Wednesday, April 18, 2012

It is not a race...IT IS AN EXPERIENCE warned the B.A.A. on the eve of the Boston Marathon.  Back to that in a minute.

Arriving at the airport.
If you read my last blog post, you saw me all sappy and happy about celebrating being a runner in Boston. I'm still exceedingly glad to be a runner (and there were moments during the race when even that thought waned), but, at this point, I'm even more thrilled to be alive.  I did indeed run and finish the 116th Boston Marathon this past Monday.  It was my personal worst time for the distance (by almost an hour), and (very narrowly) the second-to-worst running experience I've ever had. Now that I've got you excited about reading this sordid tale, let me share the details of the weekend.

Bedford ---> Boston
We left early Saturday morning.  Bill, Leisa, Jimmy, Tim, and I were all on the same Beantown-bound flight, and that was fun.  In two short hours, the Bedfordites began to invade Boston. We were in very good spirits until we started getting the BAA emails.  What emails, you ask?  Oh, they don't usually send them.  Only when the forecast is calling for 90-degree heat on race day do these bad boys get sent out.  I won't quote them verbatim for you, but let's just say that all our phones began lighting up with warning messages about running in Monday's race.  As in, we probably shouldn't be doing it.  It was going to be hot--very hot--from beginning to end. Though the doomsday messages dampened the mood a little bit, it was almost imperceptible.  Bill commented on his impeccable timing: the last time he ran Boston, in 2004, it was the hottest Boston yet.  And this year was supposed to be even hotter.  AND (for those of you who don't know Bill) he does not do well in heat.  At all.  We joked about the probability of seeing Bill on the ground in convusions after the race and headed to our hotels.

Jimmy, John (who had a different flight), Tim, and I were all at the Sheraton.  Bill and Leisa were somewhere else, as was Allen, and Rand, Kathy, Robin, and her husband Joe were at the Westin.  After settling in our hotels, the plan was to get straight to the expo.  But Bill, Rand, and I were starving.  So we stopped and ate at a place on Boylston Street, The Globe, before heading over.  We sat outside.  And it was hot.  It slowly began to sink in that this was going to be my slowest marathon ever.  I actually knew that before I came, but it was starting to hit me just HOW slow it might be.  We played around on Boylston street a little, and then Tim, Bill, Leisa, Rand, Kathy, and I headed to the expo.

You've probably heard me say it before--but I hate expos.  I just do.  It's crowded, it's loud, and it's not too far off from the feeling you get in a Mexican market--everyone wants to sell you something.  But you HAVE to go to the expo to get your race number.  It's a trap!  Boston jackets were everywhere.  Apparently, it's an unwritten rule that if you've run Boston before, and you come BACK to Boston, you wear your Boston jacket to the expo.  EVEN if it's 80 degrees. I was silently judging/scoffing this practice when I saw this year's jacets.  They were orange.  People were commenting on the ugly color.  Outwardly, I agreed.  Inwardly, I was terribly ashamed that I actually kind of liked them.  But I kept walking past them.  I was determined not to buy anything that said BOSTON on it.  And, at the expo, I didn't.  I got my number, found out they were offering a deferrment, and headed back to the room.

About the deferrment--that is almost unheard of.  The BAA was saying, about the most popular/prestigious marathon in the country, "Look, if you will show some smarts and not run on Monday, we'll hold a spot for you in next year's race."  Don't get too excited--they were going to make you pay again (surprise), but it's a huge deal to have a spot held for you in Boston.  I never once considered the deferrment.  Mostly because I don't plan on going back to Boston and I was already there--money paid, etc.  And I just felt like I wanted to get it over with.  No one in our group ended up deferring.

That evening, the entire Bedford group (sans Allen, who couldn't stay up that late) went out to dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant on the North End.  There was more laughing/talking about Bill in convulsions, and lots of bread-eating.  One thing was clear:  the pressure was off on race day.  Nobody was planning to race.  Well, Kathy didn't come right out and say that, but the rest of us did.  We were in it to finish.  After that, we went to bed and I slept like a log.

Sunday morning--one day before the race--Tim, Jimmy, and I went to a little spot on Boylston Street for breakfast, where I enjoyed my first ever Diet Coke in a glass bottle.  Tim and I had plans to meet up with our friend Randy for lunch, so soon after breakfast we went for a 2 mile shake out run.  I was concerned about how my knee would hold up.  To my relief, it was fine.  But I got sopping wet with sweat in that 2 miles--not a good sign.  After the run, we ate at a great place with Randy, then made our way back to our hotel.

And then it hit me.  About 100 yards in the distance, there was this row of those bright orange jackets.  They had been calling my name the entire weekend, and I'd yet to admit that I actually liked them.  As a joke, Tim had me try one on and he took a picture.  And then...he said I should get it.  I finally admitted that, okay, I really liked the color, but there was NO WAY ON EARTH I was buying a Boston jacket.  I had promised in my prior blog post to do no such thing.  He took it from my hands and bought it for me.  What's a girl to do?  Can't go refusing gifts from her husband.  So, I have, and am indeed wearing right now (only because I'm cold--a sensation with which, after running this race, I was afraid I would never become familar again) a 2012 Boston Marathon jacket.  I assure you it's the color that got me.  But beyond that, I have no defense.  Judge away.

That night, Tim, Jimmy, John, and (later) Rand and I went out for pizza.  I was able to debut my jacket and get lots of fun made of me.  Again, no defense.  The BAA still, at this point, were harrassing us with emails about how stupid we were to even consider running their race.  Their final attempt was to send us an email which read:  "Tomorrow's race is not a race.  It is an experience."  And that, it would be.

The race starts at 10, but, being a point to point, requires that the (non-elite) runners wake up much earlier.  We had to walk a mile from our hotel to be loaded onto school buses.  Those school buses would take us to Hopkinton, where the race began.  It was hot at 6:30.  Not a good sign.  We met up with Bill and Allen, and off we were to Hopkinton.  It's about a one hour bus ride from Boston to the start.  I have not been on a school bus in a LONG time.  I almost forgot how sick they make me.  Until, well, it happened.  About halfway into the ride, I became deathly ill.  I just wanted to die, and I had no idea if I could walk, much less run.  Finally we made it to Hopkinton, where I darted out of the bus and puked my guts out.  It would happen twice more while in Athletes Village--again, not a good thing to lose all your fluid before starting a 26.2 mile, 80+ degree adventure.

Tim and me in Athlete's Village.
It was probably a half hour before I got my wits about me.  We settled on the blacktop next to the school, and we waited.  With each moment, it just got hotter.  But we were "all in" now.  The start occurs in three waves.  Tim, Bill, Jimmy, and I were in the first one.  So we got to start the earliest possible--a blessing given the heat.  On our way to the start, I just kept thinking "It's hot, it's hot, it's hot."  I kept looking at Bill, wondering if I'd ever see him alive again.  I have done my fair share of hot weather running and always been okay, but I had seen him melt more than once.

We lined up in the back of the wave (Jimmy had this bright idea even though that's where we were assigned anyway) and waited some more.  The guy in front of us happened to be from Bloomington, also named Jim, ALSO qualified with a 3:18 (same as me and Jimmy), and ALSO works at IU and does most of his runs on the B line (where I run almost daily).  Small world.  It took us 8 minutes to reach the start line from the back of the corral, and we were off.

It was hot.  I know I keep saying that, but it just WAS.  The good thing about the first few miles, though, is that we were practically alone.  Seriously--it was like doing one of our runs down Washington Avenue.  We were clicking off 8:30s and reminiscing about how we wished the rest of our Bedford group could have started with us.  Around 5 miles, though, it got more crowded.  The wave behind us had started, and there were some poor souls who had decided to go ahead and go after the dream that day.  They were at race effort.  We saw many of them again, and I daresay a lot of them never finished.

The first 10 or so miles are down and up the whole way, with most of it being down.  I was still surprised, however, at mile 12 when my IT band pain kicked in.  I had a cortisone injection in it six days before the race, and that injection had left me 100% pain free.  Until now.  I tried to ignore it, and at points I could--like going through the Wellesley Scream Tunnel.  I didn't kiss any girls (or boys), but I gave a ton of high fives during that stretch.  Bill is the only one in our group who came out of the tunnel with some lipstick on his cheek.  He also caught a football at one point.  The crowds were amazing.

Just after the halfway point, I started noticing my feet really burning.  Like I could feel the pavement under them--this has never happened to me.  I remember, at mile 14, Jimmy said "Now it's just two back-to-back 6 mile runs."  I love sayings like that.  I was starting to get tired and hot, but thought to myself, "Yeah, I can do that."  Then, around 15, I started feeling cold.  This is NOT a good sign when it's 90 degrees out (which, at this point, it was).  I knew I had to start walking through the water stops to ensure I got enough fluid.  So I did this, but every time I did I would lose contact with Bill and Jimmy.  I'd speed up to catch them, then do it all again a mile later.  Still, though, I felt okay.  I can't say I was really enjoying myself at this point, but I was okay.  Tim and Bill had to stop to use the porta johns a couple of times, so Jimmy and I ran alone for a little while.  Then, before I knew it, I HAD to go to the bathroom myself.  I didn't really have an option.

So all of us except for Bill stopped.  He jogged ahead very slowly.  I felt much better after the bathroom stop, and we soon caught up with Bill.  I think this was around mile 19 or a taste more.  We were in the middle of the Newton Hills.  I must say--these hills are not bad.  I barely noticed them on the uphill side.  The downhill sides were killing my IT band, but they really are hyped up to be way worse than they are.

Tim and I were right behind Bill and Jimmy until about 20.5, when all the sudden I felt a searing pain in my second toe on the left foot.  I tried to keep going but my foot just kept pulling up.  It had to be some sort of blister.  I motioned to Tim, and we pulled off and I sat down on a curb.  I kind of tried to yell to Jimmy, but I saw his and Bill's heads bob into the crowd.  And that was the last time we saw them.  I immediately noticed my shoe was bloody--not that uncommon for a marathon, but when I pulled it, and my sock, off, the true source of the pain was revealed.

It's no secret that I have toenail problems, especially with my second toes.  But what happened was that a blister had managed to form UNDER a badly mangled toenail.  I didn't know what to do, so I put my shoe back on and tried to keep going.  Couldn't do it.  Some nice bystanders offered to get me some paper towels, but I knew I needed an aid station.  The next one was up heart break hill.  We jogged/limped up heart break (which, again, is not that bad) to the medical tent.  I went in and all I could perceive was the coolness--it was air conditioned!  I slipped off my shoe and showed him my toe.  He didn't know what to do with it either, so he put a bandaid around it (after having cleaned it up with alcohol--ouch!!).  They asked me a bunch of questions, and I went back out on the road.  I couldn't do it. Still.

So I went back in and asked for their scissors.  This wasn't my first rodeo--I've dealt with something similar before.  I handed Tim my shoe and the scissors, and he knew what to do.  He cut away the portion of the shoe that was exerting pressure on the bad toe.  But it still hurt.  So then he cut up the sock.  Then, finally, I could run.  So I emerged from the tent about 12 minutes after I had gone in, but finally able to run.  I ran the rest of heart break feeling half way decent.

But once on the other side, my IT band locked up.  I honestly thought I was going to have to drop out.  I couldn't bend that leg.  I prayed that I could please, please just finish this stupid race.  I kept running, and it was very painful for about a half mile.  Then it settled into just a normal painful, and I could take that.  This was just past 21 miles.  Everyone had said "just make it to 21 miles and you'll be fine," but this is where I started to lose it.  The uphills were gone, but they hadn't bothered me, and now I was going downhill on a bad IT band and the heat was taking its toll.  I was cold again, and I had to use the bathroom again.  I was having horrible diarrhea, and it didn't help that the porta johns had to be over 110 degrees inside.  I stopped several times, and during one of those my abdominal muscles began to cramp.

After that, I told Tim it was vital that I start walking the water stops in order to get Gatorade in.  I was SO excited every time I saw one, because that meant I could walk for about 10 seconds.  That's how bad my legs felt.  And every time I walked, the IT band locked up again.   It was a viscious cycle.

My pace had slipped deep into the 9's and stayed there.  I had no idea what our total time was, and I did NOT care.  I had lost so much time in the med tent and bathrooms it was futile to even think of the clock at this point.  Around 23, my right quad cramped.  I've never had cramps, and certainly never in the quads.  Let me just tell you--you don't want them.  It stopped me dead in my tracks.  I was that runner next to the light pole attempting to stretch it out.  Tim massaged me and I was off again, but only for about another mile when it happened again.

I felt, at mile 24, worse than I ever have in any other race.  Even Chicago.  At the end of my 60K never did I even APPROACH feeling this wasted.  I was still of sound mind (which is the only reason this is a close second in terms of being the worst running experience ever), but it was like I had no control over my legs.  I just kept saying to myself "How could this be happening?  I ran almost 40 miles on a hilly trail and I never got to this point."  It was as though I was running on my bones were against the pavement.  And my quad kept cramping.

Finally, Tim pointed out the Citgo sign (which I had forgotten about) and that we were going under the last underpass--less than a mile to the finish.  My quad cramped hard, and I stopped again.  I said to him, "I don't know if I'm going to finish."  I was just a mile away, but that statement was absolutely true.  He stayed right with me and I just kept repeating the mantra of "one step at a time," praying that I wouldn't cramp that next step.  Finally, we were to Boylston.  But it's a looooong stretch down Boylston.  I was closing my eyes and running for a while, then opening them to peek and see how much closer I was.  Yes, it was that bad.  Had my right quad cramped any worse, I wasn't going to be able to walk, much less run, to the finish.  Finally, by the grace of God, we were there.  I grabbed Tim's hand, hoisted it in the air, and did what I had been wanting to do for the last five miles:  I stopped running.

It was over.  And I was glad.  I cramped and cramped all the way from the buses to get our stuff to the letter "B" where we were meeting our Bedford friends.  We saw Bill and Jimmy there and explained to them what happened to us.  The biggest surprise of the day was that Bill looked GREAT.  Jimmy didn't look quite so great and ended up in the medical tent for a brief time.  Kathy had struggled with bathroom issues, John had cramped all over, Allen had sucumbbed to the heat and was even turned away by a Wellesley girl, and Robin nearly melted...but we ALL FINISHED.  Take that, Boston!

So, what now?  As much as I'd love to lace up and get right back to running--it's clear that I can't.  My body is, from all angles, revolting.  Especially my left knee/IT band.  I got the shot to get through the race.  I barely did that, so now it's time to get rid of the pain for good.  I have a doctor's appointment tomorrow, and I'll go from there.  No running for likely 14 days.  After this little break, it's time for Dances with Dirt.  For now, all I can say is that I EARNED that jacket!


  1. As I told Allen, you've nothing to be ashamed of. No human could run a best time under the conditions. The experience tested you differently - your ability to overcome the conditions became the contest. You won.

  2. I am amazed at everyone who ran that hot race. I don't know that I would have made it. Someone posted a picture of your shoe in 365 runners and so I was definitively wanting to read your report. Given the shoe issues I have had lately I may do some shoe surgery myself if needed when I run Bayshore. I'm planning to arm my husband with scissors in case I need them! Congrats on your finish! Yes you sure did earn the jacket!!!