Sunday, April 15, 2012

Boston Marathon: Shared Experiences

Bob, Ted, and Frannie at Boston

I have never been to Boston and have never run the Boston Marathon. I have qualified three times, but it has never worked out for me to be able to go. I have watched many of my friends do the race and have amazing experiences. The hardest one for me was the year that three of my dearest running friends went. I love the picture I have included here of Bob, Ted, and Frannie waiting for the start. Just look at those happy faces!!

Someday I hope to go myself, even though large road marathons are not really my thing. I like small races and prefer long trail runs to long road runs these days. My desire to go comes mostly from a respect for the history of the city and of the race. I think that it is one of those experiences that will happen when the time is right.

Since I can't speak on this topic myself, I decided to let some of the readers share their experiences and impressions of Boston and the marathon.  First I will start with an entry from one of my former students. (I am so proud that she sent in this fine piece of descriptive writing).

Melissa Stanley Baker:
Part of my family is from Boston as I was married twice and both men were from Newton, Massachusetts.  I am a native Floridian, but from the age of 16, I spent my summers in New England, and Boston is the heartbeat of that part of the country.  It is just two hours south of where I had a house in Kennebunkport and just two hours North of Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard.  I can still smell the wharf when I think of it.  The clam chowder and steamers are the best at the seafood restaurants on the Waterfront.  These are close to the Paul Revere House and a terrific Children’s Museum which was the site of my sister-in-laws’ wedding.  The New England Aquarium is right next to Legal Sea Foods where they serve scrumptious raw oysters with horseradish, lemons and cocktail sauce with a champagne sorbet.  Mmmmmm good.  I remember seeing the QEII in dry dock, and it was huge.  In the park called Boston Common & Public Garden on the Fourth of July there is this amazing show by the Boston Pops with spectacular fireworks.  During the day there are ball games and so many birds and elegant swans in the ponds.  It is a great place to run with so many bridges and statues.  Summer hasn’t officially arrived in Boston until the swan boats emerge from hibernation and glide onto the Public Garden pond.
Of course there is shopping at Faneuil Hall with all of the street performers. It was the first place my daughter Sarah saw a mime.  Faneuil Hall and Boston Common are the best places to people watch.  Boston also has a knack for creating curious visual juxtapositions, and one of the most remarkable is Copley Square where there is a 19th century Romanesque Trinity Church that reflects in the blue-tinted glass of the 20th century John Hancock Tower.  The Church is known as one of the ten greatest buildings in the country.  Fashionistas shop around Newberry Street and share the sidewalk with punk rockers.  Some of the world’s greatest thinkers have come from Harvard University like T.S. Elliot, Leonard Bernstein, FDR, Henry Kissinger, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry James, John Adams, and Al Gore.  Benazir Bhutto, who became the first woman to lead a modern Muslim state when she was elected prime minister of Pakistan, went to Harvard.  I always wanted to audit a summer class there just for the experience but really just so I could say that I attended Harvard.  The cobblestone streets there really provide a sense of history.  There is a place known as Copp’s Hill Burying Ground with headstones dating from the 17th century.  As a history buff I always found Boston to be a groovy place and an architectural zoo.  There is the Paul Revere House which is known to be the oldest private residence in Boston.  Finally, there is the Boston Red Sox, but I never cared for baseball.

Now that you have a feel for the city, let me share a few comments from my Michigan running friends.

Sue Masten:
OK... I'll write about seeing one of my colleagues from grad school run the Boston Marathon back in like 1983! Yeah, a long time ago. Patriots Day is a holiday in Boston - so no classes even at Harvard. We all went in to see him run... funny I can't remember his name, although I can picture him and can still feel the excitement watching him and the other runners turn the corner to run to the finish line. Or perhaps this is all a distant dream?

We were all lined up at least two to three deep, the roar of the crowd was deafening. I still remember being in awe of the runners as they crossed the finish line, some running, some barely walking, some almost crawling... but they finished, with such pride, and rightly so for it was such an accomplishment.

I actually walked the course twice as a grad student. There was a 20 mile walk for hunger in Boston that used most of the same course. Nowhere near the same level of excitement, yet at the same time, we were all thrilled to be out there walking, raising funds for the homeless shelters in Boston/Cambridge, building a sense of community, and I suppose being able to say we walked the course of the Boston Marathon, well at least 20 miles of it. I also remember barely being able to walk the next couple of days!

Bill Pinches:

Once you've reached the point where you can run a marathon in a pretty darn decent time, you begin to think, "Now what?" With all due respect to the ultra runners out there, running more than 26.2 miles at a time doesn't have a whole lot of appeal to me. But trying to improve my time so that I could qualify to participate in one of the most prestigious events in the sport . . . that sounds like a challenge worth shooting for. It's enjoyable and rewarding to see the progress I've made in this sport over the last few years, and to think to myself, "I wonder how much better I can get?" I've heard stories about Heartbreak Hill . . . maybe one day I'll get to experience it for myself. Having a goal like Boston to shoot for makes all the training runs all the more meaningful. We always need to be looking forward.

Ann Whitmer:
Here's the finish line for last year's race. It's not my dream to get there, so I know I'll never put in the work to qualify. But, I do hope to see my son cross that line one day.

Kate Johnson:
I never thought I would want to train and run a marathon. It was something my parents did in the 1980s, and I thought they were crazy. When I started running again in 2011, after about a decade off, I found team Playmakers and joined their training team. It was kind of peer pressure that caused me to sign up for my first marathon. I completed my first marathon in October 2011 and missed the 2012 Boston qualifying time by 9 minutes. They announced the 2013 times would be 5 minutes faster, but that is more of a challenge than anything. Soon after my first marathon I was already thinking about what I was going to do different next time. I am striving towards qualifying and running the Boston marathon. What an honor it would be to run the oldest annual marathon on a very challenging course.

(If I do run Boston in the next year or so, it will probably be because I want to run it with Kate. I predict a qualifying time for her very soon.)

Finally, I got one report from a Boston runner. He is a friend of mine from California who also has a running blog if you would like to take a look. It is called Runner's Mania.  He has a really interesting article right now on changes he has been making in his stride length and running form.

Here is Russ Barber's Boston story:

Started running with Lopers in Ausgust 1999 weight 212lb
March 2000: First Marathon, LA 5:19:49 weight 195lb
March 2001: 2nd LA Marathon 4:42:09
March 2002: 3rd LA Marathon 4:11:50
Oct 2002 St George Marathon: 3:33:40 Qualified for Boston Weight 180lb
April 2003 Boston Marathon: 4:02:46 (Got compartment syndrome two weeks before Boston from being on Prednisone for a pinched nerve in my neck. Ballooned up in weight to 190lb.)

I went to Boston somewhat disappointed because I wanted to be able to run close to my qualifying time! I still had a little bit of compartment syndrome.

My wife Mary went with me and we had a great time sight seeing. It was our first experience using subways and we really enjoyed that experience too. We took an all day tour of Boston via a tour van. Our driver had a very funny personality and kept us both informed and entertained. The tour was somewhat self guided in that our driver would drop us off at certain locations and tell us a little about what we would be able to see and the let us all out to walk the tour ourselves. We got to see a lot of historical sites and had a great time.

It was chilly and cold most of the time we were there but warmed up the day of the race. At that time the race started at noon, and it was already 70 degrees with bright sunshine at the start.  It took about 12 minutes from the gun to reach the start line. In the first two miles compartment syndrome started to kick in and I had to pull off to the side and stretch it out. I started again at a slower pace and had no problems with it from then on. I remember going through Wellesly and hearing how loud the girls were cheering for us. Some were holding signs that read “Kiss a girl from Wellesly.” I failed to take them up on it! The crowds were awesome the whole way really and that was great.

Russ with Alan Remele
Personally I did not think Heartbreak Hill was that tough of a hill perhaps because I has run so conservatively but mostly I think because I trained on a course that had similar hills. By mile 23 I ran into a fellow Loper friend, Allen Remele*, who had also qualified at St George. He had recently hurt his knee and had also been running a conservative race. We both felt good at that point and picked up our pace, running roughly 7:30 pace the last three miles and passing a lot of people. It was slightly downhill and cooling off again. It was really a thrill to cross that finish line and know what I had accomplished going from a couch potato 2 years 8 months earlier to qualifying for and running Boston. My Boston finish time was 4:02:46. Yes it was a slight disappointment to not be close to my qualifying time but only slightly as I could look back and see the accomplishment as a great achievement in my life, both physically, spiritually and emotionally!

(*Interestingly enough, this was my two sons' elementary and middle school band teacher.)  

Well if Russ' story doesn't get you motivated to work on that Boston qualifying time, I don't know what will. 

Good luck to any blog readers who may be running Boston, and a special "good luck" to Coach Lynn from Playmakers.

( If you are lucky enough to have Universal Sports, they are televising the race tomorrow, 9:30-12:30 ET,  and they will be streaming it live. You can also link to the live video from the BAA site.


  1. Thanks for sharing! Best wishes to those with a Boston goal! Maybe I'll be tracking you online next year!!!!!


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