It’s Sunday 17th April 2016, we’re on holiday and I’ve woken up on the East Coast. It’s Marathon Weekend. Tomorrow’s the 120th hosting of the Boston Marathon, one of the world’s most prestigious road races. With a prize of $150,000 for the first finishers, it’s no wonder this event draws some of the very best athletes and some mighty fine times.
I won’t be watching though. That’s because I’m not in New England, I’m in East Anglia. And I did my running this morning. While there is a certain appeal of travelling to Massachusetts, instead my family and I have made the slightly shorter journey across country, to Boston, Lincolnshire. It’s the school holidays and we’re visiting family in the town we still call home, even 17 years after moving to Lancashire.
And while the world’s fastest men and woman gather for a fierce battle on the other side of the Atlantic, I instead find myself taking part in the inaugural running event in the town which gave its name to its American counterpart.
Now it just so happens that Boston is a town in the Fenlands. Most of the surrounding villages and farms are built on reclaimed marshes, creating a landscape which is the very definition of flat. If you’ve never been, be assured, there’s not even a hint of a slope. I’m not even sure they have speed bumps.
Any route out here would be the polar opposite of Darwen Half Marathon. Which is probably best. My legs are long, but they come from Lincolnshire.
To coincide with the events of Boston Marathon Weekend in the USA, organisers here have planned a new marathon, half and relay half marathon event. I went for the half option, still only my third ever, following the very wet Preston Guild (back in 2012) and the very recent and very hilly Darwen Heritage. With terrain here as flat as a pancake, the challenge of this particular half marathon was always going to be maintaining a steady pace.
Starting in the town centre, a total of just over 300 runners began their events in small town Boston – 24 hours earlier than the slightly more famous American proceedings. As it turned out, ours was a largely rural affair. Following quiet local roads out of town, there were few distractions but plenty of support as we took in local villages of Fishtoft, Butterwick and Freiston. You can see for miles here; the sky is endless and on this occasion the sun shone all morning, creating almost perfect running conditions.
After separating from the marathon runners at the 6 mile mark, we turned towards the coast and headed back for home. And like the sailors who’ve used it as a beacon for hundreds of years, we were guided the whole way by The Stump, the largest church in Great Britain, with its magnificent tower dominating the horizon.
There were three and a half years and several injuries between my first and second half marathons. But then just two weeks between Darwen and Boston. I’m still trying to work on my pace over these longer distances, but my aim on this occasion was to finish somewhere between my two previous efforts of 1:32 and 1:44.
Rewind 30 years and I’m attending Boston Grammar School for Boys. Twice a year, we run around these very parts on cross-country. It’s not fun and it doesn’t instill a love of running in me or anyone I know. I’m near the back, always, with the other asthmatics. It’s punishing and humiliating. It turns me off exercise of any kind for the next twenty plus years.
But now it’s 2016. I’m not being forced to run. I love running. I’m a Red Rose Road Runner. And right now I’m home, proudly wearing the Rose on my vest from my northern home, on familiar roads, cheered on by my whole family as I approach the finish. I’m still asthmatic, but unlike those school cross-country days, I’m not at the back. In fact, I finish in 11th place, in 1hr 36. In the Boston (half) Marathon, no less.