Race Report: 8 Observations about the 2019 Boston Marathon

by Jeff Burtka

Just turned right on Hereford!

Every running blogger who ran the 2019 Boston Marathon is going to post a review of the race. Some will give a mile-by-mile account. Some will give emotional and personal accounts of triumph or defeat.

Hope my account is a little different from the rest. If it's not too different, I hope it's at least entertaining. So here are my observations about the 2019 Boston Marathon:

1. The race is a logistical masterpiece and nightmare.

The gear drop buses near the finish. Photo courtesy of Janet Boltz.

I wish it could be easier on the runners to get to the start. The gear drop near the finish is a pretty far walk from the buses to the start in Hopkinton; it would be nicer if they were closer together. Once you get to Hopkinton, they could have a better waiting area for runners with more places to sit besides muddy fields, and more port-a-johns. Also, the walk to the start from the athletes village is far. Someone said it was a mile. I'm not sure if that's true, but it felt like it. Between waiting for the port-a-johns and walking to the start, I only had a few minutes of actual sitting and resting before the race.

Athletes village. Photo courtesy of Janet Boltz.

But, overall, it's an amazing accomplishment by mostly volunteers to get 30,000 runners to the start, and I understand that some things cannot be improved upon due to financial and logistical constraints. Volunteers were everywhere from the start to the finish and were incredibly helpful and positive, especially after the finish when I needed help finding my way around. Some volunteers even traveled thousands of miles to help out. I sat near two volunteers from Wisconsin on my flight back to Detroit, and I am sure others traveled farther to contribute.

The long walk to the start. Photo courtesy of Janet Boltz.

2. The start was thrilling.

I was excited and felt good at the start. I wore a clown wig for the first mile (a friend threw in some extra money for my ChadTough Foundation fundraiser on the condition that I wore the wig). I might have scared the shit out of other runners who hate clowns as much as I do (I saw the original It and Poltergeist when I was way too young). It was funny to be what I fear, though. I heard a lot of "There's a clown" and "Go clown!" (Oddly, I heard the same things and worse after I took the clown wig off: "Get off the course, you f'ing clown!" and "No clowns allowed.") When I took the clown wig off, I yelled, "Who wants a clown wig!?," and threw it into the crowd. Unfortunately, it nailed some lady in the face who wasn't paying attention. Oh well, if you're not on a constant lookout for clowns, then you get what you get (She was OK, unless she too fears clowns and is damaged emotionally by that incident. Sorry, lady).

Runners ready to go at the start. Photo courtesy of Janet Boltz.

3. THIS COURSE IS A BEAST.

It felt like it was rolling hills the whole way despite the total overall drop in elevation. It seemed like every course preview I watched and read minimized how many uphills there are throughout the race. Most of the uphills are not big, but it was the constant up and down that threw me off. This was the toughest race I've run by far.

I found somewhere to sit after the race until my cheering section found me.

4. I wish it were rainy and cooler.

I felt great the last two months of training and was crushing most of my workouts. At about 3 to 5 miles in, I was already feeling off even though I was holding back more than I normally do. Then I think the course and sun took their toll. It was humid for April, and my Michigan-trained body suffered (this might also be why I felt off from the beginning). But I managed to keep moving and never stopped to walk.  The marathon conquered me this time, and I missed my goal of 3:08 by almost 20 minutes (official time 3:27:16), despite having a really good last two months of training.

5. It was an honor to run the Boston Marathon.

Even though it wasn't my day timewise, it was still a great experience. It was all worth it when I turned right on Hereford and saw my family cheering for me and when I turned left on Boylston and crossed the finish line. It was an honor to run down those streets while thinking of the great athletes who ran the same route over the years, and it was an honor to run for the ChadTough Foundation. As I neared the finish, I thought of the marathon bombing victims and felt incredibly privileged to run the Boston Marathon, as I'm sure most of my fellow runners feel, from the champions to the last person to cross the line.

6. Meeting and listening to pioneers of running was inspiring.

Running legends

The highlight of the marathon weekend, besides finishing, was listening to and meeting five pioneers of running at the Expo. The panel, moderated by Adrianne Haslet, included Dr. Julia Chase-Brand (first woman to run a road race), Bobbi Gibb (first woman to run the Boston Marathon), Cheryl Treworgy (first woman to break 2:50), and Patti Catalano Dillon (first woman to break 2:30). And Nina Kuscsik (1st official winner of the Boston Marathon and two-time winner of the NYC Marathon) stopped by as well. I am a giant compared to her in height, but she, and all these women, are the true giants for their contributions to running.

Me and Nina Kuscsik

7. I'll be back.

I did not qualify for 2020, and I am not planning on running another marathon before the qualifying deadline. I also love to run new races and see new cities, so if I qualify again in later years, I may or may not run it again. But I really want to come back to watch and cheer my fellow runners. My family could not stop going on about how amazing the experience was. I want to be able to cheer on runners and enjoy the entire weekend without worrying about having tired legs and ruining my performance.

The marathon is fun for the whole family.

8. The Boston Marathon is more than a road race. 

It's a triumph of the human spirit. As the oldest marathon in the world, Boston inspires athletes to push themselves beyond their limits to be part of its history. Many runners choose to run Boston to honor an important cause or people they've lost, and some literally crawl over the finish line to finish what they started.

People come from all over the world to run and watch the race. I sat next to a runner from Luxembourg and talked to him the whole bus ride to Hopkinton (I know so much more about Luxembourg now!), and I was running near a group of Poles for most of the race, as well as runners from several other countries. People are kind to strangers and care for each other all weekend. Because it was an unseasonably humid day, I saw a lot of runners sitting down or sprawled out on the side of the road, but every one of them had three or more people helping them, whether it was spectators, volunteers, fellow runners, or first responders.

But it's the spectators who make this race truly special. Fans line the streets from Hopkinton to Boylston spreading positive joy to runners and each other . . . something we could use a lot more of in this world. Thank you to everyone who cheered us on, especially the residents of Massachusetts. This is YOUR Race! You are Boston Strong!

Photo at the finish line with my medal. I DID IT! Thank you, Boston!

Comments