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The Boston Marathon from a Trail Runners Perspective

April 18, 2018

By Nick Whitbread

By Nick Whitbread

I have never run a 5K, no Halves, no Marathons, nothing. The idea of running as hard as I can on pavement for 4 hours or so seems more like torture than My idea of a good time. I'm not against folks doing it, it's just not for me. However I found myself in Boston, in May, no plans on that day, so I thought I'm going to go and see what this thing's all about. 

First I studied the course. I don't love huge crowds so I got some local advice on a place I could get a good view without to much hustle and bustle. I was also given the advice that if the weather is as bad as they are predicting you might be able to get a great view anywhere. So I made a plan "A" and just to satisfy the Antonio in Me I made a plan "B". I could hear him saying "Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail". I'm sure he would have been dissapointed in me because there was no plan "C" or "D". Anyway the predicted bad weather delivered and as I was doing my own (trail) run in the rain before the race I was thinking I hope the folks running made smart clothing choices.

I caught the train into town, chatting with a Mother and Her young Daughter as we waited on the platform. The Daughter had her "Boston Strong" t-shirt on proudly. Neither of them run, they just like coming out every year to cheer on the runners and they figured this year they would be needed more than ever. On the train I looked around and could see the folks that were heading to see the race. Mostly they were wearing ponchos. 

When I got off the train the weather had gone from some what bearable to downright terrible. Now that we were closer to the coast the strong winds were funnelled perfectly through the buildings like a wind tunnel. At one point, holding my hood on with one hand and trying to zip my hood all the way up I was able to lean almost all of my weight into the wind and not fall forward. I decided in this weather most folks were gonna stay home. I went with plan "B" which was head to the Finish. 

I hadn't reached Boston Common on the way to the start and I already had wet underwear. The driving rain was dripping off the front of my rain jacket straight onto the last place a man wants freezing cold water to be dripping. To make matters worse my right shoe that had a hole in it was half full of water. I wasn't even there yet and I wasn't feeling great about where this day was going. Meanwhile people had been running for a little over an hour by this point in this maelstrom. 

When I got closer to Boylston Street I could see the beginnings of the spectacle I was about to experience. Lines and lines of Port-a-potties as far as the I could see. 10,000 Plastic water bottles. Thousands of spectators, hundreds of Volunteers, Police, State Police, I even saw a federal police vehicle after the race. The place was a buzz with anticipation. 

When I made my way to near the finish I was able to find a spot right on the barricade. By this point everything from My waist down was wet. Both shoes were full of water (later I would twice remove both socks wring them out and put them back on, It did make a difference). I felt cold and wondered how long I could let my toes be this cold without harm. I looked up at the timer and figured the winning elites would be here in 25 minutes or so. I thought I could suffer till then and then walk towards the start to get some feeling back in My feet and catch the action towards the back of the race. I really wanted to jump the barricade and start running just to get warm. People slowly formed around us. Strangers chatting about their own running and telling stories of Boston Marathons past. It was really nice to see running as a means of people connecting. Some spectators were well dressed for the weather, covered head to toe and with waterproof winter boots on. Most though were like Me, soaked from the waist down. 

There were less people than usual, I could tell, the stands opposite the finish were only a quarter full and even though the crowd grew as the fist finishers approached, it never got to crazy. People were looking for shelter and some sort of respite from the wind and rain. Everyone was surprisingly happy in spite of the weather. I couldn't help but notice all the bomb dogs and handlers patrolling around. I was questioning where I had chosen to spectate and if it was a good idea. I thought back to the incident that not long ago happened no more than fifty metres from where I was standing. As I was writing this I looked back at some of the images from that day. It seems unreal that something so terrible happened at an event that was so joyous.

The MC let the crowd know that the first finisher would arrive in about 30 seconds. Everyone went nuts. I was excited to see them and also that I might get to move around soon and get some feeling back in My toes. The first finisher was racing in a wheelchair. As he came through the finish you could see how much he had suffered. I'm sure there's suffering in every Marathon. That day he looked destroyed. Though they finished quicker it looked like the wheeled racers really had a rough day. The hand cyclists who were lying down could barely see for all the water coming off their wheels. We all saluted them not just finishing but the courage to go on after suffering a set back as they had in their lives. It was inspiring to see.

When Desiree Linden came down the corridor to the finish the crowd were just loosing it.The MC had been building up the fact that if She won She would be the first American Woman to win the race in 33 years. Americans are fantastic at supporting their own. Flags were flying people screaming. She still looked great and flew by us to the finish. It was a sight to behold. I didn't last much long after that before I had to start moving if I wanted to be able to run again myself. I made my way towards the rear of the race, stopping to take pictures and cheer people on. I was hoping to see two Marathoner/Ultrarunners who I knew were racing. I got to see one Michael Wardien who was acting as a guide for another runner. The Other Sage Canaday ended up dropping due to hypothermia.

It was towards the back of the pack that I really enjoyed watching. There were so many different types of people running. Some were obviously suffering terribly and as they slowed to a walk the crowd would bring them back to life with their energy, willing them to keep going with an invisible hand. There were runners who looked great and were really taking it all in. They would motion with their arms to the sky letting the crowd know to bring it. The crowd always did. These runners were smiling and experiencing for a moment what it might be like to be a pro athlete with the crowd all there for You. To see them enjoying the moment and connecting with the crowd was a gift. Other runners were in tears. Realizing that they were going to make it. I am sure earlier on in the day that was not a given. 

The Boston Marathon was a race that was truly fully of so many different types of people. The amazing crowd that came out to support them was no different. On any other day these people would pass each other silent in the street but on that one day we were all connected in the suffering. I still have no desire to run a road race but I have a better understanding of why folks do and I'm grateful for the experience.

Nick at Boston Marathon.jpg
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