Monday, April 20, 2009

Boston Marathon

It's Patriots Day, which means Boston Marathon! I ran it last year, and wrote a long-winded journal:


Traveling from Denver to run the Boston Marathon. I have engaged in no training or other preparation. I have periodically received email updates with gritty pictures of people sweating, struggling, and intensely gazing into the future that will be the race of their lifetime – the Boston Marathon. I saw these messages and thought it was sort of funny that I too was going to the race. Surely the flight will be cancelled – like thousands of American Airlines flights in the last few weeks – or I will have a work conflict – which never happened – or I’ll just flake out – which I nearly did. Instead I got up in the hour between staying out late and getting up early to head to the airport. Yes, this is the correct airport and you have the correct flight – everything is on time. Really? Well, I’d better get some coffee and check in.

Why marathon? Many reasons. I have run several races – I used to have a list. This is a good time as any for a recap of my racing history:

Elementary school mile. They used to make us run a mile every year in the Spring. It was an out and back course across a big rolling grass field. I always came in second to a kid who lived down my block. Like now, I’d run my heart rate way up, go out too fast, and then try to survive until the end.

High school. In track, I was hopeless. I didn’t know anything about training and was never ready the morning of the race. I was middle-of-the-pack in cross-country. Always had too much energy at the end of the race, but couldn’t seem to go any faster.

College. Tried to run cross country but was too slow. One day, we were doing a long run and I said to myself that if I couldn’t keep up with the top 5 guys, I’d quit. I quit. Spent the rest of college playing ultimate and ski racing. Did a triathalon, which was fun.

Backpacking. Fell into hiking the Long Trail of Vermont and started doing longer days (20+ miles/one 33 mile day). Continued with some section hikes on the Appalachian Trail. Wonderful days – get up, hike all day, drink beer with the trail denizens, sleep on a wood plank, get up to do it again.

San Jose Marathon. Still didn't know how to train, and started doing too much mileage. Tweaked my knee. In 1998, decided to follow an actual training schedule, which helped. A few weeks before the race, I had to run a 22 miler – the long run. I ran on the levees between Davis and Sacramento, and put some food and drinks out beforehand. The food and drinks were invaded by ants. There was a fierce hot wind. I got dehydrated. I started walking. It took all day. I figured that I might not be able to finish the race.

The day before the race, got up at dawn, drove down to San Jose from Davis, got my bib number, then drove back to Davis and did a 10-hour shift in the kitchen. Then slept for a few hours and drove back to San Jose. I got out of the car, and the announcer was saying “3 MINUTES UNTIL THE START.” So I tried to get as far forward as possible before the bagpiper started playing.

We all started moving -- the first time I heard the sound of thousands of feet and thousands of lungs all at once. I was invigorated from seeing the really fast runners -- the 2:30 guys. Sped up. Finished in 3:03, which was pretty good. Boston qualifying, in-fact. We were about to leave when I heard my name – I was third-place in the under 25 group. Got a pair of free shoes. Hooked.

Avenue of the Giants Marathon. Ran this in 1999, I think. It was cold. I grabbed a Power Bar, but it was rock hard. Didn't see anyone for the last ten miles, which was an odd way to race. I came in 9th, at about 2:52, I think, and won a ridiculous blown glass object. My girlfriend said it was a mistake by the bong-maker. Oh, and I ran with a tape player (the dark ages).

Pacific Crest Trail. While hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in Southern California, saw a sign for the Leona Divide 50 Mile Run enscribed with all the winners. Also met a guy training for the race. Seemed interesting. Started doing really long backpacking days, including a 50 miler. Figured I could run an ultramarathon.

Smugglers Run 50, 1999. A guy at the restaurant where I was working had run the Western States 100. A 100-mile race seemed crazy. But he was a really mellow guy in his 50’s who worked part time waiting tables and part time as a scuba instructor. I asked him what he ate: “Lots of bananas.” That seemed reasonable. Started training as if for a marathon, but with longer long runs. Did my big run – 35 miles – along the shore of Pyramid Lake in Nevada. Numerous new white vans past me into the desert. The combination of unsettled windy weather, steaming vents in the lake, and the stream of vans was memorable.

I left work in the afternoon (near Lake Tahoe) and drove all the way down to near the Mexican border. Ended up getting to the starting area/campground past midnight. I slept on the ground near the start. The race started off faster than I thought possible, and I kept up with the leaders like a complete idiot. I hit the Mexican border in the top 5 or so. I had no shirt and no sunscreen, no food, and was just running along in 90 degree heat of the Mojave Desert. After 35 miles, I was a disaster – sunburned, stumbling, dehydrated, etc. At an aid station, a volunteer put me in a lawn chair and started feeding me potato wedges dipped in salt. After 15 minutes, I was human again and back out on the course. Ended up coming in 10th.

Silver State Marathon, 2000. Ran it as warm-up for first 100 miler. Catherine ran the half-marathon. It was half dirt-roads/trail and half pavement. I was surprised at the slow pace, and went off the front for awhile. Ended up coming in second to a guy who bluffed me. He ran past me like I was standing still and then sat up. Got a real silver medal – great! I think I ran 2:51.

Angeles Crest 100, 2000. Catherine dropped me off, and they assigned a volunteer to keep track of me through the race because it was my first 100 and I wasn't using pacers. Lots of emotions in the first 50 miles. I kept up with a crowd of people for awhile, really racing. I stopped at an aid station and dropped five places. I was standing there in the desert mountains and realized I had 70 miles to go -- started going easier. A lot of good memories from this race. I was climbing a huge hill during sunset and my heart started racing. I didn't know what to do. Plopped down at the aid station near the top and a guy asked me why I looked bummed. I told him what happened and he laughed and said, “Yeah, you just climbed a huge hill!” It took the edge off.

It’s edifying to go 65 miles, it’s getting dark, and still have 35 miles to go. The trail got rough and my quads gave out -- was running uphill and just gingerly walking down. At the last few aid-stations, I was just ahead of the first-placed woman. People would cheer when I came in, and then stop when they saw it was me and not the woman. At one aid station, they put me in a chair surrounded by cardboard cutouts of Star Trek characters –- good joke. Finally, it was dawn and I arrived in Pasadena. Catherine was waiting and cheering. I didn’t get the 24-hour award, but they had a “Second Sunrise” award if you made it in 25 and a half hours or so. There was a big pancake breakfast for the exhausted runners. One guy passed out right on the ground in front of the pancake trays. The first-aid people came and put big bags of ice on his blistered and bloody feet.

Leona Divide 50, 2001. My best race. I trained a lot while in England over the winter -- also doing a lot of climbing. I felt really good the day of the race, and knew the route (see above). It was Catherine’s first 50 miler, so I was there for her as well. I followed the leaders and came in 5th.

Over the Hill 50K, 2001. It was out in the desert and we camped at the Trona area while they were filming the remake of “Planet of the Apes.” I was sick, but came in 5th. Catherine won a trophy in the 30K for third. Very well-run race.

Hardrock 100, 2001. I had been running all these California races in great weather with a friendly vibe. Came to Silverton and it was raining with these enormous mountains everywhere. A bunch of grumpy hard-man runners. What is this? I was nervous and ran poorly -- bonked after 70 miles and quit. My one DNF. Great memories, though. Climbed to Virginius Pass in a blasting lightning storm, and there was a crew of volunteers checking runners in an out. They were crazy to be up so high (13,100 ft.) in that weather. They pointed to a rope, and then I was speed rappelling down the other side. Lightning all around -- boom!

Leadville 100, 2001. Ran the Leadville later that summer. Catherine’s parents came to support, and so I had a crew -- a big help. Probably my least favorite race. Too many people and too much altitude (entire race over 10,000 ft.). I wanted to run 24 hours and really fought to stay on my pace. Catherine paced me in for the last 20 miles or so and helped keep me going. It's funny what you remember from these things. In the tent afterwards, I saw that the water bottle I had been using was full of mold. No wonder why the water tasted strange.

Western States 100, 2002. Every ultrarunner dreams of running Western States under 24-hours. I did it in 23:35 and got the big silver buckle. This race was one sustained effort to get under 24-hours. The morning of the race, Catherine and I were heading to the start at Squaw Valley and there was a black bear running down the sidewalk. A lot of runners – around 500. There were some beautiful images along the way, but these were overshadowed by the focus on the pace.

The race volunteers were incredibly helpful. For example, I was heading into an aid station and it was nearly 100 degrees. One volunteer radioed to the top that someone was coming, and then when I arrived, I was attacked by three volunteers wielding cool sponges. It felt great, and by the time they were done, some other volunteers had filled my water bottles, and away I went.

Went into the night with hours to spare, but by the big American River crossing I was right on the bubble. I stopped for several cups of potato soup at the boisterous Hash House Harriers aid station. The race kept getting more surreal. The trail was rough, with many little climbs, and I resorted to pulling on trees to keep moving along. At the last aid station they were projecting a movie on an enormous sheet over the river. Then it was one last hill and they said: “One mile to go – you’ve made it with plenty to spare.” Then followed by the best mile of any race. I saw a surprising number of runners on the road in I had seen earlier. It was like a re-cap of the day. I came into the stadium and they read my name. Catherine came to hug me, but some medical researchers grabbed me instead and put me in a chair to measure my pulse rate.

There were a bunch of runners at the finish who run Western States every year. They were still limber and moving around tending to a blister or two. I could hardly stand. In all four 100’s I ran, I saw these men and women who run 100 miles like a weekend 10K. It was always impressive. I’d be out there in the middle of the night and I’d hear someone coming...slowly...steadily. Then he or she, and usually a friendly pacer, would pass right by. They would be chatting about work or retirement savings or something, and drift off into the night like running all night was the most natural thing in the world.

Mount Taylor Quadrathalon, 2003. This one was funny. You road bike, run, ski, and then snowshoe up Mount Taylor (near Grants, New Mexico) and then reverse the process on the way down. We went as part a trip to some National Parks in the Southwest. Catherine and I had some good results in recent memory and I think we expected to do pretty well. I was at the start on my rented bike and figured I’d stay with the front pack and then make a move during the run. The gun went off and all the real cyclists went WHOOOM away up the mountain. We both finished way back in the pack. People really took that race seriously -- special gearing for climbing, special running shoes with elastic to slip on quickly, special skins for skating skis, special small running snowshoes, etc.

Crown King 50, 2002. We went down to run a 50 near Phoenix. It was very cold and started to snow. There were ATV-ers on the course, kicking up dust everywhere. I was slow, but Catherine had a great race.

High Sierra 50K, 2003. Came in second to a local climbing guide. Phil Kiddoo, a good guy, won the 50 miler. There was some confusion as to whether I was first or second. I came into the finish and they said "Congrats! You won!" But I was second. A rep from a gear company came up to me and said "Congrats! You won! We should talk!" I told him I really came in second -- then he walked away to find the guy who won.

Wasatch Crest 100, 2003. Probably both the most beautiful and best supported race I ran. It rained a lot, but just stunning scenery. I remember the post-race more than the race itself. For some reason, they had put our bags of extra clothes out in the rain at the finish, so I had to put on wet clothes and shiver for awhile.

At the awards ceremony, they were celebrating the story of a runner with muscular cancer. He had seen the Wasatch Crest race and decided he would finish someday. His father decided to quit smoking and join in. They finished right at the cutoff hand in hand. I was tearing up from this story, and suddenly an old guy who had stayed out on the course past the cutoff arrived at the finish. He was dirty and tired and had a few cuts from falls, but he had finished. Everyone cheered. On the way home, I slept out in the desert near Green River.

San Juan 50, 2004. Had always wanted to do this one. I was heading up the first hill and a guy asked me how I trained. None! Big joke. It was a stunningly beautiful course up and along the Continental Divide. The weather was perfect. No training equalled very painful legs. My worst finish for a 50 (about 25th), but so much fun.

Beijing Marathon, 2006. I was there, so why not? We started right under the enormous painting of Mao in Tiananmen Square. Imagine doing that even ten or fifteen years ago! The course was lined with policemen. A friend who came out to cheer was nearly arrested. Also some logistics issues. They sent the winning runner the wrong way -- he would have had a course record. The timing system was also inaccurate, although to my benefit as it chopped ten minutes or so off my time. At the time, I wondered how Beijing would be ready for the Olympics, but everything went fine.

Denver Marathon, 2007. Donnie and Peter were both running it, so I did too. I made a halfhearted attempt at training, and managed to pull my calf –- my first actual running injury. It rained the whole time. Finished in 3:10 despite the calf. I checked to see what the Boston cutoff was, and it turned out to be 3:10:59. In a moment of weakness, I registered for Boston. At the time, I figured that it would be the last time I’d ever quality, and it’s sort of a pilgrimage for runners. Now, with a maximum run of maybe six miles since December, perhaps registering wasn't good idea.

Well those were the races. I ran them because they were meditative, because they were fun. The feeling of moving ahead with others. Of limits and transcending limits.

11:00 Chicago

Waves and waves of people flowing through O’Hare. The big American Airlines shutdown appears to be a past news item as there are at least 50 gates here dedicated to American flights heading in and out. I do not like that it is difficult to get away from the CNN monitors throughout the airport. They blare on about the non-story of the Pope visiting the United States.

Met a woman from Iowa heading to run the race Boston Marathon. Lots of other racers at the airport.

7:00 P.M.

Found the Wampatuck State Park. Low cost accomodations: tent. I haven’t been to New England in a long time, and it feels like being in a movie set of New England rather than actual New England. Endless tree-lined streets of old homes, small businesses, private schools. Everything separated by green trees and leaves.

Is seems that everyone in suburban Mass. only goes out for deli sandwiches or pizza. There’s nothing else available. Went into a liquor store/deli and the guy was wearing a bright red Red Sox shirt and addressed me in a thick Boston accent. Of course he did.

4/20/08 12:00

A beautiful sunny morning. Got up and went for a longish run on the endless trails around the park. My longest training run is the day before the race? Not so good.

I drove to Boston, blew straight through, and had to take a special turn-around lane for out-of-towners. Then I got off at an exit and was thrown into the craziest traffic I’d ever seen since 1994, which is the last time I was in Boston. Cars everywhere – chaos. So I pulled into the first parking entrance I saw, which turned out to be the place I needed to go to pick up my bib number.

There were probably 15 times the number of people I’ve seen at one of these race expo things. We all herded through a swank mall towards the expo, and there were literally thousands of people replete in Boston Marathon gear. Not just the free shirt you get for running, but head-to-toe official Boston Marathon stuff. Despite all the people, it was very efficient.


Ran the race. What a fantastic event! It was a huge running party. I simply could not believe the number of people both running and watching. In terms of fans – it was literally solid people for 26 miles. During most of the race, it was more than one person deep, and passing the colleges maybe five or six deep. I think there were a few places where it wasn’t shoulder to shoulder, but close. In terms of runners – it was just huge. When I came around the corner for the last quarter mile, it was as crowded as the start of a big marathon. I ended up running about a 3:20, and there was a sea of hundreds and hundreds of runners putting in what I consider a pretty respectable time.

The race was quite well run. Took the subway to Boston Commons. At the top of the stairs, there was a long line of busses waiting. I hopped on one of the buses and there we went. By 7:00 or so, we were at the starting area, Hopkinton. Problem – the race didn’t start until 10:00, and it was quite cold. Those in the know had blankets and cardboard for camping out under the tents. The only way to get inside was to get into the long line for massages. This got me about an hour and a half inside (hour and half waiting – ten minute massage). Then it was time to eat and head to the line.

At the finish, we were herded through a huge chute where we received a little food and got our finishing medal. It took some time to get my clothes bag back from the bus. Then I was back out on the streets of the Back Bay. I bought a feast at a Wild Oats and went back to the State Park to enjoy the perfect weather.

Today, (Tuesday) the marathon continues. The first flight was full of blue-shirted marathon veterans, and my connection to Denver will still have some finishers.

1 comment:

catherinekleier said...

It's nice to see this resume. I really find it defines a lot of our life pre-Will J. I'll never forget seeing that Black Bear or pacing you at Leadville or hiking up to meet you at a remote aid station on the Solstice (Lake City 50). I still regret not making you rest a bit longer before leaving the Hard Rock.