Friday, April 20, 2012

Boston Or Bust?

This past Monday (April 16, 2012) brought runners from around the world to the Mecca of Marathoning. It was Patriots Day in the New England states, but to athletes, that local holiday is better known as Marathon Monday. It was the 116th Running of the Boston Marathon.

Many runners set qualifying for Boston as a life-goal. It’s admirable and something that, once achieved, you have bragging rights in to posterity. In my current age division, I would have to run a sub-3:07 marathon to even have the right to apply for participation. Because of my goals and my approach to run “for the fun of it,” I laugh at the idea of that ever happening. Qualifying is an achievement that I don’t know that I will personally ever obtain … unless I keep my current marathon pace until I reach my 75th birthday.

With that being said, I have had the privilege of running the Boston Marathon twice as an official participant. Fortunately, my position of employment combined with respectable marathon finish times at other races allowed me access to take the road from Hopkinton to Copley Square in 2010 and 2011. Some would call it a “perk of the job.” I would agree with that statement, and still wear my blue and yellow finisher’s jacket with pride; however, that pride comes with an asterisk.

Honestly, I felt (and still feel at times) my place at the start line diminished by the “less traditional” method I took to get to Boston. I was a mere mortal in the midst of supermen and women as I toed the line at the master of Marathon Masters Race. Nevertheless, the runs in 2010 and 2011 are very special race experiences to me for many reasons. In 2010, my best friend was able to come and support me for the first time at a race, and it was where she caught the running bug (she’s since quit a pack-a-day habit, dropped countless lbs, just finished her 11th half-marathon, and has NYC as her first full on the horizon in November). I was also able to run in the wake of some of the most talented marathoners of our generation, and was present when  Ryan Hall ran the 2011 race in the fastest ever American marathon time (2:04:55) for a 4th place overall finish. Also, experiencing the screams of Wellesley College Girls, the drunken frat boys of Boston College, running past Fenway and the Citgo sign … all memories that I can’t believe I was able to take in. Given an opportunity, I can’t wait to take them in again one day.

One thing I have realized in my experience is that you don’t have to be an “elite” marathon runner to experience the same euphoria that comes with a Boston Marathon bib. Runners who “run to finish” or correctly state “there’s no such thing as losing in a race with yourself” can still obtain a runner’s high by participating in another race with even greater memorable moments. When planning your fall and winter race schedule, here’s a list of races in which I’ve participated, and which don’t have the strenuous qualifying standards of Boston:

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend – Runners and walkers of all skill levels can participate in 5k, half, and/or full marathon distances. The South Florida weather is almost always perfect the first weekend in January, the medals for each race are incredible, photo opportunities with characters throughout the race make the miles fly by, and the Goofy Challenge (run both the Half and Full Marathon in the same weekend) all make the weekend special for the whole family. As a consecutive three-time Goofy finisher, this race is a must-do every year.

Marine Corps Marathon – I have my marathon PR on this course, so I may be biased. The race takes a historic route through the Capital City and around many of our nation’s most notable monuments. In addition, every water stop is manned by enlisted servicemen and women from the Marines. Their cheers of encouragement make you forget the pain of 26.2 miles. If finishing at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington Cemetery isn’t enough, your medal is placed around your neck by a Marine who congratulates you and thanks you for your participation. It’s incredibly emotional and rewarding, and again touts a field of participants in every shape and size. Once more, registration is open to first-come first-served, and sells out in hours.

The San Francisco Marathon – Both half and full marathon options are available, and runners can choose which “half” of the race they want to run (the first 13.1 miles of the full course, or the latter half). The first half and full runners get to run out and back across the Golden Gate bridge on the only day during the year where the street is scheduled for closure. The second half and full runners get to explore Golden Gate State Park, follow in the path of the Grateful Dead, run by the World Champion Giant’s Stadium, and finish under the Bay Bridge.

Rock’n’Roll New Orleans – In my book, there’s nothing like a hometown race. Plus, seeing St. Charles Avenue, the French Quarter, the Lakefront, and City Park from a runner’s perspective doesn’t compare to the quick glimpses locals usually get from a car. Plus, a race where family and friends can come out to greet you along the course helps make the race that much more fun.

The Louisiana Marathon – Again, a hometown-ish race allows for running with friends. Plus, the first year experience was so superb for this “small town race,” I can’t wait to see what they bring out for 2013 to top it.

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon – Another one of the Marathon Masters races, this race brings out the elite of marathon running. Its open to first-come first-served participants, and everyone is welcome to participate regardless of skill level. Running along the magnificent mile and seeing every part of the Windy City makes this race unforgettable, causing the registration to sell out fast.

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