The “Marathon” race from Ashland to this city, held under the auspices of the Boston athletic association yesterday… proved a great success and is an assurance of an annual fixture of the same kind.
The Boston Globe, 20 April 1897

Boston Marathon finish line

I’d made it to Mecca.

Not the Holy Land to which devout Muslims make their annual pilgrimage, but the one to which devout runners make theirs. I’d made it to Boston.

Ok, so technically that wasn’t true — not yet. As Katie’s childhood buddy Paul and I meandered through the Athlete’s Village awaiting the start of the world’s most prestigious marathon, the truth was that I’d made it to Hopkinton, a town conveniently located 26.2 miles west of the finish line in Boston. Now that the hardest part — the months of high-mileage weeks, long training runs and marathon-pace workouts required to get here — was over, the long-anticipated last step in my journey to Boston Marathoner was about to begin.

As sacred as Mecca is to Muslims, I’m not sure many would eagerly run the last 26.2 miles to get there.

Boston Marathon course elevation profile

But eager was just one of the raw emotions crackling like unseen currents of electricity through the Athletes’ Village — unseen yet unmistakable, like the metallic scent of ozone before an electrical storm. And all of us good conductors. Eager. Nervous. Cheerful. Stoic. Adrenalized. Ready. In some corners, a dash of nauseous and a smidgen of scared. Some runners chatted as they waited in line for the porta-potties; others splayed out on the shaded grass under the tents, conserving energy; still others sat absentmindedly reading the ingredients on their race-day packets of yummy GU.

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and first on the bus. — Benjamin Franklin, philosopher, politician, Boston Marathoner
Katie’s and my iPhone alarms had chimed simultaneously at 5:45am, nearly two hours after I’d first bolted awake, my mind instantly alert to the fact it was Marathon Monday. Feeling cold, I’d realized I was drenched in sweat thanks to our hotel room’s faulty thermostat. Bad omen #1 on a day when my hydration needed to be dialed in.

I’d dressed & packed quickly, donning the Goodwill hoodie & pants I’d brought in anticipation of a comfortably cool wait in Hopkinton. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas, and like an excitable runner on the first downhill, it too had started too fast. By the time Paul and I deboarded at the Athletes’ Village after the easy 45-minute bus ride from the Boston Common, sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-60s greeted us. Ideal weather for watching the Boston Marathon, not so much for running it. Coming from SoCal though, where I regularly train in 70+ degree temps, I wasn’t overly concerned. Maybe we’d still get lucky as in 2011, when an epic tailwind propelled Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya to a course record 2:03:02 and Ryan Hall to an American record 2:04:58.

Mike Sohaskey & Paul Ishimine at Boston Marathon Athletes Village

Paul & I kill time at the Athletes’ Village in Hopkinton

Though teeming with runners, the smartly laid-out Athletes’ Village offered plenty of elbow room compared with the crush & sensory overload of the pre-race expo, which was the most jam-packed expo I’ve ever attended (with Berlin a close second). Though conveniently located adjacent to the finish line on Boylston, the Hynes Convention Center is a smaller space than either McCormick Place in Chicago or the Javits Convention Center in New York. Definitely not a place for claustrophobics. Luckily bib pickup was in a separate & much less crowded hall than the exhibitor booths, leaving each runner to decide whether & for how long they’d brave the expo itself.

This year’s race would be unusual in its dearth of big names on the American side. Rather than competing at Boston, our country’s best marathoners will instead be representing the U.S. at the Summer Olympics in Rio. For that reason, sightings of Meb, Shalane, Desi & Amy were limited to weekend expo appearances and — for those of us who’d planned ahead and snagged tickets — throwing out the first pitch before Saturday’s Red Sox game at Fenway Park.

Fenway Park panoramic view

Welcome to historic Fenway Park, only 16 years younger than the Boston Marathon

U.S. elites (Shalane, Meb, Desi & Amy) throwing out first pitch at Fenway

Shalane, Meb, Desi & Amy prepare to throw out the first pitch(es) (photo: Shalane Flanagan)

Group carbo-loading at Mike's Pastry in Boston's North End

The all-important Sunday night group carbo-loading session (L to R: Paul, me, Sandy, Katie, Jenny)

Adding to the festive atmosphere of the race, the B.A.A. would be celebrating 50 years of women running the Boston Marathon — 50 years since Bobbi Gibb (this year’s Grand Marshal) made history in 1966 by banditing the race, six years before women were officially allowed to run. This year’s women’s winner, Atsede Baysa of Ethiopia, would later recognize this landmark occasion by presenting Gibb with her trophy after the race — a classy microcosm of the entire weekend.

50 Years of Women logo at Boston Marathon

Showtime! The PA in the Athletes’ Village called on all runners in Wave 2 (our wave) to line up for the stroll to the start line. Dormant butterflies in uneasy stomachs fluttered to life. Our qualifying times — which this year needed to be 2 minutes, 28 seconds faster than the official B.A.A. standards for acceptance — placed Paul and me squarely in Wave 2, though in different corrals. So after exchanging “good luck”s, we joined our respective corrals for the 0.7-mile trek to the start, me chatting all the while with a 3x Boston finisher from Cincinnati who’d qualified this time around at the Indy Monumental Marathon.

Volunteers were handing out cups of water near the start, and with the sun now high in the sky I was already sweating as I approached Corral 5. Bad omen #2.

Heading to Boston Marathon start corrals

The anticipation builds during the 10-minute walk to the start line

As I stretched my calves, I took a moment to reassess my time goals. On a warm day and on a rolling course like Boston which I’d never seen much less run, sub-3:30 would be a jog well done. More than anything, though, I wanted to seize the day as much as possible — who knew if or when I’d make it back. Which was one reason I’d chosen to carry my iPhone to take pictures, the other reason being the handy Share My Run app I’d be using so Katie and my sister Sandy (in her first visit to Boston) could follow my progress in real-time.

Before my excitement had time to crescendo, the 120th running of the world’s oldest continuous marathon had begun. Carried inexorably across the start line in a parade of brightly clad bodies, I settled in with the other 27,486 runners bound for Boston, bracing myself for the opening salvo I’d heard so much about — the fast downhill out of Hopkinton.

Boston Marathon start in Hopkinton

The streets of Hopkinton were hoppin’ on Patriots Day

Rarely do I Garmin-gaze like I did during those first three miles. Based on past experience and the warnings I’d heard all weekend, I was determined to stay in my shoes and not start too fast. I’d noted on a wristband my desired pace-per-mile — 7:54, 7:49, 7:25 — so when my Garmin chimed in with a 7:52 followed by a 7:49 followed by a 7:33, I was feeling good.

Except I wasn’t. By mile 3 in Ashland, I could already tell my breathing was labored and my heart rate elevated — on a largely downhill stretch. And I’d yet to find the easy rhythm I typically fall into by mile 3. Too much of my attention was focused, not on the cheering spectators already lining both sides of the course, but on checking my pace and not stepping on/elbowing others in this 26.2-mile caravan. On the narrow suburban streets, running a straight line proved impossible as other runners frequently cut in front of me trying to find personal space or access the aid stations.

Boston Marathon finish line sign

(Left) Go fo(u)rth & conquer: Boston was also World Marathon Major #4; (Right) Fellow Antarctica finisher & French RaceRaves evangelist Didier notched his 5th WMM in Boston

I have not yet begun to fight. — John Paul Jones, naval war hero & runner
Despite my own issues, the locals lining the course did everything they could to verbally propel us forward, with their unflagging cheers and personal touches that make Boston the one-of-a-kind event it is. I heard no fewer than half a dozen cheers for RaceRaves (the shirt I was wearing) throughout the day, and though I neither saw nor met her I know I was running near Molly for the better part of a mile.

Several groups were clearly out to make a day of it, with smoke billowing from their grills and sprinklers set up to help cool overheated runners. Both kids and adults cheered while simultaneously bouncing on mini-trampolines. And the musical highlight of the course was Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” — embraced & adopted by Red Sox fans for their 8th-inning singalong — twice in the first seven miles, making me wonder just how many times we’d be hearing it in the span of 26.2. Luckily, twice would be enough.

Most of the course is distinctly and charmingly suburban New England. Granted, Hopkinton looks like Ashland looks like Framingham looks like Natick — but running Boston isn’t about the scenery, and I scarcely noticed the unchanging backdrop of white picket fences and calligraphic trees still in search of spring’s first kiss.

Somewhere along the way I caught up with the unmistakable duo of Team Hoyt. After Rick Hoyt was born with cerebral palsy, he and his father Dick began racing in 1977 and completed every Boston Marathon together — with Dick pushing Rick in his wheelchair the full 26.2 miles — until Dick hung up his racing shoes for good following the 2014 race. Team Hoyt member Bryan Lyons accepted the mantle from Dick and now continues the tradition of pushing Rick in his wheelchair. I applauded and cheered them on as I passed, feeling distinctly humbled to be running alongside such inspiring & beloved icons.

Team Hoyt in Newton at mile 16 of Boston Marathon

Team Hoyt rolls through Newton

As my pace slowed gradually over the next several miles and I realized sub-3:30 would be an epic struggle, I exchanged more high-fives with spectators, including one tiny fellow whose dad called out a “Thank you” to me for my detour. Spectators, supporters and volunteers thanking me for running their marathon — this was a theme repeated all weekend and one that gave me goosebumps pretty much every time I heard it.

Tom Grilk, Executive Director of the Boston Athletic Association, said it best in the title of his 2014 TEDx talkIn Boston, everyone owns the marathon.

As I neared the 13.1-mile mark in Wellesley, I found myself solidly wishing I’d qualified for the Boston Half Marathon. Though I wasn’t hungry or thirsty, my breathing was ragged and my energy levels were fading fast. So Wellesley College couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Wellesley Scream Tunnel, which lines the right side of the course in mile 13, is the hands-down highlight of the Boston Marathon. As vociferous as the rest of the course is, Wellesley makes the other 26 miles feel almost monastic. Donald Trump and Captain America could have been exchanging punches on the left side of the road and I doubt anyone would have noticed. Awesomely and profanely raucous, if anything could make you forget you’re running a marathon, it’s the women of Wellesley. Where else in the world can you ever get free kisses from strangers you might actually want to kiss??

I opted to stay left of the double-yellow line to soak up the scene and avoid any overexuberant runners dive-bombing into the screaming throngs of coeds. I wasn’t disappointed — not only by the volume, but by the signage. Like Ulysses to the song of the Sirens, I nearly found myself drawn irresistibly to two signs that read “KISS ME I’M GAY” and “KISS ME OR I’LL VOTE FOR TRUMP”. Not to mention the handful of signs — “CHECK THAT ASS AS YOU PASS” may have been the tamest — suggesting that someone’s parents weren’t running this year’s marathon.

“BOSTON STRONG” and “RUN WICKED FAST” signs filled the rest of the course, complemented by the occasional other memorable sign like “DO EPIC SHIT” and “RUN! THE KENYANS ARE DRINKING YOUR BEER!”

Sandy Pitcher & Mike Sohaskey at Boston Marathon finish

Ironically, the missing sibling is our 2x Boston Marathoner brother

These are the times that try men’s souls. — Thomas Paine, statesman & marathoner
After Wellesley every mile became a struggle. So I was much relieved to reach Sandy, Katie and our friend Albion waiting at mile 16 in Newton, at the bottom of the steep downhill that empties into Newton Lower Falls. There they waited less than ¼ mile from my Dad’s boyhood home. I checked in briefly, stretched my legs and pushed onward, warning Katie it would be a while before I rejoined them at the finish.

Mike Sohaskey at Mile 16 in Newton at Boston Marathon

Looking better than I felt in Newton Lower Falls

Even the psychological lift of counting down single-digit miles from 16 provided little (if any) physical boost. I wasn’t hungry, having eaten my usual meal before the race — plus I’d run plenty of 16+ mile training runs at marathon pace with minimal nutrition. I wasn’t thirsty, having made frequent use of the aid stations. And my quads & hip flexors weren’t hurting, still feeling strong without any apparent tightness. I simply had… no… energy. And a body that didn’t want to cooperate.

I tried to take solace in the fact that, since Boston doesn’t have pacers, at least I didn’t have to watch each successive pace group pass me.

Trying to draw inspiration from the tireless crowds, I shuffled up each of the four Newton Hills, which culminate at mile 20 in the most infamous hill in all of road racing, Heartbreak Hill. An increasingly stiff headwind greeted us as we climbed, though luckily the mercury had progressively dipped since Hopkinton.

(If you don’t know the story of how Heartbreak Hill got its name, turns out it had nothing to do with the hill’s steepness — read all about it HERE.)

The Boston course includes only five turns along its entire 26.2 miles, and here we made the first of these, a sharp right turn by the firehouse in mile 18 just before the second of the Newton Hills.

View from Boston Marriott Cambridge

View across the Charles River from our hotel room at the Boston Marriott Cambridge

On any other day I would have been bent but not broken by this 5-mile stretch, with four successive inclines of moderate but not intimidating steepness (most trail runners would scoff at the use of the term “hills” to describe them). Unfortunately, this wasn’t any other day. Even with the sheer wall of spectator noise pushing runners up Heartbreak, by the time I reached the mile 21 marker I was moving so slowly that the wheels were in danger of falling off if I didn’t take a walk break. And suddenly, the thought of running the Big Sur International Marathon (as part of the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge) in six days left me queasy. One race at a time, one step at a time…

It was like an out-of-body experience, and I felt like a first-timer in this my 20th marathon. In fact, Boston was the first time since Crazy Horse 2011 — my second marathon — that I’d stopped to walk during a road race, that’s how bizarre this day was. I hadn’t even stopped to walk after twisting my ankle at mile 17 of the E.T. Full Moon Midnight Marathon. By the time I crested Heartbreak Hill, though, I had no choice. So for the next few miles, as the course followed a downhill-yet-still-rolling trajectory — past the screaming Eagles of Boston College, through Brookline and into Boston at last — I walked briefly at each mile marker, high-fiving spectators and regaining my momentum in short bursts.

Through all the misery of those last ten miles, I kept flexing the one set of muscles I could still control — I refused to stop smiling, even as I passed an increasing number of cramped-up runners trying desperately to stretch out their failing calves & locked-up quads. And was it just me, or was the number of medical tents increasing as well?

Citgo sign at mile 25 of Boston Marathon

The Citgo sign high in the sky signals you don’t have much fahthah to go

The finish is coming! The finish is coming! — Paul Revere, patriot & Boston Marathon finisher
At mile 25, with the beckoning Citgo sign now dominating the skyline and the roars from the onlookers intensifying, both mind & body sensed the finish line within reach. The “ONE MILE TO GO” marker painted on the ground in Kenmore Square provided one last shot of adrenaline, and I glanced up to see the familiar green outer walls and light towers of historic Fenway Park off to our right.

Mike Sohaskey with one mile to go at Boston Marathon

One mile to go in Kenmore Square!

Even in my exhausted state, I recognized the moment when it arrived. I’ve never wanted a tattoo, but if I ever get one I know exactly what it will say — right on Hereford, left on Boylston. The final two directions every Boston runner hears, and the six celebrated words that tell you, I am this close to finishing the freaking Boston Marathon.

As I made the left turn onto Boylston, I glanced off to my right to see my buddy Neil from Minnesota, whose wife Jody had run a great race, cheering me on. I gave him a euphoric thumbs-up and turned my attention directly ahead of me, to the blue & gold pearly gates finish line arch 300 yards in the distance. Ironically, this home stretch was the only time all day when I legitimately wanted to slow down, and I took the time to bask in the moment and to soak up every last cheer from the thunderous walls of human sound urging us toward the finish. And I seriously would have high-fived every person on Boylston if I could have.

Mike Sohaskey at mile 26 of Boston Marathon

Feelin’ the magic of Boylston Street (photo: Neil Hetherington)

Eventually I ran out of room and had to cross the finish line into Copley Square, finishing my first Boston Marathon and my best worst marathon ever in 3:48:36. Even as competitive as I am, I can live with that result — because Boston (especially the first time) is all about the experience, and luckily I hadn’t set my sights on requalifying this year.

Clearly I still owe the course my best shot — though not immediately, as I’d like to step back and let the magic of this year’s experience sink in before I chase another BQ. And I have other racing goals to pursue in the meantime. But boy, it’s easy to understand how chasing (and re-chasing) the high of that qualifier year after year could easily become a full-fledged addiction. Heroin ain’t got nothin’ on the Boston Marathon.

Boston Marathon finish line shot

Mission accomplished — looking back on Boylston from under the finish arch

Turns out even the elite times were slower than usual, with no men breaking the 2:12 mark and only one woman cracking 2:30. And I heard more than a few horror stories of runners ending up in the medical tents with cramps or worse. Clearly I wasn’t the only one who’d misplaced my running mojo this year.

And yet I’m still puzzled by the fact that my day went south so quickly, and with so little help from the course itself. I would say it’s something I need to figure out and correct pronto, but then again I may never know exactly what went wrong on Marathon Monday. After all the solid training, preparation & tapering that preceded Boston, how could I have begun the day with an elevated heart rate? I have my suspicions — maybe filling every waking moment in the two days before the race wasn’t a great idea. Or maybe waking up in a cold sweat on race day was an even worse omen than I knew.

Boston Common post-Boston Marathon

The Boston Common after a very uncommon day

In any case, Boston reinforced the lesson I continue to learn time and time again: the marathon is the ultimate “tough love” teacher, and the lessons it teaches are humility, adaptability and don’t you dare give up-ity. Anyone can finish a race when they’re feeling good & running strong — but if you have a weakness the marathon will find it, exploit it and beat on it until you’re ready to throw in the towel. And then kick you in the gut a couple more times, just for good measure. It’s like a bully who turns you upside-down, shakes all the money out of your pockets and then takes your clothes just because, leaving you out in the middle of nowhere naked in the dead of winter. Laughing all the way.

As I shuffled triumphantly through the finish chute, Dad’s smiling voice — Boston born & bred — filled my head: Can’t do any bettah than that. And I could feel his hand on my shoulder, proudly confirming what my depleted body already knew and what I’d worked so hard to hear.

At Boston Marathon Expo

Post-race drinks are on me! — Samuel Adams, brewer & patriot
Sheer exhaustion was probably all that prevented me from tearing up as yet another smiling B.A.A. volunteer hung the coveted unicorn medal around my neck. I’d honestly never given much thought to the unicorn as the universally recognized symbol of the Boston Marathon, but it’s perfect — wild & ferocious, forever elusive yet endlessly pursued by man for its mythical power, beauty and ability to heal sickness.

Paul had run an excellent race (3:18:07), and he and his wife Jenny were already headed back to their hotel when I texted them, in between posing for the MarathonFoto minions. Reveling in the slow, deliberate stroll out of the finisher’s area, where volunteers continued to thank us for running Boston, I eventually reached the perimeter of the Boston Common where Sandy and Katie were waiting.

Boston Marathon finish line family hug
En route I was greeted by a group of four college-age fellows in Red Sox and Patriots gear, one of whom embraced me while another proclaimed loudly how totally awesome I was. Much as I would have loved to respond with a rapid & witty retort, all my fatigue & surprise would allow was a weak “No, YOU guys are awesome.” Anyone else, anywhere else, on any other day and I would’ve assumed I was the victim of a practical joke or hazing stunt. But on Marathon Monday in Copley Square, these guys were 100% sincere — and I was 200% appreciative.

Mike Sohaskey & Paul Ishimine at Mile 27 sign

Tapering for Big Sur

Mike Sohaskey & Katie Ho with Red Sox World Series trophies

Still plenty of room on that table for a 4th (and 5th) World Series trophy

The post-race party that night at Fenway Park (sponsored by Samuel Adams, of course) was the perfect nightcap to a Patriots Day that I wish I could bottle and share with every runner & non-runner I meet. Feeling down? Stressed? Overwhelmed? Overworked? Insecure? Crack open a bottle of Marathon Monday, breathe deeply and let one of life’s most amazing experiences wash away all negativity.

Hear the cheers. See the high-fives. Feel the gratitude. Everyone, from the most hardcore runner to the most sedentary bystander, coming together with a common purpose — to celebrate, support and inspire everyone else. A common humanity you have to feel & see to believe, shaped by 120 years of history and two bombs that showed the world — with all eyes watching — what it means to be Boston Strong. In this town, everyone takes this day to heart.

Because in Boston, everyone owns the marathon.

Mike Sohaskey with Boston Marathon medal 2016

Tips & Tricks for Boston Marathon weekend:

  • You can score a discount on Adidas official Boston Marathon gear by signing up for their email list as a first-timer, and they’ll probably send you another coupon with your first order (e.g. $30 off $100 or more). I signed up for their email list back in January and have yet to receive a marketing email from them.
  • If you can, wait until Sunday late morning/early afternoon to hit the expo — it’s SO much easier & more time-efficient than braving the Saturday madness (I can’t vouch for Friday).
  • No matter when you hit the expo, take a few minutes to watch the street-view video of the course with elevation profile and expert analysis from elites, past champions, and others.
  • At least 100 additional porta-potties with minimal wait times await you in the corrals at the start line, so if you can wait I’d think twice before standing in the long, slow lines at the Athletes’ Village.
  • The Marathon Sports retail store on Boylston typically offers free medal engraving the day after the race (this year the time slot was 10:30am – 2:30pm).
  • For more helpful tips from a 12-time Boston finisher, check out Scott Dunlap’s post, “Running The Boston Marathon? Here Are Some Tips and Things To Do”.
8 towns of the Boston Marathon

Click on image for a larger version, sun streaks and all (source: Adidas RunBase, Boston)

BOTTOM LINE: Boston is a pretty cool race. And Tyrannosaurus rex was a pretty cool lizard. I’m flattered and appreciative that you’re reading this, but if you’re scanning blog posts & reviews to decide whether or not to run the Boston Marathon, we need to talk. Boston is hands-down (and it’s not close) the coolest race in the country, if not the world. Chicago has a similar feel in terms of race magnitude, community support/civic pride and an historic sports venue in Wrigley Field, but Boston is without rival. And unfortunately, the Cubs’ season typically ends well before race day in early October (oh no he di’int!).

So if you’re fast enough to run Boston, do it — early & often. If you’re on the cusp of being fast enough to qualify, train your butt off now before they tighten the qualifying standards again. And if you’re simply counting on attrition to qualify when you’re 80, hit up some family/friends/unguarded piggy banks and raise the $5,000 minimum needed to enter as a charity runner. No matter how you get to Boston (short of cheating the system and calling attention to yourself on Facebook), you won’t regret the effort.

Not surprisingly, Race Director Dave McGillivray said it best when asked what he does for a living: “I help raise the level of self-esteem and self-confidence of tens of thousands of people across America every year.” Now there’s an elevator pitch.

Boston Marathon finish line selfie
PRODUCTION:
Spot-on flawless, from start to finish. Every race of any size could learn a lot simply by standing on the sidelines observing Boston Marathon weekend. McGillivray and his team are master choreographers, and it’s almost laughable (& unfair) to compare any other marathon to Boston. The genius of the production is that it’s airtight and yet never in your face to spoil the experience. And unlike Berlin, the porta-potties in Boston had toilet paper! The only potential downside to race weekend was the overcrowded expo… but even that can be avoided by waiting until Sunday afternoon to attend. Four thumbs up (I’m borrowing Katie’s) on a job masterfully done.

SWAG: No finisher’s medal outside the Olympics is more coveted or more instantly recognizable than the unicorn earned by Boston Marathon finishers. I was awestruck as the friendly B.A.A. volunteer hung the blue-&-gold ribbon around my neck, and that was when the reality of my achievement really hit home.

In addition, the official Adidas long-sleeve race shirt isn’t your typical wear-once-and-donate race tee, but like the medal itself a classic blue & gold that fits well and which I can imagine wearing until the sleeves fall off. Everything about this marathon screams “attention to detail”, even if Adidas has (for better or worse) boldly steered away from the classic color scheme and gotten a bit sassier with the colors of its celebration jackets in recent years. I definitely didn’t envy the women their teal-&-pink jacket this year (look it up if you don’t believe me).

2016 Boston Marathon medal, finisher's shirt & bib

RaceRaves rating:RaceRaves-rating
FINAL STATS:

April 18, 2016 (start time 10:25am)
26.41 miles from Hopkinton to Boston, MA (state 11 of 50)
Finish time & pace: 3:48:36 (first time running the Boston Marathon), 8:39/mile
Finish place: 13,459 overall, 1693/2504 in M 45-49 age group
Number of finishers: 26,639 (14,471 men, 12,168 women)
Race weather: warm & sunny at the start (temp 69°F), cool & sunny at the finish
Elevation change (Garmin Connect): 539 ft ascent, 983 ft descent

Boston-splits_BCH

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Comments
  1. Was so looking forward to reading this and it didn’t disappoint… I was gripped! Hopefully your first of many visits to Boston.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Louise — love the city, and definitely have my sights set on getting back. Here’s hoping the B.A.A. doesn’t tighten its qualifying standards anytime soon!

  2. Paul Ishimine says:

    Mike, love the post! The marathon was, of course, THE marathon and was an incredible race in and of itself. But really made our trip to Boston unforgettable was the experience its entirety, especially spending time with you and Katie, but also seeing the legions of cheerful and encouraging volunteers and spectators, catching up with old friends and family, and Fenway! Just amazing how the entire region embraced this event. Hope to be back someday.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks Paul! Agree everything about the weekend was amazing, but having you, Jenny & Sandy (not to mention hordes of raucous spectators) to share it with was absolutely the best. And appreciate Jenny documenting the experience in real time, her Wellesley video is so good. Congrats on punching your ticket for Boston 2017!

  3. Great post that captures the essence of the world’s premier footrace. Temperatures were really deceptive on Marathon Monday, and I personally know many athletes who either did not finish, or spent some time in medical tents. The warmth and wind slowed us all down. But heck, it’s Boston! It’s a privilege just to run the hallowed course.

    I don’t so much mind the different color schemes they have for the jackets each year. I just hope I get one in the classic color scheme one of the years, so I can have all Boston finish years embroidered on that one jacket (like some jackets I saw on runners at the expo).

    • Mike says:

      Well said — “privilege” was very much my mindset throughout the weekend. Chuck mentions below that (according to his source) a significantly smaller percentage of runners re-qualified this year than in the “typical” year. Which I view as a positive, since it opens the door for many first-timers to qualify for next year’s race. And yes, complaining about the wind & weather while you’re running Boston feels akin to grumbling that the carpet isn’t plush enough in the Oval Office.

      I also saw a couple of Boston veterans with all their finish years embroidered on the jacket — very cool touch, though like you I can’t quite imagine making this year’s teal option my go-to jacket for all future Bostons. Of course, I should probably cross the “all future Bostons” bridge when I get to it… 🙂

      Appreciate the support, Krishna — congrats on another strong showing on the running world’s biggest stage!

      • Dan says:

        This might be just me being a grump, but they shouldn’t allow requalification at all. Go run another race and earn the privilege again. This recursive feeding of fast people back into the race is a bummer to the rest of us!

        • Mike says:

          Absolutely agree, I think this — rather than tightening qualifying standards — is the single best solution to ensure that runners who beat their qualifying standard (their official standard, not their adjusted “BQ – 2:28” standard) have a legit shot at running Boston. And it feels like an easy way for Boston to stimulate the running economy, by feeding runners in search of BQ times to all the other Boston Qualifier events. Honestly, the experience of Marathon Monday is so powerful that I wouldn’t be miffed to see another deserving runner get their first shot to run Boston next year, before I get my second. And being able to throw all your racing eggs in a single basket year after year doesn’t really sound like the mark of a Boston Marathoner, does it?

  4. csohaskey says:

    I wish I had gone to Boston with you. Actually I wish I had qualified and run Boston with you. Maybe next year.

    Boston was the first marathon I did where there were spectators screaming and cheering the whole course. And I was middle of the pack, nowhere near the front. Where people would go out of the way to congratulate me when they saw my race shirt.

    I heard from an unimpeachable source (random running friend) that usually over 60% of people re-qualify for Boston at the race, but this year less than 20% did. It sounds like it was a tough day for most people.

    You forgot to mention that not only did Dad grow up a few hundred meters off the course, he used to walk down there every year with his Dad and watch the runners go by. You know he would have loved to have been there. He would have been so proud of you. I know I am.

    • Mike says:

      What a coincidence, we were wishing you’d run Boston this year too! But then the weekend would have been perfect, and what would we have to look forward to on our next visit if this one were perfect? So now we both have a reason to get our act together and qualify at the same time — and I’ll bet we could get Sandy to join us next time, too.

      Just a thought — do you think any of the elites ever stop for a kiss from the Wellesley women?

      I was surprised to hear after the race that so many people struggled — especially since it wasn’t that hot or that windy. And that’s a telling statistic (especially if it’s true) on this year’s re-qualifying rate. As I mentioned above, I’d be happy to see a lower qualifying rate, since that opens the door for more first-timers to qualify for next year’s race. And the more people who can run & experience Boston, the better.

      I don’t recall too many details from 2001 when Dad and I were there to watch you run, but I do remember him being like a kid in a candy store — more spry than I’d seen him in a while. Meanwhile, I was just trying to stay upright after running those five miles through Wellesley with you. And having run through Newton, I now realize Dad wasn’t kidding when he told us his walk to school was uphill both ways.

      Thanks Chuck, now stop readin’ & writin’ and start runnin’ — we have a race to qualify for!

  5. Kristina says:

    I love the fact that you called your first Boston Marathon your “best worst marathon.” Clearly, you focused on the “best” part of it, soaking in the whole experience, before, during, and after the race. Congratulations!!!

    • Mike says:

      I remember a woman from our Antarctica trip calling that race at the time her “best worst marathon”, and it felt appropriate here as well. To focus on anything but the positives in Boston (aside from the Celtics losing!) would have defeated the purpose — more than another 26.2-mile race in another big city, Boston really is an all-day celebration with the runners as its focus.

      Thanks for reading, Kristina!

  6. Dan says:

    I’ve often wondered if the allure of Boston somehow fades once you’re faced with the actual hills, humidity and you know, 26.2 miles of running. Berlin felt like that for a bit — I had spent so long dreaming about the race, knowing it would be fast, salivating at the weather forecast, and then once you’re finally there, you have to face the music. That said, I still loved Berlin, but it wasn’t a bed of clouds.

    Boston though, you have to snarl and fight your way just to get there, which makes me feel like so much of the experience and the accomplishment is done by the time you even start. But then I read stories like these and it makes me realize that starting, running, and finishing Boston has its own ineffable mystique. You dream about it for so long, and then magic happens in one way or another.

    And it looks like Boston might beat out Chicago for hospitality of spectators? You know me and my inveterate bias towards the Windy City’s marathon, but I do have to admit that, anecdotally, Boston’s crowds seem to revere this event on a higher level. And why wouldn’t they? It’s older, tougher, and recently acquired something of a battle scar across its 26.2 mile course. It was always personal, but now it feels like it’s part of the national identity.

    Of course, I wish I could have shared some real estate on this blog post by running myself, but that will have to wait for another year. Glad to hear that there won’t be as many automatic re-qualifiers this year though (if I’m allowed to be selfish). Looking forward to reading about how this race affected your performance at Big Sur.

    • Mike says:

      Admittedly I had some concerns that the reality of Boston may not live up to all the hype, but those concerns were swept away pretty quickly once we touched down at Logan. Unless you’re the most jaded runner on the planet, it would be tough not to fall under the spell of Marathon Monday — it would be like walking around Disneyland telling your kids how, inside those suits, Mickey and Minnie are really just short people making minimum wage.

      Even though I ran NYC more recently than Chicago, I still remember Chicago first when it comes to spectator awesomeness — most of what I remember about NYC is a) the trek to the start, b) concrete overpasses and c) getting kicked out of Central Park at the end. But although Chicago does seem to embrace its marathon, I didn’t get the sense that the city owns the marathon the way Boston does. Because you’re right — Boston has 81 years on your hometown, and the marathon is an indelible part of who Bostonians are. Plus, it has the unfair advantage of falling on a statewide holiday!

      As spectators go, check out jrohlede’s recent London Marathon review over on RaceRaves — sounds like the Brits may actually win the spectating crown, though the race itself sounds like a 26.2-mile parade. Speaking of which, I assume you’ll be throwing your name into the London lottery hat again this year? I entered today for the first time, realizing my chances are somewhere north of zero — and why by the way is NYC the only lottery of the Majors that charges a fee? Another post for another time…

      Thanks for reading & weighing in, Dan. I don’t envy you your current BQ standard in the “crazy f@*&ing fast” age group, but Boston’s not an “if” but a “when” for you… and when the time comes it’ll be that much sweeter for the wait!

    • Boston is very different from Berlin. You’re right that a significant part of what makes Boston special is each runner’s journey to get to the starting line. But then you’re there, surrounded by very fit athletes who qualified with about the same time as you did, and you’re pumped to really give your best on the world’s greatest stage.

      I love both Boston and Chicago, and the throngs of spectators that make both races memorable. But there’s just something about the spectators all along the Boston course – the event is deeply embedded in their bones, and you feel that each is rooting for your success.

      As runners and as human beings, our opinions of any race are necessarily subjective and influenced by our own performance on race day (as measured against our expectations). As someone wise pointed out – we see the world not as it is, but as we are. Is it possible to reduce the Boston experience to just another grueling 26.2 ? Sure. And as with all marathons, after 23 miles, I was ready for it to be done. Yet it is hard to experience Boston and not be drawn to what it represents.

      • Mike says:

        Again well said Krishna — I always try to dissociate (as objectively as possible) the race itself from my performance, and for some races that’s tougher than others. But Boston made it easy, since the race itself meant so much more than my individual performance. Hopefully there will be a next time — but even if I were to PR and requalify on Marathon Monday, I’d be hard-pressed to enjoy & appreciate the entire experience any more than this one.

  7. Angela says:

    You know, I think if there’s one race I’d be fine running just for the experience & not for time, this would be it. Thanks for the tips (because I totally plan to get there some day)!! 😀

    • Mike says:

      I’ve always concluded from your blog (Kobayashi Maru notwithstanding) that you and I have similar attitudes toward racing: get from start to finish asap. That said, yeah, Boston was the first race where the slow & steady suffering really didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the moment (ok, maybe just a little).

      And I honestly believe the first marathon you’re able to run fully healthy is the first time you qualify for Boston — you’re clearly due your share (and then some) of training karma! Thanks, Angela.

  8. OmniRunner says:

    It was a bit warm, but I ended up running my 2nd best Boston time. Excellent post, hope you get to come back soon. Cheers – Andy

    • Mike says:

      Thanks and congrats, Andy — glad the day worked out well for you, I envy you your intimate knowledge of this course. Here’s hoping I have the chance to join you out there again soon!

  9. Jen says:

    I read this weeks ago, but haven’t had a chance to comment until now. First of all – awesome post. I may have teared up at times. Second, I’m glad Boston lived up to the hype. The thing that really stood out were the amount of spectators who came out just because it’s BOSTON…in contrast to the throngs at MCM who are only there to cheer on their specific runner. Congrats on focusing on the positive and pushing through even when the going got tough!

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Jen—there’s so much to the Boston experience that I’m glad I could bring an amazing weekend to life in some small way. And the contrast with MCM is interesting, as a similarly huge urban race with crowds at every turn. In fact, your own experience at MCM is a big reason it hasn’t been high on my priority list. Now the goal (and the challenge) is to get back to Boston so I can run it again without feeling like a first-time marathoner!

  10. slomojohn says:

    Reading this makes me want to try. You really captured the emotion and the senses of running the races so well. Excellent recap, thanks for sharing.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks so much John, and thanks for reading! I’d say YES, if you feel like you have a shot at qualifying, it’s well worth the effort. Even if you don’t hit your qualifying time, you can still say you gave it your best shot and register as a charity runner to support one of Boston’s many worthwhile causes. Bottom line, from one avid runner to another: no regrets, get there by any means necessary. Good luck!

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