Boston Marathon: Race Review

Having run the first 12 miles of the race last year before I had to pull out and then running the last 9 miles this year with Ilyce, I feel like I can offer a fairly fair review of the Boston Marathon. In case you were wondering: running the last 9 miles of a marathon with a friend is 100% the way to go, and way more fun than doing the whole thing. I really enjoyed myself. She did not enjoy herself as much. (It was also painfully clear that not doing the whole thing was a good decision for me, since my bone spur foot and my torn muscle foot both started to give out after 9.)

This will be a review fairly devoid of pictures, because, even though I had my phone stuck in my bra while running, I didn’t want to be that person taking pictures/video during the race. Actually, I sort of did want to be that person, but instead here is the sum total of photos I took in Boston: a bag of KitKat minis so big it had a handle and was basically a purse; the deluxe cookiewich at Harvard Square; Fenway Park when they opened it for the runners to check out and drink after the marathon. Clearly, you can see where my priorities were.

So, let’s start this off with: If you’re not a fan of crowded big city marathons that are sort of insane, then you definitely shouldn’t do Boston. If that’s your thing or if you just want the experience, then you should do it at least once.

I’m also pretty sure that you will not be able to escape the constant feeling of missing out. It will constantly seem like everyone is hanging out at some bar, having the most fun ever, without you. The whole experience is just too much.

The Expo: I’m pretty sure that some people go to Boston just to go to the expo. It’s basically the center of the running universe for three days. And, there’s tons of other races — the mile, the 5K — to watch too. If that’s your kind of thing, then you’ll love it. There’s lots of stuff to buy and see and take for free. If that’s not your kind of thing, then you’ll hate it. I’m sort of split. It’s fun to see people and the newest gear, but you could easily spend a few hours just walking around and that’s not a fantastic idea before a race, right? And, besides, it’s hard not to feel a little judgmental about everyone trying to prove how super awesome they are. There’s certainly a reason I didn’t spend a ton of time there.

The Goodies: The BAA really delivers on the goodies. They don’t just hand over a bunch of bullshit coupons. You get a nice shirt, a fancy bottle opener, some bracelets and stickers, whatever free shit you got at the expo (or whatever you bought at the expo), a finsher’s medal — if you actually finished and take one — and tickets to the race dinner and the after-party. Not that those tickets will do you any good if there’s an hour line for dinner and they’re not letting anyone into the after-party.

Crossing the finish line. Sort of without actually finishing.
Crossing the finish line. Sort of without actually finishing.

The Course: You do the Boston Marathon because of the history and the crowds — not because it’s a fast course. It’s not. It’s hard. While everyone talks about the hills from mile 16-21, it really is the downhill the first 6 or 7 miles that kills me. You can’t avoid running too fast and pounding your legs, then you hit flats and it hurts and then you have to go up. Ugh. Even the last stretches that are long and flat into the finish line are loooong.

But, the crowds, man, the crowds. Both on the sidelines and in the race. Last year, I thought they were a little over-hyped, but I only made it through the first half, which is mostly suburbs and woods. This year, the second half was insane. That may have been more because of the year — there were twice as many spectators and so many at the finish that the police weren’t even letting anyone more in — but the second half also includes the crazy colleges and the huge downtown crowds. I was running with Ilyce, because she was having a shit day, and I was talking to her a decent amount of the time, but there were times where we couldn’t even hear each other. And, the last 1K, straight down Boylston or whatever, I felt like a goddamn Olympian. I wanted to wave to the screaming crowds.

(Keep in mind, though, that they’re just really enthusiastic and probably drunk. It doesn’t necessarily mean they know anything or care anything about running. I saw a woman scream at Joan Benoit-Samuelson that “way to go, she was running with the boys.” Yeah, I don’t think she cares so much about that.)

The Organizational Details: The organization is the biggest downside to Boston — beside the obvious over-the-topness of it all. Even though the race doesn’t start until 10 a.m. for most people, or 10:25 or 10:50 or whatever wave you’re in, you have to get on a bus in the downtown area at 6:45 a.m. or something. And then you have to take that bus out and out and out. They say the bus is the only way to get to the start, but it’s not. Lots of people drive or carpool or just stay near the start, but the bus is the only way to guarantee you’ll make it. The best option is really to stay near the start, fyi.

And, you better hope it’s nice out, because otherwise you’ll have to hang out for a few hours at the “start village” in the cold or the extreme heat. And, with the new restrictions on bringing anything with you, you have to do it in whatever you’re wearing or throwaway sweats. Ugh. And, then, the whole corral system and everything is so insanely crowded that it’s a bit of a shitshow.

Once you finally finish, you have to walk and walk and walk to get your stuff back and food and water and clothes. Forever. If you slow down and stop or look like you might throw up, then you get swarmed by eager medical volunteers. It’s almost like everyone forgets that these people just ran a marathon.

Grade: A

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