The oldest and arguably the most famous marathon is the Boston Marathon. It is often referred to as the “grand daddy” of marathons. Marathon runners dream of a Boston qualifying time. As I continued planning for 50 marathons in 50 states, I assumed that I would have to find another Massachusetts marathon or, lord willing, catch a tail wind and some youth after the age of 60 when the qualifying times might be more within the grasp of my sub-mortal running abilities. My best time thus far was a 4:01:08 and my average finishing time was likely closer to 4:20. At 48 years of age, I would need a 3:30 finish to qualify. It was truly laughable for me to entertain such an accomplishment. Therefore, Boston was only a passing fancy, especially with 49 other states to worry about and nothing but time ahead of me.
However, fate intervened on a January evening in 2010. TC Track Club board member Karen Wells invited me to speak about my Big Brothers Big Sisters fundraiser, Marathon4Kids. I had 5 minutes (I took 10, not good at hitting speaking qualify times either!) as sort of a warm up act to the main speaker, Dave McGillivray, the race director for THE Boston Marathon. While nervous, it wasn’t because I had a plan for getting into Boston. All I was thinking about was getting some national exposure for the newly created fundraising vehicle.
With McGillivray sitting in the front row, I launched into my prepared speech. Then, on the fly, I started playing with the fact that I wasn’t fast enough to qualify for Boston yet a string of other marathons had let me run. It was playful banter that the audience seemed to enjoy. After 3 or 4 mentions of marathons in New York, Indiana, Missouri and Iowa, he threw up his hands and shouted, “I give up. You’re in!” The crowd roared and I went on honestly thinking it meant nothing.
At the end of his speech, McGillivray paused and asked me to come up to the front of the audience. In front of 100+ Traverse City area runners, he handed me his business card and asked me what year I wanted to run. Dumbfounded as the crowd roared again, I thanked him over and over and tried to humbly acknowledge the cheers and claps from the crowd. I was going to Boston!
I learned that night that the Boston Marathon has a rich tradition of supporting charities locally and across the country. I was not the first to qualify by performing a good deed and would be far from the last. Millions and millions of dollars are raised by runners every year who get a charity exemption. It is a rare bit of knowledge that the prestigious marathon doesn’t readily share nor actively promote in the media. I am likely violating one of their rules as I write about it now. There simply is no way to explain how an average runner like me qualifies for Boston without simply stating the truth: “It was my mouth and not my feet!”
McGillivray and I traded emails in the fall. Each time he quickly responded and showed patience with my concern that he might have forgotten about me. While trying to be stoic and polite, I did get quite nervous when the 2011 race sold out in a record 8 hours and 3 minutes. Thousands of runners who had earned the coveted qualifying time where denied access due to the field being limited to 26,907 marathoners. I was assured that the only thing that could keep me out of the 2011 event was him getting hit by a bus. I filled out the forms, paid my $250 fee and on November 30, 2010, I received my email acceptance into the race.
had laid a good running base in 2010 by completing 5 different marathons. The last one was in early December. So, I took some time off prior to Christmas and mapped out a plan. On the outside, I was trying to be very calm about Boston. Early on, I decided to not publicly talk about a time goal. It was just another race, another state and I would simply do my best. On the inside, I KNEW this had to be the absolute best effort I could put forth. I was scared. This was BOSTON, not your neighborhood 5K. Fate stepped in again.
I read RunnersWorld magazine religiously. On the couch in December, I came across an article about the Hanson Distance Project. The Hanson’s are a team of brothers from Michigan who coach elite athletes. They maintain that the long run should not be more than 16 miles when preparing for a marathon. Well, I have to admit that to an average runner like me that was a true, “you have to be kidding me moment”. I had been doing 18, 20 and even 22 mile long runs over the past 8 years.
Reading further did give me cause to reconsider however. Their plan required 6 days of running per week. Tuesdays were tough speed work days while Thursdays were marathon pace runs from 8 to 10 miles. The total mileage on high weeks would be more than 50. I had run some 50 mile weeks but I had never trained 6 days a week for 16 weeks. Could my old bones and body hold up? Quietly, I decided to shut off the worry, fill out my calendar and run until I reached the end or some body part fell off.
The 16 weeks started after Christmas. Wednesday was the weekly “off” day but I substituted an hour or so in the weight room for core and upper body work. While I did miss the weight workouts 2 or 3 times, I only missed one day of running during the entire 16 week period. I had no slips, trips or falls nor any muscle pulls. When the Michigan winter weather was bad, the treadmill and television were my training partners. Running partners and good friends, Jim Carpenter and Dean Bott, participated in about 90% of the Sunday long runs. When evening work commitments got in the way, a pre-dawn run or treadmill session kept the streak going.
Quietly focused, I could gradually feel myself getting stronger and even a bit faster. In years past, a pace of over 9 minutes per mile was the norm for regular training runs and long runs were closer to 10. By week 10, I found myself running at 9 minutes or less on every run. I actually began to worry about training too hard yet kept at the faster pace for two reasons: 1) nothing was falling off or apart and 2) I could talk comfortably most of the time. My old normal pace of 9:30 per mile evolved into a new normal of 8:30 to 8:45. Far, far from an elite athlete, I was inwardly ecstatic with the Hanson brothers! Yet, I was also worried about how fast to run the marathon and whether or not I would flame out at my new found normal pace.
About 3 weeks before Boston, we lost Mary’s father. He had congestive heart failure and passed quietly in the nursing home. However, I see this as a small intervention of fate as well. The 17 hour drive home required me to miss that 1 run but gave me time to see family and get back to the roots of my home town of Timber Lake, South Dakota. This man had 10 kids and 37 grandchildren. There were 32 of the 37 present which I continue to be amazed by since they are scattered across the country from California to Virginia. At the end of each marathon, I look around and am proud to be included in every group of marathon finishers. This pride pales in comparison to what I felt when 15 grandsons walked into the church, sat shoulder to shoulder and later carried a good man to his final resting place.
Fate continued to nudge at the lunch after the funeral services. I sat by local attorney and childhood friend, Steve Aberle. He and his wife revived Timber Lake High School’s cross country program years earlier so talk naturally turned to running. When asked, I told him I was going to run the Boston marathon. He looked at me, smiled and said, “Don’t embarrass us!” One might ask, “Where do you see fate in that statement?” For me, the key word was the “us”. Mary and I had left Timber Lake in April of 1988. Yet, here was somebody who still considered me to be from Timber Lake and thus “one of them”. If you don’t understand, simply trust me when I say it means a lot to one who has moved about the country and often wondered where home really was after so many years. I heard the “us” right away and I was proud. My response was, “We will see.” While I drove away proud of my family and my roots, I also drove away with a renewed focus. But, crap, I was scared again too.
With South Dakota behind us, the 2 weeks leading up to the departure were a little hectic. News Anchor and marathon runner Diana Fairbanks from the local NBC affiliate, TV 7&4, did a great spot on Big Brothers Big Sisters and Marathon4Kids. She even included my running partners which made me feel good because the daily training is a team effort. Later, I had two nights of meetings in DC. Back in Traverse City, I met with representatives from Shoreline Fruit and Cherry Bay Orchards to accept their sponsorship check of $1,000. I talked about Bigs, M4K and the Boston Marathon on the Ron Jolly radio show on another morning. I picked up some all new Marathon4Kids “swag” from Alfie Embroidery. Then, on Thursday April 14th, I was surprised by Cherryland Employees with a banner wishing me luck above my office door and a short afternoon break for some cake. There was a definite buzz about town that was humbling. I had a second home town to be proud of. Yup, I got scared again.
Mary and I flew out of Grand Rapids, Michigan on April 15th. We had an early morning flight on Air Tran airlines. With a 3 hour layover in Baltimore, I enjoyed people watching. It was pretty easy to pick out the runners in the crowd – slimmer build, running shoes plus a coat or shirt emblazoned with some running event or another. They were also the ones with a faint smile on their face and a glimmer in their eye. “WE” were all going to Boston and it clearly showed.
Mary and I also struck up a conversation with a husband and wife team. The wife had run Boston a number of times by raising money for a Grand Rapids hospital. Now, over 65 years of age, she had qualified for Boston with her feet as did her daughter. She was beaming while talking about running Boston with her child. This lady laid to rest any misgivings I had about being a mere charity runner and gave me a glimmer of hope that one day in the future maybe I too might just qualify with my feet. Again, I thought about the fact that fate had brought us together.
I had reserved a hotel in Milford, Massachusetts because it was touted to be close to the marathon start line. Inexperienced at Boston, my thinking was that I could sleep in a little and not worry about catching a bus to the start line on Monday. Experienced with the DC area, I assumed one could easily navigate Boston in similar fashion. Wrong. We stepped out of Logan International airport and into a taxi cab quickly learning it would be $100 to get to Milford. Well, thinking of DC, I told the driver who had never even heard of Milford to take us to the nearest train station.
At South Station in Boston ($25 later), I began to wonder further about where we were going when I had to show a customer service employee the location of Milford on a map on my Ipad. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that we could take a commuter train to Forge Park and catch a taxi to our hotel from there.
So, like the tourists we were, we happily boarded the train with our luggage. Mary struck up a conversation with a couple ladies returning home on the train. They informed us that catching a taxi was NOT an easy task at the end of the train line in Forge Park. A young lady across the aisle looked up from her laptop, smiled and said, “They’re right. You will need to call for a car.” Then, an older gentleman who had been listening to the two naïve tourists handed me a piece of paper with the name of a car service on it. I called them and we were all set. I have often joked since that to get help in Boston you only need to talk out loud. Some 2.5 hours after landing and enjoying a very slow train ride into rural Massachusetts, we were in our hotel.
Once settled, I checked on how to get to the start line in Hopkinton. I found out that it was 5 miles away and not 5 blocks away. This wasn’t what I had been planning on. There also weren’t any small pubs or diners which I enjoy when traveling within walking distance. I wasn’t feeling too good about my hotel choice.
Our oldest son Zach joined us later that evening. Still in college in South Dakota, he had beat a spring snowstorm to Minneapolis the day before and flew Delta to Boston. In Delta fashion, he was late getting in and missed one of the last commuter trains of the day. He paid the $100 and finally caught up to us late in the evening. After some discussion about commuting back and forth to Boston during our stay, we were lucky enough to find a hotel close to the subway and airport for the rest of the trip.
After one night in the rural confines of Milford, we called for a car to take us back to civilization. Being 25+ miles out of Boston is nothing like being 25+ miles out of DC, lesson learned. The driver arrived with an extra passenger, her 2 year old daughter. She couldn’t find a sitter on short notice so we made due while the cute little girl enjoyed a nap. We got another look at the small towns around the area as we rode the Saturday train back into Boston.
Then, we were off to the race expo at the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center on Boylston Street in the heart of Boston. First things first, I had to pick up the coveted bib number and Boston participant long sleeve running shirt. After decades of practice, Boston has the packet pickup process down to a science. They even have a shirt exchange in the event a runner orders the wrong size shirt. This isn’t as common as you would think. Many races frown upon a shirt exchange. We were quickly finding out that in Boston, customer service comes first.
The expo offered a staggering number of vendors and products. It was almost overwhelming. I had to remind myself not to partake of too many sample drinks and pieces of food less I make myself sick! The “must have” purchase at the Boston Marathon is a running jacket that gives the year and allows one to proclaim to the world in the months and years to come that you indeed did run the Boston Marathon. Pockets lined with Christmas cash from co-workers and specific direction to spend it on a Boston jacket, I promptly got in line at the Adidas booth. I purchased what I thought was a very sharp looking black and lime green model. While others were wearing theirs, I resolved to leave it in the sack until after I had completed the marathon. I had no desire to tempt the fickle fingers of fate.
Next, Mary, Zach and I hopped on a pedal taxi for a short ride to Fenway Park. We had standing room only seats for a game between the Red Sox and Blue Jays. I let Zach purchase the tickets but I wasn’t too thrilled about the standing room only part. However, it was a 40 degree day with a stiff wind so I hoped for a number of empty seats. We weren’t disappointed. We found some great seats at the end of the row along the famed wall known as the Green Monster. We were at the very tip of a triangle that contained one lone seat and then two seats in front of that. I took the back while Mary and Zach sat in front. The cold wind was in our face and I wasn’t surprised when nobody asked us to move. Veteran ticket holders somewhere in town where undoubtedly enjoying the game in warmer confines!
Josh Beckett pitched a good game. Boston infielder Jed Lowrie hit a home run over the Green Monster about 100 feet from where we were sitting. I’m sure he did it in honor of our first time at Fenway and in keeping with Boston’s tradition of great customer service! Walking around a bit, we enjoyed listening to the Boston accents and rough language, truly a “cultural” experience every tourist needs to take in. We watched ace reliever Papelbon close out the Red Sox win from some great seats in the upper deck.
We also witnessed a marriage proposal on the big screen at the 7th inning stretch. Luckily, the young lady said yes to the ring. By chance, Mary met the surprised father in-law to be while in line for hot chocolate. He actually bought her drink after discovering that the wait was 45 minutes if he went to the back of the line. The man did take some ribbing from those behind Mary but in the end, only had pay for one extra drink to cut the line.
After an event filled day, we packed into the post game subway like a bunch of sardines and made it quickly back to our hotel. Looking back on the day, I commented on how there seemed to be a Dunkin’ Donuts sign or store everywhere we turned. I decided my mantra for the marathon would have to be, “Time to Make the Donuts”.
Winding down from the day and waiting for some pizza to be delivered, I received a call from Traverse City Record Eagle sports reporter Denny Chase. He was doing a story for the Sunday paper on Marathon4Kids and the Boston Marathon. He asked the one question that I had successfully avoided for months: “What time do you want to run?” I have desperately wanted to get under 4 hours in a marathon for years. I had been working towards this goal for weeks but didn’t want to talk about it. I couldn’t lie. I downplayed it as best I could but finally had to state that I wanted to get below 4 hours. Reading the article later, he covered it properly and didn’t make a big deal out of it. That night however, it was a big deal to me. Running for a charity like Big Brothers Big Sisters and promoting Marathon4Kids is a public thing. I knew that when it all started. But, there are times when I simply want to disappear, run and answer to nobody no matter the time or story. I was scared again.
Early on Sunday, Zach and I went out for an easy 3 mile run. It was a pleasant out and back that took us to a fire station in Revere, Massachusetts. Later, I let Zach and Mary head off to sight see and shop while I rested my legs in the hotel room. I did walk about a mile to Wendy’s to get a baked potato and chili. If available, this is my preferred lunch on the day before a marathon. Walking back, I got caught in a little rain. Luckily, I spotted the hotel shuttle gassing up. As I walked by a guy filling his car, he smiled and said, “Good luck in the marathon!” I stuck my chest out thinking that I must look like an actual runner until I realized I was wearing a Boston marathon shirt I picked up at yesterday’s expo!
Later, I headed out on the subway to find a restaurant called Fratelli Pagliuca’s Ristorante (Italian enough?) in Boston’s North End. A few weeks earlier, Mike Tiberg a pharmacist in Traverse City and the only other TC resident running in Boston had suggested we get together for the traditional pre-marathon pasta dinner. Arriving early, I was sitting on a bench outside (across from the Connah Store, really that’s how it was spelled – phonetically correct in Boston slang) when the proprietor stepped out for a break and made some small talk. It was 4:45 p.m. He asked me when my reservation was. When I told him 5:30 p.m., he smiled and said, “It’s going to get crazy around here by then!”
Mary and Zach arrived followed by Mike and his wife. Mike’s uncle Ray and his wife rounded out the party of 7. Mike and Ray had done Boston several times. I had known Mike in passing but had never visited with him more than a minute or two at different local running events over the years. We had a great time visiting about Boston, family and running. True to the word of the proprietor, it was a little crazy around the small establishment. People were squeezed in every available space and also lined up outside. We ordered and after a long wait, we were treated with a great meal of homemade pasta. It probably took 2 hours after we got sat down but it was well worth it. It was also nice to experience some of the neighborhood evening ambiance of Boston as we walked back to the subway.
Nervous and admittedly a bit scared still, surprisingly, I got a relatively good night’s sleep. Mary warmed up some frozen pancakes for breakfast (my favorite marathon morning breakfast) while I showered. I ate a few and packed some for the bus ride. I chatted it up with a few runners on the hotel shuttle to the subway. After a short subway ride, I stepped out onto Boston Commons around 6:00 a.m. among thousands of runners. It was organized chaos as school buses were filled and dispatched as quickly as possible. Runners are instructed to get on the bus in order of their bib number and starting time. I was starting at the back with other charity runners but my personality and obsession with being early to everything had me on a bus at least an hour sooner than necessary.
It took an hour to reach the athlete’s village west of Boston near the start line in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. The village is ringed with hundreds of porta-potties and had 3 tents for shelter during the approximately 3 hour wait for the starting gun. Looking up from the baseball field, I saw what looked to be an armed soldier on the roof of the school. I had never thought about any outside consequences of participating in one of America’s international events but there he or she was in the shadows watching over thousands of unsuspecting individuals.
During the long wait, I ate and drank the food I had packed. I also made a game of finding the shortest porta-potty line. When the loud speaker declared a short line on the north end, I walked down to the south end to find even shorter lines! There was a lot I didn’t know about Boston but there was more I did know about human nature and bathroom lines!
Finally, the third wave, my wave, was called to the starting line. Waiting on the street in Hopkinton, I took off my throw away clothes and handed them to volunteers from Big Brothers Big Sisters who were this year’s charity chosen to collect and re-sell hundreds of garments disposed of at the start line as runners try to stay warm up to the last second. Yes, the fact that Big Brothers was the charity and what hand fate may have played in this fact did cross my mind.
Somewhere around 10:45 a.m. on Monday, April 18, 2011 after 677 miles of training and hours upon hours of thinking about this day, I started my watch and crossed the starting line to the Boston Marathon. The temperature was around 50 degrees, the sun was out and we also had a good wind at our back. Veterans say that there is NEVER a tail wind at Boston. Fate?
The first mile was very crowded. People lined the streets and kids held out their hands for a slap from passing runners. I slapped a few but quickly focused. Long ago, I had made the choice to run has fast as I could. Some will say you have to slow down and enjoy the day at an event like Boston. Others argue that the crowds and throngs of runners make a personal record impossible. I had put all my training into achieving the best time possible and maybe, just maybe getting under the 4 hour mark which would be my way of honoring the fact I had made it to Boston with my mouth. A bit frustrated finding a clear line to run, I put Hopkinton behind me and finished the first mile in 9:09.17. Four hours flat required 25.2 more miles of similar effort. I was no longer scared or nervous. Although surrounded by thousands of fellow charity runners, I was alone and in control on a beautiful day for running.
I had one thing on my mind at the start of mile 2. I needed to pee. Back and forth, I debated holding it or ducking off behind a tree. I finally opted for long term comfort and the tree. Quickly back on course, I made up some time on a couple short downhill stretches. I overheard other runners talking about not running too fast on the downhill portions to save the quads. I smiled inside and to myself said, “Screw that.” My quads are somewhat large and regardless, I was going to let gravity help me at every opportunity. I finished mile 2 in 8:43.90.
Entering Ashland, mile 3 had one good hill near the half way point but still fresh I powered up. I continued rolling through a good decline on mile 4 as well. I finished the 2 mile stretch with even splits of 8:33.41 and 8:33.20 respectively.
Mile 5 had a good hill climb and a very short downhill section. This is where I took my first electrolyte tablet. On the run chemistry has always been an issue for me. Gatorade makes me sick after a few hours. Gels cause other intestinal issues friends say I don’t need to write about. On this run, my strategy was an electrolyte tablet every 45 minutes or so. I also would grab an orange slice at every opportunity. For the first time, I was using a handheld bottle and a powered drink by a company called Succeed! which TC area ultrarunner, Norm Plumstead, had introduced me to. It contained a mixture of carbohydrates and protein. Ashland and mile 5 disappeared behind me after 8:52.29.
Mile 6 consisted of numerous small hills on Waverly Street in Framingham. The field was still crowded with runners. Some runners were checking on the leaders via cell phones while others were more concerned about the Red Sox score. I posted an 8:37.26.
The course flattened out over miles 7 (8:36.35), 8 (8:40.48) and 9 (8:42.07). I stopped at a water table at mile 8 to mix a new bottle with the powder I carried in my pocket. It didn’t take long but my watch went into auto pause so I knew my watch time would now be slightly faster than the time being kept by the electronic chip in my race number. I was encouraged with my chemistry plan because my bladder was feeling like it was filling up. To the non-runner, this may seem a trivial and insignificant fact to report. For me, the encouragement lies in the fact that I felt like I was staying hydrated and I knew this would be important in the miles ahead.
The course now entered the community of Natick. Mile 10 and 11 were an ever so slight uphill climb. I was pleased to run a consistent 8:44.26 and 8:48.39. I had to remind myself that I hadn’t made it even half way. There was no time to celebrate.
I can’t recall exactly where it came but somewhere in the rolling hills of miles 12, 13 and 14, there was a roar in the distance. This would be the girls of Wellesley College. They are one of the most talked about Boston Marathon traditions. College girls line the race course for maybe a quarter or half mile. They are holding up signs that say, “Kiss me I’m vegetarian” or “Kiss me I’m Minnesotan”. Politically correct, many clearly point to their cheek when approached by a runner. Me, I stayed in the middle of the course, watched a little, smiled and ran on. Still strong and moving consistently, I clicked off an 8:43.64, an 8:47.10 and an 8:44.38. Now over half way with a total time of 1:55 and some change, I was on pace to finish below 4 hours. I had been here before.
Continuing on through the area of Wellesley on Washington Street, I slowed slightly as mile 15 was another steady uphill climb. I looked down at my watch to see an 8:57.97. I was teetering on the 9 minute mark. Still on pace but it didn’t give me much cushion. Then at the halfway point of mile 16, there was a steep and long downhill which allowed for a gravity aided 8:42.42. There was the cushion I had grown accustomed to thus far.
As steep as the 16 mile drop was, mile 17 went up hill almost as much. Then, almost cruelly, mile 18 had some small rollers and another large climb. I wasn’t happy with these two miles as they were 9:05.08 and 9:15.08. The course was taking away my cushion. Where was that tail wind anyway? It was being blocked by all the runners behind me. I thought to myself, “At least somebody is behind you!” I mixed my second bottle as fast as I could. Tiring, I fumbled around a bit for what in my head seemed like minutes but in reality was probably only 30-45 seconds. Still, fueling up was cutting into my average time and I could only worry about how much.
Mile 19 had a good steady decline and allowed for an 8:58.80. Then, I heard the second roar of the day somewhere on mile 20. This would turn out to be the boys and girls of Boston College. There were no “kiss me” signs. There was simply loud, raucous cheering from college students who clearly appeared to have found some adult beverages. Later, I would learn that they had been up eating and drinking since early that morning while partaking in an annual Patriot’s Day party called “Kegs and Eggs”. Even with that emotionally charged boost, I struggled up the hills of mile 20 while posting a disappointing 9:33.17.
If there was ever a “Time to Make the Donuts”, it was now. I was tired but not yet at the wall. Over and over, I said, “Don’t walk, JUST keep running.” With 6.2 miles left, I was still on pace to hit my goal. Shuffling, walking and running 12 minute miles at this juncture in the past had prevented many sub-4 hour finishes. Today, I had to be mentally tough enough to run and resist the temptation to walk.
Then, there it was. The most talked about hill on the course, Heartbreak Hill. Hills are hard but on mile 21 about 3 hours into a marathon, a hill can ruin all your plans for a personal record. On many training runs, I had discussed Heartbreak with Dean and Jim. Each time, I was told we run bigger and harder hills around our Michigan homes. Emboldened by this, I somewhat discounted the fact that this hill would be on mile 21. Mary and Zach were somewhere up ahead. I focused, thought of my family and simply kept going. I crossed the mile 21 sign and looked down. There was a 9:57.51. I hadn’t posted a 12 minute mile! Would today be THE day?
Dean and Jim had told me that once over Heartbreak, I would be home free. Well, “home free” to a runner who can qualify for Boston with his feet and one who can only qualify with his mouth are two drastically different tales of “home free”. Miles 22, 23 and 24 were mostly downhill but there were enough little uphill bumps to make me wonder what the hell they were talking about. I completed this stretch with times of 8:54.96, 9:29.82 and 9:20.18. Okay but every second over 9:10 was eating into my cushion and taking me away from my goal.
Mile 25 on Beacon Street is mostly flat with just a small hill near the end. I looked down at the 9:22.07 and began doing the math to 4 hours. I still had a chance but I didn’t really know how much time to add for the 2 stops to mix my liquid. Again, I thought, “Just run as fast as you can. Do NOT stop. Screw the donuts. RUN DUMBASS RUN!”
I didn’t walk but the 9:40.47 I saw as my watch beeped out mile 26 was not a pleasant sight. What was worse was the fact that the mile 26 sign was still ahead. All the weaving and circling around the crowded field of runners had made my actual distance a bit longer than a mere 26.2 miles.
Desperately, I started to run for all I had. The finish line seemed so far off but I could at least see it as I ran down Boston’s Boylston Street. I don’t remember anything but looking at the finish line and running like hell. I crossed the line and looked down at my watch to see 3:57!! Now, how much had my two stops added to that? What I did know was that I had run the last half mile in 3:42.85. This was clearly the fastest half mile split of the day! I also knew that my water stops didn’t take 3 minutes. Across the line with fists pounding on my legs, I yelled out loud for all to hear: “YES, YES, YES” Forevermore, when asked about my best marathon time, I could put a long coveted “3″ at the front.
Moving on, I felt good. I felt strong. Hey, I hadn’t hit the wall? This was a surprise that didn’t last long. About 5 minutes later, the adrenaline rush had faded, the wall fell on me and all I wanted to do was sit down. With thousands of runners streaming in, there isn’t time nor real space to sit down. I found a bar on the scaffolding of the announcers stand, then a table not yet covered with water or food and finally I just plopped down on the pavement.
After being asked 3 times, I relented to a wheelchair as my head and hands were tingling a bit. I flopped down on a cot in a nearby medical tent and began to shiver. It took 3 blankets before I could get warm. I was checked out by a doctor and able to drink a couple bottles of Gatorade. Later, I was given a hot cup of chicken soup. Sixty minutes passed before I walked out on my own and headed over to the family meeting area.
Mary and Zach had gotten stuck in the masses on the subway. Standing under the letter A, I scanned the crowd after talking to Zach on a borrowed phone. I only had to wait a couple minutes before they arrived. I hugged Mary, my wife and best friend, who was sobbing. They had waited all day just over the top of Heartbreak Hill. In the crowds of runners, they were unable to spot me. Zach and I had encountered the same thing in New York City years earlier so I hadn’t given a second thought about seeing them until the end. They pulled me up that tough hill without even knowing they were there. While I didn’t see them, I clearly felt them. Now, I was holding a crying woman in my arms and trying to convince her that the fact she cared so much was enough to bring me to tears as well. When you know you are truly loved while you struggle through the emotions of a marathon, seeing a smiling face or getting a touch from home while nice is brief and fleeting. Love is carried on the run in your heart and in your head from the starting gun to the finish line. That’s enough for me.
I also received a strong hug from my oldest son. When a son squeezes you tight and tells you he is proud of you, it’s a great day. That’s all I am going to say about that.
The ending of a Red Sox game and a marathon made for a very crowded subway ride back to the hotel. Boston had extra employees to direct the crowds and all runners got on free. People were squeezed on as tight as possible. There was no need to grab anything since you were packed in so tightly. You only needed to be careful that everyone didn’t fall out at once when the door opened. In keeping with Boston’s overall great hospitality, everyone took it in stride without any complaints. I was just happy to be heading to a bath, beer and a bed (in that order).
I had 80+ emails on my phone. Friends, co-workers and Marathon4Kids supporters had tracked my progress online throughout the day. They knew my official time was 3:58:09 before I did! The comments and well wishes were humbling and very much appreciated after a long day. Why people would care about a runner who had no chance of winning but instead only hoped to finish is somewhat amazing to me. Yes, there is the charity work, Facebook page and local news BUT there are thousands of such things for people to follow and donate to. The fact these people care enough about me, my cause and the kids I am trying to serve is a powerful thing and one I don’t take lightly.
Officially, I was 15,715 out of 23,879 overall finishers. In the overall men’s division, I was 10,085 of 13,806. Among men 45-49, I was 2,015 of 2,556. I typically finish in the middle of the average field. I had to remind myself that Boston is far from an average field (feet vs. mouth thing again).
Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai ran the fastest marathon in history (2 hours 3 minutes and 2 seconds) while Ryan Hall set an American record (2:04:53). In addition, Desiree Davila who trained with the Hanson Distance Project established a new American women’s course record (2:22:38). These records were quickly removed from the books due to the declining elevation of the course in combination with a 10-15 mph tail wind.
There are 24 official Boston Marathon charities. Runners raising funds for these worthy causes raised more than $10.2 million dollars at the 115th running of the Boston Marathon. Combined with funds from sponsor John Hancock’s non-profit bib program, total funds raised were close to $15 million.
Heady company for a 48 year old office jockey from Michigan! I raised $25,000 in the 17 months leading up to Boston. The only time record I set was a personal record. The magnitude and sheer specialness of the Boston Marathon began to really sink in as I went to bed that night. I couldn’t sleep as I thought about the journey that had taken me to this point. I have mentioned fate at several points in this story. I don’t know if it is really fate or simply coincidence I chose to label. What I do know is that I have a wife who loves me, kids who are proud of me and friends who care about me. Each also cares about the children served by Big Brothers Big Sisters of NW Michigan and my little campaign that is Marathon4Kids.
Is it fate, destiny, or dumb luck? I honestly don’t care. People are donating money and also donating their time to make the lives of these kids a little better. The Boston Marathon was a wonderful chapter in a book that has many pages left to be written. It was also a great tool to bring even more awareness to the plight of kids from single parent homes who simply need somebody to listen, care and believe. You can pick the proper word. Me, I am no longer afraid, happy with my fate and searching for my next donut.