Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Getting to the line

All of my running for the past two years was a build up for Boston. I ran the Three Bridges Marathon to qualify, and broke my foot during the race. That hiccup pushed things back, and I had to start from scratch last spring. I got up to a decent level of training and fitness in the fall, then took a two-week break in December to recover before a build for Boston. Ideally I would've taken time off earlier and had a longer buildup than December 29 to April 20, but that's just the way it worked out.

I started to get into a grove pretty quickly in December, and found the mileage coming easily. Sometimes the intensity wasn't there for my workouts, but I was tired from the mileage. In the past, I've never been able to get more than a week or two in the 90 MPW range without getting hurt, but this cycle I averaged over 90 for eight weeks in a row. During that time I won a half-marathon in under 72 minutes, and ran a challenging 10 mile race in 54 minutes at the front of a 40 mile weekend. But I also had some bad workouts. There was a 4 x 4 mile workout that I had scale back on, and a 23 mile long run workout that went pretty poorly. Heading into the last two weeks before the race, I was looking for confidence, and found none when I felt a pop in my left hamstring after 4 miles of a marathon simulation run. I knew there wasn't anything I could do two weeks out besides take care of myself and stay healthy. I got three massages to try to take care of it, and was feeling much better heading to Boston. I just tried to relax and take care of the little things, like stretching and rolling as much as possible.

The trip to Boston was pleasant and uneventful. There were 5 of us on the plane together, Charlie, Adam, Josh, his wife Lara, and me. All of us but Charlie were staying in the same hotel, so we landed and rode the T down to UMASS Boston. There was a nice grocery store there, we got settled, then went to dinner at Jon Healey's house. It was a nice time.

The next morning, Josh, Adam and I went for a run along the bay to loosen up and stretch. Then it was Expo time, and we met up with Charlie and my brother-in-law, Chip, who was there to support and spectate. After snapping some group photos at the finish line and visiting Greg at Marathon Sports, we retreated to the hotel to sit around for the rest of the day. We got lunch from the grocery store and watched hours of Netflix while I graded papers. I was bored to death.

Finally, it was time to go to the pasta dinner at City Hall Plaza. Two minutes before the train came, Adam told us that he wasn't feeling well and was going to skip dinner and stay at the hotel (more on that later). Despite soliciting tickets from the the Boston group in Charlottesville, I was unable to get all of our dinner tickets for the same time. But that didn't make a difference, we were all able to get in just fine. My friend Rachel, who went to William & Mary and lives in Boston, came to join us and I enjoyed talking with her and Chip while they got to drink the free Sam Adams beer.

It was funny, getting into the building was like going through the line of a soup kitchen. They threw the food into our to-go box and moved us through so quickly, but then we went into the building and listened to pop music from the mid-90's and could get unlimited refills on the inside. I thought that the food was good, and I probably stayed too long as Chip, Rachel and I were the last ones in our group to leave. On the way back to the train, we stopped in Boston Commons to give away my eight remaining dinner tickets to some homeless people. We told them they had to get there quickly (it was 7:15 and it ended at 8:00), and they took off running.

On the way home, I missed my train stop because it had gotten dark and my stop was the first one above ground, but I didn't know that I was above ground yet. I had to wait outside for another train for about 10 minutes, and I worried that I was going to catch a cold without a jacket on. I did not really pack very intelligently for a trip to the northeast... all I was considering was the race. Adam was back in the room and he hadn't really eaten anything, but we went to bed in preparation for the battle to come.

I don't know when I fell asleep, but I woke up and the TV was still on. It was probably too late. I turned off the TV and fell back to sleep, only to wake up again at 3 AM to go to the bathroom and never fall back to sleep again. I tried though, but that was it--up at 3 AM on race day.

At 5 AM, I got up to start getting ready. I ate a yogurt with granola and a peanut butter sandwich. Adam got up at 5:30 and we moved our stuff to Josh's room and headed to the train. We were running a little behind to get to Boston Commons, but got our bags checked and met up with our whole William & Mary group: Trevor, Adam, Josh, Charlie, me. The 5 of us boarded a school bus to ride to Hopkinton around 7 AM. This was my nightmare! I'm too tall to ride in a school bus seat. It was hot, muggy and loud. I just wanted off of that bus so badly. Luckily I didn't have to go to the bathroom while we were on it.

As soon as we arrived at the Athletes' Village a few minutes after 8 AM, we posted up along a brick wall immediately inside the village before it started to rain. We sought refuge under one of the three tents at the village. I felt like there were a million eyes on us as we walked into this place that looked like a war zone. There were bodies strewn everywhere, laying under blankets with tattered clothes and bottles around. People seemed so protective of the spots around them, as if we were coming in to rob them. The 5 of us were able to get some space within 20 feet of each other, but it was pretty linear. I could talk to Josh, he could talk to Charlie, Charlie could talk to Trevor and Adam.

I was cold and uncomfortable. They were giving away the tinfoil blankets to keep us warm, and I had one on, and I put on a trash bag over that and another one around my feet, but it just wasn't enough. The village started to fill up, and lines for the bathrooms were 20 people long. I did not like the situation that I was in, and it made me long for the comforts of the "Elite Developmental" tent in Chicago. Around 8:45 AM, Adam and I went out to wait in the bathroom lines. By the time we got to the front, I really had to go and I was trembling because I was so cold. I think it took 20 minutes to get through, and then I went back to the tent to get ready to warm up.

Back in the tent, people had started to disperse. Wave 1/Corral 1 was supposed to head to the starting line at 9:05, and I was going to warm up at 9:20. Many of the familiar bodies had disappeared while I was in the bathroom, and new ones appeared. One that appeared on top of my stuff was a girl named Katie who was a graduate student at UVA (I think in Nursing) who wanted to try to run under 3:30 originally. Small world, right? I talked to Katie while I got ready to go and listened to people complaining about the cold, wind, and rain. The general consensus was that it was going to be a slow day. Katie didn't think she'd be running anywhere close to her goal, nor did all the other strangers in the tent. No matter, I'd done the work and I was ready to go out and try. I didn't spend all this time and money to go up there and give up before I started.

Adam and I went out to warm up for a few minutes and basically just ran back and forth on the open parts of the field as runners started to head to the starting line. Adam cut it shorter than I did and was actually gone from the tent before I finished. I did a few light stretches with my rope, put on my singlet and body glide, changed into my flats, and said goodbye to the pile of stuff that I was leaving there. It was still too cold to shed any layers, so at this point I had on two pairs of gloves, a hat, singlet, t-shirt, sweater, sweatshirt, shorts, and sweatpants. Jogging out of the tent, I knew that it was essential that I use the bathroom again, but the 15,000 people in the village who were waiting in line for their start times weren't likely going to care if I needed to go now. So I ran out of the village fully bloated hoping that the toilets near the starting line were less crowded.

It was a very long run down to the line. But luckily there were another 200+ porta-potties in a parking lot and the back end of the lot was much less crowded than the front. I did what I needed to do, stretched a little more, took GU #1 and took off my sweatpants. Heading to the line was a bit of a zoo, and I was moving past people walking around during the national anthem. I passed Adam and he and I grouped up as we worked our way towards the front, still maybe 5 rows back from the rope separating the elite from the masses. Charlie found us as well from a spot 4-6 people to our left, so we'd be able to group up quickly. I kept my layers on me as long as I could before taking a knee in the crowd and got ready for the onslaught of runners to pass us after the gun went off. I was surprised that they didn't let the rope down and allow us to move forward 2-3 seconds before the gun, instead making us start running well beyond the line. But that's what they did and the gun was off and I started my watch as I crossed the starting line...

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