25 April 2013

What Next?

And thus comes that inevitable question, what next?  I’m struggling with this.

No, I’m not struggling with whether to run another race, another marathon, another Boston.  That’s easy.  As the old saying (sort of) goes, “Illegitimi non carborundum”, the old mock-Latin phrase (that I’m sure makes every Latin scholar cringe) that translates, roughly, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”  I’ll be back, so long as I can navigate next year’s sure-to-be-overcrowded registration process.

I’m struggling with how to frame a message going forward.  What do we carry forward?

The high-levels are easy.  Relish our freedom.  Don’t cower to cowards.  Heroes are among us.  Help your fellow man.  Donate to the cause.

The specifics are hard.  What exactly do we do on a day-to-day basis?

Everyone recognizes that last week was surrealistic.  The way things played out on television seemed like a movie, but this was real; real crimes, real death and destruction, real cops – and damn good ones at that, who deserve our thanks for doing what they do every day, never knowing what they’ll encounter.  The cheering that arose last Friday night as they rolled out of Watertown with the suspect in custody added to the surrealism, people who’d usually complain about getting nicked for running a stoplight were awakened to the true value of the first responders among them.  And if the whole sequence of events wasn’t surreal enough on a public level, it became so personally when my phone rang the next day not just from the local newspaper, which I expected, but also from the Associated Press.  It hammered home the global significance of what we’d just lived through, eye-witnesses, with front-row seats to history.

But the surrealism of last week is now history.  Amidst the debates about prosecution, punishment, and the inevitable, “why didn’t we catch these guys earlier?” (seriously?), we witness continued heartwarming responses to calls for assistance, the honor of memorials and deserved recognitions, and stories of spontaneously assembled runs and races nationwide in defiant support of Boston and our freedom.  Still, we ask, what really is next?

Security was beefed up at the London Marathon.  No incidents occurred, thankfully.  Nor would one expect such an incident.  Security can be enhanced at every future big city event, or even at smaller events.  Chances are good, no incidents will occur at any given one.  But no matter how good the security is, our free and open society is a soft target, and a determined individual can likely find a way to once again wreak havoc.  This isn’t to say that enhanced security shouldn’t be pursued, but we need to look further.

I had an interesting conversation with a cousin of mine today about the events of last week.  We found ourselves in agreement with the simple statement that anyone who thinks they know the answer probably doesn’t understand the depth of the problem.

After Newtown, we rushed to push through enhanced limitations on weaponry.  Much of the focus seems entirely logical and is likely worth pursuing (please, no NRA hate mail, this is a rhetorical discussion).  But banning any given device doesn’t remove it from the field of play.  A determined individual can likely find a way…  So we target the human side, and call for universal background checks, again, something that seems entirely logical and is likely worth pursuing.  But any sort of check is only as good as the data that you check against, and in order to create that data, you run into some major problems, such as data that simply doesn’t exist, and data that can’t be made available for such checks without violating doctor-patient confidentiality, just to name a few issues.  Again, like enhanced event security, this isn’t to say that these aren’t ideas worthy of study and pursuit, but when we look deeper at the source of the problem, we need to look further for a solution.

How does someone develop the hatred to shoot school children?  Or movie-goers?  Or bomb a marathon – which we now know wasn’t really targeted because it was a marathon, since apparently Times Square was next, but just because there were people there to hurt in a visible way?  Maiming and killing innocents?  How does someone develop the mindset that any sort of violence is acceptable?

If you watch the eleven-o’clock news, you’re treated more often than not to a spectacularly sensationalist view of the world.  If it bleeds, it leads.  After a while, you come to believe that evil lurks outside your door and that everyone you don’t know should be feared.  If you don’t submerse yourself in that eleven-o’clock world, and instead focus on what you see around you every day, you come to believe that while evil certainly exists, most of the people in your midst are generally good at heart and are trying to make their way in this world as are you.  You might quarrel with them on their driving habits or the like, but in the end, they’re on your side.

I believe in that view of the world.  We saw it in action after evil surfaced in Boston.  Save two deranged young men, everyone else was on the same side of the equation between good and evil.  Many of them didn’t even know it until that moment.  Many had lived on the side that believed all around them was danger.  They saw a powerful message after the powerful blasts: all around is not danger, almost all around is in fact good.

If indeed you are to come to believe what you immerse yourself in, it follows that you can influence what you will believe by actively choosing what to immerse yourself in.  And as a parent, you have the immense power to shape the next generation by exerting your influence here.  You can make simple choices.

There’s an organization called “Freecycle” (www.freecycle.org) that is dedicated to reducing waste by facilitating the act of giving away useful stuff rather than throwing it away.  A couple days after the bombing, an individual posted an offer to give away a video game cartridge that by his own admission even his teen-aged son didn’t like to play because of its extreme violence.  I privately wrote back and suggested that perhaps that was one item that should indeed make it to the waste stream, here was once small chance to reduce the culture of violence that numbs people to its impact, makes it seem normal.  His response was not only unpleasant, it smacked of denial.

I’m not saying that violent video games are the cause of terrorist bombings.  Nor am I saying that I’ve never played – and enjoyed – a good shoot’em’up here and there (and survived my teenage pyrotechnic phase, where my buddy and I would build model battleships…and then blow them up).  I’m simply saying that we are all products of the world around us, and we can and should influence that world to make ourselves and our kids better, kinder, move loving products of the world, products that are horrified at the thought of inhuman and unspeakable acts and therefore prone not to do them.  Or even better, to recognize those amongst us who seem prone to do them, and have the courage to intervene to get them help.  Let’s not forget that the bombing suspects (both the living and dead versions) were radicalized by the material they read online produced by people who believe it’s acceptable to do this kind of unthinkable stuff.  Read enough of it, and you start to believe it.

Choose another path.  Choose to focus on the goodness among us.  Focus your children on that path.  In the interfaith service that followed the bombings, Cardinal Sean O’Malley stated, “This Patriots’ Day shakes us out of our complacency and indifference and calls us to focus on the task of building a civilization that is based on love, justice, truth and service.”  (The full text of his message is available here.)  Or, on a note closer to home, my pastor noted last Sunday morning that evil does exist, and it will win a few battles, but love will win the war.  Make that choice.

An unfortunate post-script:  In my last posting I stated that all the folks I knew came through unscathed.  Sadly I learned a few days ago that that was not the case.  A woman with whom I work on an outside project, her son, and her husband were all wounded, with injuries ranging up to a lost foot.  The horror was thus brought home.  My heart and prayers go out to them.

19 April 2013

Boston Part Two: The Horror

[Ed. Note:  I penned this entry last night, intending to upload it tonight to allow a little time between postings.  The events of the last twenty-four hours, begun before this was written yet entirely unknown to me at the time, have just now thankfully concluded with the apprehension of the second suspect.  I like the rest of our nation and the world send thanks that cannot be put into words for the brave and heroic response by our law enforcement teams as well as the citizens of the resilient communities involved.  I send prayers to the families of yet more victims.  And I send hope that this is, indeed, the right conclusion; that this horrible chapter of history is truly ready to close.  With that, here is my story of Monday’s events.]

Any other year I wouldn’t have experienced Monday’s events the same way.

A decade ago, I would have been nowhere near Boston on Patriot’s Day.  But that changed when I returned to the sport, pursued the race I’d never accomplished as a youth, and found enough aptitude to qualify for Boston, beginning a seven-year run of the storied event.  In the first years of my involvement, I would have been on the bus to Hopkinton already, having finished and with little left to keep me in the city.  But that changed when one of those great friends you meet in the running community invited me to his club’s after-party at a hotel a few blocks southeast of the finish.  The last several years I would have been in that hotel a few blocks southeast, out of the line of sight of the unimaginable activities unfolding on Boylston Street.  But that changed when someone somewhere struck a deal to sell that hotel to a new party who took it upscale, so the club moved the party this year to the Marriott Copley, just a block and a half south of the finish.  The Marriott served up a top-floor suite with a sweeping view; the actual finish was obstructed by the Boston Public Library, but bits of Boylston Street leading to the finish and a straight shot down Huntington Avenue to Copley Square, the medical tent, and the finish chute were spread before us like a surreal theatre.  We were spared the horror of the actual scene, but witnessed firsthand most all that transpired around it.  We witnessed ugly history from a block and a half away, thirty-eight floors up.

It could have been a lot worse.  Many witnessed it up close and personal.  You have heard the terrible human toll.  We were very lucky.  Some have told me it was a good thing that I ran fast and therefore was out of harm’s way.  That turned out to be true, but I can’t claim that my fleetness of foot spared me.  It was simply dumb luck, based on the timing of madmen.

After the race of my life, I took my time to savor the moment.  I was in no rush, meandering slowly through the chute, chatting with fellow runners, wandering the family meeting area seeking and finding several friends and club-mates.  Eventually I made my way to the Marriott, the new home of the annual Squannacook River Runners’ after-party.  These folks, who barely know me as they’re not my primary club, have always extended a tremendous welcome and superb hospitality.  It was my pleasure to help them bring home a brick in last December’s Mill Cities Relay, which was of course great fun for me, but also a way to give back to their club in the form of a little pride and enthusiasm.  This year was no different, as I stepped gingerly into the suite; despite wearing Greater Boston red, for that moment I was again a Squannie, and at home amongst their camaraderie.  Let the celebration begin, grab a beer, down the celebratory ibuprofen, and start sharing tales as other Squannie runners started to filter in!

There are different sorts of deafening noises.  Thunder.  Really close thunder.  Fireworks.  National Guard artillery practice, which echoes across the land.  In this case, many interviewed in the media described the sound as being like a cannon.  Some even thought it was indeed some sort of celebratory cannon, though they couldn’t understand why there would be such a thing.  They were exactly right.  Each time I relive this – and it has been many times – the sound is distinctly a cannon.

The shock wave shook the thirty-eight story Marriott.  We leapt to the panoramic windows to see a huge cloud – instantly ten to fifteen stories high – of white smoke rising above the finish area behind the Boston Public Library.  Expletives were emitted around the room.  Bafflement reigned.  Then the second report, this time just out of our range, no smoke visible to us.  Like on 9/11, we now knew it was no accident, yet we didn’t want to believe it.  We tried to theorize what could have caused it other than what we feared, and in our hearts knew, it had been.  Gas?  Unlikely to erupt twice, and no subsequent fire.  Generator trucks?  But they were parked on Exeter Street, directly in our view, and unaffected.  Manhole explosion from an underground transformer, a surprisingly common event over the years in Boston?  Possible for one to link to and cause another, but would have been followed by black, acrid electrical smoke.  There really was no other way to explain away what we’d witnessed.  The irony was not lost on me that 9/11 was also a crystal clear, perfect day, it obscured with massive smoke and fire, ours obscured only with an ephemeral puff, but both with similar gaping holes ripped into our mostly peaceful society.

The big screen televisions were as yet unaware, and would not go live for what seemed at least ten, perhaps fifteen minutes, which surprised us considering the concentration of media in that area covering the race.  We didn’t need television to tell us what was happening.  We could see people fleeing the scene, running for their lives.  We could see runners still approaching the finish, but slowing, uncertain what to do.  We had the clearest view over Copley Square to the finish chute, where runners had been slowly make their way past vast stores of fluids, food, medals, heat sheets, and countless smiling volunteers.  And it was in chaos.  The view below us was surreal, frightening, and entirely deflating.  Not yet knowing – though certainly fearing – that someone had killed people, we already knew that someone had killed – or at least tried to kill – our marathon, our celebration of the human spirit, our joyful unification of people from around the planet, all for good.  The pits of our stomachs roiled.

When the television news started catching up, it only confirmed what we already knew, and only grew more wearying as they in their best effort to report facts as they became available could do little but repeat over and over the few facts that had become available.  Eventually we found the need to mute the sound of repetition we couldn’t hear yet again, at least until new events came about, such as official news conferences ironically being held across the street in the Westin, just below our suite.

The next hour became a frenzy of ascertaining the safety of our Squannie club-mates.  Being only on the edge of this group, I found myself in an odd position of worrying also about my Greater Boston and Highland City club-mates, but being without a phone (I don’t carry mine in the marathon), I was helpless to pursue the status of those companions.  Cell service had been severed to assure that no additional cell-phone-triggered blasts could be detonated, though text messages and data were flowing.  Fortunately, my text message of my safety reached my wife before she’d turned on the news, and just minutes before family, friends, and neighbors began calling her, sparing her the angst that so many experienced that day.

Yet we didn’t know if we were truly safe.  We didn’t know if it was over.  We watched in fascinated horror as ambulances lined Huntington Avenue below us, executing skillfully on the mass casualty drills they’d probably practiced so many times as to be tired of them, which they’d hoped they’d never use.  Sirens screamed as every conceivable kind of emergency vehicle made its way to the scene below us.  And amidst all this, yet another thudding report, shaking our already shaken psyches, making us truly aware of just how tenuous the situation really was.  That latter blast was reported as having come from miles away at the JFK Library, was later tied to an apparently unrelated fire event, but in the midst of media reports – later discounted – of additional devices having been found, we simply didn’t know how big this theatre was, or whether more horror was still to come, or whether our location would be a part of it.

News trickled in of the race being stopped.  News trickled in on the whereabouts of our runners.  And a few of our runners trickled in, having run the gauntlet of instant – and justified – high security at the hotel entrance.  Our closest call had just finished minutes earlier and had elected to go to the medical tent for typical marathon maladies.  He was present front and center as the wounded, the mauled, the dead, were brought in.  What he described has already brought shock and tears as reported by the media and need not be repeated here.

Unlike him, we were spared the view of the human destruction, the real blood.  But one image struck me again and again as I surveyed the scene, and sticks with me now in sickening remembrance.  Straight down Huntington, over the back side of the medical tent where so much trauma and triage was being managed, over Copley Square, to what had been the triumph of big race logistics, the grand finish chute running down Boylston Street lay in ruins.  Hundreds of tables that had lined the center of the street like a giant traffic island, serving runners by the thousands on both sides, had been shoved to the side in wild, uncontrolled haste to allow passage of first responders.  Wreckage lined the curbs and sidewalks, and the stain of thousands of cups of Gatorade that had been spilled instantly onto the street looked like the symbolic blood of a slain marathon.  The streets had calmed, activity was sparse, just the wreckage.  And the stain.

Eventually we verified the safety of our team, or at least the Squannacook team; as I noted, I couldn’t subvert their phones, heavily in use, for this purpose for my other teams.  I was reasonably confident that the Greater Boston team would have finished long before, but I wasn’t at all as certain about the Highland City runners, several of whom were in later waves and certain to be running at a slower pace.  I had to remain confident that the same effort being put forth by the Squannies was likely also being done by the other clubs.

We then faced the problem of what to do next.  The entire area had been cordoned off.  We knew from the media that the Green Line of the MBTA was shut down.  We could see from our vantage point that the buses chartered to take us back to Hopkinton weren’t going anywhere; none had moved, and nobody could approach them in the cordoned area.  We considered bunking down in the suite.  After all, we had enough food to feed ourselves for days on end.  But I’m sure others felt as I did; we simply wanted to be home, with our families, away from the insanity.

We settled on a plan to walk a mile and a half to a Red Line MBTA station.  Yes, it was a long city walk with an overstuffed sack of marathon baggage, but I traditionally take a hike around Hopkinton State Park at the end of the day anyway, and felt up to it, despite a wicked blister (hey, it was only on one foot, look at the bright side, right?).  The walk was almost healing, a band of brothers tossed together under uncontrollable circumstances, watching each others’ backs in our escape from the danger zone.  The Squannies had a couple cars parked at the Alewife station at the end of the Red Line, and after a train ride that lasted well over an hour due to signaling problems that may or may not have had anything to do with the mayhem of the day, through their generosity I was able to escape the city, meeting my wife with a huge sense of relief and joy..  The spirit of brotherhood that glued us together for that journey was truly heartening.  I usually can’t thank them enough just for the hospitality of their party.  This time I can’t thank them enough for a whole lot more.

On my return home, nearing nine in the evening, I was truly amazed at the outpouring that awaited me.  Literally hundreds of emails, text messages, and phone messages and calls, queued up, expressing concern for my safety and for my family.  Despite the huge number that my wife had already answered, it was hours before I could rest, having assured all who worried that all was well.  Over subsequent days, more and more have poured in.  I was, and am, humbled.

For me, the day is over.  For the injured, and the families of those killed, the agony of healing has barely begun, and I pray for them.  For our city and our nation and the world, the path forward is tenuously split:  we are defiant and profess to carry on, but we know that vigilance and security must become a greater part of our lives.  Pondering on the future is a topic for another night.

17 April 2013

Boston Part One: The Joy

First, allow me to replay the brief posting I added to my last blog entry stating that I and everyone I know came through Monday physically safe, if not emotionally wounded.  Second, the title of this post may strike you as odd considering how the day ended, but read on, it will, I hope, make sense.

Less than six months ago, I pondered how to address the heavy subject of the Sandy-wrecked New York City Marathon and the social upheaval that followed the decisions to carry on, then not.  Less than one month ago, I pondered how to address the heavy subject of the loss of my dear friend Rocket John Tanner, stolen from us tragically while doing what he loved, running and racing.  And now, for the third time in such a brief period, I ponder again, this time how to address the enormously heavy subject of the world gone haywire once more, the human and social damage done by the bombing of our beloved Boston Marathon.

I set out five years ago to write this blog to celebrate the adventures, tribulations, and joys of running in my mid-life years, my second go – or “Second Lap” – at the sport, those old high school days of yore being the first.  I didn’t set out to deal with these harsher aspects of life.  But life doesn’t give you those choices.  You take what it dishes out, and you deal with it.  On Monday, life dealt us front-row seats to a terrorist incident of international importance.  That’s hard to grasp, yet we had no choice but to grasp it and figure out how to move on.  The harsher side of life once again intersected the running side of life, and I have no choice but to address it.

For the moment, however, I’m not going to allow the inhuman act of one or more cowards to obscure the fact that there was a Boston Marathon on Monday, at least until about two-fifty in the afternoon.  So tonight, in Part One, I will celebrate the joy of the day.  Shortly, in Part Two, I will relate my experience of the horror of the day.  As appropriate and if so inspired, additional parts may follow.  Thus tonight’s posting title, “The Joy”.

The Joy began with a picture-perfect day.  The Joy progressed with a race from heaven.  The Joy concluded with a marathon personal best, of course delivered the hard way, the only way the Boston course will allow, but a best in more ways than simply a newly lowered time.  The Joy ended less than two hours later, the topic for next time.

You’d expect that by my seventh Boston, I’d have the logistics to this thing down pat, and for the most part I do, but somehow I never remember quite how to time the whole departure, athlete’s village, prep, and start times.  I arrived in the Village with “Problem Child” Issam of the Toxic Trio in plenty of time or so it seemed, yet somehow once again I found myself mis-timing the port-o-let lines and somehow once again, I found myself in a mad rush to slather the sunscreen for that one-sided three-hour-plus baking, pack the rocket fuel belt, prep the ubiquitous trash bag, and roll out.

And never mind a warm-up.  Big events like this make it notoriously hard to warm up, which as I age becomes notoriously more important.  You can’t simply go from zero to six-something pace in three steps flat.  The Perp Walk from the Village to the start is completely hemmed in by metal gates to protect the innocent residents.  You can’t just take off and loosen up for a mile.  Fortunately, a lane of like-minded joggers formed on the left of the human train, so the muscles weren’t completely cold by the time we hit the last pit stop at Colella’s Market.  (Nor, I note with amusement, was the woman we met there, keeping warm in the full-length fur coat she’d picked up at Goodwill and planned to donate at the start.  I in my lowly yet functional trash bag was humbled!)

Last year, it was already mid-seventies at the start.  This year, in contrast, nearly perfect, high forties, never to rise above the mid-fifties, dry, and marred only by a mild headwind.  Throughout the race that wind would be ever present, enough to make you think about tucking in behind someone, but never so strong as to force you to modify pace to do so.  That the men’s race was won in a leisurely two-ten-something makes me wonder if there was more to the breeze than I’d assessed, or perhaps they were just doggin’ it like those elite East Africans are prone to doing (not!).

This story is typical.  After all, it’s Boston, and we all know by now what happens at Boston.  With the downhill start cross-bred with the wild and irrational exuberance of the festival-like start, Usain Bolt would have a hard time sticking with us over the first stretches.  And so after a traffic-snarled yet aggressive first mile, I dropped it into the six-oh-somethings for the next three.  Sustainable?  Of course not.  But after eighteen prior marathons, never once running negative splits (second half faster than the first), why start now?

But seriously, I wasn’t worried a whit about the pace, even though I recognized that the automatic text alerts sent to family and friends would raise alarms, showing a pace that I’d categorized as Call the Pope! in my viewpoint arrival spreadsheet.  By Boston Number Seven, I was well aware of what that notorious course does to you.  It’s a stretch to think you can come back strong on the back half, so if you’re going to attack the race, you’ve got to be aggressive from the start.  I was consciously submitting myself to the meat grinder, knowing I’d back it off as needed, knowing that I’d pay in pain and agony, but banking time when I could, when it was still a breeze.  And later analysis would show that the strategy paid off.  Comparing Monday’s run to my previous Boston best in oh-eight, the back half splits were astoundingly identical.  The difference – and the four-minute drop – was entirely attributable to that devil-may-care first half.  So much for all that advice about not going out fast!

In truth, the pace early on just didn’t feel all that hard.  What was hard was consciously reeling it in slowly, not letting the insanity get out of hand.  Chatting it up through Framingham, sharing stories of windy misery at Manchester last fall with a runner from the next town over in New Hampshire, reacting to the annually-increasing bits of personal recognition from the crowd, three alone in one stretch through Natick (including a nice photo from church-band-mates Mark & Sandie included here), cruisin’ along… and in no time flat, along came the Scream Tunnel, just like that.

To my dismay, I wasn’t able to find the sign for Rocket John that friend Suzy had sent over for display, but I didn’t doubt it was there.  There were simply too many signs to scan them all in one passing without breaking pace.  But I knew that John was there to boost me along, as I had his name on a second bib on my back.  This one was dedicated to him, and when things inevitably got rough, I reminded myself that he was pushing me from behind.  It worked.  Thanks, John.

The half clicked in on a somewhat absurd two-forty-six pace.  Absurd, but freeing, because at that point, merely holding three-hour pace for the back forty would produce a personal best.  I knew that wouldn’t be easy, but it wouldn’t be impossible, either.  The cylinders were clicking.

This is not to imply that it was a walk in the park.  By the half, turned in less than a minute over my half-marathon PR (and to be followed by a two-minute thirty-K PR, too bad I still had twelve-K to go!), things most certainly hurt.  The quads were already smoldering, as was the bottom of my left foot, threatening to turn into a very large torn blister.  And we can’t forget that pesky left Achilles, ever present, giving no peace.  But at fifteen last fall in Manchester, I was toast.  At fifteen on Monday, the bread was still reasonably fresh.  Past the family Ace Support Team at Newton Lower Falls and into the hills!

I’ve had a wish that someday I’ll run a marathon where every mile split is under seven minutes.  First hill out of Lower Falls, check.  Second hill (the one they always incorrectly call the first) past the fire station, check again.  Third, check.  Heartbreak…over the top with a second and a half cushion under that seven minute split.  Having licked the hills holding sub-seven for the first time in seven tries, a little jubilation set in, but as anyone who has tackled this course knows, it’s a long way from Boston College to Boylston Street, a long time to hold on and not fall apart, which would be oh so easy to do,  It was time to start doing math:  how many seconds in the bank below that three-hour pace in the back half, how many miles to go, and how bad can my pace get while still popping a PR?  The odds were, as that bestseller liked to say, ever in my favor.  I was reaching the “mail it in” mark, but mailing it in wouldn’t do, not with John at my back, pushing me on.

By Cleveland Circle, agony had set in.  In most marathons, my limit has been general fitness ability – oxygen uptake and distribution, electrolyte balance, and so on.  This time was different:  it was the legs that seemed to be the limit, and they were screaming.  All those tales I’d read of elite runners feeling themselves tearing up their muscles came back to me.  I felt it.  I didn’t care.  Desire had set in.  Perhaps tinged with stupidity.

Mile twenty-three was the designated cheering zone for our Greater Boston club.  Hold your form.  Put on a decent show, despite how much this hurts.  Mile twenty-four, the Citgo sign in sight, and still a dime under seven.  The bank had a lot of seconds in it.  Mile twenty-five, over that most hated hill, the infinitesimally physically small yet infinitely mentally huge lump to pass over the Mass Pike, and the magic was broken, a dime over sevens.  So that all-six-something marathon was not to be, but the bank still held a huge balance.  And my body held nothing.

On another day, I would’ve taken a break.  But on another day, I wasn’t minutes ahead of those three two-fifty-fours, all within eight seconds of each other, so often replicated as to become a seemingly unbreakable barrier.  And on another day, I wouldn’t have been that far ahead on the tough Boston course, where my best was another two minutes shy of those all-time bests.  And on another day, I wouldn’t have just turned fifty a few weeks earlier and have something to prove to myself.  It wasn’t another day.

Turning from Hereford to Boylston, GBTC teammate Bill was perfectly positioned on the outside of the turn, picked me out of the crowd, and screamed my name louder than anyone I’d heard in the previous twenty-six miles.  He couldn’t make me speed up.  I had zero-point-zero in the tank.  But his was the lift that sealed it, helping me keep it together, zombie-style, holding pace at just a hair over seven, over that line which in a couple hours would become hell, but that wasn’t yet part of reality.  What was reality was the sweetest marathon yet of my nineteen, at two-fifty-two and change a good minute-forty better than my best, and four minutes better than my Boston best, on the famously tough course, and, sweetest of all, at a newly ripened older (not old!) age.

Boston:  The Joy indeed.

Ah, and as for Problem Child… Issam, who vowed this would be his last marathon, achieved his goal and joined the sub-three club, dropping seven minutes to smoke a two-fifty-nine out of the Boston hills.  We met up afterward for happy congratulations and continued ribbing from me that he simply cannot retire from racing marathons, or if he does, he is still obligated to train for them with me.  This story, I suggest, is not over!