Friday, April 22, 2011

What a makes a great Marathon Day??

There are lots of people that might define a great marathon day as one where they sleep late, have a big breakfast, grab a cup of coffee (or maybe a beer), head down to the course, open up a lounge chair and watch the crazy runners go by. There were certainly a lot of those “non-runners” out there Monday and I have to say it was great to have them there. Boston spectators are not only the most marathon knowledgeable but they are also the most enthusiastic in supporting the runners. For me it was a great day but it certainly wasn’t because of a stellar running time. On the contrary, this was the slowest time in the last 4 years. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The day started at about 4:30 in the morning with a cup a tea, piece of raisin bread, a check to make sure I had my race number and race goodies and a quick dash to the car. Actually the hour didn’t matter much as most runners don’t sleep well the night before the race. It’s not that they are worried about winning (26,999 of us won’t), it’s really that so much has gone into getting to this point and so many things could go wrong on the day of the race that your mind is racing. Now if only my legs would do the same.

One of the first pleasures of the day was driving into Boston with Cyndi and Bill, a couple of marathon friends from our Lazarus House fund raising days. Some runners like to zone out and not be bothered. But Cyndi and Bill are the gregarious type and it helps to take the edge off your nerves to have someone who will commiserate about training in the winter weather, will pretend to listen when I complain about injuries, discuss strategy for the day and exchange stories about past efforts. Bill has done so many Boston’s they are thinking of naming one of the miles after him. Most runners take school buses out of Boston for the hour ride out to Hopkinton where they are dumped unceremoniously at the high school sports field. We on the other hand got to ride in style. Susan Hurley, who is not only a great marathoner but manages a number of teams of charity runners for the race, was able to get a comfortable bus that not only takes us to Hopkinton but stays at the school with us until we have to head down to the start. Her charity teams combined raised over $600K. That just blows me away.

As I’ve mentioned in previous years, the staging area at the school looks a bit like Woodstock. Thousands of runners scattered among practice fields, along walls

of the school and of course standing in line for the hundreds of porta potties. All trying to stay warm in the 40 degree weather as they wait hours for their turn to start. It part of the pre-race regiment that runners try to drink as much water as they can so they are fully saturated before the start of the race. As nature has proven, there is a direct correlation between what goes in and what comes out of a body so a big part of the pre-race waiting is also the porta potty visits (yes plural). Picture rows of porta potties lining the entire perimeter of a football field with dozens of runners standing in line at each. It’s never clear if the little dancing they are doing in line is nervous energy, keeping warm or a pressing need but watching thousands of runners doing the porta potty polka is quite a sight.

This year there were 3 separate starts 20 minutes apart and each consisting of 9000 runners. For each wave there were 9 corrals of 1000 runners each and your number determined your corral based on your qualifying time. Corral is the right term given we are all packed in like cattle. When it’s 20 minutes before your wave’s start time you take the half mile walk down to the starting corrals and wait for the gun. I was towards the back of my wave so I was about a quarter mile from the start and it took me exactly 10 minutes to get to the starting line. Each runner’s bib number has built into it an electronic key that matches their number. When they pass over the mats at the start, finish and every 5K in between the system records their number and their time. This way every runner gets their actual start to finish time. That extra quarter mile doesn’t mean much at the start but I would sure like to have it back at the finish. I wore a GPS watch this year because I wanted to see what my actual mileage was from the start to finish. The actual distance covered, including the weaving to get around slower runners or to detour to water stops was 26.5 miles.

My run started out pretty good. Cyndi and I ran the first couple of miles together before we became separated and the pace was perfect. Going into the race I had been having knee problems for a couple of months and hadn’t run anything more the 5 consecutive miles without walking. And with only one of my walk/run training runs over 13 miles I wasn’t sure how far my legs would go. What was clear from training was the faster I went, the sooner my knees went. If I went really slow the knees lasted longer but ultimately I would be out on the course a lot longer. I chose a hybrid of a measured pace with the assumption that if I got half way and was still running I could walk it in from there if necessary.

Water stops are one of the more entertaining parts of the race as runners scramble to get either water or Gatorade from volunteers lining both sides of the road. Picture a clover leaf on a highway where the on and off ramps cut across each other and where at any time one of the drivers might slam on their breaks in the middle of traffic to have a drink. There’s nothing more frustrating than to be cruising into a water stop ready to grab a water on the run and the person in front of you grabs a water and then just stops dead to drink it. Rookies. And of course once you have had your couple of sips the polite thing to do is find a clear spot around you and toss the mostly empty cup towards the side of the road. It’s a bummer when some less than considerate runner tosses a half filled cup of Gatorade directly into your face as you are passing by. If you haven’t had the pleasure, trust me it is not an enjoyable experience. Gatorade dries to a sticky substance that turns you into human fly paper.

At 7 miles my wife Pam, daughters Heather and Tiff, son-on-laws Marshal and Matt and twin grandsons were all out cheering me on. Pam spotting me in the crowd is a minor miracle but it was great to see them. Just before 10 miles Cyndi caught up to me and we ran a mile or so together. It was nice boost. At thirteen miles I got another boost…I was still running AND I got to enjoy the running the gauntlet of the Wellesley Girls. Picture 300+ yards of screaming college girls all reaching out for you yelling for kisses and holding signs saying Kiss Me I’m …(fill in the blank …Single, A Lacrosse player, Gay, From Iowa, a Senior). It reminds me of the Sirens in Ulysses. If ever there is a time to quit and throw yourself on the mercy of the crowd, this is the place.

Next goal for me was to make it to 16 miles and the beginning of the hills. This is where the family was waiting along with my sister Terry, her husband Dave, my 3 lacrosse loving nephews, my sister-in-law Toby and husband Bob. It was right about that time the knees started to go but the boost I got from a couple of kisses and the family cheering section really helped. It’s surprising how a little thing like friendly support can help with the mental battle.The weather and the spectators were a big help the last 8 miles. It was warm but not so warm that it was overwhelming and the trailing wind helped at times. There was one spot on the course where discarded plastic water cups were actually blowing down the road faster than we were running. Nothing like running so slow you are being passed by a water cup.

By the time I was half way through the hills the knees were pretty much toast. Mostly it was the left knee going uphill and the right one going down. Favoring one and then the other got over Heartbreak and down the other side although I suspect I looked a bit like a running stick figure moving without bending my knees. From there it was just taking one mile at a time knowing if I couldn’t run any more I could walk it in. I swear that last 1/3 of mile stretch down Boylston Street to the finish line seems to get longer every year.

And so ended the effort for 2011. I felt great from the waist up and like someone had been beating both legs with a baseball bat from the waist down. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have gone much farther and it will definitely be a while before I can walk up or down stairs without handrails but I finished and without walking. I unfortunately didn’t beat the qualifying time for my age group so I will have to do another marathon before the middle of Sept. in order to qualify for Boston next year. Bummer.

So what makes a great Marathon Day? Good friends, a warm bus to relax on till the start (with an on board porta potty), great weather, terrific crowds, family cheering section, and I made it to the finish line for the 5th year in a row and could walk afterward (well kinda). But what meant the most to me was the kindness and support for the Help in the Nick of Time Foundation. The race is over for another year but the great work the Foundation can do is just beginning.


Cyndi Springford said...

Thank you, Dave, for being such a bright spot in my marathon journey! I ended up mixing short walk intervals with longer stretches of running during the last 12K. I did not run a qualifying time either, so once again, I'm keeping you company! Cheers, my friend.

Linda Bruning said...

What makes for a post-marathon great day? ..... getting to read the inspirational, witty and courageous account from Dave Fowler. Congratulations Dave!