The airplane ride is only the prelude, however. Because once you set foot in Boston, the city is positively awash in marathon spirit. It's as if a wiry, willowy tribe has descended upon the city, set to devour, not only the asphalt with clean, clipped strides, but also Boston's ration of pasta.
It's one of the few times in my life I've felt like a celebrity. I wore some piece of Boston paraphernalia wherever we went. Strangers stopped to ask if I was running the race. I've never shaken the hands of so many strangers nor heard the words, "You runnin' Monday? The marathon? More power to ya!" repeated so often. It reinforces that it's one thing to run a marathon...it's another to run Boston.
This year, our hotel was situated AT the Citgo sign, i.e. the one mile to go marker of the race. Each time we walked outside, I glanced up and thought, God, I can't wait to see you on Monday.
On Sunday, we made it over to the expo to pick up my race packet. When I held that red bib in my hand, I knew then it was real. It was that Quentin Cassidy moment when he says, "Huh, I guess they really ARE going to have us run this thing." *gulp*
But we didn't linger long before heading back to the hotel to rest up. After a pasta dinner with some friends, we returned to the room and I began my pre-race ritual: pack up the post-race backpack, set out the shoes, watch, sunglasses, shorts and socks...place the oatmeal packet in its bowl. I had the added task of calling room service for a "pot of hot water at 5:00 a.m." since there was no coffee maker in the room. "Yes, I'd like to make oatmeal before the MARATHON I'm running in the morning," I justified to the one unimpressed person in Boston. Lastly, I laid my jersey out on the bed, smoothed out any of the wrinkles, then placed my bib just so before pinning it on. Lights out at 10:00.
I didn't sleep much, or at least it didn't feel like it. I woke up several times sure that it was wake up time, only to realize that I still had three hours to sleep.
At 5:00, the alarm went off and I popped out of bed. By 5:45, I was out the door and on my way to the T station. I met several other runners on the platform, and we used one another to find our way to Park Street to load the busses to Hopkinton. No one spoke, rather we traded knowing nods of what we had been through to get there...and what we were about to take on.
The sun began to rise and burned off some of the chill in the air. The wind blew around us and I heard the first talk of a tail wind. There was something sadistic and counter-intuitive about all of us cueing up to board these buses, to carry us out 26.2 miles only to run the whole way back.
There was no trace of the nerves I felt last year. Not yet. The routine was ingrained. I was a veteran. I slung my big green bag over my shoulder, thankful to have brought it with me this year. Last year, I didn't want to check a bag and spent the majority of my time at athlete's village trying to ward off hypothermia.
I boarded the bus and was careful to select a seat that didn't include the wheel well this year. Then...I fell asleep.
When we arrived in Hopkinton, I shook the cobwebs from my head and walked under the "Athlete's Village" arch and behind the school. I was amazed at how many people were already there at 7:15. The field resembled an assembly area for a small army. Stations doled out food and supplies. Some runners unfurled sleeping bags and blankets and promptly fell asleep. Others played cards, read magazines, or chatted up those around them. I found an open spot in the sun, pulled out my hotel towel, plugged in headphones and tipped my head back. I watched wisps of stray clouds swirl overhead. I planned to read this year but got wrapped up in both a podcast and those clouds. Before I knew it, I was asleep again.
8:00. Two hours to race time. I pulled out a bagel and some peanut butter, and quickly scarfed it before laying back down. When I opened my eyes again, my clear spot was invaded by other "soldiers." The loudspeaker boomed that wave 1 runners would begin getting called to the starting line at 9:10.
I shivered with the wind blowing around us despite the extra layers I'd brought. Hope that tailwind makes it worth it. I made one last trip to the porta-potty then began the slow walk to the start line. Before handing my bag up into my bus to have it transported back to Boston, I shed my outer layers and braced for the chilling wind. I felt like I'd just jumped into the deep end of the pool in April, it was so cold.
I trotted off to the start as my warmup. The start line for Boston is actually 3/4 of a mile from the Athlete's Village, perfect distance for a warmup jog. The street was choked with runners and Hopkinton residents there to cheer. I pulled off next to a church, found a tree...and began my dynamic warmup. In my head, I had foggy visions of a sub-three hour marathon still in my head. Could I still pull it off? Had I really trained enough for it?
I entered my corral with a slight flutter in my stomach. The sky was cloudless, one of those crisp New England days, washed by the wind. The sun beat down on my nearly bare shoulders. I took in the crowd, both the runners and the spectators. The spectators after all are what truly make Boston special. To think that all these people came out to watch 25,000 people run down their street is humbling. I thought of the most important person waiting for me 26.2 miles away at the finish.
Then the gun.
The dam had broke and bodies flowed down the steep drop at the start. As my stomach continued to flutter, a thought came to me from back on my second attempt at 14 miles with my training partner. We were smack in the middle of the Key Bridge, the Potomac below us, and the nation's capital stretched out over our shoulder. We were doing an out and back along the C&O canal when I said to him, "Here's the new plan. I just want to get to Boston. I don't care how fast I run. I just want to do Boston for the experience, come what may...."
Then, I passed under the starting arch, clicked my watch, and began my second journey, worry free, from Hopkinton to Boston.
Check in tomorrow for Part II to find out what nickname I earned along the course, why I resembled a duck, and what eventually brought me to tears.