The 122nd Boston Marathon

Twelve months ago I was getting ready to run the race that I had been dreaming of for ten years, the Boston Marathon. As I walked around the race expo, soaking up the atmosphere and collecting my hard earned race number, I had no idea just how much the Boston Marathon was going to test me and push me to my limits.

For many marathon runners a Boston Qualifying time (better known as a BQ) is the Holy Grail, and it had been my goal since I crossed the finish line of my first marathon in London in 2008. My BQ journey started in 2016 when I decided to run the Melbourne Marathon. I told everyone that it was a good way to get to know my new home city and see if I could get a marathon PB. In reality I just wanted the BQ.

The history of women running the marathon made me even more determined to run the Boston Marathon.  I couldn’t believe that the first women’s Olympic marathon wasn’t until 1984. The first woman to unofficially run the Boston Marathon was Roberta Gibb. She ran without a race bib for three years (1966-68), hiding in the bushes before the start of the race. In 1967, Katherine Switzer officially entered the Boston Marathon but didn’t state her gender on the application form. Officials tried unsuccessfully to physically remove Switzer and her bib (number 261) from the course. It wasn’t until 1972 that women were permitted entry to the Boston Marathon. In 2017, at the age of 70, Switzer completed the Boston Marathon, wearing bib 261 and running only 20 minutes slower than her 1967 time.

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The 122nd Boston Marathon was run on Patriot’s Day, Monday 16 April 2018. I was one of the 12,000 women alongside nearly 15,000 men to toe the start line in Hopkinton. I had dreamed of this moment for ten years and here I was, about to run in the footsteps of legends. The course takes you past the Scream Tunnel at Wellesley College, up and over Heartbreak Hill, past the home of the Boston Red Sox, past the site of the tragic 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, to the finish line at Boylston Street.

The weather was awful. Cold temperatures, pouring rain and strong headwinds made for a tough day out for runners, volunteers and spectators. The instant hand warmers worked for the first few kilometers, but by the time I made it to the 10km mark and tried to collect a drink at the drinks station, my hands refused to open. The hand warmers were discarded and I spent the next 32km keeping my hands moving to stop them freezing. Getting to the top of Heartbreak Hill wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought, it was descending the other side that nearly finished me off.  My quads were seizing up, my feet were numb and I was starting to question what I was doing. I kept reminding myself of the training I had put in to get me here and how lucky I was to be experiencing the Boston Marathon.

Despite it being the toughest race I have ever run, it was an incredible experience that I will never forget. The camaraderie between the runners is unlike any other race I have experienced. Everyone is excited to be there, from first-timers like me to those who have run it a dozen times or more.  While we were out on course, news filtered through that an American was leading the women’s race. The atmosphere was incredible as it had been 33 years since an American had crossed the finish line first.

My own race was one of frozen hands struggling to grasp water cups, numb legs that sometimes refused to work, trying to smile and thank the spectators and volunteers, questioning why I was doing this and then planning my next marathon to BQ so I can do it all over again. I will never forget the 122nd Boston Marathon, but I feel I have unfinished business with the course that nearly defeated me, so I look forward to achieving another BQ and experiencing the Boston Marathon again.

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To those of you who are running the 123rd Boston marathon on Monday, good luck! Enjoy every moment and please share with us your Boston Marathon experience.

Author: Coach Liz