Boston Marathon 2018

(I didn’t run it.)

I went to cheer! I do feel a bit like our running group mascot, since I flew to NYC for my best running friend’s marathon, and now having spectated at Boston. Clearly, I’m a junkie.  I also believe no one should travel OUT OF TOWN for a marathon alone, no matter how independent, strong, wise and mature of an individual you are.  (I’m looking right at you, Stacy.)

Our running group had a couple participants this year, and I hooked up with a local friend whose sister would be running.  Her whole family was coming for the event, and they happily let me crash on the couch of their Airbnb to join in the fun.

Now, I’ve never in my wildest dreams thought I could run the Boston Marathon.  Me?  Slow me??  Previous 5:15 and 4:52-marathon me?  Nope.  Boston is for fast people.

Sure, Boston is definitely for the elite crowd.  For the way-faster-than-average-Joes in the 18-34 year-old-range.  BUT. Boston is also for slow people who have worked hard to get fast(er).  Boston is for people who appreciate the extra five or ten minutes they get when they age up (Happy Birthday!).  Boston is for the charity runners, the dreamers, the don’t-stop-until-you-make-it runners.  If you want to get there, you can.  After being there and seeing the runners, this is what I took home: the dream that I, too, can qualify for Boston, and after my 3:48 marathon this past fall, that dream may become a reality sooner than I would have imagined.

OK, back to Boston. I landed at approximately 7:45 am on Saturday morning and navigated myself from Logan Airport to The North End (a.k.a. Little Italy) via public transportation.  I credit 100% of my ‘independent traveler’ skills to Andrew, who has taught me well.  Thankfully, Boston isn’t crazy big and the subway system is relatively easy manage, but I figure if I can do it in a foreign country, I better be able to do it in my own.

First stop was Mike’s Pastry, on Andrew’s recommendation.  Apparently, the line for cannoli is out the door every night, but when I arrived at about 9 am, the block was pretty quiet.  A few 5K runners were trickling in for treats and burly men speaking Italian were busily loading delivery trucks with wide, shallow boxes of pastry.

I walked up to the counter and asked the girl what I should get.  As in, if I’m only getting ONE THING, what should that one thing be?  She quickly pointed to a cannoli with chocolate chips on either end.  Now, I didn’t even think I really liked cannoli.  I don’t even really like chocolate chips unless they’re a little melty.  In fact, a cannoli is exactly the LAST thing on a dessert menu I would order.

But, when in Rome Boston…

One bite in, and I knew I had found something special.  The shell was absolutely perfect–thick and dense yet crackly.  The filling was slightly sweet with a hint of that ricotta.  The chocolate chips were the perfect touch.  There were dozens of different filling/topping combinations, in addition to other pastries and gelato, but I’m glad to have tried the ‘original’ version.  I polished that off in short order and headed back outside to explore.

I back-tracked to the Boston Public Market and found an outdoor farmer’s market just waking up.  It reminded me of mornings in Europe, where flea/farmers’ markets abound.

Knowing I had some time to kill before meeting up with my friend that afternoon, I decided to pop into one of the visitor’s information offices to pick up a city map.  It detailed the ‘Freedom Trail,’ a easily walked tour of the city that includes the many historical highlights from the Tea Party era.  In addition to Benjamin Franklin (below), I saw the State House, Park Street Church (where my highschool friend’s husband is a paster–she is below as well!), the Granary Burying Ground (Mother Goose may be there!), the site of the Boston Massacre, Fanueil Hall (closed for renovations) and Paul Revere’s house, which is located in the North End.

Paul Revere’s House:

Boston Common is about halfway into the Freedom Trail, and it was nice to segue through the park and see everyone doing their thing: running, children playing, walking dogs, sitting and talking, etc.

After the park, I made my way to the finish line on Boylston Street–so exciting!  Set-up was underway the entire day, and it was fun to be able to check it out up close.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d be viewing the race from the Boston Public Library, which is the building on the left AFTER the finish line (in the photo below), literally just above the grandstand.  Connections, man.  And with the terrible weather that morning, we were very glad to be out of the elements!

While I was on Boylston Street, I stopped for lunch at The Parish Cafe, where I was able to charge my phone and enjoy a delicious sandwich and cold beer.  After even more walking (and maybe a quick stop into Athleta!), I met my friend at a local coffee shop before we took the green line out to Riverside and caught an Uber to our Airbnb.

My friend, Sara, and I had the entire day Sunday to explore the city again!  However, we quickly realized we had not packed warm enough clothes for the sudden change in temperature!  We couldn’t believe that the girls from Buffalo were so unprepared for the cold.  Who knew mid-April could be so wintry-feeling?  We headed back into the city in search of hats and gloves to get us through the day…along with every other marathon spectator; stores were selling out fast! Thankfully, Boston has an incredible shopping district and we finally, we hit pay dirt at The North Face and picked up their least expensive hats–twinsies!

Once I had a hat and gloves, I felt much better in the cold and wind, and Sara and I did some exploring on our own.  Because I’d already walked the entire city the day before, it made navigating a breeze and I felt like quite the pro.  We met up with my high school friend, Jessica, who has lived in Boston for the past few years.  Her husband is a pastor at the Park Street Church (mentioned before, on the Freedom Trail) and she has two little boys and also does photography and wedding planning on the side.  It was so fun to meet up with her!  I can’t believe high school was SEVENTEEN years ago.  (Please note the WINTER jacket she is wearing–it was THAT COLD.)

We grabbed lob-stah (ha!) bisque at Quincy Market, part of the Fanueil Hall Marketplace.  Unfortunately, Faneuil Hall itself was closed for renovations, but it was THIS was the place to be for lunch, as lines were long and seating was scarce.

After lunch, Sara and I jumped on the train to South Station and then caught an Uber (we did lots of Uber-ing this weekend–such a novelty for us Southtowners who rarely use the service despite its arrival in Buffalo less than a year ago) to Harpoon Brewery.  Thanks to our hats and gloves (and the promise of beer!), we survived a 30-minute wait outside for the next tour.

After the tour and a drink, Sara and I headed to the North End for our own pre-race spaghetti dinner.  Perhaps we’d done enough walking to justify pasta??  Jessica had given us recommendations and we ended up at Strega.  Thankfully, we arrived early enough to grab two seats at the bar before the crowd really picked up.  We even enjoyed glasses of red wine–hey!  WE weren’t running a marathon the next morning!

Marathon Monday dawned bright and early…and COLD.  The temperature was in the 30’s with 25 mph winds and 100% chance of rain.  Sara’s sister, Annie, donned as much rain gear as she could and headed out bright and early to the start in Hopkinton, while the rest of us enjoyed a slow morning watching race coverage as we packed our bags.

Mid-morning, the spectators rode the commuter rail into Back Bay (near the finish) and trudged through the rain to our viewing spot: the Boston Public Library!  The library is located AT the finish line and through some seven-degrees-of-separation connections, (Sara’s (other) sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s wife is the executive director or something) we scored the sweetest spot of all to take in the race: the second story balcony JUST ABOVE the finish line.

Security was tight, our names were on a list, IDs were required and I didn’t see more than a few more spectators in the library–we felt pretty special.

Here’s Des Linden, the first American woman in 33 years to win the Boston Marathon!  I think is it SO COOL that I got to see both Des in Boston AND Shalane Flanagan in NYC in November, the first American woman in 40 years to win that race.  Hashtag fangirl.

Check out our view of Des finishing!  No zooming-in necessary for this first pic:

After the elite men and women finished, we took a lunch break at the mall across the street before heading back into the library to watch Sara’s sister finish.  I knew of some other people running the race (friends-of-friends, another running group friend, Insta friends), and with today’s tracking technology, it’s easy to know where your runner is at all times. Annie got some major time on the jumbotron as she approached the finish, and I wish I’d snapped a picture of that!

Unfortunately, Sara and I weren’t able to connect with her after she finished, as we had to race off to the airport to catch our flights.  Of course, we arrived PLENTY early, waved goodbye as we went to our separate terminals and I found somewhere to have a bite to eat.  EVEN MORE UNFORTUNATELY, upon finishing dinner, my flight to Buffalo got cancelled!  (Insert angry/sad/panicking/want-to-crawl-into-the-fetal-position emoji here.) I called Andrew, devised a plan to re-route myself to the closest city with a direct flight (there was no way I was going to run the risk of flying to NYC and ending up stuck there!) and promptly ran smack-dab into my friend, Nikki, who had run the race herself and had just found out our flight was cancelled.  Thank you, God, for giving me a friendly face in this mess!  She re-routed herself (and her five-year-old daughter) to Pittsburgh, we used our phones to rent a car to drive home and proceeded to wait another hour or more, praying that flight wouldn’t get cancelled, too.  It didn’t, and we landed in Pittsburgh just before midnight and pulled into my driveway at 4 am.  Poor Nikki ran the marathon AND drove the entire way home!  What a trooper–I was so tired I was slurring my words on the drive home!  Probably a good thing I didn’t drive…

And thus ends an epic weekend trip to Boston for the marathon, a chance to get to know new friends better, a rare opportunity to catch up with an old friend and–last but certainly not least–the beginning of my own journey to qualify for Boston!