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Boston Marathon - Jackie Heilbronn

After a rather fraught start to the trip (see the following “cautionary tale”) Boston was a wonderful experience! 


We made the error of assuming that the US ESTA is person specific rather than being attached to your passport! I needed a replacement passport back in October to allow for enough valid months after returning from the US but had not appreciated that I would require a new ESTA, as my old one was still valid for another year of the normal 2-year period.


This became apparent when I tried to check in to the BA flight 24 hours before the flight, immediately check-in opened, and found that I could only get as far as London! With now less than 24hrs until flying, we had to apply for a new ESTA, with the website stating that this may take 72 hrs for approval. Yikes! A very stressful afternoon, but thankfully the approval came through in time. 


We arrived at Boston Logan airport on the east side of Boston, where it took an hour to clear US customs, shuffling back & forth through the American line system, at a body time of midnight. It is not what anyone wants at that time of night!


There are free shuttle buses into the city centre, just outside the arrivals hall. We purchased a “Charlie card “ from the yellow machine in the airport exit area for using on the “T” Boston transportation system. It is a bit like an Oyster card, and provides excellent value if you are staying a few days as it is priced at $11 for a 1-day unlimited pass, but only $22 for a 7-day pass. Seems to be an efficient transport network, although the trains/trams and most of the stations on the lines we travelled are rather dated and are in need of some TLC. 


Bib pick up was conveniently at the Haynes convention centre, right in central Boston, with no need for traveling to the outskirts for the Expo, as in many other venues. Queues were controlled by snaking lines through the centre (with one huge exhibition hall just set aside for this!) to eventually picking up the bib and bag. You get a gear check bag for a bag drop off on marathon morning and an additional small bag to take with you on the bus to the start area. This bag is only big enough for a snack, water bottle etc, it is not transported back to the finish line. Then into Expo to find the marathon wall, take some photos and escape the frenzy of the adidas shop!


B.A.A. Boston marathon official 5k shake out on the Saturday was to cost $69, with no nice bobble hat like the sought after Chicago one (though apparently you do get a T shirt and medal)! We decided to give this a miss, then found out later that Ben Parkes, YouTuber & coach, was offering a free, “no registration, just turn up and run” 5K shake out run, along the river, with him and Sarah on the Sunday morning. This was very well supported with a couple of hundred runners from all across the world. 


Boston is unusual in that it is run on the Monday to coincide with the Patriots’ Day celebrations. So remember to factor that into your travel plans!! 


Marathon morning started with the usual early alarm, a train ride into central Boston to deposit the gear check bag at one of the yellow school buses, which were very well labelled by bib numbers, then along to Boston common for the bus loading at 8.15 am, with more American snaking lines. I thought we would be packed into the buses like sardines, but was pleasantly surprised when we were all counted in, with a seat for everyone.


We were then transported out to Hopkinton school, about 45 mins away to the athletes village start area. There is a large tented area in case of bad weather (Boston has been run in torrential rain, hail or snow some years!) or to provide shelter from the beating sun in our case. There were lots of toilets but still long queues, which took up a lot of time. The start area is about 0.7 mile walk from the athletes village; it actually seemed a longer walk and there were plenty more toilets on route before reaching the start line, so there was no need to have queued earlier. The clothing depository was much better organised than Chicago, where clothes were strewn across the start area as trip hazards. The Boston volunteers were bagging clothes up very efficiently for donating to charities. 


The course is net downhill with rolling undulations and the famous “Heartbreak Hill” at mile 20/21. Because it is Patriots’ day and a public holiday (and also a baseball match day), the crowds were out supporting virtually all the way from the start line to the finish line. Every town along the route seemed to try to out do the previous one for support noise level!   


The “Scream Tunnel” at Wesley College was loud, with lots of posters offering kisses from the young ladies en route. There was only a very small section alongside a lake that had no support but it was nice to have a few hundred metres of peace and quiet. 


I worried about the Boston hills for months but they were not nearly as bad as I had feared, having added in hills to every training run that I did. Looking back, I didn’t account for as much downhill running in my training as required for the Boston route so my quads began to burn at mile 23. I do feel that all the strength work and weights in the gym definitely helped my overall fitness. 


Due to the heat, 22 degrees and sunny, I was pouring cups of water over myself at every water station, approximately every mile. I was soaked through but it definitely helped. This didn’t help my finish time but, at least I was not one of the 2000+ medical emergencies en route. 





Once you cross the finish line there is a lot of walking to collect your medal, thermal blanket, food, drop bag and finally meet up with your support crew at the family reunion area. 


The volunteers were very helpful and smiley. 


Overall a great experience, even though much hotter than I would have liked; it hasn’t put me off doing more marathons, though I am not sure now about running New York or Tokyo for completing the 6 star journey. There is just too much stress involved in long distance traveling … but at least we now know about potential ESTA hiccups should we decide to go to New York!

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