I can’t really give you an accurate description of the Boston Marathon Experience. You really need to be there to know what it’s like.
And you really need to run it in order to truly comprehend what it’s like from start to finish.
But I’ll do my best to describe it.
The weekend before the race you have to go to the Hynes Convention Center. It’s on Boylston Street which is the street the race finishes on.
You pick up your packet and your bib number. You get your official Boston Marathon shirt which is basically the coolest shirt a runner will ever possess.
(Especially this year. The shirts this year were even better than the ones last year).
Once you have your bib number, you take the obligatory I-got-my-bib-number picture in front of something that says Boston Marathon on it.
After that, you go downstairs to the Expo. The Expo is basically the world’s biggest vendor fair for all things running related. Sneakers. Clothing. Sports drinks. Cliff bars…
We tried to go in with the six kids. We got about twenty feet in, couldn’t move, I had a panic attack about what would happen if there was a fire, and we turned around and walked right back out.
No free Gatorade and Cliff Bar samples this year.
Next you walk down Boylston Street and check out the finish line. You envision yourself crossing it. You feel the first pangs of the several pre-marathon, American Pie, Finch-like, gastrointestinal emergencies you will have between now and when the race starts.
You do some more walking around, although you are supposed to be resting your legs.
If you are running for Dana-Farber, you go to another hotel to check in there.
Everyone there is super nice to you. They give you some plastic pom poms to give to your family.
You give them to the kids and confiscate them about five minutes later when they won’t stop shaking them and nearly poking each other’s eyeballs out.
You do a little sight seeing on the way home. If your husband went to BU, you take a walk along the river and check out the boat house where he used to row crew.
Then you head home. Your kids are tired.
Most of them, anyway.
You go to the hotel and try to get a good night’s sleep. If you have kids with you, that can be a challenge.
You wake up the next morning and post the obligatory, here-I-am-with-my-number-on-about-to-leave photo.
Getting to the race the next morning can be a bit of a logistical nightmare.
Depending on where you are staying, you may need to leave yourself about two hours just to get to the start. You take the T to the finish line. From there a school bus takes you on a one hour drive, 26 miles away, to the starting line.
The whole drive there you think to yourself, Holy shit. I have to run this whole way back.
If you are lucky, you can bypass all the T and bus stuff, and someone who knows what they are doing can drive you to a parking lot which is close to the starting line. From there, you take a shuttle bus to the Athletes’ Village. Then your trip to the start is much shorter.
Walking into the Athletes’ Village is both exciting and terrifying.
Seeing helicopters circling overhead and military dudes on the roof of a building with binoculars and what is either a high powered telescope or a sniper gun is a somber reminder of what happened at the marathon not too long ago.
Once you are in the Athletes’ Village, which is basically a bunch of huge, white tents and hundreds of the most disgusting portapotties you’ve ever been in, you hang out and wait until it’s time for your wave to go.
If you are a fast runner, you are in an earlier wave.
If you run for charity like me, you are in the last wave that leaves at 11:15.
That gives you plenty of time to have several GI emergencies in the nasty portapotties.
Unless you are like me and run for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Then you get to hang out at a nice church instead of the Athletes’ Village.
They have food there and sunscreen and chairs and charging stations.
And they have really clean portapotties.
Knowing you are running the race to help raise money for cancer research and treatment is awesome.
But knowing you are going to have access to clean portapotties that have toilet paper in them is even better.
About fifteen minutes before your wave is set to start, you make your way to the start line.
You go from being excited to being sure you aren’t prepared to being excited to wishing you had made one last stop in the portapotty to being completely terrified.
And then you are off.
This is your view for the next 26.2 miles.
Along the way people are screaming for you. There are bands playing. There are people camped out in their front yards.
You go through lots of different neighborhoods.
When you get about a half mile from Wellesley College, an all girls school which is at about the halfway mark, you can hear crazy cheering.
This is called the Scream Tunnel.
Apparently this tradition started way back in the first Boston Marathon when Wellesley students lined up to cheer on a runner (supposedly from Harvard).
Now there are hundreds of girls lined up along the side of the road with signs, almost all of them asking you to kiss them.
They say things like Kiss me, I’m a senior.
Kiss me, I’m graduating.
Kiss me, I’m Australian.
I majored in Kissing.
I saw one that said, Kiss Me Or I’m Voting for Trump.
I kissed the shit out of her.
Delirium sets in for the next half of the race.
The course gets harder, and you hit Heartbreak Hill around mile twenty.
This is where training, or lack of it, makes itself known.
One way or another, you make it to the top.
And then you have less than six miles to go. Even if you are dying, you know the finish line is in sight.
You head into Boston and the crowds become thicker and louder and more and more awesome.
And when you turn onto Boylston Street and see that finish line, well, there’s no way to describe that.
That one, you can only truly comprehend if you actually run the race.
And then, just like that, you are done.
You have just run the fucking Boston Marathon.
You may be smiling.
If you are like me, you are crying like a baby.
A man with a megaphone congratulates you. He tells you there is no crying allowed.
Unless it’s happy crying. Then it’s okay.
You get your medal and your foil blanket.
Photographers come to take your picture.
Would you like a picture? a man will ask.
You are still crying.
Or would you just like a hug? he will say.
You take the hug.
After you calmed yourself down, you take your own picture.
You follow the sea of foil blanketed runners.
If you are like me, you walk around in a daze, not sure where to go, until, at some point, you finally meet up with your family.
You are tired and you are already sore, but you don’t care because you just ran the fucking Boston Marathon.
You take off your shoes.
Yes, your legs are sore, but there are other things that hurt more.
You are going to lose at least two toenails. You have blisters in multiple locations on your feet.
And the chafing.
Oh, the chafing.
The chafing may hurt more than your legs and your feet combined.
You are chafed in places you didn’t know were possible to chafe.
But you don’t care because you just ran the fucking Boston Marathon.
If you are lucky, you are staying in Boston that night.
You make your way back to your hotel. You check your FitBit.
And you then proceed to eat every single carb you can get your hands on.
And you drink the beers you have been thinking about all day long.
You go to sleep exhausted and completely rewarded.
The next day you wake up.
Who is going to help you get out of bed?
You have to pee so bad, but you cannot bend your legs.
You shuffle into the toilet, turn around, and do the trust fall backwards, hoping to land on the seat.
You will repeat this action every time you have to pee or poop for the next forty eight hours.
Since you stayed in Boston the night before, you decide to hit the New England Aquarium.
Apparently, so has every single other person who has children and who ran the Boston Marathon the day before. It’s almost as crowded as the Expo you had to leave a couple days earlier.
You can tell who the marathoners are because they are either unable to walk down stairs without wincing, or they are wearing their awesome blue Boston Marathon shirt. A couple people are even still wearing their medal.
You stay at the aquarium until either you or your kids can’t stand anymore.
And then you wrap up your marathon weekend.
You are tired. You are sore. Your kids have hit the wall. And so have you.
But you don’t care. Because you just ran the fucking Boston Marathon.