A week before the 2023 Boston Marathon, we’re doing a race of our own: a race against the T.
I joined two runners, both of whom are training to run the Boston Marathon, in separate attempts to beat the MBTA's Green Line.
This is not a new idea. Years ago, some really fast runners organized their own race against the T. But I wanted to see if I — a runner, but not a super fast one — could do it. I also wanted to put to the test whether right now, with all the slow zones in place while the T is inspecting and repairing lines, it could be more convenient to use your feet than your Charlie Card.
Attempt 1: Traffic trouble
Runner number one was Rachel Heller, chief executive of the nonprofit Citizens’ Housing & Planning Association, which advocates for affordable housing. She moved to Boston in 1999 and has since lived near every MBTA line. She’s now on the Commuter Rail.
“The T has made it possible for me to live in this area,” Heller said. “I didn't have a car in most of the neighborhoods I’ve lived in, and the T made it possible for me to get to work, to visit friends.”
So for Heller, racing against the T was kind of like racing an old friend.
"The T has made it possible for me to live in this area."-Rachel Heller, Boston Marathon runner
We started at Boston University East, setting off at the exact moment that T left its station.
We were about even with the train for a while.
But during our run along the four stops to Packard’s Corner, we kept getting stuck at crosswalks over and over, and had to wait for cars to go by. After a few minutes, we couldn't even see the T in front of us anymore.
Then we picked up the pace. We started hitting a groove. We mounted a bit of a comeback, but ultimately to no avail: The T beat us to Packard’s Corner by about a minute and a half.
Attempt 2: No holding back
The second attempt to race the Green Line was with Joseph Reilly, an assistant teaching professor in an analytics program at Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies. He regularly takes the T and the 66 bus to get around.
"I live in Brookline, right near Coolidge Corner, only like half a mile away from the course. Which is fun, because I get to train on the course all the time," Reilly said.
And he runs really fast: a marathon takes him less than 3 hours, and a mile about 6 minutes.
When we started out our race against the T from the Boston University East stop to Copley Square, I told Joseph that I would try to keep up with him, but he should not let me hold him back.
And off we went.
About a mile in, I made the decision to let him take off on his own. When I got to the finish line, I found Reilly there, still barely out of breath. He had been waiting for me a while — and he had beaten the T.
“It felt great,” he said. “I can't wait to be out here on race day.”
Thanks to the fact that I spent the majority of our run trying to keep up with him, I, too, according to our calculations at the time, beat the T.
Running is an option, but maybe not a good one
So it is possible to outrun the T. I would not really recommend it.
“I don't know how many people would actually choose this as their everyday commute option, but it felt good knowing it's an option,” Reilly said.
Being slower than the T is not necessarily a bad thing, Heller pointed out.
“It's about the journey, she said. “I'm so proud of the T. I would have been worried if I beat T.”
After all, you want the train to be faster than your feet. And based off our races, I think it's safe to say, even with slow zones, for the most part right now, that seems to be the case.