Thursday, April 19, 2012

The 116th Boston Marathon

Well then.
Where do I begin?

I felt a lot of things during this year's Boston Marathon. I felt pain (a LOT of pain). I felt fear. I felt disappointment. I felt joy, giddiness, happiness. I felt optimism and pessimism, self-loathing and self-affirmation. But the one emotion that I think I'll remember when I look back on April 16, 2012 is this: I felt love.

Never in my life have I ever experienced a crowd that made me feel more like a rockstar. Never have I had so many people on the course, on facebook, on twitter, on dailymile cheering me on and making me feel like I had done something to be proud of. And never have I been more aware of the fact that runners are my people. Those brave and crazy souls who made the journey from Hopkinton - they are like me. From a simple "are you OK?" from a woman who saw me walking to rub out a side cramp early in the race to the collective hoots of joy when the sun went behind the one minuscule cloud in the sky, just for an instant, the sense of camaraderie and of love for our sport was on pure display on Monday.  And long after I've forgotten the time I ran in the race (and trust me, it was as forgettable as they come), I will remember that.

SO - onward to my marathon report. I was awake before my alarm. I lay in bed in the dark contemplating, mostly with disbelief, the fact that I was running a marathon today.  This whole "not really training" thing left me far outside of my comfort zone, but damn it, I was doing the thing, and here it was. So I got up and drank a shooter of iced coffee, got my crap together and I left. It's weird standing at the train station where you leave to go to class every single day with the knowledge that today holds much greater possibilities. What I remember from the last time I ran Boston, and which I still loved this time around, was the train ride downtown. There were a few runners with their telltale orange bags on my train, each engrossed in thought or their ipods or a bottle of water, along with a surprisingly large number of regular people headed off to their jobs or whatever the day would bring. And the train was absolutely silent, yet full of the electric tingle of nervous energy. There's really nothing like it.

I made it to the Common around 6:30 and serendipitously (not a word, whatevs) was able to meet up with my friend Jen before things got too insane, and we got on a bus pretty quickly. As usual the bus ride out to Hopkinton was long and nervewracking, with each passing minute a reminder of "oh right, I have to RUN BACK". I found that playing Draw Something and checking facebook 400 times was an effective use of time. As I was randomly perusing blogs, the entry on "1000 Awesome Things" caught my eye:
#4 - Today: Today’s the greatest day you’ve ever lived. Today’s the only day you’ve ever lived. The past is gone, the future is far, nothing else matters, except where you are. AWESOME!
That was the perfect way to get me the mindset for the race - be where you are, don't worry about the past or the future, enjoy today. This moment. This opportunity. This experience.We got off the bus and it was already painfully clear that it was going to be HOT. People were already in tank tops and shorts as we walked from the bus to the athlete's village, not a good sign considering last time I was here everyone was bundled up. In

We arrived in the village and staked out our spot...and waited while the temps continued to rise. I took care of the usual pre-marathon needs, went to say hi to DailyMile friends Maddy and Norman, and just generally tried to walk off my nerves. After an epic texting struggle, I finally tracked down Joy, who had found a red sports bra for me the night before. After that there wasn't much time left. We made final outfit preparations, debated how many Gu Chomps to eat, and generally bounced around nervously.
GBTC ladies! Please note my incredible homemade GBTC bra. This did not survive long into the race.
Soon enough it was time to make our way down that long, long road to the start corrals. The walk seemed even longer this year, but it was less terrifying because I wasn't taking it alone. I tried to take a Gu, which was already hot and managed to trigger my gag reflex - not exactly a great beginning. As we walked past ascending numbered corrals, I lost my friends one by one...until I was being directed into corral 1 of the second wave. And all I could think was "holy shit, I'm here. How did I get here?" And then I started tearing up again, because, well, that's what I do at the beginning of marathons. In between this emotional storm I looked at the countdown clock and realized that we would be starting in about 20 seconds...well, there's no turning back now....and gunshot.

And then I was running. Running, may I add, like an IDIOT. For all of the times I told myself "go out slow", I got totally caught up in the giddiness of the moment. It was the exact opposite of the last time I ran Boston when I was like an angry gorilla on a rampage trying to get people out of my way. This time it was like "wheeee!! Downhill! I'm running a marathon! This isn't so bad! Hooray!" 7:48 was my first mile. No, I could not possibly be stupider. Whatever. The next couple of miles were in the high 7s/low 8s and I started feeling nauseous. And fearful. I was no longer smiling and I was suddenly terrified. Then I came to a shocking realization: it's 85 degrees out, SLOW DOWN. ENJOY THIS. And so that's what I tried to do.

The bad times kicked in pretty early. Within 5 or 6 miles I was legitimately concerned about my chances of finishing the race. The heat was utterly miserable. The one saving grace of everything was the crowd - holy crap, I've never experienced anything like it. I wrote my name on my stomach this year because I remembered wishing that I had last time, and man am I glad I did. Having people at every turn screaming your name, telling you you look great and to keep going - I never thought I could feed off the spectator support so much, but in a situation like Monday it became absolutely essential.

By 7 my pace was already dipping into the high 9s as I had started walking through water stops. I probably would have started this later, but there really was no point in trying to run through them since there was a traffic jam at pretty much every stop and you basically had to slow down/stop if you wanted a cup.  Over the previous few miles, I had been falling victim to the negative thinking that I knew would sneak up on me in this race - you're undertrained, your time is going to be shit, this is embarrassing, why are you even doing this? But around 7 or 8 I hit a turning point where I realized - yeah, my time is going to be shit. But you know what? WHO CARES. These people cheering for you don't care. Your friends don't care. And these people are all making you feel like a freaking rockstar - so enjoy it, damn it! And after that, I spent a lot more of my time smiling.  I yelled "On Wisconsin" at anyone I saw wearing Badger gear (there were several). I had a temporary Bucky tattoo on my back, which I got SO many comments on from fellow runners during the race, including one couple who started singing 'Varsity'. (I sang along. I almost cried. You guys don't even know.) I thanked volunteers. I told people that they were going to make it. I was happy.

The problem was, as determined as I was to have fun, running was becoming more and more of a struggle. The sun was just unrelenting...every time I would drench myself with water, it would be dry and I would be hot again 5 minutes later. Again, the spectators with their endless supply of spray bottles, cold sponges, sprinklers, water cups, etc were absolute saviors. I tried to take as many things from little kids as possible because it was clear that they absolutely were in awe of everyone out there (how freaking cool! Can you imagine, being a little kid handing out oranges and NOT wanting to grow up to run Boston someday?)

15K. LOOK HOW MUCH FUN I'M HAVING (in real life, I had slowed down a lot right before this, but then remembered this photo op from 2010 and made myself speed up and look cheerful. Bad news when you need to make yourself look happy at mile 9...) 
After 8 or 9, I actually hit a groove for a little while. I had gotten into a good system of taking advantage of every mister/water/whatever that I saw, which was keeping me wet and at a generally OK level of heat, and for a few miles I just kind of jammed along, enjoying the crowd and ignoring how many people were passing  me. We hit the gentle downhill towards Wellesley and there was actually some shade for awhile, which was glorious, and I was in pretty good spirits when I hit the scream tunnel (and actually a little surprised at how quickly the first half had seemed to go by).  The "KISS ME" gauntlet was as incredible as I remembered, it seemed to go on FOREVER. I actually had made up my mind that if there were any men in the line I would go in for a kiss (why not, right?) but alas, I didn't see any. Bolstered by the screams, I forged ahead, feeling I was ready for the second half.  And then...bad things started happening.

As I came up the slight incline that comes after Wellesley college, my left knee tightened up. It hurt, and I was confused. Knee pain...what is this? I guess it's a testament to how limited my brain function was at that point that I didn't even recognize the problem for the brewing IT band disaster that it was until a couple of miles down the road. At the time I took a quick walk break and then started up running again, hoping that something just needed to be knocked back into place, but the pain persisted. I would be doing a significant amount of walking for the remainder of the race as a result.

The epic Wellesley downhill was AMAZING - it was somewhat shaded, seemed to go on forever, and I just let myself go. I had stopped taking splits at the half when I became aware that things were probably about to go downhill pretty quickly, and I had no interest in seeing 13 minute miles start popping up on my screen.  I remember absolutely loving the area by Newton-Wellesley - the crowds were going crazy, there was music blasting from somewhere, and I think that's the point in the race (mile 16) when everyone starts to think about the fact that they might actually make it. Shortly after that was the glorious moment when the sun went behind this teeny cloud for literally 5 seconds - and you could hear every single runner on the course either sigh or yelp with joy. We made our way towards the firehouse and finally made the turn towards the Newton hills...which is when things went from bad to worse.

I became aware of a few things as I struggled up the first hill, which I have affectionately dubbed "Ass Panther Hill " (don't ask why.) First of all, every time I tried to start running, my knee would buckle in pain. Obviously - bad. Secondly, I was starting to get chills (yes it's hot out, no that's not good) and a sort of tunnel vision type phenomenon that was legitimately freaking me out. But the most distressing thing was the fact that I was honestly a bit disoriented. I run in the Newton hills at least once a week, it's my home turf and I know it well. So when I looked around and felt confused as to exactly where we were in the hills, and everything looked unfamiliar, I was extremely, extremely concerned. I did NOT want to pass out. Or end up in the hospital. Or give myself a long-term injury, for that matter. So I made the executive decision that there was going to be a significant amount of walking from here on out. I was frustrated with my body for failing me, but the voice in the back of my head kept whispering that I wasn't giving up, I was being smart. And so I continued on, albeit at a slower pace. I ran the downhills, since my knee was cooperating with them significantly better than on the uphills, tried to get some more fluids into myself, and continued my neverending quest for sprinklers and ice pops.

The rest of the Newton hills basically sucked. I was in pain, hot, afraid that I was about to succumb to heat sickness, and embarassed about the amount of walking I was being forced to do. But there were moments when things were OK. For example - in the midst of several people holding cups of water, there was a woman holding a grape popsicle. Literally, the only thing I wanted in life at that moment was that popsicle. She offered me this popsicle, to which I responded "OH GOD YES" (I wish I was joking. I am not.) and I got a good laugh from that. I trotted along, biting my popsicle. It was cold, and I was happy. I'm pretty sure I actually revert to being 5 years old during marathons. I do remember seeing my favorite sign on the hill, which said "If you can't run, walk. If you can't walk, crawl. Just keep going." (Of course, I also filled in the blank with the Firefly quote of "If you can't crawl, there'll be someone to carry you"...which actually became even more fitting later in the race)

I hit Heartbreak after what had felt like an extended walk break (in reality, it was probably like 2 minutes) and said aloud to myself "come on, you have to fucking try". So I started trying to run up Heartbreak. 30 seconds later, the pain in my knee was unbearable...well, at least I tried. The only consolation was that the big BC downhill was coming up...and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to run down THAT.  So as soon as I crested the hill I let gravity pull me along - and holy crap, BC was incredible. I don't know if I wasn't paying attention, didn't care, or if it was because I didn't have my name on me in 2010, but these drunk kids made me feel like I was some sort of celebrity. Absolutely screaming their faces off, offering high fives - it was spectacular. I just ran down that high five line grinning.  Also at that point one of the armed forces groups that was marching the route IN UNIFORM came by, and that was incredible because the entire crowd just started chanting "USA, USA, USA" in unison. Awesome.

Of course by now I knew any hope of a respectable time was out the window, and I was starting to feel truly awful. I took a quarter of a nuun in my water at the 22 mile water stop - couldn't decide if I was getting a little hyponaetremic (I had been drinking a LOT) or dehydrated. Not sure if it was a placebo or what, but it seemed to improve my outlook on everything except my knee situation. Since I still couldn't run for more than about a minute, I started off on a 1 min run/1 min walk plan that worked out pretty well for the rest of the "race". All I could think about coming into Cleveland Circle was "In like 5 minutes you get to see your friends!!! And when you see them you can't look like you're dying!" So as I came down the hill into Washington Square, I did my best to look like I wasn't ready to lie down and die in the road, which I was. So I was running when I saw them, even though I was also yelling "sorry it took so long!"

Oh my God. I have the best friends ever. First of all, they were all standing there screaming and waving all of these signs which I couldn't even comprehend at the time. But then, not only did they have freeze pops for me (4 of them, amazing) BUT THEY HAD ICE COLD DIET COKE. If an angel could have flown down from heaven and offered me one wish at that point in the race, it probably would have been Diet Coke. It was like delicious nectar of the gods and at that moment, I knew I was going to finish.

The last 2 miles, I just tried to have fun. My run-walk strategy was surprisingly allowing me to pass people who were dying more than me at this point in the race (I'm assuming since it was my knee, not the heat, that turned out to be the limiting reagent - when I WAS running I was running hard). The crowd was just ridiculous, and I found myself hamming it up for random people who were screaming my name (hey guy who called me sexy and told me I would make it, but then didn't get to high five me because I was already past - sorry about that! Glad you were a fan of the sports bra :P) Almost the next thing I knew, I was headed into Kenmore and the cheering was taken up by another 100%. Horns. Cowbells, Vuzuvelas. Absolute screaming, banging, insane, awesome. Coming through the part of Comm right before the underpass, I encountered a group of girls from my PT program who went absolutely INSANE when they saw me, which of course triggered me to start running just a little faster. I was almost done, and these people thought I was awesome no matter what, and I was HERE - I was going to finish the infernal Boston 2012. Only 21,606 people in the entire WORLD can say that, and I was one of them.

As we made the turn onto Hereford, my knee gave out again. Fuck. The frustration crept in again; I couldn't believe I was being forced to a walk this close to the finish line. And then something happened that I will probably remember for the rest of my life.

This gray-haired woman with glasses in a pink tank top came up on my right side. She looked at me, she took my hand, and she said "come on. You can do this." And she pulled me into a run. And I knew I would not stop running until I crossed the finish line. This was one of those things that, I don't know, you never expect would happen in real life. It seems like it's out of an inspirational movie or something. And since I'm the most stubborn, fiercely independent person you can imagine, it seems appropriate that this would happen to me. Because sometimes, you NEED someone to pull you along and tell you not to give up.  And that it doesn't matter if your time is crap or if things didn't go as long as you finish.
This is probably my favorite picture from the race - headed down Boyleston, eyes on the finish line. You can see my fairy godmother behind me in the pink - I wish I knew who she was. I hope I can do for someone what she did for me one day.
The finish line seemed like it was an eternity away, and all I could think with each step was IwanttostopIwanttostopIwanttostop. So when I finally crossed the line and I COULD stop, and it was OK...all I could do was breathe a sigh of relief. I had made it. I was still here. And though my 4:32:15 might say otherwise, I was a freaking runner who had just finished my 4th marathon. There was no taking that away.

The volunteers continued to be INCREDIBLE as I slowly made my way through the exit chute. The guy who gave me my water bottle was particularly great, yelling "Hey Audrey! You are awesome. You just finished the Boston Marathon!". I can't imagine that standing out in the heat watching people suffer was that much more fun than being the suffer-ee, so the enthusiasm was seriously appreciated. I gradually found my way out of the chute and made my way to the T while calling my mom to let her know I was alive (and I did NOT almost need to vomit in a planter this year! Epic success!!) I snagged a seat on the T and made my way back to my cheering crew, where I was legitimately treated like royalty. A random man who was spectating offered me a chair. My friends ran to the 7-11 to obtain me more popsicles and Diet Coke. And I sat there in my borrowed chair with my chafed feet and my dead legs, watching the runners who were still going by. And time be damned, I was happy.

Andrew helping me home post race. He gave me his shoes so I could take off my bloody/wet ones
I can't wait to put together a legitimate training cycle and RACE a marathon again. I'm antsy to start attacking PRs after almost 2 years of worthless training. But this time, just for a moment, it was enough just to know that running makes me happy, and that I am absolutely blessed to be able to experience that happiness that few others ever can, with the most wonderful friends and family behind my every step. When it comes down to it, that is enough.

No worries, Boston. I'll be back. Third time's the charm, right? ;)


Tough Mudder said...

Great job well done, Congratulations ! Looking forward always for more updates.Nice pics, awesome experiences you had in the marathon. Keep it up !

RW said...

crying sitting here reading your report. i was in washington square screaming my head off for hours, glad to know that it made the brutal day better for you and all the other courageous runners! congrats!!

Robin said...

i. loved. reading this!!! wow. you've been through a LOT, and given how ridiculous boston was this year even for people who had everything going 100% right going into it, it sounds like everything you did was smart and - most importantly - you had a blast. i love your attitude. congratulations on #4! :)