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

Boston, Blah, Blah

I leave for Boston on Saturday morning. I haven’t checked the weather. I haven’t looked at the race info. I haven’t written my obligatory facebook and blog posts about what it all means to me. I just am having a hard time getting excited. Partially, sure, it’s because I can’t (or, rather, shouldn’t) run the race. And, I was looking forward to actually getting to run the whole course this year and enjoy the atmosphere/excitement and hang out with every person on the planet who is doing it. I wanted to finish. Since I can’t do any of those things, I’ll basically just be a hanger-on, a fan, which is fun too — but not the same as actually being inside the locker room. Partially, though, I’m having a hard time whipping up a frenzy of emotion because everyone else is doing such a good job getting all whipped up on their own.

There are people who have very real connections to this race. There are people for whom it means a great deal or who genuinely struggled to deal with what happened last year. And, I’m not begrudging them their feelings. But, does it automatically mean a great deal to everyone or, if we’re honest, aren’t some people jumping on an emotional bandwagon that isn’t theirs to hijack?

I was reading some article about Jeff Bauman — probably in Runner’s World, though really there have been so many about him — and in it his fiance talked about how, with all the press tours and visits and interviews, he wasn’t keeping up with his physical therapy that he actually needed to get better from his injuries. She said that she definitely would not be running the marathon this year, maybe again some day, because they had gotten overextended and needed to focus on their own lives again. And, then, I read the story in our local paper about local runners going back to run Boston this year — of which I am sure there are lots of similar stories in lots of similar papers — and the article kept calling all of us who were there last year “survivors.” And, we’re not. I’m not. It wasn’t ours to survive. And, it’s not our right now to trot out the truly injured and make them our symbols of survival.

I have a hard time whenever a spectacle is made of what is, at a base level, very individual pain for the individual people who suffered. I hope those individuals are getting whatever they need — whether it is emotional support or money for medical bills or simply being left to rebuild. And, I know that if it was me whose life and loved ones had actually been affected by the bombs at the finish line, I wouldn’t want my suffering to stand for anything or mean anything larger to everyone. I would be a little pissed if people kept telling me we all run together, because we don’t. We run near each other and next to each other. We run shoulder-to-shoulder, but we run alone. We can only ever run on our own.

Boston Marathon 2014: Less Than Two Weeks Away

What are your transportation plans?
What are your transportation plans?

It’s time for #Boston2014 (#BostonStrong #WeAllRunBoston #RunTogether) and I’m repeating a tune that sounds very familiar. It’s unlikely I’ll run it or, if I did, I’d finish. But, I have a ticket and I’m planning on going, so who knows. A small part of me thinks I could just wing it, but the 5 miles I ran slowly yesterday would suggest otherwise. And the soreness in my foot today would suggest that even if I could, it’d be a bad idea. I’d likely re-tear whatever is finally healing along the arch.

The race organizers don’t know my personal issues, though, so they keep sending me emails asking me to tell them if I’m taking the shuttle, tell them if I’m attending the pre-race dinner, tell them my emergency contact, tell them what “my story” is. Man, Boston Marathon people, I really wish I had answers for you. I do.

It’s hard to stay focused on the long-term goal: Ironman Canada. I really wanted to run Boston this year and actually finish. I also want to sleep indefinitely right now. (I don’t feel good today.) Those are hard to reconcile.

Right now the plan is: I’m flying to Boston because I’m going from there to Chicago. I’ll hang out, see how I feel. I sort of want to jump in and run part of the course, just for the fun of it — if I’m able to run parts of things. Or, alternatively, I’ll drink a bunch and heckle runners.

I should probably just buy all the merch and make up stories about my finish time.


What would you do?

Boston Marathon 2014: I Signed Up


Well, this morning I signed up for the Boston Marathon 2014. No, I’m not entirely sure I love the race and there are lots of pros and cons, etc. But, it’s hard to feel like I did what I went to do last year and certainly it’s hard to feel like there isn’t unfinished business, like I don’t need to go back. Lots of unresolved issues.

I don’t necessarily even believe in the idea of closure. I’m actually pretty convinced it’s something “the media” made up at one of our media secret meetings where we all decide we’ve got it in for Sarah Palin. Still, every time I had some version of this conversation it just kept adding up, piling up, and pushing me back:

Someone: *super sad voice* Ohhhh, you were at Boston? Wow. How was that?
Me: *stare at them*
Someone: You must have been already finished when everything happened, right?
Me: Well, not exactly, I didn’t finish.
Someone: Oh wow, were you stopped on course?
Me: Um, no. I sort of dropped out before anything happened, unrelatedly.
Someone: *stare at me*

Because I am a failure. Because I couldn’t even finish the race, when I had every advantage to do so, when I could have just been a little tougher, while other people died or had their legs blown off or saved each other just to give me the chance to run it, to create the event and the opportunity. I failed them. And, I know that’s not exactly true, but it’s a little bit true. Who am I to have not finished.

Even the registration form for the race argued with me about the improbability of my experience. It asked: Is this your first Boston Marathon? No. How many Boston Marathons have you completed? 0. “You have entered an impossible value. Please go back and revise your answer to the question.”

Sigh. I am, evidently, an impossible value.

I could say that I signed up for next year because I don’t want “them” to win, but (today, Sept. 11, of all days) I don’t actually really believe that. I don’t think it’s a zero sum game and as long as we insist it is, then it will be. Then, there will always continue to be an us and a them. And, anyway, I don’t really know who “they” are or how “they” didn’t sort of win when we put a major city on lockdown to hunt down one 19-year-old. So, no, I’m not going back to Boston to prove that I’m not afraid and I’m definitely not going back because of a desire to participate in aggressive shows of patriotic fervor. I’m not going back because I can make things better for the people who are still struggling in the aftermath, my presence can’t do that for them (though donations maybe can help). I’m going back because I have a race to finish. I going back not because of the bombing, but in spite of it.

Boston non-finishers will get to race Boston Marathon 2014. I kept emailing BAA back and saying I didn’t count as a non-finisher, because my lack of finish had nothing to do with anything that happened — and I didn’t want a finish medal or time or special treatment. It looks they got it, since this only applies to those who reached the halfway but couldn’t finish.

Boston Marathon: Five Weeks To Go

Does that look like fun? Sorta. Not really?
Does that look like fun? Sorta. Not really?

Yesterday was five weeks to go until Boston Marathon 2013. Why on a Monday? Because Boston is ridiculous and refuses to acknowledge that Patriot’s Day isn’t a real holiday.

So, I was going to write this post yesterday, but I had writing to do for getting paid — though, not like I have that much of that right now, so if you want to pay me to write a book collection of witty personal essays, let me know. With five weeks to go, we’re in the midst of super serious training. That kind of training, combined with general what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life stress, and the whole being sad about the best cat ever dying, has prompted lots of spontaneous crying and laying on the couch watching Law and Order: SVU reruns (because regular Law and Order is dumb, obvs).

Last Thursday was that workout from hell, which someone really should have warned me was going to be that hard. And, then, this past Sunday was a much more normally hard workout — biking, followed by long amounts of running at marathon pace — which I killed, which is why it was totally ok that the only things I got done this weekend were: help at high school track meet, write article, reorganize clothing drawers, workout.

I’m definitely where I need to be, fitness-wise. I’ve been feeling strong enough in workouts, I almost don’t care how I run at the race. Almost. But, not really.

Today, Rachel pointed out that bib numbers for The Race are out. I am in Wave 1, Corral 9. I don’t know what that means exactly because The Race does not believe in providing information about things like waves or corrals or schedules or shuttles. I’m assuming eventually someone will also point me in the right direction of the bus to the right start time.

That's me. I am definitely signed up.
That’s me. I am definitely signed up.

So, why do Boston? If it’s crazy crowded (like the above picture) and short on details and over-hyped as The Only Race That Matters, what’s the big deal? There are plenty of people who just don’t want any part of that and I get it — though for me those questions are more apt when it comes to Kona.

Reasons Not to Do Boston:

  • It is a scene. And, who likes scenesters.
  • It’s a lot of money to sign up, to fly there, to get a hotel when hotel prices are going to be high, to take off of work, to rent a car if you need to get around from your hotel to the start, which as far as I can gather is not in the same place as the finish.
  • You will, at some point in the training and getting there and participating in the scene and racing process, feel bad about yourself. It is inevitable. And, really, isn’t there enough opportunity to feel bad about yourself at other points in life.
  • Because, in some larger sense, you don’t believe in the monetization and privatization of sport, which is at it’s essence a thing that can not be monetized. And, who are these people to judge what is and is not a good time. I don’t agree with the specific time line they have drawn in the qualification process. It is not the line I would have drawn, so it’s arbitrariness has no value to me. It means nothing. But, at the same time, I feel for those people for whom it does mean something, who chase the BQ (because Boston Qualifier has even created it’s own acronym, so sanctified has the goal become) as if it, in itself, is the only goal, constantly feeding the marathon beast with money and time and hotels and flights and coaches and equipment and doctors. Though, yet again, these criticisms are more aptly leveled at Ironman and Kona.

Reasons to Do Boston:

  • “The experience.” Which is really just another way of saying: It’s a scene.
  • If you are like me and you’re not sure how long you’ll be into this whole running thing, before losing interest or going back to triathlon or trying something new, but right now you are, then why not do it while you can. You might as well cross off one of the must-do races once. How can you have an opinion if you never try it?
  • And, anyway, it’ll be a whole vacation. And, Steve has never been to Boston and he’s actually into shit like The Freedom Trail, whereas I found myself constantly wondering why none of the founding fathers felt the need to walk us past some restaurants or shops. Of course, now, Steve can’t come, so hopefully some other friends are able to make it and I’m not just by myself wandering around Newbury Street, because that is typically when I end up spending absurd amounts of money on things I don’t need.
  • Because there is something to be said for all agreeing that ‘the best’ will come to one place and duke it out. And, don’t you want to know how you’ll stack up. Isn’t that, underneath the money and the bragging rights, what it’s all about.
  • It’ll be fun.

Five weeks to go. Let’s get down to race weight (which requires that I stop drinking a bottle of wine every other night), push through the next three weeks of training, and get ready to run. Oh, and let me know if you’ll be there, because I hate sitting by myself in the cafeteria while everyone else enjoys the scene.

Are you doing Boston?