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As I bolted out of the porta-potty, I thought, this is it! this is the moment! THIS is where all of the training kicks in!!! I looked up at the first of the Newton Hills almost with a smile.
You. Are. Mine. I thought.
I had been running along at a decent clip, averaging in the low 7 minute per mile range for 17 miles. My only trouble had been the urge to pee since before the start. I finally gave in to using a porta-potty when I saw one at the bottom of the first Newton Hill. I figured that this was just another star aligning to get me to my 3:10. I would have 20 – 40 seconds to relieve myself while simultaneously recovering for 20 – 40 seconds before tackling the hardest part of the course. Perfect!
So this was it! All I had to do was get through the next 2.5 miles and I would be cruising home-free on the other side of Heartbreak Hill.
I kicked it into overdrive. This was going to be cake…maybe not a tasty cake, but cake nonetheless. I had run these hills dozens of times. Not only had I run them often, I had run them late in long runs (17 miles late to be exact!). My plan was to attack the hills with speed and relax on the back sides. It had worked every time in training. EVERY TIME!
As I hit the base of the hill I shortened my stride and quickened my cadence.
Oh yeah! Showtime!
I got three, maybe five steps in, and then it happened.
I don’t know what asthma feels like. I don’t have it. I have never had a problem with it. But three, maybe five steps up that first Newton Hill, after running like the wind, after looking up at Newton “knowing” this was going to be my day, after having run those hills countless times, my lungs simply said “no”. This is what I have always imagined asthma feels like.
For the life of me, I couldn’t inhale. Whether you’re a car or a plane or a pair of legs, if you can’t take in oxygen, there IS no combustion. Every time I tried to take a breath, my airway felt blocked. I could force enough in to make an awful sound, but that was it.
No, my lungs said, We are not going to cooperate with you in this insane business you call marathon running. No, we will not assist you in achieving you goal. No, we will not let you run fast. We are done breathing.
And that was it. In one moment my day went from spectacular to miserable in the flick of a switch. My legs had felt good. My will was strong. My desire was burning. But my airways constricted and all hopes of a 3:10 or a 3:15 or even a PR (currently a 3:19:19) went out the window.
My bolt out of the porta-potty turned into a walk. A walk? Really? I mean REALLY!?! I was walking up this hill?
Every hundred yards or so I would try to start running again. At first I would start slowly and then try to build up speed. Every time I would get to what I perceived to be about an 8:00 to 8:30 per mile pace, my lungs would collapse on me again and I would be left simply trying to inhale, struggling to do what we all take for granted. I would make a sickening weeze for about 30 – 40 second as I staggered along before my breathing would become normal again. I’m surprised that I did get picked up by medical. Maybe I’m just lucky that they didn’t spot me at my worst.
For the next mile I kept thinking that it would pass. If I could just get through the next 5 minutes or so, maybe everything will reset! It didn’t pass. I struggled to 18 or 19 where I saw the medical tent. I staggered towards it. I sighed.
DNF (Did Not Finish)? Am I going to have to fucking DNF?
As I raised my foot to take another step toward medical, I thought of my little Brooke. No, I wasn’t running this race for Autism Speaks or any autism charity for that matter, but Brooke and kids like her are a source of strength for me.
My foot wavered.
Then I thought of my older daughter, Katie. I had made a promise to her when I put her, Brooke and Jess on a plane the Friday before the marathon. They were going away to Florida ahead of me and I was going to join them Monday night after the marathon. I had promised Katie that I would wear my 2011 Boston Marathon Medal on the plane and would have it around my neck when I woke her up with a kiss when I got to our hotel. How could I break that promise? If I checked into medical, there would be no medal. In addition, I wouldn’t be able to wear the commemorative jacket I had bought days earlier.
And so, I stumbled back on to the course, weezing, trying to catch my breath.
I was scared.
I wanted to cry.
I wanted to quit – I wanted to quit more than I have ever wanted to quit in a marathon.
I wanted to scream and yell.
But I trudged on.
This was going to be the dreaded “Death March”.
By the time I reached mile 20, I was in a pretty dark place, and I still had Heartbreak Hill ahead of me. My lungs continued to rebel and now my feet were beginning to hurt. And that’s when I saw my dear friend Alett. She spotted me and began to cheer. I shook my head. As I staggered over to her, she said some words of encouragement, but I told her, today was not going to be my day. The running gods had given me a lemon of a marathon.
It was at that moment though when my whole attitude changed. After 2+ miles of grumbling and wallowing in self-pity, I realized that I had a choice. I could do the death march thing to the end of the race OR I could embrace what had been given me and take advantage of the fact that I still had many friends on the course waiting to see me and cheer me on. I could stumble by them in misery or take this opportunity to celebrate that I was running Boston this year and a god-damned qualifier!!!
I decided to go with the latter and started snapping pictures with every friend I could find. Click —>HERE<— to see the pics I took over the last 6 miles.
As painful as it was to keep going, and despite having bursts where I tried to finish strong only to be slapped down again by my lungs, it was a joy spotting friends and taking a minute or two to yuk it up. My only disappointment in those last few miles was that I was unable to spot a couple of friends I knew were out there and that I was unable to keep up with my friend Ty who came up behind me with less than a mile to go and tried to pull me along (I tried Ty!) – Nic, Deb, Amelia, Hadar, Yigal, Ramana, TK and Mary, despite missing you, it helped knowing you were out there!
Looking back on my splits, I’m pretty psyched I was able to stop and chat, take pictures AND keep those last miles in the 8:45 – 11:15 range.
So I guess the question becomes, what happened? More specifically, what caused my lungs to go asthmatic on me? I don’t know. I’ll have to do some research on that one. Maybe I was taking in too much fluid? I had been training on about 10 – 15 oz. of Gatorade per 20 miles all winter and I’m pretty sure I drank much more than that over the course of the first 17 miles. Maybe I just sucked down some liquid down the wrong pipe? I don’t know. All I know is Monday, April 18th wasn’t my day. Maybe, if I can get in, April 17th will be.
There are a lot of titles that went through my mind as I contemplated writing this race report:
Opportunity Lost or Falling Short (it was all there), Breathless (for obvious reasons), Karma (was there a debt to be paid for leaving a man behind at Smuttynose?), Hubris or Foolish or Greedy (was 3:10 a realistic goal? should I have been content with gunning for 3:15? would I have lost my lungs had I been running 7:24’s?)
It was, to say the least, a rough day. A day of disappointment. A day where my goal of a 3:10 marathon seemed well within my grasp. A day where I watched that goal simply disappear with a single breath.
It didn’t start out that way. In fact, when I woke up on Monday morning, I felt great. I mean, I REALLY felt great. My training had been pretty much without incident. My times had been spot on. I was ready. The weather looked like it was going to cooperate too – 50° – 60°. We were even going to have a tailwind. In addition, RaceMenu chief Alain found me right before the start and said that he was shooting for a 3:10 just like me – I thought “perfect! Someone to run with, just like Smuttynose!”
Yes, everything was lining up for an A+ effort on Monday. 3:10 was a real possibility, with a 3:15 all but in the bag! Though my morning was a bundle of nervous energy, I did manage to stay relatively relaxed on the surface. I found my dailymile friends in the Athletes’ Village, and the group of us kept each other loose with small talk and funny stories.
I was so sure that I could feel the natural speed of this group. We were almost all qualifiers, and those that were charity runners were gunning for PR’s.
Speed was in the air.
Some days you have it. Some days you don’t. Some days, like last Monday, you have it and then you lose it. I’m just glad I had the where with all to make lemonade out of lemons. And have no doubt, YOU were the sugar that made the lemonade so sweet!