at the races Why the Boston Marathon Means Everything to Me: On Running the Marathon...

Why the Boston Marathon Means Everything to Me: On Running the Marathon at 72


Unlike some cities I know, one of which shall remain nameless but begins with the letter T—Boston loves and embraces the race, its just everywhere, and whereas some of it is commercializing on the event, it doesn’t matter, everywhere you go, people are talking about and are excited for the race. It’s electric, beyond description, there wasn’t a bar or a store or a restaurant that we went to that wasn’t bedecked in something promoting or celebrating the marathon and much of it (last year) was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first women to officially enter the race (Katherine Switzer, notwithstanding). 

Boston is a great city (I used to go there on business quite often), but during the marathon it becomes unbelievable, traffic is awful, but everybody is nice, everybody is helpful, and everybody is patient with each other – you know, exactly how a city should be. 

Running Boston Isn’t a Solo Sport.

There were about 25 BlackToe related people who went from Toronto to Boston with me, all of them significantly younger than me (or my wife Lois), but it just didn’t matter, we all went to bars together, we went to dinner together and we all went to the ball game together. 

Jamie Cuthbertson, who is a Boston-based BlackToe runner became our unofficial tour guide. She showed us around the city, she piled us in her car (not all 25) and drove us to Hopkinton and then back down the marathon route. Brent Snider, a SFO based BlackToe runner organized ball game tickets for us and Doug Kells and Samantha Johnson held a great post race party in their hotel room.

It was incredible, simply incredible.  

As Brian Putre (who ran 2:32!!!) recently said when asked if he’s running Boston this year: “Nope, not doing Boston this year. I loved, loved, loved that race, and the whole race weekend experience, but I don’t know if I ever want to do it again actually. Sometimes I find things are more special if they are legitimate once in a lifetime experiences. If I do Boston again it probably won’t be for many years”.

A Race Like No Other.

Boston was the second marathon I had ever run. The first was in Hamilton in November 2019, just after my 70th birthday and is—or was—a net downhill course (by a long shot) with very few uphill parts and certainly no serious ones. My time in Hamilton was 4:18, which qualified me for Boston. 

The Boston course, which, although it is still net downhill, has some significant hills. Knowing this, I set myself three goals, in descending sequence: A) Run an average 6:30 pace, which would be a 4:35 marathon; B) Run it in under 5 hours, which is roughly a 7:07 pace; C) Finish, no matter how long it takes. My finish time was 5:02 so I’m counting it as the second one.

All my experienced running friends had been extremely generous in giving advice on what to do/what not to do, with the most common advice being “don’t go too fast on the downhills at the start”. So, of course, that’s exactly what I did. In my defence, if I hadn’t, I would have been run over…

My Boston Marathon can be broken into 3 parts. 

1. The first 6K: way too fast—sub 6:00. 
2. From 7K to the halfway point: successfully controlling pace (6:30-ish), fuelling, and hydrating well 
3. The second half: stomach cramps and a seeming inability to take deep breaths. Fuelling and hydration kinda fell apart. This was all walk/run. I also had to stop at a medical tent to get drops in my eyes as they had dried and I couldn’t see—ahh, the joys of age…

But, the second half notwithstanding, what an experience—the crowds were incredible. My favourite was the little kids, hundreds, and hundreds and hundreds of them, all the way along, standing at the side of the road with their little hands out, high-fiving everyone and being so happy when a runner took the time to high-five them back, which I did as much as I could.

Plus, the Scream Tunnel, COVID be damned. Those kids were hugging and kissing all the young good-looking runners like there was no-tomorrow, it was hysterical.

ON THE WAY HOME: Symons at the Boston Marathon finish line, embraced by Lois, his wife.

Then came the Citgo sign at 40K. All my friends and Lois had been waiting for hours for me to go past (all the other BlackToe runners had long since finished by then). 

What a remarkable thing to have people wait for literally hours for you for a 30 second run past. Plus, passing the Citgo sign was really the first moment I absolutely knew that I was going to finish.

“Right on Hereford, left on Boylston,” as they say, and that was it—basically nine years of effort in the cold of winter and the heat of summer (Canada has about 5 good running days a year) and it was done, just like that; a bottle of water, a finisher’s medal, a blanket and quick photo by one of the ever-helpful volunteers (they are, to a person, amazing) and it’s over.

I bumped into a friend who had finished quite some time before me, and together we took the walk back to the hotel/party for a celebration. Everyone we passed offered congratulations, smiles, and high fives. 

What it meant to me.  

It’s reflected in the awe in which I hold the running community. I didn’t start running till I was 63.  I obviously knew about the Boston Marathon, but me being involved was just as unlikely as NASA calling me up to be an astronaut. I mean, it just wasn’t on my list of even slightly remotely possible things. Shortly after I started running my sister-in-law said, “you’ll run Boston one day,” and I literally laughed out loud at her. So to progress from being a completely out of condition, 65-pound overweight old guy to qualifying in my very first marathon and then actually running Boston at 72 is indescribable. Especially when just about everyone I run with is about half my age or less—and treats me like one of their own.  

And the most important point of all—without them (or you), none of this would have been possible, period.


  1. Just reading this gave me goosebumps! Fantastic read! I wish I could be in Boston. Some day, maybe. Miracles do happen, you know…

    My favourite part was “Canada has about 5 good running days a year”. Isn’t that true?… 😉

  2. Peter…you and I have stood in the same corrals quite a few times over the years here in Toronto. Your Boston journey certainly resonates with me: I started running in my 60’s and first ran my own Boston in 2016. I’ve done all the ‘majors’, but there’s just something special about Boston, and you captured the entire feeling perfectly. I was with you on every step here in Toronto, during the race, and after when it feels as if everyone in Boston is ‘high fiving’ you as you walk back to your hotel.

    It truly is ‘special’ and, as corny as it is to say, it’s a right of passage in the running community. Nothing makes you feel like you’re part of a great community or runners without boundaries or borders more than hanging that left on Boylston and heading to the Finish Line. I wanted it to end more than anything but, at the same time, I also hoped that I could sustain that last stretch for ever.

    See you at the Starting Line!!

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