Like 2011, I flew out of Denver on a Friday night/Saturday morning redeye and landed in Boston around 5:00 AM Saturday morning. I took the “T” into downtown Boston and dropped my bags off at my hotel until I was able to come back later in the day to check in and take a nap.
But for one “tradition” – my Saturday night dinner location and meal – that’s about where the similarities to 2011 ended.
The Hotel Buckminster is neither fancy, nor particularly notable, but its location was ideal. Just across the freeway from Fenway Park, it also lies along the Boston Marathon route at Kenmore Square where Beacon Street turns onto Commonwealth Avenue. With my bags securely stowed, I wandered out into the crisp Boston morning, down Commonwealth Avenue, and toward the finish line. Only a stop at Dunkin’ Donuts could pull me off the marathon route, which it did not too far from Boylston Street.
Fully fueled, I made a beeline to two places I had wanted to visit for almost a year. Stop #1 was outside The Forum, where the second bomb went off last year. In 2011, I spent my Saturday morning at the Starbucks right next door. Being there again made me sad, angry, and resilient…all at the same time. From there, it was a few hundred feet farther down to the finish line – a scene of first triumph, then tragedy last year. In the days and weeks that followed, it became a scene of healing, but Boston needed Monday, April 21, 2014 to declare victory over the evil that occurred there in 2013. That chapter had yet to be written.
For the remainder of the day, I soaked in Boston in a way I had been looking forward to doing for weeks. I walked to Boston Common and watched the Boston Athletic Association 5k. Nearly 10,000 runners entered, and I got to the finish area in time to see the men in dead heat, with the winner crossing the line in 13:26 (or about 4:17/mile pace!). The crowd was going wild. The women weren’t too far behind, and an event record was set by an American woman.
After getting my bib at the expo and spending some time there, the crowd finally got to be too much for me. On my way out, I went and saw my “pal” Bart Yasso in the Runner’s World lecture hall in time to see Bart moderate a panel of past Boston Marathon winners. Great tips and great stories. I returned to my hotel, checked in, and finally got the nap I needed.
From there, I went out the door and downtown to The Black Rose – my Saturday tradition. There was hockey on the TV, Sam Adams in my glass, and a lobster roll on my plate. The only thing that was missing was my family.
I don’t know how often Easter Sunday has come before the marathon, but I’m sure it has happened in the past. I wanted to do something unique with my Easter so I headed to the Old North Church in the North End, where Paul Revere started his famous ride, and attended Easter services. It happens to be an Episcopal church, which gave me the best chance possible of not being struck down by lightning as soon as I walked through the very old doors. I’m not going to go off on a religious tangent here, but the service resonated with me – the sermon in particular. If you ask me, I’ll be happy to tell you more, but let’s just say it fit well with a lot of my reason to be there.
The remainder of the day was light sightseeing in the North End, stopping in near the Boston Garden for the pre-Bruins game festivities, going to get the food I would need Monday morning, and making my way back to the hotel to rest up. Dinner was at the Bertucci’s across the street from my hotel. Pasta, red sauce, dinner rolls…and Sam Adams. Why not? He was a brewer and a patriot.
To say Patriots Day/Marathon Day in Boston is a big deal does it no justice. I can’t compare it to anything that I have experienced locally, but it is similar to the way most of us revere Independence Day and the festivities that go with it. To Boston, and all of Massachusetts, it is that and more. 117 Boston Marathons, countless home Red Sox games, and a state holiday replete with much of what you find on a typical 4th of July Day.
To attack that and try to take it away from Bostonians? Are you kidding me? Those people were hurt and they were pissed. And that is not a town where you want too tick people off if you can avoid it. Not too long after last year’s bombings, especially after seeing the beginnings of their healing, I knew I wanted to be a part of April 21, 2014 and the 118th Boston Marathon.
I wanted to help them get their day back. I wanted to be there when it happened.
For me, the race itself was notable perhaps only in the sense that I ran the race for which I trained. I was nowhere close to being able to try to make the same effort I made in Chicago in October 2012 or Washington, DC in October 2013. Those two races got me to Boston, but the race in Boston was always meant to be run a bit slower and within my training. I wanted to come in under 3:30:00, if possible, and I finished in 3:26:34.
Getting to the start in Hopkinton was a snap, and I timed all of my pre-race activities perfectly. I wandered into my start corral 10 minutes before the start, and my only concern was that it was already warming up more than had been predicted. It occurred to me that might be an issue later on, once the sun was up even higher.
After the gun went off at 10:00, my corral – the last corral in Wave 1 – finally crossed the start line around 10:05. I tried to hold my pace back through the first four downhill miles, like I preached to everyone else, but I found it particularly hard. I’d meant to keep a pace over 8:00/mile, but I was well under it. I finally settled down around Mile 5 and got into a good pace.
The most notable change from 2011 was the number of people along the course the entire way. It was easily double what it was three years ago, with people along the course in the early miles (out in the country) where there are usually only a few. And they were loud! Through Ashland, Natick, and Framingham they were 5-15 deep in the town centers and many places along the way. I think I high-fived half of the spectators, and I was applauding them for cheering so loud at many points. They were awesome!
The crowd also responded to my Wounded Warrior Project tank top I was wearing. It seemed fitting for the day, and I am glad people seemed to think so, too. I didn’t kiss any coeds in Wellesley, but I did blow a lot of kisses and high-fived most of the young ladies enrolled there. They were loud, as always, but they had a lot of competition on the course that day.
Wellesley College is right at the halfway point of the marathon – 13.1 miles – and I knew then I was not going to coast the rest of the way. Ahead of me was the steep downhill before Mile 16, a moderate uphill, then the Newton Hills that culminate before Mile 21 with Heartbreak Hill. The temperature was easily in the 60’s by this point and I was warm, having done all my training in the snow and cold over the winter, for the most part. I had been dumping water on my head at every aid station starting around Mile 8, which helped. Most notable was that my quads were “talking to me” on the downhills, and I knew that meant the long downhill after Mile 21 was going to test me.
As it turns out, I was right. My pace going up the hills was actually faster than it was on any of the downhill stretches. When I crested Heartbreak Hill and started downhill, I knew that it was going to take maximum effort to maintain the pace I had established and finish under 3:30:00.
But there were those crowds again. Non-stop noise. People yelling and urging us on. Runners picking up and encouraging other runners. People in the crowd singling me out and telling me I looked great…keep it up….almost there. I was almost there…but not quite. We soldiered on. No quitting now. Only a 10k to go. Then only a 5k.
I made the slight right onto Commonwealth right in front of my hotel, and it got even louder. Less than 2000 meters now and only two turns left in the course. It was at this point that I started to think about last April 15 and all the people that were doing the exact same thing last year, only to have it taken away. I couldn’t feel my legs anymore, or much of anything else for that matter, but I also found new energy that hadn’t been there for the last 5 miles.
1000 meters to go. Right on Hereford. Left on Boylston. And those wonderful crowds and a tunnel of sound from that point to the finish line visible in the distance, a mere 685 yards away. I hadn’t really thought about the run down Boylston. However, at that moment, I wanted the finish line for me, for them, and for everyone else – runner or not – that wanted Boston to have its day back.
From the first wheelchair to the last runner that started the race and for those that crossed the finish line, we helped get the day back. But the real story is that on a perfect, warm Boston day, Boston took back their day, their marathon, and their traditions.
Boston is stronger because of it. So am I.
I love that town – except for the Patriots.