The 114th Boston Marathon (Race Report)

Subtitle: Thank God for Drunk BC Kids!

I'll do another post later with pictures from the @dailymile meetup and Expo on Saturday. Right now, I just wanted to get this out of my head...

I started training for this day, in earnest, in October. Everything I've done for the last 6 months of my life was leading-up to this moment. From the pre-dawn sub-zero runs where my water bottles froze, to the 18-mile drudge in the middle of a Nor' Easter and even the beautiful 21-mile run on the course from the start until just after Heartbreak Hill when I felt like I could have run the marathon in 3:30! One thing I've learned in my short, six-month running career is that some days you have it, and some days you just don't. No matter what you do or how perfectly you prepare, if it's just not your day, it's just not your day. This was one of those days for me. 

Going into my taper I had a litany of small, nagging injuries that I had hoped would heal-up just fine over the three weeks of my taper. Pretty much everything that was bothering me healed-up, and the compartment syndrome in my posterior tib was doing much better. My sports Chiro was treating me with ultrasound and e-stim, etc. And I was doing my part with the stretches and icing. As my taper went along I felt stronger and stronger. With my strong performance in my final 5k Vdot test, I also earned my first blister on my right foot, but it healed well and looked good the morning of the marathon.

I spoke with Coach Cap on Friday evening and we had a long chat about my nutrition plan and I followed it to a "T." I've never felt that nutrition has been a problem for me going into any of my previous races including the Hyannis Half and the Boston Prep 16, but Coach was able to give me some understanding of the differences in nutritional prep for a marathon as opposed to the other distances. I took it all to heart, followed the plan, and didn't have any of my "usual" GI disturbances and pain during or after the marathon. Amazing! Throughout the race I felt like my energy levels were high and don't think I ever really "crashed" physically. I carried a high level of energy all the way through the race, so what went wrong? I'm still trying figure that out...

I went to bed early on Saturday night (9 pm) and Isabelle actually let us all sleep-in by not waking-up until after 8 am (miracles never cease). Sunday I wanted to get to bed at 8, but no matter what I did, i kept finding one more thing that needed to be done in preparation for Monday, finishing-up with making my Belgian Waffle Batter for my Marathon Monday big breakfast and an e-mail from Coach Cap about my pacing strategy. My goal coming into training for this marathon was simply to finish. As I got further into the training and was able to consistently exceed my own expectations and constantly surprise myself, I figured I could run a sub-4 and was most probably capable of much more. Coach Cap agreed and laid-out a strategy for running a 3:45:00. After reading the pacing strategy, I let it sink-in for a minute and got to bed around 9:30.

I woke at 5am with my alarm, jumped into a nice hot shower, lubed-up with Body Glide and got dressed. I decided to wear my nice warm Smartwool Adrenaline Multi-Sport socks until I put my shoes on, when i would slather my feet in Body Glide Liquified Powder and put on my brand new Smartwool PhD Performance Ultra Lite Running socks that I bought specifically for the marathon (apparently a poor choice, btw). I woke-up Lex and Isabelle and started cooking our waffles. We had a nice big waffle and maple syrup breakfast, gathered our things that we had prepared the prior evening and headed-out the door by 630am, arriving at the Masonic Hall (Children's HQ) just before 7am. I was one of the first to arrive (before any of the busses), so I found myself a nice corner upstairs and set-up camp. I was going to relax with some tunes from my brand new 5th Gen iPod Nano , but apparently the headphone jack was screwed-up and only the external speaker worked (you should've seen the funny looks I got from the few other there who were trying to sleep). [post script: I'm a dumbass. I returned the first one only to find the second one had the same problem- The headphones didn't seem to fit in the jack... Only to realize they actually snap into place tight, D'oh!]

I sat and collected myself sipping on my Accelerade until about 830 when I ate a banana and started getting ready. I mixed-up my Fuel Belt bottles of (2) Accelerade and (2) GU (I mix 2 gels + 6oz. of water in each bottle), made sure my bag was packed properly and took it to the bus. Then I walked around making nervous small-talk with some Children's Team member's I was familiar with, used the totally available private porta-potties (awesome) a few times, did some light stretching and jogging around the parking lot. I walked next door to watch the Elites come out to the start and got some good video of Meb and Ryan as they came out. Watched as the sea of humanity that was the first wave started. Did some dynamic stretching with the Children's team, then made my way to my corral.

Once I was in my corral, I found @runnrgrl my running partner for the day. We realized earlier that we were aiming for the same pace/time goal and decided we'd run together as long as we could. We also bumped into @petfxr in the corral and gave hugs and well-wishes to each other. Once we started, it was literally almost 15 minutes by the time we had actually crossed the starting line. While walking toward the starting line I saw my buddy "Phill, Phill Kennedy" and said "hey" to him as he was outside of the corrals waiting to run "bandit" for the second year in a row. I've never in my life witnessed anything as amazing as nearly 23,000 runner's spread-out down the road in front of me. I was trying to take it all in without getting to wrapped-up in it all. I wanted to run conservatively for the first half of the race and not burn myself out before the "Hills of Newton." I decided ahead of time that I wasn't going to take any of the Gatorade Endurance while on the course as Gatorade ALWAYS gives me heartburn, and I'd been training with Accelerade since the beginning. I also planned on taking at least a sip or two of water from the aid station's only if I was thirsty.

Miles 1-5 Splits (9:12)(9:05)(9:07)(8:43)(9:37)

Everything started-out beautifully. With the crowds on the narrow streets of the first couple of miles, I don't think it was possible for me to run any faster. Then I just settled into what I felt was a comfortable pace for me. In the middle of the 5th mile @runnrgrl had to use the porta-potty, so I slowed-up a little so that she could catch back-up without burning herself out, but I also didn't want to lose too much time that it would be difficult to make-up.

Miles 6-10 Splits (8:44)(8:51)(8:59)(8:56)(9:04)

Drank 4oz of my GU mixture shortly into mile 6. My friend James and his wife Shanna had set themselves u[ around 5.5 miles by the Winter St. Bridge in Framingham. I was really looking forward to seeing them, as I was running to honor the memory of their daughter, but somehow I missed them. This was almost too much for me to deal with emotionally at that point. I really struggled with my emotions over the next few miles as we moved from Framingham into Natick . I even pulled-out my Blackberry and sent them a text to let them know how sorry I was to have missed them. @runnrgrl really helped me by putting things into perspective so I could focus on running my own race. Over the next few miles we had some excellent conversation and realized we actually had a lot in common. It never ceases to amaze me when talking to other runner's that just about everyone has something to share, some motivation, history, or experiences that we all have in common outside of running. Doesn't matter where you go, there's such a camaraderie among runner's. It really is amazing. I was incredibly thankful and blessed to have @runnrgrl there to share with at that point. It was exactly what I needed when I needed it. I drank some of my Accelerade concentrate with a water from the aid station at mile marker 8. I kept up a solid pace that would keep me in the sub-4 hour range, figuring if I didn't tear myself up now I could really burn it up after Heartbreak.

Miles 11-15 Splits (8:59)(8:52)(8:52)(9:04)(9:12)

Drank 4oz of GU in mile 11. Coming through the Wellesley Scream Tunnel was an absolutely amazing experience. The support from those girls was simply inspiring. I actually thought about kissing one of them since they were ALL asking for it (LOL), but considering it would most likely be saved and replayed forever in the age of YouTube, I decided to refrain and opted for some high-fives instead. Coming into Wellesley I was feeling great knowing I was halfway done. Drank more of my Accelerade with some water at the mile 13 aid station. I looked at my Half-Marathon split as I passed-over the mats, noticing I was at 1:58 and change I knew I was in good position to hit the sub-4 or better. Just after mile marker 14 I saw my family on the side of the road and stopped for some hugs-and-kisses from my girls and a high five from my father-in-law then was once again on my way.

Miles 16-20 Splits (8:54)(9:26)(9:29)(9:21)(10:23)

After the mile 16 marker I drank some more GU and had a little extra water from the aid station. I continued to run strong and happy after 17, knowing I was going to see Coach Cap after the turn onto Comm Ave. in front of the fire station. Unfortunately, he didn't recognize me with my freshly shaved head and I didn't notice him until right as I was passing by him. I yelled to him and flashed him a peace sign as I continued to hammer out the hills. The hills slowed me down a bit, but overall I didn't feel bad. Although somewhere around mile 17 I started to feel a blister on my right foot and somewhere around the 30k mark my left calf started to cramp. It was also around the 30k mark that I watched @runnrgrl steadily pulling away from me, and a sense of dread started to move-in... The Children's Coaches came running by and asked if I needed anything, told me I was looking good but said I looked like I was "running a little hot." I just kept plugging away as I remembered my 21-miler on the course and how mile 19 was the most difficult for me then too, but knowing it lasted less than a mile, I drank another GU and just kept grinding it out hoping things would pick up if I pushed through it.

Miles 21-25 Splits (11:08)(11:50)(11:54)(10:48)(11:23)

I saw James and Shanna at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill, this gave me a huge emotional lift, but maybe it was too much as I stopped to give them hugs and completely broke-down. Tears were pouring down my face as I ran away from them toward Heartbreak. That hill was not at all like I remembered it. I didn't think I was going to make it, every step was getting more and more painful. About halfway up, my friend Josh (@bostoncardiovet) jumped-in and ran a bit with me. He asked how I was doing and I told him it was getting rough. He told me I was looking good and gave me some more words of encouragement that helped perk me up a little. Then somewhere just after the 21 Mile marker the wheels came off. My blister was bothering me a little bit, but my left calf completely locked-up and I couldn't even walk. The emotions all came flooding-in as I stood there trying to will myself to move. I thought about all of my training, all of the sacrifices my family had made, all of my donors, Jimmy and Shanna,  and all of the people who would be following my performance online and via text. It was all over. Just as I sent a text to Lex telling her simply "I'm done," a whole group of drunk BC guys came running over to me, hugging me, screaming at me and smacking me on the ass, and believe it or not, they helped get my legs moving again. I think I owe my finish to them! LOL! But I knew my goal of a sub-4 marathon was out-of the question at that point. I went into "Just Finish" mode and walked through the aid stations, drinking Gatorade and Water, pouring water over my head, just trying to get through.

Mile 26.2 (10:09) - 4:14:09 Official Time

As I was coming over the bridge into Kenmore Sq. I saw someone go down on my right, looked at them and thought "Oh they're ok" and kept running. Little did I know that they started CPR on the person immediately after I passed by.  My friend Michael (@milesandtrials) was there in the crowd on top of the bridge and started yelling at me. I waved to him, then saw the sign in front of me that read "One mile left," and just started running as fast and hard as I could. I ran that last mile with every bit of heart that I had left. I was passing people by the handful. I even passed a fellow Children's team member from Shrewsbury, whom I knew was an experienced marathoner, one who had smoked me in the Boston Prep 16. As I passed him I said, "Looks like the Shrewsbury guys are going to finish together today." To which he looked up and said "It was a tough one..." and he faded-back. I lost him after the turn from Heresford onto Boylston St. Only to find out later that he had stopped to grab the jogging stroller with his patient partner in it to take him to the finish.

As I crossed the finish, I can't even explain the sense of relief, and exquisite pain I felt. It was so strange to feel both of those things at the same time. I just knew I had to keep moving or I was going to drop. Both calves were cramping, my quads were on fire and my head was spinning. Somehow I moved through the gauntlet that is the post-race area gathering my blanket, medal, food and water and just continuing the drudge through to the family reunion area. You could've knocked me over with a feather, and some lady very nearly did. Luckily we both grabbed each other and held on for dear life preventing us both from going down. We both let out a huge sigh and said "Phew! That was close! Coulda' got ugly." When I finally got there, I was just so incredibly happy to see my wife and daughter. As I sat down on the granite side of a flower bed outside of the Hancock Tower I couldn't help but remember how, in another life, at almost 300 pounds and completely unhealthy I used to take my smoke breaks in that same spot every day... 

I'm STILL really not a runner, but I am a MARATHONER!


My Rock

This started-out as a little note on dailymile, but I figured it needed to be a blog post:

My wife (Lex) is a runner. She's the one who encouraged me to run in the first place. So, yes, it's all her fault. Right now Lex is 22 weeks pregnant, and she suffers from an adult-onset form of Muscular Dystrophy whose symptoms are significantly worsened during pregnancy. The last time she was pregnant I had to help her do literally everything, from turning over in bed, to getting dressed, to walking up the stairs. 

This time she's determined not to let the disease have it's way with her. Her strength and determination never cease to amaze me. She says she's found that when she runs her symptoms are mitigated immensely. She's been sticking to running from 2-4 miles a couple of times a week. Monday (after not being able to run for nearly a week) she ran a little over 2-miles at the park and told me what a struggle it was. 

Yesterday when she set-out on her run she told me she was running our 3-mile loop and when I asked if she was sure, she just gave me "the look" and said "of course." Shortly after she left, I rounded-up Isabelle and jumped in the car to go and be her support team. We caught-up with her at the bottom of the first major hill on that route (over 200 ft elevation gain in less than 1/4 mile), with the toot of the horn she gave a wave and took on that hill. We waited at the top for her and gave her a water bottle as she passed-by. We circled the loop a couple of times offering words of encouragement and "Go! Mommy go!" from the peanut gallery. Then we parked at the top of the last big hill (about the same elevation, slightly longer) and got out of the car and waited. As she came to the top of that hill I got a little watery-eyed and Isabelle yelled "Mommy!" and ran to her. 

Isabelle decided she wanted to run with her the rest of the way so I took the car ahead and lead the way. It was a little over a half of a mile home, so, I was figuring Iz would get tired (or distracted by something shiny) as she usually does before she hits 1/4 mile, but she didn't. She kept running! And running, and running... She even picked-up the pace a couple of times and caught Lex off guard trying to keep-up with her. It was one of the most awesome things I've ever witnessed. My pregnant wife and 3 year-old daughter running their first half-mile together. I was impressed, touched, moved, inspired, amazed. I am a lucky man. A lucky man indeed...



So, I'm sitting here after putting-in my longest marathon training week and surpassing one of many milestones throughout my training... The 50-mile week! A week in which I also passed the 20-mile long run milestone with a 21-mile run on the Boston Marathon course (Hopkinton-Boston College). With my intensive training completed and my taper on the horizon, it seems that some reflection is in order- reflection on the week, the past month, and my training experience as a whole. I've come so far and changed in so many ways I don't know if I can touch on everything I'm thinking and feeling at this moment, but I have to give it a shot or I may not be able to process it all.

Where to start? I guess I'll start with some numbers. My total training prior to entering my "taper" phase: 680 miles. That's almost 26 marathon's that I've run already! That's Boston to Halifax, Nova Scotia; Boston to Dover, DE; Roanoke, VA; Greenville, NC; Cleveland, OH; and almost (about 26.2 miles short of) my hometown just North of Detroit, MI! That's 117 hours of running! If I ran straight through at that pace, I could get to my Mom's place in 5 days. Hmm... Break that up into 12-hour running days, and I could make the trip in 10 days (a possible family trip in the future? LOL)! In March, I marked my fourth month in a row logging over 100 miles with 170 miles total! If I keep up with my fitness through running as I plan too, I could easily eclipse 1000 miles in 2010... Sounds like a goal to me!

This whole journey has been so amazing to me. I simply cannot believe all that I've accomplished. And I'm really not a runner! I'm certainly not anything special. I'm not fast or genetically gifted. I'm just a regular guy who started running to lose weight. I was 265 pounds, with bad knees and a worse attitude. I ate too much, drank too much and didn't exercise enough. I couldn't run more than 5 minutes without stopping to walk, but I kept going. I kept pushing myself. I felt like I was headed toward an early grave if I didn't make some changes. My family inspired me. I wanted to make sure that I was around to enjoy my daughter and annoy my wife for as long as possible! Pretty soon, I was doing what a lot of people do, I was working harder, but not smarter. I was running twice a day! I ended up tearing my Right Lateral Meniscus in an accident at work. In my mind I couldn't help but blame myself. I was over-training and exhausted. I had a lapse in mental and physical acuity and it lead to an injury and subsequent surgery. I could've given-up right there and nobody would've faulted me for it, but I couldn't quit.

Instead, I decided I was going to run the Boston Marathon, and the rest is history as chronicled in these pages. I'm not saying that any of what I've accomplished was easy. It was hard. But all it took was a little mental toughness. A little intestinal fortitude goes a long way! I certainly had days when I didn't want to run. There were days when Lex didn't understand why I just had to stick to my training schedule. Several days I had to literally drag myself kicking and screaming out the door. The 12-miler in sub-zero temps when my water bottles froze and the 18-miler in a driving Nor' Easter come to mind. "These runs only make you stronger" I kept telling myself. Long runs, sure, but there were even three and four-mile runs that I just didn't want to do. But, every single time I got out there, I reminded myself why I was doing this and found the will to go on. Every time I finished a run that I didn't want to do, I somehow felt a little better about myself.

Way back on New Year's Eve, when my training had really just begun in earnest, I took Lex to see the Boston Pops play with Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls at Symphony Hall. It was a magical evening. The Pops, Amanda, Keith Lockhart, the human spectacle of it all, the mixture of the two worlds on stage (and certainly in the audience), made for a most memorable and inspiring experience. But one thing really stuck with me from that night. Shortly after the balloons dropped and the final chords of "Auld Lang Syne" hammered out, Neil Gaiman came out on stage and gave the most amazing New Year's toast I think i've ever heard:

"May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. May your coming year be a wonderful thing in which you dream dangerously and outrageously, that you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself."

Well, I've certainly taken his words to heart this year and I continue to surprise myself with the milestones I cross.  Along this road I set a 5k PR of 25:38, I ran a 16-Mile race on a cold January day, on the most insanely hilly course I could imagine ever running, in 2:42:57. I wanted to break 2 hours in the Hyannis Half-Marathon and finished in 1:54:14. And just the other day I took to the track (something I hadn't done in over 20 years), conquered my fears and had an amazing speed workout where I ran all of my Fartlek Pyramid intervals with a pace of less than 7:00/mile! I went from simply wanting to finish the Boston Marathon to making it my goal to finish in less than 4 hours. Yes indeed, I continue to surprise myself and I have a feeling there are more surprises to come (A sub-22 min 5k? a BQ? An IM Finish?)!

And yet, here I am entering into a new phase of training full of fear and trepidation. I've never "tapered" for anything before. I don't know what I'm supposed to do or how I'm supposed to feel. The whole thing seems counterintuitive to me. I'm afraid I'll lose my edge, that somehow I won't be ready to perform on Marathon Monday. I guess this is where I'm supposed to relax and fall back on my training plan and put those expectations on my coach. You see, he has done this before and he has trained others to do it as well. I trust him and I'm confident in my training. I know that no matter what, I'm going to go out there and give it everything I've got. Now, if I could only control the weather! I'm placing my order now: 41 degrees, partly cloudy with a light breeze out of the West. Think you can take care of that for me? Thanks!