Friday, April 25, 2014

Boston Marathon

…We keep moving forward.  Boston 2014.

I arrived in Boston “nervous and excited,” and that’s what I continued telling those who asked. I was as ready as I could be; the training was complete. I wanted to PR and I knew I could do it. I wasn't thinking about not PR’ing, but I knew I’d have a great race experience regardless.  There shouldn't have been any reason for me not to finish right around 3 hours or sub-3. Yeah. As much as I like to plan when my future PR’s are going to happen (haha?), sometimes, sometimes, you find the marathon does not in fact simply show up on your doorstep like some timely smiling brown box from Amazon (I realize RunningWarehouse may be more appropriate). So you swallow your giant-sized pride in a big choking gulp and figure out who the hell you are, all over again. The marathon is funny like that.  It’s good though. Sometimes you need a good smack in the face to make you realize what this race is about.  Yeah there are more difficult and longer races, but the marathon still deserves respect. It can be a struggle, it may bring pain and self-doubt making you question your mental toughness.  Sometimes this race is about everything in the world but you. I’ll get out from behind the pulpit – you guys know this, I know.  This is just me now realizing what the universe had in store for me…

Boston Strong

I’m not from Boston, had never been to Boston before, and as of now I've only run Boston one time. I won’t even pretend to tell you what this race is really about, and how special it is for so many people, especially after last year. But a few words about my own Boston experience...  Being in Boston for my first time I came to feel at home. It’s an amazing city and I know I’ll go back and spend some quality time experiencing it in a not-so-pressurized state. During marathon weekend however the atmosphere here was thick with crazy-chaotic, energetic, and nervous-but-pleasant vibes. There were other races happening on Saturday, the day I arrived, so from the get-go the places I went were cram-packed with runners and runner-related folks. The town was decked out in marathon signage, #BostonStrong everywhere. With last year’s events still vivid in everyone’s memories, you could tell everyone was ready to take back the marathon. You can go and read about stories and meanings of Boston Strong on a 100 other better blogs, but let me just say, even as I was making my way through a sea of people toward the expo at Hynes Convention Center, I was surprised to find myself stopped in my tracks at the sight of the finish line. Just standing and staring. The freshly painted finish line we’d cross, the awning under which we’d finish, the blue & yellow signs, the people, the moment. Not completely understanding why, tears filled my eyes. Sure, I felt a journey for me had reached a destination in many ways, but I’d be straight up lying if I said I did not feel a direct connection to this place, the events a year earlier, and the people there now. And here we were, today. Happy. Excited. Ready. Unafraid. Stronger. United. Boston Strong. An intangible concept or feeling became entirely tangible and real, and had spread throughout the city of Boston. And those crowds along the course, wow, those crowds were deafening and constant. It was a real thing. Boston had come back strong, without a doubt.
Finish Line Two Days Before Race Day


Ticket to Boston

Looking back, this was my most anticipated race ever. Some dream of running Boston their whole lives and others run their first half and immediately follow it up with booking their flight to Boston.  For me, Boston wasn't within my realm of possibility until about three-and-a-half years ago when I ran Twin Cities in October 2010 in 3:38 (no, not a BQ), gutting 19 minutes from my then five-year-old marathon PR. With Twin Cities, I gained a new level of confidence and got busy doing my homework. Boston was in my head.  I upped my training appropriate for the next logical level to go after that swanky sounding BQ that everyone was talking about. In September 2011, I ran my first BQ at Beaver Island Marathon – which by the way has not been held since – but my time was not fast enough to be selected after registering for Boston 2012 (the hot year). In November 2011, I BQ’d again and dropped sufficient time to register the following September 2012 and was accepted into Boston 2013. I got injured just before Boston 2013 and didn't run. In August 2013, I ran another qualifying race in Wausau, BQ’d, registered in September, and was selected for Boston 2014.

…So not my whole life, but not an overnight flip of the switch. The previous 3.5 years of training accounted for 7738 running miles, 971 hours, 10 pounds of weight loss, 3 significant injuries that sidelined me for several weeks at a time, 11 more marathons, and 1 dietary change to veganism. I really never needed any external hype or enthusiasm to get me interested or excited to run Boston.  I had plenty going on inside my head already. That ticket to Boston. No one will hand it to you. You don’t get there by beating anyone. You compete with yourself every inch of the way. It’s you against you.


NOT HOT! …but it did warm up a bit.

I know you have more important (not necessarily better) things to do than read another excruciating monolog of some kook’s race day pains and unoriginal excuses for not stepping up to the plate. However a brief amount of whining is always in order for any self-respecting part-time blogging race recap writer.  Besides, I think the varying stages of dehydration over a 3-hour period reveal an interesting insight into human physiology.
Collin and I Before the Race

I arrived at the start line of the Boston Marathon, not cocky, but confident.  I knew what I could run, I intended on running it, and I was ready to run it. Sounds cocky but it really is only confidence. I try to be careful about walking that line. I too turn around and walk away when people go off crazy cocky.  The goal: 2:57, and ready to push beyond that, given the opportunity. I knew the air temp would warm up into the 60s but that didn't really cause me concern (or much forethought).  It probably should have made me reconsider my plan. I figured with the temp in the 50s at the start (actually they announced 54°F at the start) I’d be fine and I really didn't want to stress on temperature. It’s relevant but you can’t change it much. It was sunny and blue skies. I borrowed someone’s sunscreen and applied it to my head, ears, and arms. The race started and I didn't have a problem zeroing in on my target pace – low 6:40’s / high 6:30’s. We ran downhill those first few miles; despite being warned, it was much steeper than I anticipated. I wasn't running hard; I wasn't forcing it.  But I was sweating a lot. Who cares, this was Boston (okay, Hopkinton). The first 9-10 miles went by and you’d never have thought anything was wrong. However by 10 miles in, whether or not I fully grasped it, I was already in deep muck. With a small number of warm runs under my belt for the year, I can’t say whether I was prepared for marathon racing in 60-degree temps. It was warm, certainly, but it was not hot.  I didn't feel too hot, but as I said I was sweating a lot. I noticed my high sweat rate in the first or second mile; it was a hell of a lot more sweat than I expected.  So, I countered by taking in fluids early and often. I was certain I was drinking plenty; in fact I was worried my stomach would start sloshing, but that never happened. Near the end of those first ten miles though, I felt a strange sensation: my heart pounding. I didn't know what to make of it, and it freaked me out a little.  After a mile or two it subsided.  But by mile 13 my pace had started slowing into the low 6:50’s and at the half way point, although my overall time was fine, I had to admit to myself the second half was going to be a bit of a challenge. I kept downing water and Gatorade; Collin thought I was drinking too much. Around mile 15, I found myself trying to regain my focus, it was difficult to concentrate on pace, posture, form, conversation, running. It was strange making this realization – out of nowhere I noticed I’d been running like a zombie, I wasn't thinking straight. Shortly after, I reached up, touched the skin below my eye and felt the scrape of encrusted salt. And where I had previously been wiping away sweat from my head, it was dry.  My sweat rate had dropped, not even sure if I was still sweating.  Ugh, my old friend dehydration. I continued grasping at every cup I could and got angry when I missed one. Collin later told me I got really quiet.  Another strange one, my left ear plugged up, sound was muted, despite the roaring and unceasing cheering of the crowds. My pace continued to slow and every goal went out the window besides finishing the race.  The last miles were torturous.  I was passed by Erin C. and though I wanted to, I couldn't utter a sound to her.  I came upon Dan McDowell and had no idea if he was passing me or the reverse. He told me something about going for it, or doing something fast, but at that point I’m not even sure how I was still standing. I think I just made some face that made me look like I was choking on my tongue.  The last mile finally came and I was moving considerably slower than a typical easy recovery pace. We were finally heading down the last straightaway on Boylston. Collin urged me to kick the last quarter-mile; I managed to get to a 6:56 pace but that was it, I was done.  There was zero kick. I couldn't lift my arms as I crossed the finish. Saying I was happy to be done is an understatement of magnitudes. I am certain I gave Collin a huge bear hug at the finish, but I honestly don’t remember.  I’ll email him and ask.  (Follow-up: yes, he confirmed the finish line hug.)

I may not recall specifics from 90% of the course, and despite the pain, slogging, memory loss and other strange physiological effects that happened to me, I will never forget this race. The support back home was incredible. Friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Dailymile – well, everyone was supportive, excited, and encouraging. The spectators along the course? Expletive wow. Seriously! I've never heard a louder crowd in my life and I've never experienced such ceaseless screaming and cheering.  It was so loud that by the later stages of the race my ears were ringing. There were so many people, so much energy, so much noise, you’d never believe these people were all there just to watch some runners go by.  Of course it was so much more than that.  I have to go back and run again.  I need to experience it while remaining sufficiently hydrated.

After the race, I learned a number of others had similar race experiences, also affected by the heat, and dealt with dehydration as well.  It’s interesting and sort of sad, but definitely interesting, to know so many of us went to Boston with high hopes for kick-butt races, fell somewhat short of that, but still came away with amazing and kick-butt Boston experiences.
Ready to Finish!


Would you run a marathon for a friend?  #BostonStrong

Again Life had a lesson for me. Again I was hit over the head with a big dose of, “Wake the hell up!  There are bigger things in life than PR’s and goal times!”  You may have already noticed above: my friend Collin ran this race with me. The entire race. I am still not exactly sure why he did that. I mean yeah we are pretty good friends now, but I don’t remember the last time I actually ever seriously considered running a race, let alone a marathon, with someone else for the duration.  We started at the same time, we finished at the same time, and he looked for me every time I got behind him even a few steps. He had several opportunities to “lose me” and go ahead on his own, and I even told him to a number of times. But he didn't leave me; that guy was stubborn in a big good way. He knew when to talk and when to leave me alone. When he noticed I was slowing down he didn't get frustrated or in my face. I think he knew I was doing all I could. But to me, having him there with me was enough. He pulled me along and never showed any sign of impatience. I've run a few races with my wife and I think I've always pushed her with some degree of impatience. I swear this race made Collin and I brothers (at least in my mind) on some level anyway. I know how it feels to run at a pace that is not your own in a race. And it can suck.  Collin’s marathon PR is 8 minutes faster than mine; and I ran 8 minutes slower than my own PR. Collin ran 26.2 miles at a pace 37 seconds per mile slower than he is fully capable of running. He said he was recovering from injury and just wanted to run Boston and not worry about PR’ing.  But still.  To say I owe that guy a beer is another understatement of proportions.  I think I did buy him a beer actually, but still.

I don’t know what to say, but I've said enough. Hopefully I've managed to relay some message here, however I bungled it in the process.  If not, well, one last thing…  The Boston Marathon is certainly bigger than any one person and it doesn't belong to any one person.  To me, this race is about all of us:  people, runners, friends, and strangers. It is about celebrating our ability to overcome the hardships we each go through every single day of our lives, as well as the seemingly overwhelming evil that drives certain people to do really bad things.  We fall down, we get back up; we may stumble, but we will keep moving forward, stronger.

Utter Joy

10 comments:

  1. Dude, wear that medal proudly, you more than earned it. Marathons test us like no other race and if our stars don't line up just right, it can be a slog. As I was tracking Boston runners, I noticed most of them were having some big positive splits later in the race, so I googled the weather for Boston and saw that it was sunny and 60+ degrees and realized what was happening. So, I think you'll find that you weren't the only one dealing with the warmth. You gutted it out, and crossed the 2014 Boston Marathon finish line in what some legendary runners are now calling the "greatest race ever". Anyway, it's awesome that you got a new bro from the race that stuck by you. I plan on being there next year and hopefully we can hang after that awesome race and have a beer or two!

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    1. Thanks Pete, I agree about the marathon testing us -- it's definitely one of the reasons I keep coming back for more. Anyway, always up for a run sometime with you. We have to catch up, maybe I'll see you at some races soon as well... Thanks for reading Pete, appreciate that!

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  2. Wow, simply wow. You've just given us the taste of what Boston represents and stands for and made me personally feel I was running right there with you both the entire way. Collin is one effin stellar dude and I can only imagine the connection between you guys is 100 times more than prior to this race. No matter the setbacks you encountered throughout this race, you still managed to persevere and run Boston like a champ. I have nothing but mad respect for you and hope some day I too can experience it for myself. I can't thank you enough for sharing this. You are one solid bro.

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    1. Many thanks in return Todd! I know you've gone through the same things in your races, and you have my respect with your continued effort you put into the sport. And I am excited to see you continue racing. I know you'll reach your goals; I think you're only one race away from it!

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  3. Tremendous effort and congratulations… those are interesting insights into where your mind goes when there are so many facets that could lead to so many different outcomes, like the dehydration. Reading this makes the want to get there feel all new again, so thanks.

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    1. Thanks so much Chris. It's funny but i think the painful races keep me more motivated than those days where everything goes really well. Haha. Appreciate your reading!

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  4. Congrats! After the dehydration and all of the other obstacles you encountered, the fact that you finished and re-qualified for Boston is amazing. Like everyone has sale already, those are some valuable insights. I think most of them can be applied to any marathon.

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    1. Hi Austin, thanks for stopping by and reading, yeah you know at the time I wasn't even thinking I re-qualified, ha. Really quite an experience nonetheless. Hope to get back there again, maybe 2016 if not next year...

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  5. Congrats on finishing! The weather was definitely warm. I was spectating and it got even a little too hot for me and I didn't even run! So I know it was too warm for the runners. I was camped out right before the 26 mile mark and saw a lot of staggering. So your ability to keep running that race in the conditions is great!

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    1. Thanks Jennifer! Yeah a couple others mentioned that too. Guess the bright sun really heated things up for us. I don't remember so many people cramping up all in one spot of a race like that, it was kind of unnerving to witness that. Glad that didn't happen to me, but would have been one more interesting thing to write about here.

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