Boston Marathon April 2023

A fantastic report from Natalie's Boston Marathon experience

A few years ago, I wouldn’t even have known that Boston had a marathon. Through Instagram and my beloved North American running podcasts, however, I began to learn about the event and was inspired by the qualification goal. My signing up for the 2022 Manchester Marathon was mainly to get back to big participation events (and outside of Scotland!) after Covid, but at the back of my mind I thought maybe…just maybe…I could run a BQ. It was also a good year to capitalise on the fact I was going to turn 40, so an extra five minutes would be added to my qualifying time!

Despite battling a pretty nasty achilles/heel issue, I managed to squeeze under the 3.40 BQ, although there were no guarantees as cut-off times have squashed many a Boston dream. Unbelievably, for 2023, the BAA decided there would be no cut-off times so I had qualified! Stunned, after a few days I realised this was possibly my one and only shot so I was making plans to go to Boston 🙂.

After 6 months of low heart rate training (necessary, given the continuing battle with achilles tendinopathy…), I felt fit and ready to go. The main barrier was the mental one of leaving my two young children in Scotland, but nobody said this would be easy. 

I have been lucky to have visited Boston a number of times and know the city quite well. That said, Boston around the time of the marathon was a different place. It felt like the whole city…every hotel, every shop, every eatery, was behind the runners and there was a lovely level of interest and respect from everyone. The number of volunteers and people involved in the organisation of the event was staggering. And those volunteers are heroes 🙂 The downtown area was a running mecca and I really felt like I was in the presence of running greatness. Highlights for me were seeing up-close interviews with Eluid Kipchoge, Des Linden, Edna Kiplagat and Alexxi Pappas (who also walked by me whilst out for dinner with Bostonian pals in the North End – starstruck!).

The race itself is a point-to-point. The morning of the race, I headed to Boston Common and was completely flabbergasted at the number of yellow school buses lining up to take the runners out to the town of Hopkinton. Literally hundreds of buses as far as the eye could see – it was quite a sight! The bus journey was nerve wracking, but it was good to get a chat with experienced Boston marathoners and listen to their advice – which was almost always the same…start slow and don’t speed up until you’ve done the hills.

We arrived at Hopkinton High School. It was a very ordinary place and felt quite surreal to be there. The windows were covered in inspirational and good luck posters made by the students, which was so nice and quite emotional. It was really wet at this point, and not warm, so I was seriously regretting my decision to run in a vest and shorts. At this point, a few messages back and forth with the Maryhill Harriers back home was a major source of mental and emotional strength, so thanks a lot for that guys!! We walked about half a mile down a residential street to the start line in the centre of town, and I started to get a sense of what this meant to the locals. Almost everybody was out in their gardens, despite the weather, and one lady in particular was SO EXCITED for the runners “You got this, people!” “You are amazing!” and “This is your day!” being the most memorable shouts 🙂 And this was the level of support every inch of the 26.2 mile course. People in their front yards having parties and BBQs, music and dancing, witty signs, and supportive cheers the WHOLE WAY. It really was incredible. I did what I’d been told and just took it all in. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much in a race! 

I had been told you should feel like you’re just starting to run at 13 miles and, to be honest, that’s how I felt. Just after the halfway point though, I felt a little woozy, which spooked me a bit. I decided to take a 2nd caffeine gel, which I was reluctant to do in case I had stomach issues, but it sorted me out and all was fine. I mentally prepared myself for “The Hills” from 16-21 miles, but I think they were really exaggerated. They were nothing compared to Mosshead Road in Bearsden where I’d been looping in my training (!) and it was not 5 miles of uphill, which I was anticipating. Heartbreak Hill was definitely a climb, but not too long, and as soon as I got to the top, I put the foot down. There was a lot of downhill and I decided just to go as hard as I could for as long as I could. I was loving the running and I just focused entirely on the possibility that I might actually run a PB. I ran past my husband, John, at 1 mile to go and still felt strong. I turned the music off and decided just to take in the iconic last mile. I did indeed turn “right on Hereford” and “left on Boylston”, then just pushed as hard as I could to the finish line. I was absolutely over the moon with my time of 3.27.44!  A genuinely unexpected PB and the icing on the cake of my Boston experience. 

I am sure in years to come, I’ll look back on completing the Boston Marathon with a great deal of pride, but for now I’m looking forward to racing a little shorter, and a lot closer to home where I can get home to Findlay and Annie.  

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