Boston Marathon

115th Boston Marathon
Final stretch of the 2011 Boston Marathon - the perfect day!
April 18, 2011
Boston, Massachusetts

Quick Overview...
  • Everything I expected and more, and one of the greatest honors of my life!
  • New Word Record time set by Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya - 2:03:02 (but not an official World Record because of race conditions)
  • Perfect weather of 50 degrees with 14 mph tailwind
  • Marathon officials, volunteers, and locals treated runners like "royalty" the whole time we were in Boston
  • Best organized race and packet pick-up from start to finish that I've experienced at any event
  • Boston is clean, historic, friendly, and easy to navigate city with tons of wonderful places to eat pre and post race
  • Marathon finishers listed with finishing times in the Boston Globe the next day
  • I've never had a greater sense of accomplishment than when I raised my hands as I crossed the finish line
  • PR'd and qualified again for 2012 Boston Marathon with a 3:20:35  

Boston Marathon Finisher Medal ...
115th Boston Marathon Finisher Medal,  April 18, 2011
Our 1st Trip To Boston...
I had only been to the East Coast once before, and making a second trip to run in the 115th Boston Marathon was pretty special.  My wife Michael, and I had a great time all weekend, leaving on Friday and flying back to Kansas City on Tuesday.  We didn't get in as much sight-seeing as we would have liked due to "saving my legs", the weather, and limited time - but we still saw and experienced much of the wonderful uniqueness of Boston.

Some of the famous landmarks of Boston
We flew out of KCI at about 6:30am on Friday morning, stopped at Baltimore for 2 hours, and then finally got to Boston at about 1:00pm.  Unfortunately there wasn't a direct flight from Missouri, but I got to spend it with a beautiful girl, so it wasn't all bad!  Plus it gave us plenty of time to "ham it up" for the camera and act like idiots in the airport and on the plane.

On the plane to Boston
I didn't notice any "obvious" runners on the flight from KC to Baltimore, but at BMI the excitement started to build a little as the terminal was filled with Boston Marathon jackets past and present.  There were a lot of runners headed to Beantown, just like us.

Michael and I were both a little apprehensive about transportation in Boston since neither of us had ever been there.  And even though we're basically a couple of Midwestern country-bumpkins, getting around in the city was pretty easy via the "T", the Boston public transit system.  

Total geeky tourist
The biggest problem was figuring out where the subway terminals were located. But once we actually got on the trains, it was pretty smooth.  Plus, everywhere we went we felt like we were walking through a history book with all of the statues, old buildings, and signs.  We were also impressed with how safe and clean Boston was in general.  For the most part, the people were friendly and  helped out when we had a question, replying in a famous Bawston accent.

We stayed at the Hilton in the Financial District, which was pretty dead on the weekend.  This was one of the only things we'll probably change if we go back to run again.  The hotel was pretty removed from most of the main marathon activity, and we felt pretty detached most of the time we were there.  Plus, most of the restaurants in the Financial District were only open from 8-5, Monday-Friday, which meant most of our meals were purchased and consumed somewhere other than the immediate area.  It's a little more expensive, but I would definitely recommend something a little closer to the finish line around all of the race activity.

Michael & me in front of the Green Monsta at Fenway Park
Most of you know who follow this blog, I am THE WORLD's BIGGEST BASEBALL GEEK!!! In addition to running a marathon in every state, I want to watch a game in every Major League ballpark.  So how in the world could we pass up a trip to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox while in Boston???  And out of everything we did on the trip, including the race, it might have been the high point for me.

Michael and me at Cantina Italiana
The game was awesome, but it was pretty chilly ... about 38 degrees with 20mph winds whistling through the Grandstands.  But hey, we were at Fenway, so who cares, right!  Plus, there was a pretty cool "tribute" to the Boston Marathon on the big screens in the outfield before the game!  It was just one more little thing that made us feel "special" as runners for this race.

There were thousands of great places to eat, but we probably enjoyed the North End Italian district the most.  We had great Italian food for a couple of meals and even made a couple of stops at Mike's Pastry Shop ... all were delicious!  And if you asked me if we both had a few too many Cannoli's during our time in Boston, my answer would be, "Why yes, we did!"  But they were unbelievable!  And I'm a sucker for a pastry.  I could literally make it through a nuclear winter on pizza and donuts.  Other than that, I controlled my pre-race diet fairly well!

We also made a trip to Harvard Square where I rubbed the foot of the John Harvard statue for "good luck".  Of course there are all kinds of local legends about the Harvard kids peeing on the boot at night as a practical joke on tourists - but that's okay, it still brought me good luck ... urine included!

Rubbing John Harvard's pee-stained foot!
I was a little worried with all the walking we did that I would exert too much energy and have dead legs for the marathon.  But I think keeping moving was a good thing ... it kept my legs from becoming too sluggish at the starting line.   We really weren't on much of a schedule, so when I got a little tired, we just stopped for a while.  On Sunday before the marathon, I shut it down about mid-day and Michael went out and did her own site-seeing.  I basically just sat in the hotel room and took a nap ... I felt like I was wasting perfectly good "touristy-time", but it was necessary for a good race!

Boston Marathon Expo...
Would you expect the Expo for the Boston Marathon to be anything less than great???  It didn't disappoint!  We got there early on Saturday to try to beat some of the crowd, and for the most part we did.  But by mid-day, it really started getting packed ... like "shoulder-to-shoulder inching your way through the crowd" packed!  But since we got there early, we had plenty of time to roam around and check out the booths without much congestion.  

I was like a little kid on Christmas at that place.  Getting my official race number and packet was awesome.  Again, it seemed like I was part of something big, because everyone was snapping pictures of simple little things like the volunteer handing you your race number.  And when you got your number, several of the staff shook your hand and said, "Congratulations for making it here!".  It was a small courteous gesture, but it really made me proud of running your qualifying time to even get to be a part of it.    

One of the biggest things that struck me throughout the whole weekend was how well the whole marathon was organized from packet pick-up to "family meeting areas" after the race.  It really made for a stress free event and you never really felt like were going to miss something.  There was always a friendly face there to point you in the right direction or offer assistance when you needed it.
2011 Boston Marathon Expo & Packet Pick Up
Shopping through the "very reasonably priced" (sarcasm) marathon apparel was pretty awesome as well.  I mean, I had to get my official Adidas Boston Marathon jacket, right?  Side note here ... as silly as it sounds, the jacket is the only criticism of the whole weekend.  I wasn't a huge fan of the green and black appearance, but that aside - the logo was screen printed on.  In all of the past years it was embroidered.  Not a big deal, but it would have been nice from a quality aspect to have the stitching.  From all the Boston Marathon jackets I've seen, 2011 is the only year without an embroidered logo on the back.  After several complaints about it, they changed it back to include the stitching in 2012.  But hey, I still to be the owner of a Boston Marathon jacket regardless of how ugly or screen-printed it is!

We also picked up a few other shirts and stuff while we were there.  This was by far the largest Expo I had ever experienced for a race.  There were three huge auditoriums full of vendors.  We took our time and looked through pretty much everything there.  We also stopped to watch a video of the marathon course, with a narrative from past racers.  I think it did a great job in helping me visualize the course since we didn't have a chance to drive it.  But to be honest, I think it mostly just made me even more anxious for the race. 

Just a few blocks down the street from the Expo was the finish line area where there were of course tons of people taking pictures.  We snapped a few as well, partly because the huge "Boston Marathon Finish Line" banner was painted across the entire street - but also because I wanted to make sure and touch it in the event I broke my leg or something weird during the race!  If disaster struck, at least I could always say I had crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  Fortunately, this would be only the first time I got to cross it.  The second, two days later, I would be considerably more out of breath, but equally more excited!

We got a lot of really cool stuff in our marathon bag including the blue & yellow technical finisher t-shirt, a Boston Marathon program, several health-food goodies, and a really cool Boston Marathon cow bell!  We would later use the green bag for gear bag at the beginning of the race ... and this was the biggest gear bag ever!  Not like some of the smaller bags we get at smaller marathons.  It really helped out because we had to bundle up with extra clothing at Hopkinton before the race!

The Starting Line at Hopkinton...
The Boston Marathon is ran on Monday, which is also Patriot's Day in Boston.  We had an early rise so I could meet the shuttle bus to the starting line at about 6:00am.  I first woke at 3:00am, but then fell back asleep for a 20 minute "nap".  I was too nervous and excited to sleep!  At about 3:30am, I was up for the day!  Michael was so cool about it too.  I know I disturbed her, but I tried to keep it quiet and fumbled around in the dark for a while before she woke up to join me.  I just tried to relax knowing that I had almost a full day ahead of me before toeing the starting line at the 10am start, but I was like a bull in a China closet - I just couldn't sit still.
Going stir-crazy in the hotel room for 3 hours before the race
I went through my typical pre race rituals, but as I was getting ready and eating a little breakfast, I was really nervous.  I just wanted to get to the starting line and then everything would be fine.  Getting to the shuttle buses at Boston Commons was only about a five minute walk from our hotel.  And it was so cool to see all of the athletes making their way to the transportation.  The runners were like ants hurrying to a sugar cube from every street corner, in every direction!  There was excitement, nerves, and joy all kind of rolled into one everywhere you looked and on every face.  
Getting on the shuttle bus to the starting line at Hopkinton

At Boston Commons, there were literally thousands of people boarding the buses that would take us to the starting area.  As with everything else over the weekend, the whole process was very well organized and everyone was very courteous and waited their turn to board the buses!  At some marathons, you run into the occasional jerk who pushes to the front of the line, or thinks he is the only one running that day, but at Boston, it was like everyone was there just enjoying life.  Even though most were excited and even antsy about running the race, there was sort of a calmness knowing that once you were on the bus, all you had to do was run, just like always.

The ride from Boston Commons to the starting line area and Athlete's Village at Hopkinton took about 45 minutes along the Massachusetts Turnpike.  I watched as we passed all of the local Township signs of the communities we would be running through in a few short hours.  Newton, Wellesley, Natick, Framingham, Ashland, and of course our final stop - Hopkinton! There were already folks beginning to gather in some of the town squares and intersections.  Many of them had signs and were waving at the shuttle buses as we passed.  It was like a giant tailgate party was about to begin.

At Hopkinton, a giant blue sign greeted us that read "Boston Marathon Athletes' Village".  For some reason it had sort of an "elite" feel, like you were part of an exclusive event or something.  They only allowed runners past this point so a lot of folks were waving good bye to family members and then passing through the gate.  I remember thinking it was like I had VIP access to something that I had earned.  For some reason it was something that really stands out in my mind as a special feeling that day.  
Athletes' Village at Hopkinton High School before the race
It was really windy and cool at Hopkinton and everyone was trying to relax and find a little shelter from the breeze.  For the first hour in the staging area, I leaned against a recycle bin.  I later moved to a stack of Gatorade cases where I used the large empty bottles as a make-shift chair.  I know it doesn't sound very comfortable, but most of the runners were just trying to stay off of their feet for as long as possible.  While in the waiting area, I met a guy named John from Chicago who was also running his first Boston Marathon.  We chatted about training and qualifying and it really helped pass the time.  I think I was in the staging area for about 90 minutes before the race.

There was very detailed instruction about how to proceed to the starting line being repeated over the loud speaker.  It was very helpful and I think calmed nerves.  If the rest of the runners were like me, the time seemed to crawl by ... I mean, let's get this baby started already!

"Welcome to Hopkinton ... It all starts here!" ... (I'm missing my glove on my right hand - ha)

To pass some time, most of the runners were snapping shots at the famous Hopkinton sign.  I of course being the ultimate tourist had to join in!  I started to take another "self-portrait" in front of the sign, but I found another runner with an iPhone and we traded taking shots of each other!  It seemed like everywhere you turned, everyone was in a great mood and willing to help out.  After I took the other guy's picture, I forgot to put my glove back on, so in my one and only Hopkinton photo, I am missing a glove - pretty funny.

A wall of people on either side of the course at the starting line
Shortly after that it was time to begin the migration to the starting line, which was about a mile away.  Even though it was still pretty chilly, I stripped off my warm ups, dropped my gear at the bag check, and joined everyone in the First Wave of runners as we walked to the starting corral.  It was still a little chilly with wind breezing at about 12-15 mph.  Many of the runners had plastic bags and throw away warm ups.  But even though it was a little nippy ... it was starting to get real!  As we walked, I remember hearing runners from all over the world speaking in different languages.  But everyone seemed to be on the same excitement level, regardless of what nationality.

I've been nervous at the starting line of several races, but my experience standing with thousands in the First Wave at the starting line of the Boston Marathon was simply surreal.  It was almost like it wasn't happening. There are only a few fortunate runners in the world who get to experience this and I couldn't have been more excited.  And just like that, we lined up, the gun went off ... and I was running the Boston Marathon.

Finally, the Boston Marathon...
I wish I could give you a blow-by-blow, mile-by-mile report of the race ... but honestly most of it was a blur!  The whole thing was just so surreal.  Probably the main thing I can tell you about my actual race, is I ran the exact pace that I had planned with almost the perfect plan for me that day.  Here are some of the other highlights ...

I had always heard about the enormous crowds and their incredible support at the nation's oldest marathon, but I had no idea they would be as unbelievable as they were.  People lined both sides of the course literally every step of the way ... every step!  When we ran into a new Township, there would be a whole new mob of people cheering, partying, and clanking cowbells.  And just when you thought the noise had reached a maximum level, it was topped, right around the next corner.  My favorite portions of the race were of course the starting area at Hopkinton, the students at Wellesly and Boston College, and the last three miles in Boston.  I can't begin to describe how amazing those experiences were.  It was like they were actually celebrating you as a runner!

The first half mile or so leaving Hopkinton curves gradually downhill.  The view from the middle of the pack is thousands of runners, and hundreds of supporters lined up on an embankment on the right side of the street.  It's literally like you are running into a wall of cheering people down below you.  And there are simply people everywhere trying to get a glimpse of runners at the starting line that they're there to support.  People were sitting in lawn chairs, hanging from trees, waving from rooftops, and sitting on shoulders.  It was a crazy scene with deafening cheers and people screaming for runners they recognized. The whole thing gave me goose bumps and everyone around me was waving and smiling from ear to ear.  It was truly magical!

The front end of the Boston Marathon course is a gradual downhill slope.  But during the first half of the race I really held back.  Partly because I wanted to make sure I didn't have an embarrassing walk at the end (I mean, it is Boston).  But also because I wanted to take my time and enjoy the sights and sounds.  One vivid memory at mile 5 or 6 were some folks outside of a biker bar, cheering enthusiastically like everyone else.  And I specifically remember the smell of people grilling at mile 10, like a giant backyard party.  Also, at about 12 or 13, a group of girls ran onto the course from the side of the road with sheepish looks on their faces - I'm pretty sure they decided to run the last half of the Boston Marathon free of charge and without qualifying.  I said, "Where'd you guys come from?"  They just laughed and kept running.

As we entered the Wellesley College area at about mile 16, the screams from the college girls were ear shattering.  I could hear their high pitched shrills echoing through the trees from about 300 yards away, and for about a quarter mile after we passed.   The marathon tradition, of course, is to kiss one of the young coeds on the cheek for good luck ... which I didn't do ... just seemed a little weird.  But there were a ton of "kiss me" signs as advertised ...  "Kiss me for good luck!", "Kiss me I'm Jewish!",  "Kiss me I'm a runner too!",  "Kiss me I love old slow runners!", they were so supportive and seemed to go on forever smooching, high-fiving, and cheering runners as we passed. 

The girls at Wellesley did a great job of pumping us up a little for the four mile stretch of hills awaiting from miles 17-21 in Newton. Looking at the elevation before the race, I didn't think they would be that big of a deal, but they weren't easy ... I can tell you that!  Actually I've ran much tougher hills in other races, but they are placed late in the race and I had already hammered my quads quite a bit on the excessive downhill to start the race.  I always refer to the downhill courses like that as "sneaky difficult"!  You never really feel like you're using your quads to brake your speed, but I really felt mine tighten up around mile 18, so I knew they had received a pounding.
Race day in Boston
I was starting to fight it a little as we started to climb the last of the four hills ... better known as Heartbreak Hill.  This is the signature hill of the Boston Marathon, not because of its difficulty (about an 80 ft climb over a half mile), but rather because of the 1936 Boston Marathon.  In 1936, the previous year's champion Johnny Kelly gave "Tarzan" Ellison Brown a "showboatish" pat on the back as he passed during this phase of the race.  This riled up Brown and he then passed Kelly on the fourth hill and eventually won the race.  Later, Boston Globe reporter, Jerry Nason, wrote that Brown had passed him at mile 21 in an epic duel, "breaking Kelly's heart". From there, the name Heartbreak Hill just stuck.
Pushing through the last .2 miles on Boylston Street to the finish and my Boston Marathon PR ... 3:20:35, my second BQ
I made it out of the hills at Newton, but I had used a lot of energy.  But before too long, we would be running through the Boston College area.  The BC kids were typical crazy college kids, but not "crazy" in a disrespectful way, but "crazy" in their support and encouragement.  My knuckles hurt from all of the fist-bumps I received. They definitely weren't Wellesly girls wild, but they were so helpful in getting me through to the final stage of the race. 

Finishing the best race of my life
I was approaching mile 25 and the crowds were getting larger and larger.  I'm not talking a few people at street corners like in typical races ... I mean thousands of folks everywhere.  I looked up and saw the giant Citgo sign, and realized that we were near the Fenway Park area where I had been a few nights ago.  The Red Sox always play an early day game on Patriot's Day in Boston, and there were tons of Sox fans milling around outside of the stadium as we ran by.  It was about this point that I saw people in hotel windows and on balconies too, like it was Marti Gras in the French Quarter or something.  I soaked in as much as I could, but I really didn't get to enjoy it as much as I would have liked ... I mean, I was still running a marathon after all.  And as I looked down at my watch, I knew I was on pace for a personal best if I could hold it together a little longer.

The race was getting shorter, my legs were wobbly, but it wasn't much further until the run down Commonwealth Avenue, a little jaunt over on Hereford Street, and then finally the 26 mile turn onto Boylston!  I really began to push it, hoping I had a strong finish in me.  Through the waves and waves of people, I briefly tried to scan the crowd for my wife Michael, but it was impossible to find her.  When I turned on the final .2 mile stretch on Boylston Street, I knew I was close to my PR, so with a Boston Marathon crowd to cheer me on ... I started to sprint and push like I did when I qualified for Boston a few months prior.

Within about 50 yards to the finish line it hit me that I had just completed the Boston Marathon, something very few will ever have the opportunity to do ... and a huge wave of emotion came over me.  No, I didn't cry - I know that surprises everyone.  But I was just on an unbelievable high!  As I crossed the finish line I threw my hands in the air like I had just won the whole thing.  I can't describe the feeling.  I  had ran a Boston Qualifying PR of 3:20:35 on a bright, sunny perfect day in Boston, Massachusetts ... does it get any better than that?  To date it was the best run of my life ... but I just felt very fortunate to be there among so many great runners!

Cold, sweaty, exhausted, but with a huge smile ... and THE medal!
I made my way through the finisher's corral and found Michael, who was waiting in the family meeting area where we took a ton of pictures ... with my shiney new Boston Marathon medal!  Even though there were thousands of runners trying to find their people, the family meeting area was really marked with last name initials pointing the way.  After my fastest marathon ever, my legs were tired, but more than that I kept fighting back the urge to hurl.  Up until that point, I had never puked on a run at any point in my life, but I was close after that one.  It think it was all the emotion, but I held it back.

As we made our way through the crowds, we heard people talking about the world record that was set that day.  I, of course, like many people who will "exaggerate things a little" will tell my grand kids that I pushed Geoffrey Mutai the whole way toward his 2:03:02 World Record!  However, since the race was a point to point race, and a little wind aided, it did not qualify for an official World Record.  But in that race, that day, no one in history had ever ran 26.2 miles faster than him ... pretty cool to be a part of it!

We also happened to run into Emily (EMZ of If I Can't Convince You -- I'll At Least Confuse You,) who we had met a couple of nights before at a blogger meet & greet.  She and her family were really cool people and down to earth!  It was great to meet them and she even let me grab a quick photo after the race!  She's the only celebrity I met while in Boston, so I  had to seize the opportunity!  She ran a great race as well! 

Me and the famous EMZ - a really cool gal!
We walked from the finish line area in Copley Square back to our hotel, which was about 2 miles East.  It seemed like the walk took us forever, but it probably did me good to stretch a little.  Along the way, people were congratulating me and high-fiving.  It was really cool, but all I wanted to do was sit down for a while.  After I showered and rested for a while, we headed back to the North End for the post-race lunch and celebration!  It was more of a "lunch & couldn't wait to take a nap" than celebration - I was pretty spent!  We had a great meal at Giacomo's Ristorante, a wonderful small Italian place.  It was so small in fact, that we had to wait outside in line to get a table.  My legs didn't care for that much, but I was still on a high from the race, so it was fine. We visited with other runners while we waited.  And after that we grabbed desert at of course, Mike's Pastry again.  Sorry ... we're suckers for cannoli ... and I earned every sweet bite!

I could go on for days and days about our trip to Boston and there is so much I left out.  But suffice to say that it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life!  Will I run it again ... I don't know.  Hopefully I can keep qualifying.  I really want to!  But Boston is a very expensive trip from Kansas City, MO ... so we'll see!

Post race meal back in the North End at Giacomo's & Mike's Pastry of course
On the plane ride home, I noticed a woman reading a Boston Globe.  I had also purchased one as a keep-sake, but hadn't had time to thumb through it yet. I noticed she kept squinting her eyes to read some fine print.  I finally realized that all of the finishers for the 115th Boston Marathon were printed inside the Boston Globe!  I MADE THE BOSTON GLOBE!!!  Not a big deal for some of you, but let me remind you that I'm pretty "small-town"!
Right there in the Boston Globe ... "James Weatherly - 5,137th Place in the 115th Boston Marathon" ... my place in history!
We were a little sad to leave Boston, but we have incredible memories.  I can't imagine any race ever coming close to the historic Boston Marathon ... and I was completely honored to be a part of it!
... be great today!