Monday, June 10, 2013

Boston Part Two!

See, here's the problem with splitting one entry into two is that there were things I forgot to put in the first part. I'll just backtrack a little bit to cover the official pictures I own now that I didn't have before.

So back in the Athlete's Village, they have tons of official photographers wandering around and one was stationed with an official backdrop. Since you're never sure how many actual pictures you'll get out on the course, I decided, why the heck not pose with the official background:

This one I didn't go looking for but had one of those wandering photographers stop me:

Remember the START sign outside the Athlete's Village? Well, they had an official guy standing there on my way out. So again, why the heck not? He took this one:

and then told me, "Wait, let's do another one. Stand on the other side and point at the sign." It felt incredibly weird, awkward, and faked but actually turned out okay.

Finally, the sign in Hopkinton. Some day, I will get my picture taken next to the sign. Perhaps the third times the charm, now that I've decided I'll have to do Boston again (but not in the near future).

So where was I at the end of part one? Oh, yes! Standing in the starting corral. This is the official picture from the start of Wave One. Tonya and I were standing just on the other side of the white building on the right.

Starting in corral 7 was quite different from being in corral 1 where I could start running and be at my pace pretty much instantly. It took us 4 minutes to get to the starting line once the gun went off. Then it was go time! I took my zip-up hoodie off pretty much right away and tossed it in an already started pile from other people. The road felt much more congested than I remembered it being before but nothing horrible, just a little weaving as things got sorted out, which caused a pace a little slower than desired for that first mile. This is a cool picture of the start of what I assume is Wave One but Wave Two looked much the same.

So we're finally to the race part of my race report!

27,000 runners is a lot of people. So each wave is probably about 9,000 but you're surrounded by people doing about the same pace so it doesn't get strung out. The start is very downhill. I forgot how sharp it was. I stretched out a little bit but spent much of the first several miles trying to hold back and not go faster than 8 minute miles, since I knew I wouldn't be able to hold a faster pace for too terribly long. I kept my ears open during the early stages, hearing what kind of goal time the people around me were talking about or what kind of a pace they reported as they crossed mile markers. My A goal was a 3:30, even though I knew it was probably a stretch so the thought was to go out, see what was comfortable, and hang on while I could. B goal was going under 3:50 (a number chosen solely on the fact that the girl with the same number the year before had run a 3:50 and, by golly, I could beat that easy). I saw lots of cool people/shirts in the beginning. I passed a woman who was due with her first baby in July which makes me sad, now, because I'm sure she wasn't able to finish. Ahead of me I saw an Afton 50K shirt and made my way up to the guy so we could chat a bit. I never saw him pass me again but if he stayed on pace than he would have. The race is so big that you are ALWAYS passing people and ALWAYS being passed at the same time which makes for never a dull or lonely moment.

I tried to strike a balance between enjoying the race and not wasting energy. If I found myself on the edge of the road, I would high five the kids there, but I didn't go out of my way to get to them. Don't get me wrong, though, I still greatly enjoyed myself and tried to take it all in. Lots of fabulous, cheering crowds. Several bands including one accordion band, a circle of Native American drummers, and one not very good Elvis, but who am I to judge? This is a random little news video but it gives you a good idea of the crowds out in the towns on the way (make it past the few second intro and ignore the "Wellesley Scream Tunnel" title since that's not what it is. )Look at how deep with people the sidewalks are!

After a while, I was hearing lots of cheers along the lines of "love your mask!" This was happening super often and seemed to be getting closer to me so that I started getting excited for the person to catch up so I could see what everyone was cheering about, since I generally refuse to look behind me. She finally got up next to me and it turned out to be a girl in this orange/red masquerade feathered mask. I feel as though I spent a lot of time running near her and we did a lot of back and forth so I was super excited to find that she was in one of my pictures. Not only so I could show people who I was talking about but it also means that I was able to look up her bib number and the ability to look her up and make sure she finished.

I did actually look behind me somewhere in the middle miles. I was gaining on this group of three people in maybe their 20s running together - a girl and two guys. One of the guys was holding up a sign attached to a stout stick he had clearly nabbed out of the woods in the beginning. I remember wondering why he chose such a heavy looking branch rather than something lighter . . . The girl was laughing frequently as people cheered for them and I was dying to see what the sign said but the guy never spun it around - it was always facing forward. So I had no choice but to pass them and look back to see. Sadly, nothing too exciting, just a "Go Jen!" on a white sign. Still, it was super impressive for the guy to lug it the whole way and to stick by her during it. I wonder if she was able to finish - I never saw them go by me again.

I was able to see Team Hoyt for the first time, too, in the later miles. I ran by them and gave the son a thumbs up which was probably rather obnoxiously right in his face, but I hope not. Anyway, it was very neat to finally see them and say hi/good job. I found out later that this was to be their last Boston and last marathon but since they were among those not allowed to finish, they are going back next year.

Now, when the race started, it was a nice temperature. It got warm fairly quickly, though, and soon I was getting rather concerned. Logically I knew it couldn't be terribly hot (high 50s maybe?) but when you're coming from 30s, it sure feels hotter than it is, especially with the sun out. I started dumping water on myself at water stations and getting concerned about being overheated (just when I was thinking I was going to have some problems, though, we got a breeze and things cooled off). Thus some of the pictures where I look rather like a drowned rat . . .

My other favorite thing about that picture is how I'm all by myself. There isn't even a shadow of someone near me. Just me and the tree shadow. I can't tell you where this is on the course - for once I don't remember it at all. It had to be in that first half, though, since I'm looking rather wet.

If I could pick something about the race that wasn't how I remember it, it would be the Wellesley girls. I remember hearing them from a half mile out last time. This year, I didn't hear them at all until we got right there. Maybe it was a wind direction thing, though, since I could hear them behind me for ages once we went by. Before the race, I had decided to be calm through here. Last time, I got too excited and ran too fast and then you really feel that burst of speed a few minutes later as it drains on you. However, once you get there, you can't help but go to the side and high five every single one of them with a big grin. They love to see happy runners and I got told so many times that I was awesome or gorgeous or fabulous and how can you not love that? Here's a video of a guy running through it. A minute and a half of screaming girls. This must be a speedier guy, though, since there doesn't seem to be many people around him and there aren't many people high fiveing the girls.

You can see a timing mat in that video - we ran over several of them and each time, I would name off (in my head, that is) as many people as I could think of that I knew were tracking me online. Thanks for the support, everyone!

Around half way, I made the conscious decision to slow down. I could tell that I wasn't going to run a 3:30 - my pace was starting to fall off if I didn't concentrate on it and I figured I could either push hard until I blew up somewhere around mile 17 and then drag myself in or I could settle into a slightly slower and more comfortable pace and have more fun. I went with the latter. My splits for the first ten miles were lovely: 8:10 (all that weaving), 8:02, 8:03, 7:53 (oops), 8:04, 8:00, 7:58, 8:03, 7:54, 8:06. The next two were 8:18 and 8:14.

So in 2009, my knee was giving out at the start of the hills (miles 16-22) and I still had a long way to go. I don't think I ran a single step of Heartbreak Hill part from my knee hurting and part from freaking out that my knee hurt so much. This year I didn't walk a single step. I ran the entire way up, which I'm actually quite proud of and it felt pretty awesome to be doing it. On my way up, I got one of my favorite specifically for me cheers of the day, too. People along the way had been cheering for Northwoods or Minnesota back and forth, depending what caught their eye from my jersey. Well, somewhere up Heartbreak, there was this girl about my age by the side of the road who suddenly busts out with a very loud, very enthusiastic and, now that I think on it, probably drunk, "MINNESOTA IS AWESOME!" She yelled it with such happy and enthusiastic force that I was rather taken aback and couldn't do much more than wave at her.

Another random picture time. Somewhere in Boston proper, I believe.

As you enter into Boston, the crowds just get larger and louder. Running by Boston College is quite similar to running through Wellesley, except dominated by rather drunk college kids. I was in the middle of the road at this point, having determined that my knee was getting angry with me for running on the right hand side of the road the whole way (my left leg is just enough longer than my right to get pissy at things like this). The hollering crowds were making me crazy happy, though. I was feeling good still and loving being able to take notice of things this time. Part way through the Boston College gauntlet, I said (in fact, I'm pretty sure this was out loud) "Oh, screw it" and bee-lined straight over the fence line and started high-fiveing every hand I could find. They especially love a happy runner at this point in the race so it was a great time and felt awesome. Then, not thirty second after I finished going through Boston College, I beelined it on over to the other side of the road (where there were less runners and less spectators) and eventually threw up the gel I had eaten ten minutes ago, much to the alarm of the cop standing nearby. I guess suddenly spiking my heart rate was not such a grand idea . . . I waited until I was sure I was done, giving a thumbs up to the cop asking if I was okay. Sadly, I had already tucked my gel bag/carrier/thingy into my back pocket which left me with nothing to wipe my mouth with. So I did what any normal person would do . . . I tried a pine cone sitting by the train tracks. Yeah, that doesn't work so well. So I ambled on my way, after decided that picking up the discarded sponge from the elite runner was a bad idea. Actually, first I shot out of there and on my way before realizing I better slow it up for a bit and make sure it nothing else wanted to come up, which made for a couple of way-slower-than-I-wanted miles since this happened almost at the end of a mile mark. I'm going to go ahead and blame my two minutes on this section here (I really would have preferred to be under 3:50) but you know what? It was completely worth it because it's pretty great to feel awesome at at point and enjoy some excited high fives.

We follow along some trail track for quite a ways - it makes for one lonely side of the road and one side PACKED with spectators . I found myself racing a (slow moving) train at one point, which was fun. I won, by the way.

One missing picture this year is my Citgo sign picture. It's perhaps one of the stranger things about Boston - a giant Citgo sign that you run by and that marks one mile left. You can see it for about a mile beforehand since it's quite large and they have a photographer stationed right after it to get your picture with the sign in the background. Sadly, this was a photographer I actually saw (I had a tendency to not even notice them) but I was blocked by two guys at just the wrong angles in front of me. I took a picture of it myself on the walk back afterward because I'm a dork.

I remembered from 2009 that when we pass under a bridge, it's about half a mile left so I went with that. I was passing loads of people at this point, determined to finish super strong. There was a girl who went by me with a shirt that said "Never Give Up" on the back. It must have said the same on the front because I could hear people cheering for her that way. Well, we turned that right turn on Hereford and headed up the hill
and she looked as though she was too far ahead of me to catch back up but by golly, I was going to try.

That left turn onto Bolyston is something amazing. It makes me so sad and angry to know that that turn was stolen from over 5600 runners. I found the energy to blow by Never Give Up girl and just kept right on a truckin. I felt like I was flying down that last two blocks.

Coming across the finish line, my arms went up. I didn't plan it or think about how to cross the line, I was just so happy to feel good and to have really enjoyed the majority of my time out there. Final time: 3:52:04.

So once I finished, I got about twenty feet to walk at a normal pace - which was good because the sudden sprint at the end demanded some walking and not a sudden stop and stand. Unfortunately, that's what you get after about twenty feet. Shoulder to shoulder shuffling for what feels like forever before you get a bottle of water. And then forever more before you get your blanket. Another long shuffle to your medal.

I sat down on a large photographer hard case after my picture was taken before rejoining the stream of people and slowly making my way to the food/gatorade tents. I sat down again next to the gatorade tent for a bit again before rejoining the fray. What feels like forever later, the crowd starts thinning as you turn various ways for the exit or to some of the clothes buses. I sat down again on a wheelchair. Now, some of you have seen me immediately after a hard longer race and what I do is shake, sometimes pretty hard. I've found that the best thing to do is just submit to the crazy shaking and let my body shake itself out. Usually it's just my legs and I forget it is perhaps alarming looking to people who aren't me. I sat in the wheelchair for a minute until the person holding it decided she needed to start pushing me to the med tent. I was having none of that so I got up and shook my way to the bus to get my clothes. So there I was, standing in the short line, waiting to get my bag from the bus when some random runner pulled me to the start of the line, got my clothes, and asked if I needed help putting them on. No, no, I assured him I was fine and brought the bag to the back of the bus in front of our bus. I set the bag on the ground and looked at it for a minute. Dug out my pants, hitched a pant leg up to put it on, and then stood there and looked at it for another minute. At which point, another guy interrupted my shaking and helped me get my pants on - thanks random guy! I then decided it was a good idea to sit down against the bus tire.

I was just over two blocks straight down the chute from the finish line at this point. I was quickly joined by a couple other runners, so it was lucky that I got the best spot, leaning against the bus tire.

Lots of people were walking by. I had no desire to start moving yet so I texted my friends waiting that I was done and would be out in a bit and then took a couple artsy shots of people walking by and a sad lost glove. Keep in mind that these are the thinned out crowds - no longer nearly as crowded as half a block earlier.

It seemed like as good a time as any to make a phone call - not too loud and sitting was fairly comfortable, so I called Lisa to report on the race. Toward the end of our conversation, I heard a loud bang coming from the finish area. While I was definitely alarmed and stood up to see what was going on, my first thought went to "cannon," as it sounded just like a cannon to me. As I was processing that cannons and Patriot's Day made sense, there was a second bang that was louder than the first (since the second blast was actually a block further away, I'm guessing this is because it was quieter around me and I was listening/paying attention instead of talking). When I saw smoke rising over the Finish Line banner, I told Lisa I needed to go and find my friends.

People around me weren't panicked. We were confused. You could see people jumping to the worst conclusion even as the theories I was hearing said aloud were along the lines of "gas explosion" and "transformer burst" now that we had figured out (slowly, in our post-marathon addled brains) that it didn't make sense to have cannons at the finish line after 4 hours. At some point, a guy in a yellow jacket went HOLLERING down the sidewalk towards the finish. Something was kind of creepy about it and we all just watched him go by but nothing was really reaching us two blocks down so we kind of communally shrugged him off.

I decided it was time to find my friends, so I picked up my bag and called my parents as I wandered out of the official finish area. My dad picked up (I had forgotten that my mom was working) and I told him about my race and mentioned that he might want to turn the tv on, though I didn't think there would be anything on the Minnesota news about it.

As I hung up, the first emergency vehicles were starting to shoot down the block I was heading for. In fact, they Family Meeting Area I was heading to was on the road the volunteers were aggressively clearing. I decided to head that way anyway, since that's where I was supposed to meet my friends (turns out they had also been told to move and decided once they got out of the street and on the sidewalk that they were staying put until physically moved). There were crying runners around, but that's pretty normal. I stopped at an AT&T booth and gave my mom a quick call at work. Once I hung up, I saw my friends about twenty feet away. By this point, there had been several emergency vehicles and the family meeting area was destroyed/useless since they kept clearing us out of the roads. I remember being still fairly confused at this point, though the volunteers were stressed and panicky and my friends very much wanted to get out of there. I can't remember if my friends had an idea of what was going on or if I found out once I was on the phone with Kyle. I know he first told me that people had lost limbs and I suddenly remembered that Tonya had never passed me and I didn't know if she was okay and I made Kyle look her up to make sure she had finished before I would hang up. Happily she had finished - I think I would have tried to make my way to the finish area had she not.

My friends managed to make me leave, though I didn't want to go at all. I wanted to stay with my runners and make sure things were okay. I remember stopping at least once to help some poor mother who was freaking out because her phone was dying and her daughter hadn't finished and she didn't know what to do. We had decided to not take the subway, which was fine since the subway was shut down. Commence the 5ish mile walk back to my friend's house in Cambridge.

I have never received so many texts in my life. It was constant. I would answer one and three more would come in and it wasn't as though I could just ignore one and move on to the next. I didn't get many actual calls and was super confused when I got my voicemail tone without the phone ringing first. Turns out most calls couldn't go through. I sat down to answer a call from work when one of my friends realized she hadn't taken a post-run picture and demanded a smile:

Happily, the subway was open once got a little ways away. We walked a bit more and then hopped on, so we only had to walk 2, 2.5ish miles.

In general I'm sad and I'm angry. I'm not too freaked out anymore (though I was for a bit, it's SO EASY for me to loose 20 minutes in a road marathon and then I'm in front of the blasts or one of the 5,600 people robbed of a finish with no phone and no way to contact the panicked friends and family waiting to hear from me). I know it's hard for some of my trail friends to understand but Boston is something sacred. It's something I knew I was going to do since I heard about it, since when 13 miles was a long way, let alone 26. It was a dream of mine to be able to run through Wellesley, to run past the Citgo sign, to run down Bolyston, to earn my unicorn. The first time I walked into packet pickup in 2009, I got teary. Boston is sacred. I hurt for those runners who had their finishes stolen, who had their crowds silenced and kept running confusedly until running into a backlog of stopped runners. Worse are the spectators, the ones who were injured, who had their lives stolen, their limbs stolen, they were MY spectators. They were cheering for ME. They were there for ME. That's what's special about Boston - every person there is screaming their heads off for you.

Boston was going to be my last road marathon for a while and this was going to be my last Boston in the foreseeable future. Instead, I found myself trying to figure out how I could get to Boston in 2014. I can't do it without giving up on my main goal for the year, so it's not going to happen but I know now I have to go back some time.

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