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So on Monday I ran the 114th Boston Marathon. It was like no other race I have ever run before – one that may not have ended as I had hoped but was a fantastic adventure nonetheless.
I could start with my 5:15 wake up, my hurried breakfast and shower, my nervous drive to the Boston Commons, my ride to Hopkinton with my RaceMenu Teammates (a story for another post), my wait in the Village, hooking up briefly with my buddy Mike, but I am eager to get right to the race.
The start of the Boston Marathon is broken into 2 waves, with the faster qualifiers in Wave 1 and the rest of us in Wave 2. The second Wave starts 30 minutes after the first. Each wave is further broken down into Corrals of 1000 runners each. Wave 1 had 13 corrals, wave 2 had 14. For those of you not wanting to do the math, that’s roughly 27,000 runners.
In part because I was not a qualifier and in part because my application was sent in last minute, I was assigned bib number 27709 in the 27th and final corral.
This was my view as I looked ahead to the starting line.
No, you can’t actually see the starting line in this picture because it’s over that hill in the distance.
This was the view behind me as I lined up.
Yeah, those people don’t even have bib numbers. They’re bandits. I was literally one of the last people to cross the starting line on Monday. In fact, once the gun went off, it took me well over 15 minutes or so to get there! The trip to the starting line was a marathon in and of itself, filled with false jogging starts and full stops.
From the start I was struck by the crowds. As soon as you cross the line (even before it) there are countless people, young and old, holding out there hands wanting nothing more than a high five. In the few races I have run, I have never seen such support.
Once I got over the starting line, I followed the advice of a dailymile/twitter friend Chris (@cyktrussel) and hugged the left shoulder. He had said that as a runner starting in the back, one of my biggest hurdles to a BQ was going to be the slow moving mass in front of me. On the shoulder I found room to move at a comfortable pace. Most people seemed to be sticking to the middle.
I took a deep breath and tried to find my inner calm. Despite the 15 minute walk up, or maybe because of it, I was completely amped up and ready to run hard. Not the way one should start such a challenging course. As I began to meditate on my pace I was distracted by the sudden flood of runners cutting across my field of vision from right to left. Dozens and dozens of runners were running into the woods. For a moment I couldn’t figure out what they were doing. Was this some weird mass run suicide thing? Had they become possessed by lemmings? It only took a moment to realize that these were all of the people who hadn’t thought to relieve themselves BEFORE the start of the race. I wish I had had the wherewithall to snap a shot of the wall of runners standing in the trees, all lined up.
After a chuckle, I settled into a groove. A half-mile in, Runkeeper beeped. I looked at my watch. 3:50. A little faster than I had planned, but right on the pace I was hoping to run for the whole race. I should have been a little more conservative, but as many Boston first-timers do, I let the pull of gravity pull me. I had planned on trying to run 8:00 miles through the first 10 and then slowly drop it down, but I was so happy cruising along at 7:40 – 7:45, and I felt so good, I thought, that maybe this was where I was supposed to be.
It would come back to haunt me. It’s amazing what 15 – 20 seconds per mile can do to or for you. I should have been running 8’s.
Around the 3 mile mark I heard my name called.
I turned to find my lovely new friend Alett, also known as @petfxr on twitter. Although she has been a relatively new addition to my online community of runner friends, she has very quickly become one of my favorites. Anyone who read my race recap of the Eastern States 20 will recognize her as the angel who brought me water when I had forgotten mine in my car. We hugged as best we could while maintaining stride and I was off.
A couple of miles later I recognized another runner. Not someone I had ever met, but I knew the costume. It was Jason Jacobs (@runkeeper), the creator of my most used iPhone App, Runkeeper, running in a Runkeeper costume. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t be the runner I am today without Runkeeper, but Runkeeper has made it a whole lot easier to get here. We had never met, but I introduced myself and he recognized my name. He quickly snapped a shot on his phone.
I wish I had thought to do the same. As we passed 5 miles, I looked at my watch. 38:40. A little too fast, I thought. I tried to slow down. I actually put my hands out in front of me with a slow down motion, willing myself to ease ease up on the downhill.
About a mile later I came up behind my buddy Mike. We chatted for a few moments before I rolled on. As I did, he yelled “Looking good. Now throw it down!” I wasn’t ready to do that quite yet, but his enthusiasm was impossible to resist. I could feel myself pick up the pace just a little.
As I passed mile 7 or 8, I heard another yell of my name. I turned just in time to see the Inclusion Facilitator Extraordinaire from my younger daughters Summer Camp, Ms. T. As she yelled “Run Luau Run!!!” at the top of her lungs, I was filled a burst of energy. I was brought back to my wait in the corral.
When I went to put on my running clothes early in the morning, I had found a little note the wife had left me, folded over and held shut by an Autism Speaks pin. It read, Read in the Corral. I did. I must have read it 5 times while waiting for the gun to go off.
If you can’t make out the picture (it got a little sweaty in my pocket), it says:
You’ve prepared for this.
You’ve got this.
Listen to your body.
We’re with you at every step.
Game on, baby.
I placed the pin on my singlet and stuck the note in the small pocket of my running shorts, the pin representing my younger daughter for whom the loud cheering crowds would just be too much too handle. Thanks for the note, Honey!
To have Ms. T yelling, “Run Luau Run” (loud enough to be heard in Boston) was awesome. Thank you Ms. T!
The next few miles were a blur, but as I approached 13, I prepared for what I thought Wellesley would be like. Every veteran Boston Marathoner I have spoken to gets a glazed look in their eyes when they talk about the halfway point of the race. Actually, I take that back. Every male veteran of the Boston Marathon gets that look. It’s not that you are halfway and it’s not the beauty that is the town of Wellesley. No, it the women of the college. Every year they line up and form a scream tunnel and they cheer. They cheer and offer kisses to any runners willing to stop.
Though I wasn’t quite willing to stop for kisses, I did remember reading an article last year in which Kara Goucher said she had been told to run as close to the crowd as possible to draw on their energy, so I ran as close to the women of Wellesley as I could. Each and every one of them had their hand out. I’m pretty sure I hit every one over the course of about 100 yards. As we came out of the gauntlet, I shouted to a guy who had been right in front of me,
“That was awesome!”
“Yeah it was,” he yelled back.
“I wanna go back and do that again!” We both laughed, but carried on.
I looked at my watch. 1:42. Pretty much where I wanted to be. As we shot through the center of the Town of Wellesley, I remember thinking, “Ok, you’ve got this. Less than 13 to go.” I ran a self-diagnostic and came to the conclusion that I was pushing the engine hard, but was not quite red-lining it.
Again, the next few miles fell into a blur. I focused on hitting every water stop and staying close to the crowds. As we entered Newton just past 16 miles, I realized something wasn’t quite right. The cheering as you enter Newton is tremendous, especially if you happen to be trailing one of the charity runners because the hospital is right on the Newton-Wellesley border. As loud as the crowd was, I didn’t have the energy to high five every hand that was sticking out of the sea of spectators. I briefly thought about my fears of the 16 mile barrier but I took a deep breath, re-focused and found new energy as we approached the firehouse at the start of the Newton Hills.
“This is it People!” I yelled to no one in particular. I received several enthusiastic “Yeah”s as we made the turn.
I buckled down and pushed ahead. I had been warned that there would be evil psychology at play the moment I hit the Hills. Most people at some point walk them and when everyone else is walking them, your brain starts asking YOU why you aren’t walking them. I wasn’t going to let that happen and in fact, came pretty close to maintaining pace all the way through them.
But I paid a price.
Right before Heartbreak Hill I found my wife and older daughter on the right. My daughter was wearing a fantastic hat she and the wife had made.
I had asked my wife to have a bottle of Nuun water and Clif blocks ready for me. I shouted that I didn’t want the water.
Unexpectedly, she began running with me. She kept pace for about two or three blocks. I looked at her and said, “I’m close, but I think I’m gonna be on the wrong side of 3:20”. She looked at me in surprise. “You got this baby”. But I knew. I thought back to the note she had left me. Know yourself. Listen to your body. I knew the hurt was coming. The wife peeled away and I pressed on . I thought of my little one and the Autism Speaks pin on my shirt. I stared up at Heartbreak Hill. My body ached just looking at it.
Don’t stop on the Hill, I could the voices telling me. Were they from the spectators or in my head? I wasn’t sure. Lost in thought I almost missed a group of spectators called the Boston Hash House Harriers. I had been told by Alett that they handed out beer to whoever asked for it, but more importantly had the motto, “On On!” I yelled it to them at the top of my lung three or four time and received more than I gave. The responding cheer was huge, but the energy only lasted a few moments.
I looked at my watch. 2:35 at 20 miles. That was a full 10 minutes slower than the 20.2 I had run just 3 weeks earlier at Eastern States, yet I didn’t feel nearly as good. The wheels were coming off the bus. The gas tank was running on vapors and I was only part way up Heartbreak. A few moments later, I heard, “Hey Luau”. I turned in surprise to find Josh (aka @bostoncardiovet). He wasn’t running Boston, but as a thank you for running the last 1/4 mile of the Eastern States 20 with him 3 weeks earlier, he ran me up the rest of Heartbreak Hill. I’ve told Josh several times that his run with me probrably saved me 2 or 3 minutes off my total time. Thank you Josh!
Soon after I crested Heartbreak and started the downhill I hit 35K. I looked at my watch. 2:50:43. So close yet so far. The quads cramped up. I suddenly had visions of Manchester running through my head. Oh Lord, please don’t let me seize up! As much as my quads hurt though, I was determined not to stop. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. The rest of the race was a complete blur. I actually maintained pace for another mile, but then the pain became too much. A little past 23, try as I might, I couldn’t maintain a 7:45 pace anymore. This was where I was supposed to drop the hammer and sprint home for a BQ. It was not meant to be that day. Mile 23 had shot up to mid 8’s; Mile 24 mid 9’s; Mile 25 mid 10’s. I took comfort in knowing I pushed the wall back by 6 miles from my earlier marathon, but it did little to alleviate the disappointment.
I sighed as my watch passed 3:20.
As I hit the Citgo sign,
I heard people yelling there was only one more mile to go.
I usually laugh at 1 mile. 1 mile is something I could do in my sleep. 1 mile doesn’t even count.
NOT TODAY!!! 1 mile sounded like an eternity. Really? We still have a mile to go? Well, no Luau, actually it was 1.2 more miles. When I realized this there was part of me that just wanted to give up, but I pressed on. With a half mile to go, the crowds thickened, their cheers deafening. As we took the two turns into the final stretch I flashed back to last year’s marathon and watching Kara Goucher and Ryan Hall come through these very streets. I picked up my pace.
As I turned onto Boylston I broke into a dead run. This finish line looked so far away. I pushed harder as the crowd cheered all of us on.
I pumped my fist as I crossed the finish line and almost came to a dead stop, not because I wanted to but because my body was refusing to continue. I had managed to run the last mile in 9:01. I limped along, and ran into yet another online community friend, Audrey. The two of us limped along in pain, wishing we could laugh at the pain we were in,happy to be done, satisfied that we had left it all on the course.
I eventually found a spot to sit down. Big mistake! I was unable to get up for 20 minutes.
I sat and mulled over my failed attempt to qualify for Boston in this race. I had been pretty confident that I was going to pull it off. It was just not meant to be this day. I ended up running a 3:32:05 (22 minute PR), and up until about 22 miles I was well within striking distance. That I could keep pace 6 miles longer than I had in Manchester on a harder course was encouraging. Had this been Bay State or Providence, maybe I would have had the juice to pull it off, but the Boston course is a tough one.
Next year I run smarter. I thought I had run smart in this one, but looking back I know I should have held back even more at the beginning.
Now the question is, are my legs going to be recovered enough by May 2nd for a run at 3:20 in the Providence Marathon or does that become a fun run? That’s only 10 day away. Ouch!