The running club in a neighboring city – The Highland City Striders, which sounds like it could be one of those rival clubs in a redux of “West Side Story” with HCS playing the role of the Sharks and my club CMS playing the role of the Jets…or vice-versa, it doesn’t really matter – hosts a few races each year as does my club. They run the “Running with the Wolves” 10k, where I hit my 10k PR last year, and they run this 10-Miler along with a companion race, the “Tough 10-Mile Turkey Trot” at Thanksgiving – it’s the same course, but rebranded for the time of year…and perhaps to allow for continued gratuitous alliteration.
The entry fee is 15 canned goods for donation to the local food pantry. So if getting 10-miles on the odometer early on the morning of Labor Day doesn’t do it for you, perhaps the going out of your way to help someone else in need may.
Either way it’s a good thing. I’ve run this two other times – both as the Tough 10-Mile Turkey Trot – and have been eaten up by the “Hosmer Hill” both times. As the race director Mark Vital – an old colleague back in the distant pass – announced at the first time I ran this course, “You may feel like you’re going to get a PR <personal record> as you hit Mile 7…forget it. You aren’t.”
As you come around Mile 7.5 or so, near the memorial beach, it comes into full view. The course is mostly downhill for the first 7 miles or so, but man when you hit 7.6, there it is. It may as well be Mt. Everest. And you run up, hit the crest…and look up. There’s still more to go. It’s ridiculous.
Even knowing that, I did the course again. I haven’t been running very long lately – I mean, I’ve been consistently getting 6, 7, 8 miles – sometimes 9 – but haven’t run long since the weekend I did the Kelley Half Marathon and the ultra trail race, and neither of which was a great time. With this being a long weekend, I took advantage of the situation and ran long on Saturday – 13 miles – followed by my longest run in a long time right after my longest run in a long time on Sunday – 20 miles. Today I wasn’t sure it wasn’t going to go sideways and be a complete train wreck, but I brought my canned goods and registered anyway. My legs felt rather stone-like, but a good number of my favorite people were there to run and since I’ve been commuting to work, I’ve not seen many of them so it was super important of me to be sure I connected with them.
As it happened, and perhaps because I don’t run too many 10-mile races, I came *THIS* close to a PR – foiled really only by the untied shoelace at mile 3. The 20 seconds or so there cost me just enough time, although I can point to more than a few points at which I could have made up time.
It was a good run today, and it gives me some confidence I was lacking heading into this month of racing.
It seems I say this with every recap of late. Race day was not my day. I sucked. It was horrible and I hated every minute of it. Last week I ran a half marathon and then a 50k the next day. On both I wrote more than a few excuses. For this race, there was no excuse. I sucked.
I ran terribly. I failed almost every obstacle there was to fail. I actually accepted a leg up on one obstacle (“The Box”) that I’d never seen before. I’ve run probably 15 Spartan races and there was stuff I’d never seem – this is generally a good thing – but it told me that I’d not done what I needed to do.
I signed up for the 10 AM heat because it was advertised as a SGX Coached Heat. I knew I wasn’t going to “race” it, for years now I’ve been dealing with a rotator cuff injury and rather than getting it surgically repaired, I’ve been taking a wait and see approach – I mean, in my day to day life, I do just find without having had my rotator cuff repaired. In a fine example of “how to show your customers you really don’t care,” there was no SGX coach. The MC was desperately calling for someone, but there wasn’t anyone on site. No one. They didn’t care enough to have someone there. That pissed me off and started my day on the wrong note. (as an aside, as of this writing, Spartan has not responded to my comments above on the Facebook event page).
Not that having a coach would have substantially helped my race, but honestly I was really hoping for the coaching and Spartan couldn’t have cared less – they didn’t have a coach on site. Unforgivable in my opinion. An epic fail.
I’m not a fan of the facility. It’s a motocross track and while there’s a lot of wooded area, the RD basically takes the track and uses tape to direct traffic. There is plenty of opportunity for the motivated cheat to cut the course. If you’re charging $150 to run a race, you need to do do better. I paid $50 on a coupon I got because I ran the Super last year so perhaps I shouldn’t be so pissed off. And yet, here we are.
My running hasn’t looked very good lately, and I’m sure it has to do with my recent job change – my commuting time having exponentially increased – but I also know I haven’t done the upper body work I should. This race was such a train wreck that I don’t even want to talk about it. I failed so many obstacles that I should have conquered I’m actually embarrassed.
Another day perhaps, but my shoulder is still not right – it may never be right and I should probably take that lesson. I know I said last year that I was probably done with OCRs, but did want to give this one a shot. With this in the rearview, I am pretty sure I’m done except for the one off Sprints.
A caveat: calling it the 57th Half Marathon is a bit of a misnomer. The race has been run 57 times, but it hasn’t always been a half marathon. It began as a 12-mile race (because, obvi, that makes sense), but became a half marathon in 2017. So, if we’re being real, its the 3rd Half Marathon. They’re really referring to the 57th running of what is now the Kelley Half Marathon, or more specifically the Kelley Road Race. Continuity matters, baby. What whatevs. The entry fee is zero. Always has been.
That’s something I’ve spent not inconsiderable amount of time trying to figure out: how do you mobilize a community of volunteers – there were plenty today from registration to water stops – have free parking at the muni lot, have post-race food, AND race swag (a really nice finisher medal) and ask only donations to the local food bank? At registration you can submit an additional contribution, but it’s totally voluntary. I mean, think about this: it’s a free race, just sign up. If the weather is crummy, people don’t show. BUT they still have the medals. Last year it rained. Today it was swampy, humid air. Now, they take the first 1000 registrations, then they’re “Sold Out.” I know this year they were full, and today 615 runners ran. So perhaps that’s what they bank on – roughly 65%. I don’t know, but I’ve paid more money for races where the medals didn’t show up or were multipurpose – 5k and half – or whatever.
Now, the point here was not to race, but to get my long run in. My friend Derya and I were just going to run and forget about pace because we’re doing a trail race tomorrow. I had a target goal of finishing under 2-hours: I haven’t been running particularly well as of late, and really hadn’t run much more than 8-9 miles at a time for a while. The weather was oppressive and as soon as I got out of my car in the parking lot, I knew I was in for a long slog.
Now, because it starts and finishes at the beach, there were full facilities for restrooms, which was a godsend after driving the 90-minutes to New London with a cup of coffee. The parking at Ocean Beach was free (another head scratcher). The race was chip timed, so there was no particular race to the starting line, and off we went.
By my watch there was some 560′ of elevation gain on the course – not quite, “flat with some rolling hills,” although the race site does disclose a not insignificant hill at mile 10. I didn’t start out racing – over the first 4-miles or so I was running about 8:35 pace- but after mile 3, I had to slow down because my ankles were giving it to me. It was difficult walking and I was wondering at that point if I was going to finish, but eventually I pulled myself together and ran. It was at this point Derya caught me and asked if I needed anything, and since the answer was “no” she took off but not before I complained about my ankles.
A little further up, I caught her and she said she was going to force herself to go slower and asked how my ankles were. Good enough. And that was the last time I saw her.
For the rest of the race, I did intervals – running, then walking, rinse, repeat. Folks along the course had their hoses out – THANK YOU!! – and the volunteers were great handing out water. I had some really nice conversations along the way – I was wearing my Central Mass Striders singlet and a few people cheered me on for it, including one person who seemed to know who I am but for the life of me I had no idea who she was.
I was really struggling at mile 11 when I realized that by the time I was there, I had finished Horseneck just a few months ago. I also tried to remember that the goal wasn’t to race and only to finish in under 2-hours – something that seemed somewhat suspect at this point. It was getting hotter, and apparently more humid if that was possible, and all I wanted to do was anything other than whatever I was doing – which at this point was running.
By the time I completed mile 12, I realized I had an outside shot of hitting my target of 2-hours. Now, look, 2-hours is a great goal for most people – some experienced runners I know have yet to crack that barrier. I’m not taking anything away from them, I hope, when I say that for me generally speaking 2-hours is not a good time. My goal has always been sub-2 hours and I’ve come up short twice: my very first one saw me missing 2 by 48 seconds, and last years Bristols Independence Rhode Race where I was experiencing a chest cold or infection or whatever, but I came in at 2:06. I was hoping today was not going to be the day when I hit #3.
As I turned the corner and realized I was near the finish, I turned everything I had on to cross the line. I could see the clock as I headed into the last 1/10th mile – It had just clicked over to 1:58:00 so I knew I could, I SHOULD, make 2-hours, and I just went. By gun time, I finished 1:59:18. By chip time, I finished a little better – 1:58:47, a little less close than I thought, but either way, I still finished sub 2-hours.
I was feeling pretty good about myself, that I managed the conditions and came in roughly 18-minutes slower than my last half, which just happened to be my PR, but I finished clean.
First I have to get this out of the way: It was southern bayou swamp-ugly out there. No less than 87 degrees at race time with humidity easily up toward 90% (at the time I’m writing this it is 79%). The air was just ridiculously heavy and I found it really hard to breathe.
Long about 4PM, I started thinking about how this race was going to run, and it was tough. I was having difficulty contemplating how this would be a good run for me. I was confident this would no go well.
No sooner had I gotten to the starting area, when I had to turn tail and head back to the parking area porta-potties. Hard to tell if it was a benefit to have to…uh…you know…so lighten my body weight, but it was certainly better to have the facilities there than not. That would have made for a very ugly 5 miles.
This is a local race run by my running club, so there were a lot of familiar faces which I certainly appreciated – I took a job recently close to Boston and the additional commuting time has been killing my social life with these folks, so it was appreciated to have the opportunity to reconnect with familiar faces. My daughter even came to race from her new place in New Hampshire, and that made my heart happy.
This was my first race since the North Face at the beginning of June and my first street race since the Worcester Fire Fighters 6k in May. I came THAT close to not having had a race in July. I mean the fact that this is only my 15th race this year astounds me a little given what the past few years have looked like.
Holden is a little town in Central Massachusetts, which means that it’s not flat. The Warren course is a loop, starts generally down for the first mile, rolling hills for the second, down for the next half, up for the mile and then mostly down.
It can be pretty challenging to be sure.
So at the start of the race, I’d run maybe 3/10 of a mile when my shoe came untied. It’s been more than a year since the LUK 5k when my shoe came undone and my friend Jeff sold me on Lace Locks. I haven’t worn sneakers with laces since…until today. Curiously enough that first mile was pretty quick. I ran the second and third mile at roughly equivalent speeds – with a fair degree of walking in there. The fourth mile, where you see that big up part,took me 9:07 (73′ of gain) and then it was pretty much downhill from there, where I notched the fastest mile of the race and second only to the last 4/10 of the rce where I paced in at 7:13, ultimately finishing 26th at 43:39.
Now a couple of my friends were pretty well dehydrated, and while both finished, one had to leave in an ambulance for fluids. The heat and humidity were no joke. I’m honestly surprised I did as well here as I did. The lack of racing in general hasn’t helped but my increased sedentary time could not have helped my fitness level. The last few weeks I’ve seen my runs get sloggier and slower. Could be sleep, or bad diet, or whatever, but tonight I pulled through it until it felt good. Which makes it that much setter for me: I PR’d this course tonight by just about 7-minutes officially (for the three times I’ve run this race) and by roughly 3:20 if I include training runs last year. So I may have lost a little off my fast ball recently, it’s nice to know that I’m still racing reasonably well.
My daughter also hadn’t raced in sometime – since the Celtic 5k actually – and hadn’t run more than 4-miles in months, and she rocked the course too: Meaning she did not finish last.
The club puts on an afterparty where awards are announced and there are gift giveaways and food. Incredible value for the $15-20 registration fee. Good fun, great folks.
June 15, 2008 was to be my dad’s last Father’s Day. We tried to take him for breakfast, but he used all his energy walking down the stairs and getting into the truck and just couldn’t get into the restaurant. He was so weak, I had to carry him. It was difficult getting him out of the truck, and we tried to get this to work so much, but just lost sight of the fact it wasn’t going to happen.
We eventually decided to call it, placed an order to go, carried breakfast out in styrofoam containers and ate the now pathetic breakfast back at my sisters. Just a disaster all the way around.
It was a disaster mitigated only by the time we spent with him. It wasn’t well thought out, breakfast was just what we did, so why not take him to breakfast? I should have known he was so weak and made other accommodations. I should have done something different, but I relied on what we always did instead of what would have been more thoughtful. 11 years later, I regret that one of the last days of my dad’s life, one that was meant to recognize what he meant to me, stands for that failure.
I wish I could say I’m better at these things because of it, I’m not. I wish I could say I did something better for him, but I didn’t. Today it was just hanging there in my mind, like the gloom here in New England on this, Father’s Day 2019: 66-degrees, rainy, dark and gray.
I had a chance to visit his memorial this week, spend a few moments with him front of mind, perhaps a prayer. Something I do not do often enough. The memorial park is a peaceful place, quiet – especially mid-day mid-week. The day we laid him to rest fresh as though it had been the day before. It was good to share that time alone with the man.
His dad’s marker is across the memorial park – Dad was a special guy, devoted to his father, and specifically picked a marker within easy eye shot of his dad’s – and I recall as a youngster heading out to the park on Sunday after church, so he could pay his respects. Kneeling on one knee, crossing himself, and praying, I recall the man hurting. I was a child when my grandfather passed away, and although I missed him as much as a child can I didn’t quite understand how Dad could still be so sad years later.
Its now been 10 Fathers’ Days since we buried my Dad, many more than had passed in my recollection above. I get it now, in fact I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten it from the moment I entered the room with his now lifeless body the night he died. I kneeled by the edge of his grave marker on one knee, crossed myself, even prayed a bit and couldn’t help but to cry. Recalling him in the same place, mourning his dad, lets me know that I need to bring my son more often, so he can see that it’s okay and normal and good to feel these things. Even after all this time, that its not a weakness.
I started writing this post this morning. I was really feeling the regret. Today, my Father’s Day was pretty much the routine. I was around family who came together to celebrate the dads among us. I sat around and watched baseball, ate some pulled pork sandwiches, and drank a few beers. No special circumstances, just what we always do. It was good.
And I realized that while Father’s Day 2008 was a mess, it wasn’t because he didn’t feel loved. He didn’t complain that he didn’t want to go, he tried to make it work – perhaps it was just that routine that he wanted desperately to have as much as I did. I’ll never know that, and while I regret that I hadn’t better considered present circumstances and made more thoughtful choices, I need to remember he didn’t feel forgotten. He didn’t feel unloved or ill-considered. I didn’t do my best that Father’s Day, but I was there. Maybe that’s most of what matters: today everyone was just there, we were together.
Today was Father’s Day and despite my attempt at a pity party for myself, my Dad may well have just given me another gift. Perhaps the day wasn’t a disaster mitigated only by the time we shared together, but rather was a cherished time because we shared the time together – even if was eating soggy eggs out of a take away container.
In terms of my commentary about the race itself – course markings, watch issues – I don’t think I could say anything differently from last year. This is a very well done event, easy registration, good festival area, good course markings. There were a couple of times this year I found the markings a little wonky, but I think that was more me than the course itself.
What I really want to talk about is my experience of the race. 31 miles is a significant distance under the best of circumstances. This race covers roughly 6000′ of elevation gain – more than a mile going up. It’s quite possibly the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve now done it three times.
Last year I finished in 9 hours, 50 minutes. Since last year, I’ve run 2 road marathons. The distance, while still quite significant, doesn’t feel quite as daunting. I also ran the 7-Sisters trail race, a race that while shorter by 2/3s was more technical and were it longer, and probably not much longer, I would likely say IT was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. So, I feel like I was reasonably prepared for this race.
Truth be told, I hadn’t hydrated well enough over the preceding days. I now know that, but otherwise I was ready. I felt good through the majority of the race. There was a couple of points where I could feel some cramps coming on but was able to hold off any real difficulty until after the mile 26 check point. At that point, however, it was clear to me that my running for the day was pretty much over. Sad really, as there were some imminently runnable downhills that would have been nice to crush.
The thing about technical trail running for me is that it is hard on the body, you really have to stretch yourself, but more importantly than that it’s refreshing, revitalizing. Here’s what I mean by that: in a world where your attention is monetized, you cannot afford not to be paying full attention all the time out here. The odd rock, or root, or decent all demand your attention or you will trip. What’s that person behind you doing? Should you let them pass? Are THEY paying attention?
When I’m running on a road, there’s the occasional car to be mindful of, but otherwise there’s a lot of room for internal dialogue to creep in. I wear headphones and listen to music most of the time to drown out that negativity. On the trail, your mind don’t have that luxury – it has to be focused on the task at hand.
Today, I woke up sore, with a few dents and dings, but mentally quite refreshed. Like spending the day in mediation, being present. It’s hard to do that in modern life, so I’m thankful for having had that time.
I took well over an hour off my time from last year, but when you look at my official splits you can definitely see where the cramps really started to affect my race. All in all, a solid effort that I’m pleased with.
An unusual distance, 6k. First the story. Sometime during the evening on December 3, 1999, a cold storage building at 299 Franklin Street, Worcester began burning. The building was apparently known for housing squatters, and in this case a couple had set a fire for warmth. By the end of the day, 6 firefighters were unaccounted for, and whose bodies were not recovered for another 8 days.
Thomas Spencer, 42 Paul Brotherton, 41 Timothy Jackson, 51 Jeremiah Lucey, 38 James Lyons, 34 Joseph McGuirk, 38
This race memorializes these firefighters in it’s name and distance – 6k. Worcester holds another race, named specifically for Jay Lyons, earlier in the year for fundraising toward a memorial scholarship at Doherty High School in Worcester. I ran that race last year, although I missed it this year.
The Firefighters 6k is a great city race, this 19th year of the race there were over 1000 runners. There’s a wonderful finish festival with burgers, free treats from Worcester Based sponsors Table Talk Pies and Polar Beverages, and the swag is also pretty sweet. Now, I’m not much on swag for 5(-ish)k races, but this one is not most. The finisher medal really is something.
Inscribed on the back are the names of the six firefighters who died in that fire 20 years ago this year.
For the last two years, I’ve run the Newport 10-Miler and for some inexplicable reason I failed to register for it this year. So given my availability, I was able to join Team Sneakerama for this race instead. Now the course itself is just shy of 6k – where 6k is roughly 3.73 miles, the course winds up being about 3.6. Sure there are probably some hacks that could be made, but at the end of the day it’s close enough. Just enough longer than a 5k to make it a little more challenging. It’s pretty flat, there are a couple of tunnels to run through that go down and, by definition up on the way back, and the finish is a slight incline at the top of the hill by Institute Park. I found it a fast, flat course as it wound through Worcester.
It was pretty hot for a day that was projected to be overcast, if not a little rainy – the shade was cool, but man in the sun it got hot fairly quick. I was running a little too fast to be sustainable under most circumstances, but seeing people I know on the course was great and really kept me going. By the time I got to the 3 mile point, I really wanted to quit, stop and walk, but my competitive nature got the better of me and I slogged through. At mile 3.3, I really had had enough but again, saw friends and kept going. That slight incline to the finish seemed like it must’ve been 500′.
I was somewhat surprised at the results. I had been shooting for a 7:50/8:00 minute pace, but wound up with an unofficial 7:17. My official pace was 7:04 (because of the whole difference between 3.73-miles and 3.6-miles). I’m really super pleased, because this really could have been a train wreck between the humidity and my general feeling of grumpiness. End of day, I finished with a respectable time – especially given I have 5k finishes that are slower.
Also, more importantly, Sneakerama finished as second fastest team – losing to the Wormtown Milers, who poached a couple of ringers from my club CMS. My saltiness aside, it was a fun race and I’m glad I had the chance to do it.
The headline here is “What a difference a year makes.” Last year, I was 5-pounds lighter, but suffering a bevvy of maladies. This was race 12 on the year for me in 2019, 23rd of the year in 2018. Last year my shin was taped up to mitigate my shin splint, this year just a couple ibuprofen to quell the nagging niggits of pain here and there.
I wanted redemption for last years race. My goal time was initially to land in my personal Top 3, and I pegged it at 1:50:00. I haven’t been running particularly well on the street over the last few weeks and my last 3 races were trail races where I typically don’t perform well at all, so not having a point of reference to what my street time would look like I wasn’t sure I knew what to expect. I made a post to Facebook, and Duke predicted 1:45:00; this seemed unfounded but I love the guy and his ambition, so I shot for that. 1:45:00 it was.
The weather was nothing if not perfect. Roughly 60-degrees, a little overcast, perhaps a bit breezy. My buddy Rich and I debated the relative merits of wearing sleeves vs. no-sleeves, ultimately deciding on the singlet, which was the correct answer. As the starting gun went off, we headed out of Horseneck Beach reservation, I kept pace with Rich for a moment or two and then saw the back of his shirt disappear, so I’m guessing the shirt choice was the correct one for him as well.
The course itself is great – the whole area is just fantastic anyway, so I’m sure it would be hard to put together a crummy course – long stretches of old, country roads, stretches of beach roads, and the date on the calendar. They do a nice job with the after party as well: great food and drink. Just a great event.
In complete contrast to last year, everything seemed to be perfect. I got a great night sleep, ate reasonably well, hydration was on point, got to the beach early, and probably most importantly got a mile warm up in – I’ve been finding that my heart rate skyrockets for the first mile or so of any activity, so getting that warm up in has been really important. Since I felt good, I didn’t have that negative self that I battled the whole race last year. At mile 5, I actually said to myself, “Okay, only 8 more miles to go.”
Mile 6 was the first mile I had that was over an 8-minute pace – I don’t think I’ve ever run that far going that fast (fast for me that is), and only had 3 miles that were slower than 8-minutes: Mile 10 inexplicably was an 8:11 pace. I’m not sure what happened there, I don’t recall anything significant happening there, I must’ve just zoned out or something because 2 of the next 3 miles were among my fastest. It turns out Mile 6 was my slowest last year – it has the most ascent of the race at 56′ (it’s a super flat course)
Interesting comparison: my heart rate averaged 2 bpm faster last year. SO I was faster AND in better condition. Despite my apparent weight gain: last year I was about 180, and this year….not.
I knew I was closing in on a personal record, so I was playing this mental game with myself about not stopping. I saw the sign for the 3-mile mark of the 3.5-mile race so I knew the finish was roughly a half mile away and kept telling myself that I have this, that I can get this done at 1:45, I just have to keep running for 4-more minutes. When you’ve been running for 100-minutes, what’s 4-more, right?
It turns out, it was the longest 4-minutes of my life, but in the end I pulled it off. From the beach walk at the end, the course turns right for the last 0.1 mile or so, and I saw a four people ahead of me, so I used the last bit of energy I had to snipe three of them, the fourth got me by a couple seconds.
A perfect ending to a perfect day. So as of this writing, my two fastest halfs have been my two most recent halfs, and since I’m not getting any younger, I’m pleased with this.
This isn’t a 10-miler. Not a half marathon. Something in between. But it’s definitely among the most difficult things I’ve done. Somewhere between 11 and 12 miles, the official website says the elevation is “over 3500′” (I got about 4700 on my watch in just over 11 miles). It’s highly technical single track trails on an out-and-back course, which means then that there are some interesting intersections when the fast guys are coming back.
I had it in my head that it would be similar to the “Vulcan’s Fury” trail race in Pawtuckaway NH. That’s roughly the same distance over slightly less technical trails, but upon reflection when I did that race in 2017, I clocked in a little over 1800′ of gain. Sooo, like not like this race at all, basically.
Before the races last weekend, I hadn’t run a trail in quite some time, so one can easily imagine what was going through on that first mile when I realized just how out of my depth I really was. Combined with the rain over the last couple of weeks, this was something else.
To give some context as to just how out of my league I was, over the last 3-miles or so of the race, I was going back and forth with this guy who had started after me (his bib was in the 400’s and the waves went out numerically) who was wearing what looked not wholly dissimilar from a track suit and street running sneakers. Let that sink in: highly technical, glacial-rock and exceedly thick, muddy trails and this cat is rocking a pair of Under Armours for street running….and we’re competing for time. So, yeah, it wasn’t my best performance. For a really good description of the race, here’s an entry from RunnersWorld that helps you get a feel for it (and perhaps some of the psychos who run it).
On a clear day, the views would be amazing: across western mass, likely into New York, Vermont and Connecticut. Sadly though, with the low hanging clouds still stubbornly hanging around (there was a light rain earlier in the day, with the weather hanging around at least into Sunday) the only thing to see was the gray.
My friend Jen also ran the race and didn’t die. Here we are celebrating not having died.
It has taken me all week to gather my thoughts for this race. I admit, I was excited about running, but I didn’t expect the sheer emotion of the finish. It was a hard race – it was 26.2 miles after all – but it was the finish that I didn’t expect.
Having alternately grown up near/not-far-from the later stages of the course, and having spent some formative years in and around the earlier stages of the course, this was seeing the area in a much different way. Various memories came back to me along the course. This is an experience I will not soon forget.
First, this is a story of “home field advantage.” Since the marathon is a point-to-point event, most runners start in Boston and take the BAA buses to Hopkinton. This means you’re staying in the city (very expensive!) and you have few amenities with you at the race. You can bring their clear plastic bag to the runner village, but that’s it. My running club, on the other hand, charters a bus to the runner’s village in Hopkinton, gets two hotel rooms in Boston, and charters the bus from Boston back home. While you’re awaiting your start, you can stay on the bus (and out of the elements), use the on board bathroom, etc. You can also have access to your stuff. So as we were walking to the starting corrals, all dressed for our races, everyone who had come in from Boston were walking around in shoes covered with plastic bags, slogging through the mud to get to the porta-potties, shedding unwanted layers into “donation” piles. It had stopped raining while we were en route to the start, so by the time we were walking to the starting line, we were dry and comfortable. Others? Not so much.
A few weeks previous, we took part in the BAA’s final organized rehearsal run for the race – “HOP21” – where we ran from the starting line in Hopkinton to Boston College, the first 21 miles of the race. It was a pleasant day and I hit a very comfortable stride. I was confident that I could get this race done in less than 4-hours. Perhaps even 3:45 if the stars aligned.
The stars did not align.
At the start it was roughly 45-50 degrees and overcast. Actually, quite perfect marathon running weather. I felt good and comfortable, in no small measure due to the above treatment I’m sure. By the time I hit Framingham though, the clouds were beginning to part and the sun was coming out. By Natick, it was full on sunny and beautiful – an otherwise gorgeous day – but for a runner in a marathon, it was draining. Oh, and I had to poop something awful.
For the majority of the course from that point, it was glorious and I was happy I went with the choice of shorts and running singlet. It was the first time in months that I had run in something so minimal, and it was glorious. I’m fast enough that I can be reasonably competitive, but not so fast that I can’t appreciate my surroundings to some degree, so I saw some friends near the start, and some others a little further down, high-fived some kids along the course.
HELPFUL HIT, NEWS PHOTOGS: Don’t take those happy reunion pics by setting up on the course, or you will likely get knocked over. Sorry dude, it’s a race I paid quite a bit to run and your picture is not my priority.
The scream tunnel at Wellesley College was not anything I expected at all. That’s not wholly true, I mean I’ve seen the course videos and read enough to know what was there, but experiencing the enthusiasm was just next level. That was great fun.
As I got to the half-marathon point, I knew my family would be coming up soon. They were going to be at about mile 17, somewhere near Route 9 and I-95. I was really starting to struggle a bit, but no sooner had I found that I was slowing down, I looked at my watch to see I was coming up to mile 16 so I would be seeing them soon. When I looked up, I saw a poster sized picture of myself being held up. They were a lot closer than I anticipated and it was exactly what I needed when I needed it. Running club friends, work, school friends and my family. As I ran by, I was able to high five everyone. Almost a week later, writing this, I’m still welling up in tears. This display of support meant the world to me and is something I will take to my grave as one of the most meaningful gestures of my life.
A little further down the street at the I-95 overpass, as that high started to wane, I ran into some childhood friends who called out some (unusually) supportive words and that lifted me for a little down past the country club and hospital. From there it became an exercise in endurance and willpower.
Now, for the better part of 10-miles, I really needed a bio-break. At every opportunity, I looked for porta-potties. For 10-miles each bank of them had a line of some size, and as long as I felt like I could keep it together I wasn’t going to wait in a line – I’m running a race after all. As I got to the fire station in Newton, not far from the start of heartbreak hill, I saw my opportunity. There were a bunch of them, and vacant! I ran over, opened the door and…. yeah, whomever was there previously had not only peed all over the seat, but left a nice little…..well, I’d say nugget, but it wasn’t that solid. Thanks ace.
So I did my obligatory cleaning, and took care of my business, but I couldn’t get everything back into the compression shorts quite the same way. It was going to be another 7-miles or so getting chaffed and otherwise flopping around. Much better than the alternative I submit. I did lose a couple of minutes with that break, but I have to say I rationalize it by assuming had I let it go, I wouldn’t have finished.
By heartbreak hill, I was scuffing. Some guy was handing out Bud Lights, so I took one, drank some for calories, poured a bunch over my head and chucked it. I already knew my time goal was toast so may as well have some fun.
Long about mile 23, the clouds started to come together and it got much cooler. The wind picked up and it was not unpleasant. Had I not just run 20-someodd miles, I’m sure I would have been cold, but since I had it was perfect and refreshing. That said, it really didn’t help me pick up the pace, but it did keep it from getting worse. There were portions of the next 3 miles that I just could not run at all, I just had to walk. Sometimes I look at these moments as gut checks, and I can will myself to get back at it. This was not one of those times.
Mile 25. ALMOST THERE. Annnnd the sky opens up. Of course. I was struggling with pace. I knew I was near the end, I could see the blue line painted on the street indicating the final mile, but I just could not will myself to move. I made the turn onto Herreford and then the final turn onto Boylston, and could see the finish line and yet I could not run. I could not will myself to move any faster than the shuffle at which I was moving.
And then…and then I saw that familiar poster board from Mile 16-ish. My old friend and his daughter were at the finish for me. I moved as fast as I could over to them, hugged him, and he gave me a t-shirt. I’ll never forget this as long as I live, he then said “Now, go finish your race.”
I took off as fast as I could, looked at the shirt – it says “I’m Not Dead Yet” – and headed for the finish. As I crossed the line, I held the shirt over my head. I am not dead yet. Didn’t die. Didn’t finish last.