Thursday, April 21, 2011

Boston Redux - Part II

When the winter was at its coldest and the gray, January days swelled with the threat of snow and despair, I pounded out tenths of a mile on the treadmill.  I stared at the reflection of the broken runner in front of me and dreamt of the warmer mid-April day when I might fly once again down Route 135...

...and here I was.  The anticipation to the Boston gun builds like the slow yet steady clanking of a roller coaster cranking toward its apex.  Then, all it once, you're released into the thrilling void, left to fend for yourself, unsure of what may come around the next bend.  We rocketed out of the chute to the roar of the Hopkinton residents, the great send off.  I find it hard to stay locked into a race plan so early with so many screaming people cheering for you.  You can't ignore the outstretched arms of the little kids lining the choked roadway, and find yourself slapping their small palms as you go by.

Then it's back to business.  In that first mile, my goal is simply to survive, not get entirely swept up in the adrenaline and just flow in the crowd of runners to a controlled pace.  The articles, the podcasts, the blogs, they all caution against going out too fast, and go on to relay the suicide tales of those who have made this fatal flaw.  

I was content to move through the crowd and limit the darting and dodging through other runners.  Before I knew it, I'd come upon the first mile marker.  I checked my watch to see a controlled 7:30.  The running crowd began to stretch out and I found myself with some more room.  Time to go to work, I thought with visions of my 1:23:35 tune up half and 93:29 10 miler just two weeks ago rising in my head.  I felt the turnover come and began to ride my own wave.

Mile 2 I checked the split and was happy to see that 6:35 still felt as easy as that 7:30.  And here, I began working my way over to the left side of the road to hit the first water station.  The roadway choked again and it became a bad highway merge scenario. I managed to grab the last cup of water at the stop, gulped two sips down my dry throat and carried on.

"Good job, Florida!" I heard as I came through 5K.  "Looking good, Florida, keep it up."  I glanced from side-to-side looking for my fellow Gator fan but saw no one with any Florida gear on.  Then, a couple kids looked right at me and said, "Yeah!  Come on Florida."  That's when I remembered that I had "Florida" in big block letters on the front of my singlet.  In races past, I never did the "write your name on your bib or shirt" to have spectators single you out...but dammit, it works!  For the remainder of the race, I was serenaded by the crowds as "Florida."

Nearing mile 5 a fogginess began to settle into my head.  This feeling is one I feared most, because it's the same one that plagued me at last year's race and didn't disappear until the Newton Hills.  I can't pinpoint why I get it, and why I get it at Boston.  Could it be the five hour lag between waking up and running?  Fueling issue? Lethargy?  I still can't say, but this is where the battle began.  Mile 5.  21.2 miles yet to go.

I strode confidently through 10K knowing that I'd be sending off my first athlete alert to those following me.  Then it was 1.8 miles to seeing my mother-in-law and her friend.  I reasoned with myself that I had to keep it together to look good running by them.

Coming through the mile 8 water station, I chugged ahead and began scanning the crowd.  I saw them before they saw me: A giant purple sign that said "B-R-A-D" on it.  "Ladies!" I yelled.  They snapped to attention and started screaming for me.  I whooped and blew a kiss at them.  It was enough to carry me through an unsteady 10 miles.  

I'd vowed not to look at my watch until the half but wanted to get a quick glimpse of my 10 mile split: 68 and change.  Still on sub-three hour pace but feeling every step of it.  The next check point was the half way mark.  The rationalization continued, Get to the half and reevaluate.  We can start going easy through the water stations if need be.  Just get to the half.  

The landscape opens here when you approach Wellesley.  Large trees dot the green fields.  Then you can hear it.  It's faint at first but grows stronger every meter.  First there's one, then a couple, then a group.  Before you realize it, you're awash in the screams of Wellesley girls.  "Kisses for Runners!" say the signs or something to that effect.  It's hard not to smile going through.  The adrenaline drops in and the turnover comes a little easier.  And just as quickly as it came on, the screams begin to fade over your shoulder and the downtown Wellesley crowd, thick in number, doesn't seem nearly as loud as where you just came.

Always love the walking photo.
Through the half, I still felt terrible.  I wanted to walk.  I looked at my watch: 1:28 through half.  I could walk the rest of the way, I thought.  Still, I continued on, less than three miles from Newton where the race really begins.

At mile 14, I took my first walk break through the water station.  I decided I could live water station to water station since they were at each mile.  I walked by an aid station and heard, "How we doin' Florida?"
"We're fine.  Just frustrated," I said back, trying to sound as conscious as possible.
"Ok, keep at it."

Then I went by a couple of girls holding a bowl of oranges.  "You look like you could use an orange, Florida."
"Thanks," I said, sucking down the wedge.
"All right," I heard behind me.  "The first runner to take one!"

At each mile where I walked, I could hear, "Come ON Florida," and that spurred me on once again.

When I hit mile 16, I dug in and vowed to run each of the Newton hills.  I came up onto my toes and picked my way up each hill and it was here that the fog began to lift...but the damage had been done.  I still couldn't find a rhythm and now my body bore the brunt of those 16 early miles downhill.

At mile 18, I walked through the water station and saw my cousin and her husband on the side.  "Brad!" they shouted.  I flushed with embarrassment.  "What's up guys?"
"How are you?" they asked.
"Well, I feel like shit.  But, hey, only 8 miles to go."
I chatted for a moment longer then willed myself on to at least good for them as I disappeared down the hill.

Twenty is usually my last milestone.  But at Boston, that milestone is one mile later...and that's the mile 21, the top of Heartbreak Hill.  Hill four of four, I said to myself and set off up Heartbreak.  Similar to running by family, it's hard to walk when you have thousands of people cheering you, willing you, up this Hill of Hills.  The BC kids were rabid on the sidewalks.  I buried my head and kept putting one foot in front of the other.  Arms pump, legs churn.  Arms pump, legs churn. Nice and smooth now, nice and smooth now, I repeated.  And at long last, the work was over and I passed under the "Heartbreak Arch" and descended toward the city.

Near 23, I got my first glimpse of the Prudential building, which disappeared just as suddenly.  When I ran, I focused on my form, trying to be as efficient as possible.  It seemed the simplest, easiest concept to wrap my head around at that moment.  I remembered all the form drills I took on over the summer.  

"Nice and smooth, Florida," I kept hearing.  If only they knew how bad it hurt.  I was like a duck: cool above the surface, but paddling my legs like mad beneath.  I managed a breathy "Thanks" or an errant hand wave to acknowledge.  

One mile to go.  The end is near.
At the Citgo sign, the sign I'd waited for since we first pulled into our hotel, I didn't bother walking through the water station.  I just wanted it to be over.  The crowd was thick now.  I was running on automatic, retreated inside of myself for cover.  I was aware the race was happening but somehow removed as well.  The pain in my hips was deep.  A stabbing pain in my quads with every footfall.  It can all be over soon.

Then the right turn on Hereford street.  I powered up the last hill.  The roar of the crowd crescendoing.

Left turn on Boylston.  The finish in sight.  Go if you've got it, I said and hammered the last 600m.  I saw my father-in-law's hand go up first, then pointed at my wife and blew her a kiss.  So long to get back to her.  My face grimaced uncontrollably and I felt the tears filling my eyes.  I tried to maintain the icy cool composure on the surface but it was rippling behind my sunglasses.  The tears mixed with the sweat running down my sticky face.  

The finish line arch reeled me in.  Somewhere I saw the 26 mile sign and thought, One lap the track. was over.

I crossed the line of my second Boston Marathon in 3:20:21.  The tears came in earnest now and I did nothing to wipe them away.  There was nothing to hide for anymore.  Rather, I just kept moving forward, the living dead, jamming my fingers into my hips to relieve the pain.  The agony, at least, went away.

When I reached my wife and father-in-law, they helped me to the curb.  I sat down and changed out of my father's cross country singlet, having added 26.2 more sweaty miles to it.  Then I slipped my arms through that brand new Boston jacket.

I mentioned last year after Boston that I began this blog to chronicle my journey to the start (and finish line) of the Boston marathon.  It's since become so much more.  I want to extend my sincerest thanks to all who have joined me on this journey, friends old and new, at every and any point.  The support I got on race day and the months leading up to it are what carried me through those hills and those miles.  I hope you'll stay on the bus with me....


  1. I'm staying on the bus...but you gotta get that 3 hours. I thought you might be a little closer.

  2. Brad, glad to join you on this exciting journey. I admire your commitment! I've got a ticket to ride.

  3. Thanks for the support (and for reading), Amy!

  4. I love that this is one of my work breaks! It's so great to read about your journey. I'm going to forward this to a good friend of mine running her first full marathon this weekend.


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