Running

Boston Marathon 2023

Joining a US running club, there was one thing that was very apparent from early on, the importance and status around qualifying for Boston Marathon. The oldest and most prestigious marathon, runners would fly around the states for fast courses (read downhill marathons) and on the final weekends before the qualifying period finished, a few last ditch attempts were made anywhere that had reasonable race conditions. We both qualified with our 2022 Houston Marathon times but due to work commitments (me) and injury (Mark) we were not going to be in a position to all-out race in Boston. For us the aim was to have fun and enjoy the atmosphere of this special race.

The amusement started early as we headed to our gate for the flight from Houston to Boston. Every second person was wearing some kind of Boston memorabilia from previous races, the older it was the more swagger it commanded! One of the main reasons to race was to become the proud owner of a Boston marathon jacket, but to our great disappointment this year’s were not the traditional blue and yellow and we were not sure that we’d end up buying one.

After our delayed flight finally arrived in Boston (thanks to IAH and United), we headed to pasta dinner with the Raf and some of the other Front Runners who had flown in from Perth. It was nice to see so many Aussies, have a bit of a pep talk (Raf was in good form) and share in the excitement of the those who would be running.

The next morning we deliberated on where to do our shakeout run, but seeing as it was really cold and we were staying out in the habour area, we just ran near our hotel. After a warm shower we headed to the finish line for a group photo with our US running club, Houston Harriers. There were lots of good spots for social media pictures!

It was a brief walk from the finishing area to collect our bibs and visit the race expo. There were long lines to get into the venue, but inside it was pretty quick to get our bibs. Of course the busiest section was the merchandise area, we ended up looking but not buying.

The expo was smaller than expected, probably as only official gear from Adidas was on display. However, over on Newberry Street there were lots of pop-up running stores (Brooks, Rabbit etc) as well as the original Tracksmith store. It was crawling with people returning from shakeout runs and the anticipation for tomorrow’s race was building!

We had some lunch and then to rest our legs we went to watch the baseball at Fenway Park. We somehow have managed to see the LA Angels a few times (and their big hitting Japanese import Shohei Ohtani) and enjoyed the match between them and the Red Sox. The ballpark had a completely different feel to Minute Maid (home ground of Houston Astros) and a great historic atmosphere. There was even a home run hit to the “green monster”.

In the evening we did the traditional flat lay. I was still tossing up which running club to represent, but in the end went with Inside Running Podcast!

Boston Marathon is held on Patriots’ Day, which is a Monday public holiday in Massachusetts. We didn’t have to get up too early, but had a lot of travel ahead of us in order to reach the start line. After our Weetbix (of course), we took the subway into the finish line/bag drop area and were surprised that the bag drop used several yellow school buses to hold all the gear! We then walked across to Boston Common where yet more school buses were waiting to transport us to the starting line. This took almost an hour, and near Hopkington the traffic became pretty intense. I was glad that Mark going to run at my slow pace and so we were able to keep each other company during the trip. If we’d been in our own waves it would have been a bit lonely in the hours leading up to the start.

One of the special parts of Boston marathon is running through the different towns (once rural, now more suburban) on that way back to the city. The logistics are impressive, the start takes place in Hopkington which is a town of 17,000 people so to have 30,000+ runners turn up for the day takes a bit of organising! The buses dropped us off at the “Athletes’ Village”, held at the local school. It was cold and drizzly, but once we had lined up for the toilet and had a snack, it didn’t seem like we’d done much loitering there.

We waited for the loudspeakers to announce our wave and then it was time to make our way to the start line. This involved about a 1km walk through residential streets, and already there were people out supporting the runners with some families having parties in their front yards!

Boston Marathon starts much later than most smaller races, we were in the third wave which didn’t set off until 10.50am! I was glad for the cooler weather, if it had been warmer then starting so late in the day would have not been pleasant at all. After what seemed like all morning, we finally got to Hopkinton Common and we were off!

The first couple of miles were mainly downhill on fairly narrow roads. Mark and I were running together, at an easy pace trying not to let the downhills trick us into going a bit faster (we didn’t want to have to pay for that kind of pacing strategy later!) It was still a bit rainy, the road was quite slippery for super shoes and before long we were pretty soaked from the puddles.

Happily though, the rain did not keep the spectators away and as we we ran through Ashland, Framingham and Natick there were good crowds in the town centers and a really great vibe. At the halfway point, we ran past the famous Wellesley scream tunnel. Hundreds of Wellesley college students were lining the course with lots of signs to kiss them and absolutely deafening screams. We didn’t partake in any kisses and it was definitely a notch higher than St Mary’s twang in the loud noise department!

Although we had been rolling up and down for most of the way, the notoriously hilly part of the course was coming up, the four Newton hills, with the last being the infamous Heartbreak Hill. Living in exceedingly flat Houston meant that I was a bit apprehensive due to lack of specific hill training. But in reality the hills were not that big (not as long or steep as Perth City to Surf) and either training along the ‘hilly’ part of Buffalo Bayou or my legs remembering past hill work meant it wasn’t too bad. Once again crowd support was great on this part of the course.

From 35km onwards it was dowhill and I tried to pick up the pace, with Mark advising on the time required to run another BQ (which was slower than before due to an increase in age group). However making this was still going to be touch-and-go. Even though we’d taken it pretty easily, my legs didn’t have much more to give which was probably the quads being a bit smashed from the downhills, coupled with the cold weather. Before long we could see the Citgo sign, and passing beneath it meant there was only one mile left!

We were getting closer and closer, the crowds were swelling and then we were at the famous last intersections “right on Hereford, left on to Bolyston”.

The last four blocks on Bolyston were incredible and we surged (as much as possible) and cheered as we crossed the line. In the end I was 34 seconds off another qualifier, but still pretty happy with how the race had gone, considering the interrupted build up.

We were pretty soaked, and after the post-marathon slow shuffle to the bag drop, I changed out of my soggy clothes using the space blanket as a screen. We headed to Newberry Street again where Brooks and Citius Mag were doing a shoe giveaway at Hyperion House but I was one person too late for getting a free pair! We did both get some nice Brooks Boston scarves though. Next we stopped in at the Tracksmith after party. Mark had a beer and we got our “Tracksmith ratified” marathon time posters, which I regretted not getting at Chicago.

To try and flush out our legs (and to avoid going down the stairs to the subway!) we slowly hobbled back to the harbour area via one of my favourite parts of Boston, the Make Way for Duckings sculptures. They had been dressed up in marathon gear for the occasion including medals from the 5km race the day before. There were also lots of daffodils representing “Boston Strong” as it was the 10 year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings.

By the time we made it back to the hotel it was almost 5pm! We had a luxuriously hot shower and then headed to Trillium brewing next door, embracing the US custom of post-race medal wearing. We were pretty knacked so only had a couple of beers and a burger before crashing.

All in all, for us Boston marathon was more of an experience than a race. Given the large amount of travel and waiting before the marathon it would be difficult for this to be a PR/PB, let alone the more challenging course elevation. By taking the pressure off, we were able to enjoy the whole weekend and the Boston community really getting into the event. We could understand why so many American runners had this on their bucket list, it is both a good challenge to met the qualifying standard and a great reward to take part in the race.

PS we did end up getting some Boston gear, it went on sale a couple of weeks after the event and we got it posted out to us!

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