Over the years, I’ve improved my race PRs at just about every distance. I’ve seen my marathon times drop by more than an hour, and I’ve reduced my 5K times by almost a third. My commitment to speed work and tempo work in my training has been sporadic at best, but the sheer volume has also done wonders for my overall speed. However, I’m fairly certain that a 3:10 marathon isn’t within reach for me any time soon. This time is significant because it just happens to be my Boston Marathon qualifying time. My views on the importance, for me, of running the race itself have shifted someone in recent years but I certainly still view it as a cultural running experience I would very much like to have at some point in my life. I’ll never focus all my attention on qualifying for it, however, and am much more apt to get excited about the opportunity to run Western States, Hardrock, or UTMB. All three of these races definitely take precedence for me. However, I look forward to my Boston Marathon moment nonetheless.
Since that moment won’t be occurring any time soon, I decided to take advantage of a recent work trip to Boston and taste a bit of what the Boston Marathon has to offer. My flight landed in Boston around 9:30AM on Friday, we made our way to the hotel with relative ease, and I was getting into the cab to take me to the starting line in Hopkington by 11:00AM. The driver was rather amused when I told him where I was heading and what I was doing, but didn’t seem all that surprised. After all, the marathon is as much a part of the culture of Boston as anything. During the 40-minute drive, we had a lengthy chat about Boston sports, including the Patriots recent Super Bowl stunner, the future viability of Tom Brady (he definitely has a few strong years left), and the prospects for the Red Sox this season. He had lived in the area his whole life, and was even at Game 6 of the 1986 World Series! We arrived at the town square around 11:45AM, I thanked him, he wished me good luck, and I stepped out into the quiet mid-day sun.
I surveyed the area, and could feel the energy surrounding me. Aside from the iconic bronze statue nearby, it looked like any other small New England town square. However, there was no escaping the history that filled the air I was breathing. It brought a smile to my face, and I eagerly looked at the map a final time before starting my personal #RogueBostonMarathon. I took it easy as I ran through town, passing quaint coffee shops and other small businesses. The sun was peaking through the clouds, and the temps in the low 60s made for perfect running weather. After a few miles, I was starting to warm up and beginning to hit my stride, when I seemed to be getting closer to the interstate. This didn’t seem right. Why would the marathon course take this route and deal with the chaos of on-ramps and off-ramps? I pulled out my phone again to check the map and my location, which is when I realized what had happened.
The course DIDN’T deal with on-ramps and off-ramps! My horrible sense of direction, despite looking at a map, had struck early. I had run two miles in the wrong direction! There was nothing to do but turn around and backtrack to the starting line. I tried not to be too annoyed. It was a beautiful day, after, and this was already quite the memorable experience. I made it back to the starting line after a nice 4-mile warm-up, and began my journey out of Hopkington, in the CORRECT direction along the marathon course.
Running on state highways through small towns is not nearly as scenic or eventful when you aren’t in the middle of an actual race. I figured this out pretty quickly as I made my way through the series of closely situated towns along the course. I realized pretty quickly that this isn’t the most exciting or scenic course by any means, and the appeal lies much more in the history of the race. It is The Boston Marathon. My legs felt pretty good, and I was moving at a comfortable clip as I ticked off the miles, passing by historic New England houses. It was a refreshing reminder to be in such a small town environment despite being so close to the city.
I made sure to pause regularly to take in my Tailwind calories, which I was supplementing with Honey Stinger chews. The scenery got more interesting when I reached the outskirts of Wellesley College and began to pass by the beautiful grounds and classic architecture. I’m easily sucked in by a beautiful campus, and it made the miles go by that much faster. After a somewhat sketchy jaunt through the on/off-ramps from I-95, I made it to the turn up Commonwealth Avenue, which promised to be a much more enjoyable visual tour.
The sidewalks were wide, and I was able to spend most of the time running on a side street that ran parallel to Commonwealth, which allowed me the chance to tour the historic neighborhoods as I passed. At some point during the unanticipated stop-and-go nature of running up a large city street with numerous stoplights, a bit of fatigue began to creep into my legs. I remembered that this was the furtherest I had run on the road in quite some time, and your legs do take a special kind of beating. You can add that to the many other reasons I prefer to spend my running time on the trails!
I saw the iconic CITGO sign, and made the turn onto Boylston Avenue that I had watched others make so many times. It was nearing the end of the work day as I made my way up the final two miles or so, and the sidewalks were beginning to exude locals and tourists alike, all absorbed in their own little world. As I played my own personal game of frogger to avoid an awkward collision, I couldn’t help but smile at the secret I was running with as I passed them and neared the now un-marked finish line. I had just run the Boston Marathon (route) (in a way, at least!) and none of them had any idea. It was my experience, my memory, and my course. I didn’t have to qualify, I didn’t have to deal with the crowds (well, not as bad at least), and I ran my own race. My #RogueBostonMarathon experiment was a success.
Then it got dark. And my phone died. And I realized I wasn’t quite sure how to get back to my hotel. I knew I needed to cross the Charles River, and I knew generally which direction the river was in, so I made my way towards the river, and eventually made it down to the running path along the river. There were plenty of other folks out doing their evening training runs, confidently navigating the city they lived in. This was not me. I’m pretty comfortable getting lost at this point. I’ve certainly done it more than a few times, and I knew my legs would take me wherever I needed to go. After running 30 miles already, it’s a pretty amazing feeling to know you can keep going in order to find your way back, and not be worried.
I ventured down along the river, knowing that I would eventually get to a bridge and be able to cross. Sure enough, I found a bridge (don’t ask me which one), made it to the other side, and headed back up the road towards my hotel. During a brief dip in misplaced confidence, I asked for directions from a very helpful doorman in an apartment building, and eventually ended my foot tour of Boston. In total, I had covered 38 miles. I ran into my colleague, whom I had told I would be out running, as I got back into the hotel, and she knew exactly what had happened despite not being able to reach me on my dead phone. I suppose #chasing42 is about the joy of getting lost along the way too. They are all bonus miles in the journey, right? 🙂