Following my trip to Boston, Massachusetts I can conclude it is a brilliant place to visit. However, visiting Boston over the marathon weekend is even better. I was not running the event and had travelled to America to support my friend and running buddy; however I loved how the atmosphere around the city built steadily as race day approached, and the community and passion which Boston has for its race emerged strongly. At times I was hit with waves of real regret that I was not able to take part. I think if I had turned up just on race day it would have been different, but being immersed in everything made me want it so much more. I was there, I was fit, I hope (!) I am marathon ready, but yet I couldn’t run. I will work hard for my Boston Qualifying time though and will run one day, and obviously there was no way I was going to visit Boston and not run at all. I enjoyed some of my final London Marathon training runs around Brookline, a small suburb I was staying in, and also completed the Boston Athletic Association 5k event. Marathon Monday was the main event though and I could not wait for it to arrive.
Boston Athletic Association (BAA) 5K
If the atmosphere of the BAA 5k is anything to go by then there is no wonder the Boston Marathon is so special. On a beautiful sunny and warm Saturday morning thousands of runners flocked to Boston Common to enjoy a run around the central city streets. I was not racing the event like I would normally do, but I didn’t even want to. I not only had my own very close London Marathon to think of, but I was also running it with my two friends, one who was taking on the marathon and the other who would be running her first ever running event. We wanted to run together and we did. The route was perfect, a taster of some of Boston’s streets, which were really well lined and very noisy, and also featured the last section of the marathon, including crossing the infamous finish line. I particularly loved running under a bridge which proudly bore the wording ‘Boston Strong’, a phrase synonymous with the marathon and Boston after the tragic bombings at the 2013 race. That phrase would also grow to mean so much more than it already did by the end of the trip. It was an equally amazing feeling running the Boylston Street finish and I kept imagining what it must be like to see that finish line when taking on the marathon; I was incredibly excited for my friend to experience that. As I would normally be running my local Lincoln parkrun on a Saturday morning, I thought I would wear a Lincoln parkrun vest – specially purchased for the occasion – and was pleased to get a few comments from runners, one woman even tapping my shoulder mid run and simply saying ‘parkrun!’ to me accompanied with a enthusiastic thumbs up. I simply did not want the run to end, but it had to, and we finished with huge smiles, hand in hand across the line. For a first ever race my friend definitely chose a good one!
I am the most anxious spectator ever. I barely slept Sunday night with a mix of nerves and excitement for my friend. I live the marathon experience vicariously, and I could feel my stomach churn as I thought of her boarding the bus out to Hopkinton where the marathon began its long journey into Boston. I was so thankful I could be in Boston to watch her take on such a special event; she had earned her spot and deserved to have a race to remember. I was proud of her for being able to stand on that start line before even the marathon itself had started. We had planned to see my friend in Newton, around Mile 17, and then hop back on the train to the finish area. It was another beautiful day for spectating, blue skies and sunshine, but I was worried about the heat for running already as we took our spot along the roadside. My worries were not helped as runners started to appear and some looked to be really suffering. Having spectated at the London Marathon before it was very interesting to see the contrast in Boston, a much thinner more spread field and definitely no giant beer bottles or rhinos taking part! The atmosphere was good though, despite not being a particularly notable part of the course, and people were supporting whether or not they knew people taking part of not. Boston loves it marathon.
I was anxiously tracking my friend, doing mental calculations using her distance, pace and the time of day to work out when she would get to us. When that window did arrive the tense scanning of runners’ faces began. I was quite confident of spotting her though due to the much less dense amount of runners lining the streets; I had spotted her on Tower Bridge in London amid the hundreds of bodies so I had no excuse really! We saw her, we cheered, we encouraged and she looked in control. As ever when watching someone you know take part in a race, the moment felt like it was simply not long enough. I wanted to tell her she looked good and just to keep it steady, settle in ready to conquer the infamous Heartbreak Hill. She would know that anyway, but a simple ‘Go Colette’ felt slightly pathetic for the effort she was exerting, and I wanted to give so much more.
We then scrambled to the train and made our way back to the finish area. I knew this would be busy and any plans of getting onto the final Boylston Street stretch were scuppered by the huge queues to get through security. We opted instead to stand on Hereford Street, almost as famous, with the final directions of the Boston Marathon being widely known as ‘make a right on Hereford and a left on Boylston.’ We were less than a mile from the finish and squeezed into a space on the barrier to begin the anxious wait all over again. I calculated the time I expected my friend to appear and started to scan faces. She didn’t appear and panic rose within me that we had somehow missed her, which I would have been devastated about. I was getting despondent until I suddenly spotted her and instantly almost wished I hadn’t…
I have watched events before where I have seen exhausted runners, runners barely able to move or function normally, and it is difficult to witness. Seeing someone you care about in that state was truly awful. My friend was moving still but she was unrecognisable from her normal running or walking posture. I screamed at her nevertheless trying to get her attention. She was so close now, she just had to finish. Although my friend doesn’t remember this, she looked our way, and I guess our support must have stirred something in her as she attempted more of a run. It was painful to see her struggle but it gave me a glimpse of hope that she was not totally gone; her never failing determination was there, her body just needed to hang in there too. I felt helpless and wanted more than anything just to jump the barriers and support her. It was a horrible feeling. She then turned the corner onto Boylston Street, leaving us clueless as what would happen. So I ran. We left the barrier and started a mad dash through the crowded streets, just trying to get to the finish line. The volume of people made this hard, as did the road closures which led us on a hugely frustrating and mazey route. I kept my phone clutched in my hand, still tracking, hoping to see a finish time pop up. I didn’t care what the time was, I just wanted to know she had finished. When it did I felt a small bit of relief, but I still knew she was not in a good way.
We made it to the finish line but could not see her anywhere. My gut was telling me she would be in the big white medical tent which was across the road from us and next to the finish. Despite desperate pleading with the stewards, they would not let us cross. This left us with no option other than to tackle the crowds again and fight our way through the streets to try get to the tent. My emotions were all over the place at this point. I kept ringing my friend but she didn’t answer, which made me think she was almost definitely in that tent, but also made me fear what state she was actually in.
It took us nearly an hour to get to the tent, although we now knew she was definitely in there that after visiting the information desk on route. The tent was surrounded by metal barriers and the atmosphere around was unnerving; worried families and friends trying to track down loved ones. It took an agonising further half an hour for us to get any information, they were clearly very busy and just doing their best, but thoughts just kept racing through my head. Finally hearing news was a massive relief, it sounded like she had been in a bad way upon finishing and had been treated for heat stroke, but she was slowly recovering. We could not go in and see her throughout this, so the moment she finally emerged slowly from the tent, now nearly two and half hours after last sighting her on Hereford Street, made all the emotions suddenly feel worth it. I gave her the biggest but most gentle hug I could manage as she still looked very weak and tried to hold back the tears. Most importantly she was ok, but there was also a Boston Marathon finisher medal proudly hung around her neck.
It later came to light my friend was supported down Boylston Street firstly by two fellow runners, and then by two soldiers who helped her complete the final metres across the important finish line. It was hard to look at the images and videos which have emerged of this moment my friend crossed the line, as she looks in considerable distress, but at the same time they epitomise the Boston Strong spirit; a community of people, looking out for one another, helping each other, and united in one goal. I wanted my friend to complete the Boston Marathon and she had done that, was it a perfect scenario, not quite. But she had done it (still in an amazing time too!) and am I so proud of her and thankful of those who supported her. Boston is both a special place and a special race.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...