While American long-distance stars Galen Rupp and Shalane Flanagan may headline the 30,000 runners who will participate in Monday’s 122nd Boston Marathon, it’s the rest of the field that gives the historic race much of its flavor.
Runners from across the country and around the world who have achieved the event’s rigorous qualifying times converge on Hopkinton, Massachusetts, early in the morning to begin what for many is the pursuit of a bucket-list achievement.
Through the ensuing hours that blend the pleasure of running along the fan-lined route to Boston and the pain of the physical challenge that marathon distance of 26.2 miles inevitably presents, individual runners with myriad personal goals evolve into a community of like-minded souls that embraces the Boston Marathon’s tradition anew.
Katie Norwood, a 29-year-old from Bangor who works as a personal trainer at Wilcox Wellness and Fitness, experienced those feelings for the first time a year ago.
“Honestly, I think doing the race last year made me fall in love with running just because of that Boston atmosphere,” said Norwood, one of 189 Mainers registered for this year’s race. “People are watching the whole way, and even after the race you almost feel like a celebrity because when you’re walking back to your hotel people are always congratulating you.
“That experience itself made me love running, and it’s the way you feel at the end that makes it all worth it.”
Norwood, a field hockey and softball player during her high school days in Readfield and a serious runner for just the last five years, will run her eighth career marathon Monday.
But Boston is different than all the others.
“Right from the get-go you’re sitting on a bus leading up to Hopkinton and you don’t really know anybody, so everybody is just creating conversation, getting to know each other,” Norwood recalled. “I talked to a woman from Ireland who was running Boston for the first time, so that was kind of cool.
“And when you get on the actual race course, people are cheering you on all along the way, not only the spectators but the people running beside you, too. If you’re going up a hill, people around you will say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this.’”
Sometimes those brief chats take a runner’s mind off physical issues that mount as the journey continues and Heartbreak Hill approaches at the 20 1/2-mile mark.
Runners competed at Boston a year ago amid considerable heat that Norwood said left the medical tents along the route filled with those feeling the effects of both the temperature and the physical grind.
“Luckily it didn’t seem to bother me,” said Norwood, who recently recovered from an Achilles’ tendon injury before the 2017 race. “You have to go into it knowing you’re going to be out there for a while and at times you’ll feel miserable but you just have to know how good you’re going to feel at the end.
“It was really the crowd that kept me going.”
Norwood also learned that Boston is nearly as much about that crowd as it is about the runners after her parents attended one of her races for the first time.
“It was a really fun experience for them, too,” she said. “I almost felt bad because I wasn’t with them at all, they were by themselves on the race course. But afterward they were raving about how good of a time it was and how much fun they had.”
By the time Norwood crossed the finish line in a more-than-respectable 3 hours, 33 minutes, 44 seconds last April, she already was thinking about this year’s event.
“During the race I was thinking I could check this off my bucket list and that I might not do it again,” she said. “But as I was on my way to the finish line the whole street just lit up, everybody was screaming and you could hear all the cowbells and whistles. It was just amazing.
“You think about other races you’ve run to prepare for Boston, and no race is going to be like Boston. You feel like you’re not going to see this anywhere else so you’ve just got to keep doing it.”
Norwood is approaching this year’s Boston race not necessarily looking to better last year’s time or her personal best for the distance of 3:25:34 set at the 2017 Black Bear Marathon in Orono.
She’s merely hoping to savor the experience again as she shares the same streets as Rupp, Flanagan and the other world-class runners who will lead the field.
“It really is like the World Series or Super Bowl of marathons,” she said. “If you’re a runner everyone wants to do Boston at least once in their life, and it’s hard to qualify for so there’s sense of accomplishment, too.
“At Boston I don’t want to stress out about my time. I don’t want to be looking down at my watch the whole time. This year my goal is just to enjoy it.”