A Boston Marathon Story

The Boston Marathon is a marathon with one of the longest and most revered histories in the world. The first edition took place in 1897, and the race’s significant prestige is at least in part due to the required qualifying time to even participate.

I lived in the Boston area in the year of the 100th edition, when the marathon’s organizers announced that anyone could sign up for the race, even without a qualifying time. Unfortunately, I felt too weak for the challenge back then. Such a decision was difficult to make, especially since completing the Boston Marathon is a point of honor for most runners.

Instead, I went with my family on the day of the race to support the runners along the marathon route. Seeing the closed central streets of the city and crowds of people cheering for the participants of the race made me even more determined to one day participate in the event. The race is very popular in the city, and its participants are heroes on the big day. I remember returning home from cheering and being envious of those who were returning after the run. It was pure envy!

For many years, despite taking part in various marathons, the desire to start in Hopkinton remained unfulfilled because of the starting requirements that are quite high for the average runner. The number of race participants continued growing every year, so I knew that it was unlikely that the event would ever be open to all participants again. And I almost accepted that to mean that I would never get to participate myself.

Prior to 2008, I ran a total of 48 marathons with times ranging from 3:40 to 4:40, and the idea of starting in Boston remained only a fantasy. But, in 2008, my running results significantly improved thanks to weight-loss, and I began wondering whether I could qualify for Boston. My training and determination allowed me to finish my 49th marathon in 03:16:36, well under the maximum time for me to qualify, set at 3:25. Long story short, I was finally able to sign up for my dream race!

But because my appetite for setting personal accomplishments continued to grow, I came up with the idea to also use my start in Boston as an opportunity to break the 3-hour barrier, as a way of celebrating the completion of 50 marathons. I started training intensively and got into the shape that prepared me for my new, ambitious goal.

The start of the Boston Marathon is on a fairly narrow road in Hopkinton, and the route runs along the same road all the way to Boston. The competitors at the start are divided into groups of a thousand based on their qualifying time. My qualifying time gave me a place in the 7th group of a thousand competitors. My qualifying time pace was significantly slower than the pace I needed to achieve my goal, so after the start, I started tediously overtaking other runners on the route, hoping that I would see the dream time starting with the number "2" at the finish. In spite of doing very well and feeling strong all the way through, I came up short. The clock showed ... 3:00:07. These 7 seconds were on my mind for many weeks. Having started with 7,000 competitors at the starting line but ending in the second thousand group of finishers meant that, theoretically, I had to overtake about 5,000 runners on the narrow route to end up falling short by just 7 seconds.

The fact that it was so close only made me more determined to improve before coming back to run the race and do what I had failed to do the first time. My new qualifying time from Boston for the next year’s race gave me a place in the second thousand group of starters. And at the finish line, I was still at the beginning of the second thousand finishers, i.e., I ran in a group that maintained a similar pace to my own, and didn’t need to focus on overtaking. It worked: 02:58:08! What a feeling! It is worth enduring the hardships of many weeks of daily training in the sun, rain, snow, and wind for these moments.

All participants of the Boston Marathon must get to the start, which is located about 25 miles west of Boston. The organizers provide bus transport, but departures and street closures are planned so that you have to get there quite early.

In the marathon town itself, the way runners are treated is simply a dream. There are tents set up for runners to prepare and a large selection of drinks and food to choose from. It is a tradition for a group of F-16 planes to fly above the route just before the marathon’s start, covering the marathon distance in a matter of seconds.

Those who prepare for the Boston Marathon know to fear the winding route and the Heart Breaking Hill, i.e. the Hill, the last major ascent after the 20th mile. But after passing this hill, everything is easier. A survey was conducted among those who completed the Boston Marathon, whether it was more difficult to running up or running down, and at that time I was surprised to discover that the majority described running down as more difficult. After running two editions of the race, I have to agree with the results of the survey. Running down seems to be more difficult than running up.

Supporters provide unforgettable memories around the halfway point. They are mostly Wellesley College students who, set on a nearly three-quarters of a mile along the route, scream with all their strength trying to motivate the runners. I admit that after a few minutes of running in such a big hustle and bustle, I breathed a sigh of relief for the silence that prevailed after this support zone ended. But the experience was certainly one-of-a-kind.


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