Thursday, May 1, 2014

Boston Marathon 2014, more than a race...

Running the Boston Marathon in 2014 will go down as one of the top 5 moments of my life to date.  The experience was surreal and I still haven't been able to put in words to describe it, but I'll try here.  As I lead up to the race I just thought of how I'd crush a PR, finish in the top 1000 and that it was just going to be like any other race, only with a lot more people.  This race was so much bigger than that in the end, I ran well and had a great time but that's not why I will remember this experience.

As I had been leading up everyone kept mentioning to me how crowded the race was, how their would be large crowds and so on to get me ready for a race of this magnitude.  My largest race to date was the Philly Half Marathon but I started at the very front and only saw a few hundred people, but for Boston I was corral 3 wave 1, about 3000-4000 people back from the starting line.  In the end as I prepared myself mentally I thought the large group would disperse after a mile or two and sure there would be loud crowds in a few spots but it would be like any other marathon, and boy was I mistaken.

So I arrived at Boston on Saturday once again with my fantastic support group to cheer me on and take in this experience with me.  First thing we did of course was attend the Orioles vs Red Sox game, which of course Orioles lost.... but the game had some ceremonies for the marathon which I thought was cool and as I was walking around in my O's jersey and asked what brings me up here I was immediately met with much praise and accolades for running the marathon on Monday.  It was cool to have people actually seem interested that I am running a race.  The race atmosphere did not stop there, the expo was amazing.  Seeing some of the big names in running as I walked around the booths and picked out my Boston swag I was going to wear back at home to show I was really here was just awesome.  When I picked up my bib and got my number it really set in that this is happening I am running.  Even that evening at dinner people saw my Boston Marathon jacket and were talking to me about it and being supportive it was not what I was expecting at all.

So Monday morning was here, I woke to discover the Orioles blew a 5 run lead and lost on last play of the game and quickly snuck out of the room before the wife could find out and say anything, damn red sox fans.  Following a lot of advice I arrived at the buses around 5:30 and had no issue getting on, but wish I had brought some water as it seems that was allowed on the buses.  Doh.  I figured I would sleep on the way over but met a runner as social-able as I am and we ended up talking about running and the marathon for the entire ride over.  Which I think was great for me as everyone complains that drive over makes you really acknowledge just how far you are running that day.  I arrived at the athlete village which quickly helped me realize just how many people were running that day.  Later the 3/4 of a mile walk began and finally I arrived at Hopkinton and got in my corral, shouting my "O" during the National Anthem and had my couple of moments of silence and just like that the gun was off and I was running.  Or not, man not used to this, took me about a minute to arrive at the starting line... but I was off and as I ran down that first straightaway past the crowds looking for high fives I had goosebumps, it was soo loud.  The race had begun...

I was told first half is fast but really first mile is quick so not to worry when I saw it.  Being in this large group of people I had no where to go if I wanted to, so I just settled in and figured we were running around 6:10, oops 6:45.  No panic yet but figured I might as well try and break through this crowd.  I immediately noticed I was 1 mile in and there had been no lack of crowds cheering me, especially in what felt like a empty area.  The crowds continued and I past one of the landmarks I had heard about a biker bar, which I could smell the alcohol oozing out of, it didn't matter these people were loud and it got me excited.  Stay under control your at mile 3!  As I rolled in Ashland I thought it was cool to see they had their own banners, but not only that the town seemed to be out in force 4-5 rows deep of people just screaming their lungs off.  I usually am very in the zone running and I found this day I could not do it, I found myself on several occasions looking around and taking in the crowds, they were so loud.  Every town seemed to really take ownership of their part of the course which I think is really a cool part of this race.

At the 10k mark disaster struck!  The question on should I wear these new shoes I just bought on Tuesday and never raced in before was answered.  The answer was a resounding NO.  At this point I could fear a blister on my little toe, the bottom of my feet were on fire with each step and I had about 20 miles to go.  Fantastic.  Welp I have two choices, stop throw in the towel and figure out how to get to Boston or just deal with it.  There was no way I was stopping so began 20 miles of something to keep my mind off just how tired I was!  Anyways back to the course around Framingham I past the train depot, I think they had a live band playing and so many fans.  I passed Team Hoyt around this point, which was pretty cool I had heard about them for years it was cool to see them out along this course.  Around Natick as the crowds started to get bigger I felt, I started hamming it up(once again this is not me, I R SERIOUZ when racing) doing some fist pumps and even high fiving some kids as I past by.  Who am I?  I had been rolling along and not really focusing on splits to this point and before getting to Wellesley I finally took note of the times I was running, just clicked off a 5:52 mile around 12, yup never thought I'd be in the 5:XX's in a marathon, new territory, all well can't worry about that now to Wellesley!

I remember Ryan telling me about Wellesley and how the girls are loud, and they scream and how he stopped to give out some hugs and kisses.  He was probably joking but the whole thing sounded ridiculous to me, this doesn't happen it obviously some joke I don't understand.  And then I arrived, it was so loud.  For about the half mile or so my thoughts were lost, I was high fiving again, the idea of being in a race was gone and it was just being in the moment and enjoying it.  I did not stop for no kisses, the wife told me she'd find out and she has her ways so onward to the Newton Fire Station.  Rolled through the half in 1:20:40 saw Ryan and mentioned how I felt fine, for me to want to run 2:42 this is where I should be anyways.

The road from Wellesley to the Newton hills was interesting, it just kind of goes by, you know the worst is ahead of you, but you also know you can't slow down in anticipation of it.  The crowds of course did not slow down one bit, nothing compared to Wellesley but this stretch here had people lined up the entire way.  A well timed Keisha song was playing as I hit the first Newton Hill, runners around me must of thought I was possessed as I attacked this hill with vigor, only to find out it goes on a while...  Not knowing these hills was my strategy, I figured how bad could they be, and I've done my hill training.  Wrong... The first hill was by far the worst but I crested it and was on to the next.  I at least knew I had some downhill before every other hill so I got into a nice pace and on to the next.  In typical fashion I of course miscounted hills(I know 4), saw someones sign say "The Heartbreak is Over" and had a fellow runner turn to me and say "Well at least we are over Heartbreak Hill" and was excited to roll to the finish, until I see another huge hill and a banner in the back that says "HeartBreak Hill"  Doh...  This one hurt, mentally and physically but fan support here was fantastic, runners must look terrible attacking this hill but the fans did not care screaming Boston Strong and supporting us every step up the hill.  And now I was home-free I thought until Brookline....

Brookline is so much longer than I thought, it felt like I was running forever in this town, but once again fans were lined up 3-4 rows deep for the entire 5 miles through Brookline.  Also I noticed the Citgo sign in the background and quickly ignored it based on some advice that it feels like you are never gaining on it.  At this point both my quads and hamstrings were stiff, my feet still on fire, more blisters forming, but I got into a good groove around 6:25's and held it for a few miles.  I rolled past the 1 mile to go sign and did some math, Sub 6:30 to break 2:45.  I passed some runner who was carrying an American Flag, not sure where he got it but good for him.  Crowds were going nuts, turned onto Bolyston Street and saw the finish, it was so loud.  The street was so long too, I kicked it in stopped my watch and my run was over, 2:45:03!  I had finished the Boston Marathon and PR'ed by about 10 minutes.  My feet were on fire, I could barely walk, I definitely had some blisters but none of that mattered, I looked ahead and realized I had another mile to walk, doh.  Even as I walked the finish corral, fans were all along the side cheering you on, requesting the Highest of Fives.  It was amazing, the race was over and  everyone was still so loud.  I met my support group and they were so proud, we took pictures as if it was my wedding day.  The city was a buzz and every runner or fan was so supportive of one another as we littered the streets.  After an hour of hanging around we headed back to the hotel and were in the car for our 8 hours of driving back to Baltimore!

It didn't really hit me what I was apart of until of all places a McDonald's rest stop.  I am out changing my shoes and wearing my medal and some woman with her two kids walks by and says "Congrats on finishing the Boston Marathon"  and "Thank you for running it".  Thank me for running it?  I signed up, paid for to run this race to set a PR, why was I being thanked.  It was that moment when I realized why the 1.5M people were lining this course, why they were all cheering their butts off for people they didn't know and making signs.  I knew this race was a big deal for runners, for Boston etc, but a part of me still was thinking it was a chance to run a great time on a big stage. I did run a great time and have a great race but the takeaway for the rest of my life from this race will always be the people.  How much everyone cared about each and every person out there, how much support everyone gave me pre, during and post race it was amazing.  I'm not sure I'll ever experience anything like this again.  I immediately got home and started looking for hotels for 2015 Boston Marathon, I'm definitely coming back.

As for me, a successful season with 3 PR's and a good base of mileage leaves me excited to keep getting better.  As for what's next, it's a summer of pain as I attempt to get back into Mile/5k/10K shape and take a season away from this longer stuff.  It's gonna hurt.