Patriot’s Day, April 18 – I walked from my hotel to arrive at Boston Common at about 7 a.m. to board a bus to Hopkinton and the start of the Boston Marathon. It’s been a while since I’ve run a really big marathon, and I’d forgotten how many people there can be. The crowds waiting to board a bus stretched the length of the Common along Tremont Street and back in a huge line that wrapped around the corner.
I only had to wait 15 minutes or so to get on a bus. The Boston Marathon folks have the organization of the race down to a T. A few minutes after a line of buses pulled out, they were replaced by a new line of buses. The ride out to Hopkinton took a little over an hour. At one point, I could see traffic backed up the entire length of an exit ramp from the expressway, waiting as the buses passed by.
We were dropped off at the “Athlete’s Village” at the high school and middle school in Hopkinton, where all the runners wait until it’s time to go to the start line. Again I was amazed at the amount of people. There were big tents set up in the grass, with a Jumbotron and lines of port-o-potties. I stayed on the asphalt closer to the schools, and to the buses where the runners from my start wave would leave their bags before heading to the start. It was sunny and in the 50s, but also really windy, so I was pretty cold waiting around for two hours.
The runners walk about three-quarters of a mile from the Athlete’s Village to the start. My start time was 10:40, the last of three waves of runners (excluding the wheelchair athletes and the elite women, who start earlier than the elite men and the rest of the runners).
I was at the last of nine corrals and hadn’t yet turned the corner to get to my area when the starting gun went off. But I still had time to get to Corral 3 and even waited another minute or two before we all got started running.
Even though the elite women started well over an hour before I crossed the start line, there was still a huge crowd at the start area. I was pretty emotional starting the race with all those people cheering us on.
And there were spectators on nearly every inch of the course. In the towns we ran through in the first part of the race, I passed people watching from rooftops and the backs of pickup trucks. There was a group of people in biker jackets outside a bar, and a band of bluegrass musicians. Many spectators were well-hydrated, and not with water or Gatorade.
They handed out orange slices, cups of water, Kleenexes and licorice. As we were approaching Wellesley College, an older women said, “Welcome to Wellesley. The girls are just ahead.” I high-fived all the screaming Wellesley girls. Most were holding signs that said, “Kiss me, I’m __ (British, Jewish, a math major, etc.).” Much to my disappointment, I saw only one guy take a girl up on her offer. (C’mon guys, what’s wrong with you?!)
As loud as they were, I thought the Boston College crowd was louder. There were more of them, and many more guys.
Heartbreak Hill was what I expected. It’s long but not as steep as I’ve run elsewhere. It’s just its position at more than 20 miles into the race, and following three other hills, that makes it tough.
I felt strong for the whole race, although my legs felt like they were starting to cramp in the last several miles. Before the race, I’d read something that someone had said about the crowd carrying him to the finish, and I certainly felt that way. In the later miles, I felt like all that crowd noise was carrying me along.
Shortly after I turned onto Boylston Street, I saw my family cheering for me. Then I crossed the finish line and was officially a Boston Marathoner.
My quads were very sore for several days after the race, and I bruised my right big toe – the toenail is a nice shade of purple – both reminders of all the downhill miles there are at Boston.
The aches and pains are fading. But fresh in my mind is the encouragement and support I got, both from spectators along the marathon course and from people here in Illinois who knew I was running Boston. I’ve been overwhelmed by it, and I’m so grateful.
That will be my most enduring memory of this race.
Photos: Athlete's Village in Hopkinton; "Napolean" started just behind me; the Wellesley College girls; the same woman has chalked Heartbreak Hill for years; the finish line.