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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top Ten of the Decade: #9

Coming in at #9 is a personal experience, competing in the Boston Marathon.

In the fall of 2002 I ran my second serious marathon, dropped 20 minutes off my PR and got a Boston qualifier. I sent in my application and booked a room the next day.

I didn't have a particularly good experience from a racing perspective. I overtrained, came in with a nasty cold, and my quads felt beat down by the 10-mile mark. It was not good. I ran 34 minutes slower than my qualifying time. I was so ill afterwards I was running a fever and couldn't eat.

Otherwise, it was tremendous. Boston is an experience like no other. For one, most people in Boston treat you like a celebrity just because you're running. "Oh, you're a marathoner." On the other hand, during the race they treat you just like a pro athlete, which means verbal abuse from literally a million people if you're having a bad day.

One simple thing that was cool was the school bus ride out to the start. As adults, we rarely get the experience of riding a bus to an athletic event. (I do it all the time as a coach, but that makes it different somehow.) I never thought I'd miss it until I had to do it again. I was stuck with a bunch of people I didn't know, but everyone else was too, so we were all pretty friendly.

Upon arrival in Hopkinton, I was part of 20,000 people waiting around and killing time. 150 yards of port-a-johns was not enough. It was weird to see cops telling you where to urinate in public instead of giving you a ticket for it. And in that mass of people, without a cell phone, I managed to meet up with a former college teammate. I remarked to him that it was the whitest group of people I've ever seen in my life. Helaughed and told me to go down to the church where they house the pros where I'd see the blackest.

Boston is the only mega-marathon I've run, but I've done others with upwards of 3,000 entrants. After about 4 or 5 miles the crowds thinned out and I had no trouble at water stations. In Boston, I was still struggling for elbow room in the last mile. Every other race I've done has broad swaths of emptiness where there are no spectators at all. Boston has people lining the course for all of the last 20 miles, and they get thicker and thicker the closer you get to the finish.

I wanted to go in 2003 because the race was on the Monday of my spring break. I stayed in town for a few days afterwards to do the tourist thing. I'm planning on going back in 2011 when another such alignment happens, and thinking about trying to find some off-the-beaten-path things to see.

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