There is nothing like it. No other race, no other event, no other finish line…
You never forget your first one.
I told Keith Alston before he made the trek up there for this year’s race, that it was going to be unlike anything he had ever experienced. Enjoy it, embrace it, take it all in. Run your best, but at Boston, especially the first one, your finish time just becomes insignificant.
Like most other runners, from the time I entered my first marathon in 2005, I determined that someday I would run Boston. I qualified in 2007, but injuries kept me out until 2009. I’d run NYC and MCM. MCM was my Boston qualifier. Even knowing Boston is the ultimate. Even working so hard to get there and being thrilled to go, I had no idea just how special this event was until I got there.
The entire city and all the ‘burbs are electric with excitement. The streets are flooded with runners, most sporting that coveted Boston jacket they earned the right to wear proudly! Bostonians welcome you with smiles, eager to find out where you are from. “Is this your first one?” They ask eagerly, almost hoping you say yes!
“Just wait until you hear the girls in Wellesley!”
“Have fun! Enjoy it!”
Other runners are equally excited to encourage first-timers to really take it all in.
“Just wait until you hear the girls at Wellesley!” You hear it over and over again.
I’ve run marathons of all different sizes in a variety of locations, from Vegas on the old course where they took you out into the desert and had you run back to town and you are running in this bizarre sort of silence until mile 16 when finally a dozen or so spectators appear…to NYC where the streets of Brooklyn are lined with firefighters and bands and church choirs and people dozens deep line the streets of Manhattan.
Boston trumps them all.
Lisa Johnson (left) and I on Heartbreak Hill in 2009 – we are the ones smiling!
Every inch of that course is filled to the brim, not just with spectators, but boisterous spectators! They have cow bells, boom boxes and apparently incredible lungs! The noise never stops and then, then you start to hear a roar off in the distance.
Really? That can’t be. That is really loud…really loud. I mean we are still like a mile away aren’t we?
Wellesley girls. Thousands of them, screaming and cheering their hearts out for EVERY runner. Every single runner is a rock star to these girls. Everyone tells you, but until you hear them from miles away and are in the midst of that deafening sound, you just can’t even imagine.
I told Keith to be ready, but he couldn’t even believe it.
“They cheered like I was winning the race,” he said. “They had already been at it for hours and they just keep cheering! It was amazing.”
And so it continues the entire route, when the Newton Hills have caused your legs to buckle, you finally see that Citgo sign welcoming you back downtown and then you make that final turn…that big left hander onto Boylston.
The crowd is deafening, the street is massively wide and you just start to float. This is Boston! All the late-marathon pains disappear. You are smiling uncontrollably. It’s just magical.
I honestly don’t know how this even happened, but I started to scan the spectators, keeping in mind that all of the volunteers and security personnel wear neon yellow jackets. My better half, Jolly, also had on a bright yellow windbreaker when I left him that morning. Because in ’09 this was a big race for Americans Kara Goucher and Ryan Hall, I had encouraged him to go straight to the finish, watch those elite runners come in, I mean how often do you get to do that. So I knew he would have been planted there somewhere.
Somehow I managed to pick him out of the crowd. He had secured a spot at the front of the fence on the right side of the street. I hollered at him, waved and dashed over, gave him a kiss and ran to the finish!
I will never forget that finish line, never forget that day. As runs go, far from spectacular to me, but as days go it was great. I did take it all in, stopped and pet some cute dogs – a beagle, of course! – waved and smiled at spectators and volunteers, found my friend Lisa Johnson along the way and ran the Newton Hills with her.
Boston more than lives up to the hype and hoopla that surrounds it. Every agonizing training run and tough race it takes to get you there is worth it.
I told Keith to take it all in. Embrace it, enjoy it, be overwhelmed!
And so he did, I started getting texts from him on Friday about how “all about the marathon” the city was, then again on Monday during the bus ride to Hopkinton about the runners he had met.
He was excited, ready to run and have fun. He did. Marveling at the Wellesley girls, the Newton Hills, that unfamiliar pain in your legs that comes from running downhill for so many miles and then trying to alter that position, and then, finally that finish.
“That street is just amazing, that finish…,” Keith said. “You were right, there is nothing like this, nothing!!!”
Keith had crossed the line, gotten his medal, water and was making the lengthy walk into Copley Square to retrieve his bag and his family when he heard the blast.
“It sounded like a canon, you know like at a football game, like artillery. I saw the smoke. I knew it wasn’t good.”
Indeed it wasn’t.
On a day that is typically so joyous and wonderful in one of the greatest cities in the world – always been one of my favorite places – the unthinkable had happened.
The knot in my stomach grew throughout the afternoon and evening as we learned more and more the extent of the destruction. It left me stunned and heartsick. So grateful Keith had gotten to have his magical day and get out of town safely. So heartsick for those who lost loved ones and had life-altering injuries.
Thoughts kept returning to how wonderful my experience there had been, how happy the entire weekend was in that city and it just angered me so much that people were robbed of that memory and worse…
Our hearts are with you…