It was 33 years to the day that well known sports journalist and accomplished author Matt Fitzgerald crossed the Boston Marathon finish line for the first time. An event which has been noted on multiple fronts as life-changing for the then 11-year-old boy.
“It was powerful,” Fitzgerald said of his first visit to the Boston Marathon in April 1983. “I’d never been to any marathon finish, let alone the Boston Marathon.”
A New Hampshire native, Fitzgerald and his two brothers were in attendance to watch their father finish his first marathon. The plan was for he and his brothers to join dad and run him in for the final mile of his 26.2 mile journey.
“We just jumped in and surrounded him like cruisers around a battle ship,” the author said. “Anyone that’s ever been to that iconic stretch of the Boston Marathon … it’s pandemonium. It’s half a mile long and it’s just a scream tunnel.”
The next morning at the breakfast table, Fitzgerald declared to the family that he was going to be a runner.
“My older brother beat me to it,” he said of his family announcement. “That day I think the two of us went out and ran six miles. It was nothing. That started it.”
Thirty-three years later much about Boston and the final stretch down Boylston Street are the same, the circumstance and the finish, however, were much different. Since that day in 1983 Fitzgerald went on to have an accomplished running career as a youth and as an adult, with a brief hiatus in his early 20s due to burnout.
At the age of nine he declared he would be a writer, never dreaming that his two passions would one day meld and create the path which now earns him a living. In 1995 he relocated to San Francisco with his sights set on landing a job as a writer. Shortly after arriving, he was offered an opportunity with the start-up Triathlete magazine.
“Two things that really weren’t all that normal I grew up thinking were normal,” he said, noting his father’s career as an accomplished novelist. “That you could grow up to be a writer and that running long distances was a normal thing to do.”
Working as a sports journalist and being surrounded by fit, enthusiastic athletes, Fitzgerald not only returned to running, he took on the challenge of the triathlon. To date he has registered and/or trained for five Ironman’s and was able to toe the line of just one.
“What can I say, I’m brittle,” the sports writer said, noting that all of his injuries have been result of overuse. “You go through that so many times and it just starts to roll off your back. You’re disappointed but, those few moments that it all comes together and you hit it out of the park are just enough to get you over the next seven or eight disappointments.”
One notable disappointment came shortly after Fitzgerald returned to running and set his sights on running the Boston Marathon as a registered adult. His father has run Boston three times, none of which are documented, as he ran each one as a ‘bandit’ (AKA a non-registered runner).
“A lot of people don’t know this, but back then about two-thirds of the people who ran it each year were bandits,” Fitzgerald said. “It was a small marathon. Only a few thousand people ran it officially.”
In 1999 he ran his first full marathon, in 2001 he was registered for Boston only to be taken down by injury 10 days prior to race day. The year 2009 would prove to be his Boston year.
Less than 100 feet into the race, he lost his shoe due to crowding by another runner.
“The lost shoe was no big deal,” he said of the slip up. “What made the race a disaster was the downhills, they destroyed my quads.”
By mile 18, Fitzgerald did something that few talk about, he began to walk.
“I walked until close to mile 24,” he said.
He also shared that the Boston Marathon crowd is like no other. Thanks to a group of what appeared to be Fraternity guys and their insistent yelling at him, he said, he began to run again.
“It ended up making the bitter, bittersweet,” Fitzgerald said. “It reminded me why that event is so special. It’s interactive. Every city’s got a marathon now, but there will never be another Boston because they get it.”
For the 120th Boston Marathon, Fitzgerald would return in a manner not even he could have dreamed 33 years ago when he made his “declaration.” Earlier this year he was approached by Hyland’s Inc., a homeopathic medicine company and invited to be one of the 10 selected for the Hyland’s Find Your Finish Line team.
“I was not planning to go back this year,” Fitzgerald said, “because I did my first 50-mile Ultra Marathon. That was my big goal and Boston was 16 days after that.”
The team at Hyland’s had no concern with the athlete’s commitment. They loved his story and his connection to the race and brought him on board.
“It was a great trip,” Fitzgerald said Monday from his parent’s New Hampshire home. “Hyland’s had a whole agenda for us. It was kind of cool, we were wined and dined. We really got the VIP treatment.”
Fitzgerald spent Saturday positioned at the race expo signing his recently released book, “How Bad Do You Want It?” before taking in a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. Sunday was spent resting his legs and hydrating.
“It was warm,” he said of the Boston start line. “I felt like I had my legs back, but it was too warm to go with Plan A. So, I ran the best that I could.”
The ‘best that he could,’ was a finish time of 2:56:18 (an average mile pace time of 6 minutes, 43 seconds).
“There’s so many good runners at Boston,” he continued. “I just wanted elbow room. It was a tough race; the course doesn’t suit me now any more than it did in 2009.”
Still, he felt he prepared well for the experience.
“Everything I hoped would make a difference did,” he said of his race strategy. “The last few miles I felt I had energy to burn but my legs were just done. For me being able to see it through and get to the finish line, I have a lot of gratitude for that.”
Fitzgerald currently resides in Oakdale with his wife Nataki. He continues to write as well as works as a certified nutritionist and a fitness consultant. Additional information on Fitzgerald can be found at www.mattfitzgerald.org.
“The Boston Marathon has just huge personal significance to me,” he concluded. “I’m really grateful to Hyland’s for this opportunity.”