If you run marathons, you want to run Boston. You want to tell your friends that you saw the CITGO sign, turned right on Hereford and then left on Boylston. You want to cross the painted finish line that lives between Exeter and Dartmouth all year, raise your arms to the sky and achieve the ultimate runner’s high.
If you are about to run your first Boston Marathon, you’ve probably got the BAA acceptance letter on your refrigerator and have looked at the weather forecast, on average, 113 times per day. You’re giddy. You’ve made it. You are about to check off one of the biggest bucket list items there is for a runner. Congratulations. Go get that unicorn.
If you haven’t run Boston, and especially if you think you never will, you may be feeling the opposite way. Your refrigerator door has magnetic letters on it and although they don’t spell anything in particular, all you can see is “BQ” and “No.” You’re happy for your friends who are running Boston, but this is a tough time. It’s the ultimate FOMO.
The Boston Marathon creates an invisible divide among runners. You’ve run Boston. I haven’t. I qualified. You didn’t. This division is not healthy, and in my opinion it’s completely unnecessary. Yes, the Boston Marathon comes with history and prestige, but it doesn’t have to be your only quest – any more than Paris has to be the one city in the world you must visit. Look around. In 2016 alone, there were 1,100 marathons, and that’s just in the U.S. You’ve never had so many choices.
I ran my first marathon back in 2000 with my oldest brother, John. I’d like to say I ran it for the challenge, but the truth is that I just wanted to bond with John. He’d been my role model, and I saw training and actually running the race together as an opportunity to connect. It worked.
Shortly after finishing, we set a goal which, thus far, is the best I’ve ever set as a runner. We agreed that over the course of our lives, we would run one marathon in every state together.
Have you ever run Grandma’s Marathon? For one day a year, Duluth, Minnesota, turns into Mardi Gras for runners. Duluthians, they party. The whole city comes out in force.
Have you ever experienced perfect solitude during a race? At the Mt. Rushmore Marathon in South Dakota, the only person I saw for about 5 miles was Honest Abe on the Mountain. Racing with nobody in sight felt sublime.
Ever been to the after party at The St. Jude’s Memphis Marathon? John and I celebrated by joining the annual Santa Claus Bar Crawl downtown still wearing our race medals. It was an experience neither of us will ever forget.
How about the New York City Marathon? That should be on every runner’s bucket list. New York traffic stops for you. One million spectators cheer you on. It’s nothing short of spectacular.
Don’t get me wrong, training and qualifying for Boston is a one-of-a-kind experience. The standards are high – just being accepted is a milestone unto itself. But every marathon is an experience, and you can have an exceptional one just about anywhere.
Recently, John and I finished the Huntsville Rocket City Marathon in Alabama where we ran under a spaceship. (Like, a real rocket craft that had actually been in outer space.) At that very moment a photographer snapped my photo, which I then received from the race. For free. Sometimes it’s the smaller details that make the race, like free keepsake photos.
Now, John and I are getting ready for our 25th state (Michigan) this coming Memorial Day. And I’m giddy. Like, Boston Marathon giddy. We are truly excited, because we both know that like each of the others, this marathon will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Are we giddier now than when we were lining up Boston? Perhaps. Was Boston our most memorable marathon? Nope. Our most unforgettable marathon was at the Rock ‘N’ Roll Raleigh two years ago when for his 40th birthday, a new friend or family member surprised John at the start of every mile. We called it John’s “marathon of life.” How you experience a marathon has a lot to do with how live your life.
Editor’s note: If you have a few minutes, check out the video from WRAL. It’s normal to let out a couple tears.
Because of its reputation, Boston demands that you go all in. And you should. But, again, consider going all in for any marathon you run, anywhere around the globe. Each is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Every single marathon presents an opportunity to discover more about yourself, both as a runner and as a person. Don’t let the dream of running one race spoil the reality of running many others. If Boston isn’t in the cards for you, no worries. You are a marathoner no matter where you run.
Chris is a friend of the site and will be contributing occasionally. When he’s not out there shouting words of encouragement on Heartbreak Hill or waking up early for November Project workouts, he’s Westin Hotel’s National Run Concierge. He’s run marathons in 25 states and has 25 more to go. His writing has also appeared on the Huffington Post. You can follow him on Twitter @RunWestin.