Monday, April 22, 2013
Posted by BD at 9:40 PM
Monday, September 24, 2012
Forest Park Half Marathon
September 22, 2012
Overall time: 1:40:30
Overall place: 1(!)/159
Short Version: a wire to wire victory (my second ever!) in my favorite place to run at in the world. And I won a head to toe Lululemon outfit (more on that later) :-) All in all a pretty awesome day.
So unlike my friend Chad's Summer of Sloth, I've taken the past 10 months or so and made it the Season of Slow. After training for three marathons over the previous two years, I just need to reacquaint myself with running for fun. No training regime, no set number of miles/days, etc. As a result, interestingly enough I actually ran more races in the spring than I usually do. Most of them on a whim and just in the middle of running 35-40 miles/week. Nothing special but allowed me to keep in ok but not great shape and gave me a relative sense of where my running was at. With summer came the return of our oldest from preschool and the challenges of running as a stay at home dad with two kids under 3.5 at home. That need to be entertained. A lot. Needless to say most running was predawn outside of the occasional guest appearance at OTC. So zero races over the summer though with school just around the corner, I had gotten an email about the Forest Park Half. I entertained foolish thoughts of running the full (thank god I didn't) but elected to run the half 1) because Forest Park is my favorite place in the world to run in, 2) it was for a good cause (a fundraiser for the FP Conservancy) and 3) it being a trail half allowed me to have no problems whatsoever about a relatively slow time. I had to miss last year's inaugural edition due to NYC training so I was very excited to just enjoy the day and have it be a good kickoff for getting in shape for Boston.
The week leading up to the race was ugly; got back from being out of town on Tuesday night to a sick youngun', all my runs just were devoid of energy and generally just wasn't getting enough sleep/rest to feel confident about anything related to the race. As a result, Becca and I agreed that I was heading out solo. Usually the kids like to take in the festivities but there wasn't going to be much to see outside the start and finish. So after feeding the kids and myself, I was off to Lower Macleay park for the start expecting nothing other than an enjoyable run through the forest.
Upon getting there and warming up a bit, I took another look at the course. The online map kind of gives you an idea of where you're headed, but upon seeing it in person I realized it was as follows:
Climb out of Lower Macleay until you hit Wildwood. Climb Wildwood until Wild Cherry. Fly down Wild Cherry until you hit Leif. Run Leif for 3ish miles until Firelane 1. Climb Firelane 1 until Wildwood. Follow Wildwood to Dogwood, climb again until meeting back up with Wildwood then charge back down to Lower Macleay park and the finish.
To quote Chad: Oof.
Suddenly I had an impending sense of a lot of hard work ahead. Good news was I didn't care where I finished; just that I enjoyed myself. I had a feeling I would need to remind myself of that later in the race. We were called to the start which resembled a middle school dance. A few go-getters (maybe 7-8 of us at the line) and a lot of people hanging back just milling around ready to go whenever Todd Janssen sent us on our way. Todd asked us if anyone planned on running fast today; I piped up and said I'm either a slow fast guy or a fast slow guy. I'd claim either and wouldn't be offended by the other. He smiled and wished us luck. The guy next to me and I took turns predicting how long it was going to be until one of us got ate up by the fast people.
With that the race was off. I took the lead and just took off up the trail. We didn't have much pavement before hitting the trail so immediately your body starts doing the calculus needed to combine speed with navigating rocky terrain. I felt ok enough but without looking back, fully expected someone to come up beside me or blow past me. As I made the turn onto Wildwood, I looked back and saw a few people; the first I saw was the eventual women's winner with two guys a little further behind. No matter; it was way too early to be worrying about anything yet.
About 1.5 miles in I hit the first aid station. I decided to get some water but since the two volunteers weren't handing them out, in grabbing a cup I took out about 5-6 cups and a few slices of orange. Throw in the fact that I quickly downed my water and tossed the cup back to the table and I'd been a one man wrecking crew to the poor aid station. Needless to say I felt pretty bad and apologized as I charged forward. One quick note on the FPC volunteers; they were awesome and gave so much of their time. However for the most part they were of the "bird watcher" demographic so on one or two occasions I had to quickly ask which direction to go. Or as one gruff yet helpful guy showed, why talk when a simple thumb will do? ;-)
Just as it seemed like Wildwood evened out and I was hitting a good stride, it was time to charge down Wild Cherry trail. This trail has been my bane over time; I've fallen on it more than any other trail in FP. So as a result, I rarely run down it anymore; I always find another route. As a result, I took it VERY carefully down the hill. Early days and all and the last thing I wanted to do was be tasting dirt the rest of the run. However, in taking this tact as I descended onto Leif, I looked back and saw the trailing pack a lot closer than they had been the last time I'd had a bead on them. The picture doesn't do just justice how close they were. At that point, I made the decision to go into speed grind mode (for the OTCers think me climbing up Overton) for the next three miles going up Leif. Figured opening up a huge gap along there was my only chance of finishing people off and make them lose motivation as I disappeared in the forest :-)
Note: Here comes the pack... btw, I'm the little dude on the right. (pic courtesy of Jon Caulley)
As I cruised up Leif, a stretch I've run close to 100 times, instead of soaking in the sun and enjoying the scenery, all I could think of was "cut the curves" and "I wonder how I could phrase winning the men's division but losing the race in my race report?" The woman easily looked the strongest of the three and was definitely was kept me motivated. I just kept clipping off 1/4 mile markers pushing myself as hard as I could until I hit firelane 1. Hopefully the work was enough for what was to follow...
Firelane 1? Definite oof. The last few times I've run it I've come down it so I forgot that in a half mile you really put your legs through hell. Throw in the false summits and I was really, really hurting. I wore my Garmin (mainly just for record keeping) and the only time I looked at was half way up Firelane 1. My lap pace at the time? 12min/mile. Felt about right :-) That stretch was absolute hell. I really felt at times that I could have moved faster walking but felt that if I did, I might never get restarted. So I just kept on my toes, pushing one foot in front of the other, reminding myself that eventually everyone else had to navigate the same spot.
After finally hitting the top, I hit the second aid station. It was here that I easily made my best tactical decision. I actually stopped, caught my breath, made sure I was properly hydrated and got back after it. It might have only been 15 seconds or so but it was a huge chance for my lungs and my searing quads to get a brief respite. From here I knew I had some space to fly so I did just that. Cranking along the deep switchbacks of wildwood, I began to take in a bit of the scenery (albeit at a higher level of suffering) while also peaking back at the switchbacks to keep an eye on any hard chargers. No one yet. Hmmm... Could I actually pull this off?
Right as I began to have delusions of grandeur, I was directed to Dogwood with the phrase "just one more climb!" While Firelane 1 was easily the hardest climb, this was the most difficult. My quads were on fire, my feet were screaming bloody murder and my arms are like "what's up with all this extra pumping?" I put all those fun thoughts of winning back out of my head and just focused on the climb ahead. Dogwood is a trail I rarely hit but man is it a fun one; just so many different terrains, turns and other nooks and crannies to keep your brain and body on task. As I began to take it back down towards Wildwood, I nearly missed the turn. I was... let's say a little loopy at this point and was cruising along and then suddenly looked down and saw the turn arrow behind me. Jump stop, 180 and I was back on task. I spent the next downhill figuring out how I could have explained going off course and losing a chance to win to the wife. She would have heckled me for ages :-)
In hooking up to Wildwood for the last 1.5 miles or so, the full pain of the race really began to take hold. For me it's a type of pain I really enjoy. I'm not a 5k guy; the pain that comes with that makes me miserable. I know I should experience it more but I'll take the pain created by the use of every muscle in your body navigating the turns, rocks and uneven terrain in an effort to not faceplant, crash and avoid offleash dogs any day of the week. :-) At this point, after still having not seen or heard anyone in a while, I had to accept that unless I crashed I would be winning this race. As a result, I threw caution to the wind and kicked it into high gear. I passed the last water station, throwing my hands up and yelling "I'm not touching it this time!", garnering a snicker from the volunteers. One foot in front of the other. See that rock. See that root. See that off balance spot. Just keep driving the pain train to the finish.
A tight turn and I was onto Lower Macleay trail. As I passed various hikers and runners, it really hit me that I was going to win and win in a place I consider my spiritual home from a running perspective. As as dad of two little ones who lives across town, my chances to visit are few and far between. But Forest Park always fills me with energy anytime I get in a run there. So to do this made me beyond happy.
Of course, with about a 1/3 of a mile to go I had a bit of a heart attack. I passed a runner who yelled "looking great, you're in second!" Second? WTF? How'd someone pass me, MF'ing jetpack? This just caused me to use whatever bit of reserve I had to drive even harder towards the finish (turns out it was the winner of the marathon who'd been ahead of me at that point but still, thanks for the heart attack dude!). I hit the opening, hoping that he was wrong and when I heard the cheers, I knew I was the winner. It was pretty cool to have your name called out as I blazed down the home stretch. Of course, the spotter got my number wrong and so they didn't get my name until after I finished. Didn't matter; felt like the world to me nonetheless!
I caught the next two men and the top woman come in and then went off for my warmdown. Upon my return, it was time to call to wife to fill her in on the news:
wife (with kids running around like banshees in the background): "hey, you're finished earlier than you thought. how'd you do?"
me (quietly since there were a lot of people around me and I was feeling self conscious): "I won"
wife (with said kids): "what?"
me (slightly louder): "I won"
me: "So I might be a bit later than I thought getting home since I have to stay for the awards ceremony"
wife: "stay as long as you want. Though your daughter has already requested croissants so don't forget"
So the awards ceremony: they did the women's first: 3rd got a $25 gc, 2nd got a hydration belt (and thank god b/c if that had been for the winner I would have donated it back to give to a volunteer; anyone that knows my running style knows I hate them with a passion and I spent a good 2-3 minutes staring laser beams through those belts) and first got a float therapy gc and a certificate for running clothes at lululemon in the pearl.
At that point, I'm thinking "man, I'm going to get some sweet schwag; I wonder what the men's equivalent will be?"
You guessed it: a lululemon running outfit. Awesome. I'm already looking forward to wearing it out to a future OTC run and hitting on middle aged yoga women (I kid, I kid for any lululemon wearers out there). The ceremony was even more humorous since the PR guy asked me questions about the race. I'm an introvert by nature so being asked my thoughts on the trail, my performance (especially when he mentioned that I went wire to wire) and the race in general was not my cup of tea. I couple of awkward sentences later and I was thankfully released back to the crowd. Guess I should have asked Dudman for pointers beforehand ;-)
So with this Great White Whale of a story coming to an end, I got to run 13.1 miles on some of my favorite trails in the world. To win a race was merely icing on the cake, albeit some chocolate ganache quality icing. More importantly, $33000 was raised for the FP conservancy. Next year I plan on being back to defend my title (or maybe move up to the full?) and more importantly raise additional funds for such an amazing resource.
PS For the record, I do not recommend pulling the morning race/9pm omnimax showing of Dark Knight Rises double. Legs AND neck were fighting for top priority pain meds the next day :-)
Posted by BD at 9:24 PM
Monday, November 21, 2011
Big City Blowout
NYC Marathon 2011
Half Splits: 1:27:14/1:33:20
Overall: 1179/46795 (2.5%)
Gender: 1128 / 29867 (3.8%)
Age Group (35-39): 232 / 4849 (4.8%)
Oregonians: 9/141 (6.4%)
Brian's: 10/240 (4.2%)
Davises: 3/47 (6.4%)
Short Version: Fantastic course, amazing crowds and my second favorite marathon (I have a HUGE soft spot for Boston). I decided 5k in to see how long I could keep my 2:55 pace. The answer was about 22 miles before cramping in my left quad and toes(?!) led to me run/walking the rest of the way in. Not how I wanted the race to go but I came away happy with going for broke and learning lessons along the way. Like that a Cuban Cigar & Rye Whiskey make for a nice post-race meal when you’re sitting on your friend’s roof overlooking Manhattan, Brooklyn & Staten Island. Now time to focus on some shorter stuff for a while.
Now, for the MUCH, MUCH longer version:
New York is a story of revenge (of sorts). I'd qualified for NYC via the Vancouver Lake Half Marathon in January '10 and in an effort to build upon my successful Boston trip last year I decided to train hard for New York last year. I was in fantastic shape and two weeks away from taking on the course in the best shape of my life when my body broke down. A bad SI joint left me no choice but to scrap the trip. No less than a month later I was in a nasty car accident having been rear ended and my car totaled. I thankfully walked away but was left with a concussion and a jacked up lower back for my troubles.
As I eventually started to feel healthy again, I started up running. It wasn't pretty but I eventually got back into a groove but not without a few injury related bumps in the road. As I got stronger, my thoughts again migrated towards NY. I was guaranteed entry for one more year so I decided to sign up and give it another go. When it was time to start the training cycle, it was all about managing expectations. I hoped to be in good enough shape to requalify for Boston and felt confident in doing that but was also just excited about the opportunity to experience the race and let the cards fall where they may.
Of course, as the OTC folks can attest I'm usually not one to sit back and enjoy the view. Training continued to improve as I both got faster and learned how to manage my previous injuries while upping mileage. The other side of training though was this was my third cycle in less than two years; there were plenty of times during training where I just felt burned out and wanted to scrap the effort and be done with it (never mind the exhausting fact of navigating life with two kids under 2 ½). However by the time the last few weeks of training came about and boasting a new 10k PR, my thinking had shifted and I felt a 2:55 (a 2:30 min potential PR) was a possibility despite the difficulty of the NYC course. With that I packed my bags, said goodbye to the family (logistics and finances made sending the whole family a no-go) and jumped on a 5am flight to NYC.
I enjoyed my time in NYC pre-race, potentially to the detriment of my race performance. In the first 48 hours, I got to see Feist at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, run through Brooklyn Park and over the Brooklyn Bridge, do the race expo, walk around NYC, go to the Varsity Letters series (readings of sports books by famous authors) and just really walk around and embrace the city. Of course, by Friday night my legs were shot and my muscles were screaming for rest. Saturday turned into a day of total sloth and while I’d felt confident on the flight out, my nerves and general mind set was such that I had no idea what Sunday would bring.
5am isn’t TOO early to wake up for a marathon. However it is when you’re not racing for another 5 hours. No matter; a PBJ sandwich and a quick check of all the necessary equipment left me walking to the subway and arriving at the Staten Island Ferry 20 minutes ahead of schedule. It was great walking up in the dark and just hearing the worldly feel of the race; all the languages flowed over us as the volunteers tried their hardest to get people out on the earliest boat possible.
The ferry was fantastic. Found a nice seat towards the front and was able to get a few nice pics of sunrise in the city. The one thing I didn’t realize pre-race that I know now; once off the Ferry it’s a good 20-25 min bus ride to the Fort. I got shoved on a bus and ended up standing for the entire trip. All in all between the walks to and from subways, standing time getting to the race and the death march at the finish (more on that later) I probably did an additional 4-5 miles and was on my feet a good 90+ during the day. Definitely something to keep in mind for people making the trip in the future.
The marathon village was pretty low key for me. I found a place to camp under the tents (despite the beautiful weather I was all about conserving energy and just staying off my feet as much as I could), read the WSJ and laid low until it was time to go the corrals. I made my first mistake there. Once they started moving us to the start line, I decided to ditch my clothes at the last available donation point. This tactical error left me a) underdressed for hanging out on the bridge for 40 minutes and b) pushed me further into my original corral. When I finally found a place to settle, I realized I was by the 3:15 pace guy. Not exactly what I was hoping for but reminded myself it was a marathon not a sprint.
The start itself was jarring. Mary Wittenberg asks “are you ready?” then BAM! the cannon goes off and we’re out of the gates.
I just settled into a groove and enjoyed the view over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. The crystal clear skies made for great views of Brooklyn & Manhattan. Once in Brooklyn, it was a pure focus on the blue line while also enjoying the crazy Brooklyn crowds. Only two minor incidents through this point: one was watching a four person pileup in front of me and a fifth person pointing out the perp (who’d evidently shoved his way through the other runners). The other was the one pre-race tactical error I’d made coming to fruition around mile 5. I was in dire need of a porta potty. I spotted some just past 5 miles and quickly darted off the course into the PP when I heard the following:
Little Kid: “But Dad, a runner just ran in there! I know it’s unlocked but he beat me to it!”
I quickly shot back out with a “thanks!” to the little kid. As I was running away, I hear three guys in their best NY accents yell “I bet you feel better now!!!” I gave them a thumbs up and beelined back towards the blue line in an effort to conserve energy and run the course smart. Feeling great at this point and just watching the miles clip along.
Mainly just banging away through Brooklyn. Seamlessly integrated with the other two corrals at mile 8, enjoyed seeing BAM in daylight and mainly just focused on continuing to run smart and take on plenty of fluids. At this point I definitely enjoyed having just the constant noise; the Brooklyn crowds are great and that coupled with the entertainment made for an enjoyable experience early on. It also led to me reminding myself to be smart about not overdoing it early on. Somewhere in the back of my mind Tim’s warning of “beware the last 5 miles” sat waiting to be used. The only other bit to note here for me was that I was excited in a way to run through the Hasidic Jewish neighborhood. Just to experience a completely different part of NYC was something I was looking forward to as part of the run. However, I was so focused/dialed in/spaced that I didn’t realize I was in their ‘hood until a man ran in front of me to cross the street!
Transition time or better known as Queens. The crowds definitely drop down a little bit here both in terms of numbers & volume. This part might also be the quietest part of the course. Queens is quieter, the Pulaski bridge is very quiet (minus the solo bagpiper) and reminds me more of a generic city overpass (much like the first of the Newton hills in Boston). I was really happy to hit the half @ 1:27 at the bottom of the Pulaski and at that point I felt in control and comfortable. Little did I know that the hills ahead were going to make me potentially rue the pace.
The 25k mark is at the base of the Queensboro Bridge and is the entryway into Manhattan and the insane crowds that await. In looking at the map & the altitude chart before the race, I knew this would be my last major hill but wasn’t too worried about it thanks to the running I do throughout Portland. In retrospect, I should have been more worried. The combination of the hill and the silence left me alone with a body that was starting to suffer, if only slightly climbing up over the bridge. This was definitely the first time my legs started to tighten up. The turn onto first avenue was as promised though; a wall of sound and a total motivation to attack first avenue and enjoy the fact that you had the opportunity to run through Manhattan without anyone chasing you! Thankfully I didn’t pull a Ramalaa and instead just kept clipping out 6:40s and pointing myself towards the final borough.
I’d been warned about this part of the course; where the crowds thin out and people’s PR’s go to die. As I made my way into the Bronx I was feeling great. I was starting to bleed a little bit of time at mile 20 & 21 as I moved from a 6:40 pace into the 6:50s. However, I still felt strong and enjoyed the passionate crowds in the Bronx. I’m pretty sure there was a huge church choir at one point which was a lot of fun to hear and the folks made up for the lesser numbers with louder voices. My only major issue during this stretch was Matt (his name was on his arms so I can be confident that it isn’t a pseudonym). Matt was a fellow runner who kept accelerating and decelerating around me in the Bronx. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem except every time he accelerated into a curve, he’d cut me off at a 45 degree angle. On the third strike we had the following exchange:
Me: “Quit cutting me off, you f**knut!”
As someone pointed out afterwards, leave it to the Bronx to channel my inner temper on some poor unsuspecting (but well deserving) runner. With that we crossed the Madison bridge (I’d left him behind but suspect he caught me later) and reentered Manhattan for the homestretch and the 5 miles Tim had previously worried me about.
This is where things went a bit “pear shaped.” Mile 22 brought another 6:50 and with it real hopes of PR’ing if not being close to that coveted 2:55 mark. At the start of mile 23 bad luck struck. The muscle connecting the inside of my left quad and knee cramped up and my toes in both feet followed quickly thereafter. This was completely new territory for me. I’ve never cramped in any athletic endeavor before and while I’ve had toes cramp in “real life” I’d never had that issue during a race. I tried to run through both and only made it another 400m before having to walk. After a 7:20ish 23rd mile, I started up the huge climb in Central Park that is mile 24. Staring at the incline combined with increased frequency of the cramps left me feeling suddenly both physically and emotionally vulnerable. In an effort to try to minimize the damage, I looked along the crowd until I found two people from the Central Park Track Club, peeled off and asked for their help. 90 seconds later with no real relief, I realized I needed to get going again or this was only going to get worse. They wished me luck and about then I realized I at least still had my humor: I mentioned that I had 38 minutes (or so) to complete the last 3 miles and requalify for Boston so hopefully that was still in range :-)
From there it was just a slog. I want to say I enjoyed the beauty of Central Park, was motivated my the amazing crowds and powered my way to a PR. The reality was me just managing the pain, running a half mile at a time (amazingly at close to race pace) then being overcome with cramps/pain and having to walk 50-100m before having enough strength to get going again. Somewhere in this stretch I also realized I’d stopped my watch. So it wasn’t until the end of mile 24 that I realized I’d logged an almost 9 minute mile and 2:55, a PR and likely 3:00 were all out the window. Thankfully I knew the difference between the race clock and my original clock so at least I knew where I really stood.
I’ve never been in this much pain during a race but in a very different fashion than normal. 95% percent of me was still strong and wanting to attack the rolling hills and bring it in strong. However that 5% made sure that was nothing but a dream. It was really, really hard to watch the hordes of people pass me over the last few miles (est. about 400 over the last 3.2 miles) knowing that there was nothing I could do. In fact, with 800m to go (and where the NYRR starts counting down the finish by 100m intervals) I had to stop again. Someone in the crowd yelled “you’ve got 800m to go! Get running!” I simply replied “I know I have 800m to go. This is the only way I’m getting there in one piece.”
As I approached the finish, I took off my hat and charged through the finish line. Just over 3 hours. A good time but not nearly where I was hoping goal wise. Normally a result like this would have left me frustrated with being so close, especially since had I not stopped to try to work out the cramp I would have been nearly guaranteed a sub 3 hour time (though as people have pointed out something much worse could have happened to the muscles...). However, this was the first race since I can remember where I went for “broke” from the start and let the chips fall where they may. In the end I was happy to be over the line and despite things having gone nowhere near how I expected to have finished NYC and finished my “revenge” mission of sorts. Of course, the marathon itself exacted some revenge on me and gave me a humbling reminder of what a hard event this is both physically and psychologically.
Finish Line & Beyond:
As people have pointed out in previous years, the finish line is nothing short of a death march. It was easily another mile of walking before finding my bag. Combine that with a stop at the medical tent to make sure everything was kosher (and find someplace to toss my NY apple; I mean who eats an apple after a marathon?) and it was almost a hour and a half after the race before I had my bag and was able to call Becca. The good news is the logistics gurus that are UPS had my bag lined up and ready to pick up, change and head into civilization. A mocha and two subway stops later, I was back in Brooklyn exhausted but with a medal around my neck and an experience I’d never forget. I’m not sure I’d run NYC again, but I’m really glad I’ve done it!
Posted by BD at 9:00 PM
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
8 days after he was due and 22 hours after Mom started the process in the hospital Alexander Stefan Davis was born April 19th @ 10:57pm. Weighing in at 8 lbs, 11oz and 22.5in high he's a TALL drink of water. He doesn't quite have Kai's head size but you can tell he's a Davis. Mom, Dad & Alex are all happy, healthy and looking forward to heading home soon.
More pics & info to follow as we get some rest and get settled into life playing man to man with two kids!
Thursday, December 09, 2010
RIP Brian's Subaru. 2004-2010. Rear ended and totaled by some old man tonight. I'm ok but will have one hell of a headache in the morning. Good news is neither Becca nor Kai were with me (though amazingly Kai's car seat was unscathed. Yes, I know I need to replace it). First, some food and a scotch.
Saturday, May 01, 2010
The bucket list. Not just a sappy movie, people definitely have them. The things they want to do and goals they want to accomplish before they leave the earth. Qualifying for and racing Boston was very high up on my list. So after qualifying in December of 2008, I knew that the next 16 months of running were all leading up to the 2010 Boston Marathon. This training cycle was my hardest on record. Running 6 days/week for 18 weeks was a level of training I'd never seen before, even in high school. But I knew deep down that I wanted to put an effort level into this race that I'd never done before. It meant a lot to me to do well in Boston. So... here's the story broken into three parts: Pre-race, the race itself and my post-race thoughts. Enjoy one part or the whole thing. I know I did!
Before the story starts though I have one thing to add. Becca and Kai are the most amazing family I could ever hope for. Their support and Becca's understanding and sacrifice over the past 18 weeks were THE reason I had such a great race and Boston experience. Having someone who understands or at the very least supports my long distance running habit is immeasurable.
5am Friday comes awfully early. Why are we up this early again? Oh right, it’s either this or a ticket that costs us another $300/each. Hmm. Becca's brother picks us up and off we head to the airport. Jon half-jokes that he refuses to touch my race bag (which I was taking as a carry on like any good paranoid athlete would do) for fear of one of my shoes randomly flying out and making a break for it. A relatively painless flight to Long Beach (the only downfall of taking Jet Blue is having to route about 1500 miles out of the way) delivers us into a sea of what Becca describes as "really fit looking people." Jet Blue was nice enough to have a 90 minute delay, ensuring that we had plenty of time to discuss the question of the day: is it bad karma to be wearing a 2010 Boston jacket before the race? There were plenty of runners already sporting them in the airport. While I appreciated people's pre-race enthusiasm I'm definitely in the "bad karma" camp. No need to temp fate three days before the race.
Our delay got us into Boston about 8pm local time. My college friend Lara picked us up and showed off the awesome Boston driving skills she's picked up over the last 12 years. We settled into her place in Newton, ordered Chinese takeout (including the awesomely named Mystery Sauce Chicken) and made it a short night. After dinner I got the following fortune: "Even the toughest of days have bright spots, just do your best". What does that mean? Is this a good sign or a prophecy of things to come?
Saturday brings the Marathon Expo. We quickly picked up my race number and moved to the more important stuff: the adidas schwag area. Using Kai's stroller as a battering ram within the crowds (without Kai in it of course) I ended up picking one of the previously mentioned jackets, a sweatshirt and a running shirt before the crowds became too much and Becca got me to checkout before I could do any more damage. The rest of the expo was pretty low key for me as I'm a running luddite and don't get too excited about the latest energy bars, drinks, horse tranquilizers, blood doping etc. The two expo highlights though were a Bill Rodgers sighting (he was signing autographs for Runner’s World) and getting to watch the video of the last half of the course. As I soaked in Newton Hills and the last five miles, it really hit me that I was here and ready for this. I have to admit the room might have gotten a little dusty for me as it moved towards Boylston Street and the finish. Definitely time to exit stage right.
The rest of the pre-race weekend was pretty low key. Due to wet weather, instead of hiking around Boston on Saturday we drove up to Marblehead and enjoyed the shore. In the end this was likely the best strategy as I still got some tourist activities in without being on my feet too much. Sunday meant sleeping in, picking up some sweet sweats at the second hand shop for race day, hitting the grocery store to get my pre-race meal of peanut butter and matzoh and driving part of the course. Starting at Wellesley we drove miles 12-23, including Cleveland Circle from where you see the famous CITGO sign for the first time. Since my original understanding was that you could see it 4 miles away on Heartbreak my thought was "that's not TOO bad!" I guess it’s all about perspective and expectations.
For many, Boston is the culmination of years of hard work and putting everything together for a great qualifying time. This combined with the timing of the race (training during winter can be hard depending on locale) and the hard course can lead to many people just running the race for the experience. When I got into Boston, my original goal was to requalify. Then as I rounded into shape to start training, the target moved to running under 3 hours. As training went progressively better and better, I set myself one final summa cum laude from Harvard goal: 2:55. Becca and a few other people were the only ones who knew about this and for good reason. To meet it I’d need to run 6:40/mile for 26.2 miles. A tall order.
These goals and expectations were the last thing I was thinking of with the alarm went off at 5am. 5am is WAY too early for this reformed night owl though I did take a moment to appreciate Boston’s later than usual 10am start time. At CIM in 2008 I was already on a bus to Folsom by 5am. After a good luck kiss from Becca, Lara drove me down to Cambridge to pick up Duke’s Bus. During this time I soaked in the beautiful morning and watched the crew teams work their way up and down the Charles. For anyone who has the chance to run Boston, Duke’s Bus is an awesome bus service provided by the Cambridge Sports Union. They deliver you to Hopkinton and stick around until race time ensuring you of two very important things: cover from the elements and a bathroom.
I ran into fellow Portland and Red Lizard Louis at the bus drop off and we hopped on and headed towards Hopkinton. It was really cool to see the wall of buses on the interstate, all delivering a group of very focused runners towards the beginning of something bigger than all of them. The pre-race time ended up being pretty low key. I left the bus once to check out the athlete’s village. I got as far as the entrance, saw that it looked like a cross between a refugee camp and a outdoor concert and decided to retreat to the bus to relax. Of course, the one drawback of having the bathroom on the bus is that there is only one of them. So with 30 minutes before the race and at least ¾ of a mile between me and the start, I found myself using the “I’m in Wave 1!” card to sneak to the front of the line for one final pit stop. I tried to run from there to the start but the masses were just too much. It was really impressive to see approx. 25,000 runners walk through this little town of 15,000 towards whatever fate had in store.
With a bib number in the 3000s, I was guaranteed a corral fairly close to the start (close enough to hear the starter’s pistol but not close enough to see the elites. It was a very cool moment to hear them list the vets that live in Hopkinton followed my two jets doing a flyby of the start. With that and a shot of the starter’s pistol, we were off!
Everyone I’d talked to warned me to take it easy for the first mile as it includes the steepest downhill of the course. In fact most people had told me to really stay reserved for the first 16 miles and start cranking up the effort level in the hills. It was not hard to take it easy; there was way too much people watching to be had over the first 5k as I settled into a solid effort without going out control. There was my favorite sign on the course: “Real Gingers run Marathons.” There was the Boy Scoutmaster running in full uniform (though thankfully for him in running shoes and not boots). As a former Eagle Scout myself I came up, introduced myself gave him a quick fist bump and headed off. Then there were the “Beer Me” guys. Wearing matching shirts, I watched them stay true to their word when the motorcycle posse @ mile two offered them beers. I’m assuming they made it to the finish but would have love to seen their BAC at Boylston.
Miles 3-9 just seemed to be a blur. Ashland, Framingham and Natick all passed by with nothing terribly of note. I chuck my favorite running gloves @ mile 6 because it's already getting warmer than I like it. At that point, I wonder how much money gets burned in clothing chucked at the start line and throughout the course. On a positive note some little kid in Framingham just scored some sweet Asics gloves.
During this time, I’m also starting to notice that there are really no flat areas on this course. It’s all up or down and actually many more uphills than advertised. The good news is my body still feels good and relaxed as I start to get closer and closer to Wellesley and the half way mark.
Half (21.1k): 1:27:50
As I mentioned previously, I’ve been warned that it's all about the 2nd half of the race. As a result, I’m just trying to enjoy the festive atmosphere of the race in the first half as much as possible. This cumulates in my visit to Wellesley. The women of Wellesley are known for two things on marathon day: the scream tunnel they create that you can either on either side for a long ways and their signs that say “kiss me.” As I approach Wellesley I decide I can use all the good luck I can get on the day, run up along the fence and plant a quick peck on the cheek to one of the ladies. This leads to a huge uproar in my immediate area and sends me off like a rocket towards the halfway mark. I hit the half feeling strong and within 20 seconds of the summa cum laude goal.
I spend the next three miles just preparing for the start of the famed Newton hills. These four hills come in miles 16-21. Each one on it’s face isn’t a killer but put the four together and they’re famous for a reason. For me, I think the first one might be the worst because you've just come off the second steepest downhill of the course and it's so friggin' long. It was at this point that I realized that my hill work might not have been the most appropriate for the course.
But before the gory part of the course, two funny barefoot stories. The first was about 4-5 miles in when as a barefoot runner was passing by, a young spectator suddenly blurts, "he's running and he doesn't have any shoes on! Did he forget his shoes?" This led to laughter by everyone in our little running blob of 20 at that point. The second was at the mile 16 or 17 aid station. Another barefoot runner was coming through the aid station at the same time as some of us and one of the volunteers, in her best Bahston accent yelled at us "watch out for him, he doesn't have any shoes on!" Can't decide if she thought his feet were WMDs or whether she was keeping us mean, shoe wearing runners from doing any damage on him.
At about mile 18, with two of the Newton hills behind me, my quads have joined the party. They start to feel like ground beef put into a blender. I think to myself “I could have sworn I took it easy on the first half of the course. What the hell?” I start channeling Ryan Hall and glance at my watch occasionally to make sure I'm still close to being on pace. At mile 18, I also start trending heavily left to make sure I don't miss my posse and aid station (my friend Erin from NY had done up signs and balloons and Becca, Kai and Lara were planning on seeing me there and handing some extra supplies to me). While I'm doing that, I have a long legged man name Ron come up to me and start quizzing me about the Lizards (turns out he's from CA and had met a few @ the CIM race I qualified at). We then have the following conversation:
Ron: "Do you know Louis?"
Me (huffing and puffing): "Yes"
Ron: "Just passed him walking about a mile back. Said he was cramping."
Me: “Really? Crap!”
At this point I A) Feel horrible for Louis and hope he's putting it back together on the course (I eventually found out he had Achilles problems and had to drop out) and B) suddenly get very worried about my own survival skills as Louis is in a LOT better shape than me...
Mile 19: After much meandering along the left side of the course I finally hit “Davis Square” @ the famed Johnny Kelly statue. I see Becca with Kai strapped in and make a beeline for her. With my “business face” on, I proceed to do the following:
1) Chuck the Gu I’d picked up at mile 17 (why did I carry this thing for two miles when I had no intention of actually consuming it? Damn it!) into the crowd. Evidently though I chucked it right at Lara’s friends. Oops!
2) Grabbing the Gatorade and Mojo Bar from Becca without so much as eye contact. I disputed this later on but the photographic evidence was damming. This on its face wasn’t horrible but when coupled with my later story of giving the Wellesley girls a kiss? Well, let’s just say I’m lucky I have a very understanding wife ☺
3) Becca had been nice enough to hand me a banana as well for fear of me cramping late in the race. What was my reaction? A look of utter confusion followed by me chucking the banana onto the road about 20m down the road.
So despite all that drama, it was really nice to see familiar faces even if just for a few seconds. I was really starting to hurt going into the last two Newton hills and it showed. I really didn’t have any extra drive at this point. Despite grabbing fluids at every water stop during the race, I was still starting to feel a little off. As a result I held onto my bottle for most of the next two miles, despite my hatred for carrying things while I run, eventually finishing it off. While my watch showed that I was starting to slip off my overall goal pace it did end up feeling like I was gaining ground on people but also having people pass me as well. Suddenly my hill training seems inconsequential as I'm just slogging up the third of the Newton Hills at whatever pace my body is willing to do.
As I hit the top of the famed Heartbreak Hill I catch a break of sorts. I am suddenly by myself with a short stocky runner in front of me. As we reach BC, I quickly figure out he's got a Boston College singlet on leading to an insane level of cheers by the drunken BC faithful. I somehow gain strength not from the crowds cheering, but from imagining myself as being the "heel" whose job is to ruin the hometown boy's day by defeating him on the homestretch of Boston. I’d like to say that the shift to downhill running was a welcome respite but at that point my legs just wanted a flat piece of land. And my mind wanted a good stiff drink.
Miles 22-24 become very interesting. I stop looking at my watch so much I realize I’m going as fast as my body will let me. I feel like I'm making up ground but also feel my quads punish my on every foot strike. At this point I hit the mental wall: I'm no longer caring about what pace I'm running or who I'm keeping up with/passing/getting passed by. A large chunk of the course at this point turns into a blur only brought into clarity by mile markers and aid stations. I remember crossing the tracks near Cleveland Circle only because my friend Lara had warned me the day before that many a person had been their victim during the race. I then see the Citgo sign and in a complete turnaround from Sunday, I look at it thinking, "I still have THAT far to go?" I hit Kenmore Square remembering my friend Lincoln’s advice to soak in the crowd but not remembering a damn thing other than finally passing the taunting piece of Boston skyline that is the Citgo sign.
Everything is anything at this point (ok, I have no idea what I meant when I wrote this originally but for some reason it works). I'm focusing on putting one foot in front of the other and hoping I don't randomly cramp up or crash or do something equally idiotic. The dip under Mass Ave feels like climbing Everest. Once I turn onto Boylston, I actually hit my watch @ 26.2 so see how close I really was to my original pace goal (2:55:33 so just over a second a mile off) My official marathon ends up being 26.5 miles, most of which I tacked on in the last 10 miles of the race. After hitting my watch I look up for the first time to see the finish. It's strangely soothing to see it so close yet still a ways away. It's then that the whole thing has hit me; I'm finishing the race I've always wanted to run and I'm doing it in record (for me at least) time. I take off my hat (which I never do while running), start pumping my arms and have this idiot grin on my face as I cross the finish line. I've done it. I've finished Boston. Hell, I’ve PR’d at Boston.
The finish area is so damn long. I guess it's a good way to keep people on their feet and moving. About 50m after the finish I help a volunteer get someone to the medical tent as I guess with two semi-functional legs I qualify as extra help. I watch another person go down ahead of me like they've been shot and be immediately taken care of by the crack medical staff. Get the mylar blanket (btw, a nice touch having the people tape it together), get the medal, get the lunch and go to get my bag. During this process I continue to move along though I stop every 50m as well. No physical problems, just overcome by the emotion of the moment. I keep starting to cry, then hold it back, compose myself and move ahead.
After it taking 10-15 minutes for the volunteer to find my bag, I take advantage of the awesome Boston infrastructure to get a massage. I somehow enjoy the cruel irony of having to walk down two flights of stairs to get into the massage/chiro area. From there I head to the University Club (many thanks to Len!), catch up with Len/Dan/Sarah/Clover and then head to the Gardens to meet Becca & Kai, where we find out Kai is scared of metal ducks... After a little bit of touristing around the Gardens, we hit the Green Dragon bar for Guinness & fried food. Seems like a fitting start to the post-race recovery process!
PR of 7:28
737/4656 18-39 AG
16th ranked Oregonian
Half Splits: 1:27:50/1:29:36
Post Race Thoughts
Boston is quite simply an amazing race. I'm not quite sure how quickly I'm going to be able to get back but I'm hell bent on doing so. The crowds just fire you up, even if your brain can't process them the last few miles. They are 4-5 people deep in the early miles, ebb and flow for a while, get loud again @ Wellesley and then after that it's just a solid wall of people topped off with the chaos from Kenmore Square to the finish. To run a personal best on one of the most famous marathon courses in the world surpassed any performance goal I had. However, if the day had gone less well time wise I still would have been happy having the experience of running that course with that crowd.
The most deceptive part of the course itself is the lack of any consistent flat parts in the race. I trained for the hills but I don't think I realized that you spend almost the entire time moving up or down (or at least that's how it felt to me). This led to...
My hitting the wall psychologically for the first time in a race. Any time I had struggles in previous races, it was always physical and I usually got through it with my stubborn demeanor. However Boston, whether it was the course, the crowds or the occasion took more out of me mentally than any other race. I really didn't realize how much so until I hit those last few miles and stopped looking at my watch, had my game plan mentally float out of my head and contemplated walking at one point. Over the last three miles I just have these brief memories of the race and most of that has to do with the course itself, not the crowds at Kenmore or along Boylston. Regrettable in some ways but also tells me I pushed myself to another level and points to things to work on in future Boston races.
It was awesome to see the blue jackets swarm the town after the race. And even those who weren't wearing jackets wore their badge of honor (the non-functioning quads) with pride. Though I did feel bad for the guy on our Fenway tour the day after who at 6'4" realized he was going to try to be wedging himself into the old school seats at that night's game.
A post race recovery snack of Dunkin Donuts has never tasted so good. :-)
I tend to be a fairly self-critical person. Becca and I were talking on our flight back to Portland and given her knowledge of summa cum laude goal of 2:55, she asked "are you proud of your performance? Because you should be..." And for the first time since the birth of Kai, with no reservations the answer was yes. I was happy with my experience with no reservations. The way it should be I know but for me that short conversation really drove the whole experience home for me.
A final note: I was really amazed by the pride the city's citizens take in the event. I have had friends who have lived in Boston and watched the marathon and heard their stories but I lost count the number of times I had a random Bostonian stop me on Monday/Tuesday to either congratulate me or ask me how I did. This also included this awesome exchange at one of the downtown T stations:
T ticket guy: "So what did you run?"
Random disheveled older man who scared the crap out of the family by appearing out of nowhere: "Do you know that's four times the normal speed of humans? You're wicked pissah fast!"
On that note, thank you Boston. I’ll be back.