Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Having Fun at the 2006 Boston Marathon

Last weekend, I returned to Boston to join 22,000 runners for the 110th running of the Boston Marathon. This was my 2nd Boston (I qualified for this Boston at the 2005 Boston Marathon), but I was planning on taking a very different approach to the race this time. No land speed records, no split tracking, no PR’s – just running with friends at a more casual pace and enjoying every minute of this 26.2-mile long party. My goals? Give 262 high fives, take some pics along the way, drink a beer at Heartbreak Hill with the Hash House Harriers, and get a kiss from one of those gorgeous Wellesley girls with the “kiss me, I’m smart” signs. Now THAT’S my kind of marathon! Little did I know I would also get a chance to meet the winner of the Boston marathon too.


(53 degrees and partly cloudy - perfect running weather for the Boston Marathon this year)

I flew in on the red eye Saturday night, and after a quick breakfast with the Boston dock workers at a local greasy spoon, I hit the Runners Expo. The excitement was palpable, as runners and their supporting friends and family gobbled up merchandise as fast as it could be stocked. Like last year, I met dozens of people who considered this race the pinnacle of their year (if not their athletic career) and were purchasing anything that could publicly proclaim “I did Boston”. As a trail runner, I felt like a welcomed outsider in a cult of ultra-thin, shaved-legged road rabbits. Popular booths included the Clif Blocks sample table (snacks!), the Adidas booth with wall-to-wall Boston merchandise, and the MyMarathonDVD booth that creates a personalized DVD from six cameras along the course.


(Dean talks ultrarunning with the Boston Marathon crowd)

At 10am, Dean Karnazes made a brief presentation about his book (you can hear a similar NPR interview here), and his upcoming “E50” challenge. E50 is Dean’s attempt to do 50 marathons in 50 days in 50 states this Fall, all to raise money and awareness for Karnos Kids, his non-profit. There were lots of questions from the audience about his training and motivation, and it was clear that nearly everyone in the room had read his book. Yet I was surprised that most of the audience referred to ultrarunners as “a different (and crazier) breed”. It’s really only a few more miles, right? Dean was gracious and friendly, and talked about the pacing and recovery challenges of doing consecutive daily marathons (for example, anything faster than a 3:30 marathon yearns for recovery on the next day, something he had learned from practicing races over four days), and how travel time will be a bigger factor this time around. For the days that Dean can’t run an “official” marathon, he will be running an official course with the help of Race Directors to ensure it’s all legit. I mentioned to the guy next to me that this sort of thing must take serious dedication. Little did I know I was talking to Neil Weygant, who was about to attempt his 40th consecutive Boston Marathon. Wow!



(Neil Weygant finished his 40th consecutive Boston Marathon this year)

As I left the Expo, I read much the “22,000 reasons to run Boston” board, an oddly motivating wall of stickers where you can find your number and write in your main motivation for being here. For some, it was “because I can”, for others it was to honor a loved one, but for most, it was a personally-declared statement of triumph, as if you could escape death itself if you ran fast enough. For me, it was a dedication Rocky the Pug, who taught me that a love of running comes straight from the heart. This Boston was going to be all about fun, and Rocky wouldn’t want it any other way.

(Racers declare their motivation at The Wall)

(One of the funnier entries)

The night before the race, I caught up with my running pals, Kristin Armstrong and Paige Alam, and their morale-support crews (Kik's friend Eric and Paige's husband Jamil, as well as their friends the Boyles). We dined at Teatro, discussed life and love, and the various paths that brought us all to Boston this day. Eric and Jamil were looking forward to seeing the Red Sox play Seattle, which would get out just in time to see us at the marathon finish.


(My gorgeous running partners, Paige Alam and Kristin Armstrong)

I’ve told you guys about Kristin before, and you may have heard about her good friend Paige from the articles in Runners World. Paige is a perfect running pal – motivated, funny, and a kindred soul that is always providing moral support. As they recalled their adventures over the last year, it was always “Kik and Paige, BFF (Best Friends Forever)”. One of the best parts about these two is they know how to challenge each other in little ways. For this race, Kristin had convinced the split-obsessed Paige to run without her watch. This is a tough consideration for a talented and competitive runner like Paige, and you could see her physically squirming with the idea. She took some comfort in knowing I would have a watch “just in case”.

The next morning, I caught up with Kristin and Paige about 45 minutes before race start and we made our way to the starter corral. My blue number (#3103) stood out among the sea of red numbers in the 12,000-13,000 corral, but I was welcomed with open arms. The runners here were much more diverse than the 3-hour corral – people of all shapes and sizes, matching Elvises, you name it. As we started running, I could see a lot of these people weren’t “natural runners”. Their gaits and strides were as varied as one could imagine, but they all found a rhythm they knew well from putting in the training miles. I instantly had tremendous respect for these runners. Who better to represent the Boston Marathon than those who overcame the most to get here?



(The fastest Elvises [Elvi?] on the planet)

Kristin and Paige had dressed well for the occasion, as they always do. Paige had a shirt that said “Go Paige” on the front, while Kristin had “Go Kristin”. Within a few hundred yards, they were already getting shouts of support. After a few miles and a few hundred thank yous, Paige began to understand the magic of Boston Marathon fans – she was going to be hearing “Go Paige” for the next four hours! She cracked a smile that never left her face the whole race.

The ladies set the pace and I glanced at my watch at each mile, amazed at the consistency of our time as we weaved through the hills. 8:13, 8:17, 8:15, 8:18…so far, a pretty quick race. Kristin was leading the pace on the flats, while Paige-the-mountain-goat pulled us up the hills. At each mile marker, Paige would read off a prayer or focus word, such as “hearing”, “truth”, “calling”…a wonderfully addictive way to pass the miles. I found my thoughts gravitating towards my excitement about impending fatherhood, and how much I appreciate sharing a running experience with friends. Paige and Kristin, both great moms, were the perfect friends to share the day.

We ran through Ashland, where the bikers and Harley-Davidson crowd cranked up the rock n’ roll, and enjoyed the perfect running weather (53 degrees, partly cloudy). Paige had signed up for the MyMarathonDVD and was eagle-eyeing cameras to make sure we hit each one. We contemplated mooning, but thought it might not be good for the family archives. In the longer miles, we chatted with other runners who had come from all over the world – Norway, Italy, Australia, Japan, South Africa, Chile, China, and more. Although it was Patriot’s Day, the pride on these streets was more than American.


(All smiles as we pass through Natick)

Mile 10 came up fast, and it was the first mile where Paige and Kristin naturally slowed down to 8:50/mile. But the constant support from the crowds rallied them back on pace by Mile 12 and straight through to Wellesley College, aka, the “Scream Tunnel”. If you don’t know what this is, imagine the front row of a Beatles concert lined up for nearly ½ mile, all girls screaming with excitement. It is truly amazing! I saw a few “kiss me” signs, but hesitated after wondering how my wife’s best friend (Kristin) might explain the scene to my pregnant wife. I couldn’t risk it - the recipe for a life sentence in the dog house was too great if that kiss lasted a little TOO long. But would these girls really kiss a stranger? Just as I thought that, a young man with “Norway” on his shirt stepped right up and was grabbed by three gorgeous froshies, nearly drowning in kisses. How about that…a whole new incentive to qualify for Boston!


(Paige and Kristin, Friends Forever!)

I snapped some pics as we headed into the hilly section of the course. Our pace had slowed to about 8:25/mile around mile 18, which one would expect in the hills. The rolling up and downs gave our legs some variability, and we refueled to prepare for Heartbreak Hill. I accidentally passed the Hash House Harriers aid station, so I turned around and ran back for a beer. It looked like a normal aid station, except each plastic cup had 2-3 oz of beer. When I grabbed one and yelled “bottoms up!”, everyone cheered, grabbed a cup of their own, and drank with me. As I took off to catch my pals, it dawned on me how much those guys were going to drink today…and it was only going to get more intense as the slower folks indulged. Again, amazing fan dedication!

The beer really hit the spot. Easily digested carbs, tasted good, and smoothed out my running a bit. Maybe these Harriers are onto something! I caught up with Kristin and Paige and we all knocked down Heartbreak Hill with ease. Just a 10k to go!


(Paige hams it up with the cheering crowd)

Paige was hamming it up big time in the last few miles, and the crowd loved it. She must have said “thank you” a thousand times. As Kristin and I laughed, it helped us keep moving forward with a smile on our faces. I glanced at my watch and realized we were just a couple of minutes off a 3:40 pace, which would allow Kristin and Paige to qualify for Boston again. Should I say something? Or wasn’t the point to not worry about it? I decided not to mention it and keep the spirit of our run intact.

(Crossing the finish line; find this and other great Boston pics at Marathonfoto.com)

As we rounded the last corner, Eric and Jamil were there to lay on some last minute kisses on their sweeties (even better than a shot of caffeine!), and we joined hands to cruise in to a 3:44:46 finish, good for about 9,970th place. Hugs abounded at the finish (including strangers), and everyone seemed pleased with the day. Rena Schumann, one of three California ultrarunners I saw out there, was resting after a stellar 3:11 finish, as was ultra-phenom Mark Lantz who clocked a 2:52. We knew we would all see each other at the Miwok 100k in a few weeks.

A shower and nap later, we all dined at Anthony’s at Pier 4, a superb steak and lobster restaurant with one of the best views in Boston. We replayed the marathon mile-by-mile, and Eric and Jamil shared the Sox game play-by-play (a come from behind win for Boston after a 9th inning homer). All in all, an epic day to share with friends. I headed back to my hotel room, unable to sleep because I didn’t want the day to end. So I just started thinking about the next race, which slowly pulled me into dreamland.


(Robert Cheruiyot, the gracious winner of the 2006 Boston Marathon, and me)

The next morning, I got an unexpected treat at the airport. I sat down in a Starbuck’s and asked the guy next to me if I could read one of the five papers he had. When he smiled, I realized he was the same guy on the cover of the newspaper – Robert Cheruiyot from Kenya, who had won Boston in a record-breaking 2:07:14! Robert and his Nike rep were very nice, and let me take a photo with my camera phone (sorry it’s not the best photo, but it’s him!). Robert was friendly to everyone, asking all the other runners how their race went. He was saying how the weather conditions were perfect and that he felt like he had a 2:06 in him, but listened to his coach, Paul Tergat, and just focused on the win (his second Boston win after winning in 2003). The rest of us listened in awe, knowing we couldn’t keep his pace for a mile even if our life depended on it.

When I come back to Boston next time, it’s going to be a toss up on running it fast, or running it fun. It still amazes me how a race can be so different if you just approach it with some novelty. If doesn’t take much to change the race atmosphere. Go slower. Drink the beer. Kiss the girls. I guarantee you, it will be a race to remember!

Cheers, SD

26 comments:

  1. What a perfect race report! Like I was there (again) experiencing all the fun! Way to go, girls, too!

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  2. I loved your race report and pictures! It had to be awesome to meet Cheruiyot on your way out of Boston. While you had the chance to talk to him, did you run your idea of the Nut-Tsak by him??? With the Nike guy there - it may have been your chance!!! ;-)

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  3. What a great report of the Boston Marathon. Sounds like a fun one! Nice idea to figure out different ways of running a race.

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  4. Scott - I'm glad you had such an amazing time and that was an excellent race report. I felt like I was there!

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  5. Excellent race report. Most race reports are obsessed with split times and pain. You make it sound like a picnic :-)

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  6. Thanks for stopping by everyone!

    Doh! I should have thought about the Nut-Tsak with the Nike rep. Could have been my big break! Thanks, Shane.

    The race was a lot of fun, but I feel I should note that I was beat by the end. A marathon hurts no matter how slow/fast you go. Dean K ran it backwards in 3:40 before running it forwards in 3:45 - I bet he's really tired!

    SD

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  7. thanks for the blog on The Boston Marathon. You write very well. Its so interesting to see how you are so friendly, open & honest that it opens up conversation to get you the facts for the story
    and to borrow a newspaper form Cheruiyot!
    Keep writing.

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  8. That all sounds SO AWESOME! i hope my marathon in Las Vegas this December will be as great... and then maybe, the Boston, some year...

    Congrats! What a great recap.

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  9. Great report! Sounds like it was a lot of fun. I look forward to hearing more about the upcoming races.

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  10. Dean Karnazes physically ran it backwards or ran the course backwards? amazing, anyway! Great report, Scott! Our son ran it- had a fun race, but very sore- wore his Nike Frees- not enough support-and he likes Trail runs MUCH better!!!!

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  11. Awesome job! It sounds like you had a really fun race. I can't believe your luck at running into Chruiyot at the airport! How cool!

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  12. Looks like you had a blast. Congrats, and come back anytime now ya hear?!! Haha, thanks for commenting on the blog.

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  13. Wow - that's like the ultimate Boston experience you described there. How cool to run with those ladies, and then meet the race winner later on. I'm very envious. Great report.

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  14. Great report. The only thing I missed was Fenway. I'm going to a game next year.

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  15. What a good read. Someday I'll come up and chear for the Boston runners.

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  16. I ran too and found Monday to be perfect conditions for a race. I'm jealous of your brush with fame at the airport. Very cool.

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  17. By the way Scott, I would like to applaud your choice to skip the kisses from the Wellsley women. Very wise!

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  18. That's the thing about running. We get to line up on the same line (OK, well back in most cases) as the superstars...AND they're nice people! Name another sport where that's the case.

    I had a bad day at Boston, but at least I got there. Glad to know you're experience was good.

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  19. Inspiring storytelling, Scott. I’ll keep coming back for new updates.

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  20. One of the best marathon recaps I've read.

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  21. Scott
    I really enjoyed your story on Boston. Keep up the good running and writing. Look forward to meeting you again, hopefully in Woodside. I think you should have kissed them.
    E
    Also, Kristin looks sexy!

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  22. Hello Scott,

    My wife and I finished our first ultramarathon on May 13, preceded by our first marathon on May 7th. We received our first copy of the Special Edition of Trail Runner in our grab bag for the McDonald Forest 50K, and I was delighted to be reacquainted with you via your runner profile!

    I went to high school with you, your brother and sister: we had shared interests at the time, and it seems that we do so again.

    Your blog updates and other on-line references to you are very inspiring, and I'm happy to see everything going so well with you.

    Cheers, and contact me if you get the chance.

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  23. Hello Scott,
    I enjoyed your synopsis of Boston '06. The words that describe my '06 experience are "painfully disappointing". While it was my first Boston, you gave me hope to try again, perhaps not taking the whole thing so seriously. Koko

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  24. Kristins article in July 2006 Runners World is great! It appears you all had a great time, and that you and Page were good comedic sidekicks.

    Kelly

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