Friday, May 2, 2014

Making New Memories

Running along the Charles River in Boston the Sunday before the Boston Marathon, I started to second guess my race plan.  I was feeling good and healthy, clicking off effortless miles with Kevin at a sub-seven-minute per mile pace.  Boston was sunny and beautiful.  There was an electricity in the air.  Maybe I didn't have the fitness or the training to run a PR, I thought.  But, maybe I put in enough miles and ran enough solid workouts in January and February to go out with the first corral and hold my own.  These thoughts were fleeting, misguided and cocky and after experiencing the 118th Boston Marathon the way I experienced it the following day, I couldn't be more thankful that the absurd ideas were gone by the time I took the first sip of my post-run coffee.

Allen, a friend from Charlotte, had agreed to let me run with him and another friend/former roommate Matt.  Allen was hoping to redeem himself after falling victim to the heat of the 2012 marathon.  Despite a lack of mileage under my belt, I figured I could run with him for at least the bulk of the race while at the same time carrying a GoPro camera that would capture footage from the race course to be used on news reports by my place of employment.  
KB and me before heading out the door

The gun goes off at 10am, but Marathon Monday starts early.  I was up at 5:45am to get my gear together.  Last year's attacks meant tighter security, which meant no bags at the Athlete's Village in Hopkinton.  Runners were only allowed to carry a fanny pack and whatever fit inside of it.  Challenge accepted.  A few weeks before the marathon I put the term "hilarious fanny pack" into and wa-la!  Days later, a neon pink fanny pack with the word "PARTY" written across the front arrived in the mail. I had planned to ditch it before the start, but was talked out of that by many admirers of the fanny pack and the prospect of several official race photos prominently featuring the pack.  Thus, I took it on a test run to make sure it wasn't going to annoy/chafe me as it was strapped around my waist for 26.2 miles. 

I stepped out the door for the mile walk to the Boston Common wearing the fanny pack, a couple layers of clothes to be left behind, a JITFO singlet, shorts and New Balance 890v4s.  On the way, I met Josh who after being moved by Sunday's Blessing of the Runners at a nearby church had also decided to run the entire race.  We met Katie, who was going to be running much faster than us, and Matt at a Dunkin Donuts just off the Common.  However, Allen was nowhere to be seen.  We waited 30 minutes past the agreed-upon meeting time then cut our losses and headed for the buses.  I was convinced the whole plan was out the window.  Pacing Allen had become my purpose and without him, I didn't feel like I had any reason to be running.  The panic subsided when Allen and his girlfriend Laura somehow found us among the thousands of people waiting for their ride to Hopkinton.  Turns out Allen and Laura had gone to the wrong DD.  In hindsight, Dunkin Donuts was probably not the best business in Boston at which to meet.

I have always been a bundle of nerves on that seemingly endless bus ride from the Commons to Hopkinton.  First of all, it's a really long trip and the entire time you are on the bus, you can't help but think that once this long ride is over you have to run back from whence you came.  This year was different.  With no specific race plan to adhere to and a free pass to catch the first DNF bus back to Boston should any of my weak spots flare up, the pressure was completely off.  Instead, I tried to soak up some of the nervous energy of my seatmate/teammate/friend Katie who was running Boston for the first time. 
I'll pony up the cash for this photo eventually

I wasn't really sure of the timing on getting to corral 2.  It's the same nearly-one mile walk, but unlike year's past, we were in the corral about 25 seconds before the starting canon sounded.  Warning: Gross pre-marathon detail coming.  I was mid-bottle pee when the race started.  I may not have been ready to move, but the tens of thousands of people surrounding me were.  So, I can now add peeing and running simultaneously to my resume.

We went out a little slower than Allen's goal pace as we fought our way through thick crowds.  It's better to go out slow on the first mile because it is a significant down hill.  My previous Bostons, mile 1 has always been one of my fastest and that comes back to bite me.  As we made our way down the narrow two-lane road, Josh and I immediately started working the crowd.  I thought it would be my fanny pack that attracted the most attention, but it was the GoPro that sent the spectators into a tizzy.  I decided early on that I would grab water and Gatorade for Allen when I could.  It was in doing this that I developed a tremendous amount of respect for the grace, skill and balls it takes to approach a water station in heavy traffic and emerge with both a beverage and all of your limbs. It's truly terrifying and to everyone who does it with regularity, big props.

One of the reasons I love running Boston is the crowd support. The city and the towns along the course have always embraced the event and brought an electricity that's unmatched by any other marathon -- although New York comes pretty close.  But this year's running, Greater Boston took it up a notch.  Throughout most of the course, the crowds were four deep.  The enthusiasm was always high, but any time I sensed a lull, I pointed to the GoPro camera and there would be thunderous roars.  I don't think I stopped screaming for 26.2 miles. The rush of adrenaline that came from being back in Boston was enough to fuel hours of running and simultaneous celebration.  Along the way, I slapped hundreds if not thousands of hands.  In Wellesley where the spectators are famously raucous, I tried to match their volume with my own voice.  Miles later, the Boston College crowd stepped up to the plate outdoing what we had seen near the Wellesley campus.  The line of Golden Eagles was at least a mile long.  I have no connection or love for BC, but I am pretty sure I said I loved the place more times than I can count. By the end of the race, my throat was more sore than my legs.
This is Mile 25-ish.  I just got more excited as the finish line got closer

I was able to get a good look at some of the homemade signs on the course this year.  There were the traditional messages: "Beer at the Finish", "You're almost there!", "Kiss Me!" (Proud to say that the only kiss I gave was to Lauren at mile 24).  But there were also signs that said "Boston Strong", "Welcome Back", "Thank You".  My favorite sign was held up by a woman somewhere in Newton.  It said, "Meb Won! 2:08:37.  Yes Really."  At first, I thought it was a joke.  No one, including myself expected Meb to beat arguably the best Boston field ever assembled.  I asked her if she was sure.  When I was satisfied that she was, I yelled "USA!!!" for at least three miles.
This week, I told Meb I thought his win was the most significant moment in American Distance Running history.  I know I'm not alone in that thought.
This was my fourth Boston Marathon, but it produced a lot of firsts.  It was the first time I took candy from spectators on the course (Twizzlers, Starburst Jelly Beans; it was like they knew I was coming).  It was the first time I stopped to pee (twice). It was the first time I posed for photos.  It was the first time I saw Lauren cheer for me.  It was the first time I stopped on the course to wait for friends.  Crossing the finish line was a moment to be shared.

At mile 24, I got a burst of energy.  Cheering and hand-slapping turned into jumping up and down. Josh and I had just toughed out a two mile stretch that was a little dicey and thankfully had caught a second wind.  That's when we rolled up on Josh's fiance/my friend Tanya was in a world of hurt.  She was shuffling and clearly in pain.  Like me, she hadn't been able to train the way she wanted to, but was gutting out the whole race anyway. Tanya told us she didn't want to finish and she was ready to drop out.  I knew Tanya felt the same way I did about Boston.  We were both there last year and we both never got the chance to relish the experience. I reminded her the pain she was feeling at that moment with 2.2 miles to go would be much worse when she woke up in the morning without a medal. She toughed it out.

We came across in 3:26:18.  The goal was 3:25.  Maybe we could have gone out a little faster.  Maybe we shouldn't have stopped.  But, ultimately it wasn't really about the time on the clock it was about completing the year-long journey.

Check out my bad-ass fanny pack
After I got my medal, a volunteer who was clearly a local thanked me for running.  The guy giving up his time to help sweaty, tired and possibly unsteady strangers thanked me.  Then he said, "Thank you for helping us take our city back."  That's where the tears came.  I will never forget that moment. I don't often admit it, but I know running for me is a selfish hobby.  It's about my PRs.  It's about my mileage goals.  It's about me feeling good about myself.  But, on this day I didn't feel selfish.  I felt like my run was part of something much more important.  Along with 36,000 other runners and 1,000,000 spectators, we wrote a new chapter and left Boston with fond new memories of the best marathon in the world.

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