The Boston Marathon is the oldest and most iconic race in America, and its clout is well-deserved. Held on the Massachusetts holiday of Patriots’ Day each year, the Boston Marathon links the marathonian fight of a 26.2 mile race with the American battle for liberty started at the Revolutionary War. We saw that struggle for liberty in the 1967 race, when Kathy Switzer defiantly became the first woman to run the marathon. And we saw that triumph over adversity after the terrible bombing in 2013, when the city and running community rallied to be forever “Boston Strong.”
The marathon itself is unlike most other majors since it is point-to-point and net downhill, preventing Boston from ever being a world record course, per IAAF rules. Yet it’s the only marathon you have to qualify for. It starts in the small village of Hopkinton and travels east to Boston until you make that right turn on Hereford Street and left on Boylston. The 300+ feet of downhill over the first 6 miles immediately tests your discipline to control the pace and preserve your quads. It then levels out for the next 10 miles as you pass the Wellesley scream tunnel and drop to the bottom of the infamous Newton hills.
There are four, humbling hills from miles 16 to 21 that truly define the race. They come at a time when your legs start to fatigue and your energy begins to fade. After the last "Heartbreak" Hill, the final miles take you through Brookline, past Coolidge Corner and Fenway Park into beautiful downtown Boston. Newbury Street. Copley Square. Trinity Church. The much awaited blue and yellow finish line.
I am grateful to have run the Boston Marathon six times. It has taught me discipline to hold back early in a race and go hard late, especially when those hills come at the end. It has taught me humility when conditions are not in my favor. It has taught me to take strength from your community and to be there for those who share your passion and values. And it has taught me to know my priorities in life and know why I run. Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot about our sport and about myself along the way.
In my first Boston in 2012, I was sweating before the race even started, partly because of nerves, but mostly because the weather was 85F and rising. Not a day to set a PR! On the bright side, I was able to truly enjoy the race, the incredible fans, the Wellesley girls giving out kisses, and the Boston College guys giving out beer.
In 2013, the weather was perfect. I crossed the finish around 1 pm with no idea what would happen an hour later. When the bomb struck, the race was halted and many did not finish. I could not fathom an attack on a sport that is so mentally, physically, and emotionally challenging while being so rewarding at the same time. Running makes us each feel unstoppable and yet for a moment in time, we stopped. The 2013 race devastated the running community, the city of Boston, and the entire world.
The aftermath showed us how strong we are as runners, bringing us closer to support those affected and to support each other, regardless of our backgrounds and abilities. It gave our running more purpose, understanding that we never know when something will be taken away from us. Every step, every mile, and every finish line is a gift.
As a result of this resilience and renewed appreciation, the 2014 Boston Marathon will always be my favorite. Nothing stopped the running community. The energy, the compassion, the support from everyone - runners, volunteers, fans, spectators - was unbelievable. It was my fastest Boston yet, and to top it off, one of my running heroes, Meb Keflezighi, became the first American (male or female) to win the race in almost 30 years.
In 2015, Patriots' Day fell on April 20, the same as my wife's birthday. I made the decision not to sign up, even with a qualifying time. As much as running is a gift and a priority, our loved ones are too. I knew I would return, and I ran again in 2016, 2017, and 2018. The weather last year was quite the opposite of my first Boston: freezing rain and 20mph headwinds! As I like to say, if you wait for perfect conditions, you won't be able to weather the storm.
I will be running my seventh Boston this year, and I have accepted that it will not be my best. After finishing my last two marathons in December and in February, I took about 5 weeks off running due to a hip labral tear and strain. My body is more fragile and less invincible than it once was. I have hardly had a chance to rebuild my mileage and speedwork. Nevertheless, I will keep showing up and continue on my journey to be a better coach, runner, and human being. Always for Boston. Always Boston Strong.
Thank you Anisa for editing this post!