Travels

 

The 111th Boston Marathon
Been there, done me in


****The Boston Marathon turned 111; I turned 34, but was far the wearier one after its grueling 26.2 miles of hills in the rainy, windy chill, fighting a bug to boot!****

Oh, no, not again! Just a few days before I was slated to head up to Boston for my birthday weekend and to run the marathon, I felt the first signs of a virus coming on, sore throat, general ick. Last year I trained hard for Boston, only to get wiped out by a Parisian flu that wouldn't even allow me to run around the block, let alone 26.2 miles. So I wasn't about to let illness stop me this time - the only way I wasn't reaching the finish was if I collapsed first, which I almost did!

For those of you not familiar with the Boston race, it is unique in several ways. The one the runners like to boast about is that it is the only marathon in the world where the only way to run it (officially, anyway) is to qualify: either by running a marathon under a certain time, ranging from 3:10 for men 34 and under to 5:30 for women over 80 (who should get to run it in any amount of time in my opinion), or for 5% of the slots, by raising a minimum of $3,000 for charity. It's also one of the only point-to-point races (most have the same start & finish for obvious logistical reasons), as it starts on the far outskirts of town, taking you through not-so-sleepy hamlets and colleges, to arrive in downtown Boston. It's also odd for being held on a Monday, inconvenient for out-of-staters, but not so for local schoolkids and workers, who have the day off for Patriot's Day, commemorating Paul Revere's midnight ride & the fending off of the British in Concord & Lexington at the start of the American Revolution (yes, I had to google that one; contrary to popular belief, I am not smarter than a fifth grader). The Red Sox have also played every morning of the race since 1960, so that the baseball fans pour out from Fenway Stadiun near the finish to cheer on the bedraggled athletes on their final legs.

But the race's greatest claim to fame is being the oldest continuously run marathon in the world, held every year without fail since 1897 (though women weren't allowed to run until 1972 - read story
here about pioneer Kathrine Switzer's infamous '67 run). This year the Nor'easter was predicted to be so bad -- 30 degree temps, 6 inches of rain, sleet and/or snow and 50 mph wind -- that they considered breaking this amazing record to cancel the 111th race. Runners were warned that if they ran, it would be at their own risk, mainly of hypothermia. Given my health condition, I was thinking more like pneumonia, but hey, the weekend was young, and perhaps both the inner and outer weather would improve in time for Monday.

The night before the race I was up popping Advil, hawking loogies and listening to the wind and rain hurl itself against the windows of the Sheraton in Framingham, a small town six miles into the race course, seriously questioning what I had gotten myself into this time. The storm had proven to be more than just news hype.


A proud poppa sending his daughter off for a race against the elements.

Luckily as they say, the thing about weather is, wait a couple of hours and it'll change. The morning was windy and rainy but not horrendously so, and had warmed to high 40s as my dad drove me to the catch the yellow school bus that would take me to "Athlete's Village," a euphemism for two huge tents plopped in the middle of a soggy high school field where over 20,000 runners were huddled together with plastic bags on their heads and feet for disposable protection from the rain. The elites got off at 10am; the rest of us were in the "second wave," starting a half-hour later, giving me a chance to chat with some of my fellow runners, some of whom had come from all over the world to be here. For many it would be their first and only time doing the historic race; others were 20-time veterans giving out free tips, shop talk and war stories to the rookies.

Though I ached from head to toe before I even crossed the start line, I was determined to try my best to finish, though promising my family I would bow out if I needed to. My head started to clear six miles in, buoyed by the sight of my dad in the crowd SPRINTING at the sight of me (this man probably hasn't run since high school gym class, if his teacher even got him to do a lap back then) to try to get ahead of me for an action shot.

The hundreds of thousands of people lining the miles were as spirited as promised, despite the soggy weather. Kids have their hands out to see how many high-fives they can catch in a day; toddlers, coeds and little old ladies hand out everything from orange slices to pretzels to homemade brownies as the runners whiz and later hobble by. The course passes through a few colleges, most infamously the all-girls' school Wellesley, where chicks (on a sunny day, usually in bikinis) on the sidelines scream continuously for the duration of the race (you can hear it a half-mile away), offering free good-luck kisses for anyone who will slow down enough for a peck. This portion of the course is straight down hill so it's like being on a roller coaster, adrenaline rush and all, only the runners are on the ride and the spectators the ones screaming.

I was clicking off the miles, surpassing my goal pace to finish under 4 hours, for the first half, despite feeling ill. I felt my energy start to flag a bit, but cranked up the volume on my mp3 player to drown out the first complaints from my quads. Suddenly at mile 16, I felt disoriented and wobbly, the way I felt just before passing out the last time I gave blood. I scanned the crowd for a big soft man to tumble into if I had to. I slowed my pace but managed to keep going. From this point on, with another 10 miles to go, it was mind over matter, praying my body would hold up for the next step. I was channeling everything I could: the thought of my dad and stepmom anxiously awaiting me at the finish; the faces of all my own armchair fans at home, cheering me on and following my progress online; all the people (and my beloved pup Quatorze) I'd trained with over the last weeks and months; the spirit of the Bezerker Norse warriors (my ancestors) who went into battle in a nutty rage, stopped by nothing short of death; my own inner warrior, who had gotten me through two other marathons and up Mt. Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp, Machu Picchu and other lesser mountains.

They say the marathon is a 20-mile warm-up followed by a 6-mile race, and that was the case here for sure. The pounding of the relentless hills had taken their toll on my quads to the point I had slowed to a 12-mpm shuffle, losing all the great time I'd made in the first half. The onlookers were so encouraging - as not a few runners stopped along this final stretch with seized calves, charlie horses and side stitches, they'd yell at us to keep going until we did. In the last yards before the finish, one Japanese man I'd been running behind stopped short, doubled over. When he managed to go on, the entire crowd roared with applause, so sincere it was quite touching. Unfortunately, according to my stepdad, who actually saw me cross the finish on webcam, a woman just behind me collapsed just a few feet from the finish. Rushed to the medical team on the sidelines for oxygen and an IV, she never got to cross the line.

Luckily I did, clocking a 4:15 time, not great, but not bad either, all things considered. And hey, I beat out Suni Williams, the Indian-American woman astronaut, who gave whole new meaning to the term space race. Having qualified for Boston in the Houston Marathon, she didn't want to miss the chance to do the race, so the race officials set her up with a video of the course she would look at while she ran tethered to a special treadmill, and sent up a finisher's medal in a space shuttle.

I was barely walking by the time I finally was reunited with my pops, but no matter, I knew the pain would subside in a few days but the memory of the day would live on for a long time. My life motto had served me well for yet another day: As Nietzche so famously wrote, what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. My mother seems to think that some day one of these things is going to do me in, but so far, so good.


***Big love to all my great friends & fam who helped train, feed, shelter, shuttle me & a hundred other good deeds that made it possible... & even those who just tell me they live vicariously through my exploits, that inspires me to go on more than you would imagine as I feel I'm running for not one but twenty!***


At the finish: Weary isn't the word.


More pics from the course at marathonfoto.com (search for bib 15138) and flickr.com. General news & info about the race also available at www.baa.org.



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