Amid the rich history, iconic landmarks and throne atop the sporting world Bostonians exude a boundless passion; in addition, they are the true definition on friendly town folk (okay, the wicked awesome accent probably helps). This passion is accentuated even more so on Patriots Day. Needless to say, with Good Will Hunting being my favorite movie, the hype was more than real. If more than real is a thing.
While the marathon was my ticket there, the weekend was much bigger than that. It was an opportunity to explore a wonderful city that I’ve never seen. Even better, I had family & friends there to revel in the experience. Shoutout to Paul, Jacque, Cody, Mina, Luke & Haley.
We strolled around Fuenial hall, saw Bunker Hill, perused the the Boston Commons (even saw Bill Simmons eating Pizza), walked through the Cheers Bar, stood amid the cobblestone paths of Cambridge, stood atop the Green Monster, and devoured food in Irish and Italian neighborhoods. Having heard how fickle an East Coast spring can be, the flawless weather was an added bonus when we attended an outdoor Easter service! This was already a weekend for the books.
Fast forward to Patriots Day where the weekend mood got amped up a few notches.
If you want the summary of a short & sweet summary of the day
Nervous Energy / Hype / Bathroom / This is actually real-excitement / Relaxed / More Nerves / Bathroom…again / Full-on enthusiasm / Ready, Set, Go, Chaos / Avoid tripping / high-fives / Pandemonium / Deafening cheers / Hills / More Hills / More high-fives / More People / More People / More People / Okay, is the whole city here? / Finish / Just Wow. Surreal.
The alarm rings. It’s go time. I grabbed the necessities, hopped on the shuttle, and carried antsy conversation with other excited runners. We loaded onto school busses like school children – a little bit of nostalgia to give some perspective. We were hauled 26-ish miles away from the finish line to the starting line at Hopkinton School. As we cruised the outskirts of Boston, I’ll never forget the image of rowers gliding along the Charles River at sunrise. It was a beautiful sunrise, one that I wouldn’t have seen had I not had a window seat.
45 minutes later, we arrived.
Upon exiting the bus at Hopkinton School, I started to feel the magnitude of the Boston Marathon. We cruised through the small town of Hopkinton. It was vintage classic-Americana houses spread in front of a forest. At the top of a hill, there was a quaint country school. We’re talking quintessential small-town New Northeast – very Rockwellian… That thought was brief as I descended down to a field filled with a whole lot of neon & pent-up energy waiting. Around 30,000 people to be exact.
We had tents to provide shade & all sorts of food. Having skipped breakfast, I needed to eat. Fortunately, bagels were provided. Unfortunately, there was nothing to add to the bagels. Note to those running Boston in the future: Bring a packet of some form of nut butter or something to add b/c a bagel, by itself is sad.
After lounging for a couple of hours, I saw my buddy Matt’s Dad – Al – & we discussed the usual pre-race stuff, except this wasn’t his first rodeo. Reading the newspaper, he was cool, calm and collected. This, I believe, was his 3rd Boston. Stud. He also informed me of the heightened security. I thought I was attentive, but he immediately pointed to snipers on top of the school. I couldn’t believe it. Crazy! It’s unfortunate that tragic circumstances led to this; however, there was a sense of re-assurance that this city won’t allow allow 2013 to happen again.
Finally, the bell tolled. Go time. 30,000 others & I walked this rural road between Civil War-era houses towards the starting line. It was eerily quiet, but you could feel the excitement. That lasted shortly when we arrived at a last-minute port-potty stop before the race. It was absolute chaos, lines zigged & zagged everywhere. When the porta-lines were too long, lines started developing behind bushes.
10 minutes to start. The starting gun went off. So, too did the elites and the other corrals ahead of me. Itching to get going, those in my corral had to wait for another 3-4 minutes until we officially crossed the starting line. Finally, we did. No more hype. No more waiting. No more nerves. No more anticipation. Game on.
Literally, the first 4-6 miles, everybody is jockeying for a position. The roads were packed with crowds. It was incomparable to anything I’d ever seen, and this was only the start. We’re talking about 10-20 people deep. I remember passing the first bar. Yes, it was opened and, yes, it was crawling with people. On Patriot’s Day in Boston, it is treated like a legit holiday. Hailing from California, I had never heard of it before. From what it looked like, most of these people seemed to be cheering along the course. I couldn’t believe how dense it was & I was only 1/6 of the way through it.
A little bit beyond the bar & I could hear “Sweet Caroline” blasting on loud speakers. The chorus was cranking & so were a couple hundred people (spectators & runners), belting out “so good, so good, so good” in unison! I am getting goosebumps just thinking about it.
Amidst the fanfare, I did my best to stay attuned to my breathing, hydration, pace and legs. Sure, I had a goal that was aimed at a specific time, but I really, really, really wanted to immerse myself in this experience. Most of the race, I would run right next to the crowds to feed off of the infectious energy. There were also plenty of high-fives exchanged throughout. Stoke, adrenaline, mojo, endorphins, positive energy… Call it what you want. It was raw. It was intense. It was everywhere. So dope.
I kept cruising, still trying to avoid running into people. Then we hit the halfway point and the crowds intensified, both in numbers and in enthusiasm. Yes, it is hard to believe. A little bit past the halfway point (maybe mile 14 ish) there was this mass scream that was undoubtedly louder than anything I had heard thus far. Oh yes, this noise was like a half-mile away. And no, I am not exaggerating. It (the noise) was comprised of students from the all-girls school – Wellesley College. As we neared, the screams were deafening. At this point, I had my headphones on, but clicked pause to see what this was all about. For what felt like a mile, I kept my arm extended for high-fives. Girls were screaming at all of the runners “Kiss Me, Kiss me” and sure enough, there were dudes around me that fulfilled those requests. Some of them were probably old enough to be fathers of these girls. I understand that social norms get thrown to the wayside during running races (public urination, loud self-deprecating expletives, and other forms of bizarre behavior that become “normal”), but this was strange.
Moving on, the rest of this race was a blur. Bars were packed. People cheered en masse. I took probably a dozen orange slices from strangers. I grabbed vasoline-on-a-stick and thought it was salt. Fortunately, when I grabbed it, I asked. The person shouted it wasn’t what I thought it was just as I was about to devour it. Whewwwwww! Glad that didn’t happen, things would have gotten weird.
At mile 18, I saw the November Project crew going bananas. This rad conglomerate of eccentrics brought the noise all day long. It was a much needed pick-me up, as I started to notice that I was starting to fade. I was entering the mode where you just hold on and see what’s left.
We went over some hills and the climbed the iconic Heartbreak Hill. I kept my rhythm, but it was a grind.
A couple miles later (mile 21.5), I was due for the inevitable bathroom break. I had about 4.5 miles and a little more than a half an hour remaining to achieve the goal (sub-3). I used this 45-second respite to have a quick conversation in a porta-potty, with myself. Again, that whole thing about social norms being thrown to the wayside… Don’t worry, this isn’t a “new normal” for me; it was just a moment to recalibrate. I knew the next bit was going to be intense, but I was exactly where I wanted to be.
I held pace. But I noticed my legs were moving slower. And then bam! Mile 23 – the wall. It slapped me across the face, reminding me of how grueling a marathon can be. The distance is 26.2 miles for a reason. For the next 3 miles, it was going to be a battle of mental/physical fatigue vs. the clock.
I saw others walking. More and more followed. When this happens, I do my best to stay in my own headspace and put my head down, otherwise it becomes alluring. And that allure doesn’t dissipate until crossing the Finish Line.
I held on, but was moving slower and slower. My energy was sapped. The crowds were now sweltering. I faded into the final corner. All I wanted to do was finish. No more steps please. Despite the agony, I admired the pageantry, tradition, and surreality of running down Boylston. I looked for my Family and didn’t see them, despite jogging by them at a mere 10-15 feet away. I crossed the finish line with 100% relief.
I crossed the finish line and sat repeatedly every five steps until I received one of those stylish foil jackets. Then, they put the medal around my neck and I gingerly turned the corner to find my parents. We hugged, talked and then went back to the hotel for a much-needed shower, pizza, and an IPA.
The three of us sat in the hotel restaurant overlooking the water for a couple of hours simply enjoying each other’s company. The day wasn’t quite done. We were treated by a memorable scene that was one of the most visually stunning sunsets I have ever seen. The Man upstairs often provides some unique reminders of who really is in charge. From walking the hallowed ground of our forefathers to enjoying a stellar Easter service to Mile 23 to seeing a wounded veteran complete the marathon while carrying the flag and, to cap it off, a tranquil sunset that illuminated the water. There were so many it’s-not-about-you-moments that slow time down and I’m grateful for that. It was all made better because it was weekend shared with family. To me, it doesn’t get better than that!