“You do not get to win shitbird, we do”
-Carver “The Wire”
A crude start I know but bear with me. I’m going to do my best to make this a running-centric race report. However I was seven blocks away when the bombs went off on Monday celebrating as good of a race as I’ve ever run. That joy disappeared quickly as everyone quickly tried to establish where friends and family were and thankfully (for me) everyone I know was safe and sound. However, the feeling of success and accomplishment that came with my effort and sacrifices over the past 26 weeks was gone. I’m still not sure if it’ll ever completely come 100% back but writing this is a statement of sorts (albeit a fairly personal and non-important one in the grand scheme of things): you do not get to win. We (runners, volunteers, the first responders, the city of Boston, etc.) do.
I was still in Boston (Newton more specifically) when the lockdown happened on Friday. The three adults in the house were left to follow the latest news on our phones, wondering if we were going to be allowed to leave our friend’s home that day while we kept the kids distracted with videos and why they couldn’t play outside on such a nice day. I thought I was processing the week’s events fine (it sounds like an absurd thing to say but we had an amazing vacation outside of the events related to the bombing) until I was on a run on Saturday, heard a helicopter and I immediately got sick to my stomach. Guess it’ll be awhile after all. In the meantime, it’s therapeutic to get to talk about the race and all the minutiae us runners can’t get enough of. It’s a nice counterbalance to the dynamic Andi so eloquently described of having to describe a fiercely personal experience with people you have no desire to have said conversation with. So with that, on to the good stuff.
As anyone reading this knows, it’s been a very up and down training cycle. For the most part, taking on my hardest training cycle ever has shown definitive benefits and I’d been able to stay fairly strong. That being said, the burnout bug hit with avengence about 4-5 weeks out and thanks to a lot of people doing seemingly little things to help I was able to turn it around and get myself to the line. I made a deal with myself on the flight out; no matter what happened time wise in the race, I was going to enjoy the experience and have a great vacation with the family. Again, the burnout bug doesn’t get to win; I do. I’d done the training I needed to run well; did I just have the self confidence and game plan to execute it?
We had a great leadup to the race: hit the expo on Friday, took in my first game @ Fenway Saturday and watched Becca run a great 5k on Sunday after having dealt with injuries most of the past 4 months. This whole time I was processing how I was going to attack the race and at what sort of pace. I’d been training at a 2:50 pie in the sky goal pace but knew as I got closer that very likely wasn’t in the cards. Instead, I remembered BillA advice about how to attack the course and remembered my own experiences of going out to fast in 2010 and having my quads feel like hamburger at 16. Determined not to repeat my mistakes, I decided to start slow, stay controlled through 16, use my hill training to not fade in the hills and then pin the ears back and attack, attack, attack over the last 5 miles.
The morning of the race was pretty uneventful. Chad, Andi and I all ended up on the same bus and outside of jokes here and there, we all were pretty dialed in. Well except when I had to point out to Chad on the walk to the start that given his Polish stock, he might want some sunscreen. :-) I had a pace band with 2:52:30 on it that was based on the course and my general plan. Within four miles, I started to sweat a little as while I very purposely stayed in the pack and just ran controlled I’d already given up 30 seconds off said pace. Becca mentioned she was very worried at the 5k split as I’d started out much slower than my general plan and didn’t want to deal with me at the end if that’s how things were going to go :-) Mostly though I just reminded myself to look up, enjoy the crowds and stay controlled as we had a long while to go.
Miles 6-10 were pretty uneventful; I got pounded at 6 miles while giving high-fives to a bunch of fairly drunk college students who were singing “ole ole ole.” (quite literally; I took multiple shots to the body and head and almost lost my hat) After that, I chose to run the middle of the road more often. I also noticed sloshing at 8; as Chad mentioned afterwards hydration was tricky because the clouds were definitely shifting the conditions quite a bit. In short, I got through 10 in control and while not feeling fresh feeling strong.
Right about then though I had a massive side stitch start up, which definitely gave me some worries. In fact right before Wellesley I contemplated stopping to try to work it out. However, I told myself that if I stopped then, it was going to be a very long day. Just keep running and hope it disappears. I got through the ladies (this time not stopping for a kiss) and through the half about a minute off of my pace band time. At that point I was feeling ok and hoping that I could make up some ground on the backside. Again though it was all about control, control, control.
Finally hit 16 and it was body check time. I was shocked how good I felt; the quads were barely showing signs of wear and I felt strong. Even though I didn’t feel great at that point and was worried that the side stitch might come back, it gave me hope that the plan was going well. All along the way I reminded myself to enjoy the view.
With that it was onto the Newton hills. I remembered hating the overpass that represents the first hill in 2010. This year I was almost all the way up it before I even realized where I was. Definitely a good sign of things to come. Thankfully, I also had my cheer squad waiting for me just past 19. As a result, I could split up the hills into two more doable sections. Just three miles to Becca, which I navigated pretty smoothly and then two after that up and over heartbreak.
As some of you know, I got into a bit of trouble in 2010; I stopped to kiss a Wellesley girl but barely stopped to acknowledge my wife and even threw down the surprise banana she’d given me in disgust, with photographic evidence to back up my transgressions. I’d been planning (but hadn’t told Becca) to make up for it this time around. As I hit 19, I started looking for her in the crowd. While I couldn’t find her, thankfully my friend was just a bit taller and gave me a indicator where she was. As I got close, she went to hand me my supplies. Instead of taking them I stopped, gave her a huge kiss THEN took the gear and headed back out on the road. All of our friends watching were confused/shocked and evidently she just smiled and said “he owed me that one.”
I tend to look at my watch quite a bit while racing. This day I was using it to check the miles but otherwise I was just in a groove. I just kept cranking, remembering that these hills were cake vs. doing the Lake Run course and the many midday week runs up Mt. Tabor. The last two miles of heartbreak were the first that were significantly under my pace band. At that point, I knew I was getting stronger and it was time to go!
Once over heartbreak (and the next dip no one ever tells you about), I pinned my ears back and went after it. In 2010 the only things I remember from the last 5 miles were the Citgo sign, that damn underpass right before Hereford and a bit of the finish stretch. This time around I could remember it all. I was feeding off the crowds, pushing the pace harder and harder as I started getting closer. 5 to go, 4 to go, etc. I even asked for a Sox score from the crowd at 22. Which was either brilliant or the starting signs of delirium.
Between 23 & 24 I started to tighten a bit; the attack strategy over heartbreak was already starting to work on my quads. But I just started to lock in and was developing total tunnel vision. I evidently passed Len at this point but even though I could see the NAC jersey it didn’t register to me that it would be him. The pain was definitely taking hold: however in what little conversation I could have with myself at that point, I reminded myself that my own nervousness, burnout and general crisis of confidence I’d had leading up to the race was not going to win over all the work I’d put in and sacrifices I’d made to get to that point.
I hit 24 and knew I had a good chance at 2:55. Hit 25 and my brain was too muddled to do the 1.2 math and while I was still continuing to pass large swaths of people, my body was really starting to redline. However, when the one mile to go sign popped up, I suddenly realized that not only was 2:55 in reach, but 2:54 was as well. About the same time, my foot tried to cramp up on me. In mid stride, I shifted my stride, slammed the foot into the street and thought to myself, not today. Today I get to win.
Next was the underpass and with it an unexpected surprise. Right as I was heading down, what do I see coming up the other side? A Lizard singlet. But not any singlet. Chad’s singlet.
He’d joked in training that he didn’t want me to come tap on his shoulder during the race. As we left for our differing corrals on race day, I jokingly said “see you in Newton.” And while the margin I had to make up likely wasn’t going to happen in the 800 or so meters left in the race, it was the jump start I needed to drive my legs just that bit harder.
I haven’t bought them yet, but the marathon photos of me in the home stretch kind of surprised me. I’m obviously VERY dialed in as I’m obviously eyeing Chad on the turn, while telling my calves to not seize up (on both the turns to Hereford and Boylston they got about 3/4 of the way there before easing up). I hit Boylston and took a brief second to throw my arms up and enjoy the moment. After that it was just attack, attack, attack through the finish line. I knew at that point I couldn’t catch Chad but I wanted to make it as close as possible and get under 2:54.
Huge scream after realizing I just scored a massive PR. Threw my hat in the air, thankfully catching it (otherwise it would have gotten left because there was no way I was reaching down for it). I eventually caught up with Chad, leading him to utter a few choice words upon seeing my recent arrival. :-) We catch up for a few seconds until we realize that we’re accidently photobombing Joan Samuelson’s TV interview. From there it was bags/massage/shower and then off to the bar for a celebratory beer with Chad, his family and some friends. All the work, all the sacrifices paid off in a big way. It will forever be associated with the events of marathon day and beyond but at least by writing this I can remind myself of the enjoyable moments and the thrill that came with the day on those days when the other memories have taken hold.
I was talking about Boston with a non-running friend of mine on Sunday and I realize why it matters so much for me. I’ve always loved the city (I’ve been a Sox fan since I was a kid, almost went to college there, have visited there more than any other city I haven’t lived in) and just love the feel of the event. As a fairly intense runner but someone who has a family and even refuses to run 7 days a week, I definitely have been known to coast between (or sometimes even during) training cycles. However, Boston always brings out my best because of the respect I have for the event, the efforts of everyone there and just the feeling the race, the amazing crowds and the city as a whole gives you. I’m never going to be an elite runner but damn it if Boston doesn’t make me feel as important as those toeing the line on race day.
I was going to take a very extended (2-4 year) break off of marathons after this Boston-Big Sur adventure. However, both in experiencing Boston again and the events of the past week have left me knowing I only have one choice; toeing the line in Hopkinton on April 21st 2014. I may not run a PR but I’ll be there to give something back to the crowds/volunteer/race that has always caused me to give my best. Because you know what? The horrible moments of that day and beyond don’t get to win. The people and the city do. So Boston? See you next year.
Number nerds, feast on the splits below:
Final Time: 2:53:45 (86:45-87:00)
mile splits (actually taken at markers vs. garmin)
17-18:13:41 (6:50 pace)
22-23:13:09 (6:35 pace)
26.2:1:20 (5:58 pace)