Tuesday, April 7, 2015

RIGHT ON HEREFORD, LEFT ON BOYLSTON

"It all begins here."

So says the sign outside of Hopkinton, Massachusetts, the sleepy New England village that becomes the center of the running universe, every year, on the third Monday of April.

A parade of yellow school buses descend, like honeybees, on the village just after dawn on Patriot's Day, turning it into a city of runners, all of whom have a single purpose: to make the right on Hereford and the left on Boylston.

They are there to run the world's oldest, most storied marathon footrace: The Boston Marathon.

Getting there isn't easy. One must qualify to run Boston. And when the gun sounds, the undulating nature of the course creates cramped quads, blisters and chafing, but the journey itself is worth it.

The start in Hopkinton, is incredible. It's a two-lane street, and its your first downhill portion of the course. A "sea of humanity," is not an exaggeration. A moving centipede of runners snakes through the quaint New England countryside. Families accept the fact that runners veer off the narrow road and trample their lawns over the first, fast downhill miles. Unlike the prototypical codger who warns, "Get off the lawn," to the neighborhood youth, residents greet runners with water, high-fives, and orange slices.

Fraternity houses, in full-party mode, feature speakers the size of compact cars, which blast ear-splitting choruses of Born to Run," Chariots of Fire," and, of course, the Rocky theme.

Crowds swell at Ashland clock tower at mile four, and at the Framingham train station around mile six.

At mile ten, spectators jam the town of Natick.

Then there's the prelude to one of the most electrifying moments a marathon runner could possibly experience.

Past mile twelve, one can faintly detect a higher pitch to the crowd noise. It comes from up ahead.

Suddenly, it happens.

Reminiscent of the grainy, black and white videos of the early Beatles American concerts, the women of Wellesley College, located exactly at the half-way point of the race, insanely cheer, scream and shout to runners as they pass. The course narrows, and it becomes truly a Boston "goose bump" moment. Women runners receive ear-splitting receptions, and more than one male runner hugs or kisses a coed or two.

The Wellesley euphoria remains for less than three miles before runners begin climbing the infamous Newton Hills, a series of four formidable inclines that challenge one's strength and stamina, between miles sixteen and twenty one.

The fourth and final Newton Hill is Heartbreak Hill. It rises eighty-eight feet between miles twenty and twenty one. Crowds expand on Heartbreak Hill. Most of them are there to encourage the runners; while some may possess a sadistic streak.

Boston's best is yet to come.

A downhill past Boston College, where at the 2013 race I yelled, "Go Jesuits" to a crowd of students, who responded with an enthusiastic roar.

The long stretch of Commonwealth Avenue, the "T," to your left; elegant brownstones to your right, crowds growing along the way.

In the distance, the giant Citgo sign looms. Located within the Green Monster of Fenway Park. When it is reached, there is one mile to go. Crowds leave the Red Sox game, which began at 11:00 a.m., and remain on the street to cheer for the runners.

Make the right on Hereford, and for a few seconds you are in the "Green Room." You know, the quiet area where celebrities wait before walking onto the stage.

The left on Boylston propels you smack on the 50-yard line of the world's largest stadium. To the crowd, you and your fellow runners are rock stars. You are just as as revered and respected as the winner of the race.The crowd noise is deafening.

The Boston Marathon is an incredible journey that begins on frigid winter mornings, on lonely 20-mile runs, and throughout the challenging race itself.

It concludes with a simple exhilarating finish.

A right on Hereford and a left on Boylston.

Check out the chapter, 'Boston,' in my first book, Running Shorts. www.muldowneyrunning.com