Boston Marathon: Is It Worth All the Hype?

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Amelia Phillips

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Recently I competed in and completed the 2009 Boston Marathon (that’s me on the left being an idiot at Niketown!). I have never seen a city get so hyped up by a road race, not just on race day but the preceding days as well. It seemed bigger than Christmas day, New years eve and the big game rolled into one. With 25000 competitors, it’s a big race, but New York gets double that, as does Sydney’s City to Surf. So why is there such a hype around the Boston Marathon and is running this race really worth the grueling winter training and US$250 involved?

Why is Boston deemed such a prestigious race?

Firstly it is the oldest road race in the world, this year being the 113th since its creation in 1896.

Boston marathon qualifying race times

Secondly it is one of the only marathons that require a qualification time to enter. In fact only 10% of the world’s marathoners actually qualify so for many it is the amateur equivalent of reaching the Olympics.

It costs US$250 to enter so even the price is elite.

Competitors get treated well, with a pre-race bag filled with goodies such as long sleeved BM shirt, samples and free entry to a giant fitness expo held at the same location. There is a tent covered athletes village with water, Gatorade,  power bars and a million port-a-potti’s (although the line still took a crossed leg lifetime!).

The course is well marked, with copious amounts of Gatorade and water stops (26) as well as free energy bars, gels, and Vaseline paddle pop sticks.

There is an athlete alert system whereby nominated friends and family can receive real time sms or email updates every 5km.  At the end of the race, competitors get silver heat blankets, a bag of food, more water, free energy bars,  But does all of this lead to a better over-all marathon experience? Here’s how it went for me…

Comedians Carl and Karl Underwood at the running expoMy Boston Marathon Story

The day before: Peruse the running expo and chat to other fans like superfans comedians Carl and Karl Underwood (left). Met some elite runners and bought lots of new running gear.

Race day: 5:45am wake up, eat some raisin bran, milk and a banana, get dressed in clothes I laid out last night. Catch cab to other hotel to meet my charity team (MAB)
7am 15 of us depart in mini bus for Hopkinton where the race commences. Freezing cold but the wind doesn’t seem too bad – yet.
Upon entering athletes village, forest is scattered with runners, peeing behind trees, squatting and who knows what else. Saw more than I cared to see at that early time. Policemen on bicycles came and scared tree waterers away.
8:15am Buses drop us at Athletes village which is basically a giant tent surrounded by port-a-potti’s. Now I understand previous tree huggers, the loo lines were longer than most bladders could handle.
Pumping music and live commentary kept the mood upbeat, and despite the freezing temperatures and bursting bladders, everyone seemed pumped up and ready to race. Got talking to all sorts or characters, one had been altitude training, while another was covered in French flag face paint. Saw one guy with 12 energy gels on his belt. How many marathons was he planning to run that day???
9:30 Elite females begin the race
10:00 Elite men and preferred athletes begin race along with the first wave of runners
10:10 Loudspeaker calls my group of bib numbers (24000-27000), so we walk up to the baggage buses
10 Minutes before the race, about to strip off 10:15 Time to strip off. Tracksuit off, dimply blotchy shivering body revealed. Bag into bus – please don’t lose it, I’ll be needing that tracksuit at the end
10:30 and their off!
10:40 and I’m off. Took 10mins to walk over start line, but not to worry, times are based on our foot chips, not the clock.
First 5km – painful! Not physically but these crowds are slowing me down. They say to start off slow but this is ridiculous!  Quite a steady downhill
5-10km – that’s better, but now I’m behind my target time of 5min per km so I need to haul ass! Getting used to the crowds so time to pump up the ipod and get ‘in the zone’
10-15km – wow, my zone seems to be settling at a speedy 4:40m/km pace, I’m liking this. Hope it’s not too fast and I pay for it later…
15-25km  – 15km time to take my first GU, don’t feel like I need it but have it anyway. I’ve just been overtaken by mini mouse and a guy in a tutu, should I be worried? Someone yelled out ‘Go England’ when they spotted the Aussie flag on my leg, thanks anyway buddy! Even Elvis rose from the dead to sing some at a pub. 25km 2nd GU, needed that!
25 – 30km Still feeling good and managing to hold my pace, I am loving this atmosphere although my ears are ringing from the Wellsley school girls squealing. They held up signs saying ‘free kisses’ and heaps of the guys were stopping to kiss them – ewe sweaty Gatorade breath. There were even a few signs saying ‘lesbian kisses over here!’
30 – 35km This is where the work really begins. The Newton hills are upon us (7 smallish hills in succession), lots of people walking. Madonna’s ‘Ray of light’ just came on – perfect timing, motor up the hill. Heart break hill is the last hill but I have no idea when it is, lost count.
I just asked a runner ‘how long till heart break hill?’ and she said, ‘Honey we just passed it!’ Woohoo maybe I can get under 3 ½ hrs, sudden motivation. 35km time for my last GU.
35 – 40km I feel sooooo good! The crowds are now at least six deep, and are getting more and more rowdy as we get closer to Boston. Just passed a one legged runner with a sprung prosthetic, he was going pretty fast. Was that Anna Nicole Smith on the sidelines? Oh no a very clever drag queen. I can see the CitiGo sign which I know is one mile to go, but it’s so far in the distance it’s like a mirage.
40-42km. Ouch ouch ouch, did someone replace the cement with quicksand? Quads are screaming. Am pumping my arms but my legs won’t follow, I feel like I am flying but look at my watch and I am barely under 5min/km. Come on legs…work!
If I wave my arms in the air the crowd goes wild – gotta work that crowd baby! Last turn onto Boylston, I see the finish line. Chest up, chin up, pump arms – Bolt!
Cross finish line. Woohoo! 3hrs 26min, that’s an 8min PB! I feel great – hang on, no I don’t, I suddenly feel terrible. A breath of wind would knock me over. Stumble to people with silver thermal sheets, I’m suddenly cold and dizzy. Stumble to people with cups of something, drink it. Could have been vodka but I don’t care. Who’s that tugging at my shoelace? Oh they’re taking my timing chip from my shoe.  What’s this, ohhh my medal. Suddenly I feel much better! Someone hands me a bag with food in it. Inhale banana.
Just as I am about to leave a woman cries out and collapses onto me. Her calves are cramping and she can’t stand. A medic comes instantly and whisks her away in a wheelchair. After the race: Just about to enter the Boston Striders recovery area. I couldn't stand up after this photo Short walk to Boston Striders Recovery area. As I enter the gym, I stop for a photo. Squat down next to sign. Bad idea, can’t get up! Need 2 people to lift me.
Have the longest, heavenly shower (sorry water conversationalists) and swap stories with my sister running group the Boston Striders. Have a lovely massage and stretch. Feel human again. Watched all the troops roll in off the battlefield.
Reweighed myself. Lost 3kg (6.6lbs) which is 5% of my body weight. Need to eat and drink.Go home to bed for 2 hrs. Read all my tweets. How can people tweet and run alludes me! 7pm meet up with my charity group for post race dinner. I ate a cheeseburger, fries, cheesecake and ice cream, all washed down with champagne.  3kg right back on! The rest is a blur…
The next day – legs don’t work, can’t face stairs but no joint pain, swelling or orange pee. All in all mission accomplished. The only downer is the fear that no other race will ever compare to this one… we’ll see.

How does this compare with other marathons?

The Boston Marathon is definitely the most well organised event I have ever been to.

Streamlined:With the only real delay being the port-a-potties in the athletes village. They have clearly perfected this event over the last 113 years.

The crowds: I attribute at least 4mins of my fast time to the energy drawn from the crowds. Their enthusiasm literally propels you forward

The Scenery: Well there is not too much to see because the crowds are so thick. But the snippets of Massachusetts are so stunning, as are the houses.

Is it worth all the hype?

Absolutely! Now I understand why this is lifetime goal for so many runners. It is the closest us amateurs will ever get to feeling like we are Olympians! It was made extra special for me by;

Last year's vision impaired winner Adrian Broca (left) and 2 of his guides

MAB Charity: Running for the visually impaired was such an honour. They are the nicest, most generous group of people who do such a lot to help make the lives of visually impaired as normal as possible. In my group was the winner and runner up of the visually impaired category, coming in around the 2hr 50min mark. Imagine running that fast without your eyesight. They have a guide running with them, changing every 10km so they can keep up! Click here to learn more or leave a donation

Boston Striders Coach Jim Carroll (left) and a Striders member

Boston Striders: Coach Jim Carrol and Ryan Pace were such a huge help not only in getting me into the race (Late entry) but also last minute preparation and the recovery area afterwards. It’s so wonderful that running groups around the world collaborate to help each other out. If you are a Sydney Striders runner, I highly recommend you visit the Boston Striders at some stage.

Have you ever run the Boston Marathon? What about some of the other big ones, New York, London, Paris, Sydney? I’d love to hear your stories!

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  • http://www.ameliaburton.com.au Sandy Burke

    Well done Amelia!
    I love the video clip ‘the day after a marathon.’ Not that I’d know, but I imagine that’s how one would feel!

  • http://www.ameliaburton.com.au Ruth Patterson

    Congratulations Amelia! Your running commentary was so good that now I don’t need to run a marathon, you’ve done it for me – thanks!
    Ruth

  • Alice

    Hi Amelia, I really appreciated reading your marathon blog – my heart rate actually went up when I was reading about your last 2ks! Am training for my first marathon (Gold Coast) and while my training is on target I’m still afraid! Thanks for showing the way.

  • http://www.ameliaburton.com.au Amelia Burton

    Hi Alice,

    I’m glad to hear that training is going well. You have looked really strong at the last few events I’ve seen you at so I have no doubt you’ll smash Gold Coast! Make sure you email me afterwards, as I will be in the States when it’s on.
    My main piece of advice; Really enjoy the first 30km. Settle into your pace and take it all in. The real race begins at 31km.
    Best of luck :)
    Amelia

  • Fatboy Csaba

    Awesome article! Congrats on your PB. I love your website, keep up the good work Amelia.

    sincerely,
    Fatboy

  • http://www.ameliaburton.com.au Amelia Burton

    Thanks Fatboy Csaba!!
    Why the name fatboy???

  • Ray

    Hi Amelia,
    Great article, which I have just accidently stumbled across! I am thinking of going for a good time in a marathon later on in the year, with the thought of trying for Boston in 2011. So you’re a good sales person for it! Ray

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  • Incorrect

    “Firstly it is the oldest road race in the world, this year being the 113th since its creation in 1896.”

    Incorrect – Around the Bay was run on Christmas Day 1894 and is still going: http://www.aroundthebayroadrace.com/history.htm

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