If I really am going to run Boston, I had better get some experience running a road race. 4 weeks into my new found hobby I read about a ½ marathon in the town of Lynn, just north of Boston. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Today I do not recommend a ½ marathon to first time racers who have only been running for ten weeks. A 5K would have been a better idea, but running a ½ as my first race sure made it memorable. I built myself up to a 10 miler, and figured that I was ready to race. I mailed in my registration and received my bib, lucky number 7, back in the mail.
A good crowd of 700 toed up for the start. I was somewhere in the middle, smart enough to not start up front, but dumb in many other ways. What better way to learn than through experience? Off we went and I got swept away with the crowd. I knew that I should hold back, but it was too easy to lope along and stay with the others. After only a half mile or so, some young male runner who looked faster than me (they all did at that time), veered over to the side of the road and vomited. That was so strange, and I have not seen that again. His friend said something about the guy having just drank a gallon of Gatorade. Although I felt bad for him and I was nervous for my own situation, at least I had not thrown up at the start of the race.
The first half of the race went very smoothly, before I knew it I had six miles in the bank. I found myself running next to a woman. She mentioned that my ankle was “cracking” with every step. I told her how it always does that, makes that snapping noise, but never hurts or anything. The doctor said that it was nothing to worry about. My ankle had always cracked with every step since I was young. That would go away after a few years of running. I told the woman that I was training for Boston. What a dumb statement to say, eight weeks after the Boston running. What I should have said was that I hoped to run Boston someday. She just smiled a little and said two things that I did not understand. “It can be tough to qualify for Boston without doing some kind of track work”. I did not ask her what it meant to “qualify” for Boston, or what “track work” was, I just filed those questions away for the time being. I had a race to finish and it was all of a sudden getting very difficult. The woman ran on ahead as I started to slow down.
At mile nine it was time for me to learn a new lesson. This one is called “hitting the wall”. Something that I would experience many times in the future, I think that this was my first one. Essentially I had used up all of my fuel. So much of marathon training is adapting the body to parcel out the stores of carbos, store more carbos, and burn a higher percentage of fat energy. If I had started out slower, I would have burn less carbohydrate by mile nine, but in my first race I was so excited to get going and I did not know the danger that lay ahead. Later I would learn to feel the wall approaching and be able to slow in advance, compensate, and even mentally tough it out. But in this race, I did not just hit the wall, I crashed into it. The last three miles were agony. I shuffled along, feeling horrible. Spectators yelled out those common lies that I would hear many times again “your looking good”, “you are almost there”, “its all downhill from here”. I remember one fan who seemed shocked by my low bib number (usually the very low numbers go to the front runners). “ Way to go….number 7 !!??”.
Almost to the finish. One older man who had obviously finished a while ago was watching the stragglers come in. He smiled and looked on me with pity, I was in such sorry shape. But I kept shuffling along and crossed the finish line in one hour, 58 minutes and 46 seconds. I came in 456th place of 700 runners and although the last three miles had been a disaster, the entire event had been kind of fun.
456th of 700