Senior editor Mario Fraioli is experiencing firsthand just how alluring the Boston Marathon can be.
“I’m racing this thing next year,” I said to my wife over the phone, not long after arriving in Boston this past April to cover the 118th running of the Boston Marathon.
She promptly reminded me that I vehemently swore off racing road marathons after my last less-than-fun experience pounding 26.2 miles of pavement in Los Angeles two years earlier, but she knew there was no convincing me otherwise.
Of course, there was also the issue of securing a qualifying mark sometime before the Sept. 7 cut-off date, which meant I’d have to get my ass in gear and prepare to run a hard road marathon sometime in the next five months. But I didn’t care. The pull of being part of the world’s oldest annual marathon was too powerful to ignore as I made my way into the city on an energy-filled spring evening in my home state.
That pull—which has been tugging at me like a magnet for more than half of my life—is the reason why I will be lining up for the Santa Rosa Marathon this Sunday, a smallish race in a quiet northern California city that will hopefully serve as the stepping stone to securing my spot on the starting line in Hopkinton next April.
Even with a qualifying time, I’ll likely be one of the many thousands of qualified runners anxiously awaiting the opening of registration on Sept. 8. (Registration begins 10 a.m. ET on Sept. 8 at baa.org. The BAA is using the same rolling registration process it has employed in the past few years, allowing the fastest qualifiers in their gender and age group to enter first.) The field size is expected be 30,000 runners, broken down with roughly 24,000 qualifiers (80 percent) and 6,000 non-qualifiers (20 percent).
This year’s Boston Marathon was unlike any of the previous 117 editions of the race, and I was fortunate to be there to cover it for Competitor. Not only did it feature two of the strongest fields in race history, but on a greater level, the event held deep personal meaning for many runners who wanted to show support for a city that had been ravaged by unthinkable terrorist acts the year before. Inspiration was everywhere you looked on race weekend last April in Boston, and I suppose on some level I wanted to be a part of that too.
In recent years, more runners than ever before have been eager to experience the magic of running Boston, especially so following the collective healing process that coincided with Meb Keflezighi’s victory in 2014.
But for me, the Boston Marathon carries with it a magnetic appeal that extends all the way back to my childhood growing up in central Massachusetts, where Patriots Day meant a day off from school and channels 4, 5, 7 and 10 broadcast the race live on television. Over the years I remember watching a bunch of lithe two-legged gazelles with funny names like Moses Tanui and Cosmas Ndeti, Uta Pippig and Catherine Ndereba cement their status as legends long before I had any real interest in the sport of running.
In college, I volunteered at aid stations along the course with my cross country teammates, soaking up the energy of the crowds lining both sides of the roads in Wellesley and Newton. After graduating, I covered the race four times for the newspaper I worked at. Then, in 2008, less than a year after finishing my first marathon with a BQ under my belt, I found myself on the starting line in Hopkinton with about 25,000 of my closest friends. It was a special, pride-filled moment in my life, even if the next 26.2 miles didn’t exactly go according to plan. Boston, for all its appeal and a century-plus of prestige, can be a cruel race, and I found that out firsthand as I struggled to a six-minute positive split on a warm day.
Next April I plan to return to Boston with a bib number pinned to my singlet, but I have some preliminary business to take care of first this Sunday in Santa Rosa. “The Marathon,” as it’s called back home, has a magnetic appeal and once again it’s pulling at me to come back and be a part of it.