Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Boston Marathon - Part 2

(Part 1 of my Boston Marathon experience is here)

At noon on April 18th, the 109th running of the Boston Marathon began. The elite women and wheelchair athletes got an early start, but the rest of us started running at 12:00 sharp. Actually, out of the 20,000 people that were lined up on a narrow street, probably only a few dozen actually began running at noon. The rest of us just started shuffling up to the starting line. My race began nearly 3 minutes later. Other runners in the back took over 20 minutes to reach the starting line. Thankfully we were all wearing an electronic chip on our shoes that took these delays into account when computing our race time.

The weather was a bit warm, at around 66 degrees, but not too bad. Mostly it was just a relief to get running after all the hours of standing in line and waiting. My adrenaline was pumping, partially because this was THE BOSTON MARATHON, but it didn't hurt that there were many hundreds of spectators lined up on the sides of road.

The first 4 miles of the race are mostly downhill, which makes them pretty pleasant. You've got nice New England countryside, cheering spectators, and fresh legs. Well, mine were still feeling kind of hurty. I ran through my injury checklist and noticed that my left achilles and my right hip were still hurting but they didn't seem to prevent me from running at a normal pace.

A couple days before the race some drunk guy had given me advice about the marathon. He slurred to me that it was very important to enjoy this race and all the spectators. He mumbled that I should be sure to stick thigh knives into the kids along the sidelines. After I contemplated that for a moment, I decided that he had probably meant to say that I should give high fives to the kids. I hope.

Never one to ignore advice from a drunk guy, I made my way over to the right-hand side of the course and started giving high-fives to kids with their arms outstretched. There aren't a lot of entertaining things you can do during a marathon, so giving high-fives to kids ranks pretty high on the list.

The spectators were the best thing about the race. There wasn't a single point along the 26.2 mile course when you couldn't look to the sidelines and see a bunch of people. They were cheering, and handing out food and water, and letting us know the score in the Red Sox game. They were totally motivating and informational.

At the 10K mark (which is almost 1/4 of the way) I was feeling pretty good. I was on pace to set a personal record, but the famed hills were still ahead and I knew that I'd be slowing down. My injuries had mostly numbed up and I was feeling pretty good. I passed through various small New England towns, every one of them packed with cheering spectators. I had probably high-fived nearly a hundred kids at this point.

At the 12 mile mark, I was starting to feel a little weary, but I could hear extra loud screaming coming from up ahead. This was the part of the course that goes by Wellesley college, often described at the emotional high-point of the race. It rocked. The women of Wellesley had turned out in force and were screaming at the top of their lungs. I put my arm out for high-fives and left it there for nearly a quarter mile. I had a big grin on my face the whole time.

Two of the women were holding up a big sign that said "Stop for a kiss!". Although I do typically run marathons for the random and anonymous kisses, on this day I was feeling not-so-fresh, so I decided to run on. The guy in front of me though made a half-hearted attempt to collect on this offer. Apparently the transaction took a bit longer than he expected, so he dashed off without his kiss. As I ran past the would-be kissing coeds, I heard them call out, "HEY! YOU FORGOT YOUR KISS!".

The women of Wellesley rule. My energy was back up after that section. My right arm, however, is still a bit sore even today from all those high-fives.

The next 3.5 miles were mostly flat. I cruised along here at a reasonable pace, conserving energy for the upcoming hills in the town of Newton. There are 4 (some say 3) hills between miles 16.5 and 20.5, the most famous of which is the last one, known as Heartbreak Hill. These hills aren't particularly steep or astonishingly long, but the fact that they come so late in the race makes them more difficult than they should be. Although I had never seen these hills, I had been hearing about these hills for months, so I approached them with dread and caution. Also, I knew that my wife, daughter, and mother-in-law were going to be somewhere in Newton on the sidelines. I did NOT want them to see me walking up the hills. Vanity is a bitch.

I was almost relieved when I finally got to the first hill. As it turns out, the anticipation was worse than the actual effort required. I slowed down a bit and made it to the top without too much pain.

I kept my eyes peeled for my family, but there were so many people that there was no way to see everyone. It was my wife's birthday, so I wanted to make sure that we didn't miss each other. I planned to run into the crowd, wish her a happy birthday and plant a big sweaty kiss on both her and my daughter. I rehearsed this scene in my mind and I made my way to the 2nd hill.

Using the same conservative pace (about 1 minute per mile slower than I had been running), I made it up the 2nd and 3rd hills of Newton. I still hadn't spotted my family which was a bit concerning. I knew this was a crappy way for my wife to spend her birthday, and it would be a little worse if we didn't actually see each other during the race. I kept looking for them while I made my way towards the infamous Heartbreak Hill.

Finally Heartbreak Hill loomed before me. It looked unpleasant but not the monster it was made out to be. I kept my pace and puttered up the incline. Finally, at the 20.5 mark, I had conquered the hills of the Boston Marathon! The last 6 miles were mostly downhill.

So, this should be it, right? Downhill! How hard can that be? I should be able to cruise on in. Four obstacles stood in my way, however:

1) My legs were spent. I hadn't done very much strength training in the months before the race and my quads were reminding me of that right now. They were extremely tight.

2) There was no chance that I'd see my family at this point. Somehow, I had missed them (turns out they were around the 20 mile mark, at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill). Vanity no longer motivated me.

3) I had no time goal in this race. In my previous few marathons I had been struggling to qualify for Boston. Now that I was actually in Boston, what was I supposed to shoot for? What was going to motivate me? Pride? Hah!

4) 6 miles left. 6 miles left. 6 miles left. The 20 mile mark is often referred to as The Wall. 6 miles, even downhill ones, suddenly seemed very daunting.

So, mentally, I threw in the towel. I knew this blog was called I Am Prepared to Give Up at Any Time for a reason. Over the next few miles, I did things that I never do in a good marathon. I walked while drinking my water. I stopped to stretch. I took any excuse possible to slow down and stop running if only for a few seconds. My per-mile pace dropped another minute or two.

The miles ticked by more slowly, but my watch was inexorable. This began to get a little depressing. Although I had made no official statement about a time goal, secretly I still had certain expectations of myself and they were slipping by.

At mile 24 I saw someone on the sidelines with a hose. This was a pretty common sight, with it being a warm day. Typically those folks would spray their hose into the air, misting the runners, which was highly appreciated. I raised my arms in a signal to the guy to turn on his hose. Much to my surprise, he turned it on and aimed it at me. He kept the stream of water trained on me for several seconds as I ran by, completely drenching me.

This, as it turns out, was the wakeup call I needed to shake me out of my stupor. I felt a bit refreshed and promised myself that I'd run the last 2 miles of the race strong. I'd eke out a bit of dignity during the final portion of the marathon.

The crowds were huge as the course came into Boston. People were lined up more than 5 deep, screaming and cheering. I increased my pace slightly as I passed a marker indicating that there was 1 mile left. I've always taken pride in finishing my races strong. On most of my training runs I try to end with a good kick and it's extremely rare that I get passed in the last mile of a race.

I turned a final corner onto Boyleston St and saw the finish line about 1/4 mile away. I picked up the pace with all my remaining energy and sprinted (or so it seemed at the time) to the end.


My personal record for a marathon is about 3 hours and 14 minutes. I was hoping to do something in between that and 3 hours and 30 minutes in Boston. Well, I came out a lot closer to the latter than the former, but it's good enough.

As soon as I stopped running, my muscles immediately clamped down in an effort to keep me from doing stupid things like walking. Going up and down curbs was especially difficult, each one requiring a strategy that minimized the stress on my pathetic legs. The curbs were like a puzzle where if you guessed wrong, you'd be punished by a sharp shooting pain. I approached each one with great caution and thought.

At one point, when I was trying to cross a street to catch a cab back to my hotel, I stood alongside a policeman while I waited for a break in traffic. When traffic thinned, I gingerly stepped down off the curb only to stumble. I quickly climbed back up on the curb, in fear that I wouldn't be able to cross the street in time. The officer watched this and gently said, "You can make it."

He was right.

So, there you have it. That was my Boston Marathon.

And with that effort, I unofficially retire from marathoning. Although I reserve the right to change my mind, I'm not quite sure why I'd run another one. As it turns out, they kind of suck.

Now, I'm a man in search of a new goal. I'll probably keep running because it allows me to eat like crap, which I value highly, but I need some other goal to chase. What's left? I've seen guys juggle in marathons, I've read about folks who run a marathon each week, or in each state, or backwards. Maybe I could run marathons while audblogging or podcasting or while screaming, "THIS IS A STUPID HOBBY!". More likely, I'll find shorter races to run.

I watched the telecast of the Boston Marathon over the last few days with an unpleasant feeling of regret for not doing better, but my heart still raced as it always does when I watch a long distance running event.


Lisa said...

Next goal? I vote for unicycling across america.

The Mincemeat Vixen said...

... while wearing heels, a clown wig, and a tutu!

Congratulations - seriously - completing a marathon is an amazing feat, you should be proud of yourself even if you DID pussy out and walk part of the way! (kidding - sarcasm doesn't come across well on the computer) You've done something that most people will never have the willpower, drive, or self control to do.

nomax said...

Whoo! Congratulations! As for the Next Thing, how about... Ultra-Marathons?!

Mike said...

First off, Blogger comments suck ass. Google people, fix this!

Lisa, your idea has been rejected. No offense.

Vixen, your idea has been rejected. No offense.

Nomax, your idea has been rejected, and then dropped into the toilet, and then pooped upon, and then flushed into oblivion. Offense.

Thanks all, though!