Since the 2006 Boston Marathon fell during Spring Break this year, I took the along the family for Spring Break. We stayed at the Park Plaza on Arlington, which worked out great as the gear bag retrieval area put you right outside our hotel at the finish. We arrived on Friday in time for running buddy, John Clidas, son John and I to see the traveling production of “Spamalot” at the Colonial Theatre, a gorgeous theater off Boston Common. The show was everything a Monty Python fan could hope for and more. We liked it so much, I made my wife Salome go see it the next night. I also picked up an “I’m not dead yet” button that I put on when I turned on Hereford Street during the marathon.
On Saturday, John Clidas and I did an easy run on Bolyston Street to the finish line and followed the marathon course as far as a 3/4ths of a mile on Commonwealth Avenue. After breakfast, I took the family to the observation deck at the Prudential Center for an overview of the city. We hooked up with my brother, Dave, his wife Dianna, and daughter Katelin for the trip out to the Expo. As expected, the Expo was a madhouse of shopping and excitement of the coming event. I get slightly claustrophobic at this expo due to the sheer number of people. Talk about your running Mecca. You can feel the excitement. Of course, we loaded up on gear. For dinner that night, we went to an unexpectedly nice Irish pub, M.J. O’Conner’s for ribs and salmon. OK, I had a pre-race Guinness.
Sunday morning, I went out for a Boston Globe and to pick up some Easter candy for my younger son, Alex. After a comped breakfast at the hotel, I sent the family off to the Museum of Science. Brother Dave and I went for a tour of the Museum of Fine Arts. Nice Impressionist and Colonial collections. For dinner we went to the official pasta feed. It was a little windy and cool, but the organizers gave out nice Easter candy and we got to see a mini-show from the “Big Apple Circus.” We returned back to our hotel for an early bed time.
Race Day. Awoke Monday morning, slipped into the bathroom to get ready, and was out the door without waking the family. I made my way over to the Weston hotel to have breakfast with running buddy Chris Howard who was running his first marathon as a fund raiser for the Liver Foundation. It was your basic bagels and fruit breakfast, but I met a few nice people and was able to score an inflatable raft to sit on at the Athlete’s Village in Hopkinton. It was nice to ride out to the start in the tour bus with bathroom, which came in handy. At the village, Chris and I bump into John Clidas who immediately disappears into the crowd after exchanges of good wishes. Just because he was in the last corral of Wave 1 and we were in the first corral of Wave 2, you’d have thought he couldn’t get away from us fast enough. John was going to pace with running buddy, Costas Liatsos. Soon thereafter, we locate Dianna who was hanging out in the Wave 2 part of the village while we were in the Wave 1 section. Who knew we were in the wrong place.
Since Chris is a better runner than both John and I, I walked down to the Hopkinton town square to arrange for him out of the charity corral and into my corral so we could pace each other. In the town square I came across Dick and Rick Hoyt, an inspirational father/son team from the Boston area doing their 25th Boston. They were busy greeting the crowds, so I snapped off a cell phone photo and made my way to the help booth. On my way back to the village, I got a call from brother Dave, who had taken the train out from Boston. We located each other and walked back to the village to play the waiting game before the start.
The one criticism I have of the 2 wave start is that there wasn’t much time for the Wave 2 people to get to their corrals. Grove Street leading from the Athlete’s Village to the corrals was a jammed up mess. Chris and I had to go around houses and jump hedges to get to corral 11 in time for the start. Other than that, being in the 1st corral of Wave 2 was kind of cool. I never thought I’d ever be that close to the start line of the Boston Marathon.
At the gun, we took off with the crowd. Chris, knowing my propensity to let the crowd carry me away, held the pace back. I am so well known for going out too fast that I sometimes joking tell people that my name is “Rabito Andropoff.” For the first couple of miles, I high-five the young kids on the right side of the road. Chris keeps drifting slightly back, forcing me to take the pace down to a smarter speed. The cool mid-50s temperatures and the cooling slight wind in our faces made the first few miles feel great. Little did I know I was probably over extending my energy. We hit the 5K mark in 24:11 and the 10K mark in 49:09, all on course for a 3:30 type marathon pace. However, after mile 7, I start to feel my body flag a bit. I tell Chris I’m going to fall back on the pace a bit and for him to soldier on. With an exchange of good wishes, I back off the pace from 8 minute miles to 9 minute miles.
Just before I get to Wellesley, I see a 6'6" guy in outlandishly flamboyant drag doing a faux Wellesley girl imitation. Too funny. I’m not sure what’s funnier: the outfit, or the deep voice. I remember seeing the guy last year and wonder how many years he’s been doing this act. At Wellesley College, I high-five the girls. Their excitement really recharges the batteries. While I don’t stop for kisses, I high-five as many as I can. I hit the half mark in 1:50:15, now averaging 9:15 miles.
I decide I’d better take some short Galloway walk breaks before I get too tired. This seems to work fine until I get to pass mile 16. I’m really feeling tired and just before mile 17, I get a twinge in my right hamstring. Oh, oh! Not my weak spot showing itself so soon. I normally don’t have hamstring issues until very late in my marathons. Here I am just starting the Newton Hills and I’ve got a serious issue. Just up the first hill and BAM, the right ham locks up. I hobble to the side of the road and message out the cramp. From here on in, I will have either my left or right hamstring lock up every mile or so. With each lock-up, I hobble to the side of the road and stretch it out. Each stop adds a couple of minutes to my time. My pace must also slow in order to avoid bringing on more frequent lock-ups. I decide to stop taking my splits.
I start to wonder: maybe my body is just not designed to go 26.2 miles. Perhaps I should stick to the 10K distance. The next thought is: How the heck am I going to get to the finish line. I am miles away with plenty of distance to go. This is the worst experience I’ve ever had in my 14 marathons. It know hits me why Boston is so hard: It’s not the hills from mile 17 to 21 that get you. It’s the rolling 17 miles before you get to the Newton Hills that soften you up like Mohammad Ali has been constantly punching at your hams and quads getting you ready for the knockout punch in Newton. Last year, it was my quads that were a problem. This year, it’s the hams. Choose your poison.
So, I’m wondering what to do. However, on the realization that if I don’t finish, I do not get the medal, I decide to “Keep on Truckin.” It’s funny the difference that little piece of metal can make in motivation. I also notice that many people are starting to walk these hills. I refuse to do this. I will run the hills. So now its run to the top and lock up. Message the leg and hit the next hill. Surprisingly, this seems to work. At mile 19 I happen to glance around my left shoulder and catch the John Kelly statue. By Heartbreak Hill, it’s like “Night of the Living Dead.” It seems like 90% of the runners are walking up Heartbreak Hill. I choose to run. I somehow make it to Boston College. Yes! At least I’ve got the hills behind me.
My troubles, however, are not behind me. Last year the B.C. crowd seemed mostly guys smashed on beer. This year, there seems to be more girls and they are more enthusiastic than drunk. It has more of the Wellesley College feel to it. I start the high-fives again and pick up the pace. Oops! Ham cramp. Just after, Boston College, I meet a woman runner from Nova Scotia who is having quad cramps. We decide to try to run together. However, with each down hill she cramps and with each up hill I cramp. We keep separating and rejoining like some cosmic yoyo.
I finally hit Beacon Street and can see the Citco sign off in the distance. Last year, it was a mirage that I couldn’t get closer to. This year, I have an idea how far away it is. I keep reeling it in. At least its getting bigger. Since Boston College I keep passing and being passed by a guy running in a gorilla suit. I wonder how much sweat he’s got pooled in his feet. He appears quite hot in the suit.
I cramp one last time on Beacon Street looking like a Keystone Cop hoping over to the left side of the road. This causes an old Boston Woman to laugh hysterically. After she stops laughting, she tells me to “Get back out there.” I figure she came out of Fenway Park and has a little chatter left over from the Red Sox game. I dutifully obey.
At the one mile mark, I again find the Nova Scotia runner and I encourage her to run again. Shortly thereafter, we hit the downhill side of the underpass tunnel, she cramps up, and I lose her again. However, I tell my body I refuse to cramp in this last mile. I actually pick up the pace. On the turn on Hereford Street, I remember the button from Spamalot reading: “I’m not dead yet....” and put it on.
I turn onto Bolyston Street. Ah, sweet Bolyston Street. Its like a victory parade. I’m not moving very fast, but the pain and the cramps are a thing of the past. I spot my older son John and yell out to him. He sees me. I turn back to him for a picture and then move forward. About 100 yards on, I see my wife Salome and younger son Alex. She yells my name and the ten people surrounding her repeat my name at the top of their voices. Now, this is sweet. Total strangers cheering you on by name for the fun of it. Salome shoots a picture and I move on for the last few hundred yards to the finish. I cross at 4:14. Nowhere near the pace I was on, but 20 minutes better than last year.
I turn back at after walking about 50 feet past the finish. I want to find the woman from Nova Scotia. We meet, hug, and thank each other for the mutual assistance. I come across Gorilla Man waiting to get my medal. He had come out by train as far as he could and ran the last 10 miles. I tell him I’m amazed he ran 10 miles in a gorilla suit. He tells me he’s amazed at me for running 26.2 miles.
Brother Dave, coming off a leg injury, was pleased to come in at 4:30. He realized he was cutting it close and had to pour it on the last mile. His wife Dianna came in just behind me in 4:18. Newbe, Chris did the amazing and clock a sub 4 hour 1st marathon in 3:55. The ever stalwart John Clidas came in at 3:42. Ironman, Costas Liatsos bested us all with an even 3:30. It figures our Greek runners would be our best finishers. Nike, brothers.
During the race, I was thinking of burning my running shoes or throwing them in the trash. This was the hardest marathon I’ve ever run. It is clearly the hardest course I’ve ever run. Perhaps it is due to being a Floridian and training in the flat lands of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The only hill work we get is a causeway bridge that I’m sure others would laugh at as being hill work. However, we get no pity from New Englanders. Two days later, visiting my aunt at the House of Seven Gables in Salem, Mass., another guide asks me how I did. I tell her I had trouble. “Was you time in the 3:30s?” she asks. “No,” I reply, “my time was 4:14.” “Oh,” she says, “you came in with Curt Schilling’s wife.” OK, I get it. I’m not an athlete. I’m only as good as the wife of a real athlete. Boy, you New Englanders are a tough crowd.
Like many before me, I have yet to figure out this Boston course. I’m sure Chris will tell me to go out slower. I’m also pretty sure I need higher mileage to do this course justice. But, I’ll probably return next year. I previously passed along to John and Chris a quot from Barron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics movement: "The important thing is not to win, but to take part; just as the most important thing about life is not to conquer, but to struggle well."
I think we all struggled well this past Monday.