The final turn on Boylston Street comes after miles of screaming downhill, a quarter mile of Wellesley smooches, countless cups of water and Gatorade, orange slices and ice pops, the painful heartbreak of the infamous Newton hills, the crush of cheering fans along Commonwealth and, of course, the unrelenting and unforgiving heat.
But that turn, made after one final incline up Hereford, delivers what we’d all been racing towards since 10 o’clock that morning in Hopkinton: the Boston finish line.
Eva Frissora, New York Harriers coach, was there for her first Boston Marathon. “Boston is like running nerd mecca,” she says. “It's exciting to be in that environment, and even more exciting to take part of race day.”
President Zach Pollock, also running his first Boston, couldn’t agree more. “To call it electrifying would be an understatement.”
Eight Harriers, plus supportive friends and family, traveled from both sides of the country to Massachusetts for the running of the 121st Boston Marathon. For some, it was a first. Others, veterans of the race, were keenly aware of the treachery this marathon could deliver, and offered more tempered views of what lay in store.
Former coach and head of the Colorado Harriers, Joe Arencibia admits, "I have a love-hate relationship with this race…But the marathon never owes you anything.”
Diane Kenna is a little more blunt: “I’ve already filed my divorce papers with Boston,” she says. “We’re going through a trial separation for now.” If the post-race reports are any indication, others might be considering taking similar action.
The day started out quite warm (some, like coach Kat Wang, might qualify it as “hot”). The partly cloudy skies promised in the forecast never materialized. Instead, our intrepid Harriers toed the starting line with two fighter jets flying overhead in perfect, cloudless conditions, the temperatures creeping into the high 60s.
Zach reflects, “Monday was a good example of just how many variables can cause your race strategy to go awry.”
The hot conditions spelled bad news for a lot of runners. Kat, an experienced marathoner running her fourth Boston, made the call early in the race: “I backed down after sweating out 10 pounds within the first 5k,” she says.
For Zach, that moment came just before the halfway point. “To be honest, I thought about pulling out at about mile 10 when my splits started to fade,” he says. “I knew I was in trouble long before the hills of Newton."
And when the going got tough, and the well of self-motivation ran dry, runners relied on their teammates to muscle through.
Trish Piekarski traveled up to Massachusetts to lend support. “Toko and Sanj had the Harriers banner at mile 14,” she reports. “I was at about 20.5 – so we were a bit spread out.” Still, with her hawk eyes and killer run-tracking skills, she was able to connect with most of her teammates racing that day. “Except Zach,” she notes wryly, “who literally ran past within 5 feet of where I was standing. He couldn't hear me screaming, ‘ZACH!’ like three times.”
Though one can hardly blame him. “The crowds were fantastic,” says Eva. “Just a non-stop 26.2 mile block party of screaming fans.”
Many, like Boston native Wendy De Wolf, were grateful for the support: “It was so great to see so many friendly Harrier faces out there – both on the course and on the sidelines." Wendy was able to pace herself conservatively through the first 10 miles and use that energy to help spur her to a PR.
Teammates on the course gave their runners a much-needed boost at key points during the race. "There was a lot of struggling on the course and seeing a familiar singlet...made all of the difference in the world," says Zach. Some Harriers even enjoyed the occasional "Go, New York!" cheer from their storied Boston rivals.
“I knew it was just going to be one of those ‘get through the race kind of days,’” says Kat. “Luckily, Boston is an easy course to enjoy, so I relied on crowd energy to just get me to that finish line.” She adds, “Thanks, Harriers!”
And, Zach notes, completing Boston is “a major accomplishment – regardless of how fast it happens.”
Eva, for one, will be returning. “It's the unicorn of all races, and despite how miserable I felt for the entirety of the race because it was so hot, I will probably have to do this race again.”
Obviously since 2013, the Boston Marathon has come to represent much more than just a race. For Trish, it's important for her to show up. “I was there in 2013, so it's been meaningful for me to go the last few years.”
And for Joe, Marathon Monday is also a chance to reconnect with his team, before returning to Colorado. “What mattered most to me this year was the chance to see teammates who mean more than any finishing time or medal.”
And even when the day doesn't go exactly your way, it is an honor to run it. "I didn't understand the appeal of running Boston before doing the race," Eva admits. "But now I definitely get it." For many on the course, this race is one of the most inspirational and humbling experiences a runner can have.
But back to that final turn onto Boylston, where, even in 68 degree heat, the wall of sound can send chills up your spine and raise goose bumps on your skin.
With barely 600 meters to go, a runner struggles on wobbly legs and goes down. The heat and exertion are just too much and he drops to the ground. Two other runners, clearly unrelated to him, stop to help him to his feet. When they put his arms around their shoulders and lift him up to make their way to the finish line together, the roar from the crowd is absolutely deafening. It’s hard not to get emotional.
Later, there will be the revelry of the traditional post-marathon beer(s), the congratulating and commiserating over the tough conditions, the glint of future race plans, the hobbling “stride of pride” back to the hotel rooms...But for now, the finish line looms, the crowd swells, the pain briefly recedes into background noise as you cross the oldest and arguably most famous finish line in the world.
Congrats to all the Harriers on completing Boston, and kudos to those who supported them – it wasn't perfect, but somehow it was still great. The New York Harriers will look forward to seeing old and, judging by some of those speedy 2016 fall marathon times, new faces at the starting line in Hopkinton in 2018!