buses, followed by the usual hanging around nervously contemplating what’s ahead, queuing for the toilets and applying copious amounts of sun-cream as the temperature rose and the sun made its presence felt on my milky-white shoulders, which hadn’t seen the light of day since September. A short walk to the start, and suddenly we’re off…downhill…very downhill…for quite a while! I suspect I got a little carried away in the moment of the whole experience, and by mile 15 the heat and hills were taking their effect on me. However, the screaming college girls helped keep me going and finally I made the famous final two turns (“right on Hereford, left on Boylston”) before running past the cheering crowds to the finish.
I ended up a little disappointed with my run, but that will never diminish the joy at having experienced running the Boston Marathon. It was awesome, and I’m sure that at some point I’ll be back. If you ever run the qualifying time then don’t hesitate to make the trip.
And with that it was time to fly home, with the rather sudden realisation that I was going to have to do it all again in London just six days later. But more of that next time…