Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Glorious 2014 Boston Marathon

The 2014 Boston Marathon was destined to be a memorable race. For the near-record 36,000 runners and 1 million spectators, it was a chance to reclaim this epic event from the bombing tragedy that shook up this city a year ago. For me, it was an opportunity to get some personal closure and chalk up a 10th consecutive finish. No surprise, the city of Boston exceeded all expectations in glorious triumph and resolve. A truly epic day!

Exploring the City of Boston 
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My family joined in on this trip, which for the kids was a needed first trip to Boston. I had not realized how devastating it was for my girls last year to sweat out an hour or so watching the news on TV, unable to contact me. For months afterwards, just uttering the word “Boston” would make 7-year-old Sophie wide-eyed and panicked, recalling “what if” thoughts her developing mind struggled to resolve. She needed a new Boston, and It was important to me to show them how awesome this city is, and give her plenty of good memories to wash out that stress. Quinn, now a loud and precocious 3-year-old, recalls nothing of last year, and was far more interested in seeing the pond where one of her favorite books, Make Way For Ducklings, was based. With Christi and her parents also in tow, we packed the weekend with as much Boston as we could fit in.

(Nack, co-star of Make Way for Ducklings, dresses up for marathon weekend)
First stop was the gardens at the Boston Gardens, where we rode the swan boats and shook hands with teary-eyed locals thanking everyone for coming back. Boston is always a friendly city, but this time, we were all welcomed as family. The one year anniversary of the bombings last week were clearly still in their hearts.

(Boston Expo from the eyes of a 3-year-old...stickers, snacks, and toys!)
Our box seats at Fenway Park nearly had us overdosing on American spirit, as we clutched hot dogs and peanuts in the sun, sang the national anthem to a colonial-dressed color guard (and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”, of course), and just by chance sat next to Lynn Smith, Boston’s #1 Red Sox fan (really…voted #1). The Red Sox won 4-2 over the Orioles, and Sophie proudly donned her Boston cap the rest of the weekend.

(Great day for a baseball game!)
(Sophie with Lynn, Boston's #1 Red Sox fan! Yes, that's a homemade hat with baseball helmets and runners heading to the Citgo sign)
(Quinn's not so into the game)
Easter Sunday found us in our Sunday best, gorging on the extravagant rooftop buffet at The Taj hotel. The evening was spent on the North End, Boston’s Italian district, where runners carb-loaded on pasta from Saraceno and cannoli’s from Mike’s Pastry before heading back to get ready for the big day. I most certainly “over-tapered” on this trip, unable to hold back when drowning my family in Boston’s delights.

(Dressing up for Easter Sunday is always fun)

(Mike's Pastry is a popular destination pre-Race Day)
(and here's why! Sooo good)

The Race
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The morning was unusually warm (60’s) as we made our way to the buses that would take us to Hopkinton. There were no drop bags at the start this year, meaning any clothes dropped there would be donated to charity. This encouraged a wide array of pre-race outfits that looked like we were all headed to a pajama party. On the buses, there were tons of smiles from the mostly first-time runners (about 70% were running for the first time) and lots of excitement for elite runners Ryan Hall, Meb Keflebskhi, and Shalane Flanagan who had pledged to bring an American victory this year.

(Bryan, Steve, and Ian help me show off the various outlet-inspired wardrobes)
I ran into ultrarunner/coach/Leadville champ Ian Sharman at the start, and we both laughed how even in a field of 36,000 runners the ultra crew always seems to find each other. There were plenty ultrarunners here this year – Michael Wardian (now in my 40-44 age group, grrr), Matthew Laye (2014 100-mile National Champion), Matt Flaherty (2013 50-mile National Champion), Devon Yanko, Caitlin Smith, Olympian Magdelena Lewy-Boulet, Alex Varner, Uli Steidl, Sarah Syed, Elizabeth and Kevin Weil, John Burton, Chris Eide, Ron Little, and many others. Many of these folks were also doing the Boston/Big Sur double, so I would see them again next weekend. Looking at their low number race bibs, I was impressed how fast this crew is!
(The speed demons of Corral #1)

(The support helicopters lead the way)
I made my way up to Corral #1 (I was #879 this year), and could quickly sense a different atmosphere in the starting area. There was TONS of security, including gunmen on every rooftop, and the crowds and signage were double what I had seen any previous year. Two Japanese runners introduced themselves, and when I asked if this was their first Boston, they said “Yes! We come for Boston, to help them. Like everyone.” The joy was palpable, the energy unstoppable.

(And we're off!)
(The leaders take it out fast)
At 10am, we were off and clicking 6:15 min/miles down the road. My original plan was to stick to my 2:44 PR pace and hope it's in the cards, but knowing the day would hit the 70’s and not wanting to miss anything, I gave myself permission to ease up when needed. This was not the day to be staring at pavement and GPS watches…it was a day to engage with the crowds, and cheer back to the great people of Boston. Up front, the American runners gave little doubt they were gunning for the win, as Meb and Shalene took it out fast and led from the start.

(Nothing but blue skies today)

(By Ashland, we get a little breathing room)

(Santa! He's always there...)

(Natick welcomes us)
As we hit Natick (mile 5), I couldn’t decide what was the best way to “feel” my way to closure. Treat this like any other Boston race, so we can get back to normal? Or go through the whole range of emotions and hope that does the trick? The truth is I hadn’t slept well since arriving…it’s amazing how the sights and smells of Boston can trigger nightmare memories in excruciating clarity. But I found solace in seeing the usual sites on the course (Santa, big chicken, mirrors at mile 7.3) mixed with Boston Strong written on every billboard, sign, and street. As we passed up both boming survivors who were running and the many inspiring wheelchair and amputated runners, it was hard not to choke up. Nothing stops these people. Nothing can stop any of us.


The Scream Tunnel (mile 12) was it’s usual Wellesley-powered insanity, and I got a kiss from a group of young ladies with the clever sign “why do all the cute ones run away?”. For some reason only the international runners around me (Spain, Iceland, Norway, Italy, Mexico, Taiwan) made the most of the gregarious froshies, with the rest all business as we hit the halfway mark in 1:24:12.

(Heartbreak Hill, no problem)

(Boston College means 5 miles to go!)
The temps hit the 70’s as we entered the Newton Hills (mile 15-21), and I found myself slowing to a 6:50’ish pace and dumping water on my head regularly to keep cool. Heartbreak Hill seemed to crush many, but I just snickered that trail runners smile, knowing I can’t get a 3-miler in near my house without doing 2x this climb. Half way up, there was a roar among the crowd and a guy yelled out “Meb won! He DID IT!!!”. I couldn’t believe it…another Boston-motivated storybook finish, just like the Red Sox worst-to-first win at the 2013 World Series. An epic day for Boston, and for all of us. As if on cue, Team inov-8 team member Peter Maksimow and his wife shouted for me to stop for a beer at mile 21, but I was already thinking about that finish line, so I just waved and leaned forward.

(Meb wins at age 39! Here I was worried about Wardian coming into my age group)
The crowds along the last few miles were 20-deep in all directions, screaming and shouting to the point my ears were ringing. I couldn’t pick out my family, but knew they were there, and headed down Boylston with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes. I finished in 2:55:14, good enough for 1,593rd place. Not my fastest, not my slowest, but happy to have 10 Boston’s in the books. As I got my picture, I recalled everything this race has put me through in the last decade – hot years, cold years, rainy Nor’easters, running with my father for his first Boston, drunken runs, personal bests, terrorist bombs, and now this year’s emotional roller-coaster of joy and triumph. I definitely picked the right race to streak!

(Oh how I love you, 1k to go sign)
(Boston finish line, the happiest place on earth)

(That makes 10!)

(The awesome volunteers are like blue angels)
(Rita Jeptoo blazes to a new CR, claiming her 3rd Boston title)
There were lots of hugs at the finish, and a few high fives for PR-setting runners around me. All the runners had nothing but praise for the volunteers, expressing a deep thanks for coming back. Meb had won (2:08:37, a PR) with a little help from Ryan Hall and others, and the Jumbotron replayed his finish line victory in a glorious loop. Rita Jeptoo (2:18:57, a CR) had reclaimed her victory from last year for a third win at Boston, while Shalane Flanagan (2:22:02, 7th) beat the heat to set a personal best. Our ultrarunners did an outstanding job, placing 23rd (Uli Stedl, 2:19, 1st Master), 32nd (Matt Flaherty, 2:21), 43rd (Matthew Laye, 2:23), 44th (Michael Wardian, 2:23, 3rd Master), 308th (Ian Sharman, 2:39), 28th female (Magdelena Lewy-Boulet, 2:41, 3rd Master), 39th female (Caitlin Smith, 2:49), and a PR for Sarah Syed (3:21).
(Quinn gets a medal!)
Quinn ran up into my arms as I exited the runners area, swiping the medal from my neck. “Sooo cool, Daddy…it has a horse on it!”. I smiled, secretly pleased that her memories of Boston start today. When I asked Sophie if she might run the Boston Marathon one day, she glanced up at the picture of Shalene on the screen and said “maybe some day I’ll win it”. Ha! Boston Strong, indeed.

(Ron McCracken pays tribute to the fallen prior to his 14th finish)
I can’t put into words my thanks and appreciation to the City of Boston and their amazing community. Congratulations on reclaiming your beloved Patriot’s Day in style, and giving us all a chance to join in the healing. I couldn’t be more proud. And to my family for joining me on this great day – thank you, and let’s continue to make stories we will tell forever.