Looking Back: Marathons II
Boston Marathon 2006
I’m sitting on a Delta aircraft heading to Atlanta precisely 24 hours after the start of my first Boston Marathon. What a city. I flew in at night, and as such didn’t get the view, but that certainly changed on dawn Sunday morning. Beacon Hill, city hall, old lighthouses and churches, I couldn’t believe how historical everything was. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t pay to do the official course tour beforehand… it was far better to see everything for the first time during the race. The race… where to begin… I left the hotel around 8:40 and proceeded to walk to the Boston Common – the buses were lined up and down Tremont Street. After waiting half an hour to board, they proceeded to squeeze long-legged runners into buses designed for elementary school kids. Anyways, I’m just glad I didn’t cramp. The bus took about an hour to drive from downtown to the small village of Hopkinton for the start. Nice town, but incredibly disorganized on the Boston Athletic Association’s account – I left the bus, really, really, really needing to go to the bathroom, and proceeded to wait AN HOUR for one… you’d think they’d be aware there were over 20,000 of us. After that, they were already calling my heat to the starting line; I barely had enough time to eat a snack, stretch, change, apply sunscreen, and go. After that it was ok – nice enthusiasm from spectators, organized corrals at the start, I had no problem finding room, and plenty of conversation to be had. In no time at all, the anthem was played and the crack of the gun was sounded… wow… some things just don’t change. The F-16’s flying by were a nice touch, though. Just like the Freescale, I was thinking "what am I doing here… I can’t do this… I must be out of my mind… hey, that girl’s pretty hot…" nonstop. But like it or not, I knew I had to try. I honestly didn’t know if I would finish, if I would end up walking. My long run in preparation for Boston was only 16 miles – with hills, to be sure, but I knew and any idiot will tell you it should be at least 20 miles.
All downhill, no problem. I told myself I’d go out at around 7:20-7:30 min/mile pace, but I had a feeling I was going faster, and I was comfortable with it. I know the two thousand or so people ahead of me slowed me down a little, but I wasn’t even remotely tempted to go out with a bang – I allowed myself to be passed. By a LOT of people. No worries. I did end up getting all of them in the end. The clock at the end of mile one showed 0:07:30. I knew I was about 30-40 seconds off the clock, so I knew I was going faster than expected. No way I could keep this up…
These were fairly uneventful. I thought I couldn’t keep my pace, but I did, running 6:45, 6:50, 6:52 miles back and forth. Amazing. However oxygen deprived my brain was, I was still aware that this was the easy part – all downhill. I didn’t pick up refreshment until mile six I believe… a nice gatorade. The spectators were great. I can say with total confidence it was their enthusiasm and my fellow competition that allowed me to run so fast. There were a lot of kids – some just wanting high fives as we passed, others handing out bananas, orange slice, water, sponges, gatorage, and vasoline (no, I never took that). I hoped I didn’t corrupt them with my shirt, which read "if you can read this, I just went Kenyan on your ass" on the back. Everyone thought it was hilarious. I had gone over a few gentle uphill slopes, nothing too major.
Here’s where I really worried about keeping up my pace. Still feeling fine, still hydrated, still encouraged, but I kept telling myself "make it to 10… see how you feel then…" My fellow competitors were really nice about dropping me our current pace – I’d overhear them talking after a mile mark, and simply ask. I should point out – everyone I talked was amazed this was only my 2nd marathon, and I was in the corral I was in. I hardly saw anyone younger than me.
The fun begins – still on 6:52 average pace, still energized (consumed a Powergel pack), still swept up by the crowd. Shortly after passing the 20K (12.4 miles), I ran by Welleley college. If I could do any part of that race over it would definitely be Wellesley. Nonstop crowds of girls on the right hand side, all begging to touch and kiss you… no, I’m not joking, they had signs. I should have made out with at least one of them, but I didn’t want to stop. Oh well… maybe I’ll stop by there in the future. The 13 mile and half marks were just past the college. Denser crowd than usual, and my family was there, just catching sight of me at the last second. I came in precisely on pace, the clock reading 1:30:31.
The point of no return. I knew if I got past 16 and still felt ok, I could probably finish. Like I said, 16 was my long run. But also, mile 16 was at the bottom of a hill and the official start of a four mile uphill ending at Heartbreak Hill. I would say I was perfectly paced up to a little past 16… then the hills began.
Yeah… despite popular Boston Marathon sentiment, and you may think I’m lying, I had no trouble managing the hills, including Heartbreak. Oh, it was a strain, of course, and it did bring me down to 7:00 pace, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Let’s see… a nice, gentle uphill and back down for 16-17.5, followed by a somewhat steeper hill leading to the 18 mark. 19-20 were ok. One perk, to be sure, my legs were NOT cramping or aching at mile 20 like they did in Austin. I had not hit the wall just yet. I was a little fooled by Heartbreak, though – there’s a hill just after 19, about the same grade as Heartbreak, that levels off and again proceeds up, up, an up. But I tell you, no problems with Heartbreak. Those occurred afterwards…
The top of Heartbreak was uneventful. I reached the top; that’s all. Nothing spectacular. I must admit it probably drained my legs more than I was consciously aware. After 22, my left quad started shaking, hurting, straining, buckling is more like it. I don’t know why I kept going. "Gotta keep breathing, stay alive…" may have floated through my head at one point. I’ll tell you, though, despite the pain, I couldn’t help admire one sign a group of girls had made saying "Chuck Norris wouldn’t stop." That was funny. Thank you Chuck Norris, thank you for Boston.
Oh yeah, the pain is still there. And it’s spreading to my right heal. My right quad is still ok for the moment though. I could have sworn I overlooked the 23 mark and was hoping for 24… each one of those last miles lasted soooo long. At this point we were just crossing over the interstate into Boston proper. The crowds are continuous, neverending. Makes me wish I wrote my name on myself or lifted my head a little higher. Oh well. Great crowd. Despite the pain, it’s still a profession runner feeling. I should point out I really, really want to stop. I HAVE to stop. I swear I feel blisters, and stumps of pain where my legs used to be. Trudging on…
Like Freescale, I now know I can finish. My pace is still slow, but I also know I can beat 3:10. HOWEVER, I don’t know if I’ll keeping running. The pain is overwhelming even on the downhill grade. I’m passing tens of people who have stopped on the sidelines or started walking, and I know I’m not very different from them. Play to the crowd, spread your arms, listen to someone playing Eye of the Tiger…
Mile 25… mile 25 was a blur. I think I hit it along a street parallel to Tremont, but who knows. I can recall "25 M" printed on the pavement. Once more, I know I can finish, but I’m still not sure I can go without walking. I know there’s a final right turn coming up, but it never seems to happen. I’m half expecting to see my family there, but it did occur to me they may not make it in time (turns out I was going faster than they thought). Ok, stick with me here… I’m still thinking of walking. My body and spirit aren’t drained of energy (thank Gatorade endurance formula for that), but my legs hurt ten times worse than they did in Austin. I knew I should have pushed myself to 20. A painful reminder as I round the final corner. The final stretch. It’s still like 600 meters, but the finish is in sight! Packed with spectators. I’m literally stumbling in as I cross the finish, passing a few, getting passed by a few others. But it’s over. It’s done. And I did it.
Final time 3:04:46