It’s Patriots Day in Boston and that usually means a day filled with re-enactments of the battles of Lexington and Concord, day baseball at Fenway Park, and, of course, the Boston Marathon. It’s always an incredible day as thousands of runners make their way from Hopinkton to Boylston Street in downtown Boston. One of my favorite moments is when the Red Sox game lets out and thousands of baseball fans join race spectators to cheer on runners in their final miles.
Boston is an incredibly special race. The race is capped at right around 30,000 runners each year. The vast majority of those runners gain entry to the race by qualifying in another marathon. To put this in perspective to qualify in 2020 a 35-year-old man would have had to run another marathon in under 3:03:21, a 35-year-old woman would have had to run a 3:33:21. For men that is 26.2 miles in under 7 minutes a mile, for women it’s a pace of right around 8 min a mile. Those are the slowest qualifiers. Right around 25,000 of the 30,000 field qualified via another marathon and runners work their entire life to run Boston.
The remaining entries are reserved for special programs and runners who raised money for charity to get a Boston bib. The amount raised per bib varies by charity, but at minimum charity runners raised $8,500 a person with the average raised being $13,000 according to www.charityteams.org.
For many of you this is probably more information than you’ve ever wanted on the Boston Marathon, but I felt like it was necessary context for today’s diary entry. The people running Boston trained for years and worked incredibly hard to run that historic course. Today should have been the 124th running of a marathon that never gets cancelled.
Take 2018, for example. The weather in Boston was terrible on Marathon Monday. The Red Sox postponed their game, but the marathon went on even when baseball did not and Desiree Linden became the first American woman to win the race in over 30 years:
The story behind Linden’s win is actually an on point metaphor for everyone’s daily grind in the pandemic:
Des Linden says she almost dropped out, and breaks down the conversation between herself and Shalane before the porta potties. pic.twitter.com/5mxr06LStG— FloTrack (@FloTrack) April 16, 2018
I just want you to imagine this for a second — the American woman who won Boston for the first time in over 30 years almost dropped out because midway through she felt miserable. But she did some work for her teammates, talked herself out of it and decided she should keep going.
What’s so inspiring about this to me is that Linden isn’t the only one who kept going that day in driving rain and terrible weather. Thousands finished with her and thousands more braved the driving rains to cheer. Ordinary people, chasing their dreams as they run 40-100 miles a week while working and raising families. I’ve volunteered at the Boston Marathon for multiple years and there is nothing like handing someone their first Boston bib and watching them break down and cry as they achieve that goal.
I am no where near fast enough to even consider running Boston at the moment. However, I have a lot of friends who have run what many consider to be the world’s greatest marathon. I put out a call to see if one or two of them would share pictures and stories with me - I was actually overwhelmed with responses from friends and wanted to finish today’s entry with a few of their words, pictures and stories from the Boston Marathon.
Tom Osterbuhr has run Boston five times including the largest race in 1996 where the field was expanded for the 100th anniversary of the race. He also ran what he considers the “Mardi Gras of Marathons” in 2000, 2013, 2014 and 2015. He considers it a celebration of hard work and in a great city:
Runners like Mark Deckard remember the race fondly even though he got tangled up with a crowd in Wellesley and face planted with 13 miles left to run. Luckily the crowds carried him over the finish line: “In every race I’d run before I had stretches where I was by myself or with only a small group of runners but not Boston. That really helped keep me going when it got tough from Newton to the finish line. “
Dave Schultz first dreamed of Boston when he was in high school in 1975 while reading about Bill Rodgers win in Runner’s World. Dave ran his first marathon in 2009 — it took him 10 more marathons to qualify for the 2016 Boston Marathon (it turns out 2016 was a good year for accomplishing lifelong sports goals). He wound up hurt when Boston rolled around, but “...even though I was hurt and couldn’t train for the race, it’s still an experience I’ll never forget. and don’t regret for a second making the trip.”
Emma Allen was also hurt when she ran Boston in 2015, but never for a second considered stopping. “I was suffering near the end when my right foot quit working, but there is no way you can stop with the wonderful crowd support.”
Mark Baum joined Allen as a finisher in 2015. He’d never put Boston on his bucket list because he “didn’t want to succumb to a “Boston or Bust” mindset.” But the race and experience completely won him over. As he put it: “The mystique of the race would have been enough, but it was the phenomenal crowd support that really made the difference. It was the only time that a crowd made me feel what it must be like to be a professional.”
Ken Mason ran his first Boston in 2018, and like Linden he kept going in cold, wet and windy circumstances. He went back in 2019 for a hot humid race. As he put it “I haven’t managed to run Boston well yet but have loved the experience. For me, Boston is special because of the history and the people. The people in the race, the people supporting the race, and the spectators.”
Dean Gartland ran the race in 2018 as well, he’s run 37 marathons and 11 consecutive Boston Marathons, as he put it “I’ve seen so many people cry as they crossed a finish line but Boston is the only marathon that I’ve ever run where I see people cry at the starting line from the sheer accomplishment of finally getting there. That’s part of what makes Boston so special.”
2020 should have been my friend Carissa Liebowitz’s sixth Boston Marathon. She’s a lifelong runner who’s finished 38 marathons, here’s how she describes Boston:
Every part of this weekend is so special. Picking up your number feels momentous. The people walking around Boston in their jackets from years past is captivating. Riding on a school bus to Hopkinton, holding your pee and trying not to sandbag your race is nerve-wracking. Sitting in the Athlete’s Village amongst 20,000+ runners about to embark on the same journey is electrifying.
The half mile walk to start feels like the last day of school and the first day of a new job. The minutes waiting in the corral stretch for eternity and yet, go by way too fast.
The gun goes off. Thousands burst onto the street, hoping it is their day. We race the steep downhills to Ashland. We high-five the swollen crowds in Framingham. We settle into race mode in Natick. The Wellesley girls taunt us with their enthusiasm. The Newton hills challenge our spirit. The Boston College kids revive our hearts.
As we navigate the final miles of the streets of Boston, the crowds cheer unwaveringly. Shutting them out is impossible. When you think it can’t get any louder, you make the right turn on Hereford and the left on Boylston. You. Have. Arrived. 38 marathons later (including 5 Bostons), I am humbled to be a finisher.
If you had any doubt how much she loves this race here is her race pic from that brutally cold and wet day in 2018:
It’s not just a magical day for the runners. So many families and friends come out to support their runners and cheer them on as they chase their dreams. I loved these images of Gwen Stark’s race and her family supporting her on the course in 2017:
Jaclynn Johnston ran Boston in 2012 and captured the spirit of the race perfectly and succinctly: “It’s the journey to get there that defines you. The race is simply the reward.“
For thousands of runners that journey and reward have been put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic, just like every other milestone, celebration and institution in 2020. For now the Boston Marathon and all of the hopes, dreams and training that went into it for thousands of runners is postponed until September 14, 2020. The marathon has never been completely cancelled since its inception in 1897, here’s hoping it can be held in some fashion in 2020.