Wednesday, April 18, 2012

4/16/12 Boston Marathon

116th Boston Marathon, my first time here.  For most race reports I start with my goals and a weather report and then get to the start line.  Just getting to this race is a long story however.....

Flashback 1995 - My memory is that as I was watching the marathon on TV I decided that I wanted to do that and I got off the couch and went for my first run where the habit stuck. Checking my running log however I see that I started running about two weeks before the race. Either way, it was this race and this year that I started running for real. In June I would run my first race, a half marathon. I remember telling a fellow runner in that race that I was training for Boston. That is funny because Boston had just occured. As I was running along at a nine minute mile, the fellow runner said that I may need to incorporate some speed work in order to qualify for Boston. Hmmm, I had not heard of speed work, nor had I heard that you have to qualify to run Boston.

This is my 268th race and my 82nd marathon or ultra.  It all started with wanting to run Boston, but has become so much more.  For a while I thought that I would never make it here and that would be alright. 

Flashback October 2005 - My 5th marathon and after 10 years of running I finally broke the 4 hour barrier. My time of 3:56 was my best yet, however I was still 36 minutes from a BQ (Boston Qualify time) By 2011 I had aged enough that my BQ time had dropped from 3:20 to 3:25. I had also lowered my PR to 3:48. At this age the BQ time would have been 3:30 but times have been tightened up because so many people are qualifying. The race in 2010 sold out in a few hours and many people who qualified could not get it. Now with the tighter standard people who BQ by greater than 20 minutes get first dibs at registration, then those who BQ by more than 10 minutes, then BQ-5. Finally those who barely made a BQ get to register. All of this is to say that my plan to BQ and run the race when I turn 60 will be even harder that I had anticipated. Rather than keep up this pace for 15 more years and hope to get it, I decided to take another route. Here while I am running well enough I will earn an entry as a charity runner.

In 2008 I joined Facebook and was reunited with Carrie and Jill who suggested that I could run the race for The Salvation Army.  Since I grew up in an Army home (my parents were Divisional Commanders in Massachusetts from 1982-1984) this made sense.  It took another three years to make it finally happen. 

Flashback - February 2012 - I get word that the Salvation Army has a bib for me.  They set me up with a fundraising page:  that may be active for a little while after the race.  A generous outpouring from family and friends soon had me over my $4,000 goal.  I filled out the registration form for the race and the SA turned that in to John Hancock who would get it to the BAA.  There were some delays however and I started to get very anxious.  I kept checking the list of entrants hoping to find my name there.  A month later, race numbers were announced and I was so worried that it would be too late to get me in, but I worried for naught.  Eventually I was listed and reveived the confirmation postcard.

Flashback 1996 - For the 100th anniversary of the race they opened up the field to 40,000 ( now it is capped at 27,000) and had a lottery for those who wanted to run but could not qualify.  I entered the lottery but was not accepted.

Friday April 13 - Getting very excited for race day.  I have about 15 friends who are also running the race, coming from Western Washington.  Fellow Marathon Maniacs, all of them qualified and starting way ahead of me.  Most of them are arriving today or are already in Boston.  I am wishing that I was leaving today.  Jody is coming and we both do not have many personal days to take off of work, so it will be a very quick trip.  We will fly out Saturday (tomorrow) afternoon arriving in Boston just before midnight. 

Thinking about  my goal times.  It may be my only Boston so I should do my best. Go for a PR?  If I do, I risk blowing up and having a terrible second half.  I also want to enjoy the time and not feel pressure about it.  Flashback May 2011 - Last 5 miles of the Tacoma Marathon - I did not set out to PR but I was felling good midway through and started to realize that if I could work hard I just might get a best ever time.  As the finished approached I was so close to a PR, the effort made the time very unpleasant.  When I missed a PR by one second I felt anger and dissapointment.  I should have felt joy at running my second best ever time.  I just do not want to stress about finish time.  Ginger says that I should "savor every moment" and I think that is the best advice.  I planned to set a pace that will bring me in in about 4 hours, hopefully under,  but then the weather forecasts start to come in.  The 10 day said that it would be 80 degrees, the 9 day said 74, then it dropped in the 60s only to climb back up.  Friday the 13th it now says it will be 84 degrees for a high.  All time bets are off.

Saturday April 14 - Jody and I leave Seatac in the early afternoon and arrive in Boston at about midnight.  Check in to the hotel right at the airport.  We get upgraded to an executive suite, the room is nothing special, but it allows us access to a secret lounge with free food and other ammenities.

Sunday April 15 - Jody goes for a run while I go to the race expo to get my number.  Walking in and seeing the thousands of goody bags to be distributed, I start to get verklempt.  This is really happening!  Throughout the weekend something will set me off and I will feel a lump in my throat and tears almot come.  Here was the most significant, tomorrow will have a few episodes but no balling or anything too emotional.   The expo seems about the same as any major race, very crowded and mostly just people trying to sell things.  Not bad, but I do not stick around very long.

Later in the afternoon Jody and I treck over to Copley Square to see the finish area and meet up with a great old friend from High School, Jeannie.  Beautiful sunny day, we walk all over town, making our way to the North End and meet up with another dear old friend Kate and her husband Mike.  With such a quick trip and the focus on the race, it was very difficult to try to see any of our many old friends.  Only a few hours of free time here.  I must get to bed early and I know that I will be wiped out after the race tomorrow.  We luck out big time, finding an terrific Italian restuarant with no wait and a nice quiet table.  Jody's friend Laura is able to come in to town and they can spectate the race tomorrow.  Back at the hotel I set three alarms to go off at about 5AM.  There are very few things that can keep me from the race now and I am going to do everything in my power to get to the start line.

Marathon Monday April 16 - 5AM.  Up after a fitful nights rest.  I do not need to be downtown until 7AM, but again I am taking no chances.  Hotel shuttle takes us to the T station at 5:45.  T train arrives in good time.  I decide to walk from Government Center instead of changing trains just to go a few blocks.  I am plenty early for my wave and it is a short walk past the graveyard with Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and John Hancock to the Boston Common.  Amazing logistics for this race as the buses are all lined up and volunteers direct us to boarding.  I finally see my first fellow runner that I know, Robert Lopez, running his 322 or so Marathon, but his first Boston.  On the the bus and then a long long ride to Hopkinton.  Bus rides for point to point courses are so discouraging as it seems to go on forever and you realize that you have a long way to run.

At Hopkington at about 7:30AM with 3 hours until my start.  The High School and Middle School grounds have been turned in to an athlete's village.  Free food, big tents to block the blazing sun, thousands of people streaming in.  I walk around a bit with Maniac Roger Chou.  Then sit on a grassy slope watching people, hoping to find Cherry and Ashley.  Eventually I do find Ashley and it is great to sit and talk with her a bit.  In the past 4 years we have run so many races together (well she almost always beats me) it is fitting that she is here today too.  Of course she is in an earlier wave so she goes off to the start line when her group is called. 

They say that there are 27,000 runners registered.  I have bib #26,692.  This places me in the last corral of the last wave.  I had put a note on my registration form requesting that although I am a charity runner, could they place me based on my 3:48 time from Tacoma last year?  There are so many fast people here I know that I should be somewhere near the back, but not so far back.  There will be charity runners doing their first race today.  Larry Macon is five corrals ahead of me.  I think that I was just tossed in the back as a last minute entry.  Athletes village empties as they call wave three, corrals 7,8 and 9.  Since I am in corral 9 I take my time squeezing on to the road. 

Now there is a slow procession of 0.7 miles to the start line.  There are people dressed as hamburgers and one guy dressed as a toothbrush.  Many charity groups are all together.  Slowly, slowly we make our way down the road.  I find Jenny, another Salvation Army runner.  I expect that we will be directed to our corrals but we just march along slowly and then move across the start line.  I have no idea how many people are behind me, but there can not be too many.  A barricade separates about 50 bandit runners who will wait until we start before joining us on the course.

Start - Large crowd cheering us as we cross the start line.  Soon a slow shuffle, then a jog.  I heard that is was a downhill start but I am surprised at how steep the first bit is.  Everyone moving along, but at different speeds.  I try to be patient, but really have to dodge around some who are just too slow.

Mile 1 - 9:18 on my watch.  Very crowded.  It is one thing to pass a single walker or slow runner, but back here there are groups of three or even five all together and taking their sweet time.  I am zig zagging all across the road like I know that I should not do. 

Mile 2 - 9:15 pace, but now I know that it will not hold.  Too crowded.  I do not want to waste so much energy getting out of this pack.  Giant races are fun in their own way, but the logistics and the fact that I am so packed in that I can not see the road in front of me make them not my favorite events.  I feel like my recent trail running, with its quick action and movements has been good training for today.

Mile 3 - A little bit of running room now, but still so crowded.  Plus people who are running will just come to a walk with no warning.  Shade on the right side of the road in places, only sun but somewhat fewer runners on the left.  Cross the road to take the shorter curve, cross back to have some running room, cross back for a patch of shade.  At the finish my GPS will read 26.6 miles.

Mile 4 - Did I mention the heat?  It is hot.  It is really hot.  How hot is it?  It is so hot that 2,000 runners will seek medical treatment, 900 will drop out, 4,300 will choose to not race at all.  The heat is the story of this race.  The BAA offered deferments to next year for those who choose to not run due to the heat.  Of my 15 or so friends, one will drop out at mile 7, one will finish but then end up in the hospital.  Many will run about 15 minutes slower than normal. It will reach 87 in Boston and 89 in Wellsley today.  Especially hot for those of us who are not at all heat acclimated with our cool wet Spring in the Northwest.  Flashback March 2012 - Reading the race info, water stations every mile on both the right and left sides of the road.  That is too often.  I will plan to skip every other one. Ha - now I am walking through each station and taking fluids at both the right and left side of the road.  More crossing back and forth.  Try to not drink too much that I get sick.  Hard to know how much to drink.  I will take my salt tablet every 5 miles (more often than any other race I have done) and I will drink some gatorade and a little water at each mile, but also dump cups of water on my head.

Mile 6.8 - I see my first race casualty.  Fit looking young woman staggering then sitting on the ground in the shade of some gas pumps.  People are there to help her. Although I feel Ok, I get scared that this could happen to me.  I can feel the heat radiating off the road.  I make the final complete descision to throw all time goals out the window. Walk breaks begin.

Mile 7 - Framingham train station, more spectators, house with a mega keg party going on.  Pass Larry Macon.

Mile 12 - Wellesley College. Hundreds of screaming co-eds.  Most holding signs asking to be kissed (kiss me- I am a senior, kiss me - I am a Geology majoy, kiss me - I am from Wisconsin.....)  For the full race experience I get a couple of quick pecks on the cheek and continue on my way.

Mile 13.1 - Halfway point in 2:11.  I'll probably finish in about 5 hours if I don't get heat stroke.  Its blazing hot.  Surprised to hear Jeannie and her Dad yelling for me.  Stop to say hi.  Now more and more spectators are offering things.  The water on the head every at every aid station is just not enough.  I really need more cooling, so  I gladly accept many ice cubes (which go on my head under my hat) orange slices and two whole bottles of water later in the race.  Usually I grab something on the run, sometimes I come to a complete stop.  I have never stopped so often or veered of course so many times.

Mile 14 - Water on the head is a great way to cool down.  I love how the cool water mixes with the sweat and drips down my back, cool and warm mixing on my skin.  Of course my shirt and shorts are soaked.  I will get some chaffing later in the race, but not so bad.  The bigger problem is all the water on my feet.  Even if I am careful with the cup pouring, there are so many well intentioned fans who are spraying water from hoses on us.  On the head it is great, but soon my socks and shoes are soggy.  They will feel heavy and squishy the whole way in to the finish.

Mile 15 - So many spectators offering things.  I stop for one young boy with his Dad.  They are handing out popsicles.  I want to express my thanks and make some little guy's day, so I pull a $20 bill out of my pocket and give it to him. "This is not payment for the popsicle, this is because you have been selected as the best fan of the race.  You may be saving lives out here too."

Surprise surprise, there is Jody and Laura way out here.  So great to see them. They tell me that Team Hoyt is just two minutes ahead of me.  I knew that they were starting a few corrals ahead of me and I have been hoping that I could pass them at some point.

Mile 16 - Crowd is really cheering.  It pushes me faster.  Wow that is some cheering, something is going on.  I look back and see that I just passed Team Hoyt.  I have been watching them on TV for at least 25 years.  Now we go over I-95 and I remember a long time ago.....Flashback 1983 - My first Patriots Day.  We moved to Needham Mass last Fall and I am a junior in HS.  Fun to get this added state holiday off of school.  A couple of us go to a discount book store in Wellsely and on the way we pass under the marathon route, while the race is in progress.  My first memory of the race.

Mile 17 - Run with one woman for a little bit, but mostly all alone in the crowd here.  Body feels good, hot but good.  No nausea no lightheadedness.  Stick with the plan and keep taking walk breaks as needed.  Legs and energy are fine but I just worry about a sudden bout of heat exhaustion.  Twice I need to move to the side of the road to let an ambulance by. Each time it reminds me to be extra careful.  Fire Department has many hydrants open and are spraying us.  Two or three "misting tents" are set up.  Fun to run through, but I have to go off to the side of the course again, and again my feet get soggy.

Mile 18 - Yay! Jody again.

Mile 19 - Now the hills.  Not a problem.  Most people are walking, but I jog up each hill.  Walk a bit at the top, then jog down.  I can imagine them being a real heartbreak for those trying to win or have a fast time, but with all the leg energy I have saved by going slowly, they are no problem for me today.

Mile 20.5 - Brook, the fundraising coordinator for the Salvation Army has said that she will be at the top of Heartbreak Hill at a certain address on Commonwealth Avenue.  I have been looking at the numbers on the stately houses for a few blocks now, hoping that I do not miss her.  There she is with a big sign.  The quickest meet and greet of all time, I am soon on my way.  She designed and had me wear a custom T-shirt for the race.  Since I did not have my name written on my arm like so many runners, I got lots of "Go Salvation Army" remarks and many people seemed pleased to see that organization represented today.

Mile 21 - Boston College.  More screaming students.  Ever so slightly cooler temperature and a nice downhill.  Then it is flat and there are fewer spectators.  The "dead zone" that Kate mentioned to me.  Something that people can know this course so well.  Looking at the course on paper one would think that with the downhill and the approach to the city coming up, the excitement would continue to build, but there is a little lull here.  So easy to walk a bit.

Mile 23 - Now the crowds are building and the noise level is growing.  Legs start to tire. My right foot feels so tight in my shoe, I want to stop and loosen the laces, but I don't.  See the famous Citgo sign.

Mile 24 - Fenway Park, then Kenmore Square.  I wish Ken Roos were here.  He would have something funny to yell at me.  Also think of Max Jones, I am running in his footsteps.

Mile 24.5 - I think that I will be able to run the rest of the way.  I'll take one more walk break here then see if I can't finish strong.  Thinking about the big finish to come.  Through the roar of the crowd I hear "two six six nine two, 26692, TWO SIX SIX NINE TWO, 26692!!!  ( I awken from my daydreaming to realize that is my number) Some guy is screaming for me to get running again.  Doesn't he realize that I am trying to not die out here?  OK, for him I pick it up and run again.

Mile 25 - "Right on Hereford, Left on Boyleston" (Kate) and I am "living the dream" (Suzanne) and I am "savouring every moment" (Ginger) and there are Jody and Laura again!!  No stopping now I am going to pass as many people as I can and finish strong.  Flasback May 2005 - Teaching 5th and 6th grade Sunday school.  I tell my class that I will not be there next week as I will be running the local marathon.  One boy asks if I have ever run Boston?  Argh!  I get that question a lot.  "How far is that one? and "Have you run Boston"  Very soon the answer will be YES!

Mile 25.5 - A quick look back just to see that sight that I see every year on TV.  Now focus on the finish line.  Surprised that more people are not picking up the pace.  Soon I am there.  It is not as emotional as I expected, but still pretty cool.

Mile 26.2 - Stop my watch.  Walk forward. Medical staff are eyeing us, but I am fine.  Get a bottle of water, get a heating blanket (that is funny, but I will take it as a souvenier).  Get a sack of food stuff.  Get to the bus with my drop bag.  Where is my medal?  That is waht I really want.  Finally on the last bit that is still closed off to the public I get my medal.  I thank the nice lady volunteer and tell her that I have been working towards this for 17 years.  Now fight through the crowd and meet up with Jody. 
I got to the start line by the generousity of my family and friends.  I made it to the finish with the help of the volunteers and spectators.

It was an amazing experience that I would do again.  Did I love every moment? No, the expense and logistics were not fun and a mega sized race is not my favorite.  But this was Boston and it was so well organized and epic.  I am motivated to try to get faster and qualify and return some day.  I have reached the first goal I ever set as a runner, but I have many more to work on now.  Next major milestone and goal that I will work toward is marathon #100.  Hope to get there by May-July of next year.

16,192nd place of 21,554 finishers  (22,480 starters)
Race #268
Marathon or Ultra #82


Skip Howe said...

Wow!!!!!!!! I am so impressed with your quest. You must be so proud. I have loved reading of your different runs in the past, but this post is so detailed I got a sense of what you went through. Way to go....hope you get back to he Boston marathon soon.

Amy N. said...

What a great blog post! I loved all the flashbacks! Congratulations on finishing such an epic event!

PeruGeorges said...

Great post, Andy. I was hoping it would encourage Amy (Kessler) to start running, but instead it elicited comments like, "I'd never want to do that!" And after reading about the Wellesley coeds, she said, "You ain't runnin' it either!" :-(

You are an encouragment to me!