Here is a really inspiring race report from Brian (who didn’t get Doug to help him qualify) on his recent Boston Marathon – wonder if he saw Bruce running?
Hopkinton to Copley Square, Boston….26.2 miles of absolute brilliance !
Running the world’s oldest marathon – a “bandit’s” account….
I have just returned from a fantastic holiday trip to the States, which primarily was to see my sister and family in Boston, as well as link up with friends on the west coast. The marathon diary was also consulted, and as luck would have it, two fantastic races were found to be compatible with our travel plans ! Coincidence – not likely !
Everyone knows the stringent qualification criteria for gaining entry to Boston, and save for getting Doug to run a qualifier in my name (!), the other way of entry is through the charity route which entails raising a minimum of $5000, also a fairly tough ask in today’s economic climate. Be that as it may, I was going to be in Boston on Monday 16th April anyway, and the opportunity of running one of the Big Five was too good to pass up.
Let me put you in the picture about Boston and its fascination with sport. Without doubt, this city is the most sports mad place I have ever experienced. From the Boston Red Sox celebrating 100 years of baseball at Fenway Park, the Boston Celtics in the basketball league playoffs, the Boston Bruins (reigning Stanley Cup champions) in the playoffs of the national ice hockey league, not to mention the New England Patriots who only narrowly lost the Superbowl final in February, and the relatively unheralded New England Revolution soccer team (who haven’t won anything, yet). Everyone talks sport, and everyone dresses in Red Sox / Bruins / Celtics jackets, sweaters and caps. Being in Boston in April is no different when it comes to running…Patriots Day, or ”Marathon Monday” is a huge event in the city, the marathon expo experience is huge (think Comrades expo and multiply by 4 or 5), and the vibe around the city is all about the race. Even putting the marathon banners up on the streetlight poles 3 weeks prior was a noted ‘event’ and heralded the start of the marathon hype.
The expo was great, with a fantastic vibe, a multitude of interesting vendors and lots of free samples given out. I tried my luck for a substitute race entry – no luck, I looked for anyone on crutches carrying an entry/goodie bag – no luck ! I had asked around at the running shops in downtown Boston – no luck. Their advice – “run bandit…”. I had even asked Ernst van Dyk if he had any connections as a past Boston champion – no luck ! Ernst had been sitting a row in front of us on our flight over from London and we had chatted a bit briefly. He is focussing on the Olympics this year so wasn’t going all out for the Boston win, but did say that he would like to be back again in 2013 to attempt win #10. It was quite amusing to see the immigration officer’s face at Logan International when having ascertained that Ernst was in Boston for the race, he asked him how he had done previously, only to be met with the answer “I’ve won it nine times” ! Factual, yet very humble at the same time.
In 2011 Geoffrey Mutai set an unofficial marathon world record at Boston, running a phenomenal 2hr03:02. Is this really a fast course, as everyone talks about Heartbreak Hill as the ‘killer’ that comes late in the day? On the Saturday before the race we drove the route in reverse to get a feel for it, and having seen Heartbreak Hill I wasn’t that concerned, but certainly the course does present its fair share of small rolling undulations, that when coupled with the extreme heat on race day, certainly made most athletes suffer.
Race day, and Hopkinton was buzzing ! I was there early to catch all the pre-race build-up and soak up the atmosphere. More importantly, I was there to suss out where all the ‘bandit’ runners were and how they were approaching getting into the race. Boston Marathon has a long ‘tradition’ of bandit runners, and each year approximately 2000-3000 runners compete unofficially. There is much debate over this in the running community, but the marshalls and police have seemingly turned a blind eye to it and it has become part of the distinctive attractions of this race. I found some other bandit runners on the roadside waiting (just look for the furtive looking guys with no race number, glugging Gatorade and eating bananas !). Some said, “just mingle in with the runners entering into the start corrals”, while others were recommending starting just down from the start line where the barriers ended.
Before we went off, it was the turn of Ernst and the wheelchair guys, including Dick Hoyt and his son Rick who were doing their 30th Boston Marathon this year (check out www.teamhoyt.com for some inspirational triathlon and running stories). The elite ladies were next to start, and 30 minutes later the elite men were announced. By 10:45 it was Wave 3 of the general race, and I made my way about 100m down from the start, took up a position on the roadside (not too close to one of the US Marines), and waited for a gap in the runners as they came past. Quick check, and I ducked onto the road and was running, and was part of the Boston Marathon.
The race itself – fantastic ! Temperatures of 33°C made conditions extremely tough, even for us accustomed to the African sun ! Organisers had the previous evening announced that the cut-off time would be extended by an hour due to the heat, and had actively encouraged athletes that were concerned, to defer their entries to 2013, of which almost 4000 runners did. On the course, water was plentiful, but even so, spectators and home owners along the route had hosepipes out creating showers across the road, and the fire department had even opened up hydrants along the route to cool down the runners.
Spectator support along the route was phenomenal. From the start line, right through to the finish down Boylston Street, there was literally not a gap to see along the route. Bostonians came out in their droves – this was “Marathon Monday” after all. The first half of the race is basically downhill through the small towns of Framingham and Natick where support was great. But it is as you are approaching the halfway point at Wellesley that support becomes amazing. People had told me before the run about the “crazy girls of Wellesley College” but I wasn’t too sure what to expect. Approaching Wellesley the noise levels just become louder and louder and you find yourself for about 500m running alongside hundreds of screaming university college girls, all holding banners saying “kiss me, I’m from New Jersey”, “kiss me, I’m from California”, or “kiss me, I’m a music major” ! Well, I didn’t quite get through all 50 States, but let’s just say it was an experience ! After Wellesley, it was time to dig deeper, push through the heat, and start on the hills up through Newton and Brookline. Heartbreak Hill is just the final hill in a series of five that you run through, and although it has nothing on some of the hills around Joburg, it was certainly a challenge on the day. Once over the top, it is downhill into Boston and here the crowd support just got even better. Running in through the final 5-6kms, the crowd is about 8 people deep behind the barriers on the road and the noise levels are such that you battle to actually hear runners around you. Fixed in my mind are the shouts of “awesome job!”, “you motivate us, man!”, and just the general mayhem and crescendo surrounding you. Running down Commonwealth Ave, you start to savour the final moments and atmosphere of the race, then it’s right into Hereford Street (with a brief furtive glimpse at all the marshalls and police on the corner – are they going to pull me off the course ??). Then a turn left into Boylston Street and the final 500m or so to the finish line…4hr08 on my watch. Morally, I couldn’t accept a medal even though it was offered to me, but the finish line drinks were gladly received. The atmosphere and experience of participating in this great race was reward enough.
My advice – get yourself across to Boston at some stage during your marathon running career. Run it officially if you can qualify, or run it as a bandit where most certainly you won’t be alone! (You can always contribute the normal race entry fee to one of the charities, as I did.). You won’t regret it, and you most certainly will never forget it.