Just before the Thanksgiving holiday I received notice from the Boston Athletic Association that my qualifying time for the 2010 Boston Marathon had been verified and I was officially one of the 25,000 participants registered for the 114th running of the Boston. Me. The Boston.
There have been exactly two moments where the fact that I will be running in this year’s Boston Marathon seemed very real to me. The first was over the last tenth of a mile at the Pittsburgh Marathon when I could see the finishing clock above the shoot ticking 3:17:03, 3:17:04, 3:17:05 and I knew I had made my qualifying time – and the other was opening my notice from the Boston Athletic Association.
So what makes this particular race so special? To me it is a mixture of prestige, history, the elite status of the race and the famous course from Hopkinton to Boston. If you are a runner anywhere, on any continent, you want to run Boston. At hundreds of marathons throughout the world the measure of success for millions of runners is the Boston qualifying time. As the only marathon outside of the Olympics that requires a qualifying standard, it is the measuring stick for the running world. For many, Boston defines marathon. In fact it attracts more media coverage from around the world than any other single day athletic event except the Super Bowl.
The Boston Marathon has been held every year since 1897 on Patriots Day in celebration of the Revolutionary War battles at Lexington and Concord. Traditionally held on April 19th until 1969 – the race is now held on the third Monday in April which is the official Patriot’s Day Celebration in Boston where schools are closed, businesses close and the Sox play the Yankees at Fenway. Ironically in the case of this year’s running – the race falls on April 19th.
The course has been relatively unchanged over the years with the exception of 1908 when the official Olympic Marathon distance was increased from 24.8 miles which according to famous Greek legend, in which the Greek foot-soldier Pheidippides was sent from the plains of Marathon to Athens with the news of the astounding victory over a superior Persian army to today’s 26.2 mile Marathon Distance.
For you history buffs, the marathon distance was changed as a result of the 1908 Olympic Games in London. That year, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandria wanted the marathon race to begin at Windsor Castle outside the city so that the Royal family could view the start. The distance between the castle and the Olympic Stadium in London proved to be 26 miles. Organizers added extra yards to the finish around a track, 385 to be exact, so the runners would finish in front of the king and queen’s royal box. Every Olympic marathon run since the 1908 Games has been a distance of 26 miles, 385 yards. I would be lying if I told you this bit of history had not occurred to me at the 24.5 mile mark in each of the marathons I have completed.
The point to point course from Hopkinton, MA to Copley Square in downtown Boston is among the most challenging found anywhere. It is both revered and feared for it’s beauty but also it’s hills. Runners will talk about the series of hills that begin at mile 16 in Newton and culminate in the famed “heartbreak hill” at mile 21. It is not only the elevation to be feared by even the most dedicated runners, but the timing of where “heartbreak” falls during the race. At mile 20 even the best conditioned athletes begin to run out of fuel – this described as “hitting the wall” is when your Glycogen stores are depleted and your body begins to burn fat as it’s source of fuel. Fat is burned at a much less efficient rate than your Glycogen stores results in the feeling that your body is giving up. For me this sensation in the past has lasted about 6-7 minutes or slightly less than 1 full mile until my body adjusts and I begin to push through. Adding a hill at this point in the race is akin to adding insult to injury.
Another challenge to be aware of is the start of the race in Hopkinton features a fairly significant decrease in elevation over the first 2+ miles of the race. What seems to the casual runner to be a benefit once again comes to bear in the latter portions of the race. Racing over a decline places stress and strain on your larger leg muscles (Quad, Hamstring, Calf) that you typically do not experience over flat terrain. These leg muscles that you will be relying on heavily at the end of the race have been stressed early on. And for many runners, this becomes their undoing at mile 21 at Heartbreak. The key is incorporating hill training into your 18-week marathon training program to build those large leg muscles and condition them not only for the “ups” but also the “downs” at the start of the race.
One part of the race that I cannot wait to experience is the famed “scream tunnel” approaching mile 13. So loud runners claim to be able to hear it more than one mile away. Classes are cancelled for the day at Wellesley where hundreds of students line the marathon course to give out encouragement, oranges, water, high-fives and of course kisses …..
One thing that is amazing over the course of a marathon are the individual moments that you remember, a runner with a funny outfit, a crazy sign held by a spectator or encouragement shouted just for you commenting on your name, your bib number, your shoes, or your running shirt. Last year at Pittsburgh I got a compliment on my legs which at mile 22 made me crack a much-needed smile and carried on my way for another half-mile down the course.
One source of inspiration that I will be searching for at Boston will be the Marathon Man statue. Found near the beginning of Heartbreak Hill there is a statue of two smiling runners joining hands in a triumphant gesture.
Both of the men in the statue are John A. Kelley, a world-famous long distance runner who ran in 61 Boston Marathons before his death in 2004 at age 97.
The figure on your left, as you face the statue, is of Johnny Kelley at age 27. The one on your right depicts him when he ran his last full Marathon at 84. He won the Boston Marathon in 1935 and 1946, and represented the U.S. at the Summer Olympics in 1936 and 1948.
The plaque at the base of the statue explains that it is intended to represent “everyone who is young at heart.”
April 19, 2010 – I along with 25,000 others will be taking on the course, the weather, the hills and participating in a bit of history all at the same time. Every one of us will have their own story to tell after the race. I for one am simply honored to be a part of it and plan on enjoying every bit of the 26 mile 385 yard journey.
Me. The Boston. Unbelievable.