The Clapham Runners have gone international recently with Steve setting his half PB in New Zealand, and Emma running the Stockholm Marathon (PB again!). I’d already booked my holiday to Boston for the last week of May when I found out the 11th Run to Remember was on… so it was my turn to take the new Clapham Runners vest for a run! I’d arrived in Boston the night before the race, and thought I was crazy to set the alarm for 4.30am on the first day of my holiday. Not the ideal race preparation, so I knew I was running this one for fun and photos, not for a time – and I LOVED it!
I needed to collect my race number on the morning, ahead of a 7am start. Expo was in the World Trade Center in the seaport district of South Boston, with stalls, people taking photographs, a real buzz about the place despite the very early start. Security was high – we’d been emailed to deter us from bringing bags, although a small number of lockers were available, and there was a bag check before even entering the streets surrounding the start zone. I collected my number no problem, and the toilet queue moved quickly. It was a chance to catch up with some locals and hear their stories for taking part. I learned that this event, now in its’ 11th year, was originally small, but was inundated with runners wanting to show solidarity with Boston Strong as it was the first road race after the April 2013 bombings. This year there were 11,000 runners.
The Run to Remember commemorates Massacheusetts service personnel who have lost their lives in the line of duty, and all runners are encouraged to donate as well as fundraise. There are parallel runs across America throughout May. It was a really nice touch that the forces were lined up on the side of the route in three places, and I joined the lines of runners high-fiving them in thanks. Even though the race was charity-organised, I was surprised to see other charities having stands and fundraiser-runners taking part. The two events set off together – the five mile route which stays downtown, and the half marathon which I did, which crosses the Charles River over to Harvard and back.
You could hear the music and the loudspeaker from several blocks away, and the stars & stripes flag lined the approach to Expo. Emotions during the national anthem were strong and a silence fell on the chaotic crowd – I was moved by the tears and the sense of pride. Follow this with a jubilant rendition of Sweet Caroline, Boston’s adopted anthem thanks to the Red Sox, and the crowds were ready to go. I had to smile at how American everything was – even at 6am, you were greeted with a cheery ‘have the best race everrrrr’!
The 5 mile and 13.1 mile runners set off together, self-organised into three waves. It felt disorganised, and I struggled to even get out of the expo building which opened straight into the third starting pen. There were pace markers (slow ones – 13 minute mile as a group) but these seemed to be totally disregarded. I actually missed the start line, as we shuffled forward for another couple of minutes after. Still, once we were on the way, I realised that there was no need for the slick organisation of other races (London marathon in particular) as the roads were so wide, we spread out instantly and it never once felt over crowded.
My stomach flipped as we set up towards the skyscrapers of the Boston financial district. Just a few hundred metres in we passed the Boston Tea Party ship and I quickly realised I would be running with my camera in hand the whole way! The first couple of miles sped by so quickly, but I was just so excited – snapping everyone and everything we passed! My absolute highlight was turning into State Street after 1.5 miles, running towards the beautiful Old State House and site of the Boston Massacre, snuggled between glass skyscrapers reflecting the sun. Much of the downtown route took us through the historic Freedom Trail. We turned Atlantic Avenue, passing Fanieul Hall on the right, then went out through little Italy which I had walked through the previous evening in the hunt for pasta dinner. Boston felt familiar yet totally unexplored – and what better way to explore the city than on foot, in the company of other happy runners, on a sunny day, road closures, camera in hand. Brilliant.
We ran downtown, past Boston Common and Public Garden, then along the famous, tree-lined Beacon Street with its impressive red-brick apartments. Past the second water station, and we turned right to cross the Charles River. I kept turning to see the city skyline disappear behind me, and was excited to see the flat river paths with runners ahead, where Joey went running in the college days of Dawson’s Creek! The next few miles were on the Harvard side of the river, with an out and back run so runners going in both directions. There were very few fancy dress
runners, or at least not elaborate costumes (I’ve come to realise this is a very London thing!), but there was an amazing number of American flags worn as t-shirts, compression tights, baseball caps etc. Although Harvard itself was not visible from the river path, we passed the buildings of MIT and it was exciting just to know I was there in this amazing part of the world. The only hill of the race was at mile 7 (a steep bridge – a hill in my eyes), and I somehow found myself still going – I love effortless (?!) post-marathon fitness – although was probably just more distracted by not dropping my phone/camera! We doubled back at mile 8, and I could see that the runners behind me were much fewer than those ahead (hey, I had started in the last wave), but still cheers from both sides of the road to encourage each other on. There was a real team atmosphere amongst runners although only a few spectators along the route.
The temperature was really heating up at this point (a few sweaty selfies did not make it onto this blog) but I could see the city skyline approaching, and it just felt exciting. We crossed the river, and just before mile 10 amongst the handful of supporters… there was mine!! Amazing Helen who has travelled to Berlin and Paris in the past to support me run, and here I was practically running past her new apartment – she was out to cheer me on, coffee in hand. We stopped for a quick chat and a few photographs before she sent on my way again. I felt I knew my way back to the common by now, but I was so, so grateful for the shade of the city in those last couple of miles – the heat was really picking up to the promised 27 degrees (suddenly grateful for the 7am start). It might not have been my fastest time, but it wasn’t my slowest either despite the photos, stopping to chat, and just running around like a mad, jet-lagged tourist (who me?!) . So much fun to run to enjoy the run rather than for a time, and I just felt so relaxed. And energetic enough for a Red Sox game that afternoon (of course!).
In terms of organisation, I only spotted two discreet mile markers on the route, which would have helped in an unknown city. The start and finish lines weren’t well marked at all until you were upon them. The cups of water were less than half full – I ran with my own bottle the whole way, which I refilled. The finishers’ goody bag made me laugh though! Back into the expo, and there was chocolate milk, crisps, protein bars, bagels, fruit, fruit juice – it was an endless hall with boxes of everything stacked up. No bags though – it felt like a free-for-all, and people were walking round with armfuls of food, and I even saw runners filling up bin bags and boxes that the food had arrived in!
Memorial Day weekend felt like a perfect time to take to the roads in Boston, a long weekend locally and the official start of the summer season. The weather was fab (for race day as well as the rest of the following week) and there is a lot going on downtown all weekend, including this display of flags on Boston Common. It was a brilliant start to my holiday, a fantastic experience to race in America, and I have the medal and around 400 photos to show for it!
I have totally caught the running tourism bug… Rome? Lisbon? Nice? Where next … and who else is keen?!
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