Boston Marathon – the penguin, the Minion and the olfactory delights of freshly harvested Brussels sprouts
The haunting cry that will forever stalk my marathon memories.
Having blown up spectacularly in the Manchester Marathon, the crowning ignominy of a 5hr+ marathon meltdown was having to race the final 200 metres down the Talbot Road pursued by ever more fervent cries from an impassioned crowd willing on a weary runner bedecked in a penguin costume.
Stomach cramps at the halfway point and leg cramps from mile 21 meant I was limping in roughly 45mins later than target with only myself to blame for straying from my planned race nutrition. I wasn’t about to let a penguin-clad runner compound my misery by crossing the line before me. The final push saw me safely over the line in front, only for some kind friends to check the chip times and inform me the penguin had ‘done me’ by 5 full minutes.
Bruised by the experience, and not wanting to let 4 months of winter training go to waste, I planned a swift return to the marathon arena.
I attempted to enter Blackpool Marathon, only to find it sold out. Then, I stumbled across details of the Boston Marathon taking place on Easter Monday. Despite also being sold out, a quick email to the event organisers the Wednesday before race day and I had myself a place.
Now – full disclosure – this wasn’t THE original Boston Marathon (you know the one – started in 1897, attracts c.30k runners & requires a qualifying time of 3hrs 15 for my age group). This was, however, the original Boston (UK, Pilgrim Fathers, Mayflower etc) where I spent several very enjoyable years in my first full-time career role after leaving university a couple of decades ago. The marathon is only in its second year of existence and the organisers hope to link with their Massachusetts cousins by 2020.
For those who don’t know, Boston is a brilliantly bizarre Lincolnshire market town which on the surface gives the impression of being a sleepy place in The Land That Time Forgot but holds several eye-opening accolades including being the murder capital of Britain; the most anti-EU area in the UK (76% voted for Brexit); and, the first place I’ve come across that would give control of its local council to a single-issue political party entirely focused on building a bypass around the town!
Armed with this useless knowledge and a real affinity for the town, we rocked up on race day to a packed throng of runners in the attractive market place. The organisers arrange the marathon and a half-marathon on the same day, departing from slightly different start points but largely running the same routes.
It was a lovely, friendly atmosphere, relaxed and well organised with loads of loos near the start.
I had been determined not to leave anything to chance after Manchester. There, the traffic was so horrendous we arrived late, had a long haul from our car park to Old Trafford for the baggage drop and didn’t arrive at the start until well after the official gun went, feeling flustered.
That wasn’t going to happen this time.
Or that was my intention. We were late again (I blame the family this time), had a mad panic collecting my number and (apologies, but this bit’s relevant) unsuccessfully attempted pre-race ablutions.
I hit the start-line and attempted to calm down by chatting to a few fellow competitors. Great idea! Except I forgot to start my Garmin and, as the sound of the gun ricocheted off the walls of the narrow old buildings lining the start, I stood like a lemon hoping to get a green light and the reassuring buzz that the GPS had locked on.
No such luck. Despite waiting until all other runners had passed through the start line, I gave up and ran the first third of a mile swearing at myself and my watch while waiting for it to get a signal so I could start the damn thing. This was all going pear-shaped again and the sense of déjà vu was palable.
Then the final straw. Ahead of me, like an enormous beacon of yellow and blue misery, I spotted the Minion! Having suffered days of jibes following #penguingate, my worst nightmare had re-surfaced. Surely I couldn’t be beaten by the only novelty costume runner in the entire field?!
I knew that running a second marathon 15 days after Manchester meant I had to compromise on the time I hoped to run originally. I just wanted to run a full 26.2 and slay a few demons. So I set out at a very steady pace, clocking 45 seconds/mile slower than last time.
I gradually hauled level with the Minion and felt a tiny flicker of delight at hearing he was already breathing heavily with 24 miles still to go, as unchristian as that sounds. My running shoes were going in the bin if I was beaten by someone wearing an enormous polystyrene egg on this day! That view was compounded when I discovered that he wasn’t even running in a Minion costume for charity but instead because a mate had bet him he couldn’t. Why would you??
As the sun came out and the in-costume temperature soared, my yellow and blue clad Nemesis faded at 8 miles and I could concentrate on running my own race.
Boston Marathon (UK) is pancake flat. You actually run below sea level and the total elevation change for the course is 256 feet – a whopping 111 feet flatter than Manchester!
The route takes you swiftly out of the town and into the Lincolnshire countryside. This is some of the finest agricultural land on earth and you can easily lose yourself churning out the miles in near silence as you pound the roads alongside thousands of acres of freshly tilled fields. It’s a complete contrast to the noise, bustle and claustrophobia of big city marathons. This is brilliant for the first 18 to 20 miles. You can run at your own pace and don’t have to weave and jostle for position.
But, it does mean you have to knuckle down yourself in the latter stages as you cannot lean on the crowds to get you through that final 10k.
My race was progressing well and all was comfortable until an emergency pitstop was required at the marshal point at mile 12. This dented the splits temporarily but I was back on track and feeling good until mile 19 when my legs started telling me that Manchester was catching up on me.
Undeterred, I dialled back the pace a little and as things started to really get tough around mile 23 I popped a caffeinated High 5 gel and focused on the finish line and my family who were waiting to cheer me in.
I was having a good little informal battle with a couple of runners who were jockeying for the finish in the final stretch and that kept me going to the end.
I expect that Boston will get a name for itself in the marathon fraternity both among the PB hunters and those who just want to run a flat marathon without the hullabaloo of the city marathons. The winner (ironically running for Notfast RC) flew home in 2hrs 29 before then going on to complete the London Marathon in 2:31:56.
It’s well marshalled, has a lovely feel to it and offers something different from the other, bigger road marathons on at the same time. Oh, and you’re less likely to finish behind a penguin or a Minion. Or a flying carrot (Michael Littlewood).
POSTSCRIPT: Confession time – I was beaten by a guy in a tiger mask who juggled the entire course. Grrrrr!