Friday, April 23, 2010

VIP Treatment at Boston, Thanks Runner's World

If you ever have the chance to snag a spot with RW Elite at your next marathon—before I forget, they’ll be at the Cincinnati, San Francisco, Toronto and Richmond marathons—do it. Trust me, you will not be sorry in the least.

I wasn’t.

And that’s even after one of my main motives, the weather, ended up being way better than forecasted in the days before the race. I signed up to be a Runner’s World VIP Tuesday morning, less than a week before the race—thanks to a warning from Bart Yasso that the registration would probably shut down on Wednesday, an urging that it was a great deal, and knowing that I was probably already late to jump aboard and sneaking in at the last minute. The weather looked so-so, something like 50s and partly cloudy, not conditions that I couldn’t handle waiting in lines at the Common. I piled on the layers and rain gear in 2007 when a Nor’easter hovered around the Atlantic, stood in the pouring rain with an umbrella and rain gear (I so wish I had pictures from that experience, but I just have the look I wore out the door of my hotel room, courtesy of my mom), scored a spot in the line that didn’t seem to want to move (lucky me!) and a seat on what felt like one of the last buses to head out to Hopkinton. I swore nothing could be worse, and I was right, but still I’d take cushy digs over a seemingly neverending line that only brought about more nerves before the race.

The perks advertised as part of the Runner’s World deal were only part of the allure, my email confirmation gave me a few more to look forward to, and my attendance at one sweetened the deal. The RW planners could have left us with the email itinerary that said to meet for the buses at the Sheraton between 6:30 and 6:45 a.m. Monday morning, but they started the celebrating with a reception Sunday afternoon. Totally worthwhile, even if it did mean more time on my feet and forcing oft-quiet me into striking conversation with strangers. Not only did I get all of the details for Sunday and add my parents to the party that followed at the University Club, but I received the newly released Going Long anthology, introduced over expo weekend and full of RW stories from the last seven-ish years. And within the first 15 minutes, I met three previous Boston Marathon winners—Amby Burfoot (1968), Greg Meyer (1983) and Lisa Rainsberger (1985, last female American)—as well as countless RW editors. For someone who reads Runner’s World monthly—and repeatedly since it stays in my gym bag after the first read—chumming with its staff is easily one of those experiences that rarely comes along.

That was the night before the run. Race day was even more worth it, and again, not because of the weather. Dawn broke, the sun rose, and aside from the chill in the air—signaling perfect running weather--it really wouldn't have been bad to wait in line for the school buses. But the Runner's World buses were way cooler. The RW peeps promised to ride out to Hopkinton with us ended up including editors David Willey, Jen Van Allen and Warren Greene, and chief running officer Bart Yasso--that's not counting the handful of editors running the race. The random runners who hopped aboard had a pretty impressive rap list—super-fast aging brothers who’ve been running Boston for ages, a Boston-Big Sur doubler, my neighbor who was shooting for his fifth decade of sub-three hour marathons. But it was the drive out there that threw us for a very impressive loop: we accidentally landed in the motorcade between the wheelchair athletes and elite runners. That meant police closing off the highway for us to pass, an empty road straight ahead, and a stop steps away from Hopkinton's town square and the start line. Sure, we were in the wrong spot and needed a police escort to take us back to the masses at the high school and middle school, but interesting while it lasted.

The excitement wanes a bit when the bus pulls into the parking lot staging area for all the runners, more because it means the race is actually about to happen--and we have to think about what layers to keep and shed, what foods to nosh on and when before running, to wear or not to wear sunscreen and sunglasses, when to take the last bathroom break, and what time to leave the bus for the start line. Having a bathroom just steps away and with a line only seven deep rather than 20? Good plus for this runner who stayed on the bus until the last second to use the bathroom one last time before the race.

Fast forward to the finish line where the Runner's World perks returned. Cross the famous finish line, collect your medal, post-race food and belongings, and make your way to the runner reunite area. But instead of finding your family and friends outside at your designated letter, find the blue awning of the University Club, head inside and you're back to feeling like a race VIP. You'll see the welcoming committee, greeting you with information on the shower and massage areas, the food and place to relax after you're clean. I skipped the shower and massage to refuel first--force of habit more than anything--but after scarfing down a hot pretzel, and some other snacks my parents had placed on their plates, I was ready to rinse off and get warm.

Without traveling back to my hotel room, this shower was easily the next best thing. After my first Boston, we had to rush to catch a flight in Providence, R.I., and I had to shower in the spot the Sheraton set aside for runners that year. That included waiting in line for what felt like one shower stall that was part of the fitness center's locker room, changing in the middle of cramped quarters and sliding on sopping wet floors. It was better than nothing, but the Westin set the bar higher the following year: rooms set aside for runners to shower and change and no waiting in line. The University Club set-up equaled the Westin without the rush of another person needing the shower and the ease of rejoining the group.

But the massage? That's something I'm always going to have to do after marathon--so what I needed especially after my calf cramped up at mile 20 and another runner told me I walked funny. The massage therapist went to town on my leg and less than 20 minutes later, I knew I'd be able to walk, not hobble, my way back to the hotel.

As for my parents, they enjoyed the post-race celebration, too, a nice perk considering I was the one signing up for the VIP treatment. They met Bart Yasso, had an indoor spot to wait for me to make it through the finish line area, and could snack on some goodies while watching video footage from the Richmond Runner's World Challenge. While we may have been the last few people still hanging out at the club, no one was about to kick us out or encourage us to leave. Instead you felt like you were a small part of the Runner's World family. Good thing too, because I wasn't in a hurry to return to the hotel.

Photo courtesy of Susan Bongiovanni.

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