Running the Boston Marathon

Making it to the Boston Marathon

On Monday, April 18, 2011, I ran "the race I'd dreamed of."

I'm quoting one of the many homemade signs I saw along the route of the Boston Marathon, of course. And it was the race of my dreams.

While my finishing time for Boston certainly wasn't my fastest marathon, the skies were clear, temperatures moderate, and a tailwind helped propel the more than 27,000 registered runners from the start in Hopkinton, Mass. along the 26.2 mile course into downtown Boston.

I had heard about the massive crowds - both running the race and lining the streets, but there was nothing to prepare me for the actual experience. Despite an injury that flared at mile 4, I ran with a smile on my face for most of the entire length of the run from Hopkinton into Copley Square in Boston.

Quite simply, there is nothing like running the Boston Marathon!

At the starting line for the Boston Marathon
At the starting line for the Boston Marathon | Source
Boston decks out in blue and yellow for the annual Boston Marathon
Boston decks out in blue and yellow for the annual Boston Marathon | Source

Want to run Boston? You Have to Qualify First

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon has become a goal of many marathon runners around the world, yet its not easy to get in. When registration for the 2011 Boston Marathon opened on October 18, 2010, the race filled to capacity in a mere 8 hours.

In the hopes of preventing such an avalanche of runners trying to register, the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.), which organizes the Boston Marathon, revised the process for registration for the 2012 Boston Marathon, and tightened qualifying times by 5 minutes across the board starting with the 2013 Boston Marathon.

The Boston Marathon is intended to be a race for the fastest, most deserving runners. Although a number of spots are reserved for charity runners, more than 80% of the field is comprised of elite marathon runners. With revisions to the qualifying times, the hope is that those that train for and manage to qualify for Boston will have a spot in the race if they wish.

The Entire Boston Marathon Course in 8 Minutes

How Does the Boston Marathon Compare to Other Marathon Races?

The 2011 Boston Marathon was my first Boston, and my third marathon overall. In 2008, I ran the Portland Marathon in Oregon. I was only hoping to finish that race and did not aim for any particular time (in fact, I walked much of the course with my injured sister). The Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco was my qualifying marathon for Boston, in October 2010.

In my personal experience, the Boston Marathon was a more difficult course than either Portland or the Nike Women's Marathon. And deceptively so. We toured the Boston Marathon course the day before the race, and I thought to myself... these hills don't look so bad! After all, I train at 4000 feet elevation in Bend, Oregon where just about every run I do includes some hills. Yet, the precipitous drop in elevation from the start of the race - nearly 500 feet in the first 4 miles - to the arduous hills starting at mile 17 through 21, left my legs aching and my muscles cramping when I attempted the Boston Marathon.

I wasn't the only one that underestimated the challenge of Boston. Several of my running friends who have completed other marathons around the country also viewed the marathon course and judged it to be moderately easy. We were all in for a surprise once we were actually out running the Boston Marathon route. Not even the hilly marathon course in San Francisco beat me up as much as Boston!

The challenges of the route itself aside, the Boston Marathon is unique in its vast crowd support, massive numbers of runners, logistical organizational challenges, and the fact that its the oldest annual marathon in the United States - and the only one for which you must qualify if you want to get in.

Keep the finish line in mind as you run the Boston Marathon
Keep the finish line in mind as you run the Boston Marathon | Source

Why Run the Boston Marathon?

Tips for Running the Boston Marathon

If I had it to do over again - maybe some day I will - I would make a few changes in my preparation for the Boston Marathon. Experience is an excellent teacher, they always say!

Unless you are an elite marathon runner in the first wave, you will need to plan on boarding shuttle buses to the start about 3-4 hours before the race. This might be one of the biggest logistical challenges of the entire event. The long wait between boarding the buses and actually running the race can present issues regarding nutrition, hydration and clothing. It wasn't easy to decide how much to eat, how much water to drink and what to wear between 6:00 a.m. and 10:30.

Once you get to Hopkinton, you will wait in the Athlete's Village until your wave and corral number is called. Starting in the 2011 Boston Marathon, there are now three waves of runners, 20 minutes apart, and each wave includes 9 corrals. You will be slotted according to your qualifying time (I was in the first corral of wave 3). The first wave of the Boston Marathon starts at 10:00 a.m., the second begins at 10:20, and the third wave gets going at 10:40.

Its about .7 miles from the Village to the corrals, and you'll have to drop off your bag at the buses before heading to the start. Don't make the mistake I did and assume that 15 minutes is enough time. Although your "clock" doesn't begin until you cross the starting line, I got caught several corrals behind with slower runners that I had to work to pass over the first several miles. Plus, it can throw you off mentally if you miss the gun.

It can be cold and breezy at the Athlete's Village, raining, snowing, or hot and humid. Before the marathon, runners huddled on pieces of cardboard to stay dry. One person described it as resembling a refugee camp. Quite accurate! Long lines at the porta-potties resulted in wait times of 30-45 minutes. Next time, find a spot in the woods! For me, once I got through the bathroom line, the food was gone. I should have packed my own breakfast, but counted on the bagels and bananas that were originally offered. Water, Gatorade and Powerbars also were available.

Runners are provided roomy bags in which to store extra clothing during the race. It was helpful to have a place to stash my gloves and jacket, especially since the temperature warmed up quickly. Even though it was about 45 degrees before the start of the marathon, temps climbed into the low 60s and I found that my black running cap and long sleeved shirt were way to warm to wear along the course. Fortunately, discarded clothing is donated to the Goodwill. I wasn't the only runner making wardrobe changes along the way!

In short, I would be better prepared with my own food, I would bring warmer clothes for the 2 hour wait in the Athlete's Village, and I would dress more lightly for the marathon itself.

Start to Finish - the Map of the Boston Marathon

show route and directions
A markerHopkinton - the Start of the Boston Marathon -
Hopkinton, MA 01748, USA
[get directions]

B markerCopely Square - the end of the Boston Marathon -
Copley Square, Boston, MA 02116, USA
[get directions]

Early morning before catching the shuttle bus to the start of the Boston Marathon
Early morning before catching the shuttle bus to the start of the Boston Marathon | Source

Fast Facts About the Boston Marathon

  • The Boston Marathon is the world's oldest annual marathon, established in 1897
  • The race is run every Patriots' Day, on a Monday
  • The Boston Marathon route is point to point from Hopkinton to Boston
  • The race is organized by the Boston Athletic Association
  • Qualifying times were implemented in 1970
  • A new course record (2:03:02) was established for the Boston Marathon in 2011
  • Heartbreak Hill is actually the last in a series of hills from approximately mile 18-21

Happy finisher of the 2011 Boston Marathon
Happy finisher of the 2011 Boston Marathon | Source

My Boston Marathon Experience

Running the Boston Marathon itself was amazing. After waiting from 6 in the morning until 10:40, I was more than ready to get going.

I missed the start of the race because I underestimated the time it would take to get from the Athlete's Village to the starting line. I spent the first 4 miles dodging slower runners and trying not to go out too fast. My goal was to match my qualifying time, which was 3:50. I told myself that any time faster than 4:05 would be fine.

Over the first 10K, my pace was 8:20, which I thought would be perfect. I knew the course would get hillier and more difficult later, so I was hoping to "bank" some time. A piriformis injury (hip and butt) started giving me issues at mile 4, however. By the half marathon point, I had stopped twice to change, go to the bathroom, and test my blood sugar (I'm Type 1 diabetic). My pace was still around 8:50, which would allow me to finish under four hours. Then things started to fall apart.

By mile 15 or 16, my hip was causing a lot of pain and it became difficult to keep my pace up. The hills started not long afterward. Eventually both hips were aching and my hamstrings were tightening up. I started to drink more Gatorade to replenish electrolytes and salt, and boy was it warm outside! I managed to run all the way up Heartbreak Hill, even though others had slowed to a walk. But when I reached mile 21, my body was done.

At that point, I re-established my goals and kept putting one foot in front of the other. I walked a bit, then ran, then walked again. Low blood sugar at mile 23 left me confused and disoriented. So much so that I determined they couldn't help me at the medical tent since all the beds were filled with other runners.

Finally, I turned the corner - literally and figuratively. With the finish line in sight, about .6 miles away, I ran just a bit harder. I noticed a clock to my right and made up my mind to finish under 4 hours 20 minutes. The final finishing time for my 2011 Boston Marathon was 4:19:37. Regardless of the fact it wasn't my best race, I still got a medal!

And there really is nothing like running the historic Boston Marathon course.

Do You Want to Run the Boston Marathon?

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Post-Boston Marathon - proudly wearing the medal
Post-Boston Marathon - proudly wearing the medal | Source

© 2011 Stephanie Hicks

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Comments 62 comments

Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 5 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

Great Hub, Steph. The route looks challenging enough by car! I always admire anyone who has the stamina for this kind of thing. Good luck with your continued success.


Mentalist acer profile image

Mentalist acer 5 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

Congrats Steph,now take another Lap:-))


truparad0x 5 years ago

Congrats!


Bob Ewing profile image

Bob Ewing 5 years ago from New Brunswick

Well done, it takes determination to do this and discipline.


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis

Wow, congratulations! I trained for a marathon, got up to 18 miles, but I also wanted to climb Mt. Rainier. I was worried that my little twitches at 18 miles would interfere with the climb, so... I've climbed mountains from Alaska to South America, 18,000 feet the highest. Now I'm "older" and run a few miles here and there. Thanks for sharing your experience. Always wondered what a Boston marathon, or New York, would be like.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks you guys - this was a lot of fun to write and I'm glad I did it while the experience was still fresh in my mind. It was tough, but so amazing.

@Jeff - I've always thought about climbing Mt. Rainier too (I'm from WA originally). Good for you - I'll check your hubs to see if you've written about your experience. Cheers, Steph


jim10 profile image

jim10 5 years ago from ma

Congratulations! I wish I had gone down the street to watch you cross the line. Though I would have had no idea what time you would have been passing. The medal looks great.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

LOL - thanks Jim! I take it you are in Boston? And yes, you probably would not have seen me.... even my husband missed me running across the finish line. ;-)


ghomefitness profile image

ghomefitness 5 years ago from Chicago,IL

Great job!!! I did Chicago but never would qualify for Boston.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks ghome! I would love to run Chicago sometime, as well as NYC. Never say never.... the Boston Marathon may be in your future one day. :) Steph


dablufox profile image

dablufox 5 years ago from Australia

Live in Australia, but still found your hub a great read. Thanks for sharing your experience!


kashmir56 profile image

kashmir56 5 years ago from Massachusetts

Hi stephhicks, big congrats to you for running in the Boston Marathon and crossing the finish line !

Awesome hub !!!


Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 5 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

Excellent...congratulations on finishing


Spirit Whisperer profile image

Spirit Whisperer 5 years ago from Isle of Man

Well done. I have run the Dublin City marathon about 30 years ago and I only someone who has run a marathon can fully empathise with what you say about the race. I am glad I did it but I think I was too young and not prepared enough. I love running and still jog to this day but not anything like I used to do. My dream wouldn't be to run the Boston marathon but a less popular one as I would not like all those crowds and the waiting around. I am and always will be a Steve Prefontaine fan and I see that you are from his country. Thank you for evoking great memories with this great hub.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you Dablufox - do you run any marathons in Australia? Cheers, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Kashmir and Susan (Uninvited Writer) - thank you! It was quite an experience running the Boston Marathon. Best, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Your comment is really interesting Spirit Whisperer! The crowds were quite large at the Boston Marathon - both the runners and the spectators. Compared to Portland and the Nike Women's Marathon, there were not that many more runners, but many, many more spectators. I have run a few 1/2 marathons (that included full marathon options) that were much smaller - hundreds instead of thousands - and it was a much different experience.

I love Pre too, especially being an Oregon gal.

Best to you, Steph


Niki Hampton profile image

Niki Hampton 5 years ago from Oregon

Love it! Definitely a dream for me. I will be running my first marathon next May (Eugene 2012). This year would have been amazing, but with a baby on board. No training this year. Thanks for going above and beyond with your info and experience.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Great Niki - and congratulations on your pregnancy! I ran the Eugene 1/2 marathon last year, so am familiar with part of that course. May is a great time of year for a marathon. Good luck with your training next year. Cheers, Steph


LdsNana-AskMormon profile image

LdsNana-AskMormon 5 years ago from Southern California

Great Hub! Great job!


Fossillady profile image

Fossillady 5 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

Way to go Stephanie! Very interesting article, I learned some information I never knew about the Boston Marathon! I started watching the first video about the 8 minute marathon and it actually started making me feel sleepy about two minutes in! I don't think I would make a good runner, lol! Thanks for sharing!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you LDS!

@Fossillady - that is funny that the marathon video was making you feel sleepy. I was pretty tired myself after running 26.2 in Boston. LOL!


citychick profile image

citychick 5 years ago from Ulster County, New York

Congrats, Stephanie! I, too, love to run, and would love to run a qualifying marathon someday. You've inspired me. Well done!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Citychick - really glad to have inspired a fellow runner. Keep working and hope you can qualify for the Boston Marathon someday! Best, Steph


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

You are my hero, steph. Running the Boston Marathon - and finishing - is a challenging test of endurance and strength. Congrats. You ARE the woman!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Big hugs to you drbj! Really, it was fun but also an ordeal. Your comment brings a smile to my face and tears to my eyes. Best, Steph


jessicab profile image

jessicab 5 years ago from Alabama

Excellent hub Stephen.


Dexter Yarbrough profile image

Dexter Yarbrough 5 years ago from United States

Steph, you are simply amazing! Congratulations on participating and finishing. Think about coming to Chicago and running in that marathon! Great information!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks jessicab!

@Dexter - thank you too! I would love to run the Chicago Marathon one day. My sister lives in Central IL and has suggested we sign up for that one. Maybe in 2012. Best to you, Steph


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

Congrats on accomplishing this great task....very impressive....rest up and enjoy your glory


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you Cogerson! I'm enjoying no exercise this week after the marathon :-) Steph


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

Hi, this was fascinating, riveting and I couldn't stop reading it! Congrats! fantastic, well done! I watched the video of the fast car going around the route and my first thought was, I couldn't even walk that in a week! lol but seriously, that was terrific, and I love the photo with you wearing the medal. To be a diabetic and be able to do this just humbles me, I have a thyroid problem and always find excuses not to do the exercises! I don't know if you have heard of Steve Redgrave, the world champion olympic rower, he is also diabetic, he lives in my town and I saw him yesterday, it just reminded me. I remember seeing him having to run off after his last win, and didn't realise that he had to go off for medication. Great achievment, I hope you keep on running! good luck in your next race! cheers nell


Fay Paxton 5 years ago

Congratulations! I am impressed.

up/useful


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Awwww Nell, you are so kind! Yes, the diabetes definitely presents challenges for me as a runner, but most days I prefer to only consider the disease to the extent necessary (medication, blood sugar testing).... LOL! I hadn't heard of Steve Redgrave, but will Google him right away. I love reading about other people who have serious conditions but do not allow them to get in the way of setting lofty goals. Thanks again! Cheer, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you Fay! Appreciate the read and the vote. ;-) Steph


ocbill profile image

ocbill 5 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

congratulations! 3 hours of non-stop exercise or runner's high. I ran only a 10K so this is far beyond what I can imagine. Plus, a chronic ankle problem shortened my running endeavors. I heard it is more of a downhill marathon from a recent story about the winner. I am in awe of marathoners and their endurance. Great Job!


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

Waaaaah how cool! Congrats on running the Boston Marathon, stephhicks68!!! Props on making it all the way through- and despite some hip pain, too! What an accomplishment!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Bill - its simply incredible to run a marathon! I am hoping that the hip problem won't prevent me from continuing to run full marathons in the future. The Boston Marathon does have a lot of downhill parts, which is challenging as well. Lots of runners burn up their quads and/or go out too fast. Thanks for the comment - Cheers, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Simone! Its been 1 week now... what an amazing thing to experience. Not really sure whether I'll ever get to run the Boston Marathon again, but if I never do, the memories from 2011 are pretty amazing. ;-) Steph


StayPos profile image

StayPos 5 years ago from Florida, USA

Congrats Steph, as a former sprinter, I really admire anyone competing past my longest ever training run of 10 miles! Great job and time especially with fighting off the injury. Cheers!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi StayPos - my husband was also a sprinter and he cannot imagine running 26.2 miles. ;-) I appreciate the comment! Best to you, Steph


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago

Wow, I'm totally impressed. Congrats on finishing such a difficult race. I'm just trying for a 5k run to raise funds for Africa(my first run) and so, this is very inspiring to me. Thanks for sharing.


Betty Johansen profile image

Betty Johansen 5 years ago

A fascinating hub, Steph. I'm not a runner so I appreciate your taking me along on your run. I enjoyed it from my recliner. Congratulations on persevering. I admire your determination and spirit. Congratulations, also, for not letting diabetes run your life. You're a winner!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you Anginwu - and good luck with your 5K! I think its wonderful when athletes help raise money for causes. I hope it goes well for you! Best, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Betty - I am doing a lot of recliner running these days now! LOL! Thank you for the comment. It was definitely tough, but I loved it and would run the Boston Marathon again if given the chance (I know - I'm crazy) ;-) Steph


brianlokker profile image

brianlokker 5 years ago from Washington DC metro area

Congratulations on your achievement and thanks for chronicling it so well. I feel like I've experienced the Boston Marathon without having to train for it myself! Keep up the running and the writing!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you Brian! It was quite an experience. I'll never forget being part of the Boston Marathon. So glad you enjoyed the hub. Best, Steph


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

Wow.. congratulations, Steph. You are a great runner. Thanks for writing this and share with us. I must learn from you. This was a great achievement from you. God bless you! VOTE and VOTE...

Prasetio


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks for the votes, Prastio and your support! I was so happy to share my running experience in the hub. I was talking last night with a friend about running the Boston Marathon again - it was so much fun. Best, Steph


whoisbid profile image

whoisbid 5 years ago

Well done! Makes me feel like starting a new workout plan!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Go for it whoisbid! I really love running and its not complicated or very expensive. Best, Steph


Ron 5 years ago

Awesome stuff. Well written.


karenfriesen profile image

karenfriesen 5 years ago from West Coast, US

Thanks for the information. I am registered to run the 2012 Boston and every detail helps! I'm a fellow Oregon runner as well!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Karen, congratulations on such an amazing accomplishment - and for being fast enough to not only qualify, but to get in with the more stringent, rolling registration this year. Hope you have a terrific time in Boston. keep me posted on your training and how you do, Steph


irvinetraveller profile image

irvinetraveller 5 years ago from California

You are an amazing woman and writer, Steph. I am trully in awe of your abilities, your commitment and perseverance. The hub was enjoyable to read.


stessily 4 years ago

Steph, Congratulations for persevering, achieving your dream, and winning a medal!

Even though I love Boston, I had no idea that it's twists and turns and peaks and valleys could surpass those of San Francisco! I was amazed by your sentence that "Not even the hilly marathon course in San Francisco beat me up as much as Boston!"

Your post-Boston Marathon goals are just as inspirational as the goals which led you to compete in Boston. I hope that your injuries have healed, and that you are enjoying the great outdoors, whether walking, jogging, running, etc.

Thank you for sharing your experience, which you presented well and illustrated nicely with pertinent photos.


bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

Hi Steph,

Really enjoyed your Hub about running Boston and also your Hub on running the Portland Marathon with your sister. I've never qualified myself but hope to someday. I am fortunate to live in western Massachusetts so I have gone up to Boston many time to watch the race. It is an amazing event. Good luck with your running. I hope to read more of your Hubs on your training and racing.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi BD, thank you! I will have to continue writing hubs on running/racing. I just finished a marathon today, in fact. I did not qualify for Boston as hoped (with the new, tighter standards), but I usually run 3-5 marathons a year, so this is the first one after winter.

I truly hope that you can qualify for Boston one day. The race was like no other that I have ever participated in! Best to you, Steph


bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

Which marathon did you do?


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

To qualify? I ran the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco (2010). Not the flattest, fastest marathon! :)

Yesterday, I ran the River City Marathon in Sacramento. It was a point to point from Folsom into the city along the American River Trail (a paved, bicycle/running path). It was OK - not as scenic as I had hoped, and deceptively warm after several days of heavy rain.


Gerg profile image

Gerg 4 years ago from California

Congrats Steph - considering your challenges, the fact you persevered speaks volumes. Nicely done! And thanks for the detail pieces - very helpful for visualizing important things like morning logistics.

G


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Gerg! Hope you will be there in 2014 - or sooner! All the best, Steph

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