Before I joined the Harriers, I didn’t know what a “BQ” was (a Boston-qualifying marathon time), or anything about Boston marathon at all really. It was only after finishing Loch Ness marathon in 2015 that Vicky mentioned I might have qualified for it. Sure enough I had, and seeing as my brother moved there the same year, it seemed like a great excuse to give it a go and visit family at the same time.
I soon realised just how well-respected this marathon is. It’s 121 years old, folk cheat to get in, and some spend their entire running careers trying to qualify for it. It’s a huge event in Boston, held on Patriots Day each year (a public holiday), along with a Red Sox game and a Boston Bruins hockey match. The bars open at 8am and the whole city has a party. The place was buzzing already when I arrived on the Friday. I was glad of a few days there before the race to get over any jet lag and explore the city, which is stunningly beautiful.
On the morning of the race, my brother drove me to Boston Common to get the shuttle bus to the start at Hopkinton, a pretty little town to the west of Boston. The shuttle buses were proper yellow school buses and I might have gotten a bit too excited about getting the chance to ride in one! I took a seat next to a guy from Brasil who now lives in Boston, and had a nervous chat about the race. The long line of yellow buses racing along the highway was a sight to behold, and after what seemed like ages (but was only an hour) we arrived at the athletes village in Hopkinton. The weather was already hotting up, with temperatures predicted to hit 21ºC. That’s the trouble with spring marathons, you train all winter in the cold, wind and rain, then rock up to the actual race and get thrown off by the heat! I caked myself in factor 50 and chugged down some Tailwind before the start to make sure I staved off dehydration. Armed with another couple of bottles of Tailwind in my running belt, and 6 pieces of Kendal mint cake, off I went to join my corral at the start line.
The race goes off in 4 waves, with your wave assigned depending on your qualifying time. The faster your time, the earlier you set off. I was in the second wave, and at 10:25am we were off. Despite the wave system, it still took me 4 minutes to reach the start mat. The route then infamously drops for two miles, but it was so busy there was not much you could do except go with the flow and wait for the throng to spread out. At about two miles in there was a huge bikers bar, whose patrons had already spilled out, drinks in hand, to cheer us on. The support all along the whole route was like this – one big supporters party with hand-made banners, cheering crowds, music, trays of orange slices, ice-cubes, sweets and bags of encouragement. I’ve never experienced anything like it. There was a row of kids on mini trampolines bouncing up and down and clapping, people spraying garden hoses, plenty of little hands (and big ones too) proffered for a hand-slap, and inexplicably at mile 8, Father Christmas! The famous ‘scream tunnel’ at Wellesley College didn’t disappoint either, with about a half-mile of shrieking girls holding banners begging for kisses, with reasons such as “Kiss me, I use tongue!”, “Kiss me, I’m gay!”, “Kiss me and you’ll run faster!”. A few game souls took a moment to grab a smooch, but I gracefully declined!
My pace was pretty consistent for the first half of the race, hitting the half way point at 1:42 and on-course for a PB. The heat was getting to me a little though, and I was taking water at every mile – a few sips and the rest poured over my head. I spotted a guy running in a kilt at mile 9, a proper woollen kilt which was swinging nicely in front of me. I ran up beside him and asked if he was Scottish, to which he replied in a strong American drawl, “No, but my grandparents were!”. I said I was from Scotland and gave him a fist-bump and massive respect for running in it, and he said he was regretting the decision a little as he hadn’t realised how heavy it was! I dread to think what the state of his legs were at the end, I hope he was wearing shorts underneath.
Just as things were starting to hurt at mile 16-17 and the Newton hills were beginning to kick in, I heard my name being bellowed from the sidelines. My mum and brother were there, and it was amazing to see them. I hadn’t expected to as it was so busy, but it gave me the boost I needed. The infamous ‘Heartbreak Hill’ is at about 20 miles in, but it was the hill just before it that I found hardest. Nobody warns you about that one! I was beginning to get pretty fatigued, and had a headache but no energy to take a paracetamol out of my running belt. Heartbreak Hill came and went, and I was looking forward to the relatively kind descent of the route into Boston from here on in. I tried to focus on the crowds, who were shouting my name (which I’d printed on my vest) and really encouraging everyone that passed them. Despite the heat, I was still getting the chills from the vibes of the crowd. I concentrated on the creative handmade signs – “Remember you paid to do this!”, “Toenails are for pussies!”, “Chafing is sexy!”, “Good job random stranger!” and at least 10 signs saying “You’re running better than our government runs this country!”. Just awesome. My face was hurting from smiling.
At mile 21 my quads started to spasm really badly. I had to stop a couple of times to press my palms into them and try to stretch them out. This is the Boston College area though, and these guys don’t let you give up! They roared my name and encouraged me to keep going, and as soon as I set off again they gave me a massive cheer. At this point I stopped looking at my Garmin, forgot about my PB and decided to just finish the race, even if I had to crawl. This was the Boston marathon, just being here was a privilege! Man up an get it done, Dawson!
At mile 24 I had settled into a graceless limping running style, but at least my quads had stopped rippling. I passed my sister-in-law, niece and nephew who were holding up a beautiful home-made sign with my name in gold letters. What a boost! The CITGO sign which looms above mile 25 was soon in my sights. There were quite a few runners lying at the side of the course being attended by medics here. How sad, to make it that far and not get across the finish. One more little hill that felt like a mountain, a sharp right turn onto Hereford Street then a left turn onto Boylston Street and there it was, the finish line. What a sight, and the noise! You feel like an Olympian as you stagger towards that line. Amazingly, despite the crowd being about ten people deep, I saw my brother and mum again and they cheered me over the last few feet. They’d just made it to the finish by train a few minutes before, what a pair of troopers! My Garmin had died about 2 miles ago, so after I’d collected my medal and guzzled a bottle of water I checked my phone. 3:36:06! 10 minutes shy of my PB, but despite the tough course, the heat and the stops to deal with my quads, I was very happy with that. And it’s another “BQ”.
The Boston marathon was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The main reason was the crowd and volunteer support. Bostonians really love their marathon! You are made to feel like a hero from start to finish. I’d do it again just for that, I really did not stop smiling the whole way. My sister-in-law is already searching cheap flights for next year!
Official time 3:36:06
Overall pos. 8654
Gender pos. 2205
Division (age category) 279