Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Boston Marathon 2011, Part 2: Pre-race excitement

Getting up at 5 AM for a race is nothing new to most runners. Indeed, 5 AM is better than the 3 AM wakeup for the Disney Marathon (They close lots of internal roads for the races and need to start early so they can open the parks for everyone else). In the case of Boston, part of the reason for the early start is the need to truck a small city of 27,000 people from Boston Common out to Hopkinton in borrowed buses (since all the schools have the day off). As per usual, I ran the drill the night before and had already pinned my bib and tried on all my gear, which was laid out on the desk.

Starbucks was not open yet, but I figured either, they would have caffeine at the Athlete’s Village, or I would be awake on my own 5 hours later at race start (10 AM). As I left the hotel though, I was wary, because I was the only one in race gear with the plastic bag they gave us for our drop bag. This was a little concerning because I had already seen dozens of runners staying at my hotel. Then again, I remembered that I was heading for the first bus of the first wave, so I just kept on and eventually, I met some other runners.

Being first in line, we did not wait long to get on a nice warm bus, shielded from the strong westerly winds that would prevail throughout the day. I sat with some friendly men from Oregon, New York, Minnesota, and California and we chatted about this race, prior races, who we expected to win from the elite field and so on.

We were dropped off at Hopkinton High, the site of the Athlete’s village. The Village consisted of some very large tents, hundreds of portajohns, and a jumbotron (a new addition). As I noted before, you can imagine the accommodations necessary for 27,000 people. Everyone that I was around was pretty subdued and trying to relax away nervous energy prior to the race and few wanted to spend the two hours until we went to the start line on their feet walking. So, I found a nice spot on the discus ring, and rested, trying to keep warm.

View Larger Map

We were all sitting on the area between the oval track and the building just to the east in the Google map above. So, we sat, I had a coffee and a protein bar. Mostly, I was just people-watching and soaking in the spectacle before I started making my final preparations. Cool enough for arm warmers or not? I left them. Need to take two gel packs or three? There is a stop at mile 17 I can plan for. Last minute texts to family and friends, done. So, to recap, up at 5. Got on the bus about 6. Got to Hopkinton about 7. Sat in the Village until about 8:30. Made busy getting set for the race until 9. At this point, the first wave was directed towards the buses to drop our bags and start the 1.25 mile walk to the start line.

Athlete's Village 2011 (AP photo)

At this point I must say thank you to the many, many families of Hopkinton and the other towns on the Boston course, because I noted that many had their driveways completely blocked and they were shut in for most of the day while we runners overran their town. Some had last minute water and coffee for the runners while some let their kids sell lemonade from roadside stands, although, I did not see any runners who brought their spare change on the walk to the start line.

View Boston start line in a larger map

The race directors also graciously provided another couple hundred portajohns just steps away from the corrals which everyone (predictably) took advantage of. The start itself lines up one lane of Main St. with the other lane serving as the area to walk past, until you get to your corral. Nine corrals with rope separating them are in a line and then moments before the wave start, they pull the ropes and let everyone bunch together. I was far enough back that I could not see anyone from the elite field, nor could I even see the church where they gather prior to the race, but having watched the race online last year, I stood in my corral, envisioning it. The officials counted down the last couple of minutes and everyone stood looking east towards Boston, occasionally shaking their arms or legs, adjusting their caps and beanies, maybe jumping in place. After the gun went off, my corral had a leisurely two minute stroll to the start line, where I waved to the local news cameras, punched start on my Garmin, and set off.

Next post: the race is on!

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