It has taken me over a week to digest Boston.
I thought this was important for me to write. My own form of therapy? Perhaps. But for me, it goes beyond that. It is important for me to put myself out there when things don’t go as planned – to set an example that there are going to be rough days, and that we need to process them, learn from them, and move on. I’ve given that advice on a countless number of occasions to my own athletes and friends, and it is time for me to take some of my own advice. It is easy to write when things go well – when you have a plan, execute it, and walk away all smiles. It is much more difficult to relive disappointment.
Going into this year’s event I had high hopes. Coming off of last year’s race – a 2:28:23 performance that netted 71st overall and 1st NJ finisher to boot – I had full confidence in my abilities to better my 2015 showing, a race that was performed in some nasty rainy and windy conditions. Nailing 16-mile tempo runs at 5:34 pace, finishing 22 mile long runs with the last 12 miles consisting of two 5k courses at Holmdel Park followed by 6 miles in the 5:30s, all had me fit and prepped for a solid performance on the streets of Boston this year.
For me, going into a race of that distance with an exact time goal is dangerous. Heading into a marathon I always have four plans/goals:
- Run a personal best – Catch a great weather day, find a pack and let my fitness carry me to the fastest I’ve ever run. These races are rare, but when the opportunity presents itself, one must take advantage.
- Run a PB for the specific course – Maybe a lifetime personal best isn’t in the cards today, but running a course best might be.
- “C” goal – PB and course bests aren’t happening? I like to have a “drop dead time” where I tell myself “if I’m not feeling good, and a best isn’t in the cards, I can live with X:XX:XX time”.
- Get through it – Self explanatory.
Unfortunately for me and one of my best friends and training partners, Pat, Boston 2016 would fall under #4.
I’ve never checked the weather more incessantly than the two weeks leading into a marathon. It changes by the hour and the weatherman’s guess is as good as mine, but that doesn’t stop us. The marathon is a unique race. You put all this time and effort into your training over the course of months for one specific day. It doesn’t go well? You don’t get another opportunity to give it another shot next weekend like a 5k or a track race. You are back to square one. The weather doesn’t care that you’ve done all this work for one single day – 2 and a half hours if you want to be more precise.
We knew it.
We knew the weather wasn’t going to be in our favor the second Pat and I stepped off the bus at the Athlete’s Village in Hopkinton. We were dressed in full on winter throwaway gear as if it were our ideal racing temperatures. Wishful thinking on our behalf I suppose.
As Pat would later mention, “the signs were all there”.
We were just too stubborn to accept it.
As we listened for our 9:05AM call to the start, we herded along like cattle to the starting line. The “signs” again – runners dowsing themselves with sunblock as if they were hitting up the beaches of Southern California, not prepping themselves to run a early spring marathon in the northeast.
We made our way to the entry of the first corral to where we were greeted by about 100 runners sitting on the asphalt, baking in the sun prior to the cannon firing. I pulled Pat aside and suggested we sit on the curb outside of the corral for a bit of time, as we tried to cherish the last few minutes we’d have the luxury known as shade.
The “signs” again.
After funneling into the corral with about 15 minutes till the start, a last few swigs of Gatorade, a final pee into the now empty Gatorade bottle (gross, however reality), and one last fist pound between Pat and I, the cannon fired.
And just like that, the nerves, the butterflies are all gone. The moment we’ve been training for since December was now here – now it was just time to execute.
Boston is a unique experience on many different levels. The depth in regards to the quality of talent is absolutely mind numbing. While this is true, there are also a ton of “heroes” in the race – our word for people that go out WAY too hard, WAY too early. An intense downhill first mile, plus a lot of “heroes”, in addition to the nerves of getting the Boston Marathon underway all combined to make for an interesting experience navigating the first handful of miles. Last year I was a little shook looking up about 1200m into the race and seeing that I was in about 250th place, but this year I was prepared for it…almost looking forward to it.
The first couple of miles of a marathon are mundane. For me, I try and look at the race from the halfway point on. Get to half, then get to 20 miles, and then grind the last 10k until home. You are allowed to hurt that last 10k. Anything earlier and it is a triggered alarm. Unfortunately, my body was beeping and buzzing as if someone broke into Fort Knox.
7 or 8 miles in to the race I could feel myself over working. Running 5:30’s was not nearly as easy as it should have been.
Again, the missed “signs”.
Us runners. We are a stubborn bunch – for better or for worse. Struggling before 10 miles in a marathon is cause for warning. Logic would tell you to slow down before you are forced to slow down. For me, the wheels started to come off the bus at around 10 or so – WAY to early for a race 26.2 miles long – and I knew plans #1, #2, AND #3 where all out the window. At this point, I figured “What the hell, I’m at Boston. Let’s just enjoy it.”
The next few miles I spent most of my time slapping the hands of little kids and spectators. My day and goals were shot, the least I could do was give some kids the excitement of getting some nasty, wet high fives. And then there she was…
You can hear the roar from about a half mile away. Hundreds of college girls lining the street, screaming at the top of their lungs for…runners? Skinny, short-short wearing, runners. I’ve experienced this same roar last year, and I was once again going to soak it in – maybe even more so as my race was basically done. For about 600 meters, with my right arm stretched out, I gave out as many darn high fives as I could. I was going to enjoy this. As a married man, you never know when you’ll find yourself in a position to have a couple of hundred college girls screaming at you again…as if that had every happened when single?!?
As I passed the half way point in just above 1:15, I knew my day competing was done and now started worrying about my health. For those who don’t know, the last few years have been an on and off battle of knee pain. I’ve always qualified the pain as “manageable” however, more recently it has gotten to the point where it is constant, and to make matters worse, causing compensation issues. So here I am, a hurting left knee, a tight right quad, and a solid 13 miles still left on the course, at a pace way slower than any goal.
I debated for the next few miles – finish in a time I’d be completely unsatisfied with, or save myself from myself and pull the plug. I knew I would see our support crew of Nick, Erine and Murray at about 17 miles, and my plan quickly shifted to finding them and calling it a day.
As I pulled through the aide station at 17 I spotted Erine screaming and cheering, I quickly peeled off the course. Nick walked over and started dumping a bottle of water over my head and asked me if I was okay. Obviously frustration sets in at that moment, however my immediate question to Nick and Erine was “how’s Pat doing”?
He was also suffering.
I talked and debated for a few minutes with Nick whether or not I should start back up when Pat rolls through. From a physical perspective, there was no good reason to drag my body through another 9 miles on the hilliest part of the course, but from a friendship perspective it wasn’t even a question.
Pat rolled through 17 with a look of disappointment on his face – shaking his head in disgust on how things had turned out so far. Erine, Nick and Murray were yelling and screaming in an attempt to will Pat along. I stood there and watched as one of my best friends was about to go through hell alone, and felt compelled to do something.
Pat and I have run thousands of miles together over the last decade. Through the nasty humid NJ summers, to the brutal freezing temperatures. There are countless days we’d roll into the parking lot at Thompson Park before a weekend run, look at each other from our own cars, and just shake our heads – disbelief for what we were about to take part in. We’ve been through a lot together – we are each other’s running wingmen.
A minute or two up the road I caught up to Pat, and tapped him on the back and said “You didn’t think I’d let you go at this alone, did you?” Shocked to see me, he replied “What happened?”, to which I answered…
“My day is f*cked. Let’s enjoy this”.
Now let me qualify the term “enjoy”. Yes, the crowds are crazy – the roars so loud you think you’re at the Super Bowl. However, you’re still running 26 miles, and it still takes its toll on you regardless of how fast, or slow you are going. At this point on the course, we had just under 9-miles to go until we would spot the finish line on Boylston St.
We plodded our way through the hills of Newton and the famed Heartbreak Hill. I’d turn to my left every so often and ask Pat how he was feeling, to which he’d reply…
I knew it.
This wasn’t how we had scripted it.
There it was. The Citgo sign.
One mile to go.
This was supposed to be our moment of personal triumph – the mile we’ve been training for since December, visualized on a daily basis while trudging through snow and freezing winter workouts and long runs. Instead, we were on our last legs, running a pace slower than we could have ever fathomed.
It wasn’t in the cards. It wasn’t meant to be.
And that is okay.
As we crossed the line that day, with Pat’s arm slung over my shoulder in an attempt to stay upright, I learned that at your deepest, darkest moments you learn the most about your friendships. As he tried to regain his ability to put coherent sentences together, he kept on muttering “Thanks”.
As I began to choke up, be it from my perceived failure of not performing up to my expectations, or from Pat’s outpouring of gratitude – I’d like to think a combination of both – I could only muster up a few words.
“Yup. I gotcha…I gotcha.”