By Rowan Walrath, city editor
Boston RunBase, the city’s newest hub for runners, opens Thursday at 855 Boylston St., about a third of a mile from the Boston Marathon finish line. It’s part museum, part shoe store, designed to connect Boston’s runners and inspire the next generation of athletes.
A partnership between Adidas, the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) and Marathon Sports, this is the sixth RunBase to open worldwide. However, it is the first in the US, and its ties to the Boston Marathon help distinguish it.
“We certainly will have artifacts and items from our past exhibited, but the displays will change every three months so that if someone comes at the end of this week and they come back in three months, they’ll see a whole new exhibition within the brick-and-mortar space,” Jack Fleming, a spokesman for the B.A.A., said.
Due to the rotating nature of the space, the B.A.A. has a slew of artifacts to curate the museum portion.
“A particularly interesting item, I think, is the 2013 champion’s medal,” Fleming said.
Fleming is referring to the June 2013 following the Boston Marathon Bombings, when Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, the champion of the men’s 2013 Boston Marathon, presented his medal to former mayor Thomas Menino to symbolize his support for the race and the city. In turn, Menino gave the medal to the B.A.A.
“Menino gave it to us to house in our office, but it was something that really, many more people deserve to see,” Fleming said. “It was such a nice, unbelievable gesture, and that’s part of the way we treat 2013 [and] 2014.”
The medal is only one of many artifacts that have been stowed away in the B.A.A. office until now. In 1967, Kathrine Switzer, a 20-year-old junior at Syracuse University, became the first woman to enter the race – illegally – and a race official tried to physically remove her two miles in. Now, the sweatshirt Switzer wore that day will be on display.
Physical artifacts, however, are not the main focus of the museum. A large part of the space will be dedicated to an interactive wall where visitors can look up information about past runners.
“It’s the first time that the B.A.A. has assembled all of our results in one central place,” Fleming said. “If you’ve ever run the Boston Marathon, ever known anyone who’s run the Boston Marathon, you’ll be able to find that person and do some interesting things with how that person got there … [There are] different infographic-type presentations over four large screens that I think will be particularly exciting and engaging for kids as well as adults.”
A closer look at their marathon predecessors will enable young athletes and future marathoners to – quite literally – follow in those runners’ footsteps.
The museum portion is only a fraction of the space. According to Rusty Tolliver, store manager, the day-to-day face of Boston RunBase will be a community-based spot for runners to use showers and lockers and team up with others to find the best spots to run around town. He wants it to be a hub for runners – native Bostonians and visitors alike.
“[We’re] inspiring the marathon’s history, but also, this is our city, and anyone who’s coming in here is a part of our city,” Tolliver said.
Tolliver runs with Achilles International, a nonprofit organization that encourages people with disabilities to participate in long-distance running, and Team With a Vision, a coalition of blind and sighted runners who race to support Bay Staters living with vision loss. He will be guiding a blind runner and a handicapped runner in this Monday’s marathon. He said a similar kind of community is what Boston RunBase aims to build.
“That’s basically what we’re doing here, what we want to do,” Tolliver said. “We have our B.A.A. elites who can finish top 10, top 15, top 20, but that’s just a small area of what we have here in Boston, and I think opening up people’s minds to the fact that there are blind runners [is important]. Boston is probably one of the biggest cities in the world that has a guide community like they do. Everyone’s a part of this community, even if they’re just visiting.”
The B.A.A. is primarily known for organizing the Boston Marathon. However, it is a year-round organization that has spent the last 15 years expanding to include a half-marathon in the fall and a 5K and 10K in the spring and summer, as well as youth events, volunteer opportunities and a running club.
Fred Shilmover, CEO of Cambridge-based software company InsightSquared, is running the marathon this year. He explained that his training has made him notice the scope of the city.
“Boston is largely a driving town, but even if you’re taking the T, something that I didn’t realize until training for the marathon is that Boston is actually pretty small,” Shilmover said in an email to The News. “This training has made Boston feel much more accessible to me.”
Nora Wilson has run the Boston Marathon for the last 10 years and has completed 65 marathons in her lifetime. She recalled her last two years running the race.
“I remember the year of the bombings with great precision, especially when I realized I needed to get to our hotel in Cambridge, across the Charles River,” Wilson said in an email to The News. “My biggest fear, even before I knew exactly what had happened, was that the bridges would be on lockdown, just like the T. Fortunately, I decided to do this on foot (three more miles), and got to our hotel where my husband was waiting for me.”
Wilson returned to race in Boston in 2014 to show her support and love for the city. Though she completed all 26.2 miles, she ran the last 15 with an injured left rotator cuff and right knee as the result of a collision with another runner.
Although she is registered for this year’s marathon, Wilson will not be going. Instead, she is on leave of absence from The Woodlands High School in Texas, where she teaches Spanish, to take care of her husband.
Lindsay Weigel, a senior health sciences major and member of NU Club Running, has run the race the last two years and is running again on Monday. She described how the marathon’s transformation has tied the running community even more to the city.
“2013 was overwhelming, but it was really cool to see how the city reacted so quickly and to see so much love and support in the weeks following the bombing,” Weigel said. “I think everyone’s attitude toward the 2014 marathon was more togetherness and supporting Boston than just being the fastest … This year, I think that that energy is still there. I think that people are definitely still trying to represent the city, trying to prove that this event is one that unites us rather than brings back terrible memories. People are having a positive vibe.”
For Peter Clarke, a senior computer engineering major and member of NU Club Running, this Boston Marathon will be his first. The last marathon he ran was the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington in October 2013.
“It’s nice to see other runners out on the road,” Clarke said of the running community. “I think that if there’s running meetups and stuff that would definitely build a sense of community, having a place to go … I definitely think that’d be a good community builder for runners.”
Weigel, who wore her Boston Strong shirt on Wednesday, said she felt a strong bond with other Boston runners. They would run up to her all day and yell, “Boston Strong!” according to Weigel.That sort of spirit is what Boston RunBase hopes to capture year-round.
“When you walk into the front door, it’ll be like what the Boston Marathon is like race week,” Fleming said. “That kind of enthusiasm and the recognition for runners can’t not be there.”
Photo courtesy Adidas