Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Are we having FUN yet?

Another year and another finish. But it wasn’t pretty.

The weather was great, the fans were terrific, the start was a once in a lifetime experience and I made it to the finish line. Hard to find something to complain about….but you can bet I will.

With every marathon I learn a little bit more about myself and about marathons. Here’s the lessons learned this year:

- All that stuff I said last week about not going out too fast in the first half? I was right. But that didn’t stop me from doing it.
- You can actually limp with both legs at the same time. You just look really strange. But you get a lot of sympathetic cheers.
- When you reach the point where your legs are like lead, your muscles are in knots, and every stride is painful you have to make a decision….You can slow down and hope it hurts less (I can guarantee it won’t AND you will be out here a lot longer) or you can grit your teeth, go into the zone and muscle through it.
- Having your name on your shirt can be great towards the end of the race but is really annoying in the early miles. Every time somebody calls your name you feel obligated to turn, smile, wave your hand and of course check to see if you are really suppose to know this person. Next year I may put a sign on my back that says “Thanks…I’m smiling and waving back on the inside”.
- Boston has the world’s best marathon fans. I already knew that but it was nice to be reminded again this year.

The day started out great with a ride into Boston with a couple of good friends (Bill and Christine) where we were invited to hitch a ride with one of the charities on their luxury bus (a real treat given the alternative is being crammed in a school bus for over an hour). When we got to the staging area (what they call the runner’s village) we got to stay on our warm bus while most of the 26,000 runners had to wait outside in a practice field lined with porta-potties. It’s actually pretty interesting to watch how runners deal with waiting for hours for the start of their race. Some were up dancing, others were getting temporary tattoos, some getting their pictures taken by a Boston Marathon sign, some taking pictures of people taking pictures of runners and in general a lot of camaraderie, water drinking and repeat visit to the porta-potties.

There are a number of starts to the race…wheelchairs first, then a woman’s elite, then the first half of the main field (10 AM) and then finally the rest of us (10:30). Each runner has a number that corresponds with the corral that they have to be staged in at the start. There are fences along the road for over a quarter mile that will keep anyone but the runners from getting into the staging areas and each runner’s number is checked to make sure they are in the right corral. The goal is to prevent slow runners from trying to move up towards the front and getting in the way of the faster paced runners. The corrals for 13,000 runners will extend back over a quarter mile (yes the people in the back have to walk/jog that quarter mile after the gun is fired just to get to the starting line).

A half hour before your starting time you hand your bag of clothes and things you want at the finish to the bag handlers on school buses so they bring them to the finish line for you. Then, if you are like me, you don a trash bag to keep you warm as you make the half to ¾ mile walk from the runner’s village to the runner’s corrals. A lot of runners wear older running clothes which they strip off just before the start and toss them to volunteers on the side of the road. The Salvation Army collects an 18 wheeler full of clothes from the start.

Luck of the draw…my number was in the first corral of the second wave. For the first, and probably only time in my life, I got to be standing in the front row of runners at the starting line when the gun was fired for the second wave of the Boston Marathon. It was the equivalent of being a passenger in the back of the plane for years and suddenly the pilot asks you if you would like to come up to the cockpit for the takeoff. And while the thrill was short term, the resulting consequences lingered for hours. When the gun went off all the cooped up adrenaline, the excitement of the race, the thrill of being upfront leading a pack of thousands of runners goes straight to your legs. Add a very healthy downhill and you have the ideal situation for an overzealous start.

One of the challenges in a run is settling into your own pace. What helps is settling into that pace with other runners that are also running your pace. When there is no one in front of you and everyone around you is running hell bent for election you just get swept along with the crowd. I knew I was in trouble when I hit the 2 mile mark a full minute ahead of my pace and I immediately put on the breaks. Unfortunately once you have settled into a pace it is really hard to slow down and find a new one. Especially when everyone around you is blowing by you. It was 10 miles before I finally settled in and by then I knew I was in big trouble. At the half way mark I was a full 3 minutes ahead of last year’s pace and this year, because of the knee, I had fewer long runs and was less trained than last year.

Just shy of 16 miles is the low point and then for the next 5 miles you climb. By the time I got to these hills the legs were a mess. The right knee and hip were vying with the left hamstring and IT band to see which ones could get more of my attention. When I passed my sister Terry and nephews (Ian, Lucas and Madigan) at a little after 16 (thank goodness they were there…needed the moral boost) they said I looked stiff. They were being kind. I looked like one of those cartoon stick figures trying to run with no knees.

The remainder of the race had to be one of the longest last 10 miles I have ever run. Nick and I ran them together taking them one mile at a time with no expectation that we would be able to keep going beyond this mile, but trying not to think about anything but making to the next mile marker, or water stop, or street corner, or maybe just to that telephone pole. I was totally in the zone.

So when the finish line showed up, it was more relief and surprise that I made it than it was enthusiasm for the success of the run. The finishing time, as good as it was, was overshadowed by the mental effort and physical pain it took to get there. There’s no question that if you want to enjoy the marathon, especially the thrill of engaging with the crowd over the last few miles, the right way to do it is by running negative splits (the second half faster than the first).

I was stopped by one of the news crews at the finish line with a couple of questions. If you would like to see the video click on . I'm about 2 minutes in just after the Hoytes.

A month or so ago I mentioned the growing interest by runners in running barefoot as a result of the recent book “Born To Run” by Christopher McDougall. While I didn’t see any barefoot runners this year I did see a number wearing the new Vibram Five Finger running shoes (they are like rubber form fitting running slippers). Christopher, who made a generous donation to CAH, left a note that if I ran the last mile barefoot he would increase the donation. I actually thought about it at that last mile marker but I was afraid if I stopped and sat down to take off my shoes I wouldn’t be able to get up again. Stay tuned…next year I may be doing it in Vibrams.

As for how I’m doing right now? I’m just glad someone invented handrails for going downstairs. Otherwise I’d look really funny bumping down the stairs on my butt. To limit the pain and shorten the recovery time I took a page from the Marque de Sade school of training and climbed into a tub of ice when I got home. I’m not sure how much good it did but the initial shock made me forget all about the pains in my legs. I expect by tomorrow or the day after I’ll be able to get out of a chair or my car on the first try and then I can think about starting up again.

Well, here we are, another year gone by, another Boston Marathon, another fast enough time so I’m qualified to do it all again next year. But most important, another year I got to keep Nick’s memory alive, to share the effort with friends, family and colleagues and to do something that can help others less fortunate. Despite the pain, the cold mornings training and hours of lost sleep I consider myself blessed to be able to do this and fortunate to be surrounded by friends who care enough to support me.

Until next year…stay well and God bless.

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