For many marathon runners the Boston marathon is the Holy Grail of all things marathon. It’s the oldest continuously occurring marathon in the world, with tight qualifying times and a kind of whispered reverence people display when talking about it. Many runners train hard for their perfect race at which to achieve their BQ (Boston qualifier) and then sit nervously at their computer come application time, as even having a BQ does not necessarily get you a spot – competition is fierce and those with faster BQs typically have the edge on spots in Boston.
The BQ for my age group is four hours. I think I could achieve the time with considerable commitment to training and especially speed sessions, however time is not something I have in excess and I had resigned myself to entering Boston on a running tour or through charity.
We applied for entries through Travelling Fit in September and learned we had been unsuccessful in October, which was a real blow as we had done quite a few of their events and had really enjoyed the atmosphere. I set about over the next week applying for a USA charity entry and sent off in excess of 20 applications, eventually being offered a spot that would see me giving the charity around USD8000 to run on their team. That same day Craig had rung Travelling Fit, explaining how close I was to the Abbott Six Star medal, and by some freak chance that day Travelling Fit had been given an additional 10 spots in the marathon – we were in!
Craig hadn’t really run since London in April 2018 as his hip had been really sore. He had a slow trot at parkrun in Helsinki when we visited in October after Chicago and then completed another few parkruns to the end of 2018
Helsinki parkrun – course explanation in three languages!
January 2019 saw our 18 week training program commence again, happily while away in Port Macquarie with our girls. The good news was that Craig’s hip seemed fine!
In something of a brain snap we had told our children that we would pay for them to come to New York in November 2019 provided they ran the NY marathon. We had thought it would be really special to have them all there for when I finished the Majors. Alexander and Emily weren’t able to commit due to work and Uni however Verity, at the time 15 years, leapt at the chance. Verity had never been renowned for her commitment to running and had been on a five year quest to break 30 minutes in a parkrun, which is tricky when you refuse to run more than once a year!
We figured Verity could start small and train with 5km trots, working up to maybe 10km by June and then into a program for New York in November. She was clearly terrified of running and the first few weeks were marked by panic attacks and seven minute kilometres, but she stayed strong. I had a sudden horrible thought that there may be an age restriction on New York and when I looked into it there was – 18 years! Thinking creatively I researched more marathons and eventually found Wellington, NZ, set for 30 June 2019. I’d done the 10km there in 2018 in gale force winds and rain. It allowed children under 18 years to run the marathon, and actually coincided with school holidays, and thus the week I would have taken off work to spend with her anyway. As a result we were in for Wellington and then a week on the south island!
As such our training plan for Boston was then overlaid with Verity’s plan for Wellington. And let’s not forget rowing, being the peak of the regatta season! I really don’t know how we did it, but we bought Verity some good Ay-Up lights like our lights and little trooper that she proved to be, she would get up at 4:30am to leave at 5am to run 5-6km to Hamilton for Craig to pick us up to go to rowing, where he’d undertake his run for the day while we rowed. Thursday was long run day for Craig and I, and I’d do Verity’s long run with her on a Sunday. Other days Craig and Verity would run together while I rowed. We managed but it was pretty tough in terms of time each morning.
Craig and I got through the training really well. He was strong and remarkably niggle free, and missed only one run while away on a motorcycle ride. We had generally hot weather – around 26 Celsius at 4am some days, and then just one day of torrential rain. Most often we were home before the sun came up. The worst day for heat I followed Craig up the Fernleigh track and with each step he took there was a wet shoe print on the pavement – sweat, not rain!
I probably overdid things a bit trying to run myself, with Craig, with Verity, and row as well, and my sleep suffered, but I wasn’t sure what else to do! The long run Craig had to miss I did myself, leaving at 3:59am for 29km, including Nobbys breakwall at 5:15am in the pitch dark with gale force winds and waves breaking over me. Probably not my smartest move that day but I got it done.
We left Sydney Wednesday 10 April. I packed the night before. We flew to Singapore with an hour at the terminal, and then onto Helsinki, Finland. We had purchased around the world fares knowing flying at the pointy end of the plane was less arduous and giving us increased status credits at an incredibly cheaper price than flying direct. We love Helsinki and had a wonderful 36 hours there, generally sitting in a little coffee shop – Robert’s Coffee, by the harbour. Helsinki in the Spring was -9 Celsius! We left Australia at 30 Celsius! It was so cold!
Monitoring the weather for Boston there were multiple alerts to torrential rain on marathon day and likely temperatures of 4 Celsius. Ordinarily neither would frighten us off but a marathon is a long way to be wet and cold if you’re walking. Officials had pulled around 2500 people off the course the previous year during similar conditions and almost 10000 people had abandoned the race. These things could not happen for us – we weren’t going back – and we went to the big shopping centre in Helsinki and purchased Nike running rain jackets.
We left Helsinki Friday 12 April and arrived in New York 10 hours later, on that same day. We had a short time to get from JFK to La Guardia airport and in true form the Border control section at JFK was a nightmare of long queues and angry rude staff. We were directed into a line that snaked for ages before being essentially told we were stupid and to get into a shorter line. We found our town car transfer outside the airport and the driver took us to La Guardia where our flight to Boston had been delayed by four hours. Security screening at La Guardia was possibly the rudest and ugliest I’ve encountered and not helped by fatigue and jet lag on my end. We found an earlier flight and it was smooth sailing from there all the way to our hotel in Boston.
I woke up Saturday feeling off from jetlag. It was pouring. We donned our rain jackets and headed out for the Boston 5km. I’d entered this race back in January. The entry opens and sells out on minutes and I’d woken at 2:30am that day in time to grab two entries! The morning was wet and cold but a great opportunity to try out the jacket. I ended up with the sleeves pulled up and half unzipped as I heated up during the run, but it was excellent being dry at the end and especially for the 15 minute walk back to the hotel. Craig ran well and I felt sluggish. It was only the next day when I woke feeling good that I realised having the run is an excellent way of reorienting the body clock and I probably should have done the same in Helsinki except I didn’t have anywhere near enough warm gear for that!
After breakfast on Saturday we went to bib pickup and the Expo. Again the queuing was huge. We found the end of the queue halfway along Boylston St, moving slowly. Fortunately we were redirected via the shopping centre to a tiny queue where it was evident the hold up was security – screening people and bags, but without bags we zipped through. Bib collection was simple and fast, and then into the Expo.
The Adidas gear section was first in the Expo and was a scene from another world. So much gear and so many people! We knew of course we had to get the celebration jacket, as this is “the thing” people wear around after, and to subsequent marathons. People were everywhere in celebration jackets from past years. We also bought a few running singlets and shirts as Adidas is a brand that we both love for running due to the fit and texture of the fabric.
The second part of the Expo is general exhibitors. We purchased some magnetic race dots, not wanting to puncture our new rain jackets with safety pins attaching the race bib. Altra shoes were a little disappointing without Craig’s shoe size, and we sampled some race nutrition offerings at other stalls. Essentially the third part of the Expo was the line to pay and leave. This was the queue of all queues, snaking maybe 500 metres minimum around the Expo. Things moved reasonably quickly and as always the Americans were faultless on customer service. It was quite a pleasure being there.
We did the tourist thing Saturday afternoon and Sunday, attending the Travelling Fit pasta buffet Sunday night where we chatted with the group of 40 runners fortunate to be in attendance.
Monday. Race day! The weather had been slowly improving and the forecast was for early rain and then increasing sunshine with a tail wind, and then showers later in the afternoon. This was in fact spot on. We awoke to torrential rain. We could see the finish area below our hotel window in Copley Square and things looked awful. Craig turned on the TV coverage which began earlier at 4:30am and was continuing throughout the day. The elites were starting at 9am and at that time were sheltering in Hopkinton high school. The buses that left the city with wave one runners were stopped on the freeway because of safety concerns in the rain. The reporters were digging deep for positive commentary!
We popped downstairs for oats at the restaurant. Our bus was leaving from 8:55-9:30am and our wave was starting around 11am. While Travelling Fit were escorting runners to the buses at 8:15am we knew where to go and didn’t want to be standing in the rain any longer than needed after the 10-15 minute walk to the bus location. We left around 8:40am and by then had elected to leave the rain jackets behind. We wore our throw away KMart track pants, long sleeved top, track jacket, and plastic clear poncho.
The bus ride seemed very long and much further than 42.2km! The contingent on our bus was happy and very very loud. There was a group of exuberant young American men telling loud stories and fist-pumping one another for the entire journey. There was collective cheering at intervals from many on the bus. Such excitement!
On arrival it was drizzling but not cold. We found our way to the Clif tent and picked up some protein bars, and joined the toilet queue. Toilets were plentiful and well stocked including hand sanitizer which was nice. Our wave was called and we slowly stripped off layers before eventually deciding to go with shorts and singlet. All that angst about cold, wind and rain and here we were in our typical Australian run wear.
We walked out of the athlete village and kept on walking until we saw people start running. Turns out it was a rolling start for us, not in our assigned corrals, but rather as you came to the mats the race began. It was a bit anti climactic however the organisers had done so to limit the opportunity for runners to get cold standing in corrals. It was a lesson learned from last year.
The first 10km went by in less than an hour. The atmosphere was lovely and there was plenty of room really to run your own race. The race starts in the rural New England town of Hopkinton and passes through various towns en route to central Boston. We had the entire road on which to run and I quickly remarked how pleasurable it was to be running through the little towns rather than in among tall buildings as is the case with big city marathons. Chicago was a great event but the buildings played havoc with the GPS. In every town we passed heaps of people all cheering and encouraging the athletes. Patriots’ Day is a public holiday relating to the American Civil War, and apparently most citizens spend the day on the marathon course.
For me 15km to 30km was tough. I had to go to the toilet three times and my head was all over the place. I nearly broke my rule about crying in a marathon, but didn’t! Fortunately there were aid stations every 2-3km that were well stocked with water and Poweraid; and then three Clif stations along the course. There were heaps of medical staff and their numbers swelled as we neared the end. I knew that last year the medics had been very busy with runners suffering hypothermia and they were keeping a close eye on everyone running past this year as well.
The course was quite undulating. There were some big downhills and then a massive uphill around 35km. The uphill was a challenge because it came so late in the race. Most people around us seemed to walk it and it was around here we overtook a man with a prosthetic leg and a woman running in a cam boot complete with t-shirt explaining she had broken her ankle in three places while training in snow. I thought he was a legend and she was crazy.
By 30km I felt more on the same page as Craig, who had been running very strongly, and we walked and ran the additional distance quite companionably. Heaps of times we held hands and while I found this really comforting, the Americans loved it! People went wild when they saw us, cheering and screaming our names. “Look at the love birds” and “I gotta get a picture of that” were memorable comments we overheard.
It rained a bit around 38km, and there was definitely a strong tail wind. We found later too we’d been sunburned around 26km which was ridiculous given the meteorological build up to the race!
There were heaps of runners with signs pinned to the back of their shirt saying they were finishing their sixth World Major this day. Later this year I hope this will be me and I’m looking forward to having one of those signs!
I had a rough idea of the layout of the last few kilometres and was excited when Boylston St came upon us, and we ran together toward the finish.
The noise of people cheering was incredible but I was thinking, as I know Craig was and probably most others, of the bombing of 2013 that marred the race and changed marathon running forever. It was the first time since 2013 that the race date had fallen on the 15th, and this had special significance for people.
We crossed the line in just over five hours – a pb for Craig and my fifth major completed.
Getting the medal was such a highlight! The medals were about 50 metres on after the finish line and I don’t think I’ve ever looked so hard for the place to receive it. Further on was the Abbott tent where runners who had completed the six World Major finishers received their six star medals.
The finish area was excellent with water on hand, and the all important foil capes that delightful young women wrapped around us while others taped the edges together. We then trudged our way back to the hotel. My back was killing me but after a warm shower I felt so much better. Craig came through almost unscathed and a warm shower certainly pepped him up as well. The hotel was absolutely packed with runners and we elected to get room service, which arrived quite quickly and was a fantastic way to end the day.
The following day we did the tourist thing again and both remarked, as did every other runner to whom we spoke, that our quads were sore. The downhill sections clearly took a toll and the aftermath though wasn’t pretty.
We wore our jackets and finisher shirts to the airports on Wednesday as people had told us the ground staff were more pleasant if they knew you’d run the marathon. I think this was true as the process was slightly more pleasant and certainly there was comraderie with other runners and talking points with the public.
While we were away Verity ran 19km alone with her sister as support and safety crew on her bicycle. Would I do Boston again? No – I’ve done it! I’ve moved the focus now to Verity, and then New York in six months. If I keep running marathons after that I think the goal will be on running different countries for Marathon Globetrotters, but we shall see. I’m encouraging Craig to run alone in New York – he says he’s retiring after that race and I think he may like to take it on in his own way rather than having to think about me and my style of racing. Again, we shall see!
Boston certainly lived up to its reputation as an event. Everything about it was super professionally organised and managed. Communication by email and social media was excellent. On-course support was thorough and supplies plentiful. The 10000 volunteers were exceptional and the crowd support amazing. It really was quite faultless from our perspective and we were just thrilled to be included in the group of athletes to run this year.
B.A.A. Boston Marathon was #26.