OK…so some of you are saying, “yeah….so what’s new”. That’s fair.
I’ve done it more than a dozen times before and through some tough circumstances over the last two years but between you and I, this was the year I had the most doubts that I would even get to the starting line. So while it sounds strange, I am probably the most surprised that I made it.
Much like last year I had the pleasure of riding on a bus to the start with my fellow Hunger Strikers (who raised over $80K this year for the Lazarus House food pantry). Getting a bus to the start sounds like no big deal but for a marathoner it is a pleasure that rivals taking a limo to your senior prom. To contrast it, most runners have to catch a 6AM school bus out of Boston for a long, crowded, bone jarring ride out to Hopkinton (made all the more enjoyable by the famous MA potholes). After banging you knees on the seat in front of you for an hour and a half you have the privilege of sitting around in the sports field of the Hopkinton high school in 35 degree temperatures for 2+ hours with 20,000+ other runners who have little to do but swap running stories, discuss the weather and what they should wear, drink water, make port-a-john visits, re-tie their shoes a half dozen times, get more nervous, drink more water, make more port-a-john visits (you have some of your best conversations in line at the port-a-johns).
As a quick aside, there is a science to making your last potty visit just before the race starts so you don’t have to make a pit stop during the race. This is further complicated by the fact that you have to be in the starting area 15-20 minutes before the gun goes off. Given there are a limited number of units and thousands of people all trying to go at the same time, timing is everything. For an old guy like me who has had his pipes bounced around a lot over the last 50+ years, this is an important issue. I had a dream one year that I was locked in one of the port-a-johns when the gun when off. Scary.
I, on the other hand, got to board a bus near my house, ride in comfort to the high school with my teammates, and then we get to stay on the warm bus until it’s time to head down to the start. It’s the fifth best part of the day (thanks for the pictures Alan).
Then it’s time and we make the half mile trek down to the starting area which is broken up into one thousand person corrals based on your number. There are two waves to the start, 10 am for the 14,000 fastest runners and 10:30 for the remaining 12,000 or so. As you head down to the start you pass busses where you can leave spare clothes that they take to the finish for you. Picture this…I’m walking down this residential side street with 14,000 other runners and I hear my name. Walking next to me is Bob Mackin who works with me at VidSys. Life is funny that way sometimes.
While being in the first wave shaved a half hour off my waiting around for the start, I was 13477 of 14000 runners. I was so far back from the starting line that spectators arriving were asking if there was a shuttle from there to the start. In truth, it doesn’t affect your time (you have a timing chip on your shoe that tracks your actual race time from when you cross the start), but if I ever collapse in the last 1/3 of the mile before the finish I expect to get credit for the distance.
Finally the gun goes off and 8 minutes later I cross the starting line…the fourth best part of my day. And as I’m pounding down the first hill I suddenly realize my timing on the last potty run was too early…I’ve gotta go. For a couple of miles I think “I can hold it” . Delusional. There are port-a-johns along the route but I have an aversion to standing in line to pee when I’m supposed to be running and the clock is. Lots of people jump into the woods along the road but you need to do this in the first couple of miles, after that you are mostly in cities or populated areas (people frown on runners peeing on their petunias). Just after the 5k mark ( 3+ miles for you metric challenged readers) I spotted a construction site with some portable units and made a quick detour. It didn’t make my list of the 5 best parts of my day but it wasn’t far off.
Back on the course things went well until about 15 miles. I knew I was in trouble strength wise at half way but I had been running better than I had expected and while the hamstring was tightening up I was able to keep it under control by shortening the stride and lowering the pace. The real challenge at 15 was the right knee. I suspect favoring the left hamstring and the pace over the first half were a bit too much for it. I made it to 16 miles where my family was waiting and that gave me a big boost…my second best part of the day (thanks Pam, Betsy, Tiff, Matt, Allie, Drew, Ian, and Terry…you are the best).
At that point, just as I entered the heartbreak hills I went into “the zone”. This is the period where you start to focus inward on what you need to keep your body moving . It’s hard to explain but imagine getting so focused on something that you can tune out everything around you. The gremlins kick in big time. “What are you doing out here, you are too old.” “Walk a while , you will feel better.” “ It’s no big deal if you don’t finish.” Being in the zone helps to turn down the volume on the gremlins. You start to make deals with yourself… to get to the next mile marker, then to the top of the next hill, then to the next street corner, then to the next telephone pole. Up-hills are painful, down-hills are worst.
And then you are there. First it’s the sight of the Prudential Center, but you are still 3 miles away. Then the 25 mile marker and only have 1.2 miles to go. You know you can make it even if you have to do the marathon shuffle, walk or even crawl. The gremlins are gone, the pain is not, but the crowd is like morphine. You start looking for the right turn onto Hereford and the hundred yard stretch that will take you to the left onto Boylston Street. And as you make that last turn it is overwhelming…you can see the finish line, the crowd is cheering at an insane volume, you get a burst of energy and emotion and your pace picks up. I swear they move the finish line back every year. It seems to take forever to make that last quarter mile+ …and then we are there. We made it. The best part of the day.
I say “we” because I couldn’t have made it without the support of too many of you to mention here. But know that I carried you in my heart and it helped me when I was in the zone. My son taught me that “living life large” is more important than “living life long” and you have all helped me add to my life experiences and honor his memory. For that I will never be able to thank you enough.
I also want to says thanks again to all of you who have made donations to CAH and Lazarus House. You have not only supported me but given hope and support to numerous families who at this point are struggling to make a new life. You should be proud of yourselves…you may not see it directly but you have made a difference.
OH…and for those counting…the third best part of the day…climbing into bed that night.
Wishing you great life experiences in the coming year.