I’ve always chalked the Boston Marathon up as a pipe dream race. While I was always told growing up that I was a talented distance runner, marathons were an entirely different beast in my head. While I wasn’t able to successfully swing doing a marathon while I was in the best shape of my life in college, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to stay motivated long enough after I graduated to tackle the monstrosity that is 26.2 miles. The fact that I qualified for the Boston Marathon in my very first marathon attempt in Charlevoix was astonishing to me. The pipe dream, bucket list race actually became a reality for me on April 18, 2016.
Boston was always a city I wanted to explore in general, for the sake of history. With this being my first time stepping foot in Massachusetts to begin with, I couldn’t think of a better time to soak in the New England culture than during the time of the legendary race. I had a long list of destinations and experiences I wanted to have in my short trip to Massachusetts, and was incredibly excited to cross the items off my list. My brother and parents joined me on the adventure, so I was also excited to have the support and people to share the experience with. I was so excited to soak in the city, I was definitely “that guy” on the plane with all Boston Red Sox swag (to no disrespect to the Tigers, who will always be my favorite.)
The history in the city was evident shortly after I landed from my flight. The first thing I noticed was the wild design of the streets. It was clear that the city truly was built for horse and buggy transportation originally, and it didn’t transfer well to the automobile. This resulted in very windy roads that made walking and public transportation essential. I remember being blown away at the way the crosswalks were even designed. All of traffic for automobiles would stop briefly, and then there would be a madhouse of individuals crossing the street in virtually every direction without adhering to traditional crossing methods. It didn’t take long for the culture shock to initially set in.
It just wouldn’t be a true Boston experience if I didn’t go to a Red Sox game at the legendary Fenway Park. So naturally, that was on the agenda the night of when we landed on April 15 (which now makes the Red Sox swag make a little more sense). The park definitely lives up to expectations, and has so much history encapsulated within their walls. I even got to meet the pitcher Chris Carpenter at an event happening inside, which was a very unexpected surprise. The Red Sox were playing the Blue Jays that day, so I also got to witness two fantastic pitchers go head to head: the former Tiger Rick Porcello, and the legendary RA Dickey. The Sox ended up winning that day, which made the aesthetics of the park that much more pleasing.
The overall energy in Boston during Mid-April as they prepare for the marathon is unreal. Runners from all over the world, and all different walks of life come to this city to take part in arguably the most historic and well-known races in the United States, if not the world. Different businesses get caught up in the energy, and take part in special promotions just for the marathon, like Starbucks and the #BostonStrong Frappuccino (which is delicious, by the way) and Samuel Adams brewing the 26.2 gose style ale (which is also equally amazing). Runners are truly treated like celebrities in Boston during Mid-April, which is a completely different atmosphere than I’m accustomed to. It’s a definite step up from being picked next to last in gym class for all sports that require coordination growing up.
The Boston Marathon traditionally takes place on Patriots’ Day, which is the third Monday in April to commemorate the battles of Lexington and Concord that took place during the American Revolutionary war. With it being a state holiday, a majority of Boston residents get the day off work, and are able to take place in the support and festivities that the race brings to the city. I came to learn very quickly that New England residents are very prideful people, and the energy felt on race day and the days leading up to it couldn’t be matched. Athletes coming in to take part in the race aren’t treated like tourists, they’re treated like family.
As that Monday of race day finally approached, I caught the early morning red line train outside of my hotel that took me to the gathering area where the Boston Marathon bus takes the runners to the Athlete’s Village, where runners do their pre-race rituals before the start. I sat next to a man from Brazil on the ride to the village, and we talked about our marathon strategies and running styles. I remember him being blown away at the fact that I don’t use GU running gel while I race to refuel and get some carbohydrates. I made friends with another individual from Chicago on the bus ride, which was one of the few fellow Midwesterners I met on my trip. The melting pot of individuals all there for one purpose was nothing short of inspiring.
Upon arriving in the Athlete’s Village, the feeling of how massive this race really was started to sink in. The area was overwhelming, with an assortment of snacks, bathrooms and runners doing their pre-race rituals and getting mentally prepared for the race. In all of the chaos, I managed to run into all of my friends from Saginaw who qualified with me. The familiar faces definitely calmed my nerves, and brought me back to reality. Looking around the village, it became easy to separate the rookies from the veterans for this race based off what they brought with them to the village. I imagine it was pretty obvious how much of a rookie I looked like.
With 2016 being the 120th year of the Boston Marathon, volunteers and race officials have had time to perfect their craft. Despite having over 30,000 people compete in the marathon, operations run smooth for getting everyone coordinated and toward the starting line. Runners are assigned their placement at the starting line based off the qualifying time they entered for the race. Faster individuals are naturally placed toward the front of the pack. My seed placement that year was wave one, corral two. After my wave and corral were called in the Athlete’s Village, it was time to start the long walk toward the starting line.
As I followed the massive herd of runners, I couldn’t help but notice all of the spectators outside in their front lawn, eager to watch the start of the race. Families would have signs in their yard, wish the runners luck and would even have fruit or water to give out to people. It’s clear that the citizens of Massachusetts took great pride in their beloved race, and wanted to show their support to the ones competing.
As I made my way up to the area labeled wave one, corral two, I felt the nerves sinking in, but also felt a surge of excitement. I went into the race treating it as a destination run, and wanted to do my best to enjoy the experience, and not worry about place or time. After the pre-race ceremonies were complete at the gun went off, it took several minutes before me and the runners around me even moved, just because of the massive amount of people competing. Once we finally got moving, runners practically had no choice but to run the pace of everyone around them, or be trampled. However, that’s the beauty of seed time placement, everyone around each other essentially runs the same speed.
Even though the close contact of other runners gives off a feeling of being claustrophobic, everyone slowly separates from each other as the miles continue. The energy felt in that city during the race is both inspiring and uplifting. There’s never a dull moment from the spectators, the sheer noise and cheering is absolutely deafening. Despite all the chaos, the energy creates a euphoric racing experience that really can’t be mimicked elsewhere. The cheering never stops for the entirety of the 26.2 miles. Even when the infamous “heartbreak hill” comes in around mile 17, the cheers and the support help the athletes pull through.
After letting the energy and euphoria carry me through the 26.2 mile journey, I found myself stumbling my way to the family meeting area. I deliriously wandered to the sidewalk carrying a bunch of free stuff that got handed to me after I finished, figuring my family would find me in the area eventually. I knew once I sat down I wasn’t going to want to go anywhere. I made another friend from Portland, Oregon as I sat there waiting for my family, who eventually found me. I then hobbled my way to back to the train, which felt like the longest walk of my life.
In my then 12 years of running competitively, I’ve never had a race experience quite like the Boston Marathon. Being surrounded by so many talented athletes from all over the world, combined with the support and pride felt from spectators made for a very unique and rewarding experience. I went on Facebook once I gained my composure again, to find that a lot of my friends tracked my race on the Boston Marathon app, and were cheering me on as I was racing. I had never felt so much love and support for my running endeavors as I did that day. Many runners one day dream of running the Boston Marathon, and I felt so blessed not only to partake in it, but that I had so many loving people surrounding me that were cheering me on even though they weren’t physically there. My time from the race was good enough to re-qualify for the 2017 Boston Marathon, and I already caught myself counting down the days to when I would return to do it all over again.