Boston Long

Durgin-Park, the venerable restaurant inside of Boston’s Faneuil Hall, recently closed its doors after almost two hundred years of operation. You read that right; D-P opened for business a few decades after the Revolutionary War, but served its last patron this year, citing “an inability to turn a profit”. For America at least, that’s some serious history. For Beantown on the other hand, that’s par for the course. After all, this week the Boston Marathon completed its 123rd consecutive running.

I am in awe of runners who qualify for – let alone run – the Boston Marathon.  It’s daunting enough to compete for 26.2 miles, but you can’t join the “fun” in Boston unless you complete a qualifying marathon in under 3 hours (men, ages 18-34), or 3.5 hours (women).  Consider, 3 hours is an average pace of 7 min./mile.  To appreciate that, go to the gym, crank up the treadmill to eight or nine miles/hour, and see how long you can maintain it.  Now imagine running that fast for three hours straight, up and down the city streets of Boston.  It’s superhuman.

The Boston is the world’s oldest annual marathon.  Simply achieving the age-specific qualification time is the goal of most elite long-distance runners.  But if that’s all you know about New England’s most-spectated event, you’re missing out on some fascinating race-related trivia.  Here’s a sampling:

  1. The Boston is run every “Patriots’ Day” (the third Monday in April), a holiday to commemorate the start of the American Revolutionary War.  Effectively, the marathon is a nod to freedom.
  2. The Boston was first run in 1897, one hundred years after the first Olympic marathon in Athens, Greece.  That marathon, as most know, was inspired by the fabled run of the Greek soldier Phillipides from Marathon to Athens, announcing a battle victory over the Persians.  Effectively, Phillipides’ run was also a nod to freedom.
  3. The Boston Red Sox play every Patriots’ Day in Fenway Park.  The game finishes in time for the fans to walk a mile east along the Charles River, arriving in Copley Square as the marathon runners are crossing the finish line.
  4. Until 1986, the men’s and women’s winners received a wreath of olive branches and a trophy; no cash prize.  Today?  First place: $150k, Second: $75k, Third: $40k, and Fourth: $25k.  Might want to dust off the running shoes and start training.
  5. Check out Derek Murphy’s “marathon investigation” blog here.  Derrick started his sleuthing five years ago and outed over 250 cheaters, including several who faked their race qualification times in order to run.  Too bad Derrick wasn’t around for the 1980 race, when Rosie Ruiz pulled off the marathon’s most famous heist (see her story here).
  6. In the 2011 race, Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya effectively broke the world marathon record (even though it wasn’t deemed official), finishing in 2:03:03.  Try that pace on a treadmill.  Set the speed at twelve miles/hour and… well… let it spin from a safe distance and just watch.
  7. The Boston draws an average of 30,000 participants each year, cheered on by 500,000 spectators.  The participants are divided into men’s and women’s categories of “elite runners” (i.e. pros), the remaining qualified runners (waves of 10,000), wheelchair-bound, and hand-cyclists.  The Boston even accommodates blind runners.
  8. The Boston is famous for Heartbreak Hill; the incline located a few miles from the finish where runners tend to hit an endurance “wall”.  Why the name? In the 1936 race, Johnny Kelley caught up with rival Tarzan Brown on that hill, giving him a pat on the back as he passed by.  Bad move.  Brown took the gesture as a challenge, found another gear, and went on to win the race.  Brown effectively “broke Kelly’s heart” and the hill gained a name forever.
  9. Halfway through the Boston, the lively women from nearby Wellesley College form a long “Scream Tunnel”, yelling and blowing kisses as the runners pass by.  These ladies are so loud, you’ll know the Scream Tunnel is coming a mile before you get there.
  10. And finally… the Boston Marathon is not really run in Boston; not until the final couple of miles.  Before that, you’re touring twenty-four miles of eight neighboring towns instead.

Remarkably, this year’s Boston Marathon included four finishers in the top hundred from right here in Colorado Springs.  The next day, my cycle instructor casually mentioned she’d run the race before.  Ditto my former boss at Hewlett-Packard.  And my sister-in-law has a good chance of qualifying in the next couple of years.  Superhumans.  As for me?  I do like to run, but I’d be happy enough just to spectate beside those hundreds of thousands of “Boston Strong”.  I’m just sorry I can’t have dinner at Durgin-Park afterwards.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”; and the Mental Floss article, “11 Fast Facts About the Boston Marathon”.

Fallen Arches

We have a McDonald’s in the middle of our small Colorado town.  The restaurant has been expanded over the years, to include double wrap-around drive-thru lanes and a “PlayPlace” for the kids.  At some point in time, demand pushed the hours of operation to 7/24.  So imagine my surprise last Saturday night around 6:30pm, when I passed by and didn’t see a single car – not one! – in either of the drive-thru lanes.  Apparently my town is not “lovin’ it” so much these days.

44 - venerable

The truth is, the fast food times they are a-changin’ and McDonald’s is struggling to move on from its burger-n-fries roots.  It’s hard enough to compete with the Panera’s and Chipotle’s and other “healthy” alternatives.  In this game, McDonald’s is either venerable or outdated – take your pick.

Growing up in California, the go-to fast-food restaurants were McDonald’s, Jack-in-the-Box, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Not many weeks went by where my family didn’t make it to at least one of the three.  In high school, my brother and I worked in a McDonald’s that drew busloads of patrons from the nearby interstate, and hundreds more from the adjacent movie theater.  The lines to the counter would stretch into the seating area; a fury of a demand for fast-food.  But my how times have changed.  A few weeks ago I was shocked to discover another neighborhood McDonald’s had closed down completely.  That’s no one-off; McDonald’s is shutting down hundreds of restaurants across the globe as part of a renewed corporate strategy.

I never thought I’d see the day where I question the long-term future of McDonald’s.  Health magazine recently published a list of “America’s Top Ten Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants” – http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20435301,00.html – and McDonald’s lands comfortably at #8.  Dig deeper however and you’ll find the telling comment: “although McDonald’s made our list, this is still the land of supersizing and giant sodas.”

McDonald’s is trying new approaches to gain market share, and I’m not just talking new menu items (although “garlic fries” are fighting for a spot).  In several of its Texas restaurants, McDonald’s is testing “fresh beef” instead of the “flash frozen” it has used for decades.  McDonald’s also sponsored a nutrition push in schools, but their message of portion control couldn’t overcome their burger-and-fries stereotype, so they cancelled the program.  McDonald’s latest proposed slogan is “The Simpler the Better”, but that’s more about a streamlined menu and faster service.  It’s makeup instead of the face lift they really need.

I have a soft spot for McDonald’s because it was my first formal paycheck.  I worked the grill and dressed the burgers and wore the uniform with pride.  But I can’t tell you the last time I hit a McDonald’s drive-thru, let alone walked into the restaurant.  Even the recent “all-day breakfast” campaign isn’t bringing me back.  Yes, we all still “deserve a break today”, but it may be time to finally dim the lights on the golden arches.