Boston Marathon is held on the Monday of the Patriot’s Day long weekend. This year’s Marathon Monday for the 119th Boston Marathon was 20 April 2015.
I arrived in Boston on the Friday after a short stay in New York that eliminated most of the jet lag. Travel was an AMTRAK train to Boston Back Bay station and a short walk to the Westin Copley Hotel which is also near the finish line for the Marathon.
Friday afternoon was Expo time with bib pickup and shopping for a few BAA branded essentials and souvenirs. There was a great range of products on the Friday but by Sunday there are some empty shelves.
Saturday, BAA has a 5km race from Boston Common although it’s more of a fun run for the majority of the participants. For travellers it’s a good chance to shake out the stiffness and also to have a look at the Marathon finish line. It was also a great chance to meet up with the other Aussies in the Travelling Fit group.
Saturday and Sunday were fine and sunny with temperatures that were maybe a little warmer than ideal for running. The weather forecast for Monday looked doubtful and suggested cold, rain and wind with the showers starting about the same time as the race at 10:00. Who would be a Race Director? They just can’t win.
Monday and it was off to Boston Common to board one of the fleet of school buses for the one hour trip to the start at Hopkinton. Security was tight with a no bag policy. Any extra clothing you were wearing needed to be left at Hopkinton for charity. It was not much of a problem because you learnt after a few days that Marathon weekend means no bags or clear plastic bags for everything.
Boston Marathon is a point to point race with a course that has hardly changed over the history of the race. Because it’s point to point and is net downhill the course does not qualify for world records, not that I was likely to challenge any record.
The drop off at Hopkinton, if you catch the right bus, is about 2 hours before your scheduled start time. The athlete’s village had hot drinks, water, bananas and bagels. There were a few large tents for shelter and plenty of Portaloos (Portajohns for the Americans). The battle in the village was trying to stay warm. The weather forecast had it right: no wind or rain yet but a temperature of only about 3ºC. I was thinking that I needed different running clothes but it was too late to change. At least I had running gloves and a beanie. The beanie looked ridiculous but was essential on the day.
About an hour before my scheduled start time, my wave began to move towards the start line about 600m from the athlete’s village. Out in the open and the rain began. I was towards the back of Wave 3 so the elite runners had heard the National Anthem and departed well before I get there.
After 30 to 40 minutes standing in the rain it was my turn to run. I heeded the advice to take things easy, as the first km is a big downhill drop. After that it was settle into a rhythm and try and keep it smooth over a course that is always slightly undulating. Although there were large numbers of runners, the strict seeding by qualifying times means that there wasn’t much need to swerve around slower runners and I didn’t feel crowded like City2Surf. No road rage incidents and everyone seemed very happy to encourage those around them.
The course is designed so that you run from Hopkinton through the outer towns and suburbs of Boston into Back Bay. Boston has been using a slogan, ‘Everyone in Boston Owns the Marathon’. The locals seem to believe this and in each town you pass, the crowds were 4 or 5 deep along most of the course. The advertising says there are up to a million people out supporting this event. Probably an exaggeration unless they are including television numbers but amazing when you are used to the handful of people we get in some Australian events.
My first half went well. At half way I was still on schedule for the planned 3:45 finish. The only problem was the weather. The temperature had risen to 6ºC but it was still raining and the wind was starting to pick up. The wind chill made the effective temperature close to zero. Hands, feet and face were almost numb. Drink stations became difficult as I couldn’t hold the cups properly. The drinks felt so cold that I could feel them go down to stomach and if I drank more than a mouthful or two the core temperature dropped and shivering started.
My pace after half way was slowing a bit but not by much. I had been warned about the Newton Hills, which are around the 32-35km mark, There are 3 or 4 hills but I was half way up the last one (Heartbreak Hill) before I really noticed. The hills aren’t very steep but have sustained climbs that are energy sapping that far into a marathon. The Boston Heart Break Hill is not even close to the climb of the Sydney namesake.
After the top of Heart Break Hill it’s mostly downhill to the finish but like everyone around me it was difficult to get back on pace. Whether I had gone out a bit fast early and over done the quads on the previous downhill sections of whether it was just the cold, I don’t know. The weather was getting worse and it was no longer possible to miss the big puddles on the road. It would have been very easy to pack it in but the crowds were still out there in the rain with their horns and cowbells, voices or anything else that makes lots of noise. No matter how miserable you feel the crowds will get you through that last few kilometers.
At last you turn into Hereford Street and see the familiar landmark of the Expo in front. Then it’s a left turn onto Boylston Street and the crowd of thousands screaming support for 600m sprint, hobble or crawl to the finish.
Past the finish line its medals and space blankets and lots of congratulations. It felt like everyone in Boston is happy because you finished.
The weather this year made it a tough marathon. When I finished, the medical facilities at the finish were close to full of runners that became hypothermic soon after the finish. I was very glad to have a warm and comfortable hotel just around the corner from the finish line.
My finish time was just under 3:52 but there was still close to half the field behind me and the rain and wind increased about 45min after I finished. Those out on the track at that stage really had it tough.
A few hours later I had defrosted in the hotel and it was time to celebrate. Outside, there were still large numbers of finishers coming over the line. It was still raining and windy. The crowds were still there being noisy and supporting anyone going past.