Thursday, April 19, 2007

Nick still has a sense of humor....

Well we made it!! If anyone had predicted the path we would take to get to the finish line we would have suggested some serious mental counseling. Given that Nick was our guardian angel we should have known it would have unusual twists and turns. When Heather and I started down this road we wanted to do something that would honor Nick's memory and help others at the same time. Running the marathon for Lazarus House was a perfect way to do both. When we first talked about it we actually were more intimidated by the fund raising (hitting the goal of $3000 each) than we were about running the race. We had done a marathon together before but we had never taken on a fund raising role at that level.

Thanks to all of you (thank you, thank you) Heather and I were able to raise over $11,000 for Lazarus House. Combined with the other 15 runners we raised over $75,000 against a goal of $65,000. The funds will go towards restocking the food pantry that was destroyed in the floods last year and towards putting in place a new self service "shopping" program (more on this in a later blog). Any attempt to just say Thank You would fall short of really expressing how much good you have done for the community and people's lives. So instead I will follow up with some details of the results of the new food program once it is up and running so you can hear for yourself what the impact has been.

Now...back to the marathon. For those not interested in all the details, here are the highlights:

- Heather and I both ran into painful knee problems before we were half way. With some awkward limping, a shuffle like run and a much slower pace we were able to finish in 4:23:22.

- The weather was more of a factor before the start and at the end of the run than during the run.

- Heather and I are both recovering well although it will take a while for the knees to heal and before we can run again.

- All seventeen of the Lazarus runners started and finished.

For those interested in the details and the story behind the on.

Heather and I started the day at 5 AM as we headed to meet the Lazarus House team bus that we would take to the starting line. We hauled our bags with 50 pounds of clothes (each) into the pouring rain and hurricane winds as we tried to plan for any contingency. Thanks to the efforts of Betsy Leeman (our Lazarus manager) our bus would take us directly to the staging area in Hopkinton and we would be able to stay on the bus until just before the start of the race.

Most runners have to take one of the race buses from Boston out to Hopkinton where they are unceremoniously dropped at the staging area to wait the 2+ hours until the start of the race. The staging area is a large field with a big tent in the middle and with endless rows of port-a-johns around it. Under normal circumstances a rather relaxing setting but in torrential downpours and howling wind it rather resembled a scene from Woodstock...except in the winter and without the music. Huddled under the tent were thousands of runners sitting on trash bags hoping to stay dry and warm enough to comfortably get to the start of the race. Many of the runners walked around with plastic bags over their shoes as they tried to avoid getting covered in mud in the trips to the port-a-john.

After close to a 2 hour ride (all the roads into Hopkinton are closed so traffic backs up for quite a distance) we arrived at the staging area at 8AM and set about planning what we would wear (we were worst than a couple of teenager girls planning prom night) and evaluating the constantly changing weather forecasts. While the temperatures were warmer than expected, there still was a driving rain and heavy winds. We settled on wearing running jackets over our long sleeve shirts and then our Lazarus singlets over our jackets. I decided to bring along my cell phone to chronicle the journey and potentially get help if I needed to bail.

A quick is a regulation of the Marathon that your number must be visible at all times. Partly this is because photographers and video companies take pictures all along the course and they need to know your number so they can solicit you to buy the pictures (we all want those candids of us agonizingly navigating Heartbreak Hill). The other reason is to help the BAA track runners in case of a discrepancy in the automated chip timing system. Numbers are fixed to the outside of one's shirt with 4 safety pins. Thus the problem...whatever I choose as my outside layer pretty much has to be my outside layer for the entire race. Thus the decision to wear the singlet, with our names, our numbers, and our picture of Nick over our jackets.

Next came a knock on our bus door. A woman runner with a German accent asked if she could come inside to get out of the rain for a while. Turns out it is Uta Pippig, 3 time woman's winner of the Boston Marathon in the mid90's (that's me with Uta on the bus). She was charming and outgoing and wonderful to chat with.

With so many runners (23000 registered with numbers of which over 20000 actually showed up to run), the start was changed this year to go off in two at 10 AM for the faster runners, and one at 10:30 for the rest of us. Wheelchairs go off at 9AM and the elite Woman runners at 9:30. It's hard to imagine what 10,000 runners packed into a fairly narrow street looks like (picture here is one I took with my cell phone looking back into the crowd behind me. The runners filled the street back almost a quarter mile and then continued up a side street.). We were about midway in the second wave and it took us a little over 7 minutes to get to the starting line after the gun went off.

Heather and I were like race horses in the starting gates (Heather and Kristen waiting in the drizzle for the starting gun). The first mile is pretty slow despite the fairly steep downhill as the crowds are still pretty thick. By the second mile we had settled into our 9 min/mile pace and were comfortably cruising along. The rain had stopped, we were getting hot and we started peeling off clothes ( jackets, hoods, and gloves). For the next 3 miles we picked up the pace and felt great, alternating water and Gatorade at each mile. We had a nice conversation with a couple running in a tux and wedding veil who were getting married at the top of Heartbreak Hill (they got engaged at the NYC Marathon). Round about 6 miles, just before Framingham, the sky opened up and it started pouring. While we got wet over the next mile (it pretty much stopped at 8 miles) it was warm enough when we were out of the wind that we were not cold. At 7 miles we got moral support from my wife, Heather's significant other and my son Matt.

It was just about 8.5 when my knee started to go and by 9 miles I couldn't bend my right leg without a shooting pain in the knee. Heather went on ahead to keep her pace and I gimped along at about a 10 min/mile pace having a private conversation with Nick about why he wasn't supporting me in my efforts and how unfair it was that I couldn't run the race with Heather. Just when I was thinking I might quit running and start walking, or worst...bail out, I looked up and caught sight of Heather on the side of the road. It seems the cold had gotten into her leg muscles and she was struggling with the same knee pain as I was. At his point we were just about 12 miles into the race and coming up on Wellesley. We found a pace where we could limp along together and we headed out with the plan that we keep going until one of us had to walk and then we would finish the race walking together. Heather and I laughed about the circumstance, suggesting that this was Nick's way of assuring that the two of us ran together and that we helped each other finish the race together. Heather says she got the short end of that deal.

Other than the pain in our legs we were doing fine. We got plenty of moral support from the Lazarus support teams who were scattered across the course and from my family (two sister in laws, my sister Terry, and 7 nieces and nephews). A funny aspect about being out on the course for that long is that you actually get hungry. We went by one place that was cooking steaks and we were actually tempted to stop and get a sandwich. At about 16 miles when we met up with my nephews he gave us a handful of Texas size jelly beans. They were like gold. We nibbled on them for the next 3 miles.

The rest of the race was a series of firsts for me...My first kiss from one of the Wellesley girls, My first time taking a picture while running a marathon (this is Heather going up Heartbreak Hill), My first phone call while running a race (I called my brother in law Bob who was suppose to meet me in Newton with a beer but was home bailing out his basement), My first (and second) beer while running (kindly donated by fans near BC), and of course my first Boston Marathon finish with one of my children.

I don't want to leave the impression that all was jelly beans and beer for the last 12 miles. Heather and I struggled to keep moving at times and it was only because we were together and supporting each other that we made it. The downhills were excruciating, the uphills a relief. Heather and I were doing great through the Heartbreak Hills, passing over a hundred people on the last hill (to be fair, most of them were walking...we were just shuffling faster), but I swear all of them passed us going down the other side as we limped along together looking like two old people who needed their walkers.

But with the help of family, friends, fans and Nick we made it. Crossing the finish line with Heather and knowing Nick was there with us was one of the most satisfying accomplishments of my life. While it was one of the toughest Boston Marathon's I've run it will also go down as one of the most memorable.

So to all of you...thank you. I hope these updates have been interesting and in some small way helped you to know how much you have participated in helping me and my family with our healing process and at the same time helped others through Lazarus House who are facing their life challenges.

God bless and stay well.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Can't Go Fishing in a Watermellon Patch....

You might be wondering what this title, taken from a 1964 Roger Miller song, has to do with running the Boston Marathon tomorrow. That's right...tomorrow. In the rain (or snow?). With the wind blowing in our face at 500 mph. And temperatures hovering at artic levels. Ok, so I'm exaggerating a bit. Kind of reminds me of the stories my parents use to tell about walking 5 miles to sub zero temperatures...wading through 4 feet of bare feet.

Anyway...I digress. Heather and I are nervous but anxious to get started. I'm most concerned about my injuries and how far my legs will last. She is most concerned about the weather (having trained in temps about 65 degrees). Most marathoners go through a bit of mental anquish in the last 24-48 hours before the race. Have I trained enough? Have I chosen the right clothes? Will I be too warm or too cold? Will that injury come back to haunt me during the race? Can I achieve the race pace I've been training for? Should I drink water or gatorade? Should I drink at all ( the BAA warns about drinking too much and too little)?

In the end it wil be more a mental game than a physical one. The decision to keep going long after the body says "no" will be challenging, but not nearly as tough as the effort it took to train through all the bad weather, endless miles and injuries to get here. Each runner has his/her own reason for running Boston and it is that motivation that carries them through. For Heather and I it is the memory of Nick and the ability to give back to the less fortunate by raising funds for people who are struggling with their own life marathons. Thanks to Lazarus House and Bestsy Leeman for giving us the opportunity.

To all of you who have helped us along the way we want you to know that we will never be able to thank you enough. Your kind words, encouragement and financial support has been awesome and will carry both Heather and I to the finish tomorrow...even if we have to swim there.

As Roger Miller says in this same song...


See you in Boston!!!

PS: For those of you who might be out on the course...Heather an I are planning to start out at 9 min./mile pace. We start around 10:30 so if my knee holds out till 13 miles we should be half way around 12:30 (give or take 10 minutes to get through the crowd at the start). We both have royal blue singlets with a white stripe on the front and with our names. I will have black wind pants and Heather will have on black tights. We will be wearing two of Nick's baseball hats...Heather has a camoflauge and mine is blue and says "Irish" on it. If it is raining Heather will have a Navy Blue Boston Marathon jacket and I have a black New Balance one.

For those that might be tracking us online...our numbers are 20640 (Heather) and 20641. We haven't even started and Heather is already ahead of me.