Sunday, May 4, 2008

Another Year, Another Boston Marathon

The 2008 Boston Marathon!!

Piece of cake, cake walk, walk in the park, Sunday stroll, effortless, painless....

Yet I have to say, it was a good experience. How can you complain with such great weather, wonderful crowds and most of all my body held together long enough to make it to the finish.

But…I jump ahead, let’s take it from the beginning. Marshall , Heather and I got on the Lazarus House bus at 6AM. Not a big deal for me to get up before 5:30 (especially when sleep the night before tends to be pretty restless), but Marshall and Heather were on west coast time (not a pretty sight). With the marathon traffic we got to the Hopkinton staging area at about 7:30. Most runners have to catch the school buses out of downtown Boston for a 1 ½ to 2 hour trip out to start. It’s not the most comfortable trip (the buses are built for short legged school leg room and no shocks) and they pack in the runners . When you arrive in Hopkinton the busses drop you in the staging area where you have the privilege of waiting for the next 2-3 hours. Picture more than 20,000 nervous runners scattered around a series of high school athletic fields, all bordered by a never ending row of porta-johns. In the center of the biggest field is a large open tent with bagels, bananas and water. Most of the runners who are not standing in line at the porta-stinks are mostly huddle under the tent trying to stay warm and relaxed.

One of the benefits of running for Lazarus House is the bus. Not only is it comfortable but we were granted permission to park our bus at the staging area (provided we get there before the roads are closed into Hopkinton). That meant we not we not only had a warm, dry comfortable place to hang out but we also had our own toilet on the bus (at least for a while until it reached capacity…a situation that the driver claimed he had never experienced before).

Just before leaving for the start there’s two final activities…try to find a porta-john without 30 people in line and strip down to your running clothes and pack the rest in your bag to be taken to the finish line. It was firmly in the lower forties until 15 minutes before we headed to the start and then the sun came out and the temp went up fast. There’s a strategy to what you wear so that you are neither too cold at the start or too warm during the race. Some people actually head to the start wearing a trash bag over their clothes or wearing old sweats and shirts and end up throwing them away over the first few miles. It looks like a giant strip tease at the start with clothes flying out of the crowd in every direction. Thousands of articles of clothes are collected for charities over the first few miles.

The start is a little over a half mile walk from the staging area where they have corrals laid out based on your bib number (corrals is an appropriate term since we are packed in like cattle at this point). Marshall, Heather and I never made it to our corral. By the time we got down to main street the crowd was backed up almost a quarter mile from the start. I’ve had a number of marathons where people have stood on the side of the road for hours looking for me and never saw me pass by. I’ve had others where I have run into, or been spotted by, people I haven’t seen in over 10 years. While standing in a sea of people at the start I looked up to find my brother-in-law 10 feet away. Go figure.

Heather and Marshall would be running at a different pace from mine so we had planned to stay in touch by cell phone. That, however, assumed I remembered to bring my phone. We made arrangements for my pit crew and cheering team (my wife, daughter Tiffany and son-in-law Matt) bring it along so they could pass it to me during the race.

Finally, with great fanfare, the gun is fired and we are off! Or not. For the first 5 minutes or so we didn’t move at all, then slowly we move into a walk, a fast shuffle and then a slow jog until some 15-20 minutes later we reach the starting line. If you happen to be running at the average pace of the crowd then the next 3-4 miles, which are almost all downhill, can be quite enjoyable (especially if you can ignore the lines of runners on the sides of the road making last minute pit stops). However, if you are attempting to move faster than the crowd it can be as frustrating as trying to move through a shopping mall at Christmas. Thus was my fate, for despite the mostly downhill nature of the first 6 miles, these were the slowest of the day for me. And that was with a certain amount of effort spent attempting to weave through the crowd.

With the warm weather and knee problems I had three key strategies: drink a lot, keep a reasonable pace through half way without hurting the knee, take one mile at a time after that, knowing I could walk in from there if the knee gave out. I missed having Heather with me, it made for a long first 10 miles. But I had Nick with me in spirit and the crowd was great. Can’t say enough good things about the women at Wellesley (about 12 miles) or the students at Boston College at about 22 miles (mostly 3 sheets to the wind by the time I get there but very enthusiastic). It was great to see my pit crew at about 16 and they were joined by my sister in-law Marena and brother in-law Ron, my nephew Drew and some of their friends. It was my own private cheering section for about 20 yards. I was busy waving and soaking it in that I ran right by them without picking up the phone. I had to run back to get it.

Knee started to go at about 15 miles, just before the hills. It was a cat and mouse game with it over the next 10 miles, and it could get snorkie (a technical term) at times depending on the terrain, the pace and even the pitch of the road. But with God’s help and Nick’s company I was able to make it. Final time 3:33:22, fast enough to qualify to get into the race next year (kind of like winning a food eating contest and the prize is…more food).

In the mean time Marshall and Heather were not fairing so well. Marshall is a tall and muscular guy and despite training in the heat of LA he got behind in taking enough water. Days like we had can be deceptive as there is a breeze in your face most of the way and it wicks away most of the sweat. It gives you the sense that you are not overheating and don’t need to drink yet you are losing a lot of moisture and a lot of electrolytes. By the time they got to Heartbreak Hill (around 18 miles) Marshall was feeling the impact. He dug deep and was able to make it all the way but he was rushed to the medical tent at the finish with dehydration. An hour later after some intravenous fluids, a bit of food, and a nice massage, he was up and walking and doing much better. Now I know how to get a massage at the end of the race.

Equally exciting for me is that our whole Lazarus team finished. Susan did run with broken hand and cast and one of our members actually limped to the finished with a stress fracture and ended the day in the hospital. With your help, the Lazarus House team raised over $120K for a food pantry where people who need help can “shop” with dignity for the food of their choice. There's still time to donate if you planned to and didn't get to it .

To all of you who supported Heather, Marshall and I, my deepest and heartfelt thanks. Your generosity has truly been a wonderful gift and I can’t think of a better way to keep my son’s memory alive. I also want to thank everyone for the supportive emails, even the ones commenting on my sanity and age.

Until next year, God bless…may it be a great one for you and your family.

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