Wednesday, April 18, 2018

That Was Pretty Epic: Boston Marathon (4/16/18)

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Race: Boston Marathon
Goal Time: 3:30
Actual Time: 3:54

"You know it's wild when you are wearing a stranger's dirty socks on your hands as gloves" - Deb Downs.

Only 10 months after my seizure, a terrible training cycle coming off an equally bad cycle from New York did not bode well for a marathon.  Which was alright I guess since the weather gods didn't help, either.

Throughout the week, weather forecasts got drearier and drearier.  By Thursday they were predicting 90% chance of rain and 20mph winds.  We all thought, okay this is bad but kinda like 2015 so we should be okay.

Then Saturday morning, it changed again.  Temperature predictions had dropped 10 degrees and now winds were 25-35mph.  And 90% chance of rain had basically become - MONSOON!

Sure enough, marathon morning was dismal and depressing.  My lack of training with nagging injuries just made it worse. If it was any other race, I would not have done it.

Hopkinton to Framingham

Dreams of requalifying for Boston were ephemeral. By mile 3, questions of such a plan began to dominate my brain.  Around the time the questions were in my head, I caught up with Deb; she was still nursing an injury and wasn't ready to run fast.  I joined her and pretty much immediately we were among the stragglers in wave 1.  But that was awesome.  My struggles with training, injury and weight let me join a friend who was also going through the motions and just going to finish the race.

The weather would trade between icy wind and downpours.  I kept trying to have Deb hide behind me (random other people kept hiding behind me without me telling them to).


By Mile 9, I was warmed up.  Deb was not.  Her hands and legs were freezing.  She picked up somebody's discarded poncho and attempted to make it into a skirt.  When that failed, she found somebody's discarded socks (that they probably wore on their hands) and put them over her gloves.

We did get to see Mama and Papa Downs in Natick Center.  Which gave us both a little pick-me-up since there were virtually no runners around us by then.  It was like running a smaller marathon with so few people around us.


At Mile 12, the first people in Wave 2 came flying by us (including the woman who was 5th fastest in chip time).  Then Meb and his group came by.

Deb and I kept clumping out our 8:00-8:30 pace.  The din of the Wellesley girls rose above the puddled pavement.

The Scream Tunnel was coming. In 2015 and 2016, I had intentionally moved to the left hand side of the road to avoid the tunnel and its accompanying stops and zigs and zags from runners.  This year I did not.

My arm fired my hand out and it high-fived every single girl reaching over the barrier. As I got thru and looked back Deb was doing the same. She had also never actually high-fived the girls, either and it was good that we got to really experience such a seminal part of the marathon.

Going through Wellesley Centre and Hills, we got a high-five from Coach Rick and Nichole Bukowski passed us.  (She also checked if we were okay, we were as good as we could be.)

The dip into Newton Lower Falls was brutal on my stiff left knee and weird lower calf thing.  But we hit that town flags and we made it -


Secret Hill 
This is where I took my leave of Deb.  8:00/mile pace would be required if I planned to keep moving.  (The old: "I know I'm just going to get slower, so if I start too slow I might actually stop").  So up the first (secret) hill, I ran, fighting to the Hospital and then tto he Firehouse.

30km Hill
The big swooping right turn swept up to the start of the 30km Hill.  I immediately went to the left so I was ready to acknowledge and receive acknowledgement from both November Project and Somerville Road Runners.  With November Project in my rear view, the wall was beginning to shake its fist at me.  I kept it together enough as I ran by SRR.

In the driving winds and pouring rains, SRR was nothing but a jumble of rain jackets and ponchos and trashbags.  Kate and Kari and Emma and Rod and Paul (he had a giant camera), were all that could be made out in the mass of water-beading vinyl.  Blowing a kiss toward Urvi, I went on my way.  But that was it for me.  Most of the fun of my race was over and forced a dejected slump as soon as I got around the corner and out of sight.

Hasher Hill
On the Orange Line en route to the charter bus, I read the latest issue RUSA's American Randonneur magazine. Included was a ride report from a woman who attempted a 200k permanent ride when she first started chemotherapy. By half-way through she had kept herself going by trying to push through for the next 10 miles and then the next 10 miles, etc.  I realized I wasn't on chemotherapy and that unlike many runners I have some meat on my bones that generally keeps me warmer.  So I wasn't too worried about the conditions affecting me medically any more.  So I moved from the next ten miles as she thought to the next "marker."

My first marker was Brendan K. I fought myself through the City Hall area to Brendan. I high fived him and got great chants.  Then it was to fight to the top of the Hasher Hill.  Brendan C. wouldn't be there but it was a marker and a progression.

Heartbreak Hill
Next marker was Heartbreak Hill.  I pulled over to the right and just put one foot in front of another.  clump clump clump.  Atop Heartbreak I pulled way over to the right so that I could adjust the left sock that had curled up and caused a numbness.


At the Heights, the BC kids yelled as the sky opened in yet another Noahesque downpour.  It was the first time I acknowledged both a downpour and massive headwind simultaneously.  Visibility got to zero as the headwinds battered my chest.  "All of this misery can be over.  I can just hop on the Green Line and go home."  But the knowledge that after Chestnut Hill reservoir, it would be a point of no return.  There would be no way I could quit with less than 45 minutes left.  So I stumbled forward along Comm Ave and toward Cleveland Circle.


I had fallen into dark and depressed place when I turned onto Beacon in Cleveland Circle.  So much so, I don't even remember the turn:

What I do remember is that the flag for Brookline was not right at Beacon but probably 1/10th of a mile ahead.  That means that Maryann's isn't in Brookline but actually in the City of Boston (Brighton).  Maybe that's how they got away with selling $1 Bud Lights to underage undergrads.  I always thought it was weird that the Town of Brookline that doesn't let you park on the street at night and whose cops pull over cars with black teenagers in it for no reason other than to ask where they were going would allow such a thing to happen.  Once I realized Maryann's was in Boston, that explained it.  

This strange digression into underage bars from the mid-90s probably kept me not thinking about running for nearly a quarter mile, which was good. I hit the Mile 23 sign and just told myself, "Just keep running for 35 minutes and you can f'ing stop."

After Washington Sq., my name was yelled from the left. It was Officer McGinty doing a detail with the tactical team.  Cutting across Beacon, my hand gave him a high five and I spoke to him for 30 seconds before heading on my way.

At Coolidge Corner, I found my mother and gave her a hug.  Just 25 more minutes and you can stop. A big cheer from Ray had me stepping a little quicker toward Boston.  I had to avoid a tall guy who had gone from running an 8:00 mile to near dead stop walking.


At Park Ave, you can see the Citgo Sign.  And at Park Ave, you can see the bridge over Yawkey Station. Crossing the 40km mark my legs tried to get a start over to the bridge over the Turnpike Just 15 more minutes and you can stop.

The overpass at Yawkey is perhaps the ugliest bit of nastiness.  It's the last water stop; it's steeper than it should be; and, at that moment there are only two things that can be going through your head: a) "I'm having a great race and in a little more than a mile, I'll be celebrating", or b) "Make this stop."  (There are surely people who are telling themselves both).  I had been in camp b for quite a while, jogging over to the right with people who were walking as they drank a last gatorade or girding themselves to not stop again.  Never did my legs go into walking mode, but sometimes "running" was far slower than other people's walking.

From the peak of the overpass my legs started picking up speed and thought they could put in one 9 minute mile (They couldn't) and then I almost ran into Tall Guy again as he had passed me running but was walking.  oh my god just run a speed you can keep running or don't stop in the middle of the back.

Crossing the one mile to go mark with the Citgo sign painted on the ground I gave a glance to the left at the sign itself and ahead was the Charlesgate bridge over Comm Ave.  Just get there, I told myself.  I just kept putting one foot in front of another.  Then the clouds opened up again one more time... and Tall Guy passed me and then started walking - fucker.

Gotta make the underpass; gotta make the underpass; gotta make it to the underpass.  I dipped my way under Mass Ave and prepared for the climb back up.  My left knee was find now but my right calf and periformis and hip were not. The downhill was murder.

Right on Hereford. I got ready for the obnoxious uphill.  Nobody was walking now, we were all going to run to the finish.  Here it was.... oh wait, except Tall Guy is in my way again.  It was now comically annoying rather than angering.

Left on Boylston.  I was so unhappy; so destroyed; so done with this miserable deathmarch across the MetroWest.  We hit the turn and I didn't even care.  Just get me to the finish. 5 more minutes and you can stop.  But then something happened.  There were runners around me throwing up there hands in joy and looking to each other and smiling. I realized, this might me their first time here.  Many of these people were fulfilling the dream that I had done in 2015.  This might be miserable and horrible but suddenly Bradley's advice came back to me: I'm in the goddamned Boston Marathon.

I proudly started counting down the blocks Gloucester, Fairfield and then Exeter.  Yeah, we're all going to do this!  We're finishing the Boston Marathon! We're all in this finish together!  Then as we passed Exeter Street, I saw in my peripheral vision - Tall Guy. We're in this together except that guy. I dropped whatever hammer I had left to make sure I went across before Tall Guy did, cuz fuck him.

I crossed the line and stopped running.  The pain was really setting in as  I made my way to the medals, found Freddi and got my medal from her.  Then my poncho and waddled down Clarendon to get to Back Bay Station.

Heading back toward the Park Street and Cambridge on the Orange Line, I texted Brian Lavalle in Vietnam: "Well, that was pretty epic."