Monday, October 28, 2013

Spectating is Not A Sissy Sport

True confession time.  As a runner, I've sometimes gotten frustrated with my posse (otherwise known as my husband and son) because they may have missed seeing me during a race.

During this past year's NYC Half marathon, I even scolded them (yes, during the race!) for not having a camera out and then took about two minutes of race time to wait until my husband fumbled around for the camera to get a pic. Well, come on.  It WAS Times Square after all and traffic was stopped for me (OK...and several thousand others) to have "the moment" of running in the Big Apple.  Ironically, my husband didn't capture the picture anyway so I have no photographic memories of that event.

And, truly, I didn't "get" the challenge of watching a race until I joined Spectator Village at the Marine Corps Marathon yesterday.  Several years ago my friend Eileen told me to do the MCM 10K because you could experience the event and then get back in time to watch the elite finishers, etc.  (Regular readers of this blog might remember Eileen as the one who died from cancer earlier this year. I hear her voice often and still follow her advice, so I found myself in DC yesterday. I ran the 10K and had a list of about ten other runners to track, mostly friends from a local running club.)

After running the 10K, I had ample time to walk what seemed like several miles to get my medal and pick up my bag from the UPS men who kindly kept it safe in Truck 42.  I must have won the prize for the most stuffed bag because I brought all that I thought I might need for an afternoon of spectating.

So, I gathered my stuff, switched around some clothing, hit the Portajohns (with NO lines!) and meandered back to as close to the finish line as possible.  Foolishly, I thought that--having participated in the 10K, the young Marines would treat me like royalty and allow me back into the finish area for runners.  Um, no. They directed me to stands and a viewing area a short distance away from the finish line.  Unfortunately, peons like me could only get so close because a VIP area surrounded the immediate area at the finish line.  (Side note: I have not been to MCM before, but I wonder if that is a reaction to the Boston marathon bombings. I assume the highly visible police officers carrying large weapons also reflected the changes to marathon races. MCM publicly announced changes in reaction to that event in other policies that affected bag checks and what runners could carry on the course.)

View of bottom of hill before last .2k
I grabbed a very cold steel seat on the bleachers for a bit until the elites came in.  Wow! Talk about a finish.  Not only did the elites have police escorts; the winner also had a helicopter flyover.  (If a helicopter ever flies above me in a race, have no doubt it's because of an escaped felon in the area--not because of me!)

Shortly before the winner arrived, the media truck came into view. The Philadelphia Duck (land and sea vehicle) dropped off the reporters and camera people at the bottom on the last hill so they had to sprint (with their equipment and probably no training) the last .2 miles of the course to beat the first finisher.  And, speaking from experience, it's not an easy hill. Nor, I assume, is it a piece of cake to race an elite marathoner!

The media race
Once the elites finished, I wandered down to the fence to watch my friends finish.  Because of timing apps, I received frequent updates on their projected finish times. Again, foolishly, I thought getting to the fence about 45 minutes before the first of my friends came in would give me enough time to jockey right up to a great camera point.  Those who were three and four deep in front of me had different ideas.....

Luckily, I persevered and got to the fence before the first two were expected. But hold on now....everyone was leaning over the fence and I couldn't even see down the stretch.  Plus, there were too many runners to be able to focus down the hill to get a heads up on who was close.

The great pic of my friends' backs
I did get a photo of the first two---their the corner of the photo.  Then, it was time to try to Kodachrome the others.  I had about 15-30 minutes of projected time between most of the others I knew. But, it became crazy trying to track times and do the crazy trunk and head twist maneuvers to get a photo.  Plus, some of the runners I didn't know too well and had to message my club (who responded quickly) to get me bib numbers and photos of what the others wore.

Yet, I still missed some of them.

Last week, I had seen two funny signs on Facebook and chuckled at them, but now know them to be true. The first is this.

A good race spectator has to be quite focused on his or her target and must stay vigilant until the runner passes by.  After the race, I overheard a man say, "My wife and kids missed me THREE TIMES in this race. They were at places where it should have been easy to see me, but they didn't.  One time it was because they were cold and went to get hot chocolate.  She even showed me the receipt to prove it."

I get both sides of that one.  I thought I had enough food but for some reason must have missed putting my protein bars in my gargantuan bag.  A few times I thought about asking the others smooshed in beside me if they had any random picnic items to share, but decided to suck it up.   I also knew if I left a) I would never get my spot back and b) miss one or more of the runners I wanted to see.

And I am in solidarity with this woman:

Yes, I ran the 10K (and even managed to PR), but I am stiff and sore today.  Methinks it's more because of the spectating than the running!

But, with all the trials and tribulations comes the benefit of seeing the nearly 30,000 people finish the race. Each and every one of them had a story to tell.

Because it was the Marine Corps marathon, many of the runners had tribute signs for a service member who had died in combat.  There were numerous hand crank wheelchairs whose mostly young drivers had lost one or both legs. Other wounded warriors ran with prosthetic running limbs.  Still others carried American flags and shouted, "USA" and "America" as they went by.  Although most of the runners reported high noise level, I can tell you that doubled when one of these folks passed by.

Then, there were those carrying more than just the burden of their grief or injury.  There were a good number of service members who carried rucksacks that had 30 plus pounds or more in them.  Or, the people who ran with full-sized flags or other mementos.  Folks, it's tough enough to run 26.2 miles much less add to that by carrying an oversized object.  My spectator aches and pains could never compare.

I also cheered every time a "Team Hoyt" or similar team ran by pushing someone in a specially made wheelchair.  One of the boys being pushed pumped his arms and smiled so broadly, it made the crowd cheer even harder.

Two runners were tethered to another runner in the middle who had "blind runner" on the back of his shirt.

Then, there was the "regular folk" some dressed in costume, many with their names taped onto their shirts and others who ran for charity to raise funds.  One man was dressed as a Redskins player and juggled three footballs as he went along. They came in all ages and sizes.  Lots of the runners carried cameras and captured the crowd at the finish line to remember their victory over the 26.2 miles.

Some had so much energy they jumped and waved their arms to encourage the crowd to cheer louder. Others showed the signs of wear, including a woman who almost collapsed at the first timing mat until she was helped by two medics to cross the second mat.  Another gentleman tripped and was assisted by three other runners to get up. One of those runners stayed with the man until they both crossed the line together. (As I indicated in an earlier blog article, runners tend to show many kindnesses and support to other runners.)

I have vivid pictures of many of the finishers in my mind.  And, I could empathize with whatever they were feeling at the moment.  It was quite emotional to see the faces and hear the support from the crowd.  And, I now know that spectators have a tough job too on race day.  But, in the end, it's worth it on both sides of the fence.

So, tell me--what is your favorite spectator story--as the spectator or the runner?

Catch you later at the back of the pack.  (Or, maybe even in the spectator gallery!)

Monday, October 21, 2013

On Death and Dying....and Running

Wow.  It happened again.  I just heard the news that a runner died during a local half marathon.

Not long ago, another man died in a local triathlon.  And, for a few moments, my running group panicked because the man who died shared the same name and was close in age with one of our running buddies.  While relieved it wasn't him, we still shared in the sadness it happened to the other gentleman.

In my first marathon, two runners died.  One was a young college student and the other was a middle-aged competitive triathlete. Both were trained runners and in seemingly good shape.

As I write this blog, I happened to read another Facebook post about a young local "ultra" trail female runner who fell sick during a 5K and died of a massive heart attack.

As a runner, it's sobering to think that you might suddenly pass away participating in the sport you love (or love to hate.)   Anytime a death occurs in the running community, it hits us hard.  Because we know..."there but the grace of God, go I."

I'm not suggesting that the majority of us think it could happen to us, but it seems like the deaths we hear of are people just like us.  They are the same age, in the same condition with the same racing experiences as any of the rest of us.  They are people we met through running and forged bonds over the many miles--the tough ones and the ones that made us raise our arms in victory.

I can only imagine these people who died--like most of the runners I know--were out there enjoying themselves, pushing themselves, and wanting to prove themselves.  It doesn't matter how fast or how slow someone is, running is a very personal sport.  Sure, others help train and motivate you, but in the end--ain't no one else responsible for how you finish except you.

What a tragedy to literally leave it all on the course.

I have so many questions about those who have died this way. How suddenly did it come upon them?  Did they feel sick during the race or just when they ramped it up?  Were they a novice or advanced runner....or somewhere in between?  Did they have family and friends there waiting to celebrate with them at the end? Had they had earlier issues or did this episode come out of the blue?  Did they have any sense of foreboding?  Did they die doing something they loved?  And, if so--would that bring comfort to their family and friends?

Not long ago in Missouri, a young runner--husband, father, and runner--went missing after an evening run. He was found several days later in a Portajohn.  What happened that led him into the Portajohn?  What was he thinking before and during the run?  Was it just a typical run that went bad or were there signs?

I'm sure the answers are as varied as the runners themselves.  And, I have no doubt, people ask these kinds of questions after any unexpected death.

I do know most events are attributed to undiagnosed cardiac issues and the majority of deaths in running occur very close to the finish line.  One study I read recently said there's no really good test to see who's at risk.  Plus, as the same article said, exercising is always better than not exercising.

Believe it or not, the rates of runner deaths pale in comparison to other sports and even the general population.  In fact, the article said  "the incidence of sudden cardiac death in unscreened men during exercise is 1 in 280,000 per year. In studies of the risk of death in marathons, it's been estimated that one death would occur in 50,000-88,000 marathon finishers."

An article in the Baltimore Sun says a "study, done by Dan Tunstall Pedoe, the medical director of the London Marathon, found a death rate of one in every 67,414 runners over a 20 year period, or one death for every 2 million miles run. Heart related illnesses, often undiagnosed, were the most common cause of death. 

Another study, done in 2007 by a doctor at the University of Toronto, examined 26 marathons over a 30-year period and came up with a ratio of one death per 126,000 participants."

But, it still happens.  And, when it happens, it hits a nerve in the running community and we feel a solidarity for that runner and his or her family and friends.  And, I know I've said this before--but runners are some of the greatest people I know.  In many races, I have witnessed other runners struggling while other runners checked on them to make sure they were OK.  It's not unusual for someone to stop their race so they can come to the aid of a fellow runner.

Just in my recent marathon with a relatively small field, I saw a female runner vomiting, a man clutching his leg in the middle of the course and another man in his early 20's collapse into a wheel chair immediately after the finish. I thank God for the other runners, medical people and race staff who have responded so quickly to these emergency events.

So, when someone actually dies, it's sobering.

As a friend recently said, "It's about more than running."

That it is, my friends.  That it is.

Hugs, peace and prayers to anyone who's ever been affected by a runner's death.  And, if you're reading this, that means you.

Leave me a note in the comments section with your thoughts.  I would love to know if others agree with me about the solidarity and/or have the same questions I have.

Hope to catch you later at the back of the pack!

Monday, October 14, 2013

I'm a Rockstar!

As a veteran of about 20 races (including 10Ks, half marathons and now my second full), I have learned that every race is different.  And, that's not just because of running different, you can run the same course and it will be a different race due to training, conditions and crowds.

While training and conditions have an impact, a runner can't underestimate the importance of a good crowd. Luckily, my second marathon (Steamtown)--while having a field about 10 percent the size of the first one (Philadelphia), had a crowd that rivaled the spirit of any major event I've ever been to.

It all started as we walked into the pre-race area at the high school and were greeted with cheerleaders at the door!  Might I say they had a lot more enthusiasm at that hour of the morning than I did. After all, I had gotten up at 4:30 a.m. to ride a bus for 45 minutes to get to the place where I had paid for the privilege to run 26.2 miles back to the start point.

Just like most races, they had quite a crowd in the first half mile or so. I first saw two priests apparently waiting to start their mass.  Although many races occur on Sunday mornings, this was a first for me and it was pretty cool to see the men in their vestments cheering on the runners.  (And, from the results for me and my other friends running Steamtown, they must have been showering blessings as well.  And, if not--I'm still gonna choose to believe that!)

From then on, every town we ran through had people of all ages out on the course clapping, cheering and encouraging. I enjoyed bantering back and forth with them.  And, there was definitely a mutual admiration society meeting going on along the way.  I heard runner after runner saying, "Thank you.  Thank you for coming out today."  "Thank you for volunteering."  (By the end, I couldn't talk much, but I still managed to give a thumbs up or two to the supporters.)

Often I saw a family with kids wrapped up in blankets or sometimes a single senior citizen--but for the most part, they were still clapping.  Remember, I'm a back of the packer and they were still enthusiastically cheering at that point.  All I can say is that they must be hoarse and have sore hands today!

When I went through large crowds of people and didn't have a lot of other runners around me, they still cheered for ME.  I smiled and waved and at times felt like a rockstar!  (But, no, I didn't stop to sign any autographs.)

Another favorite was the group of about six folks probably in their 70's with a boom box blasting out music while they sang and danced in their chairs.  While I forget the song playing, I heard the same one repeated a number of miles later with a much younger crowd.

There were high school bands as well as a band of retired men all joining in to promote the spirit of the day.

And, the community offered up a lot of unofficial water and nourishment tables along the way.  I tried to say thank you to all of them even if I didn't need of their services at the time.  But, if I missed you (or you've done that in another race)--THANK YOU!  While they were all great, I loved the one on the trail portion that had two signs listing all the things you could find at their table.  The sweat was in my eyes at the time so I couldn't actually read the signs, but they didn't treat me as totally stupid when I ran up and asked if they had vaseline. (They did. I didn't actually need it but resolved to swipe some on every time I ran--pun intended--across some.)

The small town pride was also obvious.  So many of the townspeople reminded the runners of what town we were in although signs also indicated that.  I loved the gentleman at the entrance to Mayfield saying, "Welcome to Mayfield."  It was incredible to feel some welcomed!

Then, there were the groupies who kept showing up along the route.  First, was the "Awesome" woman who had a sign that said, "You are awesome!" as she showed signs of losing her voice as she shouted the same thing to every runner.  Most yelled back, "You are awesome too!"

Then, came the official high fivers who gave high fives and enthusiastic encouragement along the course. They appeared around the same time as the two women with deely boppers (you know--the headbands with funky bling on top) holding signs and yelling for everyone.  (Note to the deely bopper women--I saw you at the finish and just didn't have it in me to acknowledge you, but your presence was so noted.)

And, which runner didn't want to stop at the top of Electric Hill for the Party with a capital P going on there? They had live music and such a great atmosphere that almost made that climb tolerable.  (Almost. But, heck it was mile 24 by that point. Nothing could have made a hill climb quite tolerable. The Party looked like a lot more fun.)

Throughout the race, runners with names on their shirts (like "Roadkill Bill" or "Say Hi Gary") or other defining information (like the guy who had "Steamtown #18") got an even better reception. (Note to self:  put your name on your shirt the next time even if it means lack of a coordinating outfit.)   One of my friends said at one point someone must have had a list of runners and bib numbers because they called EVERY runner by name. (I missed that probably due to my own very loud internal voices at the time.)

(Side note about "Roadkill Bill."  I ran with him for a fair amount of time in the first 10K and really enjoyed talking with him.  I don't know where the name came from, but I'm so disappointed I didn't whip out my phone to take a picture of him dancing around actual roadkill.

And, while I'm talking about other runners, for a while I ran close to a man who had a shirt from the company 3:16 with a Bible verse from Isaiah on it.  And, he got lots of "Amens" and shout outs from the onlookers.)

So, marathon number 2 is in the books and I can say I actually ENJOYED the first 20 miles.  (The back six--not so much even with the crowd support.)  This morning, my husband said, "I haven't heard you say 'no more marathons' yet."  And, that's because it was a great time.  All the time, non-runners will ask why someone would willingly run 26.2 (or in my case 26.34) miles and this blog article hopefully explains a little of that "why."   I'm sore but so incredibly impressed with the whole race experience at Steamtown.  Next time, I'll have to take my touring bus and my roadies who can hand out my autographed pics along the way.

P.S.  Steamtown also gets the top prize as the best pre-race emails!  What a hoot--they often made my day. (And if you are wondering about them, guess you just have to sign up to run!)

Catch you later at the back of the pack!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Second Time Around

Who can say what brought us to this miracle we've found  
There are those who'll bet love comes but once and yet
I'm oh so glad we met the second time around.

These lyrics from the Frank Sinatra song, "The Second Time Around" popped into my head this morning as I was thinking about this coming weekend.  For, in just a few days, I'll be running my second marathon.

So hard to believe that I will be running a second marathon.  After all, I'm the one who said I'd never run. After I started on the Couch 2 5K program, I'm the one who said I'd never run a half marathon.  A full?  No way, no how!

Then, after a few half marathons, I decided to run a full.  What did I say the moment I finished?  Never. Again.

That was on a Sunday.  By Tuesday, I was considering it and about a year and a half later, I was sold on doing it again.

I know I'm not alone out there!  Who else among you has uttered the same words and retracted them later? It's a sickness.  A healthy sickness, but a sickness nonetheless.

I remember the exact moment I decided to run a full marathon.  It was on mile 12 on a picture perfect day in Richmond, VA.   As I rounded a corner, a group of kayakers on moving dollies were "racing" me for a short time.  I laughed and was enjoying myself so much that I realized if I was enjoying it this much at mile 12, I could go from 13.1 to 26.2 quite easily. And, ironically, a photo of somewhere around this moment was captured on camera and highlighted on the marathon's website. (Group shot and only I could recognize myself from the back...but nonetheless, I think it was a perfect moment in the universe!)

What I found was marathon training wasn't doubly challenging--it was exponentially challenging.  I struggled through those first (really) long runs, got injured along the way and actually posted a status on Facebook announcing my retirement from training.  Yes, I fully planned to skip the race.  That was about three weeks out, right before my last run. I never did get that last long run in.

Then, I realized I'd been training for six long months and an experienced marathoner told me I'd done enough
Me--on the far right
to finish. And, I did finish.  Actually, the first 17 were terrific.  I stayed right at pace and felt great.  Then, at mile 17 (again, one of those moments seared into my brain), I got a cramp. I stretched about every 500 yards from miles 17 to 20 and at 20 decided just to walk it in.  Granted, at around a 13:30 pace or so, but I walked.  The photos from the finish are pretty pitiful looking.   Me with my arms semi-raised in semi-victory; it was the best I could manage.

So, here I am ready to tackle another one.  And, what a difference.  Even though I'm still a novice marathoner, I've learned so much from my first one.  Looking back, there were so many things I did incorrectly.

This time--the second time around--I've pretty much (dare I say it?) enjoyed the training.  I've done it (more) correctly and probably more importantly, had running partners who have kept me moving forward one stride at a time.  It hasn't been easy--breathing issues and plantar fasciitis have both tried to keep me down, but I have won the training battle.

Now, onto the 26.2.  As a former president once said, I'm "tanned, rested and ready" for the second time around.   Can't wait to see what happens when the start gun goes off or what the finish picture looks like this time!

Catch you again at the back of the pack!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Charity begins at home...but then take it on the road!

If you've been following along on my journey, you know I've been trying to get in as a charity runner for Boston 2014.  And, the journey hasn't been easy but it's for a worthwhile opportunity. At least, that's what I think.

And, then there are the haters.

There are those adamant that charity runners should not be allowed in any race, let alone the distinguished Boston marathon.

Believe it or not, I don't have a strong opinion on whether or not charity runners "should" be allowed to run. All I know is that if there are designated spots for charity runners--who don't otherwise qualify--I'm going to try to get one.

Here are some of the arguments of those inclined to believe charity runners should stay at home.  Their reasoning? Boston, in particular, is an elite race and charity runners cheapen the medal.  They also believe that charity runners take up space that should otherwise go to "real" runners.  Some even believe that the money raised by charity runners goes to secure them a nice hotel and other race day amenities rather than to the charity's bottom line.

In fact, Chuck Engle, a well-known as the "Marathonjunkie" who has won the most marathons (as a sub 3-hour finisher) lashed out at the whole program of charity running, especially at Boston.  Although his blog article appears to have been removed, he apparently said charity running makes it a "rich man's sport" and that he's "sick of seeing things once regarded as sacred and challenging being auctioned off to those unworthy of such distinction."


Let's look at the flipside of each of the arguments noted above.

Do charity runners cheapen the sport?

In fact, that might appear to be the opposite--perhaps not in terms of the cache associated with certain races, but at least as it relates to the number of marathons that now take place.  Charity running has been said to have increased the interest in road races which has led to more opportunities for runners of all abilities, including those who can win cash prizes.  In an article published in Canadian Running, Kevin Mackinnon said, "The development of large marathons in the 1980's saw the number of participants double over a 10-year period.  A decade later participation had doubled again, which, according to many marathon experts was because of the steady growth of charity running groups."

In his blog, Engle said charity runner medals should have a distinction on them. I don't necessarily disagree.  If I have the opportunity to run, I would have no issue with my medal saying I ran in support of a particular charity.  What I have an issue with is Engle's judgment that because he ran fast enough to qualify, he is not just "buying the medal."   Perhaps there are some who could fork over several thousand dollars for the opportunity, but most charity runners must work doubly hard--to train AND raise a significant amount of dollars during the same period.  That doesn't seem like "buying the medal" to me.

Do charity runners take up space that should go to "real" runners?

Think about it.  If you're a race organizer, you want a successful race in every way imaginable, right?  One of those ways is community support.  What better way to drum up community support than by inviting community organizations to participate?  Not only do you get the numbers (although, admittedly in races such as Boston, the "numbers" aren't needed), but you also get significantly more support from the community in general and crowd support on race day.

That support spills over into the economy as well.  Marathons have been known to bring in huge tourist dollars for the cities who host them.

So, race organizers actually set aside a certain number of spots designated for charity runners. In a sense, these are in addition to the competitive runners, not a diminishing statistic.

How much money can be raised for charity?  Take a look at the prestigious London Marathon who has the largest number of charity entrants.  In 2013, this race netted $85 MILLION dollars for participating charities.  That's for one race less than six hours on one day.  To date, organizers say the London Marathon has raised more than $1 BILLION dollars.  That's something that should have people giving the thumbs up sign--not pointing fingers. (See my previous blog article, "A Runner, A Jogger and a Penguin walk into a bar" for more information on this.)

Do charity runners get extra perks that their donors pay for?

While I won't discount this has happened, it does not appear to be the norm.  In fact, based on my experience, a charity runner must pay application fees to be considered for each separate charity and then, if selected, pay the entrance fee and raise the minimum amount of money along with transportation and lodging fees.

I can attest to the fact that some teams get discounted hotels and other race perks, but I've been around charities long enough to know that they often have these services donated.  Again, I don't know for sure that all services are donated, but I'm betting it's more than a fair chance the charities aren't shelling out big bucks for any runner amenities.

In all, I get the argument against charity runners, but it appears that the benefit outweighs the cost in so many ways.  As one other blogger says, "We're all runners here."

Catch you at the back of the back....maybe at Boston, maybe not.  (And, if I do get to Boston, I figure there will be a huge lull between all the super fast runners who have qualified at the higher paces and me....waddling at the back!)   Stay tuned!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Unintended Consequences--Ripples and Roadblocks on the way to Boston

When the bombs went off at the Boston marathon in April, I'm sure no one (save a few rogue economists) might have been able to measure the ripple effect.  But, those bombs have created ripples and roadblocks for what I'm sure is more than what the bombers planned on.

FIRST AND FOREMOST, let me say that the consequences for those who lost their lives or were injured during the events of April 15 come first in this ripple.  We must not forget the emotional and physical challenges they and their families have and will continue to face.  Plus, there were countless others who had their dreams of finishing their first Boston marathon interrupted and many more who had significant direct consequences from the bombers' action.

I was only there in spirit that day and anyone I knew running the race that Patriot's Day emerged relatively unscathed, but now--six months later--I am feeling the effects of what happened on on Boylston Street.  Who'da thunk?

Let me go back in time a bit.

YEARS ago--when the only thing I ran was office polls--my mother, mother-in-law and I were watching news coverage of the Boston marathon.  My mom was the most fit of us that day as she ran/walked five miles each day.  I dabbled in aerobics and my mother-in-law walked and none of us were anywhere ready to tackle a marathon, but we joked about being bandits on the course one day.  Not knowing anything about marathon races, we were sure we could just show up at the back of the pack, start running and no one would notice.

Then, I started running for "real" in 2010 and in 2011, recalled that conversation.  Then, I realized that Patriot's Day comes very close to my birthday.  And, in an overzealous new runner kind of way, I set my sights on Boston 2014--the year I would turn 50.  I even found a Facebook group of other runners training for 2014.

There was a time where I thought I might actually be able to qualify and then the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) moved the finish line and tightened up the qualifying times.  It was then I realized there was no way a back of the packer like me could run Boston without being a charity runner.

So, I contacted Team Hoyt (the father/son running team where Dick Hoyt pushes his son Rick in the wheelchair) about possibilities of running with them.   That's where I learned a little about how bibs are distributed and how much money I might need to raise (as in thousands of dollars.)   

Kathy in the Team Hoyt office told me they offer their former runners the chance to run first and if there are leftover spots, they have an application and interview process.  She said they typically only had one or two new spots each year and weren't a direct charity--they had to rely on John Hancock to provide them with a number of bibs each marathon.  But, she said, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" and she encouraged me to keep checking in with her. 

As a waffling runner (I'm going to do, I've changed my mind....maybe I'll change it back again), I went back and forth over the last few years about how to celebrate my 50th birthday, but I continued to stay in touch with Kathy.

In the weeks prior to the 2013 race, I thought about going to Boston to watch the race since I knew multiple people running it.  But, my schedule didn't work out and I stayed at home and tracked my friends online.  During that period, though, I solidified my plan to run Boston 2014 as a charity runner.  I knew that's what I wanted to do and, ironically, had planned to contact Team Hoyt again a few days after the 2013 marathon.

Then, we know what happened at 2:49 p.m. on April 15, 2013.

 As a quote attributed to David and Kelvin Bright said, "If you are trying to defeat the human spirit, marathoners are the wrong group to target."  And, maybe even better, Stephen Colbert said the terrorists weren't thinking when they chose the marathon because it "is an event celebrating people who run 26 miles on their day off until their nipples are raw--for fun."

Instead of being fearful about the 2014 marathon, runners of all abilities made that their mission--to run it.  Novice runners began training for it on April 16 and past participants looked for races to qualify.

I chuckled when news reporters said Boston 2014 was going to be "bigger and better" because I knew the infrastructure of the famous race can only manage so many.  And, BAA has been working on narrowing the field--not widening it.

Then, came the announcement that BAA would indeed increase the field size by 9,000 to a total of 36,000 runners--not the highest number, but a major increase.  Then, they also announced they would start registration earlier than normal with those who had qualifying times of 20 minutes or more faster than the already stringent "BQ" times being allowed to register first.

I watched as friends carefully calculated their chances of getting in.  And, I watched as most of them joined the field, although a few--were unable to qualify--missing the cutoff by seconds.

And, I still planned on being a charity runner, being a little naive about what the increased numbers meant for those programs.  But, here's what I've learned.

Of course, there was a trickle down effect to charity runners even though I didn't realize the extent to which it would get.  Team Hoyt told me fairly early on to identify other charity programs because they would probably not have additional bibs.

I also learned that the charity bibs get extended in various ways. Some get their directly from BAA while the majority of charity bibs (it appears) go to John Hancock who then divvy them up to worthy causes.  When I first contacted a number of charities, they told me they were on hold from John Hancock and were also playing the waiting game to see if they got any bibs.

And, practically every single charity has told me they have unprecedented interest in charity bibs for 2014.  And, guess what that has done?  Same as for qualifiers, the standards to compete have increased.   Not only are their more applicants, now there are tougher application and interview standards guessed it....higher dollar amounts to raise.

Most of the teams initially said they were looking at a fundraising minimum of $4-$5K for charity runners.  Now, the applications that have recently been distributed have increased that mark to AT LEAST $7,500.  In fact, some are saying runners will probably not be selected unless they can guarantee fundraising of at least $10,000.  One runner friend told me he could have run for a particular charity if he guaranteed raising $20,000.

Wow!  So, to be a charity runner, you have to apply--typically along with a $40-$50 application fee, have your application scrutinized to see if you "fit" the runner they are looking for (generally, those with a vested interest in the cause), go through interviews and wait to see if you are one of the lucky ones.  Yes, one of the lucky ones who then get to pay $300+ in race fees, raise $7,500 for the privilege of putting themselves through winter training so they can run 26 miles on a Monday in April.  

But, I'm still in the game!  And, I want to be one of those lucky ones.  I'm losing a bit of hope, but I have strategically chosen teams that I believe in and can raise the appropriate amount of money.  I have hotel reservations (about the halfway point in the race--20 minutes outside of Boston for $180 an night) and friends and family who are waiting to see if they need to take time off to see me run from Hopkinton to Boston.

I know it will be a challenge in more ways than one, but I am up for it. 

In all of this, though, I sit back and think...what if those bombs hadn't gone off?  And, who would have thought that tragedy would affect my plans to celebrate my 50th birthday?  Again, I want to remember those who have had much more disruption to their lives, but I still can't help shaking my head and thinking--really?  That has rippled down to this level?

My body might not be struggling up Heartbreak Hill, but my heart lies in Boston 2014.  And, regardless of what happens, I still turn 50 and will keep on life and in running. 

Catch you at the back of the pack!

an event celebrating people who run 26 miles on their day off until their nipples are raw - for fun'. - See more at:
an event celebrating people who run 26 miles on their day off until their nipples are raw - for fun'. - See more at: