My weekly mileage in preparation for the marathon, which was completely disrupted by multiple injuries: 41, 47, 58, 58, 70, 73, 74, 30, 40, 36, 62, 32, 33, 50, 18.
With that low and sporadic mileage I knew I could be in the danger zone in the second half of the marathon despite my 1:17:15 half 5 weeks prior to the marathon.
Plan: I decided that I would roll the dice and go out at about 2:45 pace (~6:17) and at least give myself a chance. Who knows if or when I would come back to Boston; I did not want to be conservative. On the flip side I though that 6:17 was manageable and not too fast. I wouldn’t sweat it if i started a little slower and slowly progressed the pace like it did a Cherry Blossom a year before.
Execution: I wish I could be more romantic about the Boston Marathon, but I really looked at it as a mission and went into it more cold and tactical. The bus ride to Hopkinton was uneventful, we were happy to have splurged on the special buses and not be on school buses. The bus was our base for getting ready and before we knew it Danielle and I were jogging to the start corrals. I was in #2 and she was in #3 so after a short warm up we said goodbye. That was tough just because I had never ran a marathon on my own and I also wanted to be there for her and share the experience with her. I gave her a hug and kiss and we went to our respective corrals.
The elites came out (Go Joanie!), the national anthem was sung, and we were off. I must say I was amazed just how crowded that first mile was. Usually it doesn’t take long for even a crowded marathon to open up, but I was farther back than I think I realized, near the back of the second corral. That put probably 1700 people in front of me, and most of the people around me wanted to run about the same pace. The masses kept the first mile slow and the first 5k under control, 5k split: 19:33, 6:18 pace.
From there for me it was just run to the next 5k split. I tried not to think of the enormity of the task or the stage, just run to the next set of mats where I knew my progress would be relayed to my family and friends, and that gave me strength and focus. My vision was narrow and I don’t remember very much about the course, just the huge number of spectators and the density of fast, focused runners around me.
10k split: 38:57, 6:16 pace (last 5k 19:24, 6:15 pace)
15k: 57:23, 6:16 pace (19:26, 6:15 pace)
20k: 1:17:49, 6:16 (19:26, 6:15 pace)
Next big milestone was the screams from the girls in Wellesley, it is legit and you can hear them from what seems like a mile away. True to form I enjoyed the moment, appreciated their dedication and support but passed through on pace and on a mission.
Half: literally perfect, 1:22:00, 6:15 pace, 30 seconds ahead of 2:45 pace, expecting a slight fade in the second half, feeling good and under control.
25k: 1:37:09, 6:15 (19:20, 6:13 pace) ok maybe the Wellesley girls amped me up a little bit
30k (18.6 miles): 1:56:50, 6:15 (19:41 6:20 pace) start of the hills, still feeling ok but legs starting to tighten up a little bit. Keeping the pace was becoming more of a struggle. It is around here that I realize that something bad was looming, but I was hopeful that I can get to the finish line before it happens.
Somewhere around 19 I hear my name. I think it is an angel to magically transport me to the finish, or at least forward in time, but as it turns out it is just Michel Kahn, apparently I passed him. He went out fast, about a minute ahead of me at the half and was paying for it (I should have asked him why he marathons). I did my best to encourage him and distract myself, but as rapidly as he appeared he was gone and I was left to reckon with the remaining hills
35k(21.7 miles): 2:16:34, 6:17 (19:44, 6:21 pace) the good news is I survived the Newton hills including Heartbreak. The bad news is the writing is on the wall, my legs are very tight and I am now experiencing shooting cramps in both calves, but even worse in both hamstrings. Also at this point I am absolutely hating the downhills. I never believed the people that said that by the end of Boston they preferred the uphills to the downhills. But at this point my legs were trashed and the downhills hurt considerably more.
Around this point I tried to tell myself that there was “only” 4.5 miles left of the best marathon on earth and I should cherish it and be worried that it was rapidly coming to an end. That mind game failed. At this point I was just terrified of a melt down and my legs were telling me one was coming as the shooting cramps in my hamstrings began to occur more and more frequently.
40k (24.8 miles): 2:36:56, 6:19 (20:22, 6:33) Running to the Citgo sign, but the the wheels are coming off, the top half of me feels ok, but the entire bottom (important) half of me is done. My stride is trash. My already compact stride has been shortened by the cramping especially in the hamstrings. I can’t keep the pace. I know it is falling off and I want to go faster, I try to go faster but I can’t. I have the will but my legs literally will not propel me any faster. Despite the fade off my pace I am very happy with how I battled here, I had not given up on my goal of sub 2:45 and I kept trying to surge to find a way to get back on pace. It was during one of these “surges" that...
BANG, it was like I heard and gunshot, my first reaction was that the sound was my right hamstring snapping a la Derek Redmond. I limped quickly to a stop, even now it is hard to imagine that anything could stop me, but in that moment it was physically impossible for me to run. As I came to a stop I looked up and I was standing exactly at the huge 25 mile marker of the marathon. One thing I will always remember is the crowd, I noticed them because of the sound. As I pulled up the sound was most comparable to the sound I heard in Fenway on Sunday when the crowd was looking for a big strike out and the ump didn’t oblige. It was like a loud sigh but also exasperated and upset. I looked up and saw the crowd stacked 10 deep and they wanted me to be running again. I heard, “NO NO NO, GO GO GO!!” as people pointed down the course, And I tried, first try, nothing right leg won’t bend, tried walking and that wasn’t happening either. And again I tried to run but without luck. I was no longer afraid of not hitting my time I was afraid of not finishing. Then I heard “RUN, F*CKING RUN!” I decided that sounded like a good idea and I would try to run if only for 5 steps. I bit my lip and pushed through the initial pain and found I could hobble run. I will never forget the sound that the crowd made as I got going again. It was amazing. It literally propelled me forward, I had to keep going.
I wish I could remember anything good from that last 1.2 miles, but they were literally the longest miles of my life. Despite the amazing stage and the amazing Boston crowds, I remember no appreciation, no joy as I hobbled home. I just had to get to the line, I just wanted to be done.
I was hemorrhaging time, I was getting passed by the dozens, but as I neared the line relief washed over me. I have never been so relieved to finish a race. I walked the last few steps across he line, raising my hand in the air (a la Danielle winning Thunder Road), and it was over.
The worst part of finishing in 2:47 as opposed to 2:45 is the women around me who just missed qualifying for the Olympic trials. I am sure the feel was completely different 2 mins ahead but that is not where I finished. I finished with a few women who are infinitely more talented than I and missed their goal by 30-90 seconds, in a two hour forty-seven minute race that is less than 1% off the standard. As bad as I felt at that moment, I felt worse for them.
Post Race: Another problem with these big marathons is the finishing chutes are LONG. I tried to hobble through but I was really struggling. Every time I stopped nice volunteers came to my aid and offered me assistance. I didn’t need assistance I just needed to not be moving and maybe sit down. At the time I didn’t really appreciate it, but in retrospect, with 26,500 people coming behind, the volunteers really had to keep everyone moving. After turning down about 10 offers of wheelchairs I hobbled up and received my medal. The next offer of a wheelchair I accepted and I was swept off to the little piece of heaven that was the medical tent. They laid me down, gave me a ton of gatorade, covered me with blankets and worked on my cramping legs. After about a half an hour I was able to convince them to let me go so I could find Danielle. Somehow I found Danielle almost immediately and learned that she ran a gutty 3:14. I began to see other Charlotte folks and heard about Woodbury’s monster 2:42, Beigay’s PR, not to mention the incredible performances by Mutai, Davila and Hall.
All and all I consider it a successful day.