Over the last 24 hours leading up to the Boston Marathon, the B.A.A. (Boston Athletic Association) sent a series of e-mails to the registered participants.
They spoke of near record breaking temperatures, the dangers involved with running the race and lastly, they offered runners the opportunity to choose not to race after they picked up their bibs at the expo and they would be offered deferred entry into the race in 2013.
Really an amazing thing considering that the size of the field for 2013 is certainly not going to be expanded. Spots for next year’s running of one of the most sought after race bibs in road racing will become even more scarce. Runners will have to train harder and run even faster to qualify next year.
The thought of deferment never really crossed my mind as anything more than passing fancy. Part of that was knowing I was walking around with a qualifying time for next year that is more than 16 minutes below my qualifying standard.
If I want to run Boston next year, I can. That was an envious position to be in on Monday morning riding out to the start of the race.
But the words that stuck with me on race morning from the B.A.A. were, “Tomorrow’s Boston Marathon should not be treated as a race, it is an experience”.
Boy, were they right.
I had arranged to ride up to the start with some good runner friends of mine, Jim Moore from Austin and Mark and Tammy Williams from Pittsburgh. All three would be running their first Boston, I was the “veteran” of our crew with one whole race already under my belt.
We rode up in a chartered bus instead of the school busses furnished by the B.A.A. and the extra room and comfortable ride was quite nice. It would be the last time we would feel “comfortable” all day.
After an accident delay on the Mass. Pike, we arrived in Hopkinton a little bit after 8:15. Only an hour until Jim and I would be making our way to the corrals. We gave Mark and Tammy best wishes and Jim and I took a quick tour of the high-school grounds, took care of our porta-pottie needs, grabbed a bottle of water and sat down for a few minutes.
I had thought about trying to dial things back to 3:20 pace or so, thinking that would be plenty conservative on a “hot” day. But the temperatures in Hopkinton were already above 80 degrees, there would not be a single mile run even in the 70’s. I knew that goal was too aggressive.
I decided to run the first half at that pace over the downhill sections, then just “trot it in”. Whatever the time on the clock said, I knew on one hand I would be disappointed, but on the other I knew that just finishing the race was the goal. Not ending up in a medical tent or with a D.N.F. next to my name was really the only thing that mattered.
After checking my bag into the school bus to be retrieved when we reached Boston I was down to Shorts, Socks, Shoes and a visor.
I was already steaming, could feel the sun beating down on my right side, where it would remain for the length of the Point to Point Marathon Course. With only three turns in 26.2 miles, two of which come in the final 1/2 mile – the sun would be my running partner the whole way.
I ducked into my corral, chatted with a few runners and after the Star Spangled Banner I looked down at the names on my shoes – Dom, David, Scott, Mom. Just finish baby, that was my last thought as I crossed the Start line on Main street and punched my watch.
The First Half:
As we crossed the starting line I fell right in to 7:27 pace. It felt like a training run. The taper had rejuvenated my legs from a tough training cycle and I was really feeling great. Except for the heat. It was stifling. Too bad I thought, we were ready to lay something special down on April 16th.
Unfortunately, April 16, 2012 would prove to be the hottest in recorded history on that date in Boston. Unreal.
I ran for a couple of miles looking for my friend Bob from Long Island. He was running for Boston Children’s Hospital and was staring in a corral two ahead of mine. Bob is a tremendous runner with sub 3:00 hour marathons on his resume, but has been battling injury for the past year. He was going to be running a bit slower than even I would be and we talked about hooking up for a mile or so.
I saw Bob on the left of the course among a sea of marathoners that stretch as far as the eye can see. Boston is quite a site at the start as you begin at the highest point of the course as it falls away from you, hundreds of feet in the opening miles and straight ahead.
All the way to the horizon you see the bright colored singlets and hats of the runners bouncing up and down – for more than a mile. It is something you really have to see to believe.
I waved at Bob as he was glancing over his shoulder every few strides looking for me.
We shook hands, chatted a bit and ran a full mile together. It was my favorite part of the day.
We talked about the day, the goal in finishing the race and to play it smart.
After a mile or so we said our goodbyes. Bob and I would share a cold beer and a hug several hours later.
Ashland, Framingham, Natick – we ran through each of the towns with the locals opening their hearts and their homes to the runners. Not only was the cheering and encouragement up to amazing Boston standards – but they were spraying runners with hoses, had sprinklers set-up to wet the runners, giving away orange slices, water, ice, cold towels – it was really heart-warming.
You felt like you owed it to them to keep going. Don’t walk. Don’t give in. Run with honor.
I still felt good and solid up through the first 10 miles of the race, but I could feel my legs start to fight me just a bit. I knew it was only a matter of time when this once strong, confident, well-trained marathoner would be reduced to a slowing, short-striding jogger.
It wasn’t going to be a surprise when it happened, so I was not disappointed, I actually found myself looking forward to the Newton Hills. When we finally got there, all I had to do is make it to the top of Heartbreak and I knew we had it.
I hit the half-way point about a minute slow of our opening goal pace. 1:39:51.
I was going to try to run a 2 hour second half and come in at 3:40. Definitely not a time to write home about, but I just wanted to be one of the fortunate ones to make it all the way to the finish line in one piece.
Over 4,000 runners decided not to start the race. Another 2,100 would be treated for heat related issues. Those two groups accounted for more than 1 out of every 5 of the 26,700 registered athletes. I was determined not to be one of them.
The Second Half:
We hit Wellesley College and the famed screech tunnel just before the half-way point. The Co-Eds at Wellesley were once again in rare form. Screaming for the runners, hanging over the barricades with their signs, asking for kisses.
I did not kiss anybody, but I did go out of my way to high-five two of the girls on my way by. The first one held a sign that read, “Kiss me I’m from Texas!” the second had a huge sign that said, “I won’t tell your wife!”.
Shortly after Wellesley I backed way off of the pace down to 8:30’s. I ran through every water stop and repeated the same routine over and over.
I would grab a cup of Gatorade at the first table and drink half of it.
I would grab two cups of water at the next table, the first I would pour directly over my head.
The second I would drink half of, carry for a few strides, then dump that on my head as well.
By the time I would be 1/2 of a mile down the road, I would be completely dry. Amazing the heat.
We got to the Newton Fire Station and made the right hand turn, 10 miles to go to the finish – but more immediately was the thought of climbing the Newton Hills.
On the first uphill I dropped my pace down to 9:30. Just a trot, slow and steady – a pace I knew I could repeat for the next 1 hour and 30 minutes or so.
I thought about how just 4 weeks ago I ran 13.1 miles at 6:22 pace in Virginia Beach, 1:23:46.
Same runner, different situation and all we had to give were 9:30’s to play it safe. What an amazing day.
The Newton Hills arrived one after the other, as I crested the third hill I knew the only thing left was Heartbreak. I hit the water stop about 1/2 mile from the last hill and grabbed a popsicle from one of the children on the side of the course.
Talk about surreal. I was running the Boston Marathon with a cherry popsicle in my right hand, feet and shoes soaked with sweat and water, no shirt on at 9:30 pace.
If you would have told me this is how my 2012 Boston would go a few months ago I would have thought you were crazy. But it was real. Boy was it ever.
I tossed the popsicle stick to the ground and dug in. Passing runner after runner who was slowed to a walk we made our way to the top and the Boston College Campus where the students were going crazy for the runners. Shouting encouragement, calling out names and bib numbers, willing runners to the finish.
We made it to Brookline and only had a few miles to go. Slow and steady I hit the water stops, kept drinking, pouring and drinking trying to not give up which was oh so tempting at this point.
As we finally made it to Fenway Park and 1 mile to go I reached the point where I had run to on Sunday morning for my 2-mile shakeout. I had run out from the finish line so I could run the final mile of the course the day before the race as I had in New York back in November.
In 50 degree weather on Sunday morning I covered this mile in 6 minutes and 22 seconds.
In 87 degree weather after 25 grueling miles I would run it in 8:35.
We made the turn off of Commonwealth Avenue and turned right on Hereford Street, pushed pace ever so slightly up the hill to Boylston and made the final left turn. 1/2 mile to go.
I waved to the crowd lining the street and tried to smile for them. Nothing really “hurt” to be honest as it does at the end of a marathon where you are really racing – my legs just didn’t have any jump.
All of the blood that powers those legs had been recruited elsewhere to help keep my body temperature regulated. We were simply doing the best we could.
One final wave to the finish line photographers and we crossed the line.
I made my way through the finishing area, got my medal, bag, food and water and as I shuffled along I heard “MARRUCHELLA!”
It was Dawn and Landry just outside the barrier and the tears I had held in for almost 4 hours filled my eyes. That is when you realize what you were really running for. It wasn’t a finish line, a medal or a cool jacket. I was running for my hugs.
Today, one day after finishing I have some mixed emotions. Certainly I would have preferred to race in 45 degree weather and see just how ready we were for Boston.
But there is a part of me, walking around the hotel and seeing other runners this morning that makes me proud of running yesterday. We look into each other’s eyes and know just what that other runner sees in us. The same we see in them. Ultimate and everlasting respect.
There is something pretty cool about that. No matter how many races I run and finish lines I cross I learned a valuable lesson yesterday.
It really is all about the journey. I’m glad I made the decision to take this one. I’ll never forget it.