Now that I've had a little while to rest and recover and start to digest all the data, I think I can finally try to provide a recap of what was truly the culmination of not only 5+ months of training, but the completion of a crazy dream that came to me nearly 25 years ago when I was an overweight pack-a-day smoker, so it's truly been a long journey. For some reason that I still don't quite understand, sometime in the late 1980's while living in Southern California, I had a dream one night which ended with me running down Boylston Street in Boston, finishing the Boston Marathon. Having grown up in Massachusetts, I knew of the marathon, but never saw it in person or watched it on TV.....and by the time the dream hit, I'd been living in California for nearly 10 years. I'd never been a runner, so how or why I had this dream is a complete mystery, but something about it stuck with me. Perhaps it was the implausability of it......perhaps the impossibility of it........perhaps the absurdity of it......I don't know, but I carried that memory with me ever since, never believing it would ever come true....until yesterday!
Our Marathon day started early yesterday......this is school vacation week here in Massachusetts, so our alarm clocks should be off, but mine went off at 4:45AM........not that I was sleeping anyway. My thoughts had been consumed with the task before me later that day........braving the Boston Marathon course on what was likely to be a day that would set high temperature records for the Boston area. The Boston Marathon is hard enough on a good day, but with temps likely to reach the mid to upper 80's, it was going to be that much harder. Once up, it was time for my pregame meal of iced coffee and a bowl of oatmeal. Then it was time to suit up......
|Fired up.....ready to go!|
A quick, traffic-less drive into Boston and we found our team bus parked just down from the State House. We loaded up and left for Hopkinton at 6:45, the whole team excited and chatting about what the day would bring. One of the benefits of being with a charity team is that we didn't have to wait with the masses assembled on Boston Common waiting to board the hundreds of yellow school busses, but we were able to ride in comfort, style and luxury to our destination. Not to mention the convenience of an on-board bathroom (!!!) and air-conditioning! I was alternating between Gatorade and water, trying to keep my tank full.
Soon enough, we pulled up to the Hopkinton Middle School and disembarked, joining thousands of other runners already gathered at the Athlete's Village. What a crazy scene that was! Runners of all shapes and sizes, with many different nations represented. After walking for a bit, we found a spot near one of the large tents, tried to stake out some shady spots and took a seat to wait out the 2+ hours until our wave would be called to the start. After laying on some sunscreen, I tried to control my anxiety and think about how hard I'd worked to get where I was.....I still was having trouble believing I was about to run the Boston Marathon! Almost immediately, I got in line to use the port-a-potty, knowing there would be several trips before the race would begin. After the second trip, a party of French runners had sat down in the tiny little open area next to my spot, making it impossible for me to spread out or lay down. I had no choice but to sit in a sunny area, but it wasn't so bad, as it was nearly time to go.
At 10:10, our corral group was called to the start area. I think my heart practically jumped out of my chest, but I calmed myself down. Another application of sunscreen, a quick gear check (handheld bottle, hat, sponge, shoes tied and double-knotted), and I began the slow march to the start. After dropping off my sweatshirt in one of the clothing donation bags and handing my gear bag to the appropriate volunteer at the appropriate bus (all based on your bib number, I believe each school bus held bags for 500 runners), I then hit the port-a-potty one final time, then joined the throng for one of the longest walks of my life. It probably wasn't that long, but I believe the start line is somewhere between 1/2 and 1 mile from the middle school, and in the rising heat, it took forever....but finally, I found my way into Corral 5. With little fanfare, and not much notice, it was apparent we were starting to move forward. Glancing over to my right, I saw former New England Patriot great Tedy Bruschi, who was running his first marathon. Before I could send a nod or a high-five his way, my attention was drawn by the fact that I was about to cross the start line........and after starting my trusty Garmin, away we went.....
To go through the recap, I think I'll go through each 5K segment (5K splits courtesy of the BAA, mile splits from my Garmin), and try to describe any particular highlights.....so here goes.
Start - 5K (Hopkinton - Ashland) 32:52 (9:43, 10:14, 11:35)
By the time we started at 10:40, the temperature in Hopkinton was already hovering near 80 and considering how long we'd been out in the sun already, everyone was already sweaty. The first mile features a steep downhill as you pull away from Hopkinton and head towards Ashland, so my plan was to start conservatively with the intention of saving whatever I could for the back half of the course, when I'd need everything I could get. That mile went by in a flash, and I felt strong, but really aware of the heat. The crowds were a bit sparse (as this is a residential area), but enthusiastic. As I headed into miles 2 and 3, I started to implement my fueling plan.....for the first 10k, I'd run to each water stop, walk through the stop, refill my handheld with Gatorade, sip some Gatorade, pour water over my head, take a sip of water, and then head to the next water stop. Take a gel (I was using both GU and PowerBar Gel) every 4 miles (at miles 2, 6, 10, 14, 18, and 22). I knew VERY quickly that my hope for a "good" time on this day just wasn't going to happen, so I shifted to more of a "survival mode" plan, which in light of what I saw later in the day, was a good plan for me! Having the little sponge stuck through the ponytail hole in the back of my hat was GREAT, allowing me to keep the back of my neck cool.
5K - 10K (Ashland - Framingham) 37:14 (12:15, 11:36, 11:27)
The heat kept increasing, but so did the crowds, as we started to transition to a more commercial area. I can't say enough about the people who come out to watch the Marathon. They're amazing....the little kids with their hands out for high-fives, the people who provided ice and water....truly a gift! This portion of the course is where things finally start to flatten out a bit and my splits started to reflect it.
10K - 15K (Framingham - Natick) 37:35 (11:27, 12:12, 12:11)
Still relatively flat here, with big crowds cheering. The temps were also continuing to rise, up near 85. This was also the first time I started entertaining the thoughts of quitting.......Anytime I run a race longer than a 10K, there always seems to be a point at which I start to wonder why I'm bothering to put myself through it. I have yet to quit a race, but the thoughts always seem to pop into my head.....it wasn't like I was in pain (yet) or truly suffering, but apart from the crowd cheering us on, I can't say that I was having fun. If the temps had been more seasonable, I think it would have been a COMPLETELY different experience, but this was a hot HOT day (would eventually set a record for the date)....a great BEACH DAY, but not particularly good for MARATHONING! By this point, I had also shifted my walk breaks to a much-more-frequent 4/1 ratio (run 4 min/walk 1 min)...again, all in the interest of getting through a tough day. I kept looking for and hoping for some shade in this stretch but there was none to be found, so it was a bake-fest. Thankfully, my sunscreen was holding up. One of my students was supposed to be in Natick Center, so I was looking forward to seeing him.
15K - 20K (Natick - Wellesley) 40:17 (12:07, 12:22, 13:24)
This portion of the course starts to gently climb as you head out of Natick towards the Scream Tunnel at Wellesley College, an experience I was REALLY looking forward to! As we ran through Natick Center, I looked in vain for my student but couldn't find him anywhere. All I can hope is that he saw me go by.....with all the people out on the course, unless you know EXACTLY ahead of time where to find someone, it's a bit of a needle-in-a-haystack when you're talking about a crowd in excess of 500,000! Thanks to the Natick Fire Department for setting up a "misting tent" where you could run through and get completely misted....what a relief (however brief) from the heat! By now you might have noticed that the mile splits don't quite match up with the 5K splits....those extra .1 miles are starting to add up now, and nowhere was that more apparent than the effect the Girls of Wellesley had on my time. The hill leading up to the college was tough, but I could hear the girls screaming up ahead, and it started to pull me along......when suddenly I was in it. The girls were only on the right side of the road, but they were packed in next to each other for about a half mile.....a true wall of sound! Holding signs saying "Kiss me, I love sweaty runners", "Kiss me, it's my birthday", "Kiss me, I'm from Vermont", and my favorite "Kiss me, I like girls".......their spirit and enthusiasm for this tradition was infectious and injected some much needed levity and adrenaline....I didn't kiss any of them, but did slap hands with lots of them and thanked them for coming out. It really was wonderful.
20K - 25K (Wellesley) 39:16 (12:03, 12:28, 13:05)
Another relatively flat portion of the course, running through the lovely center of the town of Wellesley. After the Scream Tunnel, the crowds seemed less numerous, but I think it's just that they weren't as enthusiastic as the girls. During this part, I started to make a point of thanking all the volunteers for all of their hard work. Having volunteered for the 2009 Marathon, I know how much work goes into a successful water stop, so now that I was on the other side, I wanted them to know how much it meant. As we passed through the halfway point (2:35:58), I knew it was only a matter of time before I would see my family at the Melanoma Foundation family cheering zone at the Newton-Wellesley Hospital near mile 16. By this point, the water stops were starting to get a bit slippery, what with all the crushed cups and liquid....still feeling good, but the heat....oh, the heat! UGH!!!!
25K - 30K (Wellesley - Newton) 44:13 (12:01, 16:00, 13:34)
A steep downhill busted the quads, leading to the last part of Wellesley. At that point, the road starts to tilt up again as you head towards Newton. The crowds were still enthusiastic, but they began to thin out just where they were needed most....as you climb the highway overpass over Rt. 128. It's a short climb, but surprisingly steep, but I knew that my family was just ahead.....ok, time for some pictures!
|the view towards Newton....wall-to-wall suffering!|
|more cowbell, Ben!|
|16+ miles in.....feeling good!|
|good and thirsty, that is!|
|A kiss before leaving......from my biggest fan!|
30K - 35K (Newton - Brookline) 42:00 (13:28, 13:28, 14:07)
Probably the most storied portion of the course, encompassing Heartbreak Hill, Boston College and the "Haunted Mile". By this point, I was definitely starting to hurt, particularly in the feet. I think all the water that had been sprayed/poured on me had gotten into my shoes and lead to some blistering....it was annoying, but there was nothing I could do about it now. All I could do was put one foot in front of the other and keep trying to run a bit up the hills. I was hoping to find Peter somewhere between the Fire Station and the Newton City Hall, but I couldn't see him. I wasn't sure where Stephanie Kraft and Nancy Sheckner were situated, but my Sharon Middle School colleagues shouted out my name somewhere around mile 18 and I motored on over for a sweaty hug and high-five.....I didn't have my name written on my shirt (note for next time....it's GREAT to hear your name shouted out, so put it somewhere where someone can see it!) so I was blown away that someone could recognize me at a distance. So good to get that support from my colleagues! At the Mile 19 (New York Life) water stop, I was looking for Brian Scarborough, husband of Lisa (the science teacher on my team at the middle school) and when I saw a big, pumped up dude, I pointed and shouted out "I know you!" Brian was so enthusiastic with a fist-bump and a "looking good"....wish that had been the truth, but it's all good on Heartbreak Hill! Some of the signs people had were wonderful, one of my favorites being "the reason your feet hurt so much is because you're kicking so much ass!".....really made me smile. Finally, we were over the top and started down towards Boston College....and the noise started to build. Now I don't want to hold anything against the Wellesley girls, but the BC kids were amazing! Now maybe it's that it was a co-ed crowd....or maybe they'd been baking (and probably drinking!) in the sun all day, but they were LOUD and CRAZY! I think it also had to do with where BC sits on the course....around mile 21, when you're totally hitting the wall. Their screaming got me going (as you can see from the difference between my splits for miles 21 and 22!) and all I needed to do to get them going was shout out "BC Eagles ROCK!" and they'd go nuts.....priceless. Also priceless was a sign I saw just before BC...."Don't Pants Your Poop". One of my favorite Youtube videos is called "Marathon Thoughts" from a group called Improv Asylum which details the different things you think during particular parts of a marathon.....at mile 17 (I think), it's "Don't poop your pants", followed later at mile 22 ("Don't Pants Your Poop"). When I saw the sign, I got the girl's attention and shouted out "Here it comes, Second Wind" (Mile 10 in the video) and she started laughing.....maybe it was my hand motions, too.
35K - 40K (Newton - Brookline - Boston) 41:33 (11:55, 12:49, 14:07)
Descending off Heartbreak Hill into Coolidge Corner, turning left onto Beacon Street for the long, straight run into Boston, this part nearly killed me. After all the encouragement from the BC kids, now you realize you still have 5+ miles left to go. You know you're going to finish, but it's still so far away....at the rate I was going, roughly another hour....ugh! The pain is getting greater, and even with the crowd cheering LOUD, it was so hard to keep going, even though it was all downhill the rest of the way....well, NET downhill, so there were still some hills left to conquer. This was also the part of the course that I hadn't trained on, but having lived here for the past 20 years, I know this area pretty well. The crowd really kicked it into overdrive here....I mean, we were the tail end of the marathon, and they knew we were suffering, so they really picked us up! I also had some wonderful surprises during this stretch. I was running through Brookline when I suddenly heard a male voice shouting out my name....looked to my right and saw my friend Alex Kuen and his wife Meaghen. I used to sing with Alex in a chorus in Providence, RI and had NO idea he was going to be in Boston for the Marathon. Meaghen took this picture of us.......
|Alex giving me the thumbs-up...me wanting to be done already!|
|pretty fresh after 23 miles!|
A quick hug from Dyan, then she shoved me back on the course and shouted out "FINISH IT!" and off I went......smiling even more......when I looked up ahead and saw the famous Citgo sign in Kenmore Square. I felt myself starting to cry, because I knew that signified that the end was literally within sight. I pulled myself together, but realized that with little more than 3 miles left to go, I was going to finish this marathon. I was looking for another teacher friend from school, but couldn't find her in the crowd....hopefully she saw me.
The last 2+ miles (Boston - 12:51, 13:17, 11:25)
The end in sight, over the last 5 miles, I had to play mental games to keep going. I'd run for .15 or .2 miles, then walk for .05 or .1, then repeat, over and over...just to get through. I wish I could say that I was finishing strong, but I was just doing what I had to do to get to the finish line in one piece. The overpass over the Mass Pike near Fenway was brutal, but I ran over it....ok, I shuffled, but it FELT like I was running! Cruised through Kenmore Square as the crowd began to build again, the down through the little tunnel and there it was up ahead.....the right turn onto Hereford Street, signalling the 2nd to last turn of the Boston Marathon. I couldn't believe it, but the journey was nearing it's completion. I was about to realize the dream I'd had 25 years previous and I was mere minutes away from finishing the marathon. Even though it hurt like hell, my determination took over and I started running....took the turn on Hereford and couldn't believe my eyes. This short street was lined on both sides by people, 2 or 3 deep in spots. After all these hours, they were still out there to cheer for us.....as I made my way up Mt. Hereford, I remembered all of you who were so supportive of me over the past few months....everyone who donated to my fundraising.....everyone who encouraged me with words and deeds.....and did my best to keep a hold of my emotions. One thing I'll never forget is that the Boston cops who were there for crowd control were also cheering for us, clapping like they knew us.....that really got to me. As I came to the top of Hereford and started to make the left onto Boylson Street, I could see the finish line off in the distance.....and that's when I totally lost it........I'd been dreaming of this moment for so long, and now I was making it happen! Little did I know that my wife and son had made their way up near the corner but I didn't see or hear them.....I think I was a little lost in the moment. As I started running down Boylston towards the line, the crowd noise was overwhelming...and now I know what it must feel like to be a rock star, because they were cheering for me.
|a most welcome sight....and a bittersweet one as well|
When I pumped my fists in the air to salute them, they responded with a roar......the tears streaming down my cheeks weren't only for the dream coming true, it was also my realization of all I'd been through to have this moment.......and then I crossed the line, stopped my Garmin, and it was done.
I'd finished the Boston Marathon.....I'd actually done it......
I got my space blanket, my bottle of water, Gatorade, and then my medal......I then limped a block away to the baggage bus and retrieved my bag from the morning, and then followed all the signs to the family meeting area......kept hoping I'd run into Barb and Ben somewhere before then, but they were waiting for me where we'd originally agreed to meet. To say it was an emotional reunion would be an understatement......I was crying, she was crying.....thankfully, Ben wasn't crying! Once everyone calmed down, Barb got a picture I never thought I'd be in.......
|that's right, baby....check out my MEDAL!!!!!|
26,656 were entered
21,554 finished (I was finisher #19691, so I actually beat 1,863 people....not that I'm counting)
And that, as they say, is that........mission accomplished. Now the recovery begins........when people have been asking me how I'm feeling, at this point all I can say is that my pride of accomplishment is outweighing the pain of the effort. My ankles are a bit swollen and I have a nasty blister on my left big toe where it rubs against the toe next to it, but other than that, I'm doing ok. My quads are a bit sore, but I'm able to go both up and down stairs ok (I'm not sprinting, but I'm not forced to go down them backwards either). I think it's fortunate that this is a vacation week, so I've got days to recover without having to be a teacher and I'm going to bask in the glow of this achievement. Now that I've got 2 marathons under my belt, both of which were run in highly unusual and unseasonable weather events (October 2009 - Nor'easter with heavy rain, cold temps and snow, April 2012 - record heat), I'm already looking forward to running the ING Hartford Marathon in October, with the hope that the weather might actually cooperate and I'll be able to try for a legitimate PR......stay tuned, because my blog will go on..........but this journey has been shared with all of you and for all of your encouragement and support, my heartiest thanks. I'm so glad to have "met" all of you and look forward to sharing my accomplishments with you and sharing in all of yours as well.