Thursday, April 22, 2004

Boston Marathon

Boston Marathon
4/17 – 4/21/04

The planning, or should I say ‘dreaming’ for this trip and race began over a year ago as I celebrated my 59th birthday. Next year (2004) I would reach the Big 60 and a new age group for racing. Since I would turn 60 just a few weeks before the Boston Marathon it would probably present the best opportunity I would ever have to run competitively at Boston and win one of the coveted crystal awards. So my dream began.

And it truly was a dream at that moment because I was just recovering from a severe hamstring injury and a medical mishap – internal bleeding caused by anti-inflammatories.
I used the summer of 2003 in the Colorado Rocky Mountains to train hard to build my red blood count back up to normal levels and beat my then out-of-condition body back into shape and lose more than 15 pounds.
In Oct my sports manager and I spent the whole month in Europe to run three marathons (and countries) culminating with a 3:20 marathon in Podgorica, Montenegro – my fastest time in the past seven years! Yes! Hard work/training was paving the way for the dream to happen?
But then disaster struck again – another injury in Dec- this time plantar fasciatis that required that I stop running and rest the foot for about three weeks. And just when the foot started to heal I had to travel to India for three weeks for our son’s wedding.

Unfortunately it turned out to be almost impossible to run in India for reasons of safety. I managed to run a total of 37 miles in those three weeks that included a solo marathon in Mumbai (another interesting story). The day I returned from India I ran a very disappointing and painful marathon in Tampa in 4:08. The dream was fading quickly? However there were still 75 days to go till Boston and I was not willing to give up my dream so easily. Thus I asked the Maddog to develop a 75-day ‘Kick Ass and Take No Names’ training program that would enable me to achieve my dream. One month later I ran a surprising 3:25 in New Orleans to win my last race in my old age group. The program was working! So I started the final and most intense phase of the program – speed work and hill training - with some renewed confidence. Soon I was running mile repeats (on the road) at a 6:40 pace! And disaster struck again – with a final blow!

All runners know the expression “Speed Kills”! Yes – it is true. I should have known better but I made a foolish decision to join some running mates on a track to run mile repeats. I strained my left hamstring after 5 or 6 repeats. Since I had planned to run a final tune-up marathon the following weekend I was forced to rest for the week in hopes that the hamstring would recover quickly. Didn’t work! In spite of the rest and other precautions the hamstring tore in the first mile of the Ocean Drive Marathon in Cape May, NJ and I was forced to drop out of a race for the first time in my life. Only three weeks left till Boston and I knew that my dream was shattered and torn just like my hamstring! Of course I was very disappointed and sad and my first reaction was to give up Boston completely for 2004. But some of my running friends were going to Boston this year and I didn’t want to deprive myself of the fun and enjoyment of sharing a Boston Marathon experience with them. Would it be possible to go to Boston and just run the race for fun? Could the hamstring heal quickly enough? Won’t know until I try?

With the help of a physical therapist and a regimen of natural herbs/supplements provided by a good friend the hamstring surprisingly/amazingly responded positively in three short weeks of treatment and rest. After a couple of short runs to test the leg I felt confident that I could run the Boston Marathon without causing further injury to the hamstring if I ran smart and slow. So with that strategy in mind my sports manager and I left for Boston on Sat 4/17 and the actual trip report now begins.

After arriving in Boston and checking into our hotel we headed straight for the expo to pick up my race packet. The expo was huge and yet still a zoo when you have more than 20,000 runners trying to pick up their packets and buy souvenirs/mementos of their big race in Boston! Lots of booths and equipment but I did not find any of the prices to be attractive. Having completed that important task it was time to check with the friends we were meeting in Boston. Dick and Sue were driving down from CT on Sun. Fred had already arrived from TX. They are members of the BBR (BrookBachRock) – an informal running club/group of friends that ran together for several years in Dallas, TX. We have stayed in contact and meet at various places around the world although many of us have moved away from Dallas. The other couple we were meeting were Frank and Jill – friends from Sarasota. All of us had our own plans for Sat night but agreed to get together on Sun.

Although this was my 6th Boston Marathon I had not been back since the 100th Anniversary race in 1996 so my sports manager and I decided to take the ‘hop on – hop off’ tour bus on Sun to reacquaint us with the city. Fred joined us as we toured around the city for more than six hours enjoying the interesting history of the city. The tour included most of the historical sites in Boston and a tour of ‘Old Ironsides’ – the USS Constitution – the oldest commissioned warship in the world!

After an interesting day of touring we met the rest of our group for a traditional pasta dinner and then it was time for bed. Monday which is Patriot’s Day and a holiday in MA is ‘M’ day in Boston. Even though the race starts at noon the logistics of the race requires that everyone be bussed to the start line beginning at 7am. This is the part of the Boston Marathon that sucks and I hate it. But I am willing to suffer through it because the rest of the marathon is so great.

All of us had been keenly following the weather forecast in Boston. Normally it is cool at this time of the year and the forecasts called for pleasant 60F temps on Sun and Tue but Mon was supposed to be an anomaly with temps in the high 80s? We were hoping they were wrong but on race morning the forecast called for temps in the low 70s in Hopkinton at the noon start and mid 80s by the time we reached Boston! Not good! We met in Boston Commons at 7:15 am to catch a bus to the start line in Hopkinton. The buses run from 7 to 9am in order to transfer 20,000+ runners to the start line. It takes about one hour to travel the 26 miles to the start line in Hopkinton. I figured we would arrive about 9am which meant hanging/laying around for three hours waiting for the race to start. From previous years I had remembered how cold it could get and how much energy that could cost so I had decided to buy a sleeping bag to keep me warm. Two of my mates also decided to bring bags. We didn’t think we would need them but took them anyways. Good decision! It was still cool at 9am and downright cold in the open-sided tent where we claimed our territory to wait for the start. While three of us were toasty and comfy in our bags poor old Freddie was covering himself with newspapers and garbage bags in an effort to stay warm. Finally I felt so sorry for him that I opened my bag into a blanket and offered to share it with him. We promised not to tell anyone about this warm, comfy ‘arrangement’ but I know the story is going to get out so I might as well make sure it is told correctly! (and in the right context?)

At 11am we emerged from our cocoons/bags to begin our preparations for the start of the race. When we stepped out of the tent into the sun we were shocked to discover how warm/hot it was already? Definitely singlet weather. Time to make our way towards the baggage buses and the start corrals. Many of you know that Boston is the only marathon in the world that requires a runner to qualify for the race. How do you qualify? You must run a marathon in the year preceding the Boston marathon within a specific time based on your age. This is one of the things that separate Boston from all other races. Every runner at Boston is good. There are no couch potatoes here – you have already proven yourself when you step up to the start line! Although they have relaxed their qualifying standards in recent years to allow more runners to qualify still many runners are never able to qualify. Once you have qualified then you are seeded or given a race number based on your qualification time. The fastest runners are seeded at the front of the race close to the start line. To prevent ‘cheating’ corrals are set up to hold groups of 1000 runners. For example my race number was 7708 so I was in the 7th corral with approximately 7,000 runners in front of me. There were 20+ corrals to hold the 20,000+ runners and my three compadres and I were all in different corrals.

At 12pm the race started (except for the elite women who were started at 11:30 am this year for the first time). It took six minutes for me to reach the official start line. I started my stopwatch as I crossed the start line to coincide with the ‘official’ chip time. To make it fair for all runners the race is timed electronically by a chip tied to your shoe. It records your time when you cross the start and finish lines (as well as other points in the race to prevent cheating)! Because of the huge mass of runners we had to run and walk for the first mile. That was fine with me because I figured it was much better for my hamstring to start out easy. Thus I was quite surprised when we reached the mile mark in 8:08! That was too fast so I slowed down immediately and reached mile 2 in 8:42. By that point I was already hot and I noticed that my heart monitor had climbed to 160 bpm. That is about 15 bpm higher than a normal marathon but about the same level I observe when I run marathons in the Caribbean or near the equator. That told me that this race was going to be tough and ugly and I reaffirmed to myself that I would run smart and slow! By mile 4, I was holding an easy 8:50 pace but already feeling overheated. I started grabbing two cups of water at each water station located at every mile: one to go in me and one to go on me to try to get my body temperature and heart rate down!

This seemed to work as I crossed the Half in 1:54:40. I was still cruising at an 8:50 to 9:00 min pace – the hamstring felt fine and I still felt good. I was on target to finish under my new/revised time goal of 4 hours and for a few brief moments even entertained some silly illusion that I might run a negative split in the 2nd Half? By the time I started climbing Boston’s famous (or infamous) hills at mile 16 I was laboring to hold a 9:10 pace and I was up to three cups of water at each station: one in and two on! When I finally crested Heartbreak Hill at mile 21 in Newton my quads were sore as Hell and screaming at me and I was struggling to hold a 9:30 pace. I had not walked or stopped to that point but it started to cross my mind? I realized that the lack of running/training for the whole month before Boston because of the hamstring injury was catching up to me – along with the heat. It was now 86F! Fortunately the last 5 miles are downhill so I pushed on ignoring the screams and pain coming from my quads. And I was now up to 4 cups of water: one in and three on and I also ran though every water hose along the course in an effort to get my body temperature down. I reached mile 23 in 3:27:52. I had 32 minutes to run/walk/crawl the last 5K. I told myself “All you have to do is run a 10 minute pace and your goal will be achieved”! That seemed to take a lot of pressure off and I just concentrated on keeping my legs moving – and not allowing myself to stop or walk. I didn’t give a shit if the clock read 3:59:59 – there was no need to push the pace to finish sooner! I managed to hold the 9:30 pace and crossed the finish line in 3:58:06. That time wasn’t going to win any awards but I had finished without walking or stopping – my hamstring wasn’t hurting, and I had beaten my time goal and I was alive!

However the moment I crossed the finish line and started walking my quads froze and did not want to work any longer. It was a damn good thing there were volunteers to take the chip off my shoe because I could never have bent down there to do it? It took me almost 30 minutes to walk/limp through the finish area, find and retrieve my baggage and then find the sports manager. After a customary photo at the finish we decided to head back to the hotel. Traffic was totally messed up in Boston so we figured it would be quicker and easier to take the subway.

Good idea but difficult to do. First there were steps down into the subway and my quads were in no mood to do steps! After much crying and screaming and about two minutes per step I made it down into the subway (it’s kind of funny now visualizing that action but I assure you it was not funny then)!. I quickly discovered that every other runner and citizen of Boston was also down there. But we finally made it to a train and crammed on like a Japanese commuter train. I ended up on the top or third step of the train and my sports manager was on the second step. As soon as the train left the station I started to feel bad. By the time it had left the 2nd station I was feeling nauseous and dizzy and knew that I was going to throw up. If I did throw up on the train there was going to be a lot of pissed off passengers because the train was packed. So I told my sports manager that I needed to get off at the next stop to throw up. Mercifully the train soon arrived at the next station and I turned to step down off the train – and the lights went out! The next thing I remember was waking up on the station platform while three strangers were dragging my sorry ass across the platform away from the train? Apparently my circuits shut down and I had passed out/fainted and did a spectacular, perfect score ‘10’ swan dive from the top step of the train down to the station platform? I guess I must have landed on my left side because my left shoulder, arm and keg were all cut, skinned and bruised? However as soon as I woke up I was fine except for being disoriented and having no memory of what had happened. I realized that I was dehydrated and my blood sugar and electrolytes were badly out of whack. And I had too many kind/concerned but bothersome Samaritans swarming all over me wanting to call ambulances and provide medical care. So I reached into the goody bag I had been given at the finish line and found an energy bar and a bottle of water. After a few bites of the bar and some water I was feeling OK and decided we needed to get back on a train and out of there before I was even more embarrassed with ambulances, etc. We made it safely back to our hotel where I was able to administer my normal medicines/cure – a Snickers chocolate bar washed down with a full-octane coke while sitting in a hot scalding bath. Within 30 minutes I was feeling normal again – I could even walk up and down stairs without crying (too much)!

Now it was time to contact my buds to see if they were still alive and how they did? I learned that Dick and Fred had a difficult time with the heat but had survived but Frank had not reached the finish line yet (5 hrs). I advised Jill that he might take close to 6 hours because of the heat. But I was a bit concerned/worried. It was Frank’s dream to run a Boston Marathon in spite of his doctor’s advice/warning not to because of heart problems and three stents. (Are you couch potatoes feeling guilty/ashamed yet? Have you at least got up off the couch and put your running shoes on?) I was one of the few that understood and supported his dream and I had lots of confidence in his ability to finish the race! But I was relieved when Jill called later to inform us that Frank had finished in 5:31 and was OK. I later learned that Frank had been the smartest of us all. He had decided to run and walk very early in the race as soon as he started to become hot. Thus he was able to enjoy the race, the cheering crowds and finish strongly and more importantly complete his dream successfully, safely and healthy!

Time to meet the gang to celebrate and tell war stories over dinner. Frank was too tired to join us but the rest of us met at a seafood restaurant close to their hotel. The subway and I got along much better on the trip over to the restaurant. We quickly told our stories of the race. Dick had run the fastest time as expected but slower than planned because of the heat. Fred probably had the most difficult time during the race. He had become dehydrated and overcome with heat exhaustion by mile 20 and had to walk the last 10K. When he finished the race he had walked back to his hotel and the moment he got on a crowded, hot elevator to go to his room he started to experience the same problems I had on the subway. Luckily he was able to get off at the next floor, spread his mylar blanket on the floor and throw up on the blanket! And of course he had several concerned guests and hotel security staff wanting to call an ambulance, etc? (Is this story just building up an insatiable desire in you to train and run the next Boston Marathon?)
Fred still wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t stand the thought of food/eating so went back to his hotel. That left just Dick, Sue, Maddog and Nicole to enjoy a post-race dinner and continue the race stories.

So it was a typical Boston Marathon experience – exciting, unpredictable, lots of fun, some not-so-much fun – but overall a memorable experience with good friends and fellow runners! We had finished and survived the 2nd hottest Boston Marathon in history!
Many runners had to drop out and there were a record number of medical and ambulance emergencies. Yes – we did quite well and there are certainly memories and stories to laugh about at future meetings.

I am already beginning to dream about Boston 2005. If I can stay healthy, uninjured and train hard I may have one last chance for that coveted crystal award????
Stay tuned!

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