Thursday, April 23, 2009

Retracing one man's steps in Boston

Like many other runners -- from hardcore enthusiasts to weekend wannabes -- I've dreamed about qualifying for and participating in the Boston Marathon.

So on Monday, during the race's 113th running, I periodically dorked out at my desk to follow the action on a Beantown TV station's Twitter feed. When it was over, I did what I've done a half a dozen times since I started distance running more seriously: I used Runner's World's training calculator to figure out how fast I could run a marathon, in theory, based on my half-marathon PR. Its answer? In just under 3 hours and 45 minutes.

And if I did that, I'd miss qualifying for the 2010 Boston Marathon by ... half an hour.

But while I was daydreaming, Ed -- a guy who I sometimes run with (we're both part of the University City Road Runners club) -- was making his first-ever trip along the Hopkinton-to-Boston route.

This morning, I woke up to find Ed had e-mailed a recap to everyone in our group, and I enjoyed it enough that I asked him if I could share it with readers of my blog. He consented, but asked that I only refer to him by his first name.

And so here it is, one local man's play-by-play rundown of his Boston Marathon experience. Hope you find it inspiring -- or, at least, a nice little afternoon read.

Well, after all the preparation, it almost seems like a letdown to try to describe the actual event.

We spent the weekend up at my wife sister's place in New Hampshire, and Sunday evening they put me to work in the kitchen, preparing tortellini and sausage (in a white sauce) for 10. Aside from eating too much sausage, a pretty good meal for the night before. The only bad part was they ran out of red wine, and I had to drink a glass of white zinfandel (horrors, I know).

Went to be around 9:30 p.m., and actually slept pretty well until 5 a.m. Had a banana and some bread, and we hit the road at 6, arrived in Hopkinton right around 7 a.m. This actually worked out beautifully; my wife drove right up to the school and dropped me in front. On the way back to 128, she said the cars were already lining up so we just made it.

I walked down to the mostly empty staging area, consisting of a couple of huge tents, open space, porta-potties, and a PA system blaring music and announcements. It was almost deserted when I arrived, so I grabbed a discarded cardboard box to sit on, and camped out under the tent. Chatted with a few Northerners, from Canada and upstate New York, and slowly got pretty cold. Several people brought cheap pool floats and blew them up and had a nice comfy place to lie down -- good to remember for next time.

Around 8:00, the lines for the bathrooms got pretty long, so I decided that I better get in line so I wouldn't be pressured for time. The lines turned out to be really long. By the time I got to the front of the line, my back muscles were sore from trying not to wet myself. In retrospect, this was quite nearly the worst part of my day.

OK, finally 9:10 or so. I was feeling cold -- temps were in the low 40's, but the wind was kicking up a bit, and I had been sitting around for over two hours. I pinned my bib on my short sleeve shirt, then my long sleeve shirt. I put on my garbage bag and headed up toward the baggage busses. At the busses, I noticed a lot of people wearing singlets, tanks, and the like. Now I'm uncertain about my gear choice ... short sleeves? layers? gloves? I finally decide to go with my original choice -- short sleeve top, no gloves, big ol' garbage bag (contractor grade) until the start. I hand my bag up into the appropriate school bus, and stroll down to the starting corrals. It's about 3/4 of a mile, which I realize is the first chance to move around I've taken. First sign of nerves: I go to the wrong corral and have to be directed to where I belong.

I arrive in my corral just as the national anthem starts. The folks from the local charities are cruising the edges of the corrals, collecting additional clothes. I was unable to find a needy contractor to take my garbage bag, so I tucked it into the fencing as the announcement went out that we were underway. There was an uphill grade from the corrals to the start, so we had a good view of the crowd as it started and stopped a few times before we actually got going. At about 6 minutes past 10 a.m. I crossed the start and was underway!

Mile 1 -- kind of slow going, with a lot of people feeling out their pace. We left the small town of Hopkinton, and were in a rural area when I realized that my long and painful wait for the porta-potty may not have been adequate for the entire race. At about half a mile in, there was a wooded area at the side of the road with several folks stopping for a rest break. I decided that I would have to go at some point, and this was as good a time as any. Business (or other euphemism) taken care of, I got back in the crowd and crossed mile 1 at 8:50. I had printed out a pace chart for a 3:20 finish that took the course terrain into account, and my mile 1 pace was supposed to be 7:22. So here I am, 1 mile down and 1.5 minutes slow.

Mild panic sets in ... how do I make this up? Right away? Over the first 10 miles? 15?

I decided that I would pick up the pace gently, and see how it went. Here was the strategic error in the race. I was not firm in my resolve to make the time up slowly, and regained the time in the first 5-6 miles. I then managed to get my pace back to where I wanted it, and hit the cruise control. The next 8 miles or so were pretty uneventful. The scream tunnel through Wesley was very impressive ... those kids can make some noise!! I refrained from kisses, despite lots of signs encouraging otherwise.

As I went through miles 10-16, I realized that my erratic running over the four weeks leading up to the race was going to give me some trouble (the week in France, followed by my calf bothering me, with too much inactivity in the last week). My legs felts kind of tight, and even though I was able to keep my pace up through mile 18, I was pretty sure the end was near.

The hills, as predicted by Jack and others, were tough. I was able to pass a few folks on the first two hills, and then did well on Heartbreak Hill ... the crowds really filled in for the second half, and there was great support for Heartbreak Hill. I made it to the top, and the fatigue really set in. The last five miles are, I regret, a bit of a blur. I remember that my legs were really heavy, and I found a new way to be tired! Not calves, but quads. Most interesting, I mused, as I forced myself on.

Finally, in the city proper. People were 3 and 4 deep at all the barricades, and the mood lightened considerably. I was passing a few folks, but more were passing me. As we passed mile 25, there was a group of army infantry with heavy packs marching in a double column. "Very cool," I thought. I then made the final turn onto Boylston, and saw the bright lights at the finish line. It was at this time that the infantry column broke into double time and started to pass me. "Less cool," I thought, still punctuating carefully. I managed to keep my feet moving until the end, and then it was over. We filed along rather slowly, collecting water, space blankets, and eventually trading my Champion Chip for a finishers medal. Note to self: bring spare chips if you want more medals.

Still very organized, lots of help, and medical staff everywhere. In my area, people looked pretty good, although there were a few folks in wheelchairs with cramps. I found my baggage bus with my stuff, and a nice volunteer helped me root around for some warm clothes, since I had started to shiver pretty badly. I then went out to meet the family, who said they had a great view from the bleachers and got to see the soldiers running past me.

We walked to my friend's house in the area, I took a quick shower, and then we were in the car for the next day and a half. Still very difficult to get in and out of the car, but I'm improving as of today. Probably more entertaining episodes will come to me, but that's my report for now.
Oh, in case you're wondering, Ed's official time was 3:25:58.


jfsavage said...

Great write up Ed - Well Done!


Irongirl23 said...

Great recap! I was there, ran my guts out and had a blast. You did, however neglect to mention the 15mph headwinds all the way into town! Man, those college kids can yell!!!!

Anonymous said...

I also first...absolutely awesome experience. I will go back.