Rachel squinted at me through light-struck eyes. Ever the good wife, "Go ahead and turn on the light," she said. Our morning routine usually involves someone groping around in the dark to get ready for work so as not to interrupt the other, but this morning was a special occasion.
Dressed in my hastily bought Target sweat pants (purchased on clearance Friday) and an old long sleeve t-shirt, I shoveled in oatmeal, got one last good luck kiss, and headed out the door. Foreshadowing alert: I chose not to bring the bag given to us at the expo to cart my stuff around in at the athletes' village. I hate doing the bag check at races, namely because I don't want to fuss with having to 1) turn it in and 2) get it back after race. Too nervous in the beginning, too tired at the end.
Instead, my pockets were stuffed with a bag of pretzels, a banana, a heat patch for my IT band, and my Pearl Izumi black sleeves.
On the way down to the lobby, another runner joined me in the elevator (the unmistakable yellow addidas bag thrown over his shoulder). We stood on opposite ends and tossed each other a nod. "First?" I asked.
"Twelfth," he said. My bad.
"Sorry...it's my first."
His face lit up. "It's brutal, man. But you're gonna love it." And then the warning that every previous Boston runner has given me, "Don't go out too fast," he warned.
We parted ways in the lobby, something haunting in his voice about the way he said, "You'll be wobbly for days, it's unlike any other marathon you've run." I could only nod. Breaking off, I followed the lead of others heading down into the T station to make our way over to the buses.
The train swept by and we stepped on, adding to the mass of runners already inbound. The conductor, in some kind of east European accent came over the PA, "Congratulations! I will drive you to finish line. Already done!" he exclaimed. And the tension on the cars broke as everyone shared a laugh. "We're already done?" someone said. "That wasn't bad at all." If only.
The herd of runners made its way up to Boston Common where long lines and buses awaited. We were ushered through and placed in boarding lines. Think TSA security at the airport. The more I stood there and watched everyone step onto the bus, I thought of soldiers piling in to be driven off to the front line.
While the line moved quickly, my immediate thought was, "Crap, it's cold!" Somewhere the sun was rising behind the tall Boston buildings, but it hadn't made it's way out to us yet. The crisp air was perfect for running...not for waiting. The next thing I noticed was more yellow f'ing bags.
Finally, I got onto my bus and moved toward the back. I made for an empty seat but realized a second too late why it was still empty: the dreaded hump seat with the wheel well sticking up. I folded my 6'3" body in and surprisingly drifted off to sleep.
The ride out to Hopkinton took about an hour. I checked my watch and saw that we had two hours to go until race time and thought, "What the hell am I going to do for two hours?" Well, I'll tell you. I was going to shiver.
More funneling between the buildings of Hopkinton high and through to the baseball fields where giant tents and rows of porta potties greeted us. I felt like I had two rocks in the heels of my shoes but soon found that they were actually asleep from being on the wheel well for an hour. Continuing the war analogy, it looked like a field of bivouacs only instead of soldiers, wispy runners milled around, stretched out, waited in lines, and stretched.
I meandered into the first tent and quickly got in line to grab a bagel. My morning oatmeal started to wear off. Joy is not found in trying to choke down a dry, untoasted bagel...but I managed. That effort at least took my mind off the cold. I walked out of the tent thinking the sun would warm me, but instead, it was windy and, therefore, much worse. I hit the porta potty both because I had to go and I figured it could be warmer in there. It was, and I loathed myself for it. After, I retreated to the tent and stopped for a moment to take everything in. Not so much to savor the moment, but to fully appreciate the feeling of being a rookie, a first-timer, the out-of-towner.
Packed in those yellow bags, people had managed sleeping bags, air mattresses, towels, blankets, plastic bags, magazines, cameras, iPods, hats, gloves. Biting my lower lip and nodding my head, I came to the all important realization: I am an idiot.
The announcer, perched atop the football press box called out, "The unofficial official time is 7:55...just two hours and five minutes until the 114th running of the Boston Marathon." Insert string of self-deprecating swear words here.
So, I plopped down in the grass, in the tent, and tried to think warm, fast thoughts. I slipped on my sleeves, which helped some, then simply sat down cross-legged, arms folded across my chest and hands Mary Catherine Gallagher style tucked under my armpits. Still, I shivered. I looked over and I guess caught the eye of a runner in close proximity. He had a winter cap, sweats, gloves, two pairs of shoes, one wrapped in plastic bags, a towel to sit on and garbage bags wrapped around his legs. Oh, and yes, a winter coat.
Well, taking pity on the fool I must have looked like, he handed over an extra plastic bag. "Really?" I asked in sweet sweet disbelief. He only nodded. I poked a hole in the top and slid it over me, potato sack-style and felt the warmth return.
Time continued to slog by. At 8:45 I decided to start downing my pretzels and made the executive decision to hit the porta potty line one more time at 9:00 and that that would bring me up to about the time it would take to start walking to the start.
When I stepped out of the tent to get in line, the sun shone, the wind had died down, and damn it all, it was almost hot. Hopkinton is clearly a meteorological oddity.
By the time I finished up, I started heading over toward the start...a .7 mile walk from the high school. I fell in with the other cattle, I mean wave 1 runners. Remembering that it usually took about a mile to get into a rhythm, I got a slow jog on (also to test out the IT band). If the cold did one thing, it took my mind off any potential IT discomfort I may or may not have been suffering (or preparing to).
We turned onto the main road and the street was already thick with spectators. Kids, families, buddies, old, young, truly the whole town had come out. I found a patch of grass by my corral and did some last minute stretching, then ditched my "warm clothes."
The corral system at Boston is flawless. Volunteers check your bib to ensure you're not moving up and ropes block off others from encroaching. So, when the gun did finally go off, you weren't stepping on others in front of you.
The chatter in the corral wasn't so much nervous as...informative. I've never heard so much talk about how brutal a course is. And no one sugarcoats it. I suppose if there's to be a be all end all marathon for runners, the course should be as challenging as possible. But there's something epic, dark, and saddistic about the way runners talk about the point-to-point course. "You'll want to go out fast...don't. It's not the uphills, it's the downhills. You'll feel great at the half. Don't expect to by the time you get to 17." Not very encouraging, especially when you're worried about your leg holding.
In those final minutes, we had the National Anthem, a flyover (which always gives me goosebumps), and the trotting out of the show horses, I mean male elites. And then the wait was over. The gun went off.
Check back with me tomorrow to read about how a four-year-old who nearly brought me to tears...at mile 3, what eventually did, and what's truly heartbreaking about Heartbreak Hill.