On Monday, the Boston Marathon was run from Hopkinton to Boston for the 119th year. I’ve been a spectator at several “Boston’s,” but never quite as actively as the one I watched this week. I went to college in Boston between 1990 and 1995 and then spent time each spring in the city between 2002 and 2004, but hadn’t been at the race on Marathon Monday for more than 10 years. I’ve never run Boston, thought Debbie ran it in 1998, the year before I met her. I periodically get asked about running it and the simple answer I give is that I’ve never wanted to. I’m not a fan of big crowds and I don’t enjoy running on roads. Boston has both big crowds and lots of road.
I swore off-road marathons years ago after running the Walt Disney World Marathon and thoroughly disliking the experience. I’ve made four exceptions since then, but only because each of the four Ironman triathlon’s I’ve completed included a 26.2 mile road run. I’ve run several marathon distance and ultra distance races on trails and will do that again, but I still have no desire to run a pure road marathon. I don’t usually make exceptions to my own rules, but after experiencing Boston again, it would likely be the only race for which I would break my rule. Of course, even on a rainy day, there were big unavoidable crowds that I’m not fond of.
This year, I had a great reason to return and watch. My first cousin, Daniel Roy, qualified for Boston last year by running an excellent time at the San Diego Rock n’Roll Marathon. He hails from Upper Frenchville, Maine, where my mother and her siblings grew up, but now he lives in Los Angeles. He is the youngest grandchild and I am the oldest. The two of us have a bond. Since getting into distance running more than four years ago, he has crewed for Debbie at several ultras including the 2012 Vermont 100 and the 2014 Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance 100. He has been at several other ultras with us, including the Traprock 50K, which was last Saturday. He has run a few ultras on his own, but the road marathon has been his main distance focus in recent years.
Dan was thrilled to qualify for Boston and as soon as he committed to the race, I told him that I would be there to support him. His ambitious goal was to run 2:45. At 25 years old, he has gotten faster in each of his road marathons. His goal was achievable, though running isn’t his sole focus. He works, travels, and has a busy social life. Yet, from what I’ve observed of his training, when he sets his mind to something, he makes it happen. It’s been great to see him succeed in running like Debbie and I do, while doing something that is healthy and fun. Dan was only one of many (possibly a few hundred) runners that I knew in the more than 30,000 strong field. Boston is huge and I know a lot of runners. They came from all over the world to run. I enjoyed seeing so many posts on my Facebook feed. They were all about the special nature of the Boston Marathon.
I wasn’t the only spectator who came to Boston to cheer on Dan. His father, Phil Roy, is a great athlete. He was a total stud at every sport he played. When I was a kid, 35 years ago, he was my idol. I loved visiting him in Maine. He made me my first hockey stick from one of his broken sticks. Phil came to Boston to watch Dan, and he was full of pride. My mother, Lynn, and father, Stan, also spent the day in Boston with us; as did my Aunt Terry, Phil’s younger sister. We were hosted by another first cousin, Monique Roy, and her friend Julia. Several other friends rounded out the fan club. Monique and Julia live on Beacon Street a few blocks west of Kenmore Square. Their apartment is about 100 meters west of the 40 kilometer mark on the course. It was a perfect spot to watch from.
I drove to the Wonderland parking garage in Revere early in the morning, and took the T to State Street. Rather than making an Orange line connection, and then a Green line connection, I walked from State Street Station all the way to Monique’s apartment. I wound my way through Boston Common, through the Public Garden, up Boylston Street, past the finish line, up Commonwealth Avenue, and through Kenmore Square. It was a great way to soak in the sights and sounds of the day. I met up with the rest of our crew just after the start of the race. Dan had ridden a shuttle bus to the start. The elite women runners started at 9:30 A.M., shortly after the wheelchair division start. The elite men and first wave started at 10:00 A.M., and were followed by several other waves of amateur runners.
We watched the wheelchairs fly by first. That was an amazing sight. The chairs are built with cutting edge materials and technology, much like the bicycles I race. They were followed by the lead women, who were putting on quite a show. With 2 kilometers to go, the top three passed by where I was watching and they were running on each others’ heels. It wasn’t until the final 200 meters that they separated, with the ultimate winner, Caroline Rotich, surging ahead to win by four seconds over Mare Dibiba. Buzunesh Deba was third a further 10 seconds back. It was quite a race. American Desiree Linden ran a strong race to finish fourth.
About 10 minutes after the women ran by, the elite men came through. Lelisa Desisa took the win for the second time. He also won in 2013, the year of the tragic bombings. This year, his victory was much more joyful. He had a short lead when I saw him at 40 kilometers, which he held to the finish. Second place was Yemane Adhane Tsegay, and third was Wilson Chebet. Two Americans cracked the top 10, including last year’s winner, Meb Keflezighi, and Dathan Ritzenhein. Ritzenhein was one of the race’s animators, which was great to see. I watched many of the elites and then the top amateurs run by, including several people I know. Then, it was Dan’s turn. By the time he reached us, the rain had really picked up in intensity. The wind was blowing and it was raw. It was a tough day to run, but the kind of day I enjoy. I was thrilled to spot Dan and got several decent photos. We had tracked Dan on the Internet and he went out exactly at the pace he needed to in order to reach his goal. He went through the half in 1:20 and faded a bit, but finished in an awesome 2:46:17, which was very close to his target time.
After he ran by, Phil and I weaved our way down Beacon Street, through several security checkpoints, back through Kenmore Square, and eventually down Boylston Street. The finishing stretch was a madhouse, and not my kind of crowd, but I managed to navigate us through the mass of bodies. We found him in the lobby of the old John Hancock building. He had called us from his phone, which was delivered by a couple of his friends, who also came out to see him run. He was standing over a grate blowing warm air, and was very happy. It was awesome to see him so stoked by his own performance. He fell just shy of his goal, but lowered his personal best by more than nine minutes. That’s super. He is registered for the San Diego marathon again and in less than six weeks, will try to lower his time further. I would love to be 25 again, and have that kind of energy!
Once he was warmed up, we walked back to the apartment on Beacon Street, winding our way back through the crowds. I saw several friends in the crowd and on the course. It was an amazing day. People were cold, but in good spirits. We regrouped at the apartment and swapped war stories about past races. As the number of runners remaining on the course, thinned, I made my way back to the T and back to Wonderland where I was parked. Sterling Machine is in Lynn, only 10 miles north of Boston, so I camped at my favorite Hampton Inn in Peabody, and went to work at the shop on Tuesday.
Congratulations to all of the runners. Watching the race brought back good memories of my years living in Boston. I travel through the city at least once a week and love it. I was a bicycle messenger back in 1991 and that is how I got to know my way around the streets. I enjoyed my walk across town, but despite enthusiastically cheering for the runners, I’m in no rush to run. For now, I’m going to leave the longer distances to Debbie. She runs enough for both of us.