Screams and Social Media Support Boston Marathon Runners
Wellesley College is around the halfway point on the route of the Boston Marathon. Each year Wellesley students line a section of the course and motivate runners with cheering, signs, high-fives ... even kisses in a tradition called the "Scream Tunnel." Read more about the Wellesley Tradition.
Hayley Lenahan ’12 is house president of Munger Hall and one of the organizers of this year’s Scream Tunnel. Last year, she helped to develop a way for runners to connect with Scream Tunnel participants and request signs through Facebook and Twitter (see photos from The Scream Tunnel Twitter feed from Marathon Monday on Boston.com) In the essay that follows, she reflects on what Marathon Monday means to her—and what the scream tunnel means to marathon runners.
Marathon Monday, the day of the Boston Marathon, is my favorite day of the year at Wellesley College. As part of a one hundred-year-old tradition, classes are cancelled and the student body spends the day cheering runners as they pass our campus, which is the halfway point of the race. Runners have dubbed this area the Scream Tunnel because of the noise level from the hundreds of cheering students. Many runners say they can hear us a mile before they see us and that Wellesley is their favorite part of the race because of the enthusiasm of the campus community.
My dormitory, Munger Hall, has a special relationship with the marathon because we are in charge of making posters and signs for the runners. In my first year, we continued this tradition by making dozens of posters with messages like “Keep running!” and “Halfway there!” I was intrigued by a handful of personalized signs that students had made for their friends or family members who were competing. It would be inspiring, I thought, to see a poster that someone had taken the time to make just for you. An older student told me there was no way for runners or their supporters to contact us to make special sign requests. That got me thinking, why not make a way?
The following year, as a resident assistant in Munger Hall, I volunteered to coordinate the marathon preparations. My top priority was implementing a way for people to request individual signs. I started a Facebook group, but I was disappointed when only a handful of requests trickled in. One week before the marathon, however, the College’s Office of Public Affairs interviewed me for a press release about my project. Overnight, the Facebook group had hundreds of new members and over a hundred requests for signs. The Boston media noticed, too. We were featured on several news blogs, and I was interviewed on a major Boston morning radio show. All of this publicity led to even more requests for signs.
On Facebook, seasoned runners told us how much they loved running past Wellesley, and first-timers said they knew the Scream Tunnel by reputation. Dozens of runners used the Facebook group to share their stories. There were cancer survivors and octogenarians. One man was running his 167th marathon. Another man was a veteran, running in memory of his friend who had been killed in Iraq. Several teams, from the American Cancer Society to the cast of the reality television show The Biggest Loser, asked for signs. (The Biggest Loser team wanted a sign reading “Run, Losers, Run!”) Their stories were so inspiring that we knew we had to make a poster for every single one, even though we only had a few days. Out came the rolls of butcher paper, and bottle after bottle of paint. We even had to recruit more Munger Hall students to help make the signs.
While painting late one night, I had a thought: what if the runners did not see their posters as they passed by? So I grabbed my camera and began to photograph our signs. I posted the pictures on our Facebook group, so that all the runners could see their signs in advance. That way, they could be on the lookout for their personalized posters as they entered the Scream Tunnel.
The day of the race, as we waited for the first runners, the excitement was palpable. We hung our hundred signs on the metal barriers that separated the spectators from the marathon, and the signs stretched all the way down the street. As the runners approached, it was clear that our personalized signs were a hit. During the race, I watched a woman excitedly run up to touch a poster and shout, “That’s my sign!” A man running with his camera stopped to take a photo of his sign. For days after the marathon, the Facebook group was filled with thank-yous to the college. I even received an email from a runner who said that he kept a photo of his marathon poster on his refrigerator door, as a constant source of inspiration.
The most gratifying result of this project was that it created personal connections between the college community and the runners; Facebook turned strangers into friends and helped us put a modern twist on a century-old Wellesley tradition. I was pleased that another student continued my project while I was abroad last year, but now that I am back and serving as the house president of Munger Hall, I am looking forward to connecting with runners again this spring.