Friday, April 19, 2013

Boston Marathon - What We Loved & Learned

It's only been a short time since the terrible events at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. A lot of people have opinions and reactions to the tragedy. I was a spectator of the race, but I was not at the finish. And I'm not going to share my thoughts about it here. I am going to focus on the positive, because this city and all the cities on the route put on an amazing event and gave their all to make it an unforgettable and wonderful experience for every runner.

We learned and loved a lot about Boston & the Boston Marathon. This is a long post, but a marathon isn't a short race.

Getting to Hopkinton
Ed is between the two closed umbrellas. 
Me: I dropped my husband at the Boston Common bus pick-up area. We had debated having me drive him to the start. I parked my car in the underground lot and stood in the peaceful garden watching runners load the buses. The sun was shining, it was crisp and cool. Perfect.

Ed: Taking the buses to the start line from Downtown Boston was definitely the right decision. Police waved the buses ahead while cars had to wait. I got to Athlete's Village with no worries, not even concerned about traffic, looking at the terrain, seeing the hills, it definitely lowered the stress. I don't start any race stress-free but it certainly lowered it. People were even friendly getting on the buses.

 Before the Start/Athlete's Village
Info on the Green Line
Me: Back at our Cambridge hotel, I made final plans for my race-watching route and turned on the live broadcast of the race. The announcers did a great job mixing backstory, history, live runner commentary and explanations of running. I felt like I was on the media truck seeing it live.  I really wanted to see as much of the race as I could and debated riding the commuter train out to Natick but the timetables showed I'd never see any other parts of the race. So I settled on the Green Line to Boston College. If you want to ride the Green Trains, make sure you pick the correct line for the stop you want. There are several versions of Green. I also took screenshots of important info just in case I couldn't get service while I was on the subway.

Ed: Athlete's Village was cool. I spread out my towel on the ground under a tent, used my bag as pillow. What really amazed me was the people of Hopkinton. Some were giving away free stuff for runners, like medical supplies. It was so thoughtful. Bag check was simple. I was laying down, watching people going to the banana tent and thinking of a haiku about green bananas, something along the lines of a 'green banana, travelled from the jungle, passed over.' Need to stick a few more syllables in there.

Ed took some great shots of Athlete's Village & the Start. Here's his Flickr page.

The Start
Me: In a thrilling moment I saw Ed on the live feed of the start! I backed it up and snapped a photo! So cool.

Ed: Normally when you are heading to the start of a race, you're looking around for your corral. But at this one, there were volunteers waving at you saying "You're over here!" I was talking with other runners, asking if this was their first one, how they got there. They fired the starting gun, people are cheering, we walked slowly to the start. But I was able to run across the starting line.

Spectators
Ed passes Mile 21
Me: Riding the subway to the race was a tad stressful. I bought a Charlie Card and managed to get on the correct Green Line train. I used a lot of tech to help me track him and plan my viewing. The BAA site for splits and the race map, a Boston.com interactive map predicting the times your runner would be at a certain mile, the MBTA subway map, the Find My Friends app and a pace calculator - and providing updates via Twitter & text. I would love it if someone put together a better map showing the precise location of T stops and the course. But I got to Chestnut Hill about 10 minutes before Ed. Precision.

Ed: Imagine the last 500 feet of every neighborhood 5K and all those cheering people and then stretch them across the whole course of the Boston Marathon. The women cheering at Wellesley, it kind of freaked me out but also it was unforgettable. I saw kids with orange slices. I saw one kid drop an orange slice on the road and then pick it up and keep offering it. It was cute. Crowds of high school kids decked out in red, white and blue. Families there together, cheering. Businesses along the way welcomed marathoners. People cheering for people they didn't know. They offered ice cups, popsicles, gave out beer, a guy with a box of Coors Light shouted "Carbo load!" People cheered the whole way. Tons of kids held their hands out just begging people to slap their hand. You could run two miles just slapping kids' hands.

Me: At Chestnut Hill, I realized Ed was close but I didn't have a spot along the barrier. A woman left her spot but another woman jumped ahead of me. I heard her friend say "He'll be here in 30 minutes." I showed her how close Ed was on my phone and asked if I could have her spot until Ed passed. "Of course!" she said. And when Ed came by and I cheered, those two awesome people joined in with me and cheered for him, too.

The Finish

Me: After seeing Ed at Chestnut Hill, I put the final part of our plan into action. I hopped back on the Green Line (make sure you have your Charlie Card ready to scan when you get back on the train, and be aware the Chestnut Hill stop has no sign, marking or information to tell you where to stand. Follow other people who know what they are doing) and headed back to the Arlington Station. As we sped through the closed Copley Station, the Find My Friends app showed I was right under Ed as he finished. So cool. Back on the surface, I located my foil-wrapped Boston finisher and followed him until he emerged from the bag pick-up area. I was incredibly proud of him.

Double-taped foil-wrapped Boston finisher
Ed: I ran down this little short street and I knew as soon as I turned left on Boylston I would be done. Frankly I was so tired. I saw the arches and headed to the left one. I just kept running, wasn't paying much attention to people. But as I got closer to the finish, I heard the finish line announcer call my name. First time I've ever heard that at a finish. But I was so tired. I crossed and took a few more steps and then I was worried about dehydration. I got some water, some Gatorade, got my foil wrap. They did this cool thing I really liked: they had people give you the wraps and then people give you tape to tape it closed! It's a pain to hold the foil closed. The tape meant I could keep walking and carry my stuff. I got two tapes. They put the medal around your neck. That's what I was running for. It's just a piece of metal, and I was hurt, but I wanted that medal. Then I was looking for my bus with my number to get my bag. People were friendly giving out the wraps, the tape, the medals, they were all congratulating us. A lot of good people.

Me: I found Ed and helped him get dressed into warm clothes. We shuffled slowly down the city streets to the Public Garden parking lot. Ed asked hopefully if I had brought an extra Gatorade, but I hadn't. (You'll have to hear our Gatorade story from the Marine Corps Marathon sometime.) We passed a street vendor and Ed decided he wanted a Coke. I bought it for him, and the vendor asked Ed with real concern, "You alright buddy?" Ed nodded and said "yeah, yeah." Another friendly Bostonian. These people embrace this whole event from the start to way beyond the finish.

Boston gave us their very best. We loved the city and the race. For many runners, BQing is a dream come true for many runners. Even as a spectator I met Kathrine Switzer and a dream came true for me. Running isn't always easy but neither is life. There are struggles and there are moments of joy and wonder. I am thankful for everything running has given me and will be seeking meaningful ways to give back in the coming months.