Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Flame on at Boston

Pre-race at the Athlete's Village

Wow, where to start.  What a weekend!!!  I'm back from Boston, and what a ride it was.  Temperatures of 89F on race day led to all plans of times and goals going out the window, and the new goal was simply to cross the finish line on my own two feet.  Which I did, and with a smile on my face.  It may well be my slowest marathon in over 7 years, it may well be a good hour slower than my usual finish time, but by putting my ego to one side and being smart, I am now a finisher of one of the hottest and toughest Boston marathons in history.

And there's a lot to be proud of in that.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let's back up a little.

Clea and I flew into Boston on Saturday night, giving us all day Sunday to visit the expo, explore Boston and get ready for the race on Monday.  We had a hotel in Cambridge, just outside Boston, a short distance from a T-station, which is the public transportation subway system, and by far the best way to get around the city.

We spent quite a bit of time at the expo Sunday morning, both of us dropping a heck of a lot of money, and it was crazy busy.  We took some time out to drop our purchases off back at the hotel before we were off again, exploring the Freedom Trail of historic sites around the city.  We walked ourselves all over town, and at one point stopped off at the Bill Rodgers' Running store.  Rodgers, or Boston Billy, is a running legend who won the Boston marathon 4 times in the late 70s and early 80s.  Well the guys at the store were the nicest folks you could wish to meet.  We were both looking for shirts for the kiddos, and had been unable to find any at the expo.  They told us there weren't any to be had this year due to corporate restrictions imposed by the marathon's "official clothing provider".  But they went out of their way to find a few shirts from last year's race.  And even better, virtually gave them away to us for $5.  They also entertained us with several stories, and I highly recommend Bill Rodger's Running Store and their staff to anyone who happens to be in Boston.

We had a nice dinner at a local seafood restaurant, wandered around Harvard (where I pretended to be Robert Langdon), and retired to our rooms for an early night.  I must admit, I was nervous about the predicted high temperatures - we'd been getting emails all day from the BAA offering deferments to next year, warning of the dangers of heat stroke, emphasizing this was now considered a high risk "red zone" race, and urging people not to run unless they were in tip-top condition.  Well I'm not in tip-top condition, but Boston is an expensive trip so I sure as hell was going to run.  But I was also a little nervous about my foot, which I had begun to fear was the beginning of a stress fracture.  So I pulled out the old ultra supplies and taped both feet extensively before retiring for the night.

I did not sleep well.  Too nervous imagining my foot breaking down in the first few miles.

Race morning came along, and with it came clear blue skies and a hint of the heat that would engulf us by race time.  We had splurged on a charter bus so we didn't have to spend hours sitting around on the floor at the athlete's village, and it was money well spent when you saw the lines at the porta-potties.

Clea and myself at the start line
By the time we lined up in our corral it was past 10am and the sun was out in force.  I was glad I had bought a hat the day before.  We all stood there, nervously waiting for the start and trying very hard to ignore the fact that we were already sweating.

We ran together for part of the first mile before losing each other in the crowd.  It's probably just as well, as our races styles are completely different.  Clea is so consistent - she locks into a pace and keeps it the whole way, whereas I like to gamble and push it a little early on to see what happens.  Sometimes it's your day and sometimes it isn't.  I had a fair idea this wasn't going to be, but I still had to try.

Besides, I know what a good runner Clea is in the heat, so I needed a little head start to ensure she didn't kick my butt too early!!!

And I was very nervous.  I felt a few tweaks from the foot in the first downhill miles and never really felt comfortable, but they soon eased away and I could ignore them.  Thankfully the foot was never an issue.

By mile 6 I had settled into an uneasy rhythm, but what surprised me was the number of people already walking.  By mile 10 that changed, and what surprised me was the number of runners collapsed by the side of the road or being stretchered away.

The section around mile 13 is of course famous for the screaming girls of Wellesley college.  They are also famous for offering kisses to the runners, a tradition I was looking forward to fully participating in.  If I saw a sign saying "kiss me, I'm from Texas" I would jog over yelling "hey, I'm from Texas too".  Kiss me, I'm British? "Hey, I'm British too".  Kiss me I'm a redhead?  "Hey, I love redheads".  And so on and so forth - I spent quite a bit of time going down the line, but it was definitely time well spent!!!

Nancy told me later that she was tracking me from home and wondered why my pace dropped off so suddenly at this point.  Then she looked up the course map and just rolled her eyes.  When her co-workers asked how I was doing, she replied "he's probably still lip locked".

Love ya babe :-)

Unfortunately, this was the high point of the race for me, and the second half was an exercise in survival.  There was no shade along the course, the sun was beating down, we were pushing up against 90F, and the water and gatorade at the aid stations was warm, making it very hard to keep from overheating.  Fortunately, the crowds were magnificent, with many people handing out ice, iced sponges and towels, and spraying cold water over us.  At this point I decided to "adopt a run/walk strategy" and make sure I got myself safely to the finish line, as there were a disconcerting number of runners collapsing left and right.  So I became very chatty.  I talked to anybody and everybody around me - runners with British accents, runners from the MS society (an illness very close to home), barefoot runners.  You name it, I talked to them.

And as it became clear I was going to run a really really bad time, it became quite funny.  My legs were cramping on the downhills, and every time they spasmed I just started chuckling.  I must have been the happiest sufferer out on the course, and started taunting the mile markers as they languished ever further behind my Garmin - "that's 23 you bas***d", "24 down you son of a bitch", "where are you 25, you little.........".

I got quite creative.

The crowds in the last few miles were amazing, with people yelling at you, and some even jumping in to run with you.  At long last I turned the final corner to see the finish line in the distance.  Way in the distance.  I decided I was going to run that last bit, even if I had to cross the finish line like Frankenstein, and I did (both).  My time was 4:44, over an hour slower than my usual marathon time.

But this was not a usual race.

One of the things that will stay with me was the sight of a runner completely collapsed and unresponsive in the gutter, 100 yards before the finish line.  I had seen at least another 2 in a similar state between miles 24 and 26, but this was so close.  Imagine, to run all that way, through that heat, and to drop that close to the finish line.  My heart went out to him.

And the finish area was like a MASH unit.  I felt quite out of place (and, it must be said, a little smug) walking through there when the majority of runners were either flat on the floor or slumped in wheelchairs.

I managed to call Clea, who had finished a good 40 minutes earlier and was wondering where I had gone (I told you - she's tough).  We eventually found each other and made our way back to the hotel.  We celebrated with dinner at Whole Foods and a trip to the movie theater around the corner, where we spent a few hours trying in vain to find comfortable positions to put our legs.

Yes, we really are that exciting.

And to top it all, we took an early morning flight back into Austin the next day where it was cooler than Boston.  How often can you say that?

Despite the heat, I'm glad I went.  The race was tough, but it was a great weekend that I will remember for a long time.  And after all, how many people can claim to be a Boston finisher?

But at the same time it's nice to be in recovery mode and not have something to train for.  I had been planning on taking a break from the long distance stuff (and had definitely decided on that somewhere around mile 17), but we'll see.  I do need a break to let my foot heal and then we'll decide, but don't be surprised to see me signing up for something this winter.

Preferably a nice cold race where it doesn't get out of the 30s.


K said...

What an awesome report, Mark! Massachusetts is my home state, and yet, I have never run there. I hope to one day, maybe even on Patriot's Day!
Kudos to you and Clea for taking Boston by storm and showing them how Texans by choice do things!!
Enjoy recovery and heal that foot. Rocky is only 10 months away! (just kidding... kind of, I think there is a new aid station being added just for you...girls looking to hand out a few kisses!)

Desert Dirt said...

Mark, tracked your race and several other friends' while at work Monday morning. Just from the 5km splits online it was a horror show. Glad you could make a good show of it, that the foot wasn't a factor, and that you had the proper attitude to face a rather cruel day. Best in your future running goals.

Mark said...

Thanks guys. It was an experience all right :-)

brendaontheRun said...

Congratulations Mark!