IM Louiville

IM Louiville
Bikes racked at Ironman Louisville 2010

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Boston Baptism

At the airport, we knew we were at the right gate when we saw all the people wearing running shoes and jackets with the Chicago Marathon and Boston Marathon logos. I even noticed a woman with the same new 2007 Boston Marathon jacket I had in my closet for the last 6 weeks. "Hey!" I thought, "She shouldn't be wearing that yet!" There were also numerous people with CARA bags. We hadn't even picked out a seat before the first woman said to us, "We're going to have lovely weather for the race tomorrow." And so the conversations started. Almost immediately, I wanted to get away from these people. It wasn't the "first Boston" for any of them and when they asked if I had packed extra shoes for in the morning before the race (I hadn't!), they just started stressing me out. I put my iPod headphones on to avoid further interaction with them.

After an uneventful flight, we got a rental car. It was raining some of the biggest, fattest raindrops I've ever seen and as I opened the car door, the wind whipped it right out of my hand. We headed over to the Expo to pick up my packet. Within less than 10 minutes from leaving the airport, we made a wrong turn and were lost. After stopping to get directions at a gas station, we headed toward the Expo. It took us about 15 more minutes to realize we were off track and were, once again, lost. Boston's streets, I decided, are screwed up. It seemed the streets we were driving on weren't on the map and the streets I did see on the map couldn't be found by car. And I don't think there is one straight road in the whole city of Boston. They all curve and change names with each curve. I looked at my watch. It's a good thing there was still 6 hours left of the Expo.

We drove around for what felt like 200 miles (it was maybe 30-40) until we finally found the building where the Expo was. We had to drive around for another 20 minutes to find a parking space near Fenway Park, just over a mile away. It was still raining hard and pretty windy. "Boston Sucks!" I thought. We also took a wrong turn walking to the Expo. (Damn those curved streets!)

It was pretty exciting to pick up my Boston Marathon bib. They had the bib packaged with the chip in a sealed, plastic bag. We went over to pick up my race t-shirt - they were already out of L and XL. How could that be?? I got my shirt and we made our way into the Expo. Gridlock. There was actually a line to get into the Expo. We felt like cattle as we were slowly herded into the hall with all the exhibitors. Once inside, it was wall-to-wall runners. Progress from one exhibitor to another was excruciatingly slow as we tried to maneuver our way past the booths. About 5 minutes of that and...Forget it - we made our way to the nearest exit and left the Expo. I never even got to see the Boston Marathon poster I saw so many other athletes carrying around. I saw plenty of people wearing my jacket. The one I bought 6 weeks ago but vowed not to wear because you don't wear an article of clothing to a race that you haven't completed. It's a rule.

We walked back to the car - still windy, still raining - sideways. My shoes and socks were already soaked through from the walk to the Expo. I was starving, but it was already too late for lunch. We got in the car, jackets soaked through. We started driving in circles again. Stopped at a gas station for more directions and got some water and Gatorade. Drove about 20 miles in the wrong direction. Stopped at another gas station for more directions - guy said he didn't know. Yeah, right. It was absolutely miserable and I hated Boston. The weather sucked and we kept getting lost!

After what seemed like another 200 miles, we found the hotel and checked in. Took a nap, a quick shower and had a fabulous dinner at Felicia's. (Thanks to Randy's sister's recommendation!) Wait, I forgot to mention we got lost on the way to Felicia's, too. We then made a quick stop at the grocery store for tomorrow's breakfast and to pick up some extra plastic bags that I figured I'd need in the morning. The kid behind the register said he'd swiped our CAHD. We looked at him like...What?? Cahd, cahd, youah credit cahd. AAAAAAAHHHH...our CARD. Got it. OK.

Unbelievably, I was able to fall asleep pretty quickly. However, it didn't last. Starting at midnight, I was up about every 45 minutes checking the clock to make sure I didn't over sleep. (I had set 2 alarms, too.) The winds were howling outside and I just hoped they would stop before it was time to wake up. The Saint was driving me to Hopkinton and they were closing the roads around 7:30, so we knew we'd need to get an early start. As soon as the first alarm went off, I jumped out of bed and went to the window. Brutal! STILL RAINING!!?!?!? Come on, we're in Boston, not Seattle, what is with this weather?? I flipped on the television to hear about the "nor' easter" and how this was a record-setting storm, blah, blah, blah. The news cameras flashed on to Athlete Village, where I was about to be dropped off. It was a massive field...of water. Flooded. You gotta be kidding me! They expect me to stand in a flooded field for 3 hours to wait to start a marathon? I wondered if I should just bag this race and jump back into bed.

I started packing everything I brought. Warm clothes, lighter clothes, waterproof clothes, double layers of everything, waterproof pants, waterproof jacket and bags...2 large heavy-duty garbage bags, 2 smaller garbage bags, about 6 plastic grocery bags and 2 dry cleaning bags. After a horrible, horrible experience at the Wild Scallion late last year, there was NO WAY I was risking getting any of my post-race clothes wet and I wanted to try and stay as dry as possible for as long as possible.

The drive over to Hopkinton took about 45 minutes. The wind was pushing the car all over the road. The rain was coming down hard...even with the windshield wipers on full-blast, it was still difficult to see the streets...again with this stupid sideways rain. Did it never end? Again, I started to think maybe I just wouldn't get out of the car. I don't want to run in this. And I certainly don't want to sit around for 3 hours in it waiting to start a race I don't even want to do!

We got to the school and they said they'd be opening up the school for runners at 7am. I sat in the car and put on everything waterproof I owned. I then tied grocery bags over each shoe...I knew that if I got my feet wet and had to wait around a few hours, it would make for a miserable race. I fell in line with the crowds of runners coming from the buses headed toward Athlete Village. As it turns out, they only opened the school for the elite runners...or so that's what they told me! We walked into a large tent and it was easy to tell who the experienced Boston runners were. They were the ones that had already staked out their turf under a dry part of the tent. They had large plastic tarps laid out to keep dry. Some had chairs. Some had air mattresses. All looked calm and relaxed. I couldn't find anyone I knew (OK, so I only knew about 8 people going). I felt like the new kid in school carrying my lunch tray and looking for a friendly group to welcome me in. I noticed a friendly couple (obviously veterans) and asked if I could sit near them and they were more than happy to make room for me. I spread one of my big Hefty garbage bags and started chatting. The rain continued to pour and the winds kept blowing sections of the sides of the tent off. When that happened, a huge cold gust of wind would come through along with the misty part of the rain coming through. It was difficult to keep warm, but as more athletes piled into that tent, it started to not be so bad.

Unfortunately, the porta potties were not under the tent...the lines got long fast and the rain was relentless. I was so happy to have those grocery bags on my feet for the 2 times I had to go stand in those lines. It might have looked ridiculous, but my feet were staying dry. In fact, I gave out the rest of my small grocery bags to other runners to help them protect their feet. The time went slowly, but it seemed none of us were in a big hurry to get out into the rain. I called the Saint, who told me he was just past the 5K mark on the right-hand side.

But the time finally came and the tent started to clear out. The first wave of runners left first. The smell of Ben Gay was overwhelming. Quickly and efficiently, runners stripped down to their race apparel. It was extremely difficult to figure out what to wear. Waterproof is good if it's really cold and windy, but as soon as you warm up, it would be easy to overheat. I tried not to overthink it and put on my warm, waterproof (yet breathable) jacket that I did many cold runs in. I threw on a dry cleaners bag over that. Hey, we'd have to stand in the corrals for at least 30 minutes before the start! I wore a hat with a visor over a hat to cover my ears. I needed something that would keep the rain off my face.

I double-bagged my gear check bags and dropped my bag off on one of the marked buses. It was close to a mile walk to the start and we were just getting a taste of how chilly it really was without the protection of the tent. Pretty quickly, my hands got cold. As uncomfortable as it is, I'm used to it. I scanned the corrals where I knew my other runner friends would be. But as you can imagine, it was impossible to find anyone.

It was quieter than you'd think, waiting for the gun. I think there were many of us with second thoughts about going through with this race. It was still raining, but a lot lighter than earlier in the morning. I ripped the grocery bags off my shoes and threw them in a nearby trash can. My feet felt warm and dry...an amazing accomplishment. (hey, in conditions like this, you have to celebrate the little things) The gun went off without much fanfare. The crowds were small, which is to be expected with the weather. There wasn't the cheering you have at the beginning of the Chicago Marathon, which was a little disappointing.

But here I was, running in my first Boston Marathon! I tried to kick back a little and have fun. I missed the first mile marker, but was told we were at about an 8:30 pace. OK, good. They talk about how narrow the streets are in the beginning, but I didn't think it was a hindrance. It did feel a little crowded, but still not like the crowds I've experienced at Chicago. I was close to mile 2 and realized I was hot...too hot. I took off my second set of gloves, ripped off the dry cleaning bag and unzipped my jacket. I expected to get a quick chill from that, but it didn't happen. I knew I had to lose the jacket. I considered losing the hat...not the thin one with the visor, but the one that was covering my ears. But then, I thought, if the winds pick up and my ears get cold and I have nothing to cover them...OK, no, keep the hat. I ran just over a mile with the jacket and gloves in my hand. What if he moved? What if I missed him? What if he was too far from the street for me to just hand him this stuff? Oh no, I can't carry this jacket through the whole race, yet this jacket is NOT a throw-away!! Stop - you just have to find him. He's just past the 5K mark. Now why does he always wear the same color clothes as EVERYONE ELSE?? Jeez! Good thing he's tall..and there he is..no, wait, that's not him. Sh*t!! OK, don't panic...you'll see him. THERE! Yep, that's him, sweet. I started yelling to him to take my stuff as I was running toward him. Like the precision of a relay team, the hand off went quite smoothly! It was almost as if we had practiced it. The course was mostly downhill at this point and I didn't feel like I was working too hard. I noticed a girl I was jockeying back and forth with and decided to start a conversation with her. We ran along together for the next several miles and the splits were too fast. I knew they were too fast for me, but I just wanted someone to talk to, so I stayed with her probably about 2 miles longer than I should have.

Right around mile 8 or 9, my quads started to ache a little. This was too early. I was running too fast and I know the second half of the course is harder, and the last 6 miles are the toughest. What am I doing?? Ah, what the heck, I decided to keep the pace to the half-way mark. I did that and clocked it about a minute faster than my last half marathon PR. That's just not smart, but it's too late to do anything about it now. It seemed just after that, we turned straight into the wind. Luckily, it wasn't raining any more, but the streets were still soaked and slippery. There were puddles placed strategically all over the streets and if you were fortunate enough to avoid the puddle, another runner would not be so fortunate and as he stepped in the puddle, he'd douse your feet. It was a no-win situation.

It was mile 16 and I already started counting the miles down. That seems to be my strategy when things get tough, "OK, only 10 more to go. That's just a half mile more than a loop at WFG. You can do this." Then I heard it. About a half mile away from Wellesley College you could hear it. The women of Wellesley are famous for cheering on the runners. And it was just the motivation I needed. I got to mile 17 and knew this was the beginning of the tough hills. Huh? You mean you didn't consider all those little rollers through the first half of the course tough? That elevation chart does NOT show the difficulty of the course. That, or maybe I just wasn't trained enough. My quads were pretty sore and I had a long, tough way to go. And the gusts of wind that would come by every so often would threaten to whip my hat off, so I'd put my head down and drive right into the wind. Is there really any other way?

I stayed on with nutrition and the water stops were consistent. But the legs felt heavier and heavier. I kept thinking about what Pat always tells me..."you gotta run lighter on your feet." Hey, maybe she can float across pavement, but I feel like I'm trying to stomp dirt of my shoes. My feet were really heavy and I felt choppy as I continued to run. Mile 18. OK. 8 more to go. Now it's time to make "deals" with yourself. No walking. That's it. I don't care how slow the splits get, I just don't want to walk. As I clicked off the splits on my watch, I noticed that I felt slower than I was actually going. This was a good thing. My miles became slower after mile 13, but they were consistent.

Mile 19. Alright, just 7 more. There were some hills in here, I'd say maybe along the lines of Cary, maybe a little tougher, I was trying to block out the pain in my legs. I tried looking at the faces of the spectators. There were a lot of spectators. And they were LOUD! I would learn later that they considered the crowds sparse due to weather, but just like Chicago, I felt there was great fan support along the whole course. The only thing that was blatanly missing was MUSIC! There was none...no bands, no radios (well, one guy had the Red Sox game on the radio), a couple kids banging on some drums, and a bunch of people yelling. There was an occasional kazoo or some funky noise maker. Mile 20. Starting to see some people fade, but mostly, I was the one doing the fading. People were passing me left and right. I got passed by a girl whose knees rubbed together with each step she took and you could see the chafing on both knees. I couldn't look anymore, I knew that had to be painful. Then I got passed by a woman who looked like she was jumping in mud and it was splashed all up and down the backs of her legs. Mud? We didn't run through any mud...wait...I looked up and saw it wasn't mud at all. She had a BM (yeah, Pat, you can laugh now) and just kept running. Aw man, I don't want to see that! I moved to the other side of the road so I couldn't see her any more.

Now I was heading up Heartbreak Hill. The hill they say throws everyone off because people think it's the last one, but it's not. And, actually, it wasn't so bad. It hurt me worse to run down than it did to run up. What's strange is that in the last couple months of training runs at WFG, I'm usually the first one down the hills...trying to use that to my advantage. Well, it just wasn't working on this day. I saw the Citgo sign, but they say not to focus on it because it feels like it takes forever to get to. I guess it's all perception because I really didn't feel like I saw it "forever." Maybe because I stopped looking at it. My legs felt like 100 pound logs I was just dragging, one in front of the other.

The last several miles were painful. I quit stopping at the aid stations for fear I would not start back up again. In my head, I was slowing down to a crawl. But the splits remained consistent and each one gave me a little more strength to push it to keep that pace. When I hit mile 23, I realized that if I didn't just crash, I could break 4 hours. Well, that's pretty cool! There were more turns in the last mile of the race than the whole rest of the race, it seemed! Right, left, right, left, oh come ON, where is the finish???

There it is! A huge banner over the finish reading "111th BOSTON MARATHON." Despite all the pain I was in, I couldn't help but smile. It was almost over. Other runners were dashing by me left and right, sprinting to the finish. But I had no sprint left. In fact, I didn't even have the energy to lift my arms as I crossed the line. I thought to myself, "Gee, I forgot how PAINFUL marathon is!" Crossing the line was a beautiful thing. The smile could not be wiped from my face.

I earned my jacket.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great BM report my friend. It's a heck of a lot easier to run light on your feet for 6 miles than 26 so take that advise with a grain of salt.

Pat

Anonymous said...

oops,

advice

Anonymous said...

Well done, well run, welcome home.

BC

Triteacher said...

Yes, you have earned the jacket! Way to go in those notorious conditions - glad you didn't "bag" the race. :) (I'm also glad I'm not the only one who has that thought at absolutely insane times - like the BM or my Ironman last year!)

Anonymous said...

You sure did earn that jacket, just remember to take it off once in a while. Great JOB!

Wayne

Sheila said...

Congrats, you earned the jacket! Sorry you had to witness a BM incident. I think I would have just shouted, "Oh, CRAP" at her. Kind of a double entendre, you know!

RunBubbaRun said...

Great job in the race.

Nice jacket, very nice..

Anonymous said...

MJ,

You gave me chills! It must have been tough to take all those notes while you ran :)

Congratulations!

AJ

Griz said...

Congrats, I was gonna buy a BM jacket on ebay. I didn't know you had to run first.

John from Grand Haven, MI said...

nice work. i dig the elaine bennis celebratory dance moves in your super-duper boston marathon jacket!

DougJ said...

Great run on a brutal day

pam said...

Can't think of another person I would have wanted to share this experience with - even though we never saw each other the entire time in Boston. And just like you said, how small is this world that our names be printed one on top of the other in the finishers results.

You are an inspiration and push me to my limits. Thank you.

2008?... Let's see where this journey takes us huh?

robtherunner said...

Nice job! A well deserved jacket indeed. And a very nice one as well.

Sara Liu said...

This was such an inspiring post. My goal in life is simply to QUALIFY for the Boston. Thank you for your blog. (I found it through one of your posts in runnersworld)