I was greeted at my hotel with a surprise package, and it didn’t take long to figure out the gold headband, shorts and tube socks addressed to “my Bleeker” was a costume as the nerd track star Paulie Bleeker from the movie Juno (you know, the one who knocks up the main character). My wife Christi is obsessed with the sweet, lovable Bleeker, insisting he is “the new Jake Ryan” (for those of you who oogled over the hunk from the movie Sixteen Candles as a teen). She still gets teary-eyed thinking of the scene where Bleeker runs off the track after winning the 800 meter to quietly cuddle Juno in her time of need, complete with track spikes in bed. Geeks who run are sexy? Well heck, I’m in! But would anyone else get the costume? I guess we would find out on Monday…
I showed up a day early to watch the Women’s Olympic Trials on Sunday and cheer on Cassie Henkiel from Austin, TX. Cassie is a world-class athlete, a good friend, and the local Austin coach that keeps Kristin Armstrong and others in shape for Boston. Cassie did very well despite “losing her legs” about half way through, and the pink-clad support crew from Austin went nuts at every lap (the t-shirts that said "Kick Some, Cassie" were a nice touch). Deana Kastor also put on a fantastic race, winning in 2:29:35 to make the Olympic team along with Magdelena Lewy Boulet and Blake Russell. One from Mammoth Lakes, CA, one from Oakland, CA, and one from Pacific Grove, CA - California runners rocked the Trials!
After the Trials, I stopped by the Convention Center to get my packet and the cool new t-shirt for 2008. I said my howdy’s to everyone at Team Injinji, whose booth was buzzing with curious runners. I also had the good fortune to speak with Dick and Rick Hoyt, two of the most courageous athletes I have ever met. For those of you who haven’t heard of this pair, Rick Hoyt has cerebral palsy and is a quadriplegic and Dick is his father. Rick’s affliction hasn’t stopped them from competing as a team in hundreds of triathlons and road races together, including many Ironman Hawaii races and 25 Boston Marathons. Yup, you read that right – they have done 25! And tomorrow would be 26. As Dick told me, “Rick is the athlete, I’m just loaning him my arms and legs”. Wow - talk about a defining role model for being a father! Rick is also a college graduate (Boston U), has his own apartment, and is a gifted writer. To hear them speak about their accomplishments with such humility is very inspiring.
I rolled out of the Expo and made my way to Fenway Park to catch the Boston Red Sox/Texas Rangers game. I’m a newbie to the baseball scene, so this was quite a treat to visit the historic Fenway. There I learned why Boston fans cheer so loud for the marathon – these people LOVE their sports! The guys next to me were watching the Celtics and Bruins game on their cell phones while drinking beer and cheering on the Red Sox. Just can’t get enough!
The Red Sox had a classic come from behind win (see video below). I had always thought baseball would be slow paced, but there was nothing dull about a bottom of the 8th inning, 2 outs, full count, bases loaded moment with Casey at bat (I kid you not). When the Rangers walked a run in (which would be the winning run for Boston), the place exploded and made it impossible for me to hold the camera. I’ve never experienced anything like it. A Red Sox come-from-behind win, Olympic Trials, and meeting the Hoyt Ironman legends - the Boston Marathon hadn’t even started, and I was already having sports overload!
The morning of the race, I donned my red and gold Bleeker costume and headed down to the buses at the Boston Commons. In Hopkinton, I would be joining Kristin “Kik” Armstrong and Paige Alam for our second run at Boston (we did it back in 2006), as well as Courtney Houston from Austin, TX, taking on her first Boston. It’s impossible not to have fun with this crew, and with no pace goals we were certain to have a day of fun and laughs.
On the bus ride out, I ran into Injinji teammate 19-year-old Michael Hayden, fresh off his age group world record 50k at Mad City (3:45). He was still feeling last weeks race (Diablo was still stinging me as well), but he was hoping to clock a 3:10. We caught up on races and tips, his experience racing the Mad City tundra, various ultra gossip, and the top contenders for Western States this year. I thought those who overheard us might think we were nuts, but I was pleased to find out that a bunch of them had tried ultras in the last couple of years. The sport is definitely spreading!
At the race start, Kik and Paige greeted me with orange t-shirts that said “Paulie Bleeker rules”, so obviously some conspiring had occurred. ;-) I stripped down to my outfit, but I didn’t stand out much among the throngs of colored runners. Just when I thought nobody would notice me among the masses, two guys behind me said “you’re the cheese to my macaroni” (a classic line from the movie). This was going to be a fun race!
Boston Marathon race numbers indicate your qualifying time (my 2:57 at the Napa Marathon was good enough for #2193), as well as which corral you start in. Since we were all running together, we had to all jump into the “big number” corrals, somewhere in the 17,000 range. We found ourselves among the true heroes of marathons – the folks who aren’t built to run, don’t find it easy, and worked damn hard to get here. Thousands were running for charitable causes or in memory of loved ones, lifting the corral in a rising tide of hope and compassion. Each courageous soul was in a fight for the long run (literally), and with this collective show of force it’s hard not to think these diseases don’t stand a chance.
At 10:30am, we began our descent down into Ashland. The day was perfect – high 50’s with a slight breeze. We cruised along at a 9:20/mile pace, shouting back to the awesome locals who were 3-4 deep on both sides for miles. The theme song from Rocky and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” were being blasted from stereos all over the place. One family was creating a “glove tree” from all the discarded gloves, and they told me some years there can be hundreds by the time the race ends.
It didn’t take long before Paige started weaving her way up through the crowd. Paige is a born leader, and we all just stepped into form behind her and snaked our way through the crowd. If she spotted a group of kids giving out high fives (or especially a retirement home, church, or row of wheelchairs), we would make our way to the sidelines and slap some palms. I told her “that’s great you’re giving some love”, but she just replied “giving? Heck, I’m getting it big time”. That’s Paige for ya.
Occasionally I would hear “Go Bleek!”, or the Boston-accented “Oh my gawd, it’s Pawlie Bleekah!”. There is definitely a hoard of Juno fans out there. Awareness of the costume skewed young on the demographic scale, and that made me wonder about the gorgeous ladies of Wellesley College at mile 12. It’s either going to be nothing, or I’ll be lucky to keep my clothes on. ;-)
As we made our way into Framingham (mile 7), I recognized the smiling face of Sister Madonna Buder, another hero of Ironman. She is the Helen Klein of Ironman, setting records well into her 70’s and still going for it even after some 200-odd triathlons and 13 trips to Ironman Hawaii. I asked her if she had ever run Boston before and she said “oh, sure…about 25 years ago”. How cool is that? Look out Helen, she’s coming for ya!
The temperature got up into the 60’s, and everyone stripped a layer or two. Paige was wearing her “Go Cassie” shirt from the day before as a base layer, so everybody started yelling out “Go, Cassie!”. Paige loved being Cassie for a day. My costume was holding up well too. As cheesy as the nylon shorts were, they are definitely breathable (probably best if I just leave it at that). We passed a bar called The Chicken Bone that was yelling out for Scott D, so I stopped to say thank you and get a pic with The Chicken Man himself. The BBQ looked delicious, but I thought it best to stick with Gatorade for now. I just love that the craziest biker bar on the whole course was cheering my name!
Mile 8 was a special one for Paige and Kik, for they had promised to dedicate it to their eight-year-old children, Laney and Luke. Paige had her Blackberry with her (which was constantly going off with text messages of support from family and friends), so she gave their classroom a call and they got to speak with their kids. They let the Mommies know the whole class was running a mile at the track today to dedicate back to them! That put a HUGE smile on their faces, and the pace picked up on the wings of (little) angels.
We entered Natick (mile 9), and a smiling young woman came up to me and said “LOVE the Bleeker costume! Your wife is my hero”. Ali is a student in Colorado that was born in Boston, and she had quite a story herself. Her parents watched Allison Roe win the Boston Marathon in 1981 while her Mom was in labor, so they named her Allison Rowe. Fate brought her to run Boston as her first marathon, and here she was having a fabulous time. When she heard I was an ultrarunner, she asked “Have you run with Tony Krupicka? He’s a good friend and we did cross-country together”. She gave me a knowing smile when I let her know I was hoping to meet him at Western States this year, but suspected that I would at most see 30 seconds of the back of his head at the start. ;-)
The familiar sounds of the scream tunnel at Wellesley could be heard around mile 12, and I braced myself. We also picked up Katie Love, another runner from Austin, TX, who hadn’t quite gotten herself fully healthy yet, but wasn’t going to qualify for Boston and miss all the fun so she settled for the second half. Together, we ran through the scream tunnel where I heard “BLEEK!!! COME GET A KISS!!!”. Who am I to deny the locals? I’ll save you the details, but let’s just say my breath smelled of beer and froshies for the next mile. I was so stunned I forgot to take a picture! Bleeker loves you back, women of Wellesley!
Soon after Wellesley, Courtney came flying by after taking a pit stop and having to weave through thousands to catch back up. She was still going strong and having a fabulous time. We caught up to two large men running in Speedos (and not much else), and I said “I dare you to go slap that guy on the ass-“…I didn’t even have to finish my sentence and Courtney gave one of them a good enough smack that he jumped about a foot in the air! I laughed so hard that I just about fell over. I’m sure they would have been mad if it was anyone other than a tall, gorgeous Texan woman. Instead they just glowed red, cheeks and butt cheeks alike, and made small talk.
The town of Newton (mile 15) brought the hill country, which elicited groans from many, but was a welcome relief to my trail-trained legs. A women screamed for me to come over – “Bleeker! Hey, Bleek!” - turns out she had seen the movie some 30 times, and thought the costume was great. She didn’t think others were going to get the joke, so she whipped out a big black marker and wrote BLEEKER across my chest, gave me a peck on the cheek, and said “I sure hope I find my Bleeker someday”. My wife was right – Paulie Bleeker has some serious fans!
I was sure to hit the Hash House Harriers beer aid station at mile 19, where they loaded me up with a couple of beers and sang a drinking song as I chugged away. Per usual, it hit the spot and I charged up Heartbreak Hill, giving a wave to the John Kelly statue as we went by.
As we hit the top of Heartbreak, Kik said “where’s the beer aid station?”. I told her it was opposite the water station she stopped at, and she looked over her shoulder and contemplated running back! Oops, my bad – I should have guided her to where the “Beer gives 100%” sign was. I figured this was easy to remedy and stepped up to the next frat party and pointed to the gorgeous blonde who needed a beer. They snapped into action, calling back to the keg to “get a beer for Bleeker’s girl, pronto!”. I ran the beer up to Kik and Paige, who slammed it right down and hit the downhills with a new infusion of liquid courage.
The hills at mile 21 were tough of Kik and Courtney, who both started to fight cramps and quad soreness. Ah, yes – let the negotiation begin. We’re all too familiar with the “legs, we had a deal” or “you promised me you wouldn’t do this” conversation that sneaks under your breath in times of need. Rebellious muscles can be tough negotiators! We took a few short stretch breaks, but nobody was going to quit. Good thing, because Cassie the Coach was at mile 25 and just the thought of having her see them walk (and the amount of intervals they would have to do upon return) made them pick up the pace! We did get a photo with Cassie before closing in on the last mile. Before we knew it, we all finished just under four hours in 3:59:23, and immediately made our way to the Four Seasons Hotel bar for celebratory cocktails.
My slowest marathon yet, and quite possibly the most fun I have ever had. I was super-proud of the Texas girls for rallying through to the end and doing it with ear-to-ear smiles. Michael Hayden ended up running a near even split for 3:01 (a PR), and surely could have gone faster. That kid is getting fast! We heard from other runners that Robert Cheruiyot had won his 4th Boston in 2:07:44, and Dire Tune won the Women’s division in a hotly contested race. Lance Amrstrong finished in a fast 2:50 and change, but with a whole new respect for the downhills (btw, if you want to see Kik interviewing him in a hilarious video, go here).
I called Christi to let her know her Bleeker was doing fine, and the costume was a huge hit. After a short nap and shower, I joined the Texans one more time for dinner at The Beehive and a round of drinks at Alibi, a prison-themed bar at the new Liberty Hotel. Both are great stops if you’re heading to Boston. By midnight, we were exhausted from a weekend of thrills, adventure, and new stories to keep our friendships close. I already can’t wait to get back!