HOPKINTON — Several buses shuttling runners to Hopkinton did not make it to the designated drop-off spot near the Boston Marathon starting line, instead dumping people at a cross street blocked by police about a mile and a half from the start around 10:15 a.m.
Police at the closed off intersection of Cedar Street and Legacy Farms N in Hopkinton said at least eight buses got lost on the way to the starting line of the 125th Boston Marathon, the first time the race has been held in person in almost two years because of the pandemic.
The dozens of runners unlucky enough to be stuck on the lost buses faced a mile and a half uphill climb before their races even began.
Runners said the bus drivers gave them the option of getting off at the intersection and walking to the start of the race or staying on the buses to see if they could return to the interstate and reroute. Some runners who stayed on board returned to the blocked intersection a second time shortly afterward when the buses failed to reroute, police officers said.
Spokeswoman for the Boston Athletic Association Kendra Butters said that all of the buses organized by the association made it to the correct drop-off spot at the intersection of Pleasant Street and Grove Street, a relatively flat 0.7 miles from the start line.
BAA contracted Yankee Line to provide school bus shuttle service for runners to the start line from Boston Common and from South Street in Hopkinton. Mike Costa, general manager for Yankee Line, said its 350 buses from Boston and 50 from South Street made it to the correct drop-off spot without delay.
“GPS was verified,” he said. “We can say with 100 percent certainty all of them dropped off in the correct location.”
Costa said drivers for Yankee Line are trained on routing by doing dry runs before the day of the race and watching videos of the route. Drivers have to pass the training to work on the BAA-specific buses.
There are other buses contracted by private running clubs and groups that pick up at Boston Common as well, Costa said.
It was not immediately clear which company operated the buses that got lost.
A search for “Boston Marathon Starting Line” in Google Maps routed vehicles to the blocked intersection.
Between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., dozens of runners walked briskly up the hill from the blocked intersection on Cedar Street trying to get to the start line. Some ran.
“[Expletive] keeps going wrong,” said one runner.
“Our bus got lost!” one yelled.
“Now I’m really warmed up,” said another runner huffing up the hill. One took a photo of the uphill climb once she made it to the top to memorialize the trek. Her race had yet to begin.
Debbie Gilman, 50, has lived off Cedar Street for 23 years. Normally, Marathon Monday brings yellow school buses full of runners parked on her street and surrounding streets, getting participants as close to the race as possible, she said.
This year the buses never came.
Gilman and her daughter Julia, 19, headed out to watch the first races start around 8 a.m., and returned home shortly after. After a while, they started to notice huge herds of people making the climb up Cedar Street toward the race start line.
“It was such a surprise,” Gilman said. “At first I thought maybe they are spectators, then I saw they were clearly runners.”
Julia got in her car to drive down the street to get some coffee. On her way back she saw the stranded runners trudging up the hill.
“Everyone was giving me the hitchhike sign,” she said.
She picked up two women runners, she said, who were incredibly grateful.
One of them was Debbie Gelber, 53, from Lubbock, Texas. She got on a school bus at the Boston Common, one of two she said got lost carrying about 50 runners each. When police stopped her bus at the Cedar Street intersection, she stayed on, hoping the bus could return to the highway and make it to the correct drop-off spot. That didn’t happen.
“The policeman said, ‘I have my orders, we can’t let you through,’” she said. “We were supposed to start an hour earlier because of our qualifying times. The stress and everything was just incredible that it happened.”
Gilman stood at her fence cheering the runners on as they made their way to the starting line. Many asked how much longer they had to go. One man was visibly upset, Gilman said, looking for event staff. Most were in high spirits, though winded.
“There was no stopping these people, they were determined,” she said. For a race that’s “26.2 miles, this is an extra one and a half.”