03 May 2011

Boston Tales, Part 1

[ Ed Note: The third bit on Boston, Stories Part 1. Part 2 follows in a couple days! ]

Two weeks hence, I haven’t even wrapped up the Boston stories, and more topics stack up in the “to write about” pile. A local 5K on Sunday. A couple of big races for some friends and relatives. The end of my Run Marlborough quest in sight, including a comical adventure trying to turn a few brown (off-limits) roads into blue (covered) ones. But for now, focus! There’s Boston fun to relate! So now, in no particular order, the chef will prepare for you a series of little tastes…

Boston By The Numbers? There were 26,907 registered 24,338 starters, and 23.879 finishers. All big numbers, which makes finishing in 1,538th place satisfying. 1,436th male, 127th semi-old fart (45-49) male. On a global stage, I’ll take it. But better, this year they used the three-digit numbers, so my bib #1798 really meant (roughly) a 1700th to 1800th seed, which means I finished a bit ahead of my seeding, which pleases me. With the second corral start this year, I did feel as though I was with the right crowd, staying with them, not passing nor getting passed en masse. What do you know, the system works!

Finding a Wineglass in a Haystack: How do you find someone in a crowd of 24,338 official starters, plus bandits, volunteers, spectators, and various other living creatures? With a code word, of course. For several years I’ve been trying to meet – in the flesh – a Carolinian runner named Mike who’d made my acquaintance via the online running community (bib #1396 for those of you stalking along at home, and no, that’s not his wife, just an event model whom he sent along with the mirth of inducing jealousy!).
Each year, it’s never worked out, but this year he devised a plan. As we were starting in the same corral, he offered that he’d stand in a particular corner and yell, “Wineglass!,” proving that yes, he’s actually read my blog. Well, when you wear your sunglasses, the clouds arrive, when you bring your umbrella, the sun shines, and when you have a plan, you don’t need it. Walking toward my corral, yet while still a distance away, I had a funny feeling, looked to my right, and there was Mike, walking right beside me. Just like that. We had our moment, he went off in pursuit of a 2:45, and though he didn’t make it – heck, he only ran a 2:50, he fought the epic battle to get there and wrote a truly entertaining account on his blog.

Another “What’s the Chances of That?” But that was the second, “No Way!” moment of the morning. Walking from downtown Hopkinton to the Athlete’s Village, I struck up a chat with a runner who identified from Columbus, Ohio. I mentioned that my 76-year-old cousin (sadly, only by marriage, I do not share his gene pool) is still running marathons and was one of the few remaining survivors who’d run every one of the thirty one Columbus Marathons. To which this gentleman responded that he was in fact the reporter in Columbus who’d run the story on that rarified collection of veterans. Out of 24,338, I meet the guy who interviewed my cousin in Ohio. If my cross-checking is correct, he was #8083, Jeff Hogan. As I often say, I can’t make this stuff up!

Where’s Waldo? And Who’s Jason? For miles late in the race I heard the crowd screaming “GO JASON!” just behind me. And I mean for miles. And I mean screaming. Now, I know that people shout names when they see them on shirts, but the intensity for this guy was amazing. Mayhem, I tell you. The Beatles arrive in America. The Who in Cincinnati. Bieber Fever. Hey, wait a minute, his name was Jason, or no, duh, he was a Justin, umm… On that line, I was beginning to think there was some highly recognizable celebrity close behind me, but being late in the race, I had no desire to expend the energy to turn around and look. The professional photographers solved the mystery; in one of their shots (copyrighted, so I’ve snipped only the tiniest bit for this forum, bad me, bad!) appears none other than Jason himself, indeed with a huge “GO JASON” emblazoned on his bright yellow shirt. Only two digits of his bib showed, but it wasn’t hard to search the BAA site and identify #3362, Jason Baer of Burlington VT. The crowd lift worked, he ran a 2:58 from the 4th corral. Nice race, Jason.

Springsteen Anyone? The tune Darkness on the Edge of Town came to mind as we passed through the final insult of the Boston course, the drop through the tunnel under Massachusetts Avenue. I’d always thought that the final climb out of that pit would be the insult, but it’s not. It’s the dark. The tunnel crosses under a wide street. It’s fairly narrow, low clearance, and after three hours of high effort in the bright sun, when nothing in your body responds quickly to any stimulus, your eyes don’t adjust to the dark. It’s like going blind for ten seconds. It’s oddly disorienting.

What a Difference a Break Makes: Prior to that pitch into the black, I took my second walk break just before mile twenty-five, at what I truly do believe to be the biggest insult of the Boston course, the measly thirty-foot (if that) climb up the Mass Turnpike overpass. It was here that as I previously noted, I consciously put my sub-three at risk in exchange for finishing in one piece. After the race, a friend – who’d started in the same corral and therefore was on the same relative timing as I – noted he’d seen me walking and was a mere ten seconds from catching me when I started running again. He laughed at my suggestion that he should have shouted and we could have finished together. Having not taken a break, he lost a full three and a half minutes from that point to the finish compared to my final mile. I’d have to say my investment in that break was worth it.

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