BOSTON – In Boston, like most other northeast cities and towns, more runners and walkers start taking to the streets and trails as warmer weather rolls in. Unlike other places, though, spring brings an excitement around the city best referred to as “marathon fever.” Anyone who walks down Boylston Street on a gorgeous day cannot help but notice the Boston Marathon banners, the yellow and blue finish line, and the step-wise preparation that the city undergoes in order to get us ready for Patriots Day – better known in Boston as “Marathon Monday.”
This year’s marathon is a bit different. April 15, 2013 is a day that will forever be remembered by Bostonians. The point of this piece is not to recap tragedy; we are all too familiar with what happened. Instead we focus on the incredible spirit of this city and the great healing that’s been displayed.
There is no better way to focus on that spirit than through the eyes of a weekly running group that convenes right at the Boylston Street finish line. Marathon Sports became a triage unit last April. Now store manager and running club coordinator Shane O’Hara tells us about the club’s preparations for this year’s Boston Marathon.
CM: Tell us a little bit about the group and why you started it.
SO: Well, I actually originally began the group in 1997 during my NikeTown days when I was working there, but after I was let go, I took a little break until I started working at Marathon Sports across the street. That period in time in between was a really tough time for me with a lot of questioning of myself, but I officially re-started the group in September of 2011 after people had shown great interest in it and because it’d been so much fun and I really loved doing it. It’s something I have a real passion for.
We’ve been meeting every Wednesday in front of the store at 6:30 p.m. since then. We kind of see who shows up and depending on constraints like the season and the weather, we go out all together and do one of the loops.
CM: I know it’s grown a lot over the past year, but could you give me an idea of how many people come out to join you guys each week?
SO: So clearly we’ve grown a lot since 2011. The numbers fluctuate from month to month depending on the season and weather, but we’ve actually been doing great this year despite the cold weather and all of the snow. We like to play a game called “beat the temperature,” which is just trying to get more runners each week than the current temperature outside when we run. So far this winter, we’ve had about 45 runners each month throughout the winter.
During the warmer months, we definitely see the numbers go up a bit. We had a high of 89 runners last summer, not counting the big turnout we had at the first meeting after the marathon, which was huge with people coming out and showing amazing support that I could have never even imagined.
CM: It was so great to see how the city banded together and showed support to so many groups and organizations in ways that words don’t even begin to describe.
SO: It was definitely something special. Obviously the numbers dropped after that first run, but it was amazing to see the support and turnout.
CM: Being someone in medicine, I was interested in how runners were split up. Do you arbitrarily break runners up by time? Distance? Skill level? Experience?
SO: To be completely honest, when I started this group I was not any sort of elite runner. I wanted to be able to stay in shape and enjoy the company of other runners. I think it should be something that’s fun for everyone. We don’t tell our runners who to run with or which distance to do…we have runners of all abilities. We have people running 8 minute paces and we have people who just want to finish the 2.5 mile loop.
In fact, there’s a really touching story that has made me want to try to expand the group to offer something for walkers. There was this 19-year-old guy who we’d seen walking down by the Charles River every Wednesday when our group went out. After seeing him several times, we learned that he was a stroke survivor who was walking as a way of rehabbing and enjoy being outside and by the river. It was very moving for me and it’s something that I hope we can get going when the weather starts to get better.
CM: That’s an awesome story—it’s always great to promote physical activity and to give people the chance to get out there and enjoy their city and the company of others while getting in a little exercise is a great thing. Could you summarize your philosophy on running and what you hope to accomplish with the group?
SO: I definitely want this group to be something fun. Like I said we don’t split people up based on skill and we are a pretty close group. It’s really not just a group where people just come to run. We’re all good friends. Members run races together and grab beers together on the weekends. I even have runners over my own house for end-of-the-month get togethers. I try to offer incentives based on the number of miles people have run with us such as a gift card to [Marathon Sports] at 100 miles or a t-shirt at 50 miles. We try to keep things fun. I’ve even offered product testing when I get new things to try out at the store.
Thanks again to Shane O’Hara for sharing his story and providing information on the Marathon Sports Running Club. We wish the club the best of luck on marathon day! Find a Marathon Sports running club near you.
Chris, an avid sports enthusiast and writer for Examiner, is a graduating fourth year medical student who lives in Brighton, MA. Check out his Sports Medicine column at Examiner.com.