Thursday, April 24, 2014

118th Boston Marathon: My Experience

For the last 2 and a half years I have had a singular focus; to run the Boston Marathon. Why? Because it is the super bowl of running. Because it is a legendary and challenging course and because it is the most iconic marathon finish line in the history of the sport. Merely qualifying for the marathon is a badge of honor among runners and is something that they aspire to and once they have completed it, it is a cherished moment for the rest of their lives. It was a lofty goal by most accounts and one a lot of people didn't think I could achieve given my background and fitness level.

In order to accomplish my goal, I ran. A lot. I ran 2700 miles in 2012 and 3000 miles in 2013 and about 900 in the first 3 and a half months of 2014. I trained in the early morning hours well before the sun was up and in whatever Mother Nature threw at me. I wore out countless pairs of running shoes and although they never complained I’m sure I wore out my wife and daughters’ patience. But on Monday April 21st, 2014 my goal became a reality.

The whole experience was something that I will always remember and it began, much like my training, well before the sun came up. For various reasons we flew out of Detroit at 6:00 AM Saturday morning. Our flight to Boston was full of Marathoners and their families. It was a sight to see as we were all beginning our carb-loading rituals. Most runners were eating the customary Bagel for breakfast but I also saw one guy eating plain pasta with a plastic fork from a quart sized zip lock bag. Carb-loading is serious business, fueling to run 26.2 miles is not easy and I guess this guy wanted to make sure he got it right.

As soon as we landed it was obvious that the city of Boston had its arms open to the runners. The airport was lined with signs promoting the marathon and welcoming the runners making the pilgrimage. The taxi ride from the airport just reinforced the feeling of being welcomed because I was coming to run their beloved marathon. Street signs, store front signs and billboards all continued the welcoming. The taxi driver treated me like a star. Telling me how I was a champion because I was there to run.

As the taxi approached the downtown area it was apparent that there were over 35,000 runners in town. Runners were everywhere doing what runners do. Running. Checking into our hotel, we stood behind other marathoners. Later we would find even more runners doing that other thing runners do a lot. Eating. Restaurants from Dunkin’ Donuts to high end steak houses were full of, you guessed it, marathoners. Even Mass on Easter morning was full of Marathoners. We were joined by Boston champ Joan Benoit Samuelson.

I had 2 days before the marathon and in my usual training regimen these 2 days call for nice easy short runs just to keep everything loose. I cannot explain the feeling of running in Boston at this time of year. Running in a new city is always a great way to become familiar with the area. But when you are surrounded by thousands of other runners with a singular focus, even these easy runs become something special. I ran to find where I would load up on the official bus to the start line, I ran to find the Church where we would attend Easter morning Mass and I ran past restaurants and bakeries we were planning to visit. On these easy runs I ran down the legendary Boylston Street, the famous Newbury Street and a lot of side streets. Just taking it all in and enjoying the company of my compatriots.

The expo, where we go to pick up our official race number, shirt and visit various exhibitors’ booths was packed. I somehow ran into the only other 2 people running the marathon form Kokomo. There were a lot of big names from the world of running and I was lucky enough to meet a few of them. I met Olympic marathoner and American marathon record holder Ryan Hall. I met a well-respected running coach and author Jack Daniels and Runner’s World writer Mark Remy.

Monday morning I was bused, along with all of the other runners, to Athletes Village at about 6:30 AM to wait for the start of the race. I ate Bagels, drank Gatorade and hung out with 32,000 of my best friends waiting for the race to start. The people of Boston and the other small communities along the route really get into the marathon. The way to the start line was filled with well-wishers giving out encouragement and high-fives some even tried to make sure we had everything we needed offering free dounuts, beer and cigarettes.

We got lined up, did the national anthem with a military flyover from a national guard troop that assisted after the bombing last year and were off on our trip back to Boston. The course is tough but lined with people screaming, cheering, high-fiving, and handing out oranges, bananas and water. The day was sunny and hot which made a tough course all the more so. The first 15 miles of the course is mostly downhill which really puts a strain on your legs. The next 5 miles are uphill and that finishes your legs off. Dead legs or not there are still over five more miles to go and at this point finishing becomes a thing of sheer will but crossing the finish line of this marathon is a feeling I will never forget.

The experience didn't end there. As I said, Boston loves its Marathon and the people who run it. We were treated like royalty afterward by everyone we saw. Congratulatory sentiments flowed from everyone including our hotel staff who crowned us with laurel wreaths and restaurants who welcomed us in to refuel and replenish our spent, dehydrated bodies. Even the Red Sox opened their home to us. The evening after the race the marathoners had run of the storied Fenway Park.

I made a decision 2 and a half years ago to qualify for and run the Boston Marathon. I have really and truly experienced the joy of making a long term commitment and seeing it through to completion. The thing that I would like everyone to understand is that I was not a particularly good runner. I wasn't fast, I didn't have a high endurance threshold. Heck 2 years prior to committing to this goal I couldn't even run a mile without stopping. When I first expressed this desire, more experienced runners told me that I was getting in over my head. That this was something that would take years to accomplish. But understand this, limits are for other people they are not for me and they are not for you.

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