My 2012 Boston Marathon Experience
This was definitely a marathon to remember. Ten days out, various sources said race day would be in the mid to high 80’s. But why believe a forecast that far out? These guys and gals have a hard time with a 24-hour forecast.
As the day grew closer the forecasted temps varied from the 60s to as high as 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Then a few days before the race it became more certain that this would be one of the hottest, if not the hottest marathon day on record.
Memories of Boston
As time goes on memories fade. This was my fifth Boston Marathon and the memories of all of them are probably all jumbled together. I remember my first because everything was new and unknown to me.
Each hill, each hand slap from a child on the side of the road became part of the joy of that run. The next three all have their moments and thankfully I have a few photos to help me recall those races.
Scientist say that we have selective memories and that no two people remember events exactly the same way. Even how we remember things can change over time.
Everyone who ran Boston has their own unique and special memories and hopefully came away with a beautiful experience that they will look back on and cherish the rest of their lives. I know that I will never remember anyone in the sea of faces I saw Monday. I made eye contact with some people, shared a smile or a whoop and for a moment we shared something special. They won’t remember me either. But that’s okay.
Since my first marathon, which was Boston, one of my favorite experiences is interacting with the kids on the side of the road. I love slapping their little hands as I run by. They look excited and it gives me such a great feeling to be a tiny little part of their day. They give me a boost and I’d like to think that my brief hand slap helps make their Marathon day special as well.
Everyone says the crowds in Boston are the best. I’ve never run another big city or big event marathon like Boston so I don’t have a true comparison to make. But to see all of those people out their handing out food and drink, ice and Vaseline is truly amazing. No one asks any of these people to do this. It is all out of the kindness of their hearts, a desire to help and lend a hand, and to participate in a small but important way in this great race. Every bit of assistance I received from them during this race helped to keep me going and eventually reach the finish line. I wish I could thank them all personally.
The Journey Begins
I woke up around 4AM and was immediately in first gear. I had to leave the house by 5AM in order to make it into Boston by 6AM to meet the Children’s Hospital Boston Team at the Westin Copley hotel. Our bus left at 6:15 sharp and I did not want to miss it.
I washed up in the sink, got dressed, re-checked my bag and headed out the door. Somehow all of that took most of an hour. I may not have been fully awake at that time.
As I drove down the street from my house I still hadn’t decided if I was going to take the train from Medford or drive into Cambridge and park at work. I wasn’t even sure the trains ran that early. It was a holiday after all.
At the rotary I decided to park in Medford and take the train in. It may have been the first train of the day, but it rolled into the station about 5:18AM. I think I was the only runner on the train at that point, but at each stop a few more runners got on board.
I had planned to get off at Copley Square but the driver announced that the station was closed due to the Marathon. So, I got off at North Station with the rest of the runners on the train. We all looked a little tired and groggy, but excited.
I hoped on the green line and sat next to a runner from Tupelo, MS. We talked about the hot day that was expected and he said whenever it was this hot in Mississippi he would run inside! We all got off at Park Street and hustled up the stairs and onto the street. I wasn’t sure which way to go to get to the Westin Copley so I asked for directions twice, just to make sure. On race day I did not want to go in the wrong direction, waste precious energy and be late for my bus.
I was a little late getting to the hotel, but was not the last person there. I checked in with Team coordinators and took my seat on the bus. There were plenty of seats and we left about 6:20. I zoned out and snoozed a bit on the ride out to Hopkinton. We arrived and got off the bus around 7:30.
Pre-Race in Hopkinton
As soon as we stepped off of the bus we could feel the heat. I was wearing a singlet and running shorts, and as I stepped off the bus, I could feel the sweat rolling down the center of my back. The sky was clear and the sun was bearing down on us.
It was probably 75 degrees and the race didn’t start for us for another three hours. Feeling the sun on my skin made the concept of heat real. How much hotter would it get and how would it make me feel? If this were a July afternoon I would have stayed out of the sun and heat during the prime hours of 10AM to 2PM. But I was going to run a marathon today.
Children’s Hospital Boston rents out the Masonic Lodge in Hopkinton for race day. Our bus parked in the parking lot out back and we entered the basement of the building through the back door.
It was nice and cool inside and they had tables at the front of the room loaded with food and buckets full of ice and drinks for us. Across the room from the doorway they had a table with all of the supplies a man or woman would need for race day. They were really taking care of us. I walked half way to the back of the room and took a seat on the end of a row of metal folding chairs.
I started my pre-race routine and made sure I had everything I needed. Then I went up to the food table and grabbed a Gatorade and some Fig Newton’s and went back to my seat. They had about a dozen porta-potties in the parking lot for us. They were roped off so that only Children’s runners could use them. A dozen porta-potties for about 200 people. What a luxury on race day! I never waited for more than 5 minutes to use a clean porta-potty. I even got to use a real bath room inside The Lodge!
I must have gotten up to get food or use the facilities a dozen times. It was partly nerves, but by the time we were ready to line up my belly was full and my colon was empty. Perfect!
I called my buddy Jeff who was at Hopkinton Drug with his team. I walked outside and headed down Main Street. It was hot and everyone I walked by seemed to be looking at my shirt and I humbly felt a measure of respect from them. I was a nut, but I was running for a good cause. I went into a shop where some guy was selling race and running shirts for a dollar. Some of them were nice and I was tempted, but I have so many shirts all ready.
I hung out with Jeff and his friend Chuck for a few minutes and we talked about the race, of course. It was so hot just standing there. All around us people were putting on sun screen and changing into their running gear. There was a sense of excitement in the air. I decided I needed to get off of my feet and get back into that cool basement for a while before the race. We wished each other a good race and I headed back to The Lodge.
About an hour before the race the Children’s Team all went upstairs for a final pep talk from our coaches. They told us we had all worked hard and the marathon was not a test but a celebration of our hard work. No one had anything to prove and they encouraged everyone to take it easy. Our coach Jeff encouraged everyone to be careful of heat stroke and to head for the First Aid tent after the race for an IV. Quite sincerely he said he was going to get one after the race.
We then headed outside and posed in front of The Lodge for a team photo. In the heat it seemed to take forever to get everyone in place and in the frame. With several cameras pointed at us, many photos were taken and we all headed back inside. Later some of us went out to see the first wave of runners start. With the crowd I couldn’t see them, but I did hear the starting gun this year. I went back to my pre-race routine of eating a little, checking everything several times and several more visits to the porta-potties.
Around 10AM they told us to put our bags into the luggage hold of the buses and to get ready to head for the corrals. I checked my belt and made sure it was stuffed with all of my GUs, Band-Aids and Chap Stick. For some reason I also had cash in there.
I grabbed half of a sesame bagel and slathered some peanut butter on it and ate most of it while talking with the coaches. I loaded my bag on the bus, hit the port-potty again and did some light stretching.
About 10:20 or so we headed up the driveway to the street, the race marshals opened the barricade for us and we walked into our spot, right in front of The Lodge. No wasted effort walking half a mile to the corral. Fantastic!
As we stood there waiting our turn to start other runners in lower numbered corrals came by us on the right side of the road. Someone yelled out “Bruschi” and people started saying that Tedy Bruschi was in the crowd beside us and heading for his starting spot. He’s a pretty tall guy and I was able to see him and his team in their blue shirts as they jogged past to their start. He was about 10 feet away when he passed by us.
As we moved towards the starting line the announcer revved us up as the boom camera swept over us. We were on TV! Not sure it was live TV but the camera got everyone fired up. People were throwing their hands in the air and whooping it up. As if we weren’t fired up enough!
It did help break some of that last moment “before the start” tension. Everyone is excited that the moment they have been working for, for so long, is about to happen.
For some people this is the culmination of months if not years of work. Some people have traveled great distances to be in the race. Some have begged family, friends and co-workers for donations to the charity they are running for. All of us have worked hard and all of us are anxious to see if we did enough and can we make it.
The Race Begins
The gun went off and as I headed towards the starting line I got ready to start my watch. As I started to jog and got to the starting line my watch seemed to be working.
After I crossed the starting line, I headed to the right side of the road because I knew that was where all the shade would be. Plus I love being close to the crowd and slapping all the hands that are out stretched, especially the little kids. There were a lot of people and I was consumed by the moment. Thrilled to be on the course, excited by the challenge and loving the crowd.
After about half a mile the pace picked up to about 9 minute miles and there was a little more room to move. The problem with running on the side of the road is that is where the slow people and walkers move to. I don’t know if some people gave up at the starting line or planned to walk all the way to Boston, but there were walkers in the first mile or so. So as I slapped hands I had to keep an eye out for slower people. I had my name on a piece of duct tape on my shirt and people kept calling out my name. It was pretty cool.
Then as I ran past this guy he yelled, “Go Andy”. His voice sounded vaguely familiar and he yelled again, “Go Andy” in a familiar tone, like he recognized me all of a sudden. I turned to look back but at the time he just looked familiar. My mind was focused on the race and I could not think of who he was. I thought it was a family friend, but my mother-in-law said he was at work Monday. I have no idea who it was but the way he yelled my name sounded like he knew me. Maybe someday I’ll find out who it was.
After about a mile and a half I realized my watch was not displaying the information that I expected. My heart rate monitor died a few days before so I wasn’t wearing it, so that data was not displaying. I had come to rely on monitoring my heart rate to know how hard I was working. I knew that data wouldn’t be there but I didn’t anticipate my watch displaying different data fields.
All it was showing me was how far off my pace I was in terms of minutes and distance. I decided that I could figure out my pace based on the 9 minute pace I had programmed in the watch, how many minutes I was behind pace and then divide that by the miles run. This early in the race I felt like I could handle that level of math.
In the first 2-3 miles I figured that I was running 9:20 miles and as my watch showed the pace at each mile. I was pretty close. Around mile 4 I couldn’t take it anymore and had to stop and fool with the dam watch. I pressed enough buttons and got it to display my current pace, total running time and miles. That was all I needed and I was happy with that. Besides, I couldn’t waste anymore time walking that early in the race. Later in the race the watch kept scrolling to other screens and I’d have to press a button to make it go back to the screen I wanted. What a pain in the ass! I have a love/hate relationship with my Garmin.
Editor’s note: These were all rookie mistakes. At the time I still didn’t know how to work my Garmin!
I had been running with a large bottle of Gatorade. This allowed me to skip the first two or three water stops and get into a thinner section of the pack. When I got to the water stops I’d move to the middle of the road, slow down a bit but keep on running. The Gatorade got warm very fast so I decided to start taking water at the stops and drink the Gatorade in between.
Eventually the bottle was empty and I had to get rid of it. I couldn’t roll it across the road because I was afraid someone would step on it and fall. I decided to throw it to the side of the road but had to make sure I got it over everyone’s head and didn’t hurt anyone. I noticed an old man walking on the side of the road and timed my throw to miss him and the other runners.
As I tossed my bottle I noticed a small tree on the side of the road and my bottle was heading right for it. The bottle hit the tree, bounced off and almost hit the old man! I think it almost hit him. I felt like a total ass, even though it was completely unintentional.
In the heat of the day
As the miles ticked by it kept getting hotter and hotter. People with hoses kept dousing us as we went by. The water felt as cold as ocean water on a hot summer day. A few times it almost took my breath away.
Eventually the tape with my name on it fell off; then the Band-Aids keeping my nipples from chaffing fell off. I put on new Band-Aids and pressed them back into place when they fell off. At mile 8.4 I had to take off my shirt. It was either that or wait for the blood to soak through my shirt.
For about 4 miles or so the viewing public had to see me run by topless. I had my game face on; I didn’t care. Somewhere before the half-way point I decided to put my shirt back on. I’m not sure exactly why. I knew it would hurt, I would eventually bleed and it would look gross to some people, hell most people. But I also didn’t want to run into Boston without my shirt.
At this point it felt like the pads on both my little toes were being ground up and pulled off anyway, so what was a little more discomfort? I probably wouldn’t even notice.
A little after the half-way mark I met up with my buddy, Jeff. I think it was after mile 14. He was walking and I could tell by the look on his face that he was in a bad way. He was wearing sunglasses so I couldn’t see his eyes, but his body language said he was spent.
We walked for a bit and ran until the next hill. Then we walked a little longer. When we got running again I knew I had to keep him going. Before mile 16 I said, let’s get to the next light. It was about 100 yards away. Then to the mile marker, another 50 yards after that, then to the water stop, 50 yards after that. We walked the water stop and continued walking up the next few hills and running the down hills and flats.
By the time we got to the 95 overpass it was a struggle for both of us. We started running on the bridge and up the hill after that. Shortly after the bridge they were handing out PowerBar Gels. I grabbed two or three. The first one I got was vanilla, which I’m not a fan of. So I grabbed two more further down the line. I sucked one of those babies down and in a few minutes I could feel the energy come back into my body. Those things really do work, and you can feel it.
Heart Break Hill
Around mile 17 Jeff’s boss Tim jumped in and ran with us. I asked him not to run us too hard as we were in pretty rough shape at that point. I’m not sure he understood how exhausted we were, and especially Jeff.
We started the first of the three hills in the Heart Break Hill series. Something kicked in with me and I charged up the hill. I felt like a little race car weaving up the hill to get around the other runners. I looked back and Jeff and Tim were close behind me, so I kept on pushing. When I knew they were able to keep up it became so much fun to push up the hill. I think this was my favorite part of the Marathon.
We kept charging as we hit Heart Break Hill itself. We were close to where our running club had a water stop and I knew we would get refreshed there. At 20.44 miles we saw the club water stop.
My buddy Dave walked up to me with two cups of cold, flat Coke just like I asked for. I must have looked puzzled as I stood there looking at him and the two cups of Coke. All I could think was, were both of those for me? Does he have a bottle I can take with me?
It seemed like Dave stood there forever with a pleasant smile on his face while that little thought process tumbled through my foggy mind. They were both for me and I gulped them down. I think I ate something and someone gave me an orange slice. I knew I was altered. I couldn’t even think.
They took a couple of quick photos and the three of us were off. As I pushed up the rest of heart break hill like a little Porsche I lost the guys. I looked back and couldn’t see them behind me anymore. I kept going and looked again. Still not there. I knew my mind was foggy so I turned around and jogged backwards up the hill looking for them. I could not see them running or on the side of the road. I really thought they were there but I must have forgotten what they were wearing. They had to be there.
The push to the Finish
In what seemed like an instant I decided to push on at my best pace and see how well I could do. No PR was possible at this point but I figured let’s not give up yet.
As I came up to BC I went to the side of the road and slapped hands with the crowd. I figured it would slow me down and help the guys catch up. I never saw them again that day. Some of the guys at BC must have been hammered, because a few times I thought they were going to take my arm off with a hand slap.
At the 35K mark my watch said my time was about 3:43. I still had four miles to go and my legs were shredded, toast, spent. I was running on Gu packs, Gatorade and sheer will power.
I told myself that I still was running under 4 hours and let’s see how far we can get before the watch says 4 hours. It was my little head game that I was still under 4 hours, so I wasn’t late yet.
It took me almost 34 minutes to cover the next 5K at a 10:55 pace. Somewhere between 35K and 40K I hit and passed 4 hours. I don’t recall seeing that on my watch. I was just looking for mile and Kilometer markers.
There were still lots of people on the course and they gave me lots of encouragement. So many people yelled, “I love Children’s Hospital”, or “Go Children’s”. They didn’t know me at all but somehow when I heard things like that it helped me keep going.
There were moments when someone would yell out and I would make eye contact with them. In my endorphin addled mind I felt that we had brief moments. They were feeding me their energy and I was sucking it in like a breath of fresh air. That moral support is so unbelievably important in those last miles of the Marathon.
Often I’d give a thumbs up or a smile. A few times I hollered back in fun and good nature and I think everyone got it. I was just having fun. We were having fun. And what’s a marathon without a little of that?
I walked and ran as much as I could down Beacon Street in Brookline. There are small hills, probably better described as a “rise in the road”. But they were killer freakin hills to me at that point.
I almost bumped into someone and said sorry, but I could barely steer at this point. They smiled at me and gave me that look that said, “I feel exactly the same way”, and it was okay.
At mile 25 I rallied and started running. My recollection is that I ran most of the last two miles and 385 yards. I think when we went over the Turnpike the rise for the bridge slowed me to a walk, but I kept running.
Then the “1 mile to go” sign. Oh My God! I had to keep going, I was almost there.
I remember running through Kenmore Square and worrying that the uneven road or pavers in the intersection would catch my shoe and I’d go down.
As Comm. Ave dipped under Mass Ave I saw a runner laying on the embankment with his feet up the embankment. He had an oxygen mask on and 3 or 4 EMTs and cops around him.
Less than a mile to go. He looked like a runner, and I knew that anyone of us could go down at anytime at the final stage of this grueling race.
I felt bad for the guy and the worry creeped into my mind. I pushed on and struggled to keep running as Comm. Ave rose back up to street level.
Finally the corner onto Hereford Street. Thank God! The corner to Boylston looked so far away and uphill. If you know Hereford, it’s not really a hill. There seemed to be so many runners as we got to the corner of Boylston Street. I worried about running into someone or tripping.
As I turned the corner onto Boylston Street it was like coming into a packed stadium. The crowd was loud and the area seemed huge. We all seemed to be moving so slow. Some people kicked it in and ran in the last few hundred yards. I’ve done that before, but not this time.
At this final stage of the race I knew that I had left it all out there on the road. I had held nothing back and I had given it my all. My legs ached with every step and my feet were killing me. This was Boylston Street and Runners don’t walk on Boylston Street on Marathon day!
It was by force of will power that I continued down the street and made it to the finish line. As I went I looked into the crowd to see if there was anyone I knew there. I didn’t see anyone, but it was fun looking into people’s eyes as they cheered and clapped. They seemed so happy and excited like they had waited all day just for me! It was beautiful. Probably a fantasy induced by endorphins, but it felt real at the time.
I crossed the two timing strips on the road at the finish line and stopped my watch. It said 4:30 and change. I made it. It was way off my PR but better than some of my other marathons. It was a grueling day. I could have trained harder but once again I got my number with a fairly short 5 week window to ramp up. Maybe if I had trained a full program I would have been more confident and gone out too hard and had to drop out of the race.
I did learn some lessons during this run, but this has gone on way to long to include those lessons in this post. If you made it to the end of this post, thank you. I hope it was at least amusing to read.
I’ll jabber on about what I learned next time in a much briefer posting.
Thanks for reading.