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!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Boston expo & OMG this is really happening!

The race is tomorrow.  Tomorrow!!  I've officially started the "24 hours from now I'll be..." routine in my head.  (I'll be in Hopkinton center, milling somewhere around the vicinity of the Athlete's Village, FYI).

Remember how panicky we all were getting about the marathon weather forecast?  Well, apparently there's nothing to worry about, because we have "absolutely terrific weather" to look forward to!  Check out this latest marathon forecast!  I'm just gonna say what we're all thinking:  We deserve this weather after all the junk we had to run through all winter.  I've nailed down my race day outfit.  Still on the fence about arm warmers to start with, but I probably won't use them.  If I do, I'll throw them at someone (hopefully someone I know) a few miles into the course.

On Friday, Julia and I headed into the expo in Boston to pick up our numbers.  It was my first time going to Boston since last year and I was actually looking forward to getting into the city.  I started getting really antsy in the morning and didn't want to wait another second to head out.  I told Julia I would pick her up at 11, but at 9:00 I was thinking, well, maybe I'll just go now and we can go to breakfast first.  With great restraint I made it to her house at 11, and we headed to Boston.  Kristen and Danny were also each driving to Boston and weren't far behind us, so we expected to meet up when we got there.  According to Julia, no one goes to the expo on Friday.  Apparently it's so empty that you can actually park your car right in front of the convention center, walk into the expo, straight up to each and every booth and never have to navigate around a single person.  We got into Boston and it became clear, very quickly, that we weren't going to have the city to ourselves.  We jumped into a parking garage at Copley and circled a few levels before finding a spot.  Thank goodness for little Prius cars!  Does anyone else duck their heads when driving into a parking garage?  I always think the "low clearance" beam is going to smack me in the head, which makes no sense, since I'm in a car, yet I always feel compelled to scrunch way down in my car when I go under them.

We walked through the Copley mall, which turned out to be hysterical because we kept walking around in a circle up and down escalators.  Finally we made it over the sky bridge and into the Hynes Convention Center.  And so did about 30,000 other people.

Words can't express how long the line was for number pickup.  If you've ever been to Disney, picture the longest line you've ever had to wait in, and then triple that.  It extended throughout the building, up and down queue lines, and then snaked its way around an overflow room.  We were bewildered over the length of this line, but apparently that was nothing compared to the parking situation outside.  Although Kristen and Danny were each only a few minutes behind us, they couldn't find parking in any of the area garages!  As we made our way through the endless line, I kept getting increasingly enraged texts from Kristen and Danny.  What a nightmare!

Although the line was super long, it only took about 30 minutes to get through to number pickup.  Fortunately our bib numbers were close so we were in lines right next to each other.  We found out pretty quickly how easy it is to lose each other in these crowds!

Julia and I really wanted to wait for Kristen to go to the expo, so we waited around near the entrance.  Then we decided to kill some time by just perusing the first couple of aisles before the Adidas store.   Like moths to a flame, Julia and I can sniff out a beer station a mile away, and made a beeline for the Sam Adams table.  We got a sample of the Sam 26.2 brew, and then hung out with Sam himself.

Sam says "Carbo-loading done right!"
Kristen and Danny each eventually made it to the expo, but it was like the world's worst game of Marco Polo trying to find them.  Eventually we all met up around the Adidas store, where I bought everything I could possibly carry.

I opted out of the race jacket this year.  I wasn't a huge fan of the color or style of it, and decided I really only want my original race jacket of 2013.  This year I decided to buy every blue thing I could find.

The crowds really started wearing us down, so we only went to a couple more aisles before heading out.  One vendor approached me with a sticker and he was trying to stick it onto my shirt, which I *hate*.  I tried to grab it out of his hand but he was a swift one and beat me to it.  I immediately thought he was trying really hard to get the sticker on me before I could see what it said and when I mentioned that to Julia, she jokingly said, "it says punch me in this sticker" and we all started cracking up. Even after that we never bothered to see what the sticker said until a few minutes later.

Those energy bits people have a dirty sense of humor!  Then we laughed harder when we realized Danny was wearing one too.

If agonizing over the weather is the final mental challenge of marathon training, then navigating through the expo is the final physical challenge.  So many crowds, bags, aisles, jacket on, jacket off, we were all exhausted and starving by the time we walked out of there.  We immediately skipped over to McGreevy's for some lunch and beer!  The bar was filled with equal parts marathon runners and people heading to the Red Sox game.  What a day to be in the city!

After lunch we walked down Boylston Street to the finish line, and then down to the Old South Church where they were giving out handmade knitted and crocheted scarves from all over the country.  It was the "marathon scarf project", and it was an incredibly nice gesture.

"Marathon Scarf Project 2014: Year of remembrance and hope.  This scarf is interwoven with love and courage".  

We capped off the afternoon with a two hour drive out of Boston gridlock!  We decided that this is one marathon where it's actually a disadvantage to be a local.  Next time we are going to go somewhere else, and then fly into Boston like a tourist and stay at a hotel for the weekend!

Last night a few of us got together for our pre-race dinner, mostly bland pasta, bland rice, and bland chicken.  Julia made a collection of all the foods I can't eat and put it in one dish, and labeled it "the anti-Jill pasta"!  It had garlic, onions, pesto, tomatoes, and all other kinds of delicious but deadly ingredients!  

So that's the story.  Weather's good, race gear is ironed out, and I have friends to look for in certain spots along the course.  (Julie at TJ's, TVFR folks at the mile 2 water stop, Tony at mile 10, Anthony at mile 13, Jackie and Mike at mile 16, Mom at mile 21... and hopefully others!)  I'm spending today, Easter Sunday, relaxing around the house, eating rice, reading a book, and maybe taking in a movie later on.  

Twenty four hours from now I will be... still in Hopkinton center.  Most likely in a porta-potty.  

To all my fellow runners, have a safe and remarkable day.  I'm looking forward to writing about this adventure, a year and a half in the making, a couple days from now.  See you again on the other side of the finish line!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Pre-Boston Weather Obsession

Literally every single person in the world right now that's running Boston is in total hysteria about the weather.  Trust me on this.  Starting two weeks ago, the countdown was on until Marathon Monday would make it into the "Ten Day Forecast".  Why is beyond me, since the ten day forecast is about as accurate as... a weather forecast.  Nevertheless, we are all obsessed.
Once the forecast made it into the ten day range, we've seen it fluctuate from 60's and sunny to 60's and cloudy, to 50's and rain, to 40's and cloudy.  The great news is there's no sign of any type of heat wave.  The bad news is I can't decide what to wear.  In fact, I bet I won't decide until that morning, but that's the beauty of being a local runner!
We're all also obsessed with hypothesizing what would happen if "today was race day".  Like, Saturday for example.  Gorgeous sunny day in the 70's.  It was a picture perfect day, and Kristen and I took the opportunity to "get away from it all" by dusting off the kayaks and going for a nice leisurely paddle.  It was glorious.  But as glorious as it was, we couldn't help but think, "I'm so glad the marathon isn't today, it's way too hot!"

On Sunday I went for my last long-ish run (8 miles) with Ron.  I used it as my "dress rehearsal" for Boston, wearing my proposed race gear.  I went with a short sleeve shirt, arm warmers, shorts, and calf sleeves.  It was chilly and breezy, and I contemplated swapping out my shorts for capris if it was going to be this temperature on race day.  But then, just after our run finished, the temperature shot up about 20 degrees.  The difference between 40 degrees and 60 degrees is about three articles of clothing, which left me thinking, "I'm so glad the marathon isn't today, how would I dress for this temperature spike??"

Monday was another gloriously warm, sunny 70+ degree day, and again I said, "I'm so glad today isn't the marathon.  I would literally die of heat stroke."

Yesterday a cold front (I think, I don't know, something...) blew through, with 50+ MPH winds and torrential downpours.  Guess what I said.

This morning I woke up to 29 degrees and my truck covered with an inch of ice/snow/frozen something.  The roads were a mess, the commute a disaster.  I bet you know what I said...

Anthony refers to this pre-Boston weather obsession phenomena as "the final mental challenge of marathon training" and he is thoroughly enjoying our hysteria.  I feel like the Goldilocks of weather.

For what it's worth, we are now five days out from Boston and the most recent headline I've seen is "Boston Marathon: Ideal Conditions Now Possible", with temps starting in the 40's and warming into the 50's.  Stay Tuned!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Operation Bubble Wrap

How is it April 1st already?  Seems like just last week I was stressing out over how I was ever going to heal enough in time to train for Boston, and now it's less than three weeks away.  (Well actually it was just last week I was stressing over healing in time for Boston).

At this point, all of the hard work of training is done.  I topped out last week with a 40+ mile week, my first 40 mile week all season, and possibly ever.

I'm proud to say that I maintained discipline during this whole training season, and stuck to my objectives.

  • 10% weekly mileage increases each week, with a scale back week every 4th
  • Run only every other day, and if I have to run two consecutive days, one needs to be super easy
  • Don't "make up" miles if something got thrown off course
  • Don't compare myself to others
  • Don't get caught up in other peoples' paces or distances
  • Don't jump up the long-run distance too drastically
  • Be flexible, back off or switch days if something doesn't feel right
  • Don't take risks with bad footing.  The treadmill is my friend.
  • Don't squeeze in one extra long run to catch up (from starting my training late)
  • Cross train
Sure, some of the weeks got a little screwy with some weather challenges or physical issues, including surgery at the end of February (not running related, believe it or not!).  But I maintained flexibility and sought out alternatives to make it work.  If I couldn't run, I substituted it with a hard effort on the bike trainer.  (Seriously, if you haven't checked out Trainer Road, it's a real suffer fest.  No really, they have a program named Sufferfest).

I feel like my plan was validated when I just read this article in Runner's World about mistakes to avoid while tapering.  Two of them seemed directed specifically at me:

  • Playing long-run catch-up. Whether an injury or life detour got in your way of getting in all your planned long runs, squeezing a long run in the weekend or two before your target race can leave you fatigued on race day with your best efforts already exerted. It appeases your mind but can negatively affect your performance. It’s better to go into the race with a shorter long run or fewer long runs than to cram them in last-minute to reach the magic number of long runs on paper.
  • Jumping up in long-run mileage. It can be tempting to jump up in miles too dramatically (ex: from 16 to 20 miles) in the final phases of training to reach the magic number (20) but when you do, you risk injury, fatigue and a suffer-fest. There’s nothing worse than to go into the marathon just after a humbling long run. It can really mess with your mind and your body. It’s not about reaching 20 miles; it’s about toeing the line as strong and recovered as possible in that given season. One of my best marathons was done on one 16-miler. The foundation of training is more valuable than one or two long runs.

The second bullet is particularly directed to me.  After my last long run of 16 miles (a pretty big jump from 13) I was feeling pretty confident.  This past weekend was the last "big" run before tapering, and everyone was doing the 21 miles on course from the start line in Hopkinton to Boston College.  In my heart I knew I could do it, but I was only supposed to run 18.  I nearly convinced myself to run the whole 21, until two days before, when it occurred to me, that I had nothing to gain by running those extra 3 miles, but a lot to lose if it didn't go well.

I referred back to my original list of cardinal rules, and stuck to my plan of 18 miles.  Mom dropped me off at the Dunkin Donuts in Ashland, exactly 3 miles into the course, and I just hopped right in with the thousands of other runners out on the course.  The whole day was a positive experience.  It was my first time on the course since last year's marathon, and I'm glad I got that out of the way.  All the ruck marchers were out, carrying heavy sacks and waving their flags that are banned from Boston.  The Boston Fire Department bus dropped off their runners and then leap-frogged us the whole way to BC.  I stopped and offered my condolences to them and thanked them for their service.  I overheard many people thanking the veterans for their service as well, and was amazed at the generosity and spirit of everyone out on the course.  It was truly a special day and reminded me that although Boston is still raw, it's full of humanity and hope.  Okay enough of that, I'm going to make myself cry.

As we huddled in the Dunkin Donuts in Brighton for warmth and caffeine, we all congratulated each other for finishing our runs and pondered the next few weeks.  Chances of injuries are decreased at this point since our mileage is backing down, but the real concern is sickness!  There is so much going around right now, and I'm doing everything in my power to avoid any unnecessary contact with anyone or anything.  I'm also a bit of a hypochondriac during marathon training.  Over the last month or so, I've diagnosed myself with clots in my legs, a collapsed lung, an aneurysm, and several stress fractures.  Oh and some grave illness they were talking about on The Doctors, which I can't remember.  Poor Kristen has to hear it every time, too.  She's used to my panic texts, which go something like, "I think I have a sore throat. Not sure.  Might be thirsty. What should I do?"  I think that has happened 3 times in the last 3 weeks. I did have some legit tenderness where I've had multiple stress fractures, so that as you can imagine thrust me into major panic mode.  I backed off for a day, and then it was fine.

Yesterday I went in for a pre-marathon cortisone shot in my heel, which will hopefully ease my foot pain through the marathon and beyond.  The next couple weeks will be focusing on sticking to my plan, not trying anything new and foolish, listening to my body, and hiding from everyone.  No you cannot borrow my pen, shake my hand, or take a sip of my drink (even if you swear you're not sick).  This my friends is a germ-free zone.

Stay safe, stay healthy my friends!