Editor’s Note: This entry is longer than my usual postings just because it is. Enjoy.
It was a marathon like no other for me. I ran my worst marathon time ever, by a considerable margin. And it was one of my most enjoyable races. This bodes well for my aged days when running competitively simply won’t be an option. There is life after obsession. But meanwhile, I got something back. I feel like a runner again.
They will indeed follow, in batches, following this blog posting on the race. When I post them, I will post reduced resolution versions. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, identifying your pictures of interest, and I’ll be happy to send you the full resolution versions!
Next…Executive Summary Catch-up for New Visitors
I rejoined the world of the running in the spring of ’05 after a 20+ year break. My first marathon, Cape Cod in fall ’05, woke me up with a surprising 3:29. A year later came my first Boston qualifier, 3:14 at Bay State. My reward? The ugly Nor’easter of Boston’07 and a 3:20 that was more unpleasant than the number might imply. (But who could care? It was Boston!) The PR fell again to 3:03 at Bay State the next fall. I was riding a train that was surprising me more than anyone else. I dreamed of breaking the magical 3 hour mark by the end of 2008, but it came early at Boston with a 2:56, followed by a pair of 2:54s at Buffalo and Wineglass. And at Wineglass came the crash. The snapped tendon. The face plant. The subsequent foot surgery.
Riding the train to sub-3 land was an unimagined trip. Who knew this would happen? One of my mantras to all runners, new and experienced, is simply that you have no idea what you’re capable of. I didn’t. And I still don’t. But as this train rumbled on, a new normal settled in, a certain acceptance of how I did this running thing. And then it all stopped last November, and when it started again in mid-March, it was a very different world. All that muscle tone, tossed. Most of the leg strength, fried. A lot of the cardio, dissolved. The waistline, 10 pounds enhanced.
Dr. Foot Doctor, who’s instructions I had followed religiously, said Boston wasn’t in the cards this year, but I knew he based that on logic, not concern. He’d cleared me to run, and encouraged it as a healthy part of the healing process, but Boston? He knew there simply wasn’t time.
But I’d registered and paid for Boston before the surgery. Even if you defer your time to next year, you’re money’s spent. And why defer when I had another equal qualifier ready for 2010? And living two towns away from Hopkinton, it wasn’t like I had to spend money on travel. The only incremental cost was twenty bucks for parking to pick up my number. Why not at least start?
So toeing the line this year was unlike any other marathon for me. I went in with the expectation of not finishing. I had no time goals. Of course I knew I’d like to finish, but in truth I had but one goal: don’t re-injure the foot.
And Finally…The Race!
Dawn broke foggy and a chilly 34 degrees. The forecast called for the sun to play games with the clouds till noon, then lose the game amidst what could become a foul headwind. As usual, Boston made the logistics of what to wear, what to sacrifice to the Gods of Charitable Clothing, and what to pack for the far end a tricky game. And it was trickier knowing there was a good chance I wouldn’t see my packed bag until sometime next week. And as usual, the weather didn’t go exactly as planned.
At the village, we shivered under several layers and debated the long-sleeve / short-sleeve option endlessly. I opted for the long-sleeve, and a dark color at that, expecting little sun. Invariably, Boston confounds. Once in the starting corrals, long past the point of no return, the sun came out and it warmed considerably. You can’t win this game. But remember, for me, it just didn’t matter. I rolled up my sleeves and kept grinning just because I was there.
Being in the first corral, able to squeeze to the front and be literally 30 feet from the starting line, was a thrill. Unfortunately, the elite runners were all safely ensconced away from my awe-filled eyes, so no Robert Cheruiyot sightings. I then slunk toward the back of my first corral so as to stay out of the way, chatted with a few runners and snapped a few pictures.
It wasn’t till after the race, when my wife looked at my pictures, that I realized one of the runners I’d chatted with and snapped a picture of – without his famous number showing – was none other than Patrick Harten, the surprise hero air traffic controller who guided US Airways flight 1549 into the Hudson, for which the BAA rewarded him with bib number 1549 (he deserved being in the first corral with his qualifying time anyway, and he ran a great race, turning in a 2:47, way to go Patrick!). I had no idea. Our conversation? Long sleeves versus short sleeves, what else?
Even stranger? A few shots before Patrick, I happened to chat with and capture a portrait of runner 1594 – this time with his number showing – who, being from the Boston area most likely had nothing to do with Patrick, yet both 1549 and 1594 were wearing similar Ironman visors. It’s like karma, I tell you.
Quite suddenly, the gun fired – a gun I’ve never been close enough to hear. And now I know why: it was a surprisingly lame report for such an awesome event. Unlike previous years, we were off instantly. The gun was a surprise to me because we’d never made the usual walk forward after they drop the corral divider ropes. Right, duh…because we were in the first corral. Funny, you get conditioned to expect these things and your head gets turned upside down when they’re missing.
I had the camera raised and clicking away as we started downhill amidst the usual rush of adrenaline. My training has been hovering around 8 minute pace, and I hadn’t felt the ability to do much to speed it up. So it was a shock when, trying to stay slow amidst the top runners zipping by me, mile 1 clocked in at – huh? 7:03. Well, whaddaya’ know? I guess my bones are capable of a comeback after all. While I knew that was insanely fast, it was immensely satisfying to know I could do it. More satisfying, my legs, which had felt awful since going off the anti-inflammatory meds a week earlier, suddenly felt great, strong, like a runner again.
I wasn’t able to have many conversations through the first few miles, since even at my faster-than-expected pace, I was still the slowest thing in the road, nobody running my pace, with thousands yet to pass before I’d match up with my current capabilities. But even as I dropped back instantly, there was a magical moment when I reached that early-in-the-race spot in the road I’ve described the last two years, the spot where you can see a good half mile ahead, the spot where I’ve always been amazed that even starting in the third corral last year I couldn’t see the start of the pack… Well, this time I could see the thinness of the start of the pack. Not the actual start, mind you, but clear indication that it wasn’t far away.
I settled down to about a 7:20 pace for the next four miles – slower, but still absurdly fast for my expectations – knowing that it just didn’t matter. Either I’d end up with time in the bank, which never hurts, or if I didn’t finish, who cares? I was thrilled to be running at that pace again.
And then it was pretty much business for the next ten miles. I’d rolled up the sleeves, so the early warmth wasn’t a problem. I let my pace drift into the 7:30s and the 7:40s without a care. I located all the people I was hoping to see on the course – thank you everyone for the support! And one even had a sign for me! Thank you Cori! We raced a train through Framingham for a few minutes of fun. And every couple of miles I’d shout “Photo Op!” and take a few portraits. Heading into Natick, one of my subjects grabbed the camera, pointed it at me, and returned the favor. And I was feeling good and still running. I was having a grand time!
I’ve never run a marathon grinning the whole way. So far, I was on track.
Wellesley? Incredible as always. Grinning.
Passing the Hoyts? Incredible as always. Grinning.
Coming out of Wellesley I started to feel some skin irritation in the arch of my left foot. I don’t worry much about blisters on toes, but I know the time I raised a blister in the arch a few years back it was nasty. On a normal day I would have pushed on. Today? Why? No sooner had I contemplated whether to attend to it, a med tent appeared at 15.5, and I ducked in. To my Type A personality, it seemed I waited forever for a slab of moleskin, but later analysis would show it was a mere three minutes. On the road again. Grinning.
A funny thing happened along the way. At the half, I was at 1:38, on track for a 3:16. I knew that would never happen, but as with the early fast miles, it was immensely satisfying to know I wasn’t that far gone. Through 15 miles, I was averaging 7:32, though certainly back-ending that distance with the slower miles.
Down the hill into Newton Lower Falls and onto the first hill rising up over Route 128 (that’s I-95 to you foreigners), and at that point, to borrow a phrase from my friend Chris Russell, I, like he at about the same point in the race, became a tourist. (He finished in 3:36, grinning, I believe.)
If I got so far as the hills, I never planned to run them. Job One was to not re-injure the foot. Pushing uphill was the easiest way I could see to do that. So when Hill Number One arrived, I took a walk. And from that point on, splits didn’t matter.
At mile 17, I actually had the freedom to pick the flavors I wanted from the Power Gel handout station, rather than taking what I could grab at race pace and ending up with the flavors I can’t stand. At the firehouse turn, I simply marveled that I was still going, no matter the pace. And as I walked up the first hill on Commonwealth, I told the supporting crowds, “Only forty two days of training for this, I’m taking a break!” Grinning.
Run, walk, run, walk, whenever the spirit moved. Heartbreak. Who cares? Take a walk. Though pride did strike and I did jog the top, knowing the live WBZ TV camera always lurks at the summit (and it did get a fabulous sequence of my friend John topping the hill, looking great). BC, Cleveland Circle, Beacon Street, run, walk, run, walk, but always, grinning. The only really notable event was that the feared and forecasted wind did appear, and it was cold, I mean bleeping cold. I grinned at my choice of the long sleeves and rolled them back down.
I’m going to make it. And while time doesn’t matter, at this point I am almost certain it will be within four hours. While many who knew me knew I’d probably go for the whole distance no matter what I professed, I hadn’t told anyone that secretly my goal was to do it within an hour of my 2:54 PR.
At Kenmore the crowds were so loud, the support so strong, I literally teared up. Grinning.
And suddenly, a mile to go. One last walk break coming out of the underpass under Massachusetts Avenue, then round the corner onto Hereford, onto Boylston, and running strong to the finish!
The exact time, 3:43:04, barely matters. Personal worst, 14 minutes slower than my first in 2005. 2:05 second half following on the 1:38 start. So what? On 42 days of training, covering only 140 miles, with my longest run being a half marathon, I’d just finished Boston.
There is life after surgery.
The following day my physical therapist, Lady Healer, kicked me out. She was of course kinder than that, she ‘graduated’ me, and the staff at the PT Palace was thrilled with the success of their Most Amusing Patent. But she figured if I could run Boston, I was baked, and I couldn’t disagree.
Writing this two days after the race, I’m feeling pretty good. But mostly, I’m feeling like a runner again. And grinning.