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Boston’s Hop 21 Is Making the Long Training Run Fun Again

The Hop 21 is a 21.5-mile training run that's been a fun tradition for Boston Marathoners in the area before race day.

Photo: Courtesy of Charity Teams
Photo: Courtesy of Charity Teams

The long training run, a time-honored milestone on the way to running a marathon, can be a slog—a lonely one at that. When training for a spring marathon like Boston, add in the fickle weather, and it makes it all the more challenging to find the inspiration to lace up and get out the door. For those Boston Marathoners who live in the Boston area, they have the benefit of being able to run parts of the course during training, including the traditional long run segment from Hopkinton to Heartbreak Hill.

This sparked an idea for Susan Hurley, who through her business, Charity Teams, manages training and fundraising for nonprofits promoting philanthropy through athletics. The Boston Marathon has a significant number of charity runners, and many are running Boston or a marathon for the first time. Which means pre-race nerves may begin to edge out the fun component of the process. Hurley created the Hop 21 to bring the fun and camaraderie back to training by making the final long run (the Hop 21 is a 21.5-mile run) a group endeavor.

“This started as a small, hokey thing seven years ago,” says Hurley who knows her runners take the training seriously, but wants the experience to be about participating and having fun too. “Word of mouth has taken over because people are pumped about their last big training run. We’ve added costumes, aid stations and a post-run party!”

Unknown-1Photo: Courtesy of Charity Teams

Hurley, who buses runners from Boston to Hopkinton for the Hop 21, usually has 300 to 400 runners show up. But other runners and charities have taken to the idea as well, and some estimates predict upwards of 1,000 runners for this year’s Hop 21 on March 25. The Boston Athletic Association is aware of the run, but the event is not officially sanctioned. It’s a run, not a race. However it is well organized—some communities along the route provide police support, there are aid stations staffed by charity partners, brand involvement, and people cheering along the route. Hurley sees it as a welcoming of spring, celebration of the last long run and an all around positive day of running.

Costumes are a key component of the experience. Given the season, bunny and spring themed costumes are popular, as are other riffs on “hop.” Think hip-hop artists or even running while dressed as a stack of IHOP pancakes, with a sign that reads, “Carbo-loading for Boston” like Alan Seymour of Natick, Mass., did one year.

“As far as costumes go, I think a bit outside the box, and then try to tailor it to the fact that I have to run a very far distance wearing it,” says Seymour, 53, who is running with the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. “Part of the appeal of a costume run, for me, is that mental fortitude training that comes with it. If I can run this many miles dressed up in a ridiculous, often cumbersome costume, then the marathon will be a breeze!”

Unknown-2Photo: Courtesy of Charity Teams

For all the fun of the day, the Hop 21 is also a valuable run to do before the Boston Marathon. “It helps to bridge that gap between charity runners and qualified runners training wise,” Hurley adds.

Mark Zurlo is training for his fifth Boston Marathon as a charity runner and wouldn’t miss the Hop 21.

“For a training run, it really is great prep for the race, not only because you’re on the course, but because it so closely replicates a lot of what you’ll go through on race day. From the early morning wake-up call, to the nerves you feel as you take the bus from Boston to Hopkinton, to the excitement of the first few steps off the starting line, to the camaraderie, and all the way to the finish where you’re elated and exhausted, but you know you need to keep moving so you can get a warm change of clothes,” says the 30-year-old from Brighton, Mass., who is running as a guide for Greg Schwartz, a Paralympian. “A traditional 21-mile training run doesn’t do justice to the entire marathon experience.”

This year Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to finish the Boston Marathon as a registered entrant and the founder of 261 Fearless, is running Hop 21 alongside others running the 2017 Boston Marathon with 261 Fearless.

“I’ll never forget the Boston Marathon route, but this is a wonderful opportunity to refresh my memory,” says Switzer who is also running to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her 1967 run. “I ran Heartbreak Hill last October, and it did seem more significant than I recalled!”

If you’ve never run for a charity, something Hurley recommends everyone try at least once, spectating the Hop 21 will give you a sense of what to expect when the Boston Marathon, community outreach and spirit of running all come together.

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