‘We never had a marathon like this one:’ Reflections from athletes ahead of the 125th Boston Marathon

Visitors enter the Boston Marathon Expo at Hynes Convention Center on Sunday. (Photo by Pietro Rossini/BU News Service)

By Pietro Rossini
Boston University News Service

BOSTON – Boylston Street saw crowd after crowd over the weekend and on Friday, as thousands of visitors wearing blue and yellow made their way through the Hynes Convention Center and Copley Square ahead of the Boston Marathon.

Taking photos, collecting bib numbers or just taking in the sights, athletes and fans from all over the world could be found throughout the Back Bay and beyond, as the Boston Athletic Association hosted both the Boston Marathon Expo and Fan Fest for the past three days.

“The energy is great and everybody is happy to be back on roads after the pandemic,” said Rosemary Alff, an Expo Ambassador and marathon volunteer.

Rosemary Alff, Expo Ambassador at the entrance of the Hynes Convention Center. Photo taken by Pietro Rossini.

Following the cancellation of last year’s in-person marathon, runners have been flocking to the city, observing the city’s mask mandate while taking in the festivities leading up to Monday’s main event.

“It’s so good to be back to do this in person,” said runner Jeff Muddell. “There is an awesome feeling to be around all these other runners, and people from all over the world.”

Jeff Muddell, a runner at the Expo, shows the gadgets he bought at the Marathon store. Photo taken by Pietro Rossini.

Instead of an in-person race, the B.A.A. held its first virtual marathon, with some 70,000 people registering for the digital stand-in of the real thing last year.

Robyn Engman, a runner from Virginia, ran the virtual marathon last year and made the trip to Massachusetts for the live event this year.

“It’s such a big difference,” Engman said. “I’m glad to finally be here, to see the streets that I’ve been seeing on television when I’ve been watching the Boston Marathon.”

Another difference from previous editions of the Boston Marathon is that this is the first fall version of the race, normally held in April.

“It’s a little different,” said Engman. “The training in the summer is not the same as in the fall. I think I will be surprised by my pace.”

“When you run in the winter, you run very fast in the cold, not like in the summer,” Engman said.

Another hurdle for some of the 20,000 runners this year: staying COVID-free in the run-up to the marathon. Per the B.A.A., entrants are required to either “provide proof of vaccination or produce a negative COVID-19 test in order to participate in the fall race.”

Expo-goers write on the Dedication Wall representing the Marathon path. Photo taken by Pietro Rossini.

With limited access to the vaccine in parts of the world, runners like Yenny Velazquez of Mexico have had to stay on alert, providing proof of a negative COVID-19 test result in order to compete.

Arriving from New York City earlier, Velazquez said this is her first Boston Marathon, running several others before being able to qualify for this one.

“I feel very nervous,” Velazquez said. “It’s the most important marathon in the world.”

Tomorrow is also the first time that the marathon occurs on Indigenous Peoples Day, recognized throughout parts of the United States and communities in Massachusetts.

“There will be over 200 Native athletes from all over the U.S.,” said Maurice “Mo” Smith, a runner from the Navajo tribe.

“This is the first time that the Marathon will be run on Indigenous Day, and maybe the only time,” Smith said. “That’s a great opportunity to recognize and celebrate people of this continent. There is a longstanding history of Indigenous people who ran this marathon. For me running the Boston Marathon is about paying homage to those who ran before me.” 

“I feel very happy that the Boston Athletic Association will be honoring past, present and futures Indigenous runners,” said Love Richardson, a member of the Nipmuc tribe. 

For many runners, even in its 125th iteration, the marathon is as special as ever, including Mike Lytle, who will be running his fourth Boston Marathon on Monday, and 14th marathon overall.

“The Boston Marathon is unique,” Lytle said. “You have to qualify to get in, not like other marathons, and Boston is where it all began.”

Dating back to 1897, the first Boston Marathon is one of the world’s oldest, created after organizers were inspired by the 1896 Olympic Marathon held in Athens, Greece, and brought the foot race to the U.S.

While she has run several marathons before this, Nunziata “Deborah” Pirruccio, an Italian runner from Texas, to run from Hopkinton to Boston, Mass. is a dream that will be a reality in a matter of hours.

Nunziata “Deborah” Pirruccio, an Italian runner from Texas, anticipates her first time to run the Boston Marathon. Photo taken by Pietro Rossini.

“I ran many marathons before and finally, I qualified for the Boston Marathon,” Pirruccio said. “I feel like I’m walking in a dream. It’s a dream becoming true.” 

“Now I will go back to my hotel and just rest for the rest of the day,” said Pirruccio. “Tomorrow, I will run a marathon, the Boston Marathon!”

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