Thursday, April 24, 2014

2014 Boston Marathon

This year's Boston Marathon was certainly one for the record books.  It included all the markings of a good story: grief, struggle, resilience, redemption, heroism, and as only Boston could: unexpected plot twists (and unicorns, of course).  To be a part of it, whether running, volunteering, spectating, or watching it online, was to witness the best of the American spirit.

Monday morning, Ronnie and Coleen met at my house and then we headed over to Julia's.  Like last year, we all wanted to meet at Julia's before heading over to EMC to catch the shuttle bus.  That way we'd all be together heading to the Athlete's Village.

Wearing our Wal-Mart special throw-away clothes!
We met at Julia's around 7:45 (I'm documenting this because we were fretting about what time we should meet and I was chastised for not including this specific detail in last year's blog!) and paused for some photo ops.  Funny thing overheard: "Coleen, take your pants off so we can get a picture".

Danny, Julia, Coleen, Me, Kristen, Marie, and Ron
We got to EMC at 8:30 and easily found parking.  This is where we first started experiencing major differences from last year.  We had to go through security checkpoints and screenings before getting onto the shuttle buses and there was a strong police presence even just in the parking lot.  No one was bothered by the increased security, and we all made it through security in time to get on the same bus.

The annual bus ride pic
Also new this year, instead of the bus dropping us off in the center of Hopkinton, where we would have to walk 3/4 mile to the Athlete's Village, this time the bus took a different route and dropped us off right at the village.  At first we thought this was pretty cool, until we tried to leave.

The Athlete's Village was a massive sea of people strewn about all over the damp ground and outlined by ripe toilet-paperless porta-potties.  This, combined with the interesting array of throw-away clothes and people gulping down their final pre-race goodies, felt more like Woodstock than a marathon!

Dude...pass me the banana
We met up with a few more club runners and got another group picture.

A very noticeable difference this year was the way that runners were sent to the start line.  Unlike last year, where runners could leave the Athlete's Village when they wanted, this year they were very strict about staying in the village until their wave and corral assignment was released.  Because Ronnie was in the 3rd wave, he had to head to the start a half hour earlier than us, and we couldn't see him off.  They were very strict about corral assignments also, so they would announce, "If you're in wave 4, corral 1, 2, or 3, line up.  Everyone else needs to wait".  So as we started getting ready to head to the start line, most of us got split up.  Part of me is a little disappointed about this because part of the excitement of the race is standing at the start line waiting for the gun to go off.  We didn't experience that this year.  Instead, it was more of a rolling start, where we (at least in the further back corrals), walked from the Athlete's Village right up to the start line and then started running.  No fan fare, no seeing friends or family at the start line that had been waiting there for hours to catch a glimpse of us.  I understand the need to keep the start line free of too much congestion, and it's tough to manage 35,000 people, but still it was a bit anti-climactic!  Not to worry, the rest of the course more than made up for it.

Just before we headed to the start line, the temperature went from pleasantly brisk to warm and sunny.  As we took off our throw-away clothes, we speculated that it might be getting warmer than we expected.  I immediately wished I had worn the singlet instead of the short sleeve shirt.  At that point all we could do is hope the temperature didn't rise too much higher!  Since I was in the final wave of runners that started at 11:25, we would be impacted by the warm temperatures more than any other group of runners.

Heading towards the start line and seeing the spectators for the first time gave us a preview of what the next 26 miles would feel like, and it felt amazing.  We were like rock stars, and people even lined the street a good half mile before the start line wishing us well.  And offering us beer, cigarettes, and ribs.  It was a tempting offer, those ribs looked delicious!

As the race started, it soon became clear that this was indeed a special, once in a lifetime experience.  Crowds lined the street for 26 miles, with an unprecedented level of unity and patriotism.  There was almost never a bare spot along the entire course.  Shalane Flanagan later commented that it was like "running through a 26 mile stadium".  I stuck to my goal of keeping it slow and steady in the first miles, resisting the urge to sprint down the plummeting hills into Ashland.  I had people lined all along the course to look for, so as I approached TJ's in Ashland I slid over to the far left, where I saw my sister, her boyfriend, and then my friend Eddie.

My goal was to finish in last year's project time of 4:45.  That would require a 10:50 pace, and I started off a bit under that to give me a cushion for the later miles.  My plan started off great!  My only question mark remained the heat.  I knew I might have a problem when by mile 2 I was already saturated with sweat.  The sun quickly got to me, and I would've killed for a rain cloud.  Even still, the first 10 miles went perfectly.

At mile 10 I took my first walk break (as planned) and assessed my heat situation.  I was starting to get uncomfortable, but my lungs, heart, and legs all still felt good.  I decided to switch gears and take a mini walk break each mile for the next couple miles and see if that helped.

I realized that if I kept taking mini walk breaks each mile, my average pace was quickly going to pass my necessary 10:50.  Time to reevaluate.  I stopped at the 13 mile clock and said hi to Anthony and Mark.  While I felt okay, I knew the heat was getting to me, and I needed someone to tell about it.  Anthony always seems to know just what to say.  He said, "Take in more water, get ice if you can, and adjust your pace.  Now you can sit here and complain for 10 more seconds, but then you have to go".  I love him.  Off I went.

This marathon was absolutely a "Tale of Two Halves".   The first, very successful half, and the second, just-survive-and-get-it-over-with half.  I was in full-on survival mode, taking in ice at every opportunity, and pouring water over my head at every water station.  Around mile 15 my quads started hurting, a lot.  Never in my life have I had sore legs while running.  Tired maybe, but not sore like this.  Every step was a pounding, and I knew the next 10+ miles were going to be a challenge.  Everyone around me was feeling the same, because soon water stations were out of cups and volunteers were holding pitchers of water and offering "refills".  At each water station, the race seemed to come to a halt as everyone stopped for refills or - if they were lucky - actual cups.  The road was so covered in cups that there was literally no asphalt left to run on, and those cups got slippery!  Ice was my best friend, and every time I saw some I grabbed a handful and stuffed it under my hat and down my shirt.

Just before mile 15 I veered over to the left to find Andrew's friend Dominique (she saw me and even got pictures!) and then veered back over to the right to get ready to see Jackie and Mike.  When I saw them I was instantly jealous of them standing on the side of the road.  I wish I was standing on the side of the road, not running.  I ran by them saying "I'm SO HOT!" and Mike said, "Yeah you are!!" and I laughed and kept going.

I turned onto Comm Ave at the Newton fire station, which was busting with spectators, and heard Toby Keith's "American Soldier" booming from a stereo.  The whole course was a steady reminder of where we were, and why we were soldiering on.  It was a well placed song and gave me some motivation as I tackled the hills.  I was definitely disappointed with the way I felt going into the hills.  I had prided myself on running so many hills in training, and yet here I was, facing some relatively mild hills, and I couldn't even drum up the energy to run up them.  I walked off and on for the next three miles (more walking than running).  My quads weren't cooperating, and I was extremely nauseous and getting lightheaded.  I stopped at a medical tent and asked for some biofreeze but they didn't have any.  (What?!)  At mile 21 I spotted Mom and Dan and made my way over to them.

When I saw this picture after the race, I said "wow, I look so much better than I felt!"  I stopped and hung out with them for a few minutes, answering their questions with grunting nods and head shakes.  I drank some of Mom's water and used the rest to wash my face.

Is it just me or does that look like the Walking Dead coming up behind me?

I have to run HOW MANY more miles??!

I couldn't put this off forever, so eventually I left them for the last five miles, and promised to text her in an hour.
Off I went up the last incline before heading back downhill and into Boston
I made it past the Boston College crowd without getting too annoyed by the spectators.  They seemed a little nicer this year.  More encouraging and less rowdy.  My stomach continued to betray me, and I would've given anything for a Coke to settle it (and give me a little caffeine jolt).  I started asking spectators if they had any Coke or Pepsi.  A couple people said they did, then realized they didn't.  What a tease! If I saw someone with a Coke in their hand, there's no doubt in my mind I would've stolen it out of their hand.  My head was so out-of-sorts that I could no longer count.  I don't even really remember miles 22 and 23.  When I got to mile 24, I couldn't figure out how much longer I had to run.  Three miles I think, right? I honestly don't know.  I was trying to run as much as possible at this point.  Around mile 24.5 I saw a sea of people wearing Team Hoyt shirts, all walking in a cluster.  Then I realized they were surrounding Dick and Rick Hoyt, and they were all finishing the race together as a team.  That was a special moment hearing the crowds chant for them.  I said hi, passed them, and then thought to myself, I absolutely must keep running now so I don't get passed by Team Hoyt!

I passed the "1 mile to go" sign, and that was the best sign I'd seen all day.  I did my best to shake the cobwebs out of my brain.  I needed to think clearly and really take in everything that was about to happen.  I couldn't help but compare this year to last year.  I remember seeing the shift in behavior of the cops and spectators last  year around this section, so I looked for any similar indications, and found none.  The occasional drone of a helicopter overhead gave me some flashbacks, but since they weren't accompanied by SWAT teams, they gave me a measure of comfort rather than distress.  I saw the bar we took refuge in last year at BU.  I saw the curb we sat on when we were stopped just shy of the finish.  And then I got to see sights I had never seen before.  I finally made it under the Mass Ave bridge.  I took the right on Hereford, and that's when it got real.  I was finishing this race, even if it meant I had to yell at myself to keep going.  (And I really did, I was talking to myself - out loud - to make myself keep going).

They say at the end of a marathon, when there's nothing left in your body, and you're totally spent, you're not running on carbs, fuel, or maybe not even adrenaline.  You're running with your heart.  As I turned left onto Boylston Street, I understood what that meant.  The finish line begged me to continue moving forward, and the crowds pulled me along.  I didn't want this moment to end, and I looked all around, left and right, trying to absorb and preserve this memory.  I had wondered how I would feel about this final stretch.  Would I be nervous? Anxious?  Emotional?  Would I suffer a meltdown and be unable to continue?  Maybe this was the blessing of the heat, but I was too exhausted to be nervous or emotional.  I felt nothing but pride running down Boylston Street, towards our finish line.

I wasn't kidding about the "Tale of Two Halves!"

After crossing the finish line, my body came to an abrupt halt and could barely move forward.  I shuffled at an excruciatingly slow pace for what seemed like an eternity to the water, the heat blanket, and started towards the food until I realized it was too long of a walk, and I was too nauseous and lightheaded, to bother with food.  A concerned medic offered me a wheelchair, but I told her if I sat down I might never get back up.  Instead I shuffled towards the shuttle bus where I very nearly had to crawl up the steps to get to my seat.  Finally sitting for the first time in six or so hours, I took my finisher selfie and posted it to Facebook:

I was so tired, I actually thought I was smiling in this picture
The patriotism and sense of community was apparent throughout the course.  I had wondered how the new BAA restrictions would impact the feel of the race, but I truly feel that this race couldn't have been better.  Instead of costumes this year, runners ran with Boston pride, regardless of what city they flew in from.  They ran for Martin Richard, Sean Collier, Lu Lingzi, and Krystal Campbell.  They ran for fallen firefighters Michael "Dork" Kennedy and Ed Walsh.  They ran for survivors, and they ran as survivors.  One great quote I heard was from someone who said, "your scar is a reminder that you are stronger than whatever tried to hurt you".  We all have scars from last year and this race was our way of showing them off and fighting back.  This was one of the most significant sporting events of our nation's history, and we were all a part of it.  Really, where else could someone like me compete in the same event as Olympians and world record holders?  It was an honor to be there, and hearing midway through the race that an American man won was the perfect ending to this story.  But Meb wasn't the only winner.  We all won, as Mom says, "to finish is to win".  I'll drink to that!

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