Saturday, April 21, 2012

“Turn me over; I’m done on this side”

This quote is attributed to a Christian martyr named St. Lawrence as he was slow roasted to death over an open fire. While it would be overdramatic to say this year’s Boston Marathon was in any way a close comparison, one could easily see how the sentiment is a good fit.

For those of you that may not reside in the Boston area, this year’s race was one of the hottest (but not the hottest) on record. With temperatures along the route predicted to hit 90 degrees the race organizers (B.A.A.) started sending warnings to runners days in advance not to run if they had any recent illness or were not in top physical shape. By the day before the race that warning was extended to anyone who was a first time marathoner, or those that may not have experience with running distance in heat. To emphasize the concern, they took the unprecedented step of offering runners who did not run, the option to defer this year’s entry to next year. This is a big deal given to get a number in Boston runners either have to run a marathon under a qualifying time for their age group (each year), or get a number from a charity which comes with the added bonus of committing to raising $4000 for the charity.

This raised a little bit of a dilemma. Do you take the deferment and guarantee you will have a number next year or do you run knowing there is no way you can run under the qualifying time in that kind of weather. I was fortunate to have most of my family in town for race day support which provided me with plenty of “advice” on what I should do. Consensus was strongly in the camp of “you would be nuts to run”. Not much of an argument given their already established view of my mental state. Supporting my position to run were my twin 17 month old grandsons. While it was a bit difficult getting a straight answer from them, they did respond the same to “should I run?” as they did to “want a cookie?”. I took that as a yes. The only one without an opinion was my 4 month old granddaughter who only seemed to have a strong position on only two topics; being fed and being dry.
It’s hard for a runner who has spent months and uncounted hours of discomfort training for Boston to take a pass on race day. It's even harder when so many people have supported your effort. So the decision to run was not that hard. The run itself was a different story.

Race day starts at 4:30 AM, then in the car before 5:30 to drive to Boston to catch a bus at 6:30 that will take me out to the start in Hopkinton. Thanks to one of the most generous, fun and kindhearted people I know, Susan Hurley, I was able to get a seat on one of her charity buses. Those that have read my race day blogs from previous years know that what makes a charity bus a luxury bus on race day is that it has one of life’s little pleasures…a bathroom. It also has a collection of runners from all over the US who have not only trained for Boston but who have raised thousands of dollars for charity. Marathon runners have big hearts.

We were at the “runner’s village” just before 8AM giving me a couple of hours before my start time to walk the area, hydrate, talk to other runners, slather my body in Vaseline and sun screen, hydrate some more and of course make periodic trips to the port-a-johns. Because of the volume of runners, start times are staggered. The main field goes off at 10 AM which includes the 9000 fastest runners. Then at 10:20 the next fastest 9000 and finally at 10:40 the rest. It is so well organized that the 9000 runners will clear the start in less than 10 minutes, allowing 10 minutes to queue up the next 9000. A thing of beauty to watch.

It didn’t take long to realize it was going to be a tough day. 10 AM and it’s already 80 degrees and not a cloud or breeze of any kind. Just standing in the runner corrals at the start I was sweating. For the first few miles I stuck to the right side of the road where there was occasional shade. After that the sun was almost straight overhead and there was no escaping. On a normal day I would take a quick assessment of how I feel at half way, again at 16 miles as I go into the hills, and last when I crest heartbreak hill at about 21 miles. Each of these points gives me an opportunity to adjust my pace based on strength, aches, and pains. On this day at 5 miles I already knew I was in trouble and I started backing down on the pace even more.

Water stops were a madhouse. The race has water and Gatorade stops at each mile, on each side of the road offset by about 100 yards. Normally you can just stay on whatever side of the road you are on and catch a cup on the run from the outstretched hands of the volunteers. But given the heat, runners were stopping to get more than one cup to both drink and dump over their head. When runners stop to get a drink they block other runners from being able to run by and grab a cup and the result is a huge traffic jam. By the 5th mile I was grabbing water on both sides of the street when I could. Logistically it means you grab a cup on one side and then fight your way across the stream of runners to get to the water on the other side 100 yards down the road. You end up running more distance but the way my brain was melting I would have done anything just to get a cold cup to dump on my head.
By the time I reached the Wellesley girls at 13 miles I was toast…literally. Despite their screaming and offers of a kiss I couldn’t find the energy to oblige (not that I would normally do that). By the time I got to my family at 16 miles I was just trying to make it from one water stop to the next. Temperatures had hit 90 degrees and a significant number of runners were down to walking. The Gatorade spilled on the road was evaporating so fast that your shoes actually stuck to sugar remnants on the pavement at the water stops.

By the time I got to mile 19 I was stopping to drink and walk at the water stops. Starting up again was like the rusted tin man scene from Wizard of Oz only without the oil can to help. I’m sure it would have been humorous to watch if it wasn’t so pathetic.

I don’t usually wear a hat but with increasingly sparse coverage up top I figured I’d need it. Over the course of the day I must have dumped 3 dozen cups of water over it and it held ice on my head whenever I could find it. At mile 23 the visor shredded and by the end it literally fell apart at the seams.

Cramps started as I was headed up heartbreak hill and then seemed to move around over the next few miles. It started in the ankle, then chest, calf, thighs and hamstrings. I had been taking Gatorade at almost every water stop but my stomach was literally sloshing around and there was no way to get enough electrolytes into the body. As I turned on to Boylston Street where you can see the finish .3 mile away the cramps ganged up on me. As I tried to limp through the cramps and keep running I suspect I looked like some crazed Kabuki dancer.

So another year and another finish. I was way off my qualifying time so I will need to run another marathon before September to qualify for next year but that’s a problem for another day. I have to thank all the heroes of the day as there is no way I would have made it without their help. My family were awesome, standing in the sun and meeting me at 6 and 16 miles with bags of ice. The ice in my hat, mouth, and in places not to be mentioned helped to keep the body temperature down. The crowd and volunteers were exceptional. They had hoses out to spray the runners, they handed out water, oranges and occasionally ice. I especially want to thank the person that handed me a Popsicle at 22 miles. It was amazing how much that little gesture helped both physically and mentally.

And last but far from least, my thanks for all your words of support and encouragement and the donations to Help in the Nick of Time. Much like what Nick of Time does for families; your support helps me get through the tough times.

Until next year…stay well and God Bless.

Friday, April 13, 2012

It's all over except the ....

Pick your favorite answer…Waiting; Running; Worrying; Excitement; Eating? Probably all of the above sometime over the course of this weekend.
But given the weather forecast there may be a lot more angst about temperatures than anything else. Most Boston Marathon runners trained through winter weather at temperatures less than half what forecasters are predicting for Monday. So it’s understandable that they would be concerned about how their body will hold up in such heat.

They have good reason to be concerned. Not only does heat siphon off valuable energy trying to keep the body cool but it can lead to serious injury if the body temperature is not kept under control. Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and ultimately heatstroke can lead to permanent damage to organs.

So am I worried? I’d say just a wee bit concerned but mostly just pissed off at mother nature. At my age I have enough hurdles already dragging my well worn sorry butt 26 miles without having to worry about whether I’m getting enough fluids and electrolytes or what my core body temperature might be. To add to the challenge, the Boston Marathon lowered the qualifying times you have to run to get in next year. I was already challenged to run fast enough to get under the new lower qualifying time for my age group so the heat may very well put it out of reach.

Worried about making it without melting my brain or losing body parts? No, I’ve done this before and while I was a lot younger at the time the following basic rules still apply:

- Go out slow. Comfortable is much more important than speed. Once you get in trouble with the heat it is really hard to recover.

- Drink at every water stop. Even if it is only a half cup it is important to continuously put water in the radiator.

- Drink some Gatorade….or something that can replace your electrolytes (salt works but downing salt packets is pretty nasty).

- If you are offered ice, take it. Even if you just hold it in your hand while it melts it will help lower your body temperature. I dropped some in my shorts one year resulting in an unusual running stride for the next quarter mile.

- Be careful of energy Gels and Goo. Many have caffeine in them which can take fluids out of your system. I watched this happen to a woman I was running a marathon with and she ended up in a medical tent at 20 miles with the doctors pouring salt packets in her mouth (that’s how I know it’s nasty).

- Watch for signs you are not getting enough fluids or are in trouble. First signs may be nauseous or cramps. At a marathon I ran in the fall it was around 70 degrees but humid. In the last 4 miles I got cramps in places I didn’t even know I had muscles.

- Sweating is your body’s air conditioner. It’s a good thing and trust me, no one out there will be offended.

Finally, to all my marathon friends who be running Monday….RELAX. You are prepared and if you are careful about your fluids you will be fine. Worrying about it all weekend won’t change mother nature (although a few prayers might help).

On the bright side, great weather brings out more spectators. And worst case, if I keel over there will be plenty of people around to help me out.

Speaking of support, thanks to everyone who sent along their well wishes and donations. Both are greatly appreciated and hopefully you have enjoyed riding along with me through the blog over the last couple of months. If all goes well I’ll take you for one more trip after it is all over.