Wednesday, April 17, 2013

2013 Boston Marathon Redux - Part I: The Race

Note to readers: I normally break marathon recaps into two parts, and this time will be no different; however, Part I will strictly be about my race (and a little longer), while Part II will cover the tragic events that followed. Thank you for coming along for the ride.

Picking up my bib.
“You idiot,” I thought to myself. The sky had begun to lighten on the still downtown streets and the air bit at my cheeks – a temperature marathoners would call perfect. Yellow bags dotted the sidewalks, their owners walking with purpose. I cinched the black lace around my own yellow bag tighter and fell in with them. I had missed the turn for the T station to take the train the two stops where the buses would ferry us to the start line. Instead, I would walk the mile or so to get there, the mile I deemed “just a hair too far” to justify walking the day before. Alas.

I walked around the finish line on Boylston Street, taking precaution not to cross under it, the same way hockey players refuse to touch the Stanley Cup until they’ve earned it. Still, I made the mental note, “I will see you again.”

School buses streamed by on Tremont Street with runners waving to one another. The air felt electric with excitement and anticipation. I allowed myself a small drop of adrenaline that sent a shiver down my back and curled my toes. When I boarded the bus, my headphones came out and piped Mumford and Sons in. I closed my eyes reciting my race strategy, keeping my secret 2:47 goal in mind that only a handful knew about, and trying to sleep as the bus grumbled onto the highway.

A meeting of the Brads.
When we pulled into Hopkinton, I meandered through the tents and wet grass, hoping to find the group of Runner’s World Loopsters who had descended on Boston. Bangle spotted me first and I settled in to the circle of people I had to this point only known by usernames, blogs, and Facebook posts, but who I also felt an instant connection. We chatted as though we had been friends for years.

Nearing 9:00, I pulled out my snacks, and reassured Bangle that he smelled my hard-boiled egg and not the porta-potties. This year I made sure to steer clear of the bagels that had given me the crushing insulin spike that helped derail my last two Bostons. I made one last porta-potty stop where I met Jaclyn Johnston (another Loopster) who spotted me and gave up three spots in the line to chat with me. We talked of races past, Ragnars, training leading up to Boston, and she instilled confidence in me by saying simply, “Hey, three’s a charm, right?”

I parted from my new friends and hustled over to the start line. I’m always amazed by the support of Hopkinton citizens. People line the .75 mile walk to the start offering everything from encouragement to free Vaseline. While I moved among my fellow Boston runners, it was all at once a lonely walk as well. In my head I replayed the routes, the 80 mile weeks, the long runs, the darkness, the rain, the nutrition, the snow, the heat, the weighty tiredness, and the milestones…all leading up to this moment, all for these 26.2 miles. It was the first time it felt real, that this was going to happen, and that I was once again about to make the journey from Hopkinton to Boston with heavy hopes of not just a Boston PR but an overall PR.

Then the gun….

The final straightaway down Boylston Street.
I concentrated first on creating space along the narrow Hopkinton roads and, most importantly, not going out too fast despite the roller coaster drop of a downhill that marks the course’s opening. I flowed with the masses as we filled the streets like a dam suddenly broken.

I carried those weighty thoughts with me for the first four miles, almost not believing that this was happening – the marathon. I waited for the soft dizziness to fill my head as it had the last two Bostons, and the 12 mile sufferfest I grinded through at Marine Corps from miles eight through twenty. But it never came. I checked my watch and kept pulling back on the pace, reminding myself that there is no such thing as banked time at Boston. The four mile marker came, and it was time to make a decision, “run the race scared and worried” or “tap into the confidence and let it rip.” I chose the latter, giving my head two taps for courage with my water bottle and mumbling a breathy “let’s go” to myself.

The sun disappeared behind the clouds offering a brief reprieve and I fell into a steady rhythm. The effort came easily now and I rode Boston’s undulating terrain. I focused on staying in the middle of the road, making it easy for me to slide over to the water stations on the left side of the course to take water on the even miles and simply sip from my electrolytes on the odd miles away from the congestion.

At mile 10, I noticed a shift in the grade and the sun on my shoulders again. The road tilted upward and I felt the sensation of having to do a little work at this point. “Ride out the rough patches,” I thought. “It will get better.” I broke the next few miles up: 5K to the Wellesley scream tunnel, then just three more miles to Newton.

After 12, the shops begin to disappear, replaced instead by woods-lined shoulders, a sense of quiet, and, yes, a downgrade to reset. I do love this part of the course for the simple moment of solitude to complete a status check and prepare for the second half of the race. That, and at the bottom of the hill, you can hear the first shouts from the Wellesley girls. It’s hard not to pass through that tunnel of rabidly screaming coeds without a smile on your face. Best sign I saw: Wellesley: Fast Girls; Good Times.

My friend Ebo and father-in-law.
I came through the half in 1:23 low, a little faster than where I wanted to be but feeling strong enough not to worry about it. The plan from here was to engage at mile 16, manage the hills by maintaining effort, and set myself up for the downhill miles to the finish. Now to get to Newton.

I took the first Newton hill (one of four) with ease, feeling the power course through my quads with every push off. Instead of simply maintaining effort, I attacked, gobbling up the road with big ground-eating strides then flying down the backside. Just before 17, I saw my co-worker, a nice boost to prepare for the next hill. At 18, I searched for the cousins-in-law I stopped to chat with in 2011, vowing to give them only a confident wave this time around. Sadly, I missed them this year, but later heard that they saw me flash by.

The remaining hills did not come as easily, though. I made the effort to run through the top of the remaining trio, keep my form neat, and accelerate down. I came through 20 miles in 2:06 and realized I could run a 54 minute 10K to hit my C Goal (sub-three hours) and a 44 to hit my A Goal (sub-2:50). Heartbreak Hill loomed ahead and I calmly strode up latching on to the effort and resisting the urge to look at the pace on my watch. When I hit the top, my coach’s words of “run through it” were in my head and then there he was yelling, “You look great, Brad!” I smiled, nodded, and took off. The mile between 21 and 22 would be my fastest, a blistering 6:06.

My wife and I.
Miles 22-24, I started to feel the strain, but for every uphill, there was a downhill to recapture my stride and let the pace catch up with effort. The water stations started appearing on the right side of the road only so I relied on small sips from my bottle the rest of the way.

At 24, I pictured the final two miles of my training routes, knowing that I had run those two miles countless times, on fresh legs, tired legs, wobbly legs, and still I always made it home. I caught a glimpse of the Prudential building that would mark the finish line I had promised to see once again. And then the iconic Citgo sign brought me within one mile.

By then I knew I had my A Goal, it was only a matter of how much. I willed my legs onward, arms pumping, legs churning down Commonwealth Avenue. Tightness had started to grip my shoulders and the pangs of a cramp reverberated in my ribs. I forged ahead and spotted the flags waving in front of our hotel. I spotted my father-in-law and pointed, flashing a grin.

A block ahead lay Hereford Street. I dreamed of this moment at night before going to bed, fantasized about it on training runs, and let myself drift to it during meetings…the clock turning over relentlessly but my goal in reach, arms up like Frank Shorter after winning the 1972 marathon in both jubilation and relief. Here it was.

Zipping up the new jacket.
I drove up Hereford Street and hung the last left on Boylston. The finish line appeared at the end of the road, the same walk I had mistakenly made in the morning. The roar from the crowd echoed off the buildings, deafening and chilling. I surged watching my pace lurch down to 5:45 as the finish line grew larger, drawing me in, closer and closer, until finally….

I crossed in 2:47:51, a PR by 5:08, not just at Boston but every marathon I’d ever run. It washed over me all at once and I fought back the tears from the physical and emotional wringing. I called my wife and wept into the phone, saying simply, “I did it.” My friend Ebo came charging toward me wearing a big smile. We embraced as he helped me to the curb and he, my wife, and father-in-law helped put me back together.

I couldn’t stop smiling as the medal clanged against my chest and I slid my arms through my Boston jacket and we began the one mile walk back to the hotel elated, triumphant.

To my friends who supported me and urged me on, to coworkers old and new who came along for the ride (again), to the Loop who became my running family, to my coach who brought my training to new levels, to my Uncle for always listening and consulting, to my parents for their enduring love and understanding, and to my wife who always believed, every one of you shares in this with me. The finish line is ours to break together.


  1. I don't usually come here to read you, Brad, but this is a gem. And much needed this week, more than ever. Congrats.

    1. Thank you, Dave. And I just want to say how humbled I was by the outpouring of support on Monday during the race from the Loopsters and particularly you for following me (and the other Boston Loopsters) and posting updates to the group. So happy and proud to be a member of this group.

  2. WONDERFUL, Brad! What a thrill to read along with you during those last few miles. And, of course, I'm glad to hear you're physically safe.


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