Here's are my thoughts on the meaning of this great race with a tour of the course, including comments by my friend Bill Rodgers.
My underdog pick today is Mizuno athlete Antonio Vega, US Half Marathon Champion.
The Power of Boston
By Olympian Jeff Galloway, 5th place Boston Finisher
Reprinted with permission from the new book Boston Marathon - How to Qualify
There is no other marathon in the world that has the history, the prestige, and has been run every year since the genesis of our sport. There are races with more scenic courses, higher enrollment, and more prize money. But the BAA Marathon in Boston is a legend and continues to be the top draw among serious marathoners around the world.
In 1896, the first marathon race was run from the plain of Marathon to Athens, to close out the first edition of the Modern Olympic Games. The concept of the event was powerful and many cities wanted to replicate this. New York held one race in the Fall of 1896, but did not continue. Boston waited until about one year after the Athens race to hold their first race in 1897. The history of Paul Revere's ride got tangled up in the story somewhere, and the Massachusetts “Patriot's Day holiday became the day (3rd Monday in April). But the concept was the same as the Original Olympic race: start 25 miles outside the city and finish in the historic city center. Just as many of the governmental guarantees of freedom were debated in the agora of Athens in 490 BC, the origins of the American spirit can be traced to Boston.
There is no better weekend experience for a runner than that leading up to Patriot's Day each year. The feeling of mutual respect is similar to that experienced at the Olympics: each person had to achieve a high standard to enroll in this race and a feeling of excellence permeates the race activities, the clinics, the restaurants, the lineup and the race itself.
Throughout history, many countries have used the Boston Marathon to select their Olympic teams. Until prize money was offered in the late 1970's, Boston was the unofficial world championship each year. Today there are several top races with deep world class fields, but none has surpassed the bragging rights of winning the Boston Marathon.
Boston families and groups of friends have established their territories along the race route and pack the race route even in the rain. I've never experienced a more passionate group of spectators than those along this course.
Most find that the journey to qualify requires sacrifice, fatigue, aches, pains and frustrations. But I've never heard anyone say that it wasn't worth the struggle.
Secrets Of The Boston course as told by Bill Rodgers
Reprinted with permission from Boston Marathon - How to Qualify
Bill Rodgers, Amby Burfoot and I ran together at Wesleyan University (Middletown CT) during the 60's. None of us showed much national running potential as high school athletes and were by-passed in the offering of scholarships. Wesleyan didn't even offer athletic scholarships. Early in his collegiate career, Amby envisioned that his best event was not on the collegiate competition schedule. While competing for the team, Amby added miles to the training, traveled to various New England road races, and surprised us and the world by winning the Boston Marathon during the Spring of his senior year. This set a standard of excellence that energized Bill and myself. Four years later I made the '72 Olympic team. Bill waited a bit longer but surpassed our accomplishments by winning the Boston Marathon in '75, '78, '79, and '80, breaking the course record twice.
When I decided to write the book Boston Marathon - How to Qualify, I couldn't think of anyone who knew the Boston course better than Bill. For years he trained on the course, did repeats on Heartbreak Hill. So on the appointed day, just after 12 noon we arrived at the starting line, ate a Greek style pizza at “Bills Pizza” and began our tour. Bill's direct statements are in quotes.
Mile 1. The elevation at the starting line is 490 feet. Randomly, the year that Phidippides ran from the battle of Marathon to Athens was 490 BC. The staging ground, leading to the start is flat. But just after crossing the line you'll get a downhill boost for about 7 tenths of a mile. “Don't go too fast here—it's very steep in places. It's really crowded—don't trip.”
Mile 2. There are slight ups and mostly gentle downs as the course (on route 135) moves through the hamlet of Ashland, the original starting location of the Boston Marathon. The first race in 1897 was started by the first Olympic champion in the 400 meters and 100 meters, Thomas Burke who called the 15 man field to the line he drew on the dirt road, and said “Go”. According to reports, there were 10 finishers in the first race. In 1924 the Boston Marathon officials pushed the start back to Hopkington.
“Many runners lose it, because they don't slow down when the course levels out—and pay for this later. I was able to use the hills later in the course because I saved myself during the first half of the race. I never worried about the finish time—just tried to do my best.”
Mile 3 . Moving out of Ashland, the course is relatively flat, but still gently downhill. “Ashland is where I received my first “professional” payment. I was paid $50 to talk to the Ashland cross country team.”
Mile 4. Mostly a flat mile with minor rolling. The Wildwood Cemetary is on the right near the 4 mile mark.
“I disagree with the decision not to allow a World Record on the Boston course. The IAAF (which santions records) says there is too much of an elevation drop from Hopkington to downtown Boston. But only one world's best time has ever been run here by the men.”
Mile 5. The elevation changes continue to be miminal. There's a reservoir on the left for the full length of this mile. Just before the 5 mile mark, there's a slight uphill, followed by a slight downhill for 200 yards. Bill says “You will have energy at this point, and may be tempted to pick up the pace. But it is still crowded—settle in and save your energy”.
Mile 6. Approaching Framingham the course is mostly flat with minor ups and downs. In the early days of the Boston race this was where runners received their first time check (about one fourth of the way to the finish). There were no mile marks nor pace times given back then. “This is classic small town America, town square, residents sitting in lawn chairs—usually a big turnout, here. The crowds start to build here—it gets more and more exciting as the race continues.”
“There is a large Brazilian community here. One year I couldn't get to the start to help with festivities because the Brazilians were celebrating their team's victory in the World Cup.”
Mile 7. Course elevation shows a slight downhill—most don't notice this. About 6.3 miles you'll see Farm Pond on your left. Just after mile 7 you'll pass Mary Dennison Playground on your right.
Mile 8. Course is fairly flat after Framingham, with a slight uphill of about 200 yards in the middle of this mile. Lined with repair shops, hardware supplies, etc., this is not the most scenic part of the course. There aren't a lot of spectators along this line of businesses because it's a holiday and the road is closed.
Mile 9. After the 8 mile mark there is a gentle downhill, but most don't notice it. As you approach the 9 mile marker, notice Fisk Reservoir on the right. “I believe this is where Boston champion Tarzan Brown jumped in the lake, and came back to win the race in the early days.”
Mile 10. There is a slight uphill that is quite gentle, leading into the pleasant town of Natick. “Natick has a beautiful town square and big crowds.”
Miles 11 and 12 miles. For most of the first mile the course seems to be flat with a very slight uphill. Just after the 11 mile mark, the elevation drops for about a mile with only a few slight upgrades. “At this point you begin to hear the cheering of the Wellesley College students, about a mile ahead. The screaming excitement pulls you along.”
Mile 13. After mile mark # 12, with Morse Pond on your left, there is a very gentle uphill with some slight rolling down. Your eardrums will get a workout from the Wellesley students. Moving into the upscale town of Wellesley, there are huge crowds, parks, and interesting houses. As you leave the town, you'll pass the halfway point. “During the Boston Spring you never know about the weather: sometimes beautiful blooms and sometimes the last chill of winter.”
Mile 14 and 15. There is a light uphill trend to these two miles, with a few short and gentle downs. Just after the 15 mile mark, be prepared for a significant downhill of about half a mile. “I made my move here. When I lived near the course, I trained on this stretch often and practiced this. This was a huge advantage for me.”
Miles 16 and 17. After the 16 mile mark, there's a significant uphill over I-95, which continues past the 17 mile mark. This is the first of 4 hills in a row, with Heartbreak Hill at the end. The first upgrade is gradual but can take it out of you if you push a little too hard.
Mile 18 and 19. After the 17 mile mark the course makes a right turn onto Commonwealth Avenue. The grass median of this divided street is crammed with spectators whose mission is to cheer you up the hill and onto the finish. Many runners get a bit too excited at this point and spend resources that are better saved for later. A few hundred yards up Commonwealth, the first hill ends, followed by some flat and a slight downhill. At about 17.5 miles you'll ascend the second hill, which is only about 250-300 yards. “There's a really extended downhill (of about seven tenths of a mile] after this hill which I used to recover.”
Mile 20. At about 19.5 miles just before starting up the third hill, Bill told us to look to the left. Slightly hidden in the trees is a bronze statue of two runners. We stopped and paid our tribute to the saint of the Boston Marathon, Johnny Kelley, who was pictured as a young man and then as the legend who ran the race until he was 84, his 58th finish. He won the race twice. He finished 18th in the 1936 Olympics, in Berlin, where he met the first Olympic marathon champion (1896) Spiridon Louis. Runner's World magazine recognized Kelley as “The Runner of the Century”.
After the 3rd hill, about 300 yards long, the elevation is fairly flat for about half a mile, passing the 20 mile mark. Then you see it—Heartbreak Hill. “Heartbreak is 600 meters long, not a steep grade, but tough at this stage of the course. I used to do hill repeats on Heartbreak—6 of them.”
Mile 21 and 22. At the top of the hill, there's a fairly flat stretch for about a third of a mile passing the 21st mile mark, and then, you'll head downhill for about a mile and a half. You'll pass Evergreen Cemetary (where many good runners have dropped out) then Chestnut Hill Reservoir. Just before Cleveland Circle (@21.5 miles), look to the left. As we drove by Bill pointed to a “cut and nails” shop which was an important landmark: the location of the first Bill Rodgers Running Center (now located in Faneuil Hall, in the historic district of Boston).
As you turn left onto Beacon Street there is a slight uphill for several hundred yards—most of it very gradual. “On Beacon Street, you feel you're in 'real Boston'. This pulls you to the finish line”. Bill likes the fact that you only see about 300 yards ahead, at any point. “From here to the finish, the crowds are great”. Right around the 23 mile mark, you will start another gradual downhill for about a mile.
Miles 23 and 24. As you run through the neighborhoods along Beacon Street there will be glimpses of the Boston skyline. Around mile 24 the course becomes flat and you may see the Citgo sign, which is still a mile away. “Each landmark tells you that you're getting closer.”
Mile 25. As you go by the Citgo sign you have about a mile to go. Crossing over I-90, you'll see the Prudential Center in the distance which is very close to the finish. At about 25.8 you'll pass the Eliot Lounge turning right onto Hereford St, quickly passing 26 miles and then turning left onto Boylston Street. The finish structure welcomes you home, pulling you to Copley Square. The crowds are amazing.
“I hope to see you there—I'll be cheering for you!”