April 20th has come and gone and I, along with 25,000 others are still standing. Each one of us has our own story – how we’ve trained or how we’ve had to overcome obstacles. Every single finisher has their own version of the race and all that accompanies it.
This is my Boston.
Behind every runner there is team. The individuals that allow us to not only physically get to the starting line on the morning of the race – we had the best darn navigators out there with Murray and Erine on Monday – but also the friends and family that help us along in the training with advice, motivation or by simply just understanding…understanding that the commitment to race and train for 26.2 mile race is physically draining and is extremely time consuming. They may not have signed up to join this so-called ‘team’, however a runner – including myself – would not be able to compete without this support.
The head of my crew? None other than my main squeeze and soon to be wife, Malia.
She gets it.
Being a former runner and marathoner herself, she understands the commitment. From the daily grind of training, to the long hours spent away from home running 100+ mile weeks, to the countless times I’ve fallen asleep mid-TV show at 9:30PM simply cause I’m just exhausted, or dealing with the general crankiness and irritability that accompanies a marathon buildup – I could not be more grateful for this understanding.
The day before a big race is extremely polarizing. On one hand you are trying to relax the entire day – get off your feet, not do too much and rest up in preparation for what you are about to put your body through. On the other hand your mind races – generally doubt sets in, the fear of the long grind awaits and the questioning of how you’ll feel is almost paralyzing. However this year…this event…was different.
While I have run a number of different marathons in the past, up until now I had never raced at Boston – which some will argue is the best marathon in the world. Headed into the race, and the mantra of entire training build up was ‘enjoy the experience’ – from the crowds going absolutely bonkers, to the first-class treatment of every runner in town by the locals, to the cops and volunteers saying “Welcome to Boston” at the finish line – I was looking forward to soaking it all in.
While running fast was important to me, walking away with a positive experience was crucial from my perspective. A roll of the dice here or there with pace, or trying to do to much and run over my head and potentially imploding was not something I was interested in. Not here. Not at Boston.
In retrospect, the weather conditions we feverishly checked for about a good 10 days leading into the race came back to actually relieve some of the stress of racing. In the forecast – rain on and off throughout the morning and more important a 15mph wind straight east, meaning we’d have a headwind working against us for the entire duration of the race. Needless to say, conditions were not looking ideal.
The weather forced me to reevaluate the goals for the day. There was no use in being stubborn and forcing the issue to run a certain time or pace in less then ideal conditions especially at my first time racing Boston. Sure, there were going to be guys out there that were going to be bullish, and ignore the conditions.
I’ve been there before. I’ve seen that movie.
It didn’t end well.
I needed confirmation on what I was thinking, so I sought out the advice of an old friend, training partner and marathon veteran, Lip. After a quick chat about what I’d consider a ‘successful day’, we discussed a plan on how to execute. The most important thing to me on the day, outside of enjoying the experience, was that the second number in my time NOT be a ‘3’ – meaning, run sub-2:30. Sure, this was almost 5-minutes slower then my personal best at the distance, but it was the mature way to approach the day with the conditions. The goal was to be conservative early. Make the smart decisions. Catch those that made mistakes along the way. This conversation changed my entire perspective on the day, and saved me from myself.
The Boston Marathon
The race morning routine – I usually shoot out of bed like a bullet from a gun well before the alarm goes off. This morning was no different. After a quick shower and my trusted breakfast – an english muffin and peanut butter – Patty D and I found ourselves sitting on a school bus, dressed with layer upon layer of ‘throw-away’ clothes, waiting for the drive into the Runner’s Village. We’d spend the next 2-hours with 25,000 other nervous runners packed like sardines underneath huge tents on the Hopkinton High School grounds. The goal while at the Village – stay dry, warm and protected from the elements.
Our corral was now being called over the loudspeaker and we were herded to the starting line.
After the gun for the elite women was fired, and the elite men took their place on the starting line it became real. This was happening. We were about to run the Boston Marathon. All the miles. All the runs in the freezing cold wind and snow. All the times I didn’t want to get out the door were about to pay off.
It was time.
With the boom of the gun the race was on, and the crowd of runners was out and screaming downhill at a pace most would not be able to hold for a 5k let alone 26.2 miles. As I saw the line of almost 250-300 runners in front of me, I thought “People are going to make mistakes today. Lets not be one of them”.
The first 5-10 miles of a marathon are all about finding your groove – finding that cadence in your footsteps and the rhythm in your breath. Fortunately, being conservative early and not going out like a bat out of hell allowed me to focus on catching individuals or groups that might have bit off a little more then they could chew. One by one I clicked off miles in the high 5:30’s all while eating people up. From a mental standpoint, it was HUGE.
This was perfect.
However, as any runner knows, the tides of a race change pretty quickly, especially in a marathon. You can go from feeling like a million bucks, to absolutely terrible in the span of 5-minutes. The marathon is all about how comfortable one can be at feeling uncomfortable. I knew at multiple points in the race I’d be going through bouts of uncomfortableness, doubt and pain. It is inevitable. Most of the time in moments like these I try and remind myself that this is normal and that I am going to get through it, but other times there are diversions to help. Luckily for me, there was a huge distraction coming.
From about a quarter mile away you could hear it.
We were approaching 13 miles – which for anyone who has raced a marathon knows, 13 is NOT the halfway mark even though the math might dictate otherwise – and the roar was unlike anything I’ve ever heard. I thought to myself, “Sh*t…this must be Wellesley”.
Sure enough, hundreds of screaming college aged girls going absolutely bananas…and all for skinny, lanky, nerdy runners? Yes. Yes, they were. The more you acknowledged them, they louder they got. Like a sailor to a Siren, I was drawn over, stuck my hand out and gave high fives for a good 300-meters. This was potentially a once in a lifetime experience. I was going to enjoy it.
After the brief distraction of Wellesley and passing the 13 mile marker, I was able to deconstruct what I still had ahead of me – give myself another 5k to settle in before The Hills start at 16, allow myself to hurt until the top of Heartbreak and do everything in my power to hold it together and compete the last 5-miles.
Approaching the famed Newton Hills, I knew I would have to be locked in physically and mentally. It was going to hurt. I was going to get slower. It was part of the plan. I needed to find motivation.
We all have our little tricks and distractions…little words, sayings, or symbols that help us get through times of distress. For me, it is the ‘H’ on my gloves – which stands for Holmdel. Not because it is the town I grew up in, but because it reminds me of the student-athletes I have the opportunity to work with on a daily basis.
They make me proud every time they toe the line. What can I do today to make them proud? What would I tell them as they are laying it all out there racing on the track or cross country course?
Relax. Breathe. This is great.
Let’s just say I was looking down at the H a lot the last 10k.
As we hit the bottom of Heartbreak Hill right around the 20 mile mark, the group I had been fixated on catching for the last 8-miles was finally coming back to me. As we trekked up the hill, I began catching stragglers coming undone off the back of the pack – this allowed me not to focus on getting to the top, but just worry about catching people and competing. After about a 600-meter grind to get to the summit there it was…a fan holding a sign that stated “The Top of Heartbreak Hill”. There was still plenty of running to be done, but I had conquered Heartbreak and was still standing.
It has been said that the marathon is a 20-mile run and a 10k race, because the last 6.2 mile is absolutely grueling. The miles that you once easily clicked off 90-minutes prior now feel like an eternity. Every minute that passes feels like 10, and every stride becomes a struggle. I’ve experienced this during a number of prior marathons, but for some reason this time was different. The excitement of getting over Heartbreak and the growing crowds as we approached the center of Boston kept me emotionally fueled while my physical gas tank was creeping closer and closer towards “E” over the next 5k. And just like that, the Citgo sign was in site.
One mile to go.
Again, a check down at the H.
What would I tell the kids?
Give me a good 5-minutes of hard running.
As we descended under the Mass Ave. overpass I came out on the other side hanging on and delirious. I took a deep breath, climbed the little hill that felt like a mountain at this point and whispered to myself.
“You’ve got this.”
At this point the crowds are 6 or 7 rows deep and they are all screaming as if you are about to win the whole thing. If you can’t get motivated to try your damnedest at this point, you might not have a pulse. A quick right on to Hereford St. and a then a left. There she was.
The moment I’ve been visualizing for the last 4-months was approaching meter by meter. The reason I trekked out into the negative temperatures, blustery winds, snow and ice for long runs and workouts all winter was now a realization. The screaming from the crowds, the blue finishing banner, the emotions…all like I had imagined.
And just like that – a release. Crossing the finish line after a marathon feels better then any tape I might have broken or race I might have run.
It is painful. It is real. It is pure unadulterated emotion.
Teary eyed and choked up, I began the slow and painful walk towards our meeting area, but not before I shed a few tears. A grown man crying, limping and shivering on the streets of Boston on any other day might turn a few heads. But not today. Not on Patriot’s Day. For today it warranted congratulations from volunteers, police officers, and complete strangers alike.
Boston is simply unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
2:28:23. 71st place overall.
A PR? Not by any means, yet the effort and experience are by far the proudest moments I’ve experienced since I’ve gotten into racing marathons. To be mature, know what I am capable of, devise a plan and execute it confidently on a stage like the Boston Marathon is something that I could have only dreamed for on this day.
The memories I’ll take away from the event are ones I will cherish forever. So for now, thank-you Boston.
We will meet again soon.