“Ug. Ooph. Ow. Uh”. These are just a few of the sounds I can’t stop from coming out of my mouth every time I get up or try to move around. It is Tuesday morning and my body hurts from yesterday’s race effort at the 121st running of the Boston Marathon. I remain in awe of my running friends who can complete a marathon with no more difficulty than crossing the street. This was my 9th marathon and 4 of them have been very slow and difficult including this one.
Patriots Day in Boston started warm and got warmer. It was 65 degrees when I woke up yesterday morning. As runners go I’m a bigger guy outweighing most of my peers by 10-20 lbs. But I knew before I got here it wasn’t going to be a fast day and my plan was not to try to run terribly fast. Last year I was foggy and a bit delirious at the finish and I wanted to be sure to soak in and enjoy Boston this year.
The day began with the hotel shuttle at 5:30 a.m. There wasn’t really a need for me to go that early but the alternative was to sit around the hotel room. I decided to get moving and get the long walk and bus ride from Boston Commons to Hopkinton out of the way. The B.A.A lists the bus ride as 30 minutes in the athletes guide. It’s a school bus on a highway for nearly 30 miles. It is never going to be a 30 minute bus ride. It’s a lot closer to 50 minutes. I had purchased a blanket, and a warm fleece jacket at the Goodwill store. After testing the weather, I grabbed the blanket, left the jacket and hopped in the shuttle.
Boston Commons was busy with a steady stream of runners headed to gear check and the buses. I was amazed that the Dunkin Donuts near the Park Street T stop wasn’t open yet. Really!? 30,000 runners up early and you didn’t think it might be smart to open that store? Oh well, they have free coffee in Hopkinton. The actual ride to Hopkinton passed quickly with a pleasant conversation with a man from Forest City Iowa who probably helped build our little RV. Oh, and I’ve been to Forest City. It is and has neither.
The advantage of getting to the athletes village in Hopkinton early, is no bathroom lines at all which is very good after a long bus ride when we have all been hyrdrating. I took care of business and grabbed some coffee and a bagel and found a spot to spread out my blanket. It would be 2.5 hours before I would head for the starting corrals with my fellow Wave 2ers. As I sat, I thought about that cold day last spring a month after a very hot Boston marathon that I turned around and had a much better, faster day than Boston. Qualifying seemed an eternity ago. As I lay there sipping coffee, I kept a vigilant eye out for friends especially super-duper ultra running friend Laurie Dymond. We have “known” each other for years on-line but still actually haven’t met in person. Something keeps coming up. But we would be in the same wave and corral today so hoped to track each other down and maybe run together for a while. When all was said and done, it wasn’t to be.
The athlete’s village is a fun place to spend time. I passed the time watching pre-race rituals. I think there was even a wedding. I still hoped to spot friends there and about 9:15 I did spot members of my Wegman’s Running group who I have come to consider my best training partners and some of my closest friends. Runners share a special bond and you find yourself able to share your innermost thoughts, dreams, and troubles with runners you get to know well and spend many miles with. It made me happy to see them as last year I didn’t find anyone I knew in Boston. I waved and yelled frantically. Most of them got in line for the port-johns but Laura and I wound up walking to the start together.
At the corral entries Laura went one way and I another. She was a couple corrals behind me. It was then I spotted a familiar figure in front of me in the form of former Coach Craig Sheckler of Endurance Multisport. We talked on the way to the start. He nailed a BQ for next year already and decided he’d “go for it” today and see what happened. At corral 5 we shook hands, wished each other luck, and went our separate ways.
Did I mention the temperatures? It didn’t get cooler as the day progressed. The Boston Marathon starts very late as marathons and races in general go. The first wave goes at 10:00. For many events, the first runners are crossing the finish line by then. Our wave didn’t get the “go” until 10:25. Usually, I’d be done running for the day and be showered and ready for what’s next. But at 10:25 the guy on the PA said something and we began moving toward Boston en masse. Slowly at first, then a start and stop jog then running as we crossed the Start line.
The road out of Hopkinton is narrow. I watched a lot of people waste a lot of energy trying to scoot along the road edges and dodging and weaving in the heavy traffic. I did that last year and it was a mistake. I’m sure those folks made up a lot of the walkers I would pass later in the day. 2016 had been hot. This year was hotter. We had been promised a stiff tailwind but it only reared up once in a while to show how refreshing it could be if it had been more consistent. It occurred to me as we ran along that those first few miles are a bit claustrophobic.
My plan was easy, sustainable miles. I ran to effort feeling like I could continue for quite a while. But the pace was a bit deceiving. Due to injury and illness I hadn’t really run much for nearly a month with my longest run in there being 8 difficult miles. I wasn’t sure what would happen later in the day but was completely okay with running slow. I just wanted to run all the way to Boston. It’s a good thing I had this thought early because I had yet to learn how slow one could actually go. We passed the 1 KM mark and I thought “Only 41 more to go”.
The early miles out of Hopkinton passed quickly. But in the first 2 miles I noticed sweat dripping heavily from the brim of my hat and my singlet was already soaked and beginning to chafe my upper arm.
- 1: 8:14 (Good)
- 2: 7:41
- 3: 7:58
I was mildly alarmed as these splits popped up. I had hoped to focus on around 8:30 miles. Mile 4-5 was slower only because I had declined the long potty lines at the start and decided to stop to pee at the first set of porta-johns where I could see a “green” lock from the road. Of course it only shows red if you remember to lock the door which someone didn’t. Sorry young lady. Not my fault.
I had this great idea as I ran that when I saw notable things I’d glance at my watch for the mileage so I could remember them and mention them here. Yeah . . . Have you run a marathon? It starts off with not being an entirely stable person to think it’s a good idea anyway, and ends with your brain being kind of addled from the effort. So the only thing notable I really remember at the moment was John Raines AKA “The Barefoot Caveman” flying by me somewhere near mile 6 or 7. He ran by fast pumping up the crowd as he went. The crowd responded with a roar.
- 6 8:14
- 7 8:09
- 8 8:18
- 9 8:25
- 10 8:23
Given my training and the day these were all still too fast. But I do remember thinking how good I felt through the Mile 9 Moment, which is one of the popular cheering areas on the course. By this time last year I was in runner purgatory. I was in pain, mentally out of it, and wondering how I was going to make it to the end. This year, I was enjoying the day as I went.
The Boston Marthon must be for a runner vaguely what it is like for someone with autism or who is manic. There is a constant over-stimulation of the senses. If you think you are going to be able to focus on your form, your game plan or your splits it is nearly impossible. There are crowds everywhere. In other races, folks are clustered here and there. Sometimes there is a family on a street corner with a cowbell. But at Boston there is the constant noise of truly goodwill being sent your way.
The only mention of 2013 I saw, and the only time I thought of it was somewhere along the course there was a banner that said “Boston Strong 4 years Later”. I remember thinking “F__k you ISIS. We’re still here”. And then I ran on.
I have a challenge for the running clothing community. Please, please, please make a singlet that doesn’t have a big lump of stitching and fabric under the arms. I haven’t found a singlet yet that doesn’t cause major chafing to the insides of my biceps once it gets wet. I don’t remember where I took my shirt off but I spent a mile or more trying to remember if we could run shirtless without penalty or if that was just a stupid triathlon rule. Finally I saw several other runners (male) running shirtless and decided “It’s coming off”. Losing the shirt did two things. First the annoying rub on my arms was gone, and I was instantly a bit cooler.
- 11 8:31
- 12 8:43
- 13 8:37
- 14 8:38
- 15 9:10 (Can you tell where the Wellsley girls are?)
While it is certainly fun to flirt with the young co-eds and get an enthusiastic kiss, the youthful exuberance and cheerful screaming of the Wellesley girls around mile 14 is incredibly uplifting at a time when the race is getting difficult. Shortly after passing the Scream Tunnel you start to hit the first hills too. Fortunately, this is also where they had the first fire hydrants open with an attached sprayer. The water was icy cold and took your breath away. It was the most wonderful thing ever. I hit every hydrant, every Good Samaritan with a garden hose, and every mist tent on the course.
By the time I started mile 16 the heat was taking it’s toll. I don’t look at heart rate while running but as I sit here and examine the metrics from my spiffy new Garmin Fenix 5X I realize what a truly tough day it was. My heart rate averaged 156. Usually for most long runs I’m in the 130s. Temperatures ranged from 73 to 90. I don’t think the air temps really hit 90 but have no doubt there were parts of th course where it approached that on the road.
- 16 9:05
- 17 9:35
- 18: 10:06
The wheels were coming off my run and I was slowing down. And I was and am completely okay with it. This year I was determined more than anything to enjoy the day and soak in the Boston Marathon. I revelled in the noise. I read signs . . many of which made me laugh but now can’t remember. (They’ve been lost to marathon-brain). I high fived everyone. In addition to the provided race aid stations, I ate popsicles and Swedish fish handed out by little boys and girls along the course. Most importantly, I ran. I didn’t walk.
- 19 10:03
- 20 10:23
By the latter stages of the race I was running at speeds so slow I didn’t know I could still be running. I tried to focus on good form but not sure I was successful. There are two significant parts of the course around mile 20. The most notorious is Heartbreak Hill. And despite the name, it really isn’t all that bad. In fact, by my count there are really only 3 notable hills on the course with Heartbreak being one of them. I guess being used to running around Berks county I’m just used to more significant hills than Heartbreak. I ran up it without much of a problem other than being slow. Everyone else was walking.
The second notable thing is Boston College at mile 21. Like Wellesley, the enthusiastic young people provide a spiritual lift that is beyond words to describe. I high-fived the whole way down the BC cheering section. A young man said “Thanks for coming”. I nodded and said “Thanks Boston College”.
- 21 11:09 (I didn’t know I could run this slow and still be running)
- 22 10:14
- 23 9:49
Now I just wanted to be at the finish. I focused on just getting to the aid station beyond each mile marker. And just keep running. My left adductor that I strained moving snow was now complaining each time I lifted my leg. But it was tolerable and nothing like the horrible hip issues from last year.
The closer you get to the finish, the louder the cheering gets. The Boston finish is like no other. Throngs of people come out to cheer the runners on. It makes you want to run for them. I took time to look around at the faces in the crowd and listen to their creative and enthusiastic cheers. There were even cheerleaders!
- 24 10:34
- 25 10:31
Incorporated in these almighty slow paces were the aid stations. At each one I’d slow to a fast walk/slow trot and down one cup of Gatorade, one cup of water, and dump another cup of water over my head. Then I’d begin running again. I’ve never been able to drink from an aid station cup on the run without choking so I slow down as much as I have to to be successful.
Temperature wise it had now cooled a bit. There was finally the promised cloud cover and breeze. But the damage was done. There were far more walkers than runners now. I was still running and passed a lot of people here. The stretch from mile 25 to 26 seems to take an eternity. Oddly there is about a half-mile in there that is fairly barren from spectators. You go under an overpass, and it is another 1/2 mile before you get back to where the fans can get near the course again. This is close to the right turn on Hereford.
If the crowd was loud before, Hereford and Boyleston are insane. It was somewhere here that I saw a man hugging his wife and son. He was in tears and hugging the little boy so hard I thought he might crush him. I don’t know his story, but it was an emotional moment for him. Such is the Boston Marathon.
When you make the left turn on Boyleston street you can see the finish. And it looks so far away! It is, in fact, a couple hundred yards down Boyleston before you get to the 26 mile marker. As I always remind people when they point out that “Wow, you ran 26 miles” that the .2 matters. It’s a lot farther than you might think especially when you are hurting at the end of a long race.
- 26 10:31
I crossed the finish line in just over 4 hours. My slowest marathon ever and only one over 4 hours. I was and am completely fine with it. It has to be perfect for me to run a BQ sort of time. Today was far from it. It was too hot for a bigger runner, and my training was insufficient due to injury and illness. After last year’s debacle I just wanted to enjoy the day and that mission was very well accomplished.
- 26.2 4:03:41
When you cross the finish line at Boston your day is not over. Just to get to your bag check, is at least another half-mile past the finish line. But first you are offered water, “Yes please”, Gatorade “Yech. No thanks”, a blanket “Are you kidding!?”, a medal, a strange and eclectic bag of food, and finally a Gatorade protein shake. Best thing ever!!!
Janice decided she’d rather not come down to the finish which I was fine with. I doubt we’d have been able to see each other on the course, and the family meeting area was the wrong direction from the hotel. My adductor was very angry that we hadn’t discussed this marathon thing, so I started a slow hobble across Boston Commons toward the Park Street T station and the Green Line. Along the way, I spotted a pair of Brooks running shoes that had been disposed of at a trash can in the park. I giggled not knowing if they were at end-of life or if that was someone’s statement about their future in running. I offered my bag of food from the finisher’s line to a hungry, homeless person but he looked it over and politely declined.
One of the fantastic things Boston does is offer free access to the T for runners post-race. This is unbelievably awesome when faced with the daunting idea of walking back to the hotel. I hopped (in the figurative sense) on the green and blue lines with other sore, tired, hot runners and made my way back to the Boston Harbor hotel.
Once back, Janice and I were sitting in the room catching up on the day when there was a knock on the door. A concierge presented me with a plaque commemorating my Boston Marathon attempt. In my mind I though “Great. I have a plaque for my slowest race ever.” but I really was grateful. I thought it was a nice touch by the hotel.
So the Boston Marathon 2017 adventure is wrapped up. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back again. If so, it probably won’t be next year. Last year I was able to qualify a month later but I had good training and a bad race. This year the training and health just isn’t there. But we’ll see.