BOSTON – More than 700 people gathered at South Station Sunday night to ride the train to Southborough. But these weren’t your average commuters. They came from all over Boston with their bicycles to ride in the 5th annual Midnight Marathon.
Founded five years ago by Greg Hum, the event gives cyclists the opportunity to ride the Boston Marathon route the night before the roads are blocked off for runners. Hum launched the ride via a Facebook group and the participants have almost doubled every year since, he said.
Hum, 25, works in IT support for Boston University. He came up with the idea for the ride when he was a student in the BU Bikes cycling club. The idea, Hum said, was to get his friends together and take a train to the starting line. Then, they would ride the marathon route in the dark all the way to the finish line.
Hum said his favorite part is boarding the train. “Half the fun is hoping on the train at South Station and packing hundreds of bikes on the train. You make new friends, you’re surrounded by hundreds of people, it feels really awesome,” he said. “It’s like this crazy pilgrimage.”
South Station began filling with a fleet of excited cyclists ready to complete the pilgrimage around 9 p.m. From there, they would be loaded onto a train that would take them to the starting line of the Boston Marathon – the first leg of their journey.
Participants gathered in groups with their friends, chatting enthusiastically and posing for pre-marathon photos. Some took advantage of the South Station food court – buying last minute bottles of water and carbo-loading at a nearby McDonald’s.
Andrew Hall, a 26-year-old Somerville resident and first time Midnight Marathon rider was among the first to arrive. “I’m a little nervous. I was going crazy just sitting in my apartment waiting, so that’s why I’m here so early,” he said, leaning on his bike and checking the time on his cellphone.
But the collection of riders made it clear that the night was going to be fun and anxiety free. A young girl wore neon green zebra spandex while another had a string of blinking LED lights draped around her shoulders. Many people had taken the time to attach speakers to their bikes or zip-tie glow sticks to their handlebars.
A young couple stood in line with a red, low-riding tandem bike in tow. A girl in line took notice and turned to her friends: “Aw, next year we’re doing tandem bikes, okay?”
Monty Montano, a genetics professor at Boston University arrived at South Station in a full Spiderman costume. “I’m looking forward to experiencing the route, to do it vicariously, to live it on a bike. And there’s something about midnight. There’s something charming about it,” Montano said before the race.
“Are you going to be warm enough?” Montano’s friend asked him, laughing at his costume. “Probably not,” he said with a shrug and a wide smile.
When the time came, Midnight Marathon volunteers directed the cyclists out of South Station onto the platform, where they would begin boarding the train to the start line in Hopkinton. A stampede of Bostonians with their bikes erupted from the station, tickets in hand. The riders filed out of a door sitting under a massive Bank of America advertisement that read, appropriately: “To new thinking.”
Four hours later, from the finish line, bicycle bells could be heard echoing in the corridors of Boston’s streets. The first wave of riders arrived around 1:00 a.m. cheering and laughing euphorically as they pulled past the empty bleachers and across the wide, blue finish line.
The street in front of Copley Square filled with cyclists as they finished their 26.2 mile bike ride and a celebration ensued. Riders arrived in waves, the more experienced riders finishing first. People collected in groups to take photos – hoisting their bikes over their heads victoriously or embracing across a jumble of wheels and handlebars as they hovered proudly over their bicycles. Hugs and handshakes were available to anyone and everyone who crossed the finish line.
Greg St. Mary, 32, pulled off to the side to stretch out his leg muscles before heading home. “It was super fun,” he said, beaming. “The initial downhills were intense, a lot of fun.” According to St. Mary, the event was so popular this year that he had to scalp a ticket to get on the train, which had sold out quickly.
Gregory Tierotola had just finished the marathon with his 25-year-old daughter, Amanda, and took a fatherly moment to congratulate her and recognize the bonding experience they had just had.
“She got on a bike just to do this with me,” Tierotola said proudly. Tierotola, 56, said he has been cycling since the age of 16 but this was his first time at the Midnight Marathon. “It was terrific. I don’t know what the runners complain about, it’s all downhill,” he joked.
Tierotola said his favorite part of the ride was seeing all of the bike lights around him. “We stopped at the top of a hill and turned around and saw all of the white lights twinkling, like fireflies.”
“This has been an amazing experience, I would definitely do it again,” he said. “Now I can say that I did the marathon.”
Timelapse of the Midnight Marathon, 2011
Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley and RunKeeper CEO Jason Jacobs are running in this year’s Boston Marathon to raise money for CampInteractive, a New York-based charity that teaches inner city kids how to use HTML code.
Kevin Smith lives in New York City and is the Chief of Aviation Projects and Planning at United Nations. Originally from Britain, he’s a former Royal Air Force pilot. He likes to be called a “Die Hard Runner”. He has ran in Sudan, the Congo, New York and Greece. Now it’s on to the Boston Marathon.
Boston University News Service New York correspondent Lusha Chen looks at his training.
Five years of running the Boston Marathon and raising more than $60,000 for cancer patients has not worn Ashley Zolenski out. Her sixth marathon may be the most important as she is running in honor of her friend, Jamie Riehle, who died from cancer last fall.
Zolenski, 30, of Cleveland Circle, is to raise money for the Cancer Patient Support Services Fund at Boston Medical Center (BMC). Since 2008, she has raised more than $60,000 for the cause.
“The biggest inspiration for me is thinking about all the people who are going to benefit from the money that’s raised,” Zolenski said.
When she worked in BMC’s development and fundraising office in 2008, Zolenski organized the hospital’s charity marathon team. After first cheering on the runners, she decided to participate in the run the following year and started training in December.
It was through organizing the team that Zolenski met Riehle, a cancer patient who founded and ran one of the patient support groups. The two were friends for three years before mouth cancer took his life in 2012.
Hesitant about running for her sixth time, Riehle’s passing motivated Zolenski to continue the tradition. “He was always really strong and would never complain,” she said. “If Jamie could go through all that, the least I could do is run a marathon and raise money for the fund that was really important to him.”
Cancer patients at BMC frequently come from low economic backgrounds, and the money she raises helps provide patient transportation to and from the hospital.
“I think of how lucky I am because I’m healthy and I can do this,” she said.
Though it was difficult to train in the middle of winter, her hard work paid off when she completed her first marathon.
“It’s incredible how many people come out and support you and cheer you on,” Zolenski said.
Challenges have come to Zolenski in the form of injury. But even an undetected stress fracture one year ago did not stop her from running the full marathon trail.
However, Zolenski does not consider her achievements particularly extraordinary. “I always like to say, if I can do it, anyone can,” she said. “I don’t try to make a big deal out of it.”
Zolenski garners support from her friends and family in her fundraising efforts, and said she is amazed at her peers’ generosity. Though she has to raise a minimum of $5000 to run, she has reached double that goal every year.
She explained that though her peers are willing and happy to help, she finds that she needs to be persistent in her efforts as people often forget to donate. “It’s kind of a challenge, but it’s worth it,” she said.
No stranger to encouraging donations to a good cause, Zolenski works in fundraising for higher education institutions. She reaches out to alumnae who can donate major gifts to the school, which improve campus programs and ultimately encourage student success.
Before her embarking on her professional career, Zolenski served as president of her class at Westfield State College, where she was in charge of canned food drives and other events to raise money.
“I’ve always been used to helping raise money and philanthropy work,” Zolenski said. “So I guess I’m meant to do this,” she adds with a smile.
Zolenski says if Riehl were still living, he would be happy she was still running the marathon. “It’s fun. I can’t wait for Monday.”
This time last April, Erica Robertson wasn’t a runner. Now hopes drives her every step.
She will run this year’s Boston marathon, raising money for research for a rare developmental disease that affects about 1 in 10,000 young girls, including Avery, Robertson’s daughter
Since her diagnosis at age 3, she’s lost most of her motor skills and the small vocabulary she once had. Avery, now 6 years old, is still in diapers, must be spoon fed her meals, and dressed and bathed by Robertson and her husband, Ryan.
“On my worst days, when Avery’s just having a hard time and it’s so sad and devastating, I just think there’s somebody right now working on fixing Rett syndrome,” says Robertson. “Right now, there’s somebody working on it. And tomorrow there will be. And yesterday there was. It just provides so much hope for me.”
That’s what Team Rett is for Robertson, and for the many families that have come from across the country to also run on the team. Hope. The more than $120 thousand they’ve raised so far will fund a research project by The Whitehead Institute at MIT, which will use stem cells to examine how Rett cells react to existing drugs, and move the search for a cure that much farther along.
Ryan Roberston says that when his wife first said she was going to run, “I didn’t really think it was possible because she wasn’t really a runner.”
“She’s trained herself into being a runner which is kind of extraordinary to see,” says Ryan. “It’s the perfect example of never say never.”
Training for a marathon is hard enough for someone with an everyday life, but Avery requires constant attention and supervision. Erica Robertson looks at the marathon as a celebration of months of hard training and sacrifices.
“It’s a sucky disorder to be dealt – especially for Avery because she’s just trapped in her body and she can’t do what she wants to do,” she says. “But of all the things that could have happened I think that we kind of got lucky. I know that it sounds weird to say that, but I really, truly believe in my heart that they’re going to fix it. And that day is going to be pretty sweet.”
Running gives Erica something to strive for, something to help her move forward – both literally, with the marathon, and figuratively in her search for the cure.
Arnie James, a 69-year-old Boston native and self-proclaimed “dude,” plans to cross the 2013 Boston Marathon finish line with 3,772.8 racing miles under his belt, totaling 144 marathons he’s run in cities around the globe.
His home is crowded with running paraphernalia, photos of his daughter throughout her 25 years. Seven pairs of running shoes, stained, frayed and discolored, are neatly stacked beneath a shrine of medals in his kitchen, all 143 surrounding a photo of him in action.
“Heartbreak Hill is a myth. Even after this coronary,” he jokes, as he points to the long, jagged scar on the left side of his neck. “My heart treks right through it.”
James’ pre-race routine includes tea, spaghetti, a barbeque with friends and neatly laying out the clothes, supplies and good luck charms he’ll need for race day.
He exudes a calm light-heartedness about long-distance running, a form he has learned to execute with a smile.
“A lot of people think about getting tired before they even start, but that’s a negative attitude. Don’t think about getting tired until you get tired, then force yourself to think about something else,” he advises.
Although his experience with marathons gives him an advantage over the physical and mental aches that hit him around mile 7, he says it is always difficult to run a marathon. He has three scheduled next month.
The camaraderie of the running culture is what draws James back again and again. Friends he has known since his first New York City marathon 24 years ago, friends he meets at the starting line every year, friends who never utter a word but run alongside each other for 20 miles are a part of his fondest memories.
“It is rare to see people come together the way they do for running. Marathoners are the most unassuming of athletes,” he whispers wryly.
James does three training runs a week in the early season. He runs one marathon a week during his peak season.
He is anticipating a relaxed Boston Marathon, and laughs when he calculates the mileage he’ll be adding to his impressive record. “After 25 years of this stuff, I just go for the finish. I’ll break a leg, but I’ll finish.”