Tuesday, May 3, 2011

2011 Boston Marathon: More Than A Race

When I look back at my experience at the 2011 Boston Marathon and try to find the words to adequately convey all that transpired I’ve been at a loss. What transpired on April 18th fell well short of expectation yet far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Happiness and bliss, heartbreak and sorrow, pain and peace, a myriad of descriptors ineptly fall from my lips giving no credence to a day that truly deserves more, so in order to give voice to the inexpressible I shall borrow from one whose words are far superior to my own and resonate with the story still to follow:

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places”
Ernest Hemmingway.

Heading into race weekend, as I mentioned in my previous post, my nerves were getting the best of me mentally, but physically I felt good to go. My two runs up by my parent’s house were smooth, relaxed and completely comfortable. Mechanically I felt sound, I was on my home turf, and I had the support of my family and friends that were going to be out on the course. Those two days prior to the race went almost entirely according to plan, which should have been my first clue that something was going to go awry, because in the Sasquatch family nothing ever, and I do mean ever, goes the way we plan for it to. The night before the race my travel companions, Eissa and Elyssa, and I made the trip south into the City and little by little I felt the tight knit confidence I had built up over those couple of days slacken and begin to unravel.

That evening became an unfortunate comedy of errors, where we made a slight miscalculation in the reading of the address for the apartment we were staying at. We were on the right street, only about 400 numbers and a couple of miles away on a night when bars were just starting to empty as Ray Allen drained the Celtics’ game winning three-ball with seconds on the clock, so grabbing a cab was an adventure all its own. Once we finally got ourselves situated, I’d say settled, but I just wasn’t, I simply laid there staring out the window from the couch where I was “sleeping” and just kept fidgeting and fidgeting, freaking myself out that I wouldn’t hear my alarm or I’d go get dressed and realize that I forgot something essential. Those are the things one comes to expect on the night before a big race, but what weighed on my mind the most had nothing to do with logistics or preparedness, it was about disappointment. Not anything physical, but rather a feeling heading into the race, a pressure that I had slowly been piling upon myself all week long and now my chest was feeling the full burden and displacement of that weight on the race still to come.

I wanted nothing more than for Boston to be the culmination of what was an amazing spring season for everyone on Team Sasquatch, a moment where I was no longer a coach but just a runner amongst 26,000 others careening through the streets of Massachusetts. But, in a moment of unequivocal shock and fear I felt as if I was stripped bare beneath a single spotlight on a dark stage with the eyes of the world trained on my every moment. A little dramatic in interpretation? Yes, absolutely, but the fear that was swelling within my chest that I would not be able to put forth an effort worthy of my Team, my family, Maddy’s son Stone, everyone that donated to my fund-raising, and my own pride was so much so that there is no other way I can describe it. I could feel myself buckling beneath the Atlas weight my mind had cultivated and I just continued to stare watching the night sky absorb the last shades of mercury and cobalt in its black velvet cloak.

I was greeted into the new day with the jarring and unbelievably annoying shriek of the air-raid alarm on my new iPhone, which I have learned to love and hate. My morning routine went without incident, but I was still on edge and extremely jittery. I ate, all bathroom issues were resolved, all my gear was accounted for, the only thing that was even remotely in question was whether or not to wear a sleeveless base layer underneath my race shirt, which I spent the day before writing all the names of the contributors to my JDRF fund-raising on. After being outside for a while and feeling the briskness of the wind, which had blown all the flags straight, for the duration of the morning I decided that being a little warmer was a good idea. This was the first mistake of the day.

As the race began I stripped off my throwaway shirt and settled in with the rapacious hoard in wave 1 corral 5 that seemed to consume the entire roadway. Why wasn’t there enough room for people to get into the corral? I have no idea, but it was a mess. The never-ending mass of humanity amoebically swelled and surged forward and as I crossed the start mat I finally began to relax a bit, at least mentally. Unfortunately, and much to my chagrin, I could still feel the tension and stress in my ribs. The first mile few miles were good and slow, which was exactly to plan, and when I hit the 5k mark I had pretty well settled in pace-wise, but it just wasn’t clean and fluid. The tautness in my chest felt like two big hands threading their fingers between my ribs and pressing on my lungs. What was worse was that my legs felt a bit stiff, something I thought would just work itself out over those early miles, but apparently I was mistaken. So, on the one hand my head was a lot clearer, on the other my body had lingering doubts.

Shortly after the 10k mark I was up to speed and was holding a nice steady pace, but I was feeling like crap and now the day was starting to heat up. Somewhere along that stretch I tossed off my nice lined pair of Pearl arm sleeves, which was oh so refreshing, but that was far from the end of my mid-run tear down. A little further along my shorts became a phenomenally useful storage receptacle with my favorite hat being shoved into my crotch and then my wonderful Sugoi gloves jammed in the back. This is significant, because when it finally came time to strip off the nice Falke base layer, which I thought I was going to need for the duration of the race, at mile 8 there wasn’t any storage space left in my newly developed Swiss Army shorts. What soon followed was my runner’s interpretation of a woman taking her bra off without removing her shirt and I’m not gonna lie, the bra trick is far cooler and more fun to witness than watching the missing link trying to maintain a 6:50 mile whilst stripping a fitted base layer from under a singlet. It was an ugly piece of mobile performance art that a few poor souls running behind me enjoyed, highlighted with a guffaw or three. Once I was free from that sleeveless Bastille I felt so much better, but the damage may have already been done.

As we hit the “Tunnel of Love” two things became abundantly clear: #1) the bulge in my shorts was completely unnatural and oddly misshapen, and #2) the rest of the day was going to be a battle. The pressure in my chest was still present (albeit to a lesser degree), my abstinent legs begrudgingly continued to turn over, but I was still getting my nutrition in and holding the pace I wanted, so it couldn’t be that bad, right? Exactly! So I held on, I kept on cranking, but it didn’t last as long as I would have hoped. Around mile 16 I went to continue my nutrition regiment and realized the potential for an occurrence of the Inverse Newton Law – what goes down must come up – was a serious, serious possibility and I decided to pass on any sort of force feeding … another error.

Right after the 30k mark, the fade was on, like a ‘Jersey Shore’ trip to the barber. My legs were asking questions I didn’t have the answers to, my stomach was agitated with the needle buried below ‘E’, and for such a lovely sunny day, the clouds were starting to roll in around my head. Somewhere just past Heartbreak Hill the World began to spin ever so slightly and I knew that if I was going to finish I had to stop and shake that off. Shortly after cresting the hill on the downward slope I tried to hit the reset button and bring everything back together. The walk was brief and it helper clear the cobwebs, but it didn’t last. Within the next mile I had to do it again, and then again, and then the time between each stop became shorter and shorter. As I felt my body begin to knot up from the stop and go I took one final look at my watch and saw that my goal was gone, this was not going to be the day I had so hoped it would be.

I kept moving and the more I thought about the goal I worked towards all winter, no matter the weather, watching it slipping away I felt a little piece of myself break. I listened to the crowd pushing me to carry on, to get my legs turning over again and I did, but as my pace and finishing time continued to slip I took a deep breath, looked about the course, and decided to make something of what time and distance that remained by helping whomever I could. There was nothing for me to prove by forcing the issue, but I could help others who still had their goals in sight. I started talking to everyone around me, encouraging them to push a little longer, to find their feet and fight their way to the finish. My walk breaks became strategically placed in locations where others were walking, fighting off cramps, really anywhere there was an opportunity I could do something for someone else to get them to the finish line.

Then, right after making the final left hand turn onto Boylston Street, bringing the finish line into full focus, I felt my legs under me and was just going to push it out until I saw this guy shouldering a taller fellow along the course. Seeing the smaller Irishman awkwardly carrying the much taller gentleman, who was almost completely out on his feet, I stopped and asked if he wanted a hand. He said that he was OK and that I should push on, but I told him my goal was long gone and that he looked like he could really use the help. I stepped in and took the man’s other arm and we started working our way towards the finish line.

As I leaned in and took the man’s other arm, in broken, vomit laden English, he asked me my name, to which I replied, but when I asked him his I’m pretty sure his synapses decided to take a breather and the Irishman filled in saying his name was “Don”. I have no idea why I can’t remember the name of the Irishman. I really should know, because I talked to him long after the race was over. I digress. We slowly ambled along the race route, Don’s legs just barely bearing any weight, and I called out to the grand stand waving my other arm to get them cheering him in, hoping that that would help wake him up a bit. We hit the finish line mat at 3:16:18, about three feet from a guy who had just proposed to his fiancé, and we hauled Don over to a medic with a wheel chair. The Irishman and I shook hands and congratulated one another as we walked on.

Looking back on all that transpired on the course, completely ignoring my finish time, this may be the best race I have ever run. My time was far from what it should have been and the world did break me, but I am so happy and proud of what I did in that broken place that I think this may have been my best race to date. This one was for Stone and Maddy Hubbard, you guys are amazing, and I hope the effort I put forth is worthy of your names and all of those that appeared on my back.


JoeH said...

Wow. That was an incredible race report. You went for it, gave it your best, but it just wasn't in the cards for you that day. I'm glad you found a way to finish the race with meaning. Stories like these are a real inspiration for the rest of us. We fall short of our goals from time to time, hopefully we can all draw inspiration from each other...

Anne said...

That was beautiful. Love you!

Shelly said...

Very inspirational. Sorry you didn't make your race goal time, but you obviously had a bigger impact that day than you might have imagined at the starting line! Congrats and job well done.

Wanna Be Iron Mommy said...

You are amazing and inspirational!