Wednesday, January 21, 2015

BOSTON MARATHON - For The First Timer

In my opinion, the Boston Marathon is one of the greatest participatory events in the world! For runners, it is on the same level with the Masters, the Indianapolis 500 and the Final Four….and we get to play in it! The very name is recognized all over the world and being a participant brings one instant credibility. To me, one of the things that makes Boston different is the attitude of the local people. It seems that most all are interested in the race and the people that are running. They even give a special pronunciation to the word: where we say “mara-THON”, they say “MARA-thin” with the accent on the first syllable. Cool!

We always try to stay “downtown” (Copley Square) where much of the action seems to be and where many, many runners stay. As runners seem to always do, we wear something that identifies us and, therefore, we are easy to spot by other runners. Runners are always friendly (we are all heading for the same ordeal) and there is much camaraderie. Conversations are easy to begin and hard to break off. In years when the Expo is at Hynes Center (no, it’s not always at Hynes) it’s accessible from many downtown hotels via a shopping tunnel that connects most of the downtown stores, resulting in a mall.

Your first stop at the Expo will be to get your number and tee shirt. After that, fight your way into the main floor. Make your purchases first, as sometimes sizes disappear before the last runners get there. I recommend a Boston Marathon Jacket. It will cost you $110 or more, but is THE thing to have while in Boston (yes, it is fine to wear your jacket before the race). The jackets are very prestigious. (If I was heading there for the first time, I’d purchase my jacket online, and when I arrived at my departing airport, I’d have the jacket on. Yes, I’m a believer in not wearing an ‘official race tee’ until I’ve earned it, but I think it’s just fine for you to wear the Boston jacket….you have BQed and you are heading to run!)

On Saturday night we usually gather with area runners and get in one of the fun places in the Mall (the miles-long tunnel) for dinner. If you are more adventurous, there are some great Italian Restaurants in the North End, (Advance reservations are recommended for your restaurant, call before you leave for Boston) and end the evening with “canoles” and cappuccino at CafĂ© Vittoria, or Mikes.

Sunday morning is delightful. First, if you pay attention, you can run a slow and short shake-out run with probably the nicest guy in all of running, Bart Yasso.  Bart usually leaves with who ever shows up at the lobby of the Sheraton and after proper photos, takes the excited group out to the running paths on the beautiful Charles River.  Last year we bumped into another icon, Bill Rogers...again, visits and photos.  (Regrettably, Bart has recently had hernia surgery and is likely not up to leading a run this year)

After coffee and a quick shower, we attend church at one of the churches in the immediate area. The Old South Church is one. It’s located about 50 yards from the Finish Line and you must negotiate temporary fences and barricades just to get into the church. The first congregation “gathered” there in 1669, yep, more than a hundred years before 1776. This church is what I would call a ‘cathedral’ and is magnificent in structure and content. The minister, a delightful lady named Nancy Taylor, is aware that there are many (200 or more) marathoners in the congregation and they have a blessing for the runners and generally the sermon is based on the race…like “Run the Race Called Life” and “I Have Finished the Race, I have kept the Faith”. While we formerly would take blue blazers and khakis, we are now there in jeans and Marathon Jackets, same dress as most all the other marathoners. Oh, and jeans and marathon jacket are pretty well appropriate for any and all occasions while in least on marathon weekend.

You might want to do the race pasta dinner on Sunday night. Again, differences of opinion here. I chose to stay close to the hotel, off my feet, and have a quiet dinner and contemplate the upcoming task. But many just love to go. As usual, you will be restless and listless on Sunday, feeling every imaginable ache and pain. The knee that hasn’t hurt since the Berlin Wall fell will suddenly be touchy on Sunday. You may want to make one more visit to the Expo, but not too long on your feet. 

You might locate tickets for the Sox game. Historically, they play at Fenway on Saturday, Sunday and Race Day….creating some major traffic jams between the two events. Interestingly, Fenway isn’t far from downtown and the finish line. For a half dozen years I’ve had friends leave the ballgame, walk a couple blocks down to the race course where we connect for a once-per-year high-five and a good luck. That meeting point is at the famed Citgo sign….at maybe the 25+ mile mark.

Finally, after a restless night it will finally be Marathon Morning. You are obviously an experienced marathoner so I won’t deal much in what you should or shouldn’t do in a marathon, rather, most of my suggestions deal with the “first” of two marathons you will attempt on Patriots Day…..that first marathon is getting to Hopkinton and surviving until the start of the real marathon.

First, you already realize that Boston is a point-to-point race. It starts in the little town of Hopkinton and ends in downtown Boston. Hopkinton is a quaint New England town of maybe 13,000, but actually seems smaller. Once per year the population triples for a few hours. The first chore is to get from your hotel to the ‘staging’ area for busses at Boston Common. From the downtown hotels where we generally stay, it’s a 1.5 mile walk. So, we gather at the hotel lobby then grab cabs for the ride.

Once at Boston Common the circus begins. There are 20,000 people waiting for school buses. It’s a huge mass of people gathered in a park, and if you let go of your buddy, he/she will be gone for good. In the past, we have figured out how to get our ‘party’ on one bus, so we can stay together once we arrive at the Hopkintown High School, which is called ‘Athlete’s Village’. The ride from Boston is anywhere from 35 minutes to an hour or more….depending on if your driver knows where he is going. Perhaps this is a good time to mention the Potty Police. They patrol Hopkinton very well and if you stop behind a tree, they will come get you….and will take your number down. So, best to avoid that. BTW, if you are smart, you will talk your spouse into sleeping in on race morning. He/she may not even be allowed (security) in Boston Common, but it’s a huge, huge logistical operation.

I suggest you start studying the weather a week or more before the race. Go to or another of the weather websites and view the 10-day forecast for Boston. Weather in Boston in mid April can run from snow to near-90s and you must be prepared for either. Bear in mind that it will be mid to late morning before you start, and you will be finishing likely mid-afternoon. This means first that it will likely be from warm to hot for the race. Second, it means you need to eat something that will get you through until mid to late afternoon.

When the 45 minute trip from Boston to Hopkinton ends you will be at Hopkinton High School. Behind the school, on the athletic fields, are the holding pens….or if you prefer, the Athlete’s Village. People sit/lay on the grass inside the compounds awaiting the start of the race. When the area under the tents is full, people just sit on the grass outside. There are thousands (millions, it seems) of people and to venture off for a bagel or porta john visit is like wading through an obstacle course. There is lots of loud music and hype from a bandstand. Unfortunately, you are too late to hear Johnny Kelly, The Elder, sing “Young at Heart” (he died a few years ago at 96 years young.  Big Foot and I were blessed to hear him a few years ago). As always, the portajohn situation is a classic problem. You just have to stand in line. There are many different areas, so if you can find a bank of portajohns not heavily used, then that’s good. Plan on 2 trips!! We love to hate this time at the village. Actually, you will look back on it with pleasure, but it may be a pretty long wait under less than ideal conditions….(but not as long as it was before the new, post-4-15-13 rules were put in)

The more prepared and the more people that you know, the better the situation is. We usually spread our black garbage bags (something water proof as the ground will be damp at best…perhaps a disposable poncho) and form a community of friend-runners and share food and supplies we have all brought (“Does anyone want to share my cheese burrito left from last night?”)

Since the new security rules were instituted, the system flowed much better. One simply must follow the rules now….no fudging….no swapping corrals, and they say…no bandits. They now announce exactly when your corral leaves the Village and where you go. Last year, we walked to our corral (20 min?) just as the corral started walking toward the start mats. It was smooth as it could be. Another new addition, located just before you arrived at your corral, was the largest group of portapotties I’ve ever seen in one place and they were virtually empty. What a pleasure!!

While the wait time at Athletes Village is now much shorter than it was a few years ago, you will need to think about what you will want there.

**Food for lunch. Remember it will be like 3 or 4 in the afternoon before you finish and are able to get something to eat. I take honey and peanut butter at a minimum, along with a few plastic spoons/knives etc. I’ll probably bring bagels and bananas, but they usually have both, IF you can get to them.

**Garbage bags Big black ones to use for 1. warmth, if needed, 2. raincoat, if needed, 3. Ground cloth or 4. trash.

**Sunscreen (if you have a fifteen minutes, I’ll tell you why you need it, plus show you my scar) 

Ziploc Bag Safety Kit I recommend a Ziploc bag of emergency stuff for you to carry in the race. Stuff it in your waist band.
 Among the things:
**Contact lens case—Use one side for **Vaseline, the other side for **other salve 
**Money—Remember, your Mom said don't go anywhere without a few bucks (cab fare)
**Sunglasses (if needed)
**Tums—If you have heartburn during a marathon, try Scotch Taping a couple of Tums to each of your GU packs….if you don’t want them when you eat your GU, just drop them on the ground. But they can save your life if you have heartburn!
**Cell phone (yes, I was there 4-15-13, I’ll never run a marathon without a cell)

When you are nearing the finish of the race, you turn “Right on Hereford, left on Boylston”, and for the last half mile you can see the finish line and hear/see the tens of thousands of spectators lining Boylston. I always pray that God won’t let me die there in front of so many people….but you may feel like it!

Once you pass the finish line be prepared to remain in the chute for 15-30 minutes. And, you have a long walk back to the family area. A cell is nice at that point…or a pre-designated meeting spot, with a ‘fall back’ location.

We WANT your Boston story on our website.  We have over 165 stories from runners just like you.  Visit to check it out.

You are embarking on one of the most exciting adventures of your life. There are tens of millions of people that would like to be doing exactly what you are doing. Remember to enjoy yourself. A good clock time in the race is nice, but a ‘good time’ is more important. Look around, see the sights and thank God for allowing you the privilege of participating in one of the greatest events in the world.

Kenneth Williams, @MarathonKoach.

To find all my longer “Tips from @MarathonKoach,” click HERE.

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