It’s Boston Marathon Monday!
Boston represents a lot of FIRSTS for me.
First time I qualified for a race. (No, I didn't run track in high school or college.)
First time I tasted limoncello — the night before the marathon. (Pro tip: Don't try your first shot of limoncello the night before the Boston Marathon.)
First time I experienced a hot flash! Not during the race, mind you, but at a fancy pre-race dinner with 8 or more MALE colleagues. The horror!
First time I DNF'd. In 2013, I was on Boylston Street about three-tenths of a mile from the finish line when the bombs went off. I wasn't hurt. (Thank God.) I did go back in 2014 to finish.
This year, I am not running or cheering the Boston Marathon. But even 250 miles away from the start line in Hopkinton, I can feel the buzzing hum of electric energy.
What IS it about Boston?
[Full disclosure: For many years I attended the Boston Marathon for work with Runner's World, which paid my lodgings. I always paid my own entry fee, and I always qualified.]
For starters, there’s the qualifying. Boston is the only major marathon outside the Olympics that requires runners to clock a certain sex- and age-graded marathon time for entry.
Quick reminder: Women age 34 and younger need to clock 3:35 or faster. Each subsequent 5-year age group gets an additional 5 minutes, until age 45, when we start getting another 10 minutes (and another 15 at age 60, yippee!).
And as someone who has run it many times over a few decades, but always barely squeaking in by the thinnest of margins, I am here to tell you we NEED THOSE EXTRA MINUTES.
Please don’t say, “Oh, the standards are softer for women than for men, and even softer for ‘older’ women.”
NOT TRUE. If you compare the qualifying standards with gender and age-graded world records, as my former co-worker and 1968 Boston Marathon champ Amby Burfoot did, you see that it is actually HARDEST on women over the age of 50. Thanks a lot, diminishing hormones.
Interesting note: The qualifying standards were put in place in 1970 because the field had grown to a “barely manageable” 1,342. (About 30,000 will run this year.)
At one point, ANYONE who wanted to enter had to break 3:10 in the marathon.
And of course until 1972 women weren’t allowed to run (too dangerous; uterus might drop out). Bobbi Gibb had to hide in the bushes in 1966 to run.
And Kathrine Switzer, who used her initials K.V. to get a bib for 1967, got to wrestle with angry race director Jock Semple WHILE RUNNING in order to finish.
Semple screamed at Switzer: “Get the hell out of my race and give me that number!”
The difficult qualifying standards make the field FAST. And that changes the vibe.
“You know, this marathon just doesn’t seem as FUN,” Sarah said at our pre-race brunch before her first Boston. “It seems filled with a bunch of tiny serious skinny German men.”
Haha, sorry, tiny serious skinny German men.
It is also HARD. The course basically goes down hill for the first 16 miles, trashing your quads, and then goes up, trashing your confidence (or what little of it is left by then). I've run it 13 times. And while it's ALWAYS an honor to qualify, it's NEVER easy to actually run.
That aside, the Boston Marathon is the longest-running annual marathon, and it seems like the entire city and the surrounding communities turn out to cheer along the 26.2-mile route from rural Hopkinton to downtown Beacon Hill. It’s truly chill-bump-inducing excitement.
Okay, you say, but I am reading this, not running the Boston Marathon. How can I get excited about it?
Five Ways to Celebrate the Boston Marathon Without Having to Actually Run It!
1. Cheer on the Amazing Ladies
Even if you’re not into keeping up with the elite marathon scene (who run 5:30-ish per mile, nevermind!), this year is special among top American women.
Shalane Flanagan, native of nearby Marblehead (see her famously colorful language as proof), is a local favorite. Fresh off her amazing New York City marathon win, she’s hungry to take her hometown crown. (Though she’ll have to fight off defending Kenyan champion Edna Kiplagat and a handful of Ethiopians.)
She’ll also have to fight off Jordan Hassay, 26, who has a faster PR with her 2:20:57 in Chicago last year. [NOTE: She pulled out of the Marathon late Sunday.] See also Molly Huddle, Desiree Linden, Kellyn Taylor. Wow!
Mother runner Deena Kastor will be fun to follow too: The 2004 Olympic Marathon bronze medalist, now 45, set the American Masters record of 2:27:57 at age 42. She’s going to Boston to see how she feels. What’s that mean for a superstar?
2. Read Deena's Book
Deena Kastor is the queen of positivity. But even she acknowledges that it doesn’t come naturally or easily. Using positive self-talk (instead of falling into always-there pit of negativity) takes concerted practice. Her excellent new book, Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory, co-written with Michelle Hamilton (no relation to me), tells how she puts thought into action.
Bonus: Deena Kastor is coming to the Another Mother Runner podcast! Stay tuned!
3. Eat Like an Elite
One more thing from Deena Kastor: Carmelized Onion and Fig Pizza. I've had this and it's seriously good.
Pecan Butter Chocolate Truffles With Sea Salt like Shalane Flanagan (with Elyse Kopecky), from their book Run Fast, Eat Slow. I actually MADE these my very own self (I know, right?), and they're seriously good.
4. Run Yasso 800s
Invented by my former coworkers Bart Yasso and 1968 Boston Marathon champ Amby Burfoot, this workout is a series of 800-meter repeats (or half miles, or twice around the track) done on a weekly basis leading up to a marathon. You start with four 800s, add one each week, and work up to 10-12. (Note: I have NEVER done them.)
The minutes: seconds of your average 800 time that you’re able to comfortably complete when you get to 10 of them predicts the hour:minutes of your marathon time.
So if you can run a 4:10 half-mile, you should be able to run a 4:10 marathon.
Just for fun, I went to the track last week and did a few 800s.
My time? 4:20. So a quick look at Boston Marathon time charts shows I should be able to qualify when I am … 60! As long as I can stay this “fast.”
5. Listen to Us Talk About It
If you haven’t already. Sarah and I chatted with four BAMRs participating in the Boston experience on podcast #307.
If you're unable to stay glued to your TV or computer all day today following runners (me neither), you can look up any of these ladies on the Boston Athletic Associations athlete tracker. Or look up Amby Burfoot, who is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his win by running the marathon with a group of family and friends.