Sunday, May 3, 2009

The 113 Boston Marathon – April 17-20, 2009

We left Cincinnati late afternoon on Friday the 17th, after the kids got home from school. We headed north and got as far as Erie, PA. It was 10:00pm when we checked into the Holiday Inn Express and we went straight to bed.

Saturday morning, we got up early and, feeling very smart, ate a quick breakfast and got on the road. We reached Hopkinton about 4:30pm. We got out and walked around, looked over the finish line and took pictures in front of the famous sign. I made sure I was wearing the t-shirt from my orthopedist so that they could see that I had made it this far.

Jumping back into the car, we drove the race route into Boston. This was fun and gave me a good idea of what to expect. I had heard descriptions of the course, and seen a You-Tube video, but it was great to see the course in person for the first time. Unfortunately, this meant that we arrived in Boston, just after 6:00pm and I was not able to pick up my race packet that day. By the time we had negotiated the downtown traffic and street closings to get to the Hyatt, we were tired and hungry. We ate at the hotel and went to bed.

We got an early start Sunday morning and walked through the commons. It was the first time in Boston for the kids and they really liked the city. On our way to the expo we stumbled upon the Invitational Mile Races and stuck around to watch. It was great to see the high school runners, and especially the elites. Stacy, who runs cross country and track, was particularly pleased to see the elite women like Shalane Flanagan and Anna Willard.

After the races we went to the expo to pick up my packet and do a little shopping. Unfortunately the place was so packed it was hard to move around. We left as soon as we could, hopped on the T and headed to Quincy Market. The place was also crowded but we were able to do a little shopping and had some lunch. Our circus expert, Erin, loved watching the street performers on the square. The highlight for me was being able to say hello to John Ellis at the Bill Rodgers Running Store. There were many people in the store, and I felt a little bad taking up his time, but I wanted to thank him for his help on my training plan for the 2008 Pig. John was great, and I think we would have talked for hours about running, but there was work to do.

After the market we walked back to the hotel and chilled for the rest of the afternoon until the pasta party. At about 6pm we walked back to Government Center for the party. It was well done, with plenty of food, but the night was a little chilly to be sitting around. Getting up and walking back to the hotel was much nicer. The great thing about walking around downtown Boston is that around every corner is a piece of history. When we got back to the hotel, we relaxed; I laid out my running gear and went to bed early.

Monday morning came early for me. I got up, dressed and headed the two blocks to the Commons to catch the bus. I was on one of the first busses to leave. I sat next to a woman from Denver and as it turned out, we had a mutual acquaintance from Cincinnati – very odd. Being one of the first busses, when we got to the athletes’ village it was nearly empty. It was fun to watch the place fill up and for the energy to start to build. I walked around and took it all in.

This was the first time that I started to get a little emotional thinking that this would be my last run. It helped that as I talked to people I got swept up in the excitement of the event. However, the best thing to happen was a conversation I had while in the long port-a-let line. I was explaining how this was my final run when one of the people said that it sounded like this was more of a victory lap than a final run. I thought that was the perfect way to approach the race and I kept that thought the rest of the day.

Soon it was time to head to the start area. I dropped my bag at the bus and started the walk to the corrals. I did not mind the walk; in fact it was kind of nice to be moving in the right direction. I was in corral 11 and met an old friend originally from Cincinnati and who was a couple of years behind me at Williams. It was nice to catch up and we ran together for the first mile or so.

After the fly over and the national anthem, the race started. It took us about 10 minutes to walk up the hill to the start line. The first part of the race is downhill and of course I started too fast. I was planning on running 9:00 miles, but with the downhill and the other fast runners around me I found myself running much faster than I thought I was:

Mile 1 8 :45
Mile 2 8:12
Mile 3 8:22
Mile 4 8:33

The first part of the race had the fewest spectators, and with the exception of TJ’s Spirits, was relatively quiet. After mile 4 I started looking for a port-a-let, but what I found was a spot of woods with a half dozen runners taking advantage of the lack of spectators and I decided to join them. This gave me a slow mile split, but combined with the flattening of the course, I started to get my pace back to where I wanted:

Mile 5 9:21
Mile 6 8:49
Mile 7 8:54
Mile 8 9:05
Mile 9 9:05
Mile 10 9:01
Mile 11 9:07
Mile 12 8:55

The crowds were heaviest as we got into the main parts of the towns and they were great. I was wearing my name on the front of my shirt for the first time. I had always considered it a little cheesy, but I thought it would be fun to try in my last race, and I thought I might need the extra motivation. It was the right decision, as the crowds really picked up on it. All the people calling my name helped, particularly latter in the race. On the back of my shirt I had:

The Final Run
Boston 2009

I must have had ten runners pass me and ask why it was my last run. When I explained it to them, many of them told me I should find a new doctor. If only it were that simple.

Shortly after mile 12 I started to get a cramp in my left thigh. It was not too bad and it did not slow me down, but it stayed with me for the whole race. I think in the end it may have altered my stride a little which drained energy and had me hurting at the end of the race. Unfortunately I did not think that at the time, or I would have stopped and stretched it out. As it was, I kept feeding off the crowds and kept running. The girls of Wellesley were great (no, I did not stop for kisses) and the crowd in the center of town I thought was just as louder.

At about mile 15 I started to get a pain in my right hip. It hurt, but did not seem to be slowing me down too much. Again, in hindsight I should have stopped and stretched. The left quad cramp and right hip pain stayed with me until the end:

Mile 13 8:52
Mile 14 8:58
Mile 15 9:16
Mile 16 9:09

By the time I got to the hills of Newtown, I was beginning to hurt. The cramps and hip had taken their toll and, while I kept moving, my times slowed. Again, the crowds really carried me through those hills. I had made the decision that no matter what, I would run up those hills. I did not want to walk up Heartbreak Hill in my only Boston. Maybe not the smartest decision, but this race was not about a finishing time:

Mile 17 9:30
Mile 18 9:38
Mile 19 9:33
Mile 20 9:47
Mile 21 10:22

I thought the widest crowds to this point were at Boston College. So many people were calling my name that another runner named Dennis decided to run with me to soak it in. I was much relived to be over the hills, but I was pretty spent.

At this point I was running all on guts. My conditioning was OK, but my legs were really hurting. It was at mile 24 that a fleeting thought went through my head that I may not be able to make it. I dug down to that source of discipline and commitment that, at some point in a marathon, a runner needs to draw on. I call it the decision point and I believe it tells you something about yourself. I knew I would finish because I did not consider anything else a possibility. It is all about character at that point.

Mile 22 9:13
Mile 23 9:35
Mile 24 9:21
Mile 25 9:57
Mile26.2 12:01

From Mile 23 one, the crowds were 7-8 deep on both sides of the street and they were into it. One of my favorite memories was around mile 24. There were a number of runners down. I saw one working out some cramps with some help. The crowd was encouraging her and when she got up and started to run the place went wild. It was inspiring. I knew I could not and would not stop.

I turned on to Boylston Street and started looking for the family. Unfortunately, they were on the other side of the street and I did not get to see them. The best part of the race was when I approached the finish line and I heard my name announced. I then knew that I had made it. It was great. I finished in 4:01:21. I had hoped to break 4 hours, but I really was not too concerned. Six months ago I had been told I would never make it to this point, so just finishing was an accomplishment.

I really wish I could run the race again now that I know the course. It is a tough course that can eat you up, but I think I would do much better if I ran it again. But, now I start my cycling career and my start as a race volunteer. I figure it is time to give back to the running community.

I am so glad I had the opportunity to run Boston. If I had to stop running, to go out running the most famous road race was the way to go.