The following is an excerpt from The Runner's Bucket List: 200 Races to Run Before You Die by Denise Malan
Kacey Faberman wrote this race report in late 2012, before the tragic bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon. After the bombing, [Editor Denise Malan] chose to leave the report as it was written, an untarnished tribute to the best race in the world. As runners, the greatest way we can honor the victims is to keep running Boston Strong.
I started running because I wanted to run the Boston Marathon.
Yes, you read that correctly. I didn't start running because I wanted to run a marathon, and I wasn't a marathon runner who set my sights on Boston. I started running because I wanted to participate in the best race in the world -- the Boston Marathon.
It took me six marathons to qualify, but when I did, I was elated and couldn't wait to register for and run the world's oldest annual marathon and one of the six World Marathon Majors.
Training for and completing the 26.2 mile distance is tough, inspiring, challenging, enjoyable, time consuming, fulfilling, tear inducing, smile inducing and so much more. But it was the support, encouragement and sometimes looks of crazy that I've received from my family and closest friends over the years that was crucial in making my running-of-Boston dream come true.
To even enter Boston, runners must already have run a pretty fast marathon to meet the strict qualifying times, something only 10 percent of marathon finishers do. Having always obsessed about time in previous marathons, my Boston goal was to finish with a smile on my face. And I'm happy to say I achieved that goal. That smile came from the incredible organization, exciting but still somewhat nerve-calming Athlete's Village, the diverse towns from Hopkinton to Boston and the spectators who lined the entire course.
The Boston Marathon has been run continuously for well more than 100 years -- and it shows. The organization of this race is unlike any other race I've run. The expo is huge but easy to navigate -- you can find shoes, apparel (including the must-have jacket), last-minute race necessities you may have forgotten at home and nonessentials that celebrate the event (like a hand-embroidered pillow with all the towns you run through stitched in every color on the front). They even have a big-screen viewing of a video of the entire course, with Boston Marathon–associated personalities narrating the miles. This preview helped to set me at ease and prepared me for what to expect.
To get to the start, runners board school buses to the Athlete Village in Hopkinton. Shuttling 25,000 or so runners might sound like a challenge, but if it was for the organizers, I definitely didn't get that impression. Riding the bus from the Common in downtown Boston to the start was a great opportunity to connect with other runners. It's amazing to hear the stories of how people made their way to this famed running event.
After disembarking from the buses at the Athlete's Village, runners have an hour or two to chill before the waves start. The time leading up to a race start can often be tense, but the Athlete's Village had the opposite effect on me, and I found myself not stressing about the race I'd be starting around 10:00 that morning. The Village offered bagels, coffee, a replica of the "Welcome to Hopkinton" sign complete with photographers, a free pre-race massage tent and port-a-potties galore -- it was a runner's paradise!
When my wave was called to head toward the start line, I walked with the thousands of other runners who shared my preassigned wave start. After stepping into the corral that corresponded with the numbers printed on my bib, it wasn't long before I took my first steps along the world-renowned course. Because the course is point-to-point, runners have the opportunity to see many different locales. Before getting to the big city of Boston, I ran through many unique, small towns: Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton. Each town definitely had distinct personalities, but the commonality was that they proudly supported the race and loved to let the runners know it. Whether I was running past a biker bar (fully packed, at 11:00 a.m.) or a university where girls offered kisses, spectators were out in full force. More than 500,000 spectators take to the streets on this state holiday of Patriot's Day, making it New England's most widely viewed sporting event. I'd say that half a million spectators is a conservative estimate.
I ran Boston in 2012, a year of record heat. The spectators really were fantastic in helping to beat the temperatures in the high 80s. They came out from their homes with extra cups of water, ice cubes and hoses with spray nozzles. The spectators along the course were phenomenal, and certainly a big reason why this big-city race is a success -- whole towns get behind it. They encourage, they cheer and they clang together anything and everything they can find to create enough noise to drown out any negative thoughts that crossed my mind -- whether because of the weather or the hills.
I had high expectations for Boston -- it is the marathon. My expectations were all completely exceeded. The organizers, the expo, the Athlete's Village, the towns, the spectators -- all top notch. No detail is spared in this marathon, and this commitment to excellence made me feel like an elite runner.
It's easy to say that everyone should run this race, though it's not always so easy to get there. But do whatever you can to toe that start line in Hopkinton, because it is completely worth it.
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Date: third Monday in April
Field Size: 25,000
Race Highlights: It's Boston, the most elite marathon in the world.
Not your cup of tea? Try one of these other races from The Runner's Bucket List:
Location: Seeley Lake, Montana Date: mid-February Distance: half marathon Field Size: 650 Website: CheetahHerders.com Race Highlights: freezing temperatures, icy and snowy roads; canine division for those who bring their dogs (with a soup bone to the winning dog) "Organized quirkiness" is how colorful race director Pat Caffrey describes the underlying philosophy of the Cheetah Herders Athletic Club, which conducts the race in the mountain hamlet of Seeley Lake. It is that philosophy, embodied by Caffrey, that is largely responsible for the growth of the race from the 32 hardy pioneers who ran in 1980 to the 595 who completed the 34th annual Snow Joke in 2013. Race information describes the course as simply as possible: one lap around Seeley Lake. Start and finish is outside the elementary school. It's part of the joke that the colder the temperature, the longer Caffrey's pre-race instructions become. After a couple of blocks of icy backstreets, the course turns north on Seeley's main street and the highway to Glacier National Park. The first five-plus miles are on plowed pavement, sometimes wet, sometimes dusted with the previous night's new snow. It's a good chance for the field to space out and make good time. Then the work begins. A left turn onto Boy Scout Road puts runners on the backside of the course and presents them with, depending on the year, either horrible running conditions or merely terrible running conditions. The road is plowed by the county and is accessible to cars, pickups, and snowmobiles. Snowmobiles are common; a couple of popular trails cross the course. Typically there is a base of ice, often rutted. In a good year, an inch or two of fresh snow covers the ice and offers a bit of traction. In a bad year, it's just ice and snowpack. In a really bad year, the temperature warms up enough and allows the ice to start melting. Slippery doesn't even begin to describe the footing. In spite of the race's substantial ration of whimsy I've always considered it a hard-core race -- racing 13 miles in Montana in February doesn't fit the normal definition of a fun run. --Stuart S. White
Location: New York, New York Date: December 31/January 1 Distance: 4 miles Field Size: thousands Website: NYRR.org Race Highlights: fireworks display, costume contest, and dance party Is there a better way to ring in New Year's Day than with champagne, fireworks -- and a four-mile run? The Emerald Nuts Midnight Run has been a tradition since 1979 in New York's Central Park. Hosted by the New York Road Runners, this party starts at 10:00 p.m. with music and dancing, followed by a costume contest at 11:00. Then, as it gets close to midnight, the runners will count down to the new year and then take off when the clock strikes 12:00, just as the fireworks light up the sky over Central Park. The Central Park location and the party atmosphere make it easier for race "bandits" -- those who don't register for the race but join anyway -- to jump in. But take my advice and pay for the race -- the Road Runners deserve the support, plus you'll want your own festive foam headgear provided by longtime sponsor Emerald Nuts. Runners can stop midway for a toast of champagne -- well, sparkling nonalcoholic cider. Aside from a few elites, the run is not scored, so you can take it easy, enjoy the 20-minute fireworks display, and go to bed knowing you will wake up feeling a lot better than the millions of partygoers down the road in Times Square.
Location: Weott, California Date: early May Distance: marathon, half marathon, 10K Field Size: 2,100 Website: TheAve.org Race Highlights: giant redwoods that are thousands of years old; cool Northern California weather and laid-back atmosphere In the first mile of the Avenue of the Giants Marathon, I heard a runner joking that her neck would be the body part that was most sore after the race. That turned out to be pretty close to the truth. The Avenue is a 31-mile stretch of Old Highway 101 in Northern California known for the giant redwoods along the route and on hiking trails leading from the road. I spent a good portion of the 26.2-mile race craning my neck to look up toward the treetops or staring out into the forest. "The Ave" is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The redwood forest makes you feel both insignificant (the largest of the trees have been standing for thousands of years, reaching heights of more than 300 feet) and yet part of something larger. --Denise Malan
Location: Chattanooga, Tennessee Date: late October Distance: marathon, half marathon, 5K Field Size: almost 2,000 Website: sevenbridgesmarathon.com Race Highlights: crisscross the Tennessee River several times; the approach to the finish line is a wooden, pedestrian-only bridge filled with cheering spectators Chattanooga shows off its best assets with the Seven Bridges Marathon. There's the art district, Tennessee Aquarium, the River Walk and, of course, all those bridges. The full marathon course crosses seven bridges in total. Six of those cross the Tennessee River, plus a bonus bridge crossing a smaller creek. The marathon's sister races are aptly named by the number of bridges included: the Four Bridges Half Marathon and Two Bridges 5K. "The course goes through all the best parts of Chattanooga," said Benj Lance, a runner from nearby Dellrose, Tennessee. "And as you’re running you can look around and see all the mountains." The course has some hills but is pretty tame for a Tennessee race, Lance said. Even with seven bridges, the total course ascent is less than 400 feet. The toughest part is the Chickamauga Dam Bridge, which, unfortunately, comes in the later miles of the marathon. But after that, the final 10K through the River Walk is a breeze. The last bridge is a pedestrian-only wooden bridge filled with spectators cheering runners on. The grand finale is a finish in Coolidge Park, where runners cross an inlaid-brick globe, finishing "on top of the world." "This is a race I think I'll probably do every year," Lance said. "There's something special to me about Chattanooga. It's just such a beautiful city."
Reprinted with permission of Triumph Books.