Above: You can see the freaking Citgo sign for miles!
I figure now as as good as any time to start keeping a blog about running. Yeah, 30 years of contemplating about writing about running seems like an adequate amount of procrastination. Plus, now that I’m back from Boston (okay, let’s face facts–I’ve been back for three weeks), I thought it might be nice to write the dreaded Race Report here. There’s a brief and moderately dull one over on Running Ahead http://www.runningahead.com/, but I’m thinking I’d like to be a tad more dramatic and self-indulgent since this is my own damn blog site. Place. Page. Thing. Whatever.
I’ll be honest. Getting a “BQ” has never been a goal in my running. I’d never really thought about it that much. I was vaguely aware that you had to qualify for this particular marathon, but I didn’t really care. Why? Well, mainly because when I began running in 1978 (sheesh), running the marathon distance was not something very many people did. And if they did, they were regarded a tad warily and categorized in that freak zone reserved for people who just ran too damn much.
And I certainly didn’t know anyone who ran marathons. It was the beginning of the Running Boom, and the 10k and 5k were the distances everyone ran. They were manageable. Sane. I was 17 years old and just looking for something to counteract dormitory food and pitchers of draft beer (hello, fake I.D.). There were no Garmins, heart rate monitors, decent running shoes, iPods, tech shirts, chip timing…hell, there weren’t even jogbras yet! I had to run in my everyday bra and tape the straps to my shoulders to keep them from falling down. Eventually, the sweat rusted away the clasps on the back and the bra popped right off in the midst of a run. TMI? Anyway…
It’s a different running world now. And one of the most striking changes is the obsession with the marathon. People who just began running fifteen minutes ago are making their marathon plans. Getting a BQ seems to be the be-all end-all, though I’m not sure why. To me, there are way more important achievements associated with running than hitting some (I would argue) arbitrary qualifying time for a marathon. This, of course, does not mean that running the Boston Marathon is not a huge thrill and an honor. It’s just that…well…the qualifying times don’t seem all that difficult. Particularly for women. (Oh well. I needed some comments on this page anyway.)
That being said, Boston 2008 couldn’t get here soon enough. I trained harder than I’ve trained for any of my past thirteen marathons–peaking at a couple 60-mile weeks. I wanted to get in three 60-mile weeks, but at some point, my body said, “No thank you. Take a nap and eat a pizza for crissakes.” So I had a backoff week instead of a buildup week at one point. Luckily I evaded injury and illness all winter. Not even a cold. At 47, I have chronic aches and pains that I feel every morning. After hard runs or long runs, I limp downstairs to get coffee. But I rarely have pain during a run other than the occasional hamstring tweak. I guess I’ve just had so many injuries over the course of 30 years of racing that my bones and ligaments are fused together at this point. Lovely.
Cheryl and I met my mom in Boston. My mom has always teetered between pride and alarm when it comes to my running. But she was pretty excited about seeing me run Boston, so she flew up from South Carolina. Cheryl and I checked into our room at the Back Bay Hilton, and within four minutes, room service was at the door with a bottle of wine and a tray of cheese, fruit, and crackers. My circle of friends in Nashville had sent it along with a good luck note. To this day, I’m not entirely certain whether the tears it brought to my eyes were a result of their kindness or the fact that I couldn’t drink any wine until the marathon was over.
Boston, on this particular weekend, was the vortex of the marathon world–particularly for women. What with the Olympic Trials the next morning and then Boston the following morning, there was so much adrenaline and energy in that city that the idea of relaxing or sleeping seemed incongruous with reality. I was restless both nights leading up to the race, but that’s not unusual. However the expenditure of energy and excitement the day before the marathon was probably more than I should have spent. We were up at six so that we could wander down to the starting line of the Trials marathon and see what was going on. Everything that weekend was within about a half a mile walking distance from our hotel.
The starting line for the trials was lit up, a banner hanging exactly where the Boston banner would be hanging in 24 hours. A huge American flag draped across the street, and a cold wind flapped it around. As if I weren’t already geeked out enough over all of this, the first person I see standing just beyond the barricades is Kathrine Switzer. Holy Mackerel. To be right there, in Boston, at the trials for an Olympic distance that Switzer helped make possible for women, the day before the marathon that she helped make possible for women to run–well, you can tell my level of discombobuation based on the hideous structure of that last sentence. My mother took about 3000 pictures (after I explained to her who Switzer was) of me standing in the foreground with Switzer behind me. There was even one where it looked like Switzer was chatting to me. Because, you know, Kathrine and I are such close buds and all. Sheesh.
The trials marathon started right on time. It is really soemthing to see that many sub-2:50 women run by at once. Deena Kastor is a machine. At times (just to torture myself), I like to consider that I can’t run one mile as fast as she can run 26. Humbling. But the sentimental favorite that day, for everyone, was Joan Benoit Samuelson running in her last (or so she says…) competitive marathon. She was wearing a bright yellow cap and yellow shoes, so it was easy to spot her. As modest as she is, I’m sure she was well aware that everyone was looking for her. I think she was just helping us out.
When I began running back in the late 70s, Benoit (sorry, can’t bring myself to call her “Joanie” as though we’re pals…you know, like me and Switz) was the person whose running I followed in the same way other teenagers follow rock stars. I knew her times, her training, her injuries, her haircut, and where she picked blueberries. I was in tears when she won the first women’s Olympic Marathon. And on this day, as she ran by with that same quirky childlike gait, her hair grey and that same determined look on her face, it was serious lump-in-the-throat time. My 30 years of running kind of flashed by me right then and there.
Well, enough sap and homage to people who can actually run fast. On to my marathon. Monday morning was cool, windless, and overcast. I made it to the buses in plenty of time and was only feeling the normal pre-marathon panic ( the “I haven’t trained enough, I’ve trained too much, will my watch break?, 26.2 miles is an abnormal distance to run, is that my hamstring?, will I poop my pants?” sort of monotonous hum in my brain). So, so far so good. Both Cheryl and my mother were totally snap-happy with their cameras. Never have there been so many pictures of me wearing running clothes while looking aggravated and nervous.
Does it always take the buses an hour and a half to get to Hopkinton? There seemed to be some sort of colossal traffic jam at the Hopkinton exit (hello, 25,000 runners perhaps?). A string of dozens of school buses inched along forever. And, of course, since everyone drinks water to the point of explosion on race morning, there was some severe bladder angst building in every bus. Finally, one guy on our bus went tearing out to the side of the road and just peed right there in front of, oh, 500 or more people. No pressure or anything. There was some snickering and a lot of “I could never do that” chatter. Within fifteen minutes, however, dozens of people were piling out of the buses and lining the roadside peeing. Men and women. Butts to the interstate. A classic moment in marathoning.
As we waited in the athlete’s village (aka “a big tent surrounded by a sea of port-o-potties”), the sun came out. Still, I was determined to wear the long-sleeved shirt I had chosen. Big mistake. Somehow, the race began before thousands of people were even in their corrals (I was one of them). There was a lot of flailing-armed running through front yards which, in retropsect, was stupid since the chip on your shoe doesn’t care which corral you start from. But, finally, we were off. The first couple miles are seriously downhill. Then there’s some more downhill. I had read about the course and knew all about the error of starting too fast and being impatient. I knew it was better to hold back and be conservative. So, naturally, I took off like a bat out of hell.
Like most people, I’m never sure how I feel until at least 5 or 6 miles into the marathon. Six miles in I felt blah. Ten miles in I felt blah-er. Not bad, just flat. I had hoped to maintain about an 8:10 pace the whole way, but I was having the “Hey! I could almost take a nap!” feeling at only 15 miles. I can’t quite figure out why I felt that way except that I could very possibly have just been totally worn out by all the excitement leading up to the marathon (ya think?).
In every marathon I’ve run, I’ve never really felt like I’m putting forth much effort at all until about mile 13. Not so on this day. It was slightly maddening since I wanted to feel great, but I just didn’t. I stopped for water more often than any marathon I’ve ever run. Slowly, my pace trickled away to 8:15, 8:18…Then the Newton hills arrived. I train on a lot of hills (big hills. Monkey hills.), so I had been privately scoffing at the elevation profile of Boston and its weenie Heartbreak Hill. *sigh* I’ve hit hills late in marathons before, but there’s something different about Boston. Something diabolical. I can’t explain it. I guess that’s the lure to run it again and again in an attempt to figure it out. Anyway, my overall pace ultimately slowed to 8:24. Stupid weenie hill.
If there was anything that saved my ass during this race and pushed me through even in my lackluster state, it was the thousands, the millions of cheering, screaming, drinking, kissing, high-fiving, singing, drumming, irrevrerent, admiring, proud, wisecracking, inspiring people that lined nearly every inch of roadside from Hopkinton to Boston. The final mile was thunderous. I’ve never seen crowds so genuinely excited for and proud of the runners running through their streets. And when I turned onto Boylston and could see the finish line of the most famous marathon in the world within reach–well, let’s just say it’s hard to run and cry. As usual, my finish photo should be a real gem.
In the end, I finished at 3:40:16. About 5 minutes slower than I’d hoped for, but still a 2-minute masters PR.
Immediately, my legs were logs as I stumbled through the finishing area stages–water, medals, mylar blanket, food (yuck. who can eat after a marathon? Beer, yes. Food, no). The buses that had our bags from the start were lined up in alphabetical order…my last name begins with an “s.” My bus was six thousand miles away. Finally, I headed over to the family reunion area. Why, I ask you, did we all decide to meet at “s”? No one would have known if we had decided that for that day my last name began with an “a.” However, twelve thousand miles later, I found Cheryl and my mom. Happiness, hugs, and many more pictures of me looking disoriented and relieved.
After a shower, Advil, and stretching, my legs were almost halfway normal. Cheryl and I headed down to the hotel bar for my traditional only-after-a-marathon beer: Sam Adams. (Note: Do not misread this to think that I only drink beer after a marathon. That would be hilarious and mortifying. I only drink Sam Adams after a marathon. A superstitious tradition.) We sat at the bar receiving texts and calls from friends back in Nashville who had been tracking me online. The bar filled up with marathoners–some still in their mylar. Cheryl used her phone to take a pic of me drinking a beer and sent it to a friend who was chained to her desk. Good times.
Boston. I said I wanted to do it once–just for the experience. But the funny thing is, the experience has made me think I might want to do it again next year. After all, I qualified for next year’s Boston at this year’s Boston. I think you’re required by marathoner geeks law to run it again if this happens.