It must have been a little after noon on Patriot’s Day 2011 when I passed 18 miles in my second Boston Marathon. The sun hung high overhead and a slight breeze grazed the backs of my arms and calves. Marathoners of all levels would call the weather ideal and Geoffrey Mutai would underscore that by breaking the tape in a world best 2:03:02, probably around my moment. I, on the other hand, had gone into survival mode against the storm raging inside my head, the one that battered my confidence starting at mile six.
I began negotiating “just get to…” checkpoints since mile eight, and began gallo-walking just after the scream tunnel at Wellesley. When I looked up and saw my wife’s cousin and her husband standing and cheering in front of their house, I made my way over to them. I stopped. And we chatted.
“How are you?” They asked, somewhat surprised.
“Awful,” I said. “Eight miles to go, though.”
I eventually finished, but the experience proved nothing short of a suffer fest. I had vowed to return – after barely requalifying – a smarter and stronger Boston runner that year. Instead, I limped in having over-trained, over-raced, and over-injured in the fall and winter.
Go enjoy the experience, I thought, tossing any time goals out the window the week before the race. I did not.
Six months after that, I huddled with some friends at an outside bar in Arlington, VA. The heat lamps burned bright enough to fend off the shivers. Some of us had just run the Marine Corps Marathon days before, while others had their eyes set on Philadelphia. And me? I sipped on my iced tea and avoided shaking hands or sharing dishes, as the New York City Marathon loomed just five days away. That Boston experience seemed like a century ago.
My training had been flawless: no illnesses, no injuries. I barely recognized the runner I had been heading into Boston. The usual panic and nerves I carried with me prior to a big race had vanished. I overheard my friend Ebo talking to my wife at the end of the table. It went something like this:
“I’m going to take the bus up when I get back from Delaware on Saturday night,” Ebo started.
“What? Why? You won’t get in until 4:30 or so in the morning.”
“Brad just looks so Zen. I want to see this.”
“This” turned into a 13-minute PR, a first marathon underthree hours, and…a Boston Qualifier – all things, I must note, the man on thesubway told me I would not do hours before the race.
I continued to run through most of the winter, ripped off a couple wins in 2012, and signed up for the 2012 Marine Corps Marathon. Still, as I trained, as I raced, Boston haunted me. The fabled race never drifted far from my focus. I didn’t speak of it outwardly, but while I sweated from the sidelines of the 2012 race, watching the heat-induced carnage, something stirred inside of me to return.
I started plotting even prior to running Marine Corps. I let not only the turn onto route 110 marking the last mile of Marine Corps carry me through rough patches, but also the cauldron of noise reverberating off the high buildings of Boylston Street when the finish line at long last comes into view and the pain seems to melt away.
And so, it is with the same peace I found prior to New York that I sit here and type this out, prepared to – as Quentin Cassidy and Jerry Mizner would say – “let my demons waaiiiiil on” against those Boston ghosts….