Note: I wrote this on the plane home from Boston, fell asleep and neglected to edit and post it for one solid month. How’s that for grade-A procrastination.
A bad, short training season, low thyroid and vitamin deficiency
In the weeks leading up to the Boston Marathon, I was depressed, and not in an AJ Soprano, I’m-gonna-drown-myself-in-the-pool sort of way, but as in, my whole body was physically tired and I was seriously concerned I wasn’t going to be able to run a marathon. Especially one as hill-acious as Boston.
I was so tired just a month before the race, that I was falling asleep, literally, in the middle of the day at work. I was taking four-hour naps on a Sunday. I was struggling to keep up with my running contemporaries. I was failing to maintain my typical tempo pace, even during a 15k race.
I finally went to the doctor for lab work, which showed low thyroid.
Nothing new — my thyroid has been low for almost 10 years that I know of. Every six months, doc increases my dosage a bit. This time, after the labs, the doc’s assistant called to say I was very low in vitamin D as well. What does that mean, I asked the assistant, who replied, “It means you need to take a supplement.” Thanks for that flippin’ wealth of information, lady.
So she told me to start taking D supplement and to pick up a new more-potent RX for Synthroid. On my own — thanks, Google — I learned that D deficiency makes it tougher to absorb synthetic thyroid. That made me feel better — like I had a lead. I did as instructed and also began taking a multivitamin with iron every night. I never had done this for long because vitamins usually make me puke. But taking it at night on a half-full stomach (because I never eat dinner ‘til like 9, at least) and then going to bed made it work.
Ok, back to Boston training.
So, within about 10 days of this vitamin supplementation, I was no longer taking George Costanza-style naps at work. I felt markedly better. And my last long run of 16 miles, which was eight days before the marathon, felt OK. Not fabulous, but OK. And I started getting excited about Boston.
Fine-tuning my attitude
The week leading up to the race was production week at work, so I was too busy to get too panicked.
I made it a point to do a (relative) lot of running with friends who I enjoy being around. Talking to them helped me put things in perspective. If I am all worried about my personal time and performance this year, after what the city of Boston and the marathon participants experienced last year, I am a selfish asshole. Basically.
I was going to be in Boston on the day that the city, the runners and all the fans of the sport take back Patriot’s Day. That alone was a reason for insurmountable gratitude. Though I trained hard, the time on the clock this day would be secondary.
In the days leading up to race day, I hardly checked the weather. Usually I check compulsively starting 10 days out. I was not as worried this time.
I was a little concerned about finding my way around the city — and I had every right to be — but about the race itself, I was not freaking out.
I am not religious, but I do frequently chat with the god of my understanding (a.k.a. pray) and when I was praying about this race, I got the distinct message to let go.
I did the carb-starve and carb load the same as I did before Louisiana. This has become a very important step in my improvement at long distances. See this post for a more-detailed explanation.
Leaving on a Sunday was nice because I had all day Saturday to pack and rest up.
I left Dallas at 6:30 Easter morning and arrived at Boston at 11 a.m. I got confused about the location of my hotel in relation to the marathon expo. Note to future Boston travelers: there are two convention centers in Boston. The Boston Convention Center is not where the marathon expo is. It is adjacent to my hotel. All along I was thinking my hotel was outside the expo, but it actually was three miles away.
OK, so that meant I was lugging my suitcase 1.2 miles up Boylston Street to the Hynes Convention Center. The crowd thickened as I progressed up the street. Congregants were exiting en masse following Easter service at the church, and I rolled over a kid’s foot with my suitcase and he commenced screaming.
I finally realized why thousands of people, including TV reporters and cameramen every few yards, were crammed together here in the street. I was at the Finish Line. Before I knew it I, and my suitcase, was stepping over the iconic blue paint, and my head was buzzing with the voices of hundreds of runners and running fans, speaking in myriad languages. Tons of people were already donning the bright orange 2014 Boston Marathon jackets, and reporters were stopping them for interviews. It all was, as one of my friends later said, surreal.
I took a very deep breath as images from last year’s bomb aftermath bloodbath filled my head. I was a little distressed that the Finish Line was not as somber as one might expect — instead there was giddiness and photo snapping and selfies. I get it, but it was unsettling.
I found a back entrance to the race expo—thank God because security was examining bags and I had a freaking suitcase with me.
Got the shirt/number and hauled ass to the nearest exit, where I easily caught a cab to my hotel. I wanted nothing more than to rid myself of that horrid suitcase.
The Westin Boston Waterfront is really nice and a little removed from the chaos, which is good for me. I rested for a couple hours and then walked over to a pub where I got a pre-race dinner, baked mac and cheese, at about 4:30 p.m.
Usually before a marathon I eat my last big meal at like 1-2 p.m., but since this thing was starting at 10:25 a.m., I figured I’d eat later.
I actually feel asleep easily after watching a Boston Marathon special narrated by Ben Affleck. It featured a guy who was found after the bomb clutching his own disembodied leg. He got married this past week at Fenway Park.
I woke a few times in the night, but slept OK, considering it was race night.
Getting to Hopkinton was smooth. I had been to Boston Marathon back in 2011, but I stayed in Framingham, so didn’t get the full experience hopping on one in a massive fleet of county school busses. A convoy of yellow busses carried more than 35,000 runners to a town 26 and-a-half miles away. On the bus, I met runners from Jersey, Ontario, New York, other parts of Texas, San Diego … you name it.
Upon arrival in Hopkinton, a temporary “Athlete’s Village” houses the marathon entrants.
Again, there are runners from all over the world. Boston is one of those races where you have to wait around for a long time pre race. It can be chilly, so people wear warm clothes that they can discard prior to the race. Therefore, you see a lot of folks walking around Athlete’s Village in funny getups — men in thrift-store suits, people in funky old coats and sweaters, three guys were in Breaking Bad style lab suits and one couple was wearing what looked like their hotel bath robes.
I fortunately ran into two friends, Brent and Ally from the WRRC, right off the bus.
We hung for a while. Brent who’s planning a 2:50 marathon started in the wave before us. Ally and I got in the bathroom line. And waited, oh, 45 minutes. We were supposed to head to the start at 9:50 and were still in line at 10. Nightmare. All around us people were dropping drawers and letting it all out on the grass. We opted to wait for the box. It was ugly out there. There were not enough toilets for 36,000 participants. I cannot imagine being one of the volunteers who had to clean up that dump after we left. Bless them.
Once your wave is released from the Athlete’s Village, you walk almost a mile to the Starting Line. By now the elites and the top-of-the-field runners have started.
My wave’s corral had started by the time I got to the line, but I tried not to panic. One volunteer told me: Don’t worry. The time doesn’t start until you cross the mat. So I took a minute to stretch and breath, and then I jumped in with wave 2 corral 4.
The first mile of Boston is fast no matter what. It is very downhill, and people are lining the roads screaming. I mean just bellowing like soccer fans.
I thought I remembered the course as all-downhill the first half, but it is far from that. It is net down, but there are rolling hills through this entire race.
At the start, the temps are OK. It’s in the mid-50s, but it’s been worse. See 2012. I consider running at the pace of my last marathon, about a 7:20 minute mile, which seems doable for about 30 minutes. It becomes very clear that the temps are rising quickly and by mile six people are mumbling about the heat. Layers of jackets, long sleeved shirts, mittens and arm warmers are flying from the course (anyone who started with a jacket on was just in all-out denial anyway).
At that point I decide to run by heart rate for a while. The Coach and I had discussed an acceptable range and agreed that exceeding that range early on would spell certain bonk. It was tough though, with the rolling hills, to keep my heartbeat in range. I knew I could not afford to tax myself too much early on, because I remembered how tough the Newton Hills are.
Around mile 5 maybe, we pass a bar with a parking lot full of what appears to be a Hells Angels-type biker gang. They are going nuts. One girl near me says, “A gang of bikers at a bar at 10 a.m. cheering for a bunch of marathon runners.”
The crowds along the race route never thin. There are some deeper, more-intense crowds at certain points, but there never is a quiet moment. It always is a sea of runners ahead and a throng of screaming fans on both sides essentially for 27+ miles.
Going through Framingham (mile 8), the spectators roar with marked excitement and I see ahead that I’m passing the famous Team Hoyt. This is a father son team that has run the Boston Marathon for decades straight. Theirs is an amazing story.
I try to take Shot Blocks every 20 minutes; I took an S Cap electrolyte tab before and during the race; I sip water and pour the rest on me at most water stops. By noon it is in the mid 60s. Great for spectating; bad for marathoning. By mile 13, when we run through the Wall of Sound at Wellsley College my legs are sore. The downhill is rough on the quads. The raucousness of that crowd propels me for the next 5k, which is where the Newton Hills begin. At this point my pace had fluctuated between 7:20 and 7:5x minute miles. My slowest miles are through the hills, but I feel surprisingly not bad. First, my legs actually find some relief running up. It’s like an opportunity for my quads to rest. Second, I begin passing a lot of people. Entering Newton, I see several runners full-stop at water stops or walk or wander over to the med tent. You don’t see this on a good day in Boston.
Heartbreak Hill is not necessarily a bad hill. Loving Hill in East Dallas is decidedly more intense. It is just the placement that makes it so tough. It is the highest of several hills that follow some serious rollers that are net downhill. It is just a really tough terrain to train your body for if you do not live in Boston.
But I think with the right mindset, these hills are not so intimidating; they are all short. None last more than about a quarter mile, I think.
Now, the best part of my race comes after Heartbreak Hill. I know I am overheating, but I am stoked after making it through Newton and there is a long downhill and there is an awesome group of Boston College kids along said downhill and I give one of them a high five and the others start going nuts and slapping my hand and it is like, neverending. I high-five probably 50 people there. I am whoo-hooing and thanking them and then — good times end — the wave of nausea hits. Dizziness. OK. Calm down, I say. I retreat to the opposite side of the course where there are no geeky-cute 20-year olds tempting me with their high-fives.
With five miles to go, there are people walking. Guys cramping up and hobbling. Mile 22-24 is the worst. I am in serious pain in my quads and I am red, sunburned and I just felt red-hot, like my face is going to explode. At each water stop, the water on my face feels heavenly. During the last third of the race it is between 65-70 degrees. It is not the worst conditions you can get, but it sure ain’t the best.
I am pretty happy to see Brent W, another member of the WRRC who was out with an injury but cheering, at mile 24.
After that I am praying hard. “Carry me home, please!”
Every other race or marathon I run, this is the point where it hurts so bad that I’ll come up with any reason to slow to a more comfortable pace (a walk seems preferable). My reason, usually is, “Oh there’s no reason to kill yourself; it isn’t Boston or anything.” But today, I did not have that one.
“It is Boston,” I tell myself. “Hold nothing back.”
The turn onto Boylston Street is bittersweet. I am trying to take in the scene. The crowds. The history of this race. The buildings and businesses that suffered in the wake of last year’s destruction. But, argh, it hurts bad. I can see the finish now but it is so far. I am just over 3:20 and I can see the Finish. I am pushing. I feel a pain equivalent to that of giving birth. It is that pain that you would never tolerate if you didn’t know that a) it would end soon and b) the reward would be worth it.
Then I step across the line. I think my time (by my watch) is 3:23, but later learn it’s officially 3:24:00.
I struggle to stay upright, but I have a huge smile on my face. The people are still lining the section after the finish line, cheering for us. At the end, runners walk “Mile 27” — stop at medical if you need, get water, food, your medal, check the leaderboard (American Meb Keflezighi won!) and finally exit at Boston Commons. As we limp outside the official corridors of the race, a massive mob of Bostonians stand, hooting and hollering “You did it!” You beat them!” “We beat them!” They are speaking, of course, about them — the young terrorists who wreaked havoc on this city last Patriots Day. “Thank you for running!” they shouted.
“Thank you. Thank you so much,” I answer. And some tears come out of my face.
Post race reflection, gratitude
That night, as I celebrated with friends at a Boston bar, I fully appreciated the sadness that must have engulfed this city following the last marathon. One friend mentioned how he felt guilty even going to eat at a restaurant that night and retreated to the suburbs for dinner, out of respect. Many runners packed up and went home that night; those who couldn’t hid out in their hotel rooms, feeling sickened.
It was a stark contrast to this year. The whole town filled with runners. Every business in Boston sported a motivational running sign in the window. Random citizens stopped runners to thank them for being here. Fun-loving, money-spending, crazy tourist marathoners fill the bars and restaurants.
At the celebration with my D-town team, one of our more-seasoned runners, “Coach Steve,” made a toast:
“A year ago,” he says, “they stole our opportunity to celebrate. A year later, we are back … and I am so proud of everyone … Boston Strong 2014.”