Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Shipping up to Boston

The worst part of running the Boston Marathon for my first marathon is now I have a an inkling of an idea that I could run faster. I had leg cramps for the last 10 miles which made me walk a minute each mile, so I know that if I managed to get that under control and do a bit more speed work I could get my time down.  It's a lot like golf, where one perfect shot builds up the hope that you could actually do this well at some point.  At the finish line I didn't want to even contemplate another marathon but now, almost a week later, it doesn't seem like such a bad idea.  My brain is trying to kill me.

The weather forecast for Patriot's Day was wonderful; sunny and not too warm, with a tailwind predicted for much of the course. I really couldn't ask for a better day; in my mind I had been picturing sweltering hot days or sleet and freezing rain.  As is par for the course, I didn't sleep much the night before the race, but was feeling as good as could be expected when Monica dropped me off at CRI at 6:45 AM.  There, I met up with Robyn and the other CRI runners who were taking the van to Hopkinton.  Although she had qualified for the race, Robyn hadn't had the chance to train as well this year and her longest run was only 16 miles.  Her stated plan was to run to BC then exit the course and pick up her van at CRI, but until then run with me as a pacer and coach.  I was pretty confident that if she made it to BC with me she'd finish the race, but I didn't say anything.

We rode out to Hopkinton and an animated conversation about our expectations.  Three of the folks in the van had run Boston before so they knew what to expect at the Athlete's Village.  Two of us were newbies and were pretty excited about the whole experience.  The van dropped us off about 1.5 miles from the village and we walked along the road in the chilly wind.  Choosing to wear the heavy sweats and bring the wind jacket was fortuitous; it was cold.  Once in the village we did the only sensible thing to do - line up for the porta-johns.  We spent the 2+ hours sitting on the grass, trying to stay warm, and periodically going to the porta-johns.

Around 10:20 AM we in the third wave had dropped off their bags in the buses and we were all moving out towards the starting corrals. Robyn had grabbed a discarded Cornell sweatshirt to wear to the start line and I had my Dartmouth t-shirt on - I felt very collegiate.  Two folks in our group were in corral 9, the last one, so we all decided to start there instead of our assigned corrals.  Robyn wasn't even in our wave - she qualified for Wave 2.  As we approached 10:40 the crowd slowly moved forward.  The atmosphere was light, but there was certainly an undercurrent of tension.  Most of the people that far back either hadn't run a marathon ever or hadn't run Boston.  Expectations seemed low, but uncertainty was high.  Just after 10:40 the lead runners started and it took us 4-5 minutes to reach the starting line.  We broke into a trot and then started running at our target pace.  The marathon was on!

Robyn and I settle in side-by-side, with periodic arcs around and between slower runners, or as we parted to let faster runners by.  We quickly lost sight of Clai and Anne, leaving just us two.  I checked my pace to make sure I wasn't going out too fast on the downhills and was happy to see that we were keeping to the 9:30 target.  Except for the very first drop, the downhills aren't drastic so it's easy to start out too fast.  It was amusing to see runners headed off into the woods in the first mile or two to take a leak even though I figured I'd be doing the same eventually.  It took two miles or so before it really dawned on me that I was running the marathon.  Woo hoo!

The first water stop was at mile 3, and Robyn said she's get water for me - just keep running.  We did that for the first 10 or 12 miles but after that I just got my own water/Gatorade.  She was doing a fantastic job keeping me focused on pace and not getting overwhelmed.  Having someone there to chat with, point out the costumes or the interesting spectators made the time go by quicker.  I remember the woman with the sign that read "Drunk (again)" who most certainly was.  The Eiffel Tower replica was impressive.  We had settled in with people who were all running about the same pace, so we'd see them on and off for the next 4 hours. There was a guy in front of us for most of the race who must have had "Dave" on his shirt as people were cheering "DAVE!" a lot.  My Dartmouth shirt got a lot of "Go Dartmouth" and "Yay Big Green" along the way, to Robyn's amazement.

As we approached Wellseley College just past mile 12 I could hear the Scream Tunnel, and it lived up to its reputation.  A half-mile of screaming college co-eds eager to kiss anyone going by with a bib number is quite the sight.  I chose not to engage them but I enjoyed the Dartmouth cheers and reading some of the imaginative signs.  Soon after that was halfway point and I realized that I wasn't going to have a great performance.  I could feel the beginning of some cramping in my calves but didn't want to stop and stretch as long as I could keep up the pace, now around 10:00.  I spotted a co-worker in the crowd, the first familiar face I'd seen on the course, and that buoyed my spirits.

All along the way, Robyn was the best running companion a first time marathoner could ask for.  Even though I'd run the course, she knew it far better, kept and eye on the clock, and distracted me when it was clear I was hurting.  After hitting Mile 16 I said I needed to walk for a minute while taking my water to give my calves a rest.  That would pretty much be the pattern for the rest of the race, sometimes I'd walk for 30 seconds, other times for up to 2 minutes.  Robyn was always there keeping an eye on the clock and supporting me when I started running again.  She had a great look on her face that seemed to say "I know you feel that you need a break right now, but it'll all feel better once you finish.  Now get moving!"  At least that's how I interpreted it.

At mile 17, just before the hills, I grabbed some Gu from the tables set up on the route and they helped a bit.  Just before the firestation I spotted Jeff in the crowd by his house and he took some nice photos of me and Robyn and ran with us for a short bit.  Just as we made the turn onto Comm Ave we passed a troop of soldiers with full packs and we pretended all the cheering was for us.  The turn at the fire station is a major milestone; it signals the start of the hills.  I'd run these hills a dozen times but never with my legs feeling quite like this.  Running in the main street instead of the carriage way was new, but the hills remain the same.  At one point I needed to stop and stretch my calves, this was my only true stopped point on the marathon.  All other times I kept moving.  Soon after that I was passed by a guy running in a business suit.

Getting to the top of the hills at BC felt great, and the downhill stretch was good for my calves.  It was not so great for my quads but they're big, they can take it.  Robyn chose this point to tell me that this was the longest in terms of time she had ever run.  That's a motivator for you. We turned at Coolidge Corner and cruised up Beacon.  Robyn pointed out the Pru which is essentially the finish line - it really didn't look that far away.  Amazingly I saw a few friends in the crowds, or more accurately they saw me and got my attention.  On we went past Washington Square, the Citgo sign was almost close enough to touch.  I was looking for Monica and Bob and Geri now, somewhere along the left side of the course.  But I made it all the way to St Mary's without seeing them and thought for a second that I had missed them somehow.  But just before the bridge over the Pike there they were!  I got a hug and a kiss for my troubles, and was now ready for the final stretch.  (Oh, the Red Sox won!) Past the Citgo sign, onto Comm Ave, under the overpass and looking for Hereford.

As we made the turn onto Hereford Robyn went into full coaching mode.  "See that?  It's Boylston, the last turn on the course.  Now, two more stop lights and the finish line.  Just look at the finish line and it'll be over soon!"  I listened to the cheering crowds as well but Robyn's voice was much more motivating.  I managed to spot Bobby who was working a detail near the finish line but that was all the energy I had.  100 more feet.  50 feet.  I'm there; hands up and look at the camera!  Can I stop running now?

We slowed down and stopped.  That felt good.  My feet were swollen and hurting but no sharp pains.  My calves were still cramping but I could walk no problem.  My quads had started to hurt a bit but they're just babies; suck it up.  Other than that I felt pretty good.  We got our water, Gatorade, then our medals, mylar blanket and food bag.  I ate the salty stuff, drank as many fluids as I could, and kept walking slowly.  Robyn called her husband and arranged to meet at the Mass Ave bridge for a ride home; she was planning on just walking back to Cambridge but I thought this was a better deal.  We hugged and said goodbye; I'll always remember and try to repay the gift she gave me that day.  I think chocolate might be a good down payment.

The walk to the meeting area was slow and painful, my feet were quite swollen.  Soon after arriving there Monica arrived, out of breath from running all the way to the finish through the crowds.  She had my Crocs which felt SO GOOD on my feet.  I changed into my sweats and put on a jacket (making sure that medal was on the outside) and started a slow shuffle to the Park St T stop.  After my experience at Disney in January, I admit it was extremely gratifying to walk through the Common with a Boston Marathon medal around my neck and exchange knowing looks with other finishers and accept the congratulations from others.  It was just now beginning to sink in that I'd run a marathon.

The walk from Harvard Square to my house went surprisingly easy, and while not skipping along I had some life in my legs.  The next day I was pretty sore and spent most of it around the house but by Friday I was able to go for a run again. Except for the cramping and sore feet (and I'll probably lose a toenail) I thoroughly enjoyed my first marathon.  I think that by using the word "first" I'm acknowledging that I will be running another one someday, maybe even this fall.  I spoke to my brother and we're making tentative plans to run a fall marathon together this year.  I know I have it in myself to run faster, and more importantly to me, run better.

I think I've answered the question.  I'm a runner.

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