After being postponed, cancelled and made virtual in 2020 the Boston Marathon was once again scheduled for October of 2021. Having booked and canceled hotel rooms at least twice I have to confess I was a bit skeptical, but I signed up and booked a fully refundable hotel room anyway. Over the summer we trained but we were never really sure we were going to race. The land boarder between Canada and the United States remained closed, everyone else started buying plane tickets but we held off. In August, when it looked like the race was still on but the land boarder would not open my sister Susan and I finally gave in and bought plane tickets. The last time I flew to Boston my luggage never made it and I vowed never to do it again.
September turned into October, and we started to believe we were actually going to Boston to run a marathon. First, we had to figure out how to get into the United States and then, how to get back into Canada. It sounds easy but the rules are sort of fluid. What was true yesterday may not be true tomorrow, and none of this will be true on November 8th when the rules all change again.
From Canada you can fly to the United States but you can not drive. From the United States you can drive or fly to Canada but driving home is a bit of an issue if you fly there! To get into the United States you need a Negative Rapid Antigen COVD-19 test which is less than 72 hours old. To get into Canada you need to be fully vaccinated or quarantine for 14 days and you need a Negative PCR COVID-19 test which is less than 72 hours old. In order to actually run the Boston Marathon, you need to be fully vaccinated or get a negative Rapid Antigen test on site. Confused yet? We were. But we figured it out.
Our Boston Marathon experience began on Thursday with a trip to our local Shoppers Drug Mart for a COVID test. This one was pretty simple. Booked in advance with results in 20 minutes and it only cost $40. The results are good for 72 hours so I felt pretty good about my Friday flight to Boston. Even though I am fully vaccinated and have no symptoms I have to confess I was a bit concerned about the result but it was negative so I was good to go.
We flew on Air Canada and because you can only fly in and out of Canada from Toronto, Montreal, Calgary or Vancouver we went via Montreal. We received an email saying we had to be at the airport 3 hours in advance which seamed a bit extreme. But we were able to check in online and provide proof of the negative COVID test online so we went 2 hours early and hoped for the best. The airport was pretty quiet. The automated bag check would not work for us so we went to a real person. Turns out you have to go to a real person if you are going to the US but the machine does not tell you that? Anyway, we showed our COVID test results again, checked our bags and breezed right though security. We now had 90 minutes left to wait for our flight. Lucky for me I was traveling with my kid sister Susan Ibach who is a great travel companion and also has status so we went to the Air Canada lounge and toasted our successful trip through the airport.
The flight to Montreal was uneventful. Masks are required in the airport and on the plane. Montreal airport was a little busier. I wish I had started my Garmin because I swear, we walked at least 5 Km from the plane to customs, to the gate! US customs was very busy and we only had 90 minutes between flights. NEXUS saved the day, best $50 I ever spent. I don’t know how but with the new machines in Montreal it takes your picture and then gives you a receipt with you name, flight number and passport number. You don’t even put your NEXUS in the machine? A bit creepy but we got to pass everyone in line and the only question they asked at customs was why I was going to the US. When I said I was running a marathon he looked at me like I was crazy and waved me through. It was so fast we had time for another toast in the Air Canada Lounge.
The flight to Boston was also uneventful. The one nice thing about flying to Boston is that with each flight you get to see more Boston Marathon runners. Runners who have done Boston before wear the jacket. Susan and I have both run before, so we were properly attired. Many people travel to Boston alone to run the race and because it was more complex this year there were even more runners alone. Common ground leads to conversation and we were able to meet some really great people.
We meet a woman at the airport from India who was running her first Boston Marathon. She qualified pre-COVID and when registration opened, she was in a hospital in New Deli with COVID-19. She could not walk 10 steps but she told her husband she was registering for Boston. He said she was crazy but she told him to bring her a credit card! You can’t enter the United States from India so she flew to Vancouver, quarantined for 2 weeks and them flew to the US. I found her in the results, Namrata Joshipura she finished in 3:56:26
The next morning, at our hotel, another runner came by to say hello his name was Richard Decample. He has run a marathon in all 50 states 7 times and he had triple bypass surgery. His cardiologist told him he had to stop running marathons. He has run 18 since and each time he sends his cardiologist a note telling him he ran another one. He finished 6 minutes before the bomb went off in 2013 and could feel the blast concussions. I believe this was marathon 419 for him. He finished in 4:54:19 placing 14th in the men’s 75-79 division.
After our morning inspiration we headed to the expo. This year you were required to start by going to the medical tent where you have to provide proof of vaccination or take a COVID test. You had to book a time in advance but they said they would not hold you to it. We were pleasantly surprised to arrive and find no line. We walked in showed our papers and were given a wrist band which we had to wear for the rest of the weekend ( I still have mine on).
There was also no line for the testing. Most runners looked to be going to vaccination verification but there were a few in the testing tent. There was also a guy outside the tent with a sign saying 968 will not comply BAA keep you bib! I am sure the BAA was not overly upset that he did not run!
The bib pick-up was also speedy. No lines and we did have to show the wrist band. The usual Adidas booth was there with everything Boston Marathon but other than a few sponsor booths there was no expo.
It was very quiet and it was a bit of a surprise for many of us. I did not need anything, but Susan wanted shoes. Downtown Boston business, not unlike many other big cities have suffered with COVID-19. In pervious years there were three sports stores within walking distance of the expo. The only one left is Marathon Sports at the finish line and the line to get in there went down the street.
There was a “Fan Zone” set-up by the finish line with games for kids and some interesting displays about the history of the race. They also had entertainment and speakers. An outdoor replacement for the expo which was well done and felt safe. Masks were also recommended there even though we were outside.
On Sunday we went to get COVID test number two. This one was a little more complex. It was a PCR test required to get back into Canada. These tests take 24-48 hours for results and the test has to be less than 72 hours old when you board a flight to Canada. We booked our tests and paid for them in advance from Canada at Sameday Health who promised a 24-hour turn around. I have heard of cheaper places but the airport is more expensive and not being allowed on the plane home would cost a whole lot more. The test was fast and painless. We spent the rest of Sunday puttering around Boston. Flying and visiting a big city felt really odd for the first 24 hours but we got used to it. Boston requires masks indoors and on public transit and most people were following the rules. We felt safe.
Monday was race day. This year there were 20,000 bibs which is 10,000 less than usual. A few weeks before the race anyone who was from outside the US was given the option of switching to the virtual event. They also released some additional bibs to American runners who did not quite make the 7 minute 49 second cut off. The resulting field was faster and more US based than usual. The waves were reduced to 750 from 1000 and the whole race was done as one long rolling start.
We boarded buses in Boston Common based on bib number. Each “wave” had a bus time. Susan and I were the same colour but not the same wave so we figured we could probably get on a bus together because they would only check the bib colour.
While waiting to go to the busses we met another remarkable runner. Louis Massyn from South Africa. We has run the Comrades Marathon 47 consecutive times and is the joint holder of the record for consecutive Comrades races. He has permanent bib number 403. You can not go from South Africa to the United Sates so his flight to the race included a two week stop over and quarantine in Namibia. His time was 4:40:26
As always, the bus to the start felt like it took forever. I still don’t really understand how it can take an hour to drive what should be 26.2 miles. This year we got off the busses and started walking to the start. No sitting in a field for hours in Hopkinton. It was straight to the port-a-potties and then we walked to line and started running. One very long continuous rolling start. I believe it took almost two hours for everyone to cross.
It did feel a bit weird but for the first time ever Susan and I were able to cross the start line together and once we got out onto the course it was much less crowded that it usually is. The course has not changed and although the crowds were a little lighter than usually there were still lots of spectators along the course. The biker bar was hopping, Santa was out cheering, Westley Collage was as load as ever but there was no kissing and there were kids with freezies on Heartbreak Hill. For some reason the guy singing Elvis tunes from the back of his pick-up teared me up this year.
The water stops were plentiful as always and there were lines of volunteers handing out water and Gatorade as they always do.
I crossed the finish line 3:37:12 after I crossed the start line. Not my fastest time but I am 18 years older than I was the first time I did this. Crossing the finish line in Boston is always an emotional moment but this year was a little more so. A bit like 2014 the first year after the bombing.
The finish area was as it always is a long shuffle picking up medals, heat blankets, snacks and Gatorade ( the very last thing I want after 26 miles of Gatorade is more Gatorade!). it was less crowded than usual due to the rolling start, we were given masks and our medals were handed to us not put around our necks but everything else was oddly normal. 15, 379 runners finished the race.
We shuffled back to our hotel to begin phase three of our adventure, getting home again. Our COVID-19 test results had come back and were negative. We downloaded the ArriveCan app and filled it all out. For reasons unexplained you have to upload proof of both vaccinations but not your actual COVID test result. Don’t leave the app to the last minute it’s a fairly involved process! Flying home we had to show our ArriveCan code and proof of a negative COVID test at check in. After that we were not asked to show anything but we do have NEXUS cards so I am not sure if this is always true. We flew back via Toronto and everyone on the plane was exchanging stories about long lines in Toronto. We assumed we would miss our connection. But once again we flew through in minutes with our NEXUS cards.
The short version:
Running the Boston Marathon this year was a little different, but it still felt like we were running the Boston Marathon
The BAA did an outstanding job adapting the race to make it happen
It’s still 26.2 miles and it’s still a tough hilly course!
I think the 2022 Boston Marathon will happen April 18th. I suspect many of the measures that were in place this year will remain at least for next year.
It will be interesting to see if they ever go back to us sitting around the runner’s village in Hopkinton. After 2013 they never went back to allowing baggage drop off in Hopkinton and the current system of dropping it off at the finish is certainly no safer.
Although it felt odd at first, going to Boston and running the marathon gave me hope that eventually our lives will go back to normal. It may be a slightly different normal but that’s Okay.
I have every intention of going back to run in 2022!