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Over the last few years, I’ve been writing about my adventures with Sports Tours International as I worked towards completing the six major marathons. In this, the last of my write ups, I summarise all the events and provide a fuller report of the final major: the oldest marathon, Boston.
Why run the Majors?
After completing the seven marathons on seven continents challenge, I felt I needed a new goal. There are so many marathons to choose from that aiming to do the six world majors with Sports Tours International seemed a structured approach, as well as an opportunity to take part in some of the most iconic races on earth, and as see some amazing cities on the way.
I ran my first marathon with Sports Tours International in New York in 2010, and despite vomiting and a fairly high degree of pain at mile 23, I felt a pretty good sense of achievement at the end of it. At that time, I thought I would only ever run one marathon. I thought the story would end there. However, it was actually only the beginning of the story.
New York November 2010
I picked New York for a number of reasons. Firstly, a friend of mine had run it the year before and bet me I couldn’t do it quicker! Secondly, it is one of the most famous running events on earth so I wanted to experience it for myself.
It was a great race, the crowd support was amazing. Organisation was flawless and the aid stations were amongst the best and most regular! The course is a journey through the cultural twists of New York, with breathtaking views over the bridges and a beautiful finish in Central Park.
London April 2012
Things didn’t quite go as scheduled! Ten days before London, I strained my right thigh and it hurt to walk. This was not a great position to be in. Looking back, getting through those ten days was pretty tough. It felt like taper and injury psychosis combined. All I could do was rest, foam roll and ice. Ten days felt like a decade but luck must have been with me as I made it round London with a grimace more than a smile!
London marathon is an incredible event. As with New York, the crowds are wonderful and the charity aspect is virtually unparalleled. The sights are world famous from the the start at the glorious Greenwich Park through the streets via Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, Big Ben to the spectacular finish running up the Mall past Buckingham Palace.
Chicago – October 2015
Another wonderful experience with huge crowd support! Beginning downtown by Columbus Drive and Monroe Street at Grants Park, it was quite an experience to travel en masse with 40,000 other runners past the beautiful Millennium Park, along State Street and the iconic Chicago Theatre and then off through the city streets beyond.
As is common with all the Majors, we took in plenty of sights and sounds on the way round! The highlights included the breathtaking Lincoln Park, the world famous Wrigley Park, home of Major League’s Baseball Chicago Cubs, the Willis Tower, the Italian and Chinese districts and onto the Michigan Avenue which led us up to the finish.
Tokyo Marathon – February 2016
Tokyo is a city of conflicting images; wherever you look you catch a glimpse of the past, the present and the future; the same was also true of the marathon. In recent years, there has been a huge focus on distance running in Japan. The Tokyo Marathon Foundation had clearly put a huge amount of energy and vision into the marathon. The new logo portrayed images of the runners, volunteers and cheering crowds along the course, emphasising the huge human commitment to running. Despite an ankle blowing up, I think this event is the top of the leader board to date!
The marathon takes in some incredible sights: the Metropolitan Government building, the Imperial Palace, Tokyo Tower, the Ginza, and Asakusa before finishing at the Tokyo Big Sight in Odaiba. The crowds were spectacular, and create a terrific atmosphere. The Japanese put on an event that is world class yet remains relaxed, unpretentious and a real sense of humour.
Berlin Marathon – September 2016
Over the fast and flat 26.2 mile route between the start and finish near the world famous Brandenburg Gates, there are a some wonderful sights from the Berlin Cathedral to the State Opera House. For me, the highlight was running through the Brandenburg Gates towards the finish. I think that has been the most spectacular and memorable finish I’ve ever experienced.
Berlin marathon is without doubt a race worth doing. It perhaps lack the charity element of London, and the sense of humour of Tokyo but it also more relaxed than the US Majors in my view. There is something very uplifting about running past so many defining buildings in our world’s history. This is a unique and incredible event.
Boston Marathon – April 2017
The saying that” no marathon preparation ever goes to plan” was no truer than for my Boston marathon training. After torn muscles before London, cuboid syndrome before Tokyo, bronchitis before Berlin and anaemia before London and New York, I was wondering if it would be sixth time lucky. Sadly not! Seven weeks before Boston, I started to suffer from hip bursitis. Two options faced me: full rest and cortisone jabs but recover in time; or carry on training, be injured on marathon day and be unable to take part. Neither option was ideal but I picked the first one and my unfit body and I proceeded on our way.
I’m so used to plans being kiboshed that I found it relatively easy to move my Boston expectations. A PB was never on the cards and all that mattered now was getting round in one piece with a jog/walk up the hills strategy. Coping with these set backs is only hard when you compare yourself to uninjured runners who habitually love to update their social media accounts. Back in the real world, there are thousands of struggling runners! And as always, friends and family provided fabulous support and wisdom.
It’s fair to say I was well rested for Boston and before long, I was doing last minute packing to cover all weather from snow to heatwave (I’ve heard Boston has a changeable Spring climate) and onboard the flight. As soon as I landed, I headed straight to the expo to get my number so that the next few days were clear to chill. Boston is a small but fascinating city. All cities come to life during marathon weekend but Boston is unique. Firstly, the uniform is skinny jeans and a BAA running jacket and secondly, every other person is a runner!
I was in wave four, which began at 11.15. I’m more of a get up and let’s get this over with type of person so the late start wasn’t ideal. Along with thousands of other runners, I boarded the bus at Boston Common to make the hour journey to Hopkinson, where the marathon started. The buses were those yellow school buses and the noise escalating from the vocal chords of crowds of nervous and chattering people was probably louder than the usual school kids.
Hopkinson is a very pretty little town and the facilitates at the start were superb. Most of the time was spent drinking energy drinks and then queuing for the loo. Before too long, we were called into our corrals and we were off! The forecast for the day was 23 degrees which is far to hot for me. However, my pace was going to be slow anyway so I didn’t need to adjust anything!
The course is completely different from all the other majors. It doesn’t have that big city feel. Much of it is quite rural and we passed through some beautiful wooded areas and lakes. It’s also not flat! The profile looks downhill but believe me there are an equal number of uphills! These hills aren’t long or steep but gradual and also occur at the most inappropriate part of the course such as the four hills from mile 16 to mile 21, culminating in the aptly named heartbreak hill.
The hot conditions and lack of training made it quite a tough day for me but as the sixth major, there was no way I was giving up! The final run down Boylston street to the finish line was a lovely moment. The crowds and international flags waving created a real sense of occasion. A feeling of huge satisfaction, relief and joy ran through me but also a feeling of sorrow for those who had lost their lives and been injured at that very spot four years before with the bombing.
The highlights of running with six world majors
– Running through a cities steeped in history
– The fantastic race organisation
– The smiling volunteers at the aid stations.
– The amazing crowd support. The cities really do come alive on the day.
– The exceptionally friendly and helpful Sports Tours International team.
– The finish line: nowhere is the full spectrum of human emotion purer that at the end of a marathon from tears of joy and smiles from exhilaration to utter exhaustion.
If you enjoy travel and running, they are constantly evolving their international running offerings. The team are enormous fun and let you focus on enjoying the race, without worrying about flights, hotels and transfers!
Just as I write this, I hear that the world marathon majors are adding another three marathons to their offering. This is wonderful for running but for now I’m happy with six!
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