Sunday, April 21, 2013

Chasing The Unicorn: Boston 2013

It's taken me some time to gather my thoughts about the events from last Monday.  I'm still not sure that I've sorted through everything.  My mind keeps wanting to go down the "what if" path.  I have to remind myself that my "what if's" didn't happen.  I can't think about the what if's.  That's no way to live your life.  My goal going into this race was to run happy, be grateful and enjoy every step, even when the going got tough.  That is exactly what I did and the end result was an absolutely perfect day.  No terrorist will ever take that away from me.  My heart breaks for those affected but I know that this will just make runners and the City of Boston even stronger moving forward.

This day was 10 years in the making.  That's how long it took me to become the runner that I am.  That's how long it took me to finally nail it.  Of all the marathons that I have run, this is the only one I've actually run from start to finish.  I didn't walk once despite the overwhelming urge to do so several times in the late km's of the race.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let's start at the beginning shall we?

I was going into this race at about 90%.  I totally beat myself up at Around the Bay and then neglected to give myself the care that I should have (i.e a massage) post race.  Instead I skipped my last few speed workouts, didn't do any leg work at the gym, swam a lot, and eventually dragged my butt in for some A.R.T.   While that helped, it didn't completely sort out the problem.  I seem to have an incredibly tight muscle or a knot buried deep in my hamstring that is putting pressure on my sciatic nerve and affecting my range of motion.  My shake out run on the Saturday was horrible.  My legs felt heavy, my right knee hurt and my left leg was bothering me.  I ran with G through Boston Common and as per usual, he had to talk me off the ledge.  I was starting to freak out, although not enough that it stopped me from appreciating the view.  


We spent the day shopping and walking around Boston.  Sunday was much the same although over a shorter period of time.  I didn't want to spend too much time on my feet.   We got back to the hotel, I laid out all my race gear and prepped my breakfast.  I think I finally fell asleep around 10:00 pm.  My alarm went off at 4:30 am and I sprung into action.  I wanted to make sure I got my physio exercises in before I left to catch the bus.  I ate, covered all the bits that might chafe in body glide and got dressed.  Kiki texted me to say that she was in the lobby so we headed down to meet her and her dad and make our way over to the bus.  It was a chilly morning but the sun was shining so I figured the racing conditions would be perfect.

We got to Boston Common, said goodbye to our escorts and found a line that was moving quickly.  I have to say it was so nice to have some company this time around.  There was lots of joking and chit chatting on the way out.  We watched the scenery go by and listened to the conversations going on around us.  Some people were sleeping.  I was tired but there was no way I could have possibly slept, I was too excited.  Of course there were the obligatory selfies.
And all that hot air / body heat / nerves resulted in some pretty foggy windows on the bus so naturally I took advantage of that and doodled on the window (as one does).  You can't really see what I wrote because of the sun.  It says:  26.2 miles:  Let's DO THIS!

Once we got to the Athletes Village, the goal was to find the porta potties and some coffee.  Done and done.  It seemed like a much busier place this time around.  There were photographers everywhere.  That last time I ran it, there were no photo ops at the "It All Starts Here" sign.  This time around there was a line up to have your picture taken in front of it by a couple of professional photographers.  Funny how times have changed.   We grabbed our coffees, found some free ground and sat down.  We made idle chit chat and people watched.  I tried to Instagram some pics but the 4G was so slow I gave up.  Eventually we figured we should make our way to the porta potties for one last stop, then it was time to dump G's old lime green cycling jacket and make our way over to the baggage buses.  We made one last stop under one of those propane heaters for some last minute warmth.   I still had a long sleeve t-shirt on along with my gloves but I had packed my lululemon pants into my race bag so I was officially cold, despite the sun.  We finally dropped our bags and I did some dynamic warm up work before we started the long walk to the corrals.   It was go time.
Curly and Curly Junior, just before we got into our corrals
 We had one last porta potty stop and then ditched our long sleeve shirts.  It was chilly but I figured standing around in a crowd would give me some warmth.  We watched the first wave go off and then they opened up the gates and let us through.  I gave Kiki a hug, wished her luck and reminded her to enjoy the journey.  I was in the first corral of the second wave so I had a bit of hike to get to it.  It was really strange to get in there and be right up at the start line.  I was literally one row of people back from the official start line.  There was a lot of nervous energy.  Surprisingly, I was calm.  I just wanted to get going.  The Mayor of Hopkinton spoke, wished everyone luck, fired the starting pistol and we were off.

My plan was to go easy for the first 10-15km.  Especially the first 5km.  There is a steep down hill at the start and it's so easy to get carried away here.  I held myself back and watched as hundreds of people passed me.  I didn't care.  I took in the sights and tried to settle into a comfortable pace.  I'd be lying if I said my legs felt good.  They didn't.  They felt like crap.  I had a twinge on the back of my right knee that was affecting my gait and I felt like I had shin splints.  My legs felt heavy and sluggish.  I didn't feel fluid at all.  I didn't panic.  I figured it may take me a while to warm up given that I didn't do the best pre-race warm up.  So, I just plodded along and looked around.  I'd occasionally hear my Garmin beeping at me to speed up so I'd pick it up a bit.  We hit Ashland just before the 5km mark and as soon as I saw the bar, I remembered that this was where all the Harley's were last time I did it.  This time the parking lot was packed with pick up trucks, motorcycles and a whole lot of leather and denim clad people cheering and drinking beer.  Amazing.  Of course, I couldn't help but grin.  Shortly thereafter,  I hit the 5km mark and glanced at my watch:  23:07.  Sweet.  My legs were still not feeling great but my effort level felt good.  I felt comfortable.  

Somewhere shortly after the 6km mark, I realized that the twinge behind my knee had disappeared and that my left glute didn't feel too bad.  I had finally started to warm up.   It was about bloody time.  I finally got into a groove.  My effort felt good and surprisingly I felt pretty strong.   We were still heading slightly downhill so I was still trying to be conservative.  Just before the 10km mark I came up on a guy wearing a black F3 Further Faster Forever t-shirt.  I figured it had to be Toshi who is an F3 athlete that I follow on Instagram.  We had said over IG we'd look out for each other in the starting corral but I never saw him.  So I ran up to him, tapped him on the shoulder and introduced myself.  We shared a high five, I wished him well and continued on.  It was a pretty cool moment.  Shortly thereafter we came into Framingham and were greeted by huge crowds.   The course was finally starting to flatten out a little.  I came up on the 10km mark in 46:06.  I had picked up the pace a little but I was still pretty consistent. 

I made a conscious effort to get Gatorade Endurance at every single aid station.  I was running with a fuel belt and I had 2 bottles of GU Brew with me for when I was taking a gel.  Given that I use half a gel every 15 minutes (can't seem to break that habit from my Ironman days) I like to make sure that I have some kind of fluid with me.  But I knew those 2 bottles wouldn't even be remotely enough to get me through the race so I planned on using what was on the course as well.  Luckily I've trained with it before and I know my body can tolerate it. 

I chugged along, feeling good, loving the feel of wind in my hair and the sun on my face.  This was the first time I raced without a hat on.  I had two of my Sweaty Bands 26.2 hairbands on and I let the fro fly free.  It felt quite liberating actually.  The temperature had started to climb as well so I pulled my right arm warmer off and pulled the one on my left arm down as far as possible without covering up my Garmin.  I had tossed my gloves at about the 4km mark but I wasn't about to toss my arm warmers.   There were a few unpopulated miles during this stretch but as we got closer to Natick, the crowds started to appear, along with the bands.  I passed by a trio in a parking lot playing Asia's "Heat of the Moment".  Talk about a blast from the past.  There were a couple of random guys with guitars along the side of the road, totally rocking out.  Once again I found myself grinning from ear to ear.  As we got into Natick and we ran into the Town Common, it was like running onto a huge stage.  There were crowds everywhere.  I got really emotional as I came into the Common.  I remember saying to myself, Smile, remember this, you're running BOSTON baby.  BOSTON.  Take it all in.  These guys had some really good signs too.  I remember laughing out loud a number of times and giving someone a thumbs up for a particularly good sign.  My reaction was even caught on camera.

From that point on, you couldn't wipe the smile off my face.  I couldn't wait to get to Wellesley College.  I knew it was going to be chaos.  I planned to high five and holler the entire way through.  As I got closer to the 20km mark, I could hear the cheering.  It gave me goosebumps.  I couldn't help but pick up the pace.  My arm was up and ready.  I crossed the 20km mark and barely remembered to glance at my Garmin as I was too busy hollering and high fiving.  I couldn't even hear my music it was SO loud.  It's no wonder this spot is so famous.  I totally picked up the pace through here, buoyed by the cheers an enthusiasm of the crowd.  I remember seeing 1:31 something and then trying to do the math.  I figured I'd hit the halfway point at 1:36 something.  Sure enough I crossed the 21.1km mark at 1:36:47.  If I could hang on to that pace, I'd run a 3:13 and change.  I could only hope that was possible but I had a feeling that it wouldn't be.  I knew I was heading into some tough territory.  But, I was still feeling pretty good.  A little tired but still good.  From this point on, the course was never quiet.  There were always people around.  I knew we had a few more km's of fairly flat ground before we started to climb.  The hills didn't start until around the 26km mark.

I was starting to feel a little tired and my quads were slightly sore but I wasn't terribly concerned.  I kept running along with that silly grin on my face.   I saw the 25km mark coming up and glanced at my Garmin.  I'd pass it well under the 2 hour mark.  Amazing.   I came to the first Newton hill and crested it with no real issues.   It was tougher than I thought it would be though.  The second Newton hill wasn't too bad though.  We had just hit the 28km mark.  This was about the point where I started to fall apart at last year's Mississauga Marathon.  My feet and calves started cramping and I started walking.  Sure my legs felt tired but I wasn't having any issues with cramping.  I'm chalking that up to my hydration strategy.   I drank something at pretty much every single aid station.  I figured that the hurt was going to start somewhere around the 30-32 km mark.  Sure enough when I hit that third Newton hill, my legs started complaining.  I could feel the burn in my quads.  I watched my pace slow as I shuffled up this grinder of a climb.  For a while I thought that I was running up Heartbreak Hill.  I was expecting to see the Boston College boys any minute.  When I didn't, all I could think was Oh crap.  But then I remembered my promise to myself:  Run happy and be grateful even when the going gets tough.  The going was just about to get really tough.

I don't recall Heartbreak Hill being all that bad the last time I ran it.  This time around, it hit me just how tough that climb is.  It's not steep, it's just really long and it's placement in the race is less than ideal.  It's just before you hit the 33km mark.  But once you crest that, it's down hill the rest of the way.  All I could think about was getting to the top.  I had a tough time on this climb.  I tried to smile but every fiber of my body hurt and no amount of smiling was going to make that stop.  Instead of looking up and having my eyes follow the road, I had my head down and was watching my feet.  A sure way to slow down and that wasn't going to happen now.  I lifted my head up and willed myself up and over that hill. 

As soon as I crested the top, it was a fairly decent drop down into Brookline.  I could hear the screaming and then saw the crowds start to swell.  I was coming up to Boston College.  I'd get the occasional wafts of beer from the crowd.  The down hill was killing my quads so I figured I needed a distraction.  It was time for some more hollering and high-fiving.  This crowd was wild.  There were guys that were precariously hanging over the barriers in order to give / get some high fives.  I couldn't help but laugh through here.  And just like the last time, there was plenty of beer.

I'd be lying if I said I remember the next few kms.  My body had really started to hurt.  I remember seeing the 35km mark sign and thinking: Only 7km left. Worst case scenario it's another 35 minutes.  You can handle that.  The crowds along the route were absolutely insane.  I remember running along this part the last time because the road was still as crappy as it was before.  Very uneven.  Not the most ideal footing conditions when your legs are functioning at less than 100%.  Luckily that stretch isn't too long.

When I hit 37km I remember thinking: In 25 minutes you'll be done.  I don't remember a lot about what was around me.  I was definitely running in a haze, I was so focused on the hurt that I was feeling.  Despite the hurt, I know I was still smiling.   The next couple of kms seemed to take forever.  I kept my head up watching for the Citgo sign.  At the 40km mark I glanced at my watch and saw 3:05 something.  I had no clue what my pace was anymore I was running on fumes.  I knew that I probably wasn't going to break 3:15 but that I might be close.  Either way I knew for sure that I was going to be sub 3:20 and that I was definitely going to have a P.B.  Once I realized that I almost burst into tears.  I choked back the tears and focused on putting one foot in front of the other.  No point in starting the blubber fest just yet.  That would just expend more energy than was necessary.  I came up on the "one mile left" marker and looked up to see the Citgo sign.  Once again I started to do the math.  I held on to the slim hope that I'd come in at 3:15 and change.  Then we hit the underpass and I had to climb a slight incline.  Ugh.  I felt the wind go out of my sails.  I came out onto Beacon Street to throngs of cheering spectators and almost immediately felt better.  I was grinning from ear to ear.  Somehow I actually managed to hear my friend Rooster (Glenn) call my name as I made the turn onto Hereford Street.  I turned and waved.  Apparently G and Dave were also there but I somehow missed them.  Rooster got some awesome action shots of me, with my fro blowing in the wind.




As I started to come up to Boylston, once again, I had to work at fighting back the tears.  I made the turn and looked down the road.  For some reason I remembered the finish line being much closer than it actually was.  I glanced at my watch.  Would I make it in the 3:15's?  It was going to be close.  Muse's Uprising came on as I made my way towards the finish line.  I tried to push the pace but my legs had officially had enough.   I ran towards the finish line, grinning from ear to ear.  I raised my hands in the air and said Thank You to the universe.

I hobbled over to the volunteers handing out the medals, still grinning, and an older man congratulated me and put the medal around my neck.  I thanked him and kissed the medal.

I had caught the unicorn in a personal best time of 3:16:02.  I couldn't have asked for a more perfect day.  That is what I always want to remember.

I know I said that I probably wouldn't be back again next year and that I didn't think I could handle 2 marathons in one year but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't toying with the idea of going back for next year's race.  I'd like to run it again in honor of the amazing city that is Boston and in memory of the 3 that lost their lives and the hundreds of others that were injured.   It just seems like the right thing to do.

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