Sunday, April 25, 2010

Boston Marathon

Not a huge surprise, but I didn't sleep so well. That probably put me in good company with many thousands of others this Monday morning.

Sunday I'd gone to the expo and had my ankle taped with 'KT Tape'. It was feeling a little better race morning, but with 26.2 miles of pounding ahead I wasn't too optimistic. I was going into the race thinking that as long as I didn't do any serious damage to it I wanted to try to run as far as I could, but was fully prepared to walk if I necessary.

I had my normal breakfast of cereal and a couple of cups of tea. I also drank some gatorade with ultimate fuel, and had some shot bloks. Then down to meet Phil and Ryan in the hotel lobby at 6am and we headed over to the buses. While the lines were long, it was well organized and we were on them surprisingly quickly. Our bus driver was a stud. He drove like one of the speedy taxi drivers in the amazing race as he overtook many other buses. When traffic ground to a crawl, a police convoy went past with a bus of officials. Our driver jumped in behind and swept us quickly to the start.

The athlete village was very much as I'd imagined. Thousands of athletes milling around. Sitting, chatting, lining up for the hundreds of porto-potties. Our group from the Boston Runners World Boards met at a pre-arranged spot and I was thankful for the company. I continued to drink gatorade and consumed further packets of shot bloks. Something that I regretted later.

The time went quickly and soon we were being called up to the corrals. I dropped off my checked bag, and later threw away my disposable 'good will' clothes that I'd bought and stood in my trash sack with gatorade toilet until it was time for the off. The national anthem was sung, jets flew over us, and we were off.

I decided to go out as if I wasn't injured. I figured I'd rather 'go down in flames' than meekly jog it out. I was using the Greg Maclin pacing spreadsheet to help me pace myself through the undulating course. Before the injury my 'A Goal' had been 3.05. After 3 weeks with very minimal activity I realized that was likely out of reach so decided to aim for 3.10. In my mind I knew that if things were going very well - the 3.05 splits were around 12 seconds / mile faster.

I'd been warned both not to go out too fast, and also not to try to weave through the inevitable congestion at the start. I felt I'd achieved both of those - my first split on the garmin was 7.11. Nice. I soon caught up Chad and Ashley, who were running for a 3.10, so I got in behind them and tried to soak up the experience. The crowds were impressive and I did my best to high five as many kids as I could on the side of the road I was running.

Second mile was 7.15. Things still were going well, although I was starting to get concerned over my elevated HR. I didn't feel like I was working hard, but my HR was telling another story.

Mile 3 went by at 7:00 even, and the first 5K in 22:14. Mile 4 was also 7:00 even. Consistent pace, and my ankle was giving little pain, but my HR was now in the 170s. That was a huge red flag that I ignored. I'd run a half marathon at altitude 5 weeks before, running 6:40 mile pace, and my HR hadn't reached 170 until the end - so clearly the lack of cardio fitness, and likely overdose of caffeine from the 3 full packets of shot bloks that I'd consumed and multiple cups of tea, were taking a toll.

Mile 5 - 7:15. Mile 6 - 7:08. Through the 10K in 44:44. All on track for my goal time, but I already knew I was in trouble. As if on cue - the ankle started to grumble. Quietly at first, but then louder and louder.

I was still in denial about my HR and cardio fitness. I had altitude training on my side. Surely if I could get through the half, I could then 'gut it out' over those last 13 miles and still come in at 3.10 ?

I knew with the ankle pain that I should ease back a little, so I did.

Mile 7 - 7.17
Mile 8 - 7.30
Mile 9 - 7.22
Mile 10 - 7.23
Mile 11 - 7.41

That final mile finally hit home. I needed a new plan. Forget the goal, now it was just time to survive. The pain was getting worse so I kept bargaining with myself. First it was - get to 10 miles then you can walk. Then it was - ok - let's get to 13, that'll be half way. All the while I was working out what time I'd end up with if I walked the remaining distance. Figuring a 4 miles per hour walking pace, I realized at the 10 mile mark that I'd be able to get easily inside 6 hours and thereby 'earn' the jacket and finishers medal.

Between mile 12 and 13 we hit Wellesley College. I could hear the screams ahead and looked out - unsuccessfully - to find the sign that the girls had designed for our board. I continued to bargain with myself. Get to the half - you're half way home. You could run half, walk half. I hit that in 1.36.49. Not bad, but way off my initial goal and slowing all the time. The only positive - my cardio was back and fine. My HR was now in the 150s and soon dropped to the 130s.

I tried to get over to the side and started a new approach of walking for 10 seconds after each water station. I'd grab the drink, and then as soon as we were passed the tables I'd pull over, walk and drink, then start up again. Each time I did I realized I was walking with a more pronounced limp.

Mile 14 was my last sub-8 minute mile. 7.48. I kept the bargaining going. Run to 16 - that's just 10 miles of walking left. 8.05, 8.02. Now the pain was a lot worse. I was coming up to the hills. Running up hill with achilles tendonitis is worse than running on the flat. Picture your foot landing flat - and then picture it landing on an uphill slope. The uphill causing further extension on the achilles. I imagined people back home following my splits, not realizing I was having injury problems and laughing that the 'hills were getting him'. The hills themselves really weren't that bad. I forced myself to run up them - I didn't want to walk, but I did walk down them some. 8.39, 8.53, 8.56 and 9.19. Over a 9 minute mile - when my 3.05 pace would have been 7 mins. Uggh. Although at that point I didn't care. I was running up and walking down and just trying to ignore the pain.

6 miles to go. That's 90 minutes walking at 4 miles an hour. Now I was going to come in at 4.5 hours if I did that. The crowd was a amazing. I was wearing my name on my top and every time I stopped to limp along they yelled my name and told me I could do it. I wanted a place to hide, to just finish in my own personal agony, but they wouldn't let me.

9.42, 9.39, 9.59. I was still a little faster than 6 miles per hour. Just 3 miles to go. Now I realized I was going to get below 4 hours. I could almost walk it to that. And walk I did - a lot more. I'd bargain with myself to jog to the next water stop, then I'd hobble for half a mile, then jog to the next water stop.

13.03, 12.23. Just one mile to go. I found another runner who was following a similar hobble/run pattern. He wasn't injured, but was having a hard time. Looking at his bib number - a 6xxx - he must have had an even tougher race than me. We chatted and as we got to 25.3 miles we got each other to run it out. Slowly. Most people were overtaking still but we didn't care. Mile 26 a little faster in 11.15. The crowds were unbelievable. I'd thought Chicago was good, but these were so much better. We turned the corner and headed to the line. I even managed to pick up the pace and saw on the garmin for those last hundred yards my pace was back in the 8 min range.

Finally. Over the line. 3.45.57. A personal worst by more than 25 minutes but all things considered, not bad. It was EASILY the most painful and toughest run of my life. If this hadn't been Boston I very much doubt I'd have pushed myself through the pain, in fact I probably wouldn't have even started. We talk on the running boards of 'HTFU', where HT stands for 'harden the' (and with my mother perhaps reading this I'll led you figure out the rest !). My shirt had those letters on my back so I figured I had to try to live up to them. I also knew I had to finish to 'earn' the right to wear the jacket.

Through the chute very slowly, I got the medal and space blanket, then finally my checked clothes. I sat on the ground trying hard to get them over my right ankle. I looked up and saw that the hotel was directly across the road from where we left the runners area. Fantastic. I probably couldn't have walked another block. I said it out loud to whoever would listen - 'there's my hotel'... Across the road and straight down into the bar to hear the amazing stories of the other folks on the runners world boards.

Writing this a few days later I've realized that Boston is about far more than just the race - it's the whole experience. From the first thoughts of even qualifying to the event, to the joy of getting the time and being accepted, through the build up and anticipation of training hundreds of miles through the winter months, to the soaking up of the atmosphere of the weekend in Boston with thousands of others runners, to the ride on the buses, to the waiting in the athlete villages, to the start, to the high fiving of the kids and the support of the crowd, to the dreaded Newton hills, all the way to the finish. If my race time wasn't up to what I thought or hoped it could have been before the injury, that only takes away one small facet of the whole experience.

Still. I've promised myself I need to go back in 2011. I've got unfinished business in Boston.

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