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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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!
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. ;-)
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.
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!