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.
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