Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Running with My Dad at the 2009 Boston Marathon

On April 21st, I had the great pleasure of running with my father in his first Boston Marathon. This race was on his “bucket list”, so I was pleased to be able to host/pace him for one of my favorite big city marathons (this was my fifth). We had a weekend packed full of the best of Boston, from pubs to Red Sox baseball to the marathon itself. Male bonding at its best! My Dad ended up having a strong race, finishing with a smile and a beer. I couldn’t have been more proud of him.

It’s not every day you get to be there for one of your Dad’s “firsts”, despite the fact that he has been there for nearly all of mine. I was especially looking forward to this opportunity after becoming a father myself two and a half years ago. I now understand that when parents look at their children, they simultaneously see them at every age from birth to the present day. That’s nearly four decades worth when he sets his eyes on me! It takes a long time for most sons to understand this (me amongst them), and we too often spend years with no appreciation of the unique individual behind the towering role and responsibility of fatherhood. The Boston Marathon, which journeys through the streets of Boston where he went to college in the 60’s, was the perfect shared experience to learn more about him, both as a father and a person.

(Injinji's new colors...comfy too!)

I hopped a red eye to Boston after the Ruth Anderson 50k, showing up just in time for breakfast at the Paramount and a walk through the Boston Commons. My legs felt pretty good (considering), and the plentiful Starbucks, Dunkin Doughnuts, and brisk air kept me upright as we made our way to the Expo. My Dad was pretty jazzed about the race, and loved seeing hundreds of people in Boston Marathon gear, filling the streets with languages from around the world. Despite living in Cambridge for years, he had never made the occasion to check out the Boston Marathon or go to a game at Fenway Park. The next 24 hours would take care of both of those, pronto.

(Moeben sleeves were very popular at the Expo)

The Expo was insanely crowded, so we picked up our bib numbers and just stopped by the Injinji booth to say hi. We decided to pass on the Boston shwag (the bright yellow is VERY bright this year) being quite content with the adidas CoolMax participant shirt. I bought some 2XU compression calf tights to try out after getting repeated recommendations to do so if I was racing multiple times in a weekend. I figured they would be good for warmth at a minimum, which could be crucial for a race day predicted to be in the low 40’s and windy.

(Heading to Fenway)

(Cold but enjoying every minute!)

We escaped the Expo to head to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game, where we huddled in the cold and sipped our beers while the Red Sox beat the Orioles 2-0. After a beer-induced nap we had dinner at the Pasta Feed, and hit the sack early for the big day. I enjoyed seeing my Dad nervous for the race – he’s rarely nervous for anything! I was just the opposite. In fact, I had been so lax I had forgotten to pack running shorts so I was going to have to do with some tennis shorts borrowed from my Dad. Doh!

(Eager runners make their way across the Boston Commons to catch the bus)

The next morning was cold (40 degrees) with a biting breeze. We jumped on the buses with plenty of extra gear, noting that the long wait before the race would be the toughest part of the day. I shared my secrets to staying warm at the Athlete Village (hint – there are pre-race massages INSIDE if you look for them), and we enjoyed massages before heading down to corral #18. We slammed a couple of Vespas before warming up to run.

(On the bus)

(Heading into the Athlete's Village)

I could have sworn we stopped at every port-o-potty along the way…running with a well-hydrated 67-year-old had more pee stops than a sorority van on the way back from a barn dance. But we found our spots in the corral just in time for the gun to go off.

(This guy better watch it at the finish with all those hungry runners)

(Corral #18, here we go!)

(Wave #2 takes off from Hopkinton)

I was feeling pretty bad ass with my blue bib #1454, until I realized nobody in corral #18 gave a hoot. Everyone we met was here to have a good time, run for a loved one, raise awareness for their charity, and in general was having way too much fun to be worried about their number. My Dad was hoping for a sub-4 hour finish, but I kept trying to convince him to just have a good time and end the race with a smile. I would hate to see him finish and be “disappointed”. But when the gun went off, my Dad started weaving through the crowd like a snake on a mission.

I did my best to keep him in sight, talking casually with the runners around me. I couldn’t help but brag to everyone about my 67-year-old Dad cruising the Boston Marathon. I was so proud of him! Between my yapping and his weaving, I wasn’t able to run alongside of him until the Ashland Tower at mile 4. He had a good pace going and was hydrating well, but all the side to side work was burning calories. We spoke about the mixed blessing of having so many runners on the road – it’s tough to keep a goal pace, but a blessing to have an excuse to hold some reserves on a downhill start.

(Smiling at the Ashland Tower)

One thing we definitely agreed on was the supporting crowds were fantastic! Per usual, they were 3-4 people deep at all times cheering on everyone. Anytime you needed a power boost, you could just swoop to the side and get 20-30 high fives. My Dad just kept saying “amazing!” over and over again.

(Santa is here every year...I placed my x-mas wish early)

At Natick (mile 10), the runners began to space out more and we had enough room to pick up the pace to a 7:45 min/mile. My Dad was making up all of his time on the downhills, per his usual strategy. When the flats or hills came, he distracted me with stories of partying, exploring, summer jobs, etc. during his college days. It was wonderful to hear all of these stories that I hadn’t heard before. More so than ever, I was getting a full picture of the young Larry Dunlap. Sounds like quite a troublemaker. ;-)


At mile 11, the familiar sounds of the scream tunnel filled the air. The Wellesley girls were out in full force, complete with “kiss me, I’m smart” signs and encouraging waves to come into their arms. My Dad started with some high fives, but soon enough two girls grabbed him and planted a kiss on his cheek. I fell in for my kiss as well, and returned the favor. We had a good laugh, particularly at the short balding European guy who was kissing his way down the line like an Italian wedding reception. My Dad said “I haven’t kissed a Wellesley girl since 1964”, much to the delight of the runners around us, and launched into another story. For the next two miles, we glided effortlessly on the lipstick-traced kisses of Wellesley girls of both yesterday and today .

(Dad gets some high fives)

(Nothing gives you a boost like kisses from froshies!)

(This year, I return the favor)

Just past mile 15, my Dad began to slow. Thank God for the Powerbar aid station that got us handfuls of gels in any flavor we desired. I found the Double Latte to be particularly tasty, and we shared a boost of caffeine that pushed us into the Newton hills.

(26,000 runners making their way to the finish)

Heartbreak Hill came and went, and my Dad just shrugged his shoulders. Was that it? Not much of a challenge for an accomplished mountain climber and trail runner, even at age 67. But he had plenty of pats on the back for the runners around us. I looked for the Hash House Harrier beer stand, but couldn’t find it this year. Instead they were handing out oxygen in the form of “personal oxygen devices”. Pretty crazy! I took a few drags, and it felt like a nice little boost. Guess I’ll have to wait for the finish for that brewsky.

(Personal Oxygen Device - POD)

(Approaching Boston College)

We hit Boston College at mile 21, where both my Dad and my camera started blinking red lights. He leaned into the downhill, but once he hit the flats he looked at me and said “I’m running on pure will at this point”. But his will was strong, and he kept his leg turnover high while keeping me in sight just a dozen yards ahead of him. He was still doing a great job of hydrating and taking in Gatorade, never walking for more than a few steps, so I knew he was going to make it without an embarrassing dehydration “blowout”. But could we make it under 4 hours? We certainly had banked some time, but there would be no margin for walk breaks.

(Dick and Rick Hoyt going for their umpteenth finish)

At mile 23, he broke through his psychological barriers and picked up the pace again. He passed right by me, clocked sub 8-minute miles as we passed mile 25. Not even the runner in the pink tutu carrying a Corona could slow him down!

(Tutu and a beer...can't beat that)

(Heading down Boylston - the home stretch!)

Before we knew it, we had turned the corner onto Boylston and were headed down the home stretch. He accelerated again, picking off another 20 runners before crossing the finish line with a smile in 3:45:30 for 11,827th place. He passed almost 7,000 runners! I came in right behind him in 11,828th. So he had not only run a 3:45, almost come in the first half of all runners, but he beat me fair and square. ;-)

(Edged out by my Pops at the finish)

We wrapped ourselves in mylar, got the finisher medals, and quickly made our way to a pub for a celebratory burger and Sam Adams. I just couldn’t help but stare at him in awe of what he had just accomplished. A 3:45 at age 67?!? Age adjusted, that is a sub-3 hour finish. And here he was, smiling away, sipping down a beer with no issues. It was nothing short of heroic. I got the overwhelming feeling that I am nowhere near tapping my genetic potential.

After dinner, I had to quickly gather my stuff and head off to the airport to speak at a conference the next morning (a “cats in the cradle” moment for sure), leaving my Dad to contemplate the ice bath in the hotel room. In a few short words, I struggled to tell him how proud I was and what a great experience this had been, stumbling in that way that men do when sharing deep emotions. But I recognized the look on his face, one I had seen so many times before in my life for so many “firsts”, expressing more than words could say. With a hug and firm handshake, I headed off to the airport with the finisher medal around my neck.

(Deriba Merga wins in 2:08:42)

The Boston Marathon is already packed full of great personal memories, but I knew instantly when crossing the finish line with my father that this how I would remember this race forever. I’m sure I told the story 50 times before I even made it to my seat on the plane. I’ve already told it 500 times to Sophie in the last week, and how her Grandpa once beat me at the Boston Marathon, one of the greatest races of all time. I suspect I will tell it 50,000 more times the next time I come to Boston. I may need to drag my Dad along again to share the duties. He did run a BQ time again, after all. ;-)

Congratulations, Dad. I’m super proud of you!

Love, SD


  1. What a wonderful experience for you both! I too am very impressed with your dads time. 3:45 is great at any age! You have some large (running) shoes to fill as you grace your 60's.

    I already see your Big Sur finish was sub-3 hours. I hope you are saving something for Miwok on Sat! You're no spring chicken anymore. [ha ha]


  2. Wow, what a story. Almost made me tear up. Congrats to you and your father!

  3. Congratulations to both of you! I wish I could run a marathon with my dad; his knees are screwed up from high school football though, so that'll probably never happen. Guess I'll just have to drag my best friend with me instead; he gets to do fun things like that with me. :)

  4. Ya know, Bleeker was fun and all, but nothin' tops running a race like this with yer' Pops! Your dad looks totally, completely happy in those pictures. What a great adventure.

    Have fun at Miwok Scott and take lots of pictures!

  5. Your dad is INCREDIBLE. Very, very impressive. Awesome moment for you both. Congrats.

  6. God, what a great, great smile your dad has! I am smitten! That's not to mention the time he ran:) Way to go! Awesome pictures, too, Scott:)

  7. What an amazing and heartwarming story. I recently ran with my mom (60), and it made me realize even more how much I cherish the time I spend with her. Thanks for sharing!

  8. What a great story. Congratulations to your dad on his incredible performance! We can only hope to be running that strong when we are his age.

  9. Scott you have a way of writing that makes me feel that I'm right along for the ride with you. Thanks for another wonderful story and what a great time you two had...That's what makes that experience even more special. Hope to meet you at the Lithia Loop run.

    Adam...aka..the LoneWolf

  10. What an awesome opportunity and experience!

    And WOW! Your dad is amazing! I see where you got your running talent from!

  11. What a moving story- got me all teary eyed. Congrats to your dad- tell him how impressed all of us are with him. And you're not so bad yourself!


  12. Happy Birthday!
    Boston was a great experience for me also, it was my first. Glad you were able to share it with your dad.

  13. Hi Scott - Great writeup. I ran Boston with my Dad in 2003 and it was a great experience for us also (first time at Boston for both of us). Not many ultras have crowds lining every mile like Boston! My dad has paced me at a lot of my ultras, so that was a chance for me to help him out.
    - pauld

  14. Sweet dude! You are one lucky son of a rockin' dad! (You realize those troublemaking genes are passed down to Sophie, right? Better watch out!!!)

    Happy birthday and have fun at Miwok this weekend!

  15. OK, +1 on the teary eyed thing...but somebody was cutting onions nearby, yeah, that was it! Scott, well done! I hope I'm running like your Dad at 67! Heck, at 40! I'll see you at Miwok, this time I know that if I'm running with you it's TOO FAST!

  16. Was totally teary eyed reading that!!! Great job to you both!!!

  17. This was such a beautiful post Scott. Thanks for not being afraid to share the personal side of the story. That's a big part of what makes you such a great writer.

  18. That is the most touching post I've read in a long time. Thank you so much for sharing it with us, Scott. Congratulations to you and your dad.

  19. Hi Scott. I finished just in front of you and your Dad (3:44) I was the guy wearing the Bright Yellow Livestrong hat. I'm also a trail runner, from Clayton, CA. I wasn't impressed with Heartbreak itself, but the cummulation of the hills did have an effect.A great experience! Congrats to your Dad for a good time and to you for your great experience.


  20. What a wonderful story. I emailed the link to my husband so he could read it. Your dad looks so happy in the photos! He is an inspiration for us all.

  21. As always great writing and a very special story about each of you and your Boston experience.

    I met you and your Dad when you were buying your tights and was surprised that he never went to the marathon or Sox game in all his time in Boston. I guess from what you say he was into more devilish activities!! Thanks for taking the time to talk.

    In a strange twist I handed your Dad gatroade at the mile 12 aid station as he rushed through. I was a little concerned at that time since he seemed quite rushed so I was happy to see he finished AND with a remarkable time.

    If, no, when, you come back to Boston let me know and I will get you on that luxury bus we spoke about for the trip to Hopkington.
    Steve Fitzgerald

  22. Great report - made me tear up at the end! Congrats to your dad. The fruit doesn't fall far from the tree - a good thing in this case! Happy birthday too!

  23. Congrats to your dad and thanks for sparing us images of you looking like Bleaker. I must admit if I could run Boston with my dad, who probably has the genetics to have been able to do it even in his mid-70's, it would be really, really cool.

    By the way, I'm impresesed with how fast you're running this year, so won't be too surprised for some breakthrough times at your upcoming longer races. Good luck at Miwok and beyond!

  24. Oh, and of course, since today's your 40th, Happy Birthday!

  25. Great stuff Scott, one of the best entries yet, enjoyed it...congrats to both you & your father, very cool.

    Will G.

  26. Thanks so much for the comments, everyone. Now my Dad knows he is a rock star! He's already back running too - apparently there are some recovery tips he should be sharing!

    John and Fitz - great to see you out there. Fitz, I will definitely be taking you up on the luxury ride to Hopkinton next year!


  27. Scott, I don't think I've ever responded to a blog before -- but had to. I, too, have run 3 marathons with my dad and agree that it is an unique mix of being a kid, a parent, and a runner. You just write and describe it better than I ever could. So thank you.

    For his 65th bday, we ran the LA marathon -- his first.

    For his 70th, we ran Napa.

    When he was 75, I had the enormous pleasure of finishing an ultra flanked by my dad and my 13 year old son. 26.7 miles at the SF 1day - -though my son and I walked a few more to 50k after sleeping all night! I just wanted to plant a seed of an idea as your daughter grows up.

    This weekend he is at the Eugene 1/2 hoping there aren't too many other 76 year olds. I am very proud.

    Kristen Nilsson Farley

  28. Thank you so much for sharing your day with us. I really enjoyed reading it.

    Congratulations to you and your dad.

  29. Incredibly jealous and envious. Wish I could've shared an experience like that with my father when he was still here with us.

    Stellar weekend Scott. and a happy belated b-day!

  30. Great story Scott. Your dad is a MONSTER! 3:45 at age 67?! Good for him and very inspiring. The best part of the story is that both of you will have that memory for the rest of your lives. Enjoy it!

  31. What an incredible experience you got to share together! Congrats to both of you. I hope to be there one day myself.

  32. Hey Scott:

    I'm wondering if you've ever had an injury or a "burnout" from your triathlons and ultramarathons and, if so, you ever felt like you would never get back into shape again.

  33. KOS -

    I've been pretty lucky in that I haven't had many injuries. I had one in 2007 during the Tahoe Rim Trail 100m that put me out for a few months. I had to start at ground zero again, and wasn't sure if I would get back. But I took it easy, and made sure I still enjoyed it. I do my best to respect recovery days, cross-train, and not risk it. That seems to do the trick.

    I do get some burnout here and there, but can usually get through it by taking a break, switching my races to new venues, or changing up my routine. I am equally addicted to being outside and that optimism that comes with being in good physical shape, so as long as I have both the training feels like therapy. My spouse has definitely burnt out on it though. ;-)


  34. On the opposite side, I hope someday to run the Boston Marathon with my son.

    Maybe when he is 20 and I am 60, or he os 25 and I am 65.

    Age 20 and 60 are only 16 years away! :)

    Thanks for your wonderful story.

    And you guys are slim! Though not all slim folks are fast, being slim like that certainly helps produce faster running times. It's no surprise to me you guys do so well.

  35. What a great story, Scott! I was there, cameraless, so I really enjoyed your pics!
    After, years of fast road racing, I ran my first marathon at age 48 in 2008 (Charlottesville) and qualified!! As a nearly 7 year breast cancer "thriver", I really felt I was running for way more than just myself. It was an emotional, party of a run. I had a blast! Congratulations to your rockin' Dad!!

  36. Wow...that is so awe-inspiring! Congratulations to both of you. May you enjoy many more "defeats" at the hands of your dad, and someday your daughter :)

  37. What a great experience for both of you! Cool and nice photos. Your post inspires me to keep running!

  38. Hi,
    It's really something special with the father and son thing.
    My dad died fifteen years ago. It's actually exactly fifteen years ago today and I'm sitting in front of my PC with a candle burning on the side of my screen reading this blog post and remembering my father.
    I hope I can do somehing similar with my boys one day.
    Thanks for the post.

  39. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed. Really a nice post here!


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