Boston. A running Mecca where marathon dreams come true.
Friday 6th April 2018
After an early start at Port Authority, NYC I arrived at the hostel a little after mid-day and quickly found my bearings to stock up on essentials at the local supermarket. I am staying here for a week before moving to The Wyndham Hotel for Marathon weekend.
Saturday 7th April 2018
Parkrun Tourism this morning. Tom suggested heading out to Jamaica Pond parkrun which has only just started in recent weeks and it made sense to have a hard blast around the route. Parkrun is a weekly timed 5K event that happens on Saturday mornings all around the world. It is a brilliant way to meet people and one of the best things about it is it’s free.
I took the subway (known locally as the T) to Stony Brook around a mile away from the start, which contributed nicely to my warm up. There seemed to be lots of fellow parkrun tourists and marathoners joining in the fun. A great out and back course, super volunteers (as is always the way) and a parkrun PB in the bag… a big confidence boost ahead of race week.
Sunday 8th April 2018
The flags are up…woohoo! An easy 75 minute run this morning along the St Charles River Esplanade, the recommended spot for running in Boston seeing as you can run alongside the water for miles without any interruptions.
In the evening I met up with my friend Phil, who was part of our group that survived China. We went to a local pizza place for dinner, great to catch up.
Monday 9th April 2018
Today is a rest day so in the morning I went to Boston Common Coffee to catch up on some blogging/diary writing before joining with the walking tour of Back Bay. Most cities have walking tours and they are usually free, working on tips where you pay in gratuities what you think the tour is worth so it can be a much cheaper alternative to the classic ‘hop on, hop off’ bus options.
We covered quite a lot in two hours and finished up at the plaza in Copley Square which has some beautiful buildings in its own right; Trinity Church, Boston Public Library and the (multiple) John Hancock Tower (s) with Boston Common just a few blocks behind.
I was excited to visit Copley Square for another reason. Just beyond on Boylston Street is the iconic marathon finish line. Race day set up was underway and whilst I have previously thought it was a shame to be able to see the finish line before that triumphant moment when you take your last step in the race, I now like it as I find I can use it to help with visualisation. The finish line is freshly painted ahead of race day every year and is a popular spot with runners and tourists alike.
The specialist running store, Marathon Sports opposite the finish line couldn’t have a better location. Along with Adidas Run Base, you can find all sorts of Marathon memorabilia and official apparel for your purchasing pleasure. For anyone arriving in town ahead of time, it might be helpful to make a stop here as it means you can browse minus the biz of thousands of runners at the expo.
Tuesday 10th April 2018
A very light threshold run on the plan today; warm up then 3×3 minutes at goal marathon pace with 2 minute jog recoveries followed by 4×1 minute hard, 1 minute easy. This just helps to keep a little bit of sharpness in the legs- a reminder of what marathon pace feels like.
As a source of inspiration, in the evening I watched a documentary about the history of the Boston Marathon. Narrated by Matt Damon, the film chronicles the story of the Marathon from its humble beginnings with only 15 runners to the present day, showcasing many of the most important moments in the race history. Among these monumental moments are the tragic events of the 2013 bombings and the preparations for the 118th Boston marathon one year later, when runners and community gather together ‘Boston Strong’ for what would be the most meaningful race of all.
Wednesday 11th April 2018
Today I went to Cambridge for a tour of the University of Hahvahd (not a typo- Bostonians don’t pronounce their Rs!). The tour led by current students covers surrounding local areas as well as the historic campus featuring the John Harvard statue and the Widener Library which has been extended underground and is home to so many books that if you laid them out you would cover the marathon distance twice over!
Afterwards it was back to the river for an easy 30 minutes with 2 blocks of 5 minutes at marathon pace trying to catch the sunset but it was a little too cloudy for anything spectacular.
Thursday 12th April 2018
A rest day for training and a fairly quiet day in the way of sightseeing. I joined Phil for Chinese dinner in the evening just for old time sake. Howard (and our fellow China buddies) would have been proud.
Friday 13th April 2018
It’s quite unbelieve to think it is time to make my way to the 6th and final expo…I’m beyond excited.
Boston’s expo is in my opinion the best of all six majors. There is without a doubt the biggest selection of freebies- everything from laces to fridge magnets and samples of eats galore.
The highlight was visiting the Abbott stand to get my special Six Star sticker and bib. With a smile like a Cheshire cat, Judy knew exactly why I was there. Having spotted fellow runners proudly modelling theirs at previous races I couldn’t wait for it to be my turn come Monday.
After ensuring the typical (but very much necessary) photo opportunities had been taken care of, I hoofed it back to Boylston Street in time to meet Boston Royalty, Katherine Switzer. Alongside the original trailblazer, Bobbi Gibb, (who I was lucky enough to meet later in the day at the Runner’s World pop up store), Katherine is responsible for revolutionizing women’s running forever and we ladies have a lot to thank them for. I was in complete awe as they shared anecdotes from their training and race day experiences. They continue to be great ambassadors for women’s running in the present day and the books they signed for me are extra special souvenirs that I will treasure forever.
Just when I thought today couldn’t get any better, whilst listening to Amby Burfoot reminisce about his Boston experiences, I was reunited with Karen and Alan… two absolute heroes of life who I was lucky enough to meet back in Berlin.
Karen was also running her last of the majors and she quickly introduced me to some fellow runners who will be part of the Six Star celebrations on Boylston come Monday. This is one of the things I genuinely love most about the running community; sharing the journey with complete strangers from all corners of the globe who so quickly become friends.
Saturday 14th April 2018
Well, today is a big day – the family reunion!
Audrey, Lee, John and Gordon are all travelling Stateside to be at the finish line of my final marathon…my sixth star…the big one! They’ve taken time off work and spent a small fortune on this trip but it means the world that they’re going to be here. It’s really special to think that we will always share this memory.
An easy run of 25 minutes to do pre family reunion and I could barely contain my excitement which was not ideal in terms of commencement of carb loading seeing as I was so excited I couldn’t eat! But I took some of supplies to munch on later when my butterflies had stopped fluttering.
These last few weeks have been quite overwhelming and emotional; a combination of this incredible journey coming to an end and having all the time in the world to reflect on just how lucky I have been. Tearing up as I lace up my running shoes has featured as a regular part of my warm up routine in recent days and I’ve lost count of the number of lumps I’ve had stick in my throat during training runs. It’s a strange balance. On one hand I couldn’t be more excited to think that I’m actually going to do this and on the other, I never want it to be over.
I debated if I should go to the airport to surprise them but decided against it in case they missed me so instead went out to the hotel where they were staying. Seeing everyone together after all this time was just brilliant. After the biggest of hugs and one too many snotters we spent the rest of the time catching up and time just flew by.
Sunday 15th April 2018
It’s Six Star Eve…there’s just one thing left to do.
All week social media was ablaze with speculation and I’d go as far as say scaremongering about how bad the conditions would be on race day. Boston Athletic Association issued emails advising the need for additional layers of warm waterproof clothing due to the likelihood of heavy rain and cold temperatures creating an increased risk of hypothermia for runners. Many resigned themselves to the fact that the weather had ruined their race before they’d taken a single step. It is important to remember we are racing the conditions, not just the course.
Realistic enough to know I am by no means invincible, the warnings were causing some confusion about what to wear. Putting on my club vest and shorts is like putting on a uniform. It means business. It gets my mind ready for racing. In discussing race strategy with my coach, we were concerned that extra sodden layers would only weigh me down and possibly make me more cold as the race went on. So going against the recommended advice, I will be wearing my shorts and singlet as normal. I may live to regret this decision but Tom joked that I should remember if I felt cold I simply wasn’t running fast enough.
Carbs a-plenty in the form of a lovely Italian meal with the folks and my last shakeout jog done.
Kit check and early bed. Six Star, I’m coming for you.
Monday 16th April 2018
Boston Marathon and the day I become a Six Star Finisher.
Sprint, walk or crawl I will make it to that finish line. Today sees the worst weather conditions for the race in over thirty years but nothing was going to spoil today. During the long bus ride out to Hopkinton it became clear just how grim the weather was. The start area looked more like a scene from Glastonbury (and that was inside the tents). Slipping and sliding through puddles, runners falling over, keeping warm and dry in any way we could. I didn’t have spare running shoes with me to leave behind at the start area so I had carrier bags and shower caps tied over my shoes in an attempt to prevent getting too cold before the race got underway… I might as well not have bothered.
Looking back now, I don’t think I fully appreciated just how awful the weather was until after the race. As I stripped down to my shorts and vest at the start line adrenaline and excitement must have stopped me from feeling the cold. It was only when I watched some of the footage afterwards that I realised what I’d been running in.
Conditions were beyond ludicrous; relentless and torrential downpours, driving rain, non-stop headwinds and the odd shower or two of hailstones made it super tough for everyone out there…even the elite athletes. I remember saying to Tom when I was debating over what to wear “the elites aren’t going to be all wrapped up in extra layers,” but I was wrong. Winner Des Linden broke the tape on Boylston Street with her windbreaker fully zipped up. Parts of the course were so atrocious that really all you could do was laugh, more out of hysteria than genuine amusement. It quickly became clear that today was not about racing. It was a fight for survival all the way to the finish line.
The race is a net downhill point to point course starting South West of Boston in Hopkinton continuing through Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley and Newton. Due to the day it was the amount of support on the course was reported to be less than usual but I thought it was still quite amazing at just how many people were braving the weather to offer encouragement. Spectators arguably had the tougher job. At least as runners we kept moving.
Wellesley College located near the half way point features the famous Scream Tunnel; a wall of sound unbroken for the duration of the race featuring the brightest and most ‘interesting’ of race signs. The students are renowned for their ‘encouragement’ in the form of high fives, hugs and kisses. Newspapers later reported that conditions were so horrendous the nearby churches had opened along the course in order to look after ‘running refugees’ suffering as a result of the elements.
Around mile 16 we entered Newton, famous for its hills; 4 inclines between miles 18 and 21 featuring the infamous Heartbreak Hill. Contrary to what people say the hills themselves aren’t horrid. They just come at a time when your quads are already a little bashed from the downhills not to mention starting to fatigue. Supporters are well aware of this and as they line either side of Heartbreak in their hundreds it is their sole mission to make enough noise to drive you right to the top.
Although I hoped to finish the race with a PB the most important part of today was enjoying every step. It was suggested that the conditions slowed runners down by as much as 20 minutes from their predicted finish times and as much as I’d have loved to see what I could’ve done on a good day I just wanted to soak up every single bit of the experience…quite literally!
This has got to be my favourite race photo of all time.
Taking a right on Hereford and left on Boylston, the iconic turn to the finish line of the Boston Marathon…this was it. I’d done it. Six of the most iconic marathons in the world all building to this finish line. I cried happy tears throughout the race but in that last 800m with the incredible noise and supporters lining every inch of the sidewalks I couldn’t quite take it all in. It felt like a dream.
Although no PB, I was over the moon to finish in 4:07. I had earned lifetime membership to the Six Star Finishers Club. To say I felt overwhelmed would be a bit of an understatement.
I collected the historic Boston medal before making my way to the Abbott Six Star tent for a brief presentation of the most amazing piece of race bling I’ll ever own.
Staff were well aware that runners had to quickly get out of their sodden clothes and so the presentation of the Six Star medal was quite rushed but only in order to keep us runners safe and healthy.
Making my way to baggage collection and trying to get changed in the tent was nothing short of an entertainment – next to impossible. With puddles galore inside the tent and nowhere to leave our things but somehow I managed and then went off to find the folks where it was straight to Dunkin’ Donuts for hot drinks all round.
Gordon, Lee, Audrey and John arrived rocking their kilts and waving their saltires in style. They have been the best support crew (even if I did run right past them -I’ll never live that one down) and they made sure Bonnie Scotland was on the Boston map today.
In the evening a night of Six Star celebrations got underway to celebrate all of our achievements and this incredible journey we have all been on.
Well done, everyone!
One thing is for sure, if you ran (or should I say swam?) Boston 2018 and survived those conditions, you can do anything. And that one will never get old.
6 Majors in 12 months…mission accomplished.
I am a Six Star Finisher.
Tuesday 17th April 2018
Still overdosed on endorphins and high on adrenaline this morning we made our way to the Samuel Adams Brewery for the Runners Private Tour where the place was filled with fellow marathoners and their supporters enjoying a glass or two of 26.2 brew; an ale brewed in partnership with the Boston Athletic Association which was perfect for rehydrating after marathon Monday.
Afterwards we enjoyed lunch at the Cheesecake Factory and topped the day off with a drink at Cheers Bar…where everyone knows your name! A special day of celebrations.
Wednesday 18th April 2018
“Calendonia you’re calling me and now I’m going home.”
My final day of this epic adventure.
We had quite a bit of time before heading to the airport so decided on a nice wander around the Freedom Trail; a walk back in time through the story of the American Revolution taking in museums, churches, meeting houses and burial grounds along the way. I have stiffened up quite a bit since yesterday (good old Tuesday legs on a Wednesday) so walking to loosen off will definitely aid the recovery and we had a lot of fun along the way.
Without a doubt the dream of becoming a Six Star Finisher and proud owner of this bling is what started this huge adventure in the first place but as the clock ticked down to standing on the start line of my last World Major, the Boston Marathon, I couldn’t help but reflect on how unbelievably special the last 12 months have been.
I’ve travelled around the globe and trained in some of the most beautiful places…places I’d never have imagined I’d ever be lucky enough to visit. I’ve met so many wonderful people along the way who will forever be part of my journey. I’ve been beyond lucky to lace up my runners to race in the most exciting cities in the biggest and best marathons in the world and all thanks to a pair of running shoes.
I doubt I will ever fully process all of the amazing experiences I have had in this time. It still seems surreal and not a day goes by that I don’t think about how lucky I am.
When I first spoke of my plans to attempt to complete the Majors and run around the world, my friends and family were full of encouragement and support.
Then when I decided to leave my job, sell my house, it’s contents and my car in the process to fit life in to a backpack many thought I had lost my mind but I have been overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness, support and good wishes. It really means the world. Thank you.
A massive thank you must also go to my coach, Tom Craggs for his patience, advice, reassurance and never ending positivity in helping me to structure my training, adapt to conditions and find belief in myself as a runner.
To some it may sound bonkers but running has literally changed my life in an all-encompassing way; the races I’ve run, the places I’ve been, the spots I’ve trained, the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made, the smiles I’ve shared, the tears I’ve cried, the determination, the frustration, the support I’ve known, the happiness I’ve shared, the freedom I’ve felt, the things I’ve learned, the memories I’ve made, the stories I’ve heard, the advice I’ve been given, the accomplishments, the dreams…
Now here I am, back on home soil with a pretty special haul of medals. But more than that, the most special collection of memories and stories that will stay with me for a lifetime.
Thanks running shoes… I’ll be grateful forever.