I finished the 2012 Boston Marathon. That's the good news. After eight years and seventeen marathons, my eighteenth (chai!) marathon fittingly was the Boston Marathon - the race I've wanted to run since I was a kid who got Patriots Day off and wasn't sure why it was a holiday. It was also my tenth different state (CA, ID, OH, GA, VA, MD, PA, NY, RI, and MA) which enters me as a standard member in the 50 State Marathon Club - a goal I hope to finish before I turn 50.
The bad news was the race hit almost 90 degrees and my race plan was useless around the 10K mark when I felt like I was at the 20 mile mark. In the week leading up to the race, I watched the forecast with dread like many of my fellow runners as the predictions kept climbing higher. Naively, I thought I could slow down by 15-20 seconds off my projected time and still bang out at BQ, or at least post a respectable time. I was wrong, but at least I think I learned something with this race.
I traveled up on Saturday morning, receiving a ride to BWI Airport from my friends Max and Eve who were headed to Baltimore to grab brunch (thank you!). A short flight to Green, my folks met me and we headed straight into Boston to stop by the expo where I would pick up my bib and packet. I was brimming with excitement and energy all the way there. After we found parking, my iPhone camera came out for several photos I would take (at the entrance, picking up my bib, along signs in the expo, etc). Picking up my bib was fellow runner and 2010 Wineglass companion, Jennifer Sample, who surprised me with a photo. Later, I ran into my friend and 2011 Pocatello, Idaho, traveling companion, Grace Leonard. The two of us along with my parents wandered through the expo. I resisted many urges to buy everything in sight; my mother was sucked toward the Adidas store where she attempted to buy what she could for my niece. I don't think my folks had ever been to a marathon expo and my Mom was taking advantage of the free samples and handouts while my Dad found a place to sit down. Grace and I chatted and then helped our friend Alex with her bib so she could take advantage of the deferment option since she wasn't going to travel due to the heat predictions.
Once I had enough of the expo, my folks and I grabbed some lunch at the nearby Legal Test Kitchen; it was a bit of a challenge finding something to eat for our last kosher for Passover meal, but we were successful. Then, we headed home to relax, eat some Chinese food to break Passover, and I enjoyed some time with my niece and nephew. Molly looked very cute trying on the shirt I bought her and wearing my visor and jacket.
Sunday, the day before the race, was a low key day. I made a bagel run, watched my Dad play tennis down at the Sharon Tennis Club, and had lunch with my cousin Abby who was in town for a wedding. We watched the Sox play a little ball, and then headed to my Uncle Evan and Auntie Sheila's with my parents and Auntie for the carb-loading pasta meal. My aunt and uncle live in Milford, MA, which is a short drive to the start of the race in Hopkinton. After dinner, Uncle Evan and I watched the Celtics versus Bobcats game on TV and had a very good conversation. He's battling an illness, and he gave me some great advice and inspiration. It dawned on me that compared to what he was going through and how bravely he was handling his situation, having to run 26.2 miles on a hot day wouldn't even compare. He predicted I'd finish but in a slower than expected 3:17 - boy I wish he were right about the time!
I actually had a decent night's sleep which for me is odd since I get a little nervous prior to marathons. I woke early, showered, and was ready to roll around 6:30 when my aunt drove me to the runner's village. It took a bit, but we finally found the drop off point and she was able to exit well before the roads closed. I soaked up the feeling of just being there, proudly strutting in my DC Road Runners Club jacket. I was probably a little overly excited to find a port-o-john that was fresh earning the weirdest picture I took of the day. I remember so many moments as I enjoyed just earning the right to be there and soaking up the experience of being in the runners' village, hanging out in the tent, and chatting with fellow runners. I found Matt Anderson in my club and Grace made her way over as well; the three of us found a spot under the tent to avoid the sun and relax and shut our eyes. I had been trying to find Ben Richter from my club who had my racing shirt, and I caught him just as I was headed toward the corral.
When my corral was called to the race, I headed toward the start, dropped my bag off, chatted it up with fellow runners, and found a port-o-john to release the last second jitters. Again, I tried to soak up everything, the experience of entering the corral, of taking my place among the qualifiers that I had earned, and thanking and fist-bumping the volunteers. It didn't seem like I was there that long as the start came faster than I expected, but soon we were walking and then jogging, then actually running across the starting line - my first Boston Marathon had begun!
I did try to hold back to a 7 minute mile, which was what I had discussed would be fine with my coach. But, neither one of us really understood just how hot it was going to be. In retrospect, I should have gone out at a 7:30/8 minute pace, but it really didn't matter since I wasn't going to set a personal best or finish with a time near what I had hoped. My goal quickly became just to finish and I pulled back a little. It was around then I realized I was having trouble breathing and my legs were feeling slightly heavy. After, I heard other runners also had breathing troubles due to the heat. I had thought it might at first be because I was anxious and nervous. I was also looking at the crowd wondering if I would be able to spot family and friends and hoping they would spot me.
I hit mile 9 not far off a decent pace, which is where I saw Carl Ford of my club. I remember passing a body of water on the right and just held on to a solid pace as I approached the Wellesley campus. You bet I stopped and kissed three girls (on the cheek)! Some had interesting signs like, "Kiss me, I'm a (fill in the blank)." I remember one said runner and others said pre-law or pre-med, and I remember a girl with a sign that simply said "Gay." Shortly after making out with the hot college girls, I heard and spotted my cousin Jessica, Uncle Evan and Auntie Sheila's daughter, who was posted right before the half. I happily stopped to catch a break and some water they had. I said hi to her crew that included her daughter Missy, and we took a few pictures and chatted for a minute before I was ready to resume.
After passing the half, it occurred to me that based on how I was feeling, it was going to take quite an effort of body and mind to make it through the second half. The thought of quitting never seriously entered my mind as it was not an option - not after speaking with my uncle, not after telling everyone I know I was running as I wasn't about to answer them in the days after that I quit, and not with the thought of my Mom, Dad, brother and niece waiting for me near the finish line. This was a mental-gut check, and I do not have a DNF and do not want one!
My plan to finish evolved over the second half of the course. I allowed myself my first walk break at mile 14 as I walked through the water stop then started running.
My strategy was going to be to run three miles and walk through the water stop. The plan was to do this at 14, 17, 20, and finally 23. But, that plan quickly fell apart. I did make it to 17. Then around 18.5 there was a hill I just couldn't climb so I walked it. I ferried on until mile 20 and walked through the water stop and hoped to run two miles then walk through the next water stop, but that turned into one mile and then run what you can and walk until ready again. I was determined to run up and down all of Heartbreak Hill, and I did shuffle along in what is technically considered running. From there, I tried to run through as much shade and water that I could. Grab a cup of Gatorade and a cup of water - drink the Gatorade and dump the water on my back.
I vaguely recall passing Boston College and feeling a bit better as the students were very supportive (and the downhill helped). I remember shuffling along in Brookline, walking as needed and running when I could. I stopped and said hello to Steve Zukoff in my fantasy baseball league. We shared an awful picture - but, I only had another two plus miles to go. I barely remember running passed Fenway, but I do have a picture of me hamming it up for the camera with the Citgo sign in the background. As I hit one mile to go, I knew somewhere my family would be, and I did not want my niece Molly to see me walking. I did manage to run almost all of the last mile (sneaking a break in an underpass where no spectators could see) and then me gearing up for the final finish.
Turning into the last straight-away, I approached the finish line when I heard my name and turned to look on my left where they were. Molly's facial expression was one of shock and excitement - I can only imagine what she thought after being out there for hours and seeing so many people run by her to see her Uncle Kenny as one of the runners. I finished as strongly as I could across the finish line, and quickly put hands on knees just yards after.
The dirty secret they don't mention is once you finish, you still have close to a mile to walk it feels like to get your belongings and meet your family. I hobbled and grabbed my bag and sat by the post for family meet-up with the last letter of the name as "A" and waited for my folks to find me. My friends Jim and Kelly met up, and Jim joined my folks for a beer and lunch at a bar somewhere near the Back Bay stop. I couldn't eat or drink, but I did my best to put something inside me. We then parted after lunch, entered the station, and got on the commuter rail back to Stoughton, MA. And like that, my first Boston Marathon was over.
Every marathon I learn something new. My first marathon taught me I could do it, my second taught me qualifying for Boston was going to be harder than I thought, another taught me that under poor conditions it is wise to back off, Pocatello taught me that all my hard work did pay off, Savannah taught me that I can still improve, and Boston 2012 taught me to be humble. Before the race, the organizers said that due to the heat, we shouldn't view this as a race but as an experience. It was an experience unlike any other.
Of course, immediately after, I began looking forward to next year's Boston Marathon as well as thinking which marathons I can run the rest of 2012. 40 states to go, and hopefully I'll be able to run Boston every year from now until I cannot run anymore.