Boston 2014 — Race Report

The thing about Boston was that everywhere you went people made you feel like a rock star. Everyone wanted to talk about the marathon all weekend long, whether they were running in it or not. On Saturday I was walking from the train station to the hotel and a guy stopped his car in the middle of the road, rolled down the window and shouted, ‘Nice jacket, is that the color for the marathon this year?’. We then had a conversation about it while traffic came to a stand still behind him. BTW, my initial response was, ‘Yep, fortunately obnoxious is my favorite color.’ I've gotten a lot of mileage out of that line and it’s going to be a keeper.

I did the Aussie Carb Load a day early. I warmed up on the treadmill and was about to go crazy with incline/speed when the circuit breaker blew. I went outside and ran the parking lot instead. I was a little reluctant to run as hard as they say to, but I spent most of the 3 minutes in 5:30ish pace territory. I then cooled down and started hitting the Gatorade. The article I read said that for my body size, I needed to get an extra 851 grams of high GI food within 24 hours of the run and they implied the more carbs I could get in sooner, the better. I rounded up and packed 1 kg of Gatorade powder in a Ziploc bag. I mixed it stupid strong by spreading it across five 500 ml bottles of water. I then managed to drink half within 45 minutes and had 80% of it in me within 2 hours. My throat burned from all of the sugar. Time to hit the expo.

The best part of the expo for me

The expo on Saturday was fun, but honestly it wasn't as impressive as I expected. The 10 foot human gerbil wheel like contraptions were a nice touch in the Adidas display, but I didn't see many over the top displays. Just lots of people buying/selling the usual running stuff. I didn't bother going to any of the scheduled celebrity appearances, but I did run into Ray Maker (dcrainmaker.com). Someone in front of me had stopped him for a minute to take a picture. By the time I caught up that exchange was done so I shook hands with him and told him that I appreciated his work. He was ready to stand there and have a longer conversation, but I’m not the type to take up a stranger’s time just because I happen to love his website. It was nice to have a minute to tell him that I appreciated his work though.

Women Pro’s lining up for the start of the Invitational Mile

After the expo on Saturday I wandered around outside for a while and managed to catch the Women’s Pro Invitational Mile. It was cool to watch. I was next to the start line, which was also about 100 yards from the finish, so I got a chance to see the start/finish live and watch the rest of the race on a jumbo-tron behind me. It is amazing how they move. Incredible amount of kinetic energy coming off every part of their bodies, except their head. Their heads just seem to float with no vertical movement at all. Amazing.

Everyone near the finish line
Jacob’s favorite part of the Expo

Amanda and the kids arrived Saturday night. We went downtown on Sunday, walked the finish line/expo a little and grabbed a Duck Tour. The Duck Tour was a lot of fun. Jacob and Nathan got to take turns piloting the ‘boat’ in the Charles river. The guide was hysterical and had an amazing ability to crack jokes, make eye contact with passengers and weave in/out of Boston traffic simultaneously. As we got ready for bed Sunday night I was unusually calm.

Monday morning I hopped on a bus that Marathon Tours had set up to take runners to Hopkinton State Park to get the official shuttle to the start line. The bus already had passengers from other hotels. The person sitting across the aisle and up one seat turns to the person directly across the aisle from me and asks, ‘Where are you from?’ His answer, ‘Rochester NY’. The guy that was asking was from Arcadia NY. Wild coincidence. I was constantly surprised how many people were running the race for the first time. I randomly wound up talking to about ~30 runners over the weekend and I’ll bet 20-25 of them were running Boston for the first time. Once we got to Hopkinton State Park we all had to get screened with metal detectors and then were allowed to get on a School Bus to the Athletes Village.

Almost there

The Athletes Village was really cool. It was packed and people were stretched out everywhere, lounging about. It looked a bit like an outdoor concert festival. I met a couple of guys from Brighton, England. We had some nice conversations and since I was dressed in my previous ‘fat’ clothes I had fun showing them what size 44 pants look like on a 34 inch waist. I asked one of them to write my first name on each of my forearms with a permanent marker. It was cool hearing my name throughout the race, although I learned one lesson the hard way. If you are going to write your name on your arm, make sure to put sun block on. Now that the ink has washed away I have a sun burned arm with my name in pasty white pale skin across it. After a trip to the porta-potty I was wandering a bit when they called for a moment of silence for last year’s victims. It was amazing how quiet a crowd of 32,000+ people could get. It felt like the silence went on forever. After a little more wandering, I bumped into Jason ‘J-Mac’ McElwain and he gave me a big bear hug. It was awesome to see how excited he was. I know him from races around Rochester. He told me that he had thought about what I said previously and that he was just going to soak in the experience instead of racing. Apparently he did both, because he rocked a 2:57 finish, which I think is a 4 minute PR for him.

Where’s the stage?

It wasn't long before they started calling corrals for the first wave to the parking lot to stage the walk to the Starting Line. I stripped out of my XXL throwaways and shivered a little, but the sun felt good. After a short wait in the parking lot, we were escorted the 0.7 miles to the start line. Along the way there were more bathrooms and more places to discard clothes, something to remember for next year. It was a 2 lane road and as we got closer to the starting line one traffic lane was occupied by metal corrals and the other was a ‘bypass’ to commute to your assigned position. I ducked into Corral 7 and lined up at the very front. I might have been able to sneak forward into Corral 6, but no need to. I still didn't know if I was there to race or have fun. If I was going to race, then I would expect a time in the 3:00-3:04 range and my position in Corral 7 was with the 3:04 qualifiers. After a flyover from the National Guard and the singing of the anthem the gun went off. Everyone started walking/jogging forward and then there was an abrupt stop. I managed to get some good laughs by calling out, “Hey, I didn't know we were on the Mass Pike.” After a minute everyone started moving, and I got across the start line with 4:15 on the clock.

Corral 6

Getting to the start line was uphill, but as soon as we crossed the start the course dove down pretty quick. I just started spinning my legs and having fun. My heart was racing. Some of it was excitement, but I've also learned that it does that for a while if I don’t warm up first. There had not been any opportunity for a warm-up this day. I was carrying a water bottle with Gatorade. A killer tip that I got from the Runner’s World Boston Marathon Forum was to carry one and avoid the early stops. It was a wonderfully effective way to pass people. I found myself needing to do very little weaving. Everyone in the field around you can run paces just as fast and the few people that I would have liked to get around were easily avoided by skipping the water tables. It was a beautiful Spring day.

The course gets dense with spectators every small town you go through and then thins out to nobody in between. This surprised me a little, but the enthusiasm in the small towns was phenomenal. I continued to cruise along having an awesome time. I got into a town and the banners said ‘Natick’. This worried me, because Amanda and the kids were at the West Natick train station and I had just come from the west. After a little while, I asked a spectator which direction the West Natick Train station was and he pointed ahead down the course. I was a little surprised that he took my question seriously since it sounded like a Rosie Ruiz joke to me when I said it aloud. I started up the next hill guessing the train station might be on the other side and I saw a couple of ‘spectators’ on the side of the road, with one pushing the other in a wheelchair. They were going so slow that I didn't realize it was Team Hoyt until someone in front of me made some sudden moves to get over to them. I expected to be inspired, but honestly I felt concerned. At the pace they were going it was hard to know if they would finish.

Hmm, I think someone is missing

When I crested the hill I could see the plaza next to the train station. I started watching for everyone and I think I surprised people when I stopped for a photo. It was a pretty quick pose and apparently only 2 1/4 of the 4 of us made it into the frame but it was still fun. I found out later that the spectators near by were excited that a runner had stopped. Yep, just one of the 32,000+ rock stars on Patriot’s Day.

Just cruising along on a beautiful day
Me (pre-sunburn), The Easter Bunny and his better half

I started cruising down the course again and I was having a blast. About 1-2 miles later was my next stop, a friend/co-worker that was going to be at 135 East Central Street. However, when I got there they weren't around. I started watching closely, hoping that I had not missed them. I saw them a few houses ahead, apparently the address wasn't quite right. Eric was wearing a pink Easter Bunny hat, so about 100 feet away I threw my arms up and started screaming, ‘Easter Bunny, Easter Bunny…’ I stopped for another quick picture and while I was enjoying the ice I picked up earlier, I thought Eric might need some so I dumped it down the back of his shirt and took off running. Once I started going again, I quickly found myself behind a girl that was running with huge bunny ears and a puffy tail. It made me wonder if she thought I had been screaming at her and made me laugh.

At this point I was still cruising along near what I would have expected for a fast pace. I got to the half about a minute behind where I would have needed to be to take 3-4 minutes off my marathon PR and started questioning whether I really wanted to buckle down and run fast. It was such an awesome day I was afraid that I might spoil it. Around mile 14, I passed a younger version of Team Hoyt. When I did, I looked back to the guy in the chair and asked if I could get a high five. He smiled and nodded yes, so I backtracked a bit and we connected. His face lit up and I think we were in a competition to see who could make a bigger smile. That was the point that I knew my race was over and that the rest of the day would be all about trying to connect with people on the course and soak in the experience.

I cruised down the rest of the hills and from mile 16 on I just focused on finding a respectable pace that left me with the ability to soak everything in. I might be one of the only people that actually enjoyed running up the Newton Hills. It isn't that I love going uphill, I just enjoyed a chance to experience them without feeling like I was in some epic battle. While running the hills I started hearing reports from spectators and runners that an American won. Everyone assumed it was Shalane Flanagan (actually Meb Keflezighi), but there was a lot of guessing going on. People were excited, but information was really coming through the world’s largest version of the telephone game. Yep, the sun just got a little brighter…soak it in. Awesome day.

A while after I crested Heartbreak Hill, there were a bunch of spectators with hands stuck out for high five’s. I had been slapping hands off and on all day, but now that I had decided to cruise it was time to take hand slapping to a new level. I picked the left side of the course and I started connecting with every hand I could find. Whenever the number of hands would start to become sparse, I would yell ‘give me some love’ to spectators and then they would go nuts. I had been surprised that the intensity in the small towns was higher than the more urban parts of the course. It seemed like the more people in a particular location, the less they cheered individually. This all changed when I started interacting with spectators directly. A ‘scream wave’ developed about 30 feet long that followed me for the last 5 miles of the course. If the screams started to get lackluster, or the number of hands decreased I would pump my arms and yell at the crowd and they responded every time. My left ear was still ringing from the noise an hour after I crossed the finish line. Occasionally, there was a break where no one could spectate and the high fives disappeared. Whenever this happened I had a wild reaction…my legs started hurting. When I was interacting with spectators I felt no pain, when there was a break the pain came back. It almost turned into a science experiment once I noticed the phenomena. I would stop, pain would start. I would start, pain would stop. If there was a section of the course where spectators were pushed back, like on one of the turns, instead of following the course I went over and visited with everyone cheering. I’m pretty sure I high five’d somewhere between 10,000 to 12,000 people. It was awesome.

It wouldn't be a race report without a little data, even though I ignored the watch

From Heartbreak Hill to the end of the course, I never noticed a mile marker. I was having too much fun with the crowd. As I got to the last few hundred yards of the course the finish line configuration kept people from being able to see from the sidelines. I remember being disappointed that the people were gone and that the Finish Line was there.

Once I crossed the finish line I got my medal and poncho and pulled out my cell phone to coordinate a ride back to the suburbs. I had a friend/co-worker named Jim that was around mile 22. I didn't see him but he and his girlfriend were able to spot me. The plan was for us to talk after I finished to pick a spot to meet up, either near the finish line or farther back on the course. When I looked at the phone there was an error message of ‘Home has stopped working.’ I would hit ‘OK’ and it just kept coming back. Eventually, I got the phone turned off/on and now the error message was gone but the phone thought that a headset was plugged in. I could make calls, but no one could hear me and I couldn't hear them either. Text messaging was working and I managed to get an address from Jim one minute before the phone died entirely.

I had to walk a half mile before seeing a way off the road at Boston Commons. I asked a police officer how to get to 1663 Boylston. He sent me one block over and then told me to double back. I started walking with the occasional jog and then some time later reached the end of the instructions that I could remember, so time to ask for directions again. The next officer pointed out that I needed to cross the course, so he sent me on my way with an additional set of directions that were way more than I would remember. Fortunately, I heard him give the same directions to some young people so when I had a chance I caught up to them and asked if we could walk together. They were awesome. We had a great series of conversations while I was able to shut my brain off and know that they would get me where I needed to go. Eventually, we found our way to the 1600 block of Boylston but we didn't see 1663 and Jim wasn't anywhere to be found. There was a Best Buy on the block so we went in and I checked with the Geek Squad about my phone. They plugged it into a charger. No luck. To be honest, I started to freak out a little at this point, until I realized the laptop section of the store would have an internet connection. I got into my email, found Jim’s number in the contacts, called him from a phone borrowed from one of my four angels and now I knew I could relax. I had the original address wrong but now Jim was coming to me.

I wanted to make myself visible so I went outside and sat on the steps. Everyone that walked by had something to say and many came over to shake my hand or give me a high five. A guy on a bicycle stopped, dismounted and sat down next to me. He stayed with me for 15 minutes shooting the breeze about the race. After the cyclist left and before Jim arrived, I had a visit from the most affectionate well wisher to pass. Two women in their 20’s came through the parking lot. One of the women said something I didn't understand and then promptly walked over and sat down on my lap, telling me ‘See I told you you could support my weight’. Fortunately, her friend encouraged her to move on and off they went.

Jim

A short while later, Jim stopped by and took me back out to Natick where I would stay with friends of friends for the night. The visit was a perfect ending to the day. It was basically a small marathon party where everyone seemed really interested to hear about the marathon and training/running in general. After a perfect day, I had a wonderful evening talking about my favorite topics with some awesome hosts.

Gotta love running talk
Best place to be at the end of the day

Oh, and on such a beautiful day it hardly matters, but I finished 6,535th out of 32,456 and my time was 3:20:17. One of my slowest marathons I've run, but I wished I had gone slower. I had a great time. Everything went so well that I immediately started wondering if I should ever go back. There is no way it could ever be this much fun again, but who am I kidding. It’s Boston, I’ll go back every chance I get.

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