The oldest marathon in the world and generally regarded as the most prestigious, the 121st Boston Marathon was held on Patriots Day, Monday, April 17, 2017. A total of 30,000 marathoners ran ‘The Boston’ this year, of which nearly half were women!
In 1967, Kathrine Switzer registered and ran the Boston Marathon under the name K. A. Switzer to hide her femininity. About a mile into the race, the race director noticed her and tried to rip off her bib number to throw her out of the race because, until that time, a marathon was for men only.
Switzer not only finished that race, but also ran in this year’s Boston Marathon, 50 years later! Waynedale resident and Editor of The Waynedale News, Cynthia Cornwell, also earned her way in, and ran in this most prestigious marathon. Coincidentally, in the same group (corral & wave) as Switzer, who is now 70 years of age! “This was a race of celebration, not only for Kathrine Switzer, but for me as well.” Cynthia continues, “Women have come a long way and I feel honored that she set the pace for me as a female runner to participate in such a highly regarded event!”
Cynthia’s path to Boston began in Columbus, Ohio at the Nationwide Columbus Marathon on October 16, 2015. This is where she qualified in her age group for the 2017 Boston Marathon with a finishing time of 4 hours: 22 minutes: 46 seconds.
After a runner qualifies, they must submit their qualifying time to the Boston Athletic Association. However, just because a runner qualifies does not mean they get to run The Boston Marathon. This is due to field size limitations, a cutoff time (a time better than the minimum qualifying standard for age and gender) that had been established.
Last December Cynthia began her vigorous training. “It’s like every runner’s dream; to run The Boston Marathon!” she commented.
Training for this marathon is different than a typical marathon. Following the demand of the Boston course, runners need to incorporate running hills; up, as well as, down. So once a week Cynthia incorporated hill training; miles of hills. The 26.2 miles along the Boston course have a net elevation drop of 459 feet, with the first half predominantly downhill.
At the Boston starting line, on a bright and sunny morning, marathoners from all over the world had their shoes laced and their bib numbers pinned to their shirts as they gathered to race 26.2 miles, from Hopkinton, Massachusetts to downtown Boston.
An 8:50am start for the mobility impaired began the race, followed by the professional wheelchair division, at 9:30am were the elite women and at 10am the elite men. The qualifiers followed in step according to their corrals/waves by qualifying times with the last wave leaving the start line at 11:15am.
It was a beautiful day for spectators, with temperatures reaching into the mid-70s, but generally too hot for marathon runners. Running conditions were tough, despite the tailwind, the direct sun made the challenging Boston Marathon course a bit uncomfortable-almost dangerous.
“Here in Boston, I knew I wasn’t competing to win, or get a PR (personal record). I was here to celebrate. I thought, God had given me another day to run. I’m going to take it as it comes, and enjoy every step!” Cynthia continues, “Running smart is key at Boston! If you start out too fast, you will not be able to finish strong in the end…if you finish, period.”
The Boston Marathon course is revered-and-feared with a point-to-point route that passes through 8 cities and towns. Ashland is the first town at the 5K (3.1 miles) point of the downhill course, followed by a flat stretch in a mill town called Natick Center 10K (6.2 miles) where the crowd was 2, 3, 4 spectators deep.
“So here I am, not quite halfway through the marathon, checking my Garmin watch, making sure I don’t go over my pace and burn out before I can finish,” said Cynthia.
At 12 miles into the race, the Scream Tunnel happens. This is Wellesley College, an all-girls college. A loud and crazy spot! The students really get into it with cheers, kisses and funny signs. “For the runners, it is the start of an uphill climb, a very steep uphill climb. But, with the support of the girls’ traditional loud cheering, one’s mind is somewhat distracted,” mentions Cornwell.
The second half of the course is regarded as a ‘totally different race’ to runners. It is now time for marathoners to get serious and to focus on strategy. At 25K (15.5 miles) runners encounter an extremely steep downhill. “This is a spot where patience is a virtue, or you will blow out your quads and, will not be able to finish the race,” reminisces Cornwell.
According to the elite runners, mile 18 is where the real race begins. And, for a runner, the terrain at this point of the race is deceptive because of where it is located on the course.
The city of Newton starts the uphill portion of the race. Around the 3rd hill, and 20 miles into the race, runners see the prestigious Boston College. Then the famous hill that all of the followers of The Boston Marathon have heard of; Heartbreak Hill. This is the last of four hills that are found in the town of Newton, which fall between the 16 and 21-mile marks on the course, making it the most challenging of any marathon.
Sighting another icon on the course, the Citgo Sign, means that there are just a few more miles remaining in this marathon. Runners then began following the blue line marked on the road. Spectators were at least 15 deep, at this point. Talk about crowd support! The people in Boston don’t go home, they stay and cheer until that very last runner passes by.
“What lasts longer than a marathon are the great race memories! The memories of people sitting in high-rise bleachers on both sides of the finish area; announcers and media everywhere! It carried me all the way to the large blue and yellow banner and before I knew it I had crossed yet another finish line. THE Boston Marathon finish line! Surprising myself and pushing my limits, I didn’t set a personal record, but I did find that running is an amazing gift of celebration,” she reminisced after finishing the race.