I am writing down these memories a full 6 months after they happened. Injured (minor – a week off, and a few light weeks should do it), and with some time on my hands, I guess I’m writing this now to help decide if I really want to do another marathon, or if I’m okay with letting this last one stand. I’ll run for as long as I’m able – far and slow, short and fast, road, track and trail. But, another marathon? I’m not so certain about that.
I first qualified for Boston with a rather mediocre (and extremely painful) race at Baystate, 18 months before April 2014. The bizarre dance that is the Boston Marathon qualification-registration-entry process made this so. Baystate was my first marathon in 12 years, and as ugly as the training and racing ultimately were, I was still happy to have a BQ, and have the opportunity to run Boston. In my mind, there was no reason to run another until Boston 2014.
Things changed with the bombings at Boston 2013. The universe of emboldened runners expanded. Demand to run Boston 2014 surged, understandably. In response to despicable acts of terrorism, defiance and support and love encouraged the determination of thousands to run the race in 2014. I was among them. But my barely-BQ from Baystate was in jeopardy (or so I thought – it actually ended up being comfortably under the registration cut-off), so mere days after Boston 2013, I signed up for another marathon to try and improve my time, to guarantee I would be in for the next one.
“Guarantee”…ha – the marathon knows no such word.
So, Lehigh Valley, the last day before Boston 2014 registration was to begin, and the closest thing to a “fall” marathon (and hopefully not as summer-like conditions). My training was better. I almost knew what I was doing, and I ran a much, much better race. This time, I wore no watch to distract or discourage me. For long stretches I was “just running, baby”, locked in and running free. And I did pretty well. Sub 3 hours even. It still wasn’t a whole lot of fun, and it still was pretty painful – but much more satisfying. I was in.
I went into the Boston Marathon in undoubtedly the best running shape of my life. Granted, my running life has been relatively short, but I was in the best shape nonetheless. I had an incredible winter – injury free, big training block, giant half-marathon PR 4 weeks before. I was ready to kill this thing.
Ultimately, it would not be killed – maybe just a little wounded.
What follows is a kind of running commentary on the 24-hours-ish I was in Boston. It’s possible my memory is skewed, but this is how I remember it, and it’s seared in pretty well: Easter Sunday, after church and a big meal with the family, a quick good-bye around 1pm, and a 2.5 hour drive up to Boston. Park at Alewife, walk over to the random Airbnb room in I’ve rented in Cambridge in some dude’s condo. It’s a 10x7 bedroom with a bed, a chair, a mirror and a lamp – and that’s it. Drop off my stuff and take the T to the expo. In and out of there very quickly, and across the street to a pub where I’m to meet some random internet people. At first I don’t see them, so I order a beer downstairs. Then I check the internets, and they tell me they’re upstairs. So I go up there, get another beer, and do some awkward internet-people-meeting. Ilene, Thunder, bhearn, Wrigs, and some others – it’s pretty weird for me. I’m already socially inept. But they are runners, so pretty forgiving on that front, and a beer is had, and some conversation, even a good-luck hug. Time to move on.
I get a lonely dinner at the Bertucci’s in the Alewife station. It’s 5pm-ish and the place is empty. Spaghetti with meat sauce, some bread, and a final beer. I take a dessert cookie to go, but am pretty stuffed and don’t end up eating. Walk back to the room, and put in The Natural on my travel DVD player. The cord just barely reaches the bed from the outlet. I wish I had sprung a little more for a hotel, but this is already an expensive venture, so I deal with the weirdness. Everything about that day after 1pm was weird. Especially the Russian family who were also staying in the condo (in the other bedrooms), cooking something pungent and talking late into the night (in Russian) in the kitchen right outside my door. Weird.
Up early, and I choke down a cold bagel with peanut butter in the still pungent kitchen, pack up everything, walk to Alewife in the dark, throw all my stuff in the car I leave parked there (free!), and get on the T. A few other runners give the nod. We’re on our way.
Arrive at Park Street. Bag check is easy. Getting on the bus is pretty easy. I end up sitting next to some doctor (dermatologist). He seems nice enough, but talks a lot about how great his kids are. The bus gets lost in Hopkinton, and we have to make a million turns to get back to the start village. Weird. Law enforcement from just about every agency you can think of dots every street corner. Acronyms I’ve never even seen on the back of vests and those dark blue windbreakers. I’m pretty sure if someone had just worn a dark blue windbreaker with WTF in yellow block letters on the back, no one would have turned a head.
The village was a little cold and uncomfortable, just laying around on an old towel wishing time would accelerate. There were plenty of port-o-potties though, and just a short wait for them. Eventually our corral gets called, and the slow march to the start area began.
It was here that I bumped into Thunder. This was a good thing. I was kind of nervous, and he’s a good talker. He talked the entire walk to the start. And at the start. In a good way. Super friendly and I’m sure his talking was a way of him channeling nerves. I appreciated it, and it passed the time pleasantly. Except for when he had to pee, and we were pretty locked in to the starting place. He asked around for anyone’s empty bottle. No dice. So he squatted, and peed right there on the road. I was not gonna let any Thunder pee on my shoes – a side step to the right, and a fortunate road grade, and I was in the clear. And so was he.
The first few miles of the race were kind of a blur. Thunder was still next to me, at least through mile 3 I think. We saw Bash, and Thunder shouted something to him “go get Mike!”. The crowd was all moving in sync. I didn’t have to go around anyone for the most part, and just carried along with the happy nervous chatty energy of thousands of bobbing heads and pounding feet. There were so many people I couldn’t really “feel” if we were going downhill. I mean, I know we were, and everything felt easy, but feeling the road was a little different because it was so crowded.
The early miles were all pretty easy. I was locked in to a decent pace. At some point I lost Thunder. And I was on my own with the thousands. Again, I didn’t wear a watch, so I didn’t exactly know how I was doing, but I felt really good, and I knew I was just being steady and pretty strong. The only thing that kind of worried my was right from the start, my calves were a little tight, more than usual. I had no explanation for that, and it was a little worrisome.
Around 10 miles I got the feeling I had at Lehigh Valley – locked in and free, and just running. That’s a really good feeling.
The girls at Wellesley were a good push – and loud of course. I don’t feel like I fully appreciated it like I should have though. Maybe because I was thinking about how much work there was left to do. That was dumb. I did like Natick. I remember getting a rush there.
Through 25K I was running a rock solid race. Again, I didn’t have a watch, but the splits from the timing mats tell the story there:
It was somewhere between 20 and 25 were I saw a few familiar faces. It was kind of a boost for me, and added some comfort. But at the same time, I knew they were struggling. Runners that could beat me in 9 out of 10 marathons. Everyone struggles with this stupid distance. Nothing is guaranteed.
Pretty soon thereafter, I joined the struggle:
On Heartbreak Hill, everything seized. Every leg muscle just completely locked up. I was only for a few seconds, but it stopped me in my tracks. Crowd kept me going, and things unlocked enough for me to keep going, but the rest of the race would be a battle of fighting off various cramps and battling for the end.
Brookline seemed like forever. The BC kids were nice, but I was dying at that point. Marathonfoto captured the pained expressions – if I had enough dough to pay for them, you’d know the story as well as splits tell it.
Hereford / Boylston was like a rock concert or an NFL game. Except the cheering wasn’t for anyone the crowd knew in particular. Just a celebration of sport and spirit. Pretty humbling actually. Sometimes people aren’t that bad – sometimes they’re even pretty great.
(An aside on the people of Boston…I don’t know if they are always like this, or if marathon weekend puts them in a good mood – but from the guy who helped me when I couldn’t figure out the ticket machine at Alewife, to the street vendor who gave me directions to the bar, to the guy who bought me a beer because I was dorky enough to wear my medal and be the first one to stumble in with it – I was impressed with the kindness).
Horrendously painful death march from the finish line to the bag drop. Never-ending pain. I was thirsty, tired, cramping up still, and it was almost a mile to go get my stuff. But I made it. And collapsed on the green, where someone in a blue windbreaker a few minutes later told me I couldn’t collapse. So, I made my way to the bar. Slowly. I met a few more internet folks there, and had a good burger and a few beers. Unfortunately the impending drive home meant I didn’t get to meet everyone I wanted to, or hang out as long as I wanted to. I’d do that differently if I could. But I had a painful 2.5 hour drive home waiting.
So, it wasn’t the best marathon I have in me. I know that. I know that I could run another one, and on the right day, I could nail it - whatever that means. Maybe it would mean 2:50, maybe not. It would mean a lot of training and 20 milers and hoping I can do another injury free block. And hoping I can get a good weather day.
I am not running Boston 2015. I have no plans to run another marathon at this point. I don’t have the same fun as I do on shorter distances. It’s more an exercise in proving to myself that I can tame the distance, rather than race it. And I certainly haven’t done either.