Friday, April 22, 2005

The Big Day (or Not a Kenyan)

It has been three days now since the big day and I have been remiss in filling in those of you that are actually reading this on the culmination of my road to pain.
I am pleased to say that it was not nearly as painful as I expected. This in part was due to my training, which despite all my worrying was apparently adequate, and to the fact that I took the race extremely slow at the start. If I can offer any advice to those of you out there who may be inspired to participate in a marathon, all I can say is don't get caught up in the hype at the beginning and fly like a bat out of hell. Run a slow steady race, at least at the start. It worked for me, and my time reflects it (4 hrs 28 min). It is readily apparent that no Kenyan blood runs in my veins, but I enjoyed the day which is so important.
The day was a scorcher for April in New England (about 70F). Because the roads around Hopkinton (the start) close early, the Brigham Team shuttled out at 7:30 and reached our host's house near the start a little after 8. (Thirty minutes to get out there, and four and a half hours to get back!) We sat and compared training notes for almost four hours, hoping that our individual training was enough. Four hours of sitting and thinking can work one into a bit of a nervous mess.
About an hour before the race it was gear time. Clothes were changed, body parts vaselined (chafing you know), names written on jerseys and body parts, sunscreen applied, parts stretched, shoes tied, feet taped, and gel pinned to shorts. Soon it was time. The carbo loading and hydrating was over and we trooped to our corrals. These are organized by number and the slower you are the higher your number. Mine was 21115, the Kenyan 00001. You get the idea. We all walked about half a mile to our corral and stood and sweated in the sun until the starting gun which we never heard. Finally we started to shuffle and 26 minutes after the gun was fired I crossed the start. No you can't subtract 26 minutes off my time, it was chip timed so my time is accurate.
The first few minutes were an adrenaline high. I could have run a six minute mile. People lined the rural course and kids and adults alike held out their hands for you to high five them. I slapped hands for 26.2 miles! People called your name (helpfully written on shirt and right bicep) and cheered you on. Fortunately I maintained my cool and kept the pace down. The first half was a breeze. I felt strong the whole way and was thrilled to see my bride at the halfway mark to exchange a sweaty hug. The miles flew by. Wellsley college was a highlight because hundreds of screaming girls cheered you on -- I felt like a rock star.
Reality hit past the half-way mark. I saw my wife once more, and now I was more tired. It was hot and I kept hydrating. People were walking now. Past Newton and on to Commonwealth Ave. I knew what was next: the hills. I focused more now, the cheers helpful but less insistent. I needed to look inward. I crested one hill only to realize that another stood in my way. Finally, Heartbreak Hill. By now, more people were walking than running. I am proud to say that I was not one of them. I put my head down and pushed myself up that damn hill. From there it was just a matter of time endurance. I knew I would make it after Heartbreak Hill. Shortly after, I turned into Cleveland Circle, and started up Beacon for the last 4 miles. Drunken college students remained to cheer us all on but the mile markers seemed to be farther apart now. I would like to file a complaint, because I am pretty sure mile marker 25 was at least two miles from mile 24!
At the start I had abandoned my time goal of 4 or 4:20, but as I reached mile 23 I realized that with a little step in the pace I could finish in under 4:30. Did I have it? I dug deep and in the cheering of the crowds spurred myself past walkers and runners alike. I turned into Boston itself and chugged along Boylston and across the finish at 4:28 and I was thrilled.
This was one of the hardest yet most valuable things I have done. It was not the run itself that was so hard. In fact, at the pace I ran I felt pretty good -- at least better than I expected. It was the training, the hours spent out on the road or in the gym when I just wanted to curl on the couch and drink a beer. I think in some ways it is a metaphor for life. Trite but true. The big day or goal is just a culmination of the greater part that goes before. Life is the training, not the race. The race just reminds you of how important the training is.
If anybody is actually reading this, then thanks for listening to my ramblings. I hope I have inspired you to do something you have always wanted.

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