HUGH CULVER

Why I ran the Boston Marathon

Updated to Life on June 16, 2023.

There are at least two reasons we do anything.

The most obvious is what we think we should do, like “Some expert on a podcast said I should eat more blueberries.”

Then there is the second, less obvious reason, like “I want to feel better about my health.”

Last week I ran the Boston Marathon. Don’t bother looking up my results—it’s not all that impressive. In fact, if there was a bell curve with the fastest men in my age group on the left and the slowest on the right, I was barely hanging on somewhere in the middle.

But, I did it. And it started one year ago with an idea.

It was my 64th birthday and I was wondering how to celebrate free bus passes and senior’s Thursday at the bulk food store. Coming home from a short run one day in March I had the thought “How cool it would be to run Boston on my 65th birthday?!”

If you’ve run a marathon you know it hurts. After my last marathon, 16 years ago, I remember having to avoid stairs for a week. And then there is the victory – crossing the finish line knowing I set the goal, did the work, overcame the resistance, and made it happen.

So, I started my research.

They just let you in

To qualify for Boston you need to complete a marathon race the year prior within your qualifying time. There is a cap on entries and every year, runners get turned away who weren’t fast enough, despite making their qualifying time.

The good news is that as you get older your qualifying time gets longer. I recently met a woman in her late ‘70s who has completed Boston 18 times, and confided that “after a certain age they just let you in.”

I found a race that promised a high success rate for Boston qualifiers, entered, got religious about my training, and qualified. I wrote about my training experience here

And then came the race.

Cattle drive

Picture John Duttons’ biggest cattle drive covering acres and acres and all the cows being corralled into a narrow chute stretching out 42 kilometers. That’s the Boston Marathon. In fact, at the start line, we are actually organized into ‘corrals’.

 

 

The morning starts with over 400 buses shuttling runners from the finish line at Boston Commons to the start line in the town of Hopkinton. From there the start is organized into four waves, each of 8,000 adrenalin-pumping runners all squeezing into a two-lane road, trying not to bump into each other.

Marathons I’ve run in the past were small, local events with 500 to 2,000 runners. It would be a mass start, fastest at the front and those of us in the middle jockeying for space. Within a kilometer or two you are on your own – spaced out – easily setting your own pace. At Boston, you run in a mob. 

Like a massive, rolling mosh pit, 32,000 runners pound their way down the well-carved 127-year-old route to the sea. And then there is the other mob – on the sidelines.

Boston Strong

Most runners are so fixated on the ground in front of them (and what they still need to cover) they ignore the cheering crowds who braved whatever the weather was that day to stand for hours alongside the course cheering on people they mostly don’t know. But, if you take a second to smile and give a wave back to them you are instantly rewarded with excited arm waving and cheers.

It’s a feel-good moment you can create whenever you most need it. In Beantown, they take it to another level.

Bostonians are a proud bunch and no more so than the City-wide “Boston Strong” call to arms adopted after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Boston Strong is on T-shirts, billboards, restaurant windows, and in billboard-size letters on the walls of historic Fenway Stadium. 

At the Boston Marathon, it’s a rallying call.

Smiling at race course bystanders rewards you with a smile in return. A wave gets a wave. But, shout “Boston Strong!” and the crowd lights up with a tsunami of screaming, arm waving, and wild shouting that never failed to put a smile on my face and a bit of spring back in my stride.

And for a moment I stopped thinking about my race time.

Positive split

In running races, a ‘negative split’ means you run the last half faster than the first. Anyone who has the control and fitness to pull off this trick has my respect. 

I, on the other hand, am a proud positive split runner.

All the adrenalin and screaming crowds in the world can’t compete with 42 kilometers of relentless leg pounding. It doesn’t matter how much I train, the chart plotting my running pace is a determinedly downward-sloping line.

It’s kind of like life.

Your ambitions and dreams eventually wake up to the realization you are slower at almost everything and getting slower still. Some things don’t happen at all.

That brings me to the second reason I ran the Boston Marathon.

I needed some Ikigai.

Some Ikigai

The people of Okinawa, practice Ikigai (your reason for being), a simple lifestyle that blends a traditional diet with manual labor, rest, and active social life.

But, you don’t need to move to Okinawa to enjoy Ikigai. You can start with a goal – a reason to get up in the morning.

That’s why I wanted Boston on my calendar. I wanted the feeling of purpose and challenge – the chance I might fail. Every day I had a reason for heading out the door for a run or taking a day off to rest. What I ate made a difference as did getting enough sleep and staying mentally motivated. 

Even if you are slower, more forgetful, less ambitious and your eyebrows grow faster than you remember, you still need some Ikigai.

What’s your Boston?

Maybe you need a little ‘Boston’ on your calendar—something to get excited about. It doesn’t have to be typical goals like, fitness, money, or relationships. It could be learning a new skill, reading a good book, or picking up the guitar again. 

I don’t think the activity matters as much as what the activity does for you. 

And if you want to run Boston, give me a call..

Here are three more posts on this topic:

Photo of runners by Miguel A Amutio on Unsplash