Boston Marathon recap:
A year after the bombing, blue and yellow are the colors throughout Boston. Boston Strong or on some T-shirts, Boston Stronguh. Daffodils are everywhere - spring hopes eternal. Over 100,000 daffodils were planted along the marathon route and are everywhere in the city. The city is alive with the Red Sox games and the Bruins in town for the playoffs.
The 118th Boston Marathon was a perfect day, blue skies and the temperature in the low 70's (maybe a bit warm). All the participants are shipped out to the small town of Hopkinton where we wait to be called up to the starting line. They send the runners out in 4 waves of 9,000+ runners. The first 3 waves are the runners who qualified in a previous marathon by running a very fast time. The 4th wave of 9,000 are people who received a sponsorship and raise money for a charity. I was in the 4th wave and my charity was One Fund Boston.
It’s spring time in New England. The conditions for this race often change considerably from the time you get to Hopkinton, again when you are called to the start line and certainly during the race. Runners are told that anything they wear to the start will NOT be returned. However, it will be donated to local charities.
They call your wave to start moving from the High School field and into the town of Hopkinton, 26 miles west of Boston. As we start our walk we come upon a massive pile of sweatshirts and sweatpants with volunteers trying to pack these items in bags as runners are making their pile even bigger. The previous year with 25,000 runners, 5 ½ tons of clothing was collected.
Each wave is further divided into 10 corrals, based on your expected finishing time. You begin the mile walk to the start line and find the sign of your corral. You're not standing still long; they keep calling corrals to move forward. It's more of a rolling start and once you get near the starting line, people are lining both sides cheering everyone on.
I got a flavor for the day, a mile into the race, when you pass a motorcycle garage and the folks are all on the curb with a sign, "donuts, beer, cigarettes". There are signs and people along the entire route. Music was common and the 3 most played songs: We are the Champions, Eye of the Tiger and of course, here in Boston, Sweet Caroline, which most of the runners sang each time we heard it.
Having not run beyond 13 miles in something around 30 years, I decided to keep a nice pace of 9:20 per mile and see how I was feeling when I got to the rolling hills at mile 15. I was injured for 3 months with calf issues and only began running again 6 weeks earlier. Gatorade and water stations were every 2 miles. They were staggered the same way each time, first the stations were on the right and once past them you found the same aid stations on the left side. Speaking with knowledgeable veterans others beforehand, I stayed to the plan of walking through each station, drink Gatorade and water at every opportunity.
It was a wonderful, rural route for the first 10 miles. At 10 miles we came into the beautiful town of Natick. The crowds changed from single file to a few deep and it was now louder. The crowds got deeper and thicker from that point forward.
For some reason, the balls of my feet and toes starting feeling hot at 10 miles. At mile 13 we hit the well-known women of Wellesley College. They are packed like sardines against their barrier. Hands extended to slap and signs everywhere saying some version of Kiss Me. I saw an early sign, "Kiss Me, I'm from Delaware". I pointed at her and ran directly to her. I had to prove my roots by telling her my high school – that got me a kiss and a few more and had to pull myself away and get back out on the street and away from their reach. Guys are veering across the road and running straight into the arms of these women. This gauntlet of women is probably 1/4 mile in length and puts a great smile on everyone's faces.
Just past that crazy group was my sister, Bev, and her friends who had all come to town to watch the race. I spoke with them briefly, got a few more kisses and moved on. I was now past 13 miles, my feet were hurting a little but my legs felt pretty good and my pace was easy to keep. At mile 15, I hit the first of the hills that don't end until mile 21. The first one is easy but by now, my thighs feel all the uphill’s and certainly the downhill’s. Somewhere around here, we turned onto Commonwealth Avenue.
After mile 19, in the town of Newton, was a serious hill. I could hear other first-timers asking, "Is this Heartbreak Hill?" The answer was heartbreaking; we have a mile to go before Heartbreak. This hill was tough and my feet were now killing me. They felt swollen inside my shoes. The hill leveled off and soon I'm at the bottom "Heartbreak Hill." This is everything you hear it is, it's steep enough and long enough and in the worst location for runners. People now are walking everywhere. There was a lady cop at the base cheering everyone on, yelling, "This is it, this is what you came for, pain is temporary, pride is forever."
Half way up, running on the balls of my feet, the pain was too much, and I walked the rest of the hill, happily. Again, the crowds are deep, thick and cheering loudly. You get to the top and see the big sign, "You just climbed Heartbreak Hill." Just over the crest of the hill were women holding out sticks with gobs of Vaseline on them. Great idea! Truthfully, every homeowner on the street, spectator, volunteer lining both sides of 26 miles was spectacular.
I was now at mile 21 and rolling into Boston College, and it's Junior student, Beth Barnard. The BC students were lining the sides just like they were at Wellesley College. I was trying to pick Beth out, hoping she wasn't wearing camouflage. Beth and her parents (Cindy and Scott) spotted me around mile 22, they were too far away to stop and meet, we all waved and kept going.
Now it was just the foot pain to struggle through. We soon turned left on Beacon Street and the road is now two lanes wide and the crowds are compressed and the noise is deafening, you feel like you're in a tunnel. My legs feel surprisingly good but my feet are KILLING me. I'm hobbling by this point and my pace slowed terribly. I'm not happy. It's narrow, all of us runners are close together, people are stopping with leg cramps, an occasional emptying of a stomach, and Fenway Park is in front of us. A guy yells to me, "Hey Barry Z, finish strong, Boston Strong." I glance to see if I somehow know him and he holds up his cell phone and says, "Technology."
We get by Fenway and less than a mile to go. The 37,000 that had just watched the 11am Red Sox game had left the stadium and were lining the sides with the already big crowd. We make a sharp right, run a few blocks, and turn left on Boylston Street. The road widens and a quarter mile away is the huge, John Hancock finish sign. I figure, I can make this now and try to return to my normal pace and stop listening to my feet. People are screaming and it's LOUD, bouncing off the tall buildings. I get down the street, hit the finish line and see Lisa in the stands to the right. We are moved along and it hits me that's it over. My time was 4:14:38. Not as fast as I one time had hoped but after a terrible training season I was quite happy. Maybe more importantly, I can pull my shoes off.
John Hancock had a VIP tent adjacent to the finish. A volunteer sees my Hancock shirt and icon on my race bib and tells me to turn right. As I do, I run into Mary Carillo and spoke with her for a short period of time. She lets me know that unfortunately, she was not here to cover my Marathon and instead was covering Team Hoyt for HBO Sports. If you don't know the story, google it, watch it.
Once in the tent, I find a chair and struggle to lower myself to the seat. As I pull my shoes off, I don’t even want to see what mess I have created. I peel the socks off and surprisingly find my feet to look completely normal, no swelling, no blisters, nothing. (I later learn it was probably neuropathy. Having not run that far in training, the nerve endings in my feet were sending complain signals from the repetitive foot strikes)
Originally, I thought it was odd that I was given a room in the Hotel with a handicap bath, tub/shower with multiple grab bars...the following morning I had terrible trouble trying to negotiate the bathroom fixtures. I believe they gave me a perfect room. Thank you for all your support: the texts, emails, calls, and most importantly, for the financial support for One Fund Boston. Thank you John Hancock for making this happen.
The answer to the question? I'd do it again in a heartbeat. -Barry