Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Sweet Caroline

This is me on my way out the door to the bus that would take me to Hopkinton. Look at me. Look at my left knee. I'm so happy. I'm so excited. My left knee is the same shape and size as my right knee. I'm about to run Boston, arguably the most important marathon in the world, with the best athletes in the world, the creme de la creme. I'm about to stand shoulder to shoulder with men and women, where a 3:08 marathon is 4027th best out of 20,000. The 20th percentile. My last marathon, I finished 86th out of 4000, the 2nd percentile. Not to sound all elitist, but man, I was stoked to be around my people.

Let's start from the beginning. Liz, Zane, and myself woke up Sunday morning, packed, and took off for Boston. Three hours later, we showed up at The Omni Parker House Hotel. It's located across the street from King's Church and two blocks from The Commons. We stayed there last year and loved it. Once we were settled into our room, we left and began walking to The Hynes Center to pick up my bib and to see the expo. As we were walking, I noticed that I was sweating. Not because we were doing that hip shake that speed walkers do. I was excited, but not that excited. I was sweating because it was in the mid-70s. Liz was thinking the same thing. Training in sub-30 degree weather and then running in 70 degree weather just isn't something you want to do. The weather gods heard plenty of prayers from me Sunday.

It took a while, but we finally arrived at The Hynes Center (a good 25 minute walk). We picked up my number and then walked around for a bit. Not much, as the narrow aisles just weren't jiving with the stroller. By this time, it's close to 4pm and we hadn't eaten lunch. In my excitement to get to the expo and to get my number, I had neglected Liz's signs of famishment. We quickly stopped at a Japanese restaurant and had sushi, my marathon food of choice. Omega fatty acids, mmmmmmm. Well, I had sushi. Liz had a California roll and teriyaki chicken. We then just went back to the hotel and relaxed and eventually crashed.

We're back to Sunday morning and the very happy picture above. I walked out the door thinking that I was definitely doing a 3:30 marathon. Twenty-two minutes slower than my best, but still acceptable to me based on my whole not running for six weeks due to injury thing. The buses were waiting at the Commons and there were thousands of runners waiting. The volunteers were loading the buses 10 at a time and I still stood in line for an hour. Amazing. Once on the bus, I ate another banana and drank another Gatorade. Big mistake. I didn't realize that Hopkinton was so far away, especially in traffic. By the end of the bus ride, I was cursing out loud and demanding to be let off so I could use the facilities. I was desperate. An hour after my bus left, we arrived and I ran towards the nearest port-a-john. I wasn't to learn until later that on Marathon Monday, any tree will do.

Now, it was only 9:30am. Two and a half hours until the gun. I walked around, checked out the Athlete's Village. The line for massages were too long. The line for the port-a-johns was too long. The line to go in and sit down to listen to whatever bands that were playing was too long. I just decided to relax in the shade until I was scheduled to meet up with some friends that I'd met through the old St. George Marathon forum. I met up with them at 10:30, chatted for a few and was presented with my victory cigar from Tom Slick. I'm not a smoker, but I thought why the hell not, I'll wear this around my neck. It'll help distinguish me from the other runners. Tom and The King of Junk Miles, as Boston veterans, gave me some good advice on the course (1:40 first half and 1:50 second half), which I decided to follow. I mean, we're talking about a guy that ran a 1:27 last year and a 1:32 four weeks ago. 1:40 and 1:50 would be a snap. You may laugh now.

After we parted, I headed down to the starting line. I know you all have read a lot by now and if you're bored, you may leave, but I just want to get down as much as possible, while it is still fresh. I might edit this later and add more detail as it comes to me. At the starting line, I found my corral. It was about 300 yards back. I went in and just tried to relax. Well, I must have relaxed a little too much as I had to go again. I wasn't waiting in line for a port-a-john though, so I just looked around and saw some runners running out of some bushes next to the public library across the street. Good enough for them. Good enough for me. Sorry Hopkinton Public Library.

We're finally to the start. It's ten to noon. The guy who sings at the Patriots and Red Sox games sang the Star Spangled Banner, two F-18s flew over the runners, and then it was game time. The gun went off. Um, I didn't move for a solid minute. Then slowly the pack started moving forward. Two minutes later, I was at the starting line and the race was on. I was really pumped, but I didn't want to kill myself. A marathon is longer than you think and this marathon is a killer with all of those hills. I tried to curb my enthusiasm and succeeded somewhat.

The first 5k was truly incredible. Running through Hopkinton and Ashley, with people shoulder to shoulder, bands out, everyone screaming, AND the downhill was great fun. I felt tight cardiovascularly, which was not surprising due to my inactivity, but my legs felt good. Man, it felt so good just to run for the first time in four weeks. I LOVE THIS SPORT!!! My first 5k was 22:56 (7:24 average mile). I was right where I needed to be to do a 1:40 first half. I was worried though because my lungs and chest were bothering me, but again, I thought I could run through it.

Second 5k. Framingham. Still feeling pretty good. The victory cigar is bouncing all over the place, annoying me a little, so I just tuck it into my bib. Kids are lined up along the side of the road hoping for high 5s from runners. I slap a few hands. The kids would get so excited when they received a high 5. People were everywhere with oranges, wet naps, ice, water, gatorade, etc. The people of New England were out in force to support the runners. It was a sight to behold. I finish my second 10k in 23:48 (7:42 pace). You'll start to notice a trend here. Slowing down. Not much here. Maybe there were some hills. I don't remember.

Third 5k. I'm running next to a dude dressed like a lobster. A LOBSTER. I liked running next to him just because he was dressed like a lobster. The kids loved it. When I run Boston again, I need a cool costume. More on that later. I'm running through Natick. My Garmin shows 8 minute miles happening. Once in a while it says 6:50 miles. I have no idea how fast I'm running. The watch is really beginning to annoy me. Good thing I got it at a steep discount. Around this point, my cigar disappears. One minute it's flopping around my neck. The next, it's gone. The wrapper unwrapped itself. Mysterious. My favorite spectator of the course is in Natick (I think). A guy was in the back of his pick up truck, with a full sound system sitting in the bed belting out Neil Diamond. If you've ever been to Fenway, you know exactly what he was singing. "Oh, sweet Caroline (holds the microphone out and all the runners - "Oh Oh Oh"),Good times never seem so good." I smile just thinking about it.

Natick is nice, except for that kid telling me that the Wellesley girls were just around the corner. Four miles later and I still don't see the Wellesley girls. I'm wondering if all the hype is just hype. 24:36 - 7:54 pace.

Fourth 5k, the 1/2-way mark, and fifth 5k. It wasn't just hype. I run into Wellesley after cresting a hill and the noise is deafening. I mean, my ears were ringing. A mile of women screaming as loud they could. My calfs tingled, whatever that means. I must have seen 100 girls holding up signs asking to be kissed. I must have seen 50 guys run over and get kisses. I was not one of them. Liz told me afterward that she would have if she were me. I'll tuck that one under a pillow for later. I'm still feeling decent. I think I can do 7:50/8 minute miles. My fourth 5k was done in 26:11-8:30 pace and my half total time was 1:43:08-7:52 pace. I still thought that a 3:30 was in the works. 1:47 second half, no problem.

Then the wheels fell off. When I say they fell off, I mean that I didn't think I was going to finish. After Wellesley, I headed up a hill. About a 1/4 way up, disaster. My left knee, yes, my left knee, not my right knee or either hamstring, completely buckled under the intense pain. It's pain I've felt before, except magnified. My left ITB had decided to act up. It was a sharp, stabbing pain. I cried out and almost fell down. I skipped on my right leg for a few steps and then tried to keep running. I couldn't. I slowed down. I still couldn't. The pain was too much. I had to walk. The one thing that I swore never to do was to walk. I'm not trying to offend anyone here, but I just don't think that people should walk during a marathon. Did Phidippides walk? No, he ran until he delivered his message and then died. I've always had an elitist attitude towards those that walked. Gallo walkers, don't get me started. Last spring when my brother suffered a similar injury during the Flying Pig marathon, he didn't walk. He slowed down, but he didn't walk. I always thought that that was the epitome of toughness. Marathoning is about battling, not strolling.

I have been humbled. I have changed my mind. Battling through whatever challenges a person faces, just to finish, no matter how you finish, is now the name of the game. I have a new found respect for all that finish. I apologize.

I am now at the beginning of the hardest part of the course, the Newton Hills, which culminate at Heartbreak Hill. Bad time for a serious injury. To top it off, it's getting very very warm. I'm taking two cups of water at every aid station. One for replenishment, one for my head and neck. I resolve to finish and if I can to finish in under four hours. Fifth 5k in 28:19 - 9:08.

Sixth and seventh 5ks. I'm dying. Huge hills. The long hill between miles 17 and 18 is brutal. It never ends. I feel like I'm still on that hill. I wonder what I was thinking about ever doing a sub-3 on this course. There's no way. I'm running for five minutes, then walking for a minute. My knee feels like it's going to explode. I don't even know if I can finish. It's at this point, after being thoroughly humbled that I do something that I haven't done in a while. I say a little prayer and ask for help for myself. Just to get through the pain. Just to finish. I'm not saying that a miracle happened and all of the sudden I was my old self and was pain free. I was still in pain. I was still suffering. I still had to walk once in a while. However, the stabbing pain. The I see spots pain. It didn't happen again. For that I am thankful.

At the top of Heartbreak Hill, a hill that isn't as long as that other hill that I've given a name to, but won't reveal. This is a family site after all. At the top of HH, I was relieved because the uphill was over, but still had no idea how I was going to finish another 5.7 miles. It was frustrating. I run 5.7 miles to warmup usually and here I was wondering how I was going to get through it. Let me tell you. It was the crowds. If I had thought that Wellesley was impressive, Boston College was even more so. Three times as many people as Wellesley for twice the distance. A friend of mine is a BC alum. He told me that Wellelsey was overrated and the true fans were at BC. I believe him. It's at this point that Liz calls. She tells me I'm doing great and where she's at. It's a real pick me up. I want to puke. Sixth 5k - 32:27 - 10:28 pace; Seventh 5k - 34:56 - 11:15 pace.

Four miles to go. It's hot. It's dusty. I don't know if I can break four hours. The King is running next to me. Not the King of Junk Miles. The King. Dude in a foot tall crown and a red mantle. No shirt. People loved him. When people started to cheer him on, he'd lift his hand just like a king would waving to his people, similar to the beauty pageant wave. I ran with him for a while until I had to walk again. It was good to run with The King.

I'm on Beacon. I've passed the 40k mark. I have about 1.5 miles left and about 17 minutes to do it in. I don't walk again. The entire city is out to cheer all of us on. I hear someone in the crowd say that this group of runners is where the normal people are and he meant it in a complimentary way. I've been way too elitist. I know it. I turn onto Boylston and I see the finish line. It appears so close. I'm going to make it under four hours and I do. 3:58:36 - 9:06 pace. I've never run slower. I've never been so elated. What an experience.


Lisa M said...

Way to go Mike! You did it! We tracked your race throughout the day and the last two (5K's) I prayed...I was worried you were injured. I am so glad you were able to finish and it's a wonderful finish time indeed! Can't believe you still ran on that injured knee! Great story...print it out and keep it for Zane to read for inspiration. I am sure he will run the Boston with you someday in the future! How cool would that be? Congrats!
Lisa and The Fam

Anonymous said...

Sonny!!!! Great Job!! Even though I was in Knoxvill, TN...I prayed for you....and your legs....definitely an inspiration to the entire fam....I know you will always remember all the emotions and experiences of Boston...the goood, the bad and the ugly....by the way, the 5am running..growing up experience...was hopefully to make you and your brother's and sisters better people....and apparently, it Work!!:))))).....Love Daddooo!