Chants of “Guhd Jawb!” (that’s ‘Good Job’ in New England-speak) came at me multiple times from numerous spectators camped out along the Boston Marathon course this past Monday on my 26.2-mile trek from Hopkinton into the city. Each acknowledgement brought a smile to my frozen face, whether I thought I was actually doing a good job at the time or not.
It’s hard to describe the magic of the Boston Marathon to someone who has never experienced it for themselves, but there’s no better representation of what makes this race so special than the swarms of spectators who lined the course earlier this week on a day that didn’t exactly fit most people’s definition of spring. Despite on-and-off periods of rain, cold temperatures and a relentless wind, the crowds gathered for the 119th edition of the world’s oldest annual marathon were deeper and more boisterous than I remembered from the last time I raced here seven years ago—when it was nearly 20 degrees warmer and there was no precipitation falling from the sky. To put the conditions in perspective, my hands were so numb by the 20-mile mark I couldn’t retrieve my energy chews from the back pocket of my running shorts. While I had been out running for a couple of hours by that point, many of the spectators in attendance had been manning their frigid cheering stations for at least an hour before the first wave of wheelchair racers set off from the starting line at 9:17 a.m.
The Boston Marathon is an old race with a long history and a number of unique traditions, from its annual running on the third Monday in April to strict qualifying standards and a later starting time compared to most other 26.2-mile footraces, not to mention the Red Sox’ annual 11 a.m. home game that’s taken place every Marathon Monday since 1903. But its spectators—annually estimated at around a million people—are what really set it apart. Each of the eight cities and towns along the historic point-to-point route the race traverses has its own gritty—yet charming— character, their residents a spitting image of the places they call home. Regardless of where you’re from, it’s hard to feel more welcomed or appreciated as a runner than in Massachusetts on Patriots’ Day.
“You feel really appreciated,” fellow Massachusetts’ native Shalane Flanagan told Caitlyn Pilkington ahead of this year’s Boston Marathon, “and I think especially just being an American, there’s just a lot of appreciation for your performance, no matter how well you do or not.”
Whether you’re an elite marathoner from Kenya or a charity participant from Kansas, having your best day at the Boston Marathon or one you’d rather forget about, the spectators along the course don’t discriminate. As impressed as you might be by their incessant enthusiasm and encouragement, they’re just as in awe of the effort you’re putting out there on the course. It’s part of what makes the experience of the Boston Marathon so magical.
For a guy who grew up 40 minutes outside of Boston and lived most of his life there before moving to California almost five years ago, there’s nothing more endearing than being told “Guhd Jawb!” by someone standing on the side of a Massachusetts roadway.
Senior editor Mario Fraioli finished the 2015 Boston Marathon in 2:32:22.