Sir Ken’s Boston Marathon race report

120th Boston Marathon – Race Report – April 2016 – Ken Stewart

Thanks to the 5 hours time difference, I arrived (along with my wife, Lynn) in Boston at lunchtime on the Friday – the same day we left London. This meant I could get to the Expo and register the same day. This left the Saturday and Sunday free for the touristy bit as the race is held on a Monday (Patriot’s Day public holiday).

After 20 hours awake on the Friday, and thanks to jet-lag, I was awake by 3.30am local time on the Saturday. So, I decided to go for a run at 7.30am thinking that I would be the only runner out at that time. There were a lot of runners out early and many with their numbers on their shirts – two days before marathon day – this seemed a bit pretentious. As I ran into Boston Common I got the answer. There was a 5k run organised as part of the marathon weekend with – wait for it – 13,000 runners! This is in addition to a day of short races around the city centre for all standards and ages with a grandstand finish.

The rest of the weekend was taken up by shopping (Lynn), sightseeing and meeting up with Sylwia Tokarska for a meal in the evening (pasta of course).

I have never seen a city so taken over by runners. Marathon merchandisers must make a mint as everyone is wearing something with the Boston Marathon logo. It’s as if everyone is a runner and there are no normal people. Everyone was very friendly and seemed to have run the Boston marathon ten times before!

Race Day

The weather on the previous days was decidedly chilly with a penetrating cold wind. Marathon day was different; 20 degrees and sunny.

The day starts with a bus taking you to a town called Hopkinton, 26 miles from Boston, where you are dumped and told to run back. It’s very well-organised with the buses boarding in waves matching your start wave. At least this means you don’t have to hang around for hours in the Start Village if you are in a later start pen (which I was).

Hopkinton, like many of the other towns you run through in the first few miles, is what I imagine as “small town America” with wooden houses set back from the road of a design which appear in movies about Salem Witches. From here the route follows tree-lined roads and pleasant scenery, eventually reaching Boston.

The Marathon

boston_mapMy start was about 11.30am and the sun was high and temperature up. The first 6 miles is essentially downhill but with some small uphills during the overall descent. Having trained in 4 to 12 degs C, the heat was very noticeable. I tried to take the advice of the many blogs and articles I had read and keep a steady, conservative pace with short strides during the downhills.

The next 7 miles are undulating but nothing excessive. Water and Gatorade were available every mile and were welcome although I also carried my own electrolyte drink.

Around mile 12 you pass Wellesley College. The girls at Wellesley come out in force with posters demanding kisses and hugs – Frank would never get past this point! You can hear them well before you see them. Their enthusiasm is a real boost.

Mile 13 sees a long gradual climb which ends with a steep downhill at mile 16. Also about this point a cooling breeze from the sea in the east could be felt. It was very welcome, despite being a headwind. (Apparently, earlier runners didn’t benefit from this.)

Then the Hills of Newton start. There are four hills, the last of which is the highest, the infamous “Heartbreak Hill”, which tops out at mile 21. Counting these hills off as you run helps, as there are few landmarks on route.

After “Heartbreak” it is more or less downhill all the way except for one “smallish” uphill at mile 23 mile. It is about this time you are entering Boston proper and the crowds are getting even noisier. At mile 24 you can see the famous “Citgo” sign. On passing the sign you have one mile to go.

You turn up a side street and onto Boyland Street. You have 600 metres to go and can see the finish line. The crowd noise is deafening and the final run down this wide street makes you feel like an Olympian. (Lots of medical staff are available to scrape up the pieces!)

In Summary

The organisation is flawless. The whole of Boston puts its heart and soul into marathon weekend. The course is enjoyable. The crowd support, even in the countryside is, amazingly, better than the New York Marathon (that I didn’t expect!).

And the hills? I suffered quite a bit of cramp (probably not enough fluids/electrolyte early enough?) and so had to walk it off on some of the hills but I would say that even Heartbreak Hill is no worse than some of the hills we train on from Whitewebbs. Admittedly, you have 20 miles of running on your legs and three previous hills before you hit it, but it is nothing to fear.

So, the weather was kind – they have seen a lot worse, both high and low temperatures and very strong winds. I got the t-shirt and the medal. I had a few problems with cramp and no PB but still managed a time only 3 minutes slower than my best for London Marathon. (I suspect this is a PB course on a good day, although nobody in our travel group of about 50 runners of varying abilities got anywhere near it.) A thoroughly enjoyable weekend!

Recommended *****

If anyone is thinking of running Boston I found this video inspiring and helpful.