We can only know the glory of the mountains by suffering through the valleys.
As of Monday I am no longer qualified to run the Boston Marathon. I have another medal with another unicorn on it to add to my collection. I have some reasonably tired legs. I have 38 minutes of shaky video. I have mixed feeling of remorse for not being able to run in a way that respects this course, this event. I also feel a little bit of fear. Fear that maybe the way up from this low point is too steep. Maybe this was my last Boston. Maybe my days are done.
Strange as it may sound to you all, in my personal psychosis I feel guilty – guilty to have walk-jogged the world’s pre-eminent marathon. I feel like I took a test I didn’t study for. I feel like the kid who went to class, didn’t take notes, heckled the professor and dropped out before the exams.
I know I have excuses. I know many o f you would love to have the opportunity to walk-jog this grand, old event just one time. I know my 14 appearances at Boston must seem a positive gluttony of marathon consumption to some of you.
Why do I feel so crappy about slogging through my second slowest marathon ever on Monday? Because, I’m a harsh critic of myself? Much harsher than anyone else. This is how I create dynamic tension in my little, warped world. This is how I create so much mental discomfort that I’m forced to do something about it.
Now it’s time to stop moping and re-qualify.
As I leaned into the first hill up over 128 I saw the woman in front of me was running in socks. Not barefoot, but as close as you can get to barefoot. As we passed through one of the places where spectators were throwing water onto the course I could see her footprints on the harsh white concrete of the overpass. The clearly articulated toes and arches fading out as they exited the wet patch and disappeared up the road into the hot cement.
It reminded me of fossilized footprints of homo erectus in sub-Saharan Africa. That perfect foot print speaks volumes about us. About our restless forward migration. About our habit of putting one foot in front of the other over the years and miles and in the face of many challenges. That’s who we are. We are marathoners. And here at mile 17 of the Boston marathon the tribe of marathoners continued its desert migration.
Late in the race the aid stations stopped trying to sweep up the paper cups. The combination of water and thousands of footfalls turned the paper cups into a sort of white, waxy mulch. As I packed my shoes for the ride home they were covered, or more like frosted in this dried paper cup mulch. It was like they were sprayed by an industrial paper mache’t machine.
It was a hot day. To give you an idea of how hot it was for us I’ll tell you a story. An anecdote from later in the week. Wednesday Morning I came back from a trip and I had parked my car on the roof of central parking at Boston’s Logan Airport. I had been driving around with an unopened can of soda water in the car for weeks. When I got back Wednesday morning it had exploded from the heat in the car, from sitting in the sun, on Tuesday, the day after the race.
I knew I didn’t have the fitness to race or even to run. I did the smart thing and mailed it in. I started programmatically walking early. I had my GymBoss timer with me and I set it to run 4 minutes and walk 2 minutes. I ran the first 2 or 3 miles just to get out of the panic and crush of the start down and out of Hopkinton.
I hadn’t made it to my coral on time. There was a traffic jam getting to the baggage buses and the corrals. I managed to make it into the back of corral 5 before the second wave starting gun went off. This was probably for the better because I was running so far off my qualification pace anyhow.
I was wearing a simple singlet and shorts. An orange hat I bought at the expo and a new pair of Celtic-green Zensah calf sleeves that Zev provided for me. Love those Zensah calf sleeves. I had ironed my traditional jolly Rodger pirate patch onto my Squannacook River Runners singlet.
I got a ride with the other members of my club out to Hopkinton. We stretched out and greased up and did our pre-race rituals at the athlete’s village before splitting up to head out to the race.
I tried to tape my Plantar Fasciitis, but with the heat, my feet were sweating and the tape wouldn’t stick. And I thought better of it. I wore my Brooks launches with my old orthotics. I made sure to grease up heavily with Aquafor because the heat and sweat can cause big issues with chaffing.
I wore my slant pack to have a place to put a baggie full of Endurolytes and some Chocolate #9 gels I found while cleaning. These were probably 2 or 3 years old but looked ok. The original plan was to put my video camera in the pack but it was too hard to get in and out so I just stuffed the camera in a baggie and carried it in my hand. I screwed the tripod into the camera to have a handle and this helped a lot in the course.
In my other hand I carried my traditional 24 oz bottle of half-strength Gatorade. I kept this with me the whole race and only threw it away at the end to lighten the load. I refilled it at water stops.
I suspect you all have heard how hot it was. It peaked out around 90 degrees on the course. The hottest part of the day for us was the section of the course leading up to and through the hills.
But, this is Boston. The runners here knew what they were getting into. The crowds along the course knew what was required of them. And the organization knew what to do. Only a few fools tried to ‘go for it’. Most runners just stayed within themselves and managed the course and the heat as best they could.
Since I knew I wasn’t racing I started walking early with a 4 minute run/ 2 minute walk rhythm. This worked well for me and my heart rate never went up and I never really overheated. I stayed under the threshold. I managed it. As a result I won’t be talking about heroic finishes or hitting the wall or any of those other exciting and lusty things that great races entail. It was just a long, slow, hot hike into Boston.
Since I knew I wasn’t burning a lot of fuel I stayed away from the gels and Gatorade and oranges that were being handed out. I stuck to water. I ate a couple endurolytes and a Chocolate #9 every 5 miles, but that’s it. Cramming nutrition on a hot day like this will just make you nauseous. Being hot doesn’t mean you’re burning any more calories.
Since I was managing my effort level I wasn’t overheating either so I stayed away from all the hoses and fire hydrants and dumping cups of water and kids with squirt guns. As long as I managed my effort there was no reason to get soaking wet for 4 plus hours. As a result I had to move around on the course to avoid being hosed down a few times.
And there was water everywhere. Residents sprayed hoses on the runners. Fire hydrants, misting tents, misting stations…you could not go more than a K without someone throwing water in your direction.
The normal aid stations every mile seemed to be able to keep up with the consumption. I only found one table without water late in the race and I was back in the pack. Water wasn’t a problem. Towards the end the water got a little warm, which was a bit yucky, but not something that could be avoided.
There was no shade on the course per se. Occasionally the slanting sun would create a small strip of shade in the shadow of the buildings and all the runners would hug the side of the road to trudge along in it for as long as they could.
I didn’t see too much dramatic carnage. Folks were walking a lot. The med stations all had their share of customers and occasionally you’d see the EMT’s go by with some poor soul on a gurney. But it was never dire or chaotic, just a well managed hot attrition of sorts.
Early in the race people were a bit miffed at me for pulling over and walking every 4 minutes. I tried to get off the road and out of the way but the field is crowded and the roads are narrow through the early parts. Later on, no one cared.
At mile 15 I was getting tired and the 4 minute runs were becoming a hassle so I reprogrammed my GymBoss to bleep every 30 seconds. 30 seconds of running and 30 seconds of walking. In one sense it was very freeing because I didn’t have to think about anything just run when it said run and walk when it said walk. Because of the frequency when it came time to run, I could still run well, and with fairly good form.
As we got into the hills the constant stopping and starting got a bit dicey. You’d just settle into a stride and have to put the brakes on. Accelerating from a walk to a run repeatedly was making my Achilles and plantar a little angry too. I guess that’s why they recommend training with the run walk if you’re going to use it in a race, huh? My back also got sore from not being used to walking so much. But I was able to take bunch of video and it was manageable. A long, hot, hike.
At one point I thought I felt my nipples chaffing so I accepted a large dollop of petroleum jelly from a bystander. This was great except I got it on my hands and water bottle and had to deal with having greasy hands for the rest of the race.
I had no heart rate strap and did not wear my Garmin and I didn’t even start my watch. It wasn’t that kind of race. No need to keep track of anything. All I needed was the slight vibration and beep of my pink GymBoss to tell me what to do next.
I had it clipped to the neckline of my singlet so I could hear it over the crowd. Even so, when we got into BC and BU the kids were screaming so loud I couldn’t hear it over the roar. Or maybe I was just too tired and all the noises blended together.
Some other things I remember from the race:
- I remember seeing Rick and Dick Hoyt at a water station in Wellesley
- I said ‘hi’ to Alett at the base of Heartbreak.
- Some kid ran out of the crowd, maybe 12 or 13 years old, and ran beside me shouting encouragement very earnestly. Because I was walking he thought I was struggling. He followed me for a good minute, earnestly willing me to get to the finish line.
- I got lots of “Don’t walk! Get running” type comments from the spectators. What can you do? The Boston crowds expect more from their runners.
- The funny signs the Girls at Wellesley held up – Kiss me I’m Irish, Kiss me I’m Columbian, Kiss me I’m Jewish, Kiss me I’m fun-sized, Kiss me I’ll Gluten-free, Kiss me I won’t tell your wife…
- The really athletic and pretty women around me in the back of the midpack.
- The sticky ground especially after the section where they were handing out sickeningly hot power-gels.
- The multicultural, cosmopolitan makeup of runners from all over the world, Spain, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Korea… All making their way to Boston – it’s really a ‘World’ race.
- The lumpiness of the road in the late mikes that uncomfortably rolled under my foot plant.
At the end of the day I walk/jogged my way through the heat over the distance and down to the finish line. It was tiring. It was hot. It wasn’t all that difficult at the pace I was moving. And it was a bit disappointing for me, who expects more from myself.
No we get to wipe the chalk board fresh and start again, building our strength and fitness and speed to earn the right to get to Hopkinton again, God willing.