The Abbott World Marathon Majors Series (AWMM) started in 2006 and covers the six IAAF Gold Label Road Races that are held annually across some of the most iconic cities in the world – Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York, and Tokyo.
I’m penning down my experience of completing all 6 AWMMs which brings back such fond memories.
My world majors’ journey that started in Boston in 2015 culminated in London in April 2019. It was a proud, euphoric moment for me, knowing that I was among only 41 people in India to have ever achieved this feat. When I started off in Boston, I had absolutely no idea that one day, I would complete all the 6 AWMM series. I remember it was after I had registered for the Berlin marathon that the thought came to my mind, and I started working towards it.
Entry to the WMMs
To be able to gain entry to the world majors, you have 4 options, and these differ for each city.
– Qualifying time standards ((https://www.runnersworld.com/races-places/a26788073/time-qualifying-standards-for-major-marathons/) – applicable for all except London.
– Ballot/lottery – applicable for all except Boston.
– Fundraising for charity – applicable across all 6 WMMs and
– Via the official tour operator of the country – applicable across all 6 WMMs. (For India, it is Active Holiday Co.- https://www.activeholidaycompany.com/))
The Abbott Six Star Finisher Medal
The Six Star Finisher Medal which was unveiled in Tokyo Marathon in 2016, is one of the most exclusive and coveted race prizes in the running world. It is awarded individuals who finish all the 6 AWMMs. You can claim this medal by visiting their website-https://www.worldmarathonmajors.com/everyday-champions/six-star-finishers/ at the time of running your 6th WMM. At present, after the Virgin Money London Marathon 2019, there were 6,133 Six-Star finisher worldwide and 41 in India.
119th Boston marathon: 20th April 2015. (26,610 FINISHERS)
My 1st international marathon and 1st WMM couldn’t have happened at a better place. The Boston Marathon is often considered as the world’s oldest run annual marathon and ranks highly among the world’s most prestigious road racing events.
The 1st Boston marathon was held on 19th April 1897 following the success of first modern summer Olympics in Athens, in 1896. As has been the norm, it is always held on Patriots Day, 3rd Monday in April every year and 80% of the entries are via time qualifying standards.
Qualifying for the race is in itself an achievement for any amateur marathon runner as it is akin to qualifying for the Olympics. The qualifying cut-off time was 03:40:00 under the age category 55 to 59 years (revised to 03:35:00 from 2018) and is valid for 18 months prior to the race day.
Having qualified, the next step was registration which opens up on 2nd week of September, a whole year in advance of the actual race. 4 weeks after submitting my form, I received a confirmation email that my registration was accepted. Given that the field is restricted to 30,000 runners, the fastest runners in each age category get top preference and so on.
Designing a training plan
Now that I had received my registration confirmation, I started planning my training schedule. I did some research and gathered information on the expected weather conditions and course terrain. With that in mind, I planned my training to cover hilly routes every alternate week, trained at Nandi Hills once a month and built mileage by running quite a few 35 – 40K long runs. In terms of sustenance, I incorporated hydration and gel strategy during long runs and also worked on my strengthening and flexibility as well. With respect to nutrition, I have always followed a balanced diet throughout my running career and don’t do anything different for an event.
The training went reasonably well, and I was confident of putting up a good show on race day. Starting January, you are regularly sent newsletters from the organizers about your training, medical and weather tips, information about the bib pick up at the Expo, your start wave and corral, availing of shuttle bus service to the start area, etc.
For the race, there were 4 color-coded waves (Red, White, Blue, and Yellow) and within each wave are 8 corrals. There are different start times for each wave and corral depending on your qualifying time:
Wave 1 – 02:24:35 to 03:10:58 (Bib #s 101 – 7,700) @ 10.02 ET
Wave 2 – 03:10:59 to 03:29:27(Bib #s 8,000 – 15,600) @ 10.25 ET
Wave 3 – 03:29:28 to 03:53:54(Bib #s 16,000 – 23,600) @ 10.50 ET
Wave 4 – 03:53:55 and beyond (Bib #s 24,000 – 32,500) @ 11.15 ET
Each wave had approx. 7500 participants. The race starts at Hopkinton and passes through six Massachusetts cities and towns before finishing in front of the Boston Public Library on Boylston Street in Boston Copley Square.
The final countdown.
Having arrived 3 days prior, I collected my bib and did a 7K easy run to acclimatize to the weather and familiarize myself with the route. A big challenge would turn out to be the weather which was predicted to be at 5°C for the race.
As expected, periodic announcements are made for each wave and corral’s start timing and I was in Wave 3, Corral 4. Given that it was 7°C at the start line, I made sure I was covered head-to-toe. When the elite runners took off, it was raining but by the
time it came to my wave, it had stopped. On top of that, the road at the start was narrow and extremely crowded too.
The first 9K is all downhill and then the rolling hill starts. You will have to be patient in the initial stages to control the speed otherwise it will hit you later during the closing stages. There are mobile toilets and aid stations every 2K on both sides of the road, stocked with water and Gatorade drinks. The water and sports drink served will be very cold and it’s important that you practice drinking cold water during your training. One problem I particularly faced was that I had to keep removing my gloves at every water station to avoid getting my gloves wet.
This was the first time that I experienced spectators come out in huge numbers throughout the route to cheer runners holding placards saying “Tap me to boost your energy”, “High Five”, “Go for it, “Boston Strong”, etc. It was a wonderful sight to watch people coming with their music equipment’s and tents to entertain the runners. People of all ages and pets too come prepared to cheer the runners in that inclement weather. It was truly an out of the world experience to run a Boston Marathon. I finished the race in 03:38:00.
At the finish, it was very windy and chilly and almost everyone was shivering. I quickly changed into dry clothes, took the train back to Hopkinton which is free for all Boston Finishers on race day. Once I was back in the room, I lay down, closed my eyes and let that feeling of accomplishment sink in – I had done it!
To read Part 2 of this amazing journey click here