Thursday, April 24, 2014

A View from the Back of the Pack of the Boston Marathon

You knew this blog post was coming, right?  Although I haven't blogged a lot recently, it was hard to be anywhere around me for the last five months without knowing I was running the Boston Marathon for the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism on April 21.

Me picking up my bib number at the expo

The day has come and gone and I am still processing it all, but wanted to share my most immediate thoughts about the experience.

First of all, THANK YOU to those of you who provided support along the way. I'm going to pull the proverbial "I can't name you all because I'm afraid I would forget someone," but you know who you are.  If you donated, if you gave me counsel or services, if you ran with me, if you came to the Boston Strong Event, if you listened to me talk (or whine) incessantly about this, if you patiently read one more Facebook post, if you gave me a speaking opportunity or listened while I spoke,  if you indulged me in any way and most especially, if you were my husband and son who put up with a whole lot---I say THANK YOU!
My first Facebook post after the marathon sums it up and that is "I did what I came to do."  It wasn't easy and it certainly wasn't pretty, but I got 'er done.  Up until the morning of the marathon, I wasn't sure of my game plan.  I knew I had trained well to run a good race, but I also knew I wanted to enjoy it.  And, it really wasn't until I crossed the start line that I decided I was going to try and take in as much as I could while running the best I could.

Fast forward to the end of the story. (Don't worry, fair reader.  I will circle back and provide you with much more detail than you might like.)  I did get injured at around mile 8 and so I ran in a fair amount of pain for most of the race. I am not certain what happened; it felt as if I stepped on a stone but all I know is I felt something and had an immediate searing pain.   That certainly affected my enjoyment and my finishing time, but I know I couldn't have done any better. I still hit a personal best and shaved around 20 minutes off my last marathon finish coming in at 4:42:19.

Still, there is this nagging voice that knows if I hadn't gotten injured, I would have probably doubled the amount of shaved time.  Other than the pain in my left foot (which I'm fairly certain is due to torn fascia), I feel great.  I have no lingering aches or pains anywhere else in my body.  I didn't tank in the last six miles and I ran the best and the smartest I could.  So, I am annoyed at the injury.  And, I'm not looking forward to a boot, crutches and more physical therapy.  But, as I keep saying, it is what it is.  In the end, I am pleased, but not thrilled, with my time.

Why did I run when I knew I was injured?  I had about a 30 second conversation with myself after I was injured.  It went like this (after I stopped screaming in pain and hopping on my good leg.)

Well, what are you going to do?  Stop or run?

Run, of course.

Wait.  You might do permanent damage and never be able to run again.

First, that's unlikely. Second, if I can never run again, there really isn't any better way to go out than running the Boston Marathon, right?

Okay...makes sense....let's go.

And, off I went....with no regrets that I did.

But, to me a marathon is much more than the race itself.  What's really important is the overall experience and the ability to join with thousands of others in a celebration of life.  It might sound corny, but I really do believe in Kathrine Switzer's quote, "If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon."  It is hard to explain to anyone what the experience is like unless you have somehow been a part of it as a runner, volunteer or spectator.

I had the time of my life and would have wished nothing more for my own celebration to turn 50 years old in just six days after the marathon.  Running the marathon was almost secondary to the train ride there, the expo, getting my scarf, being joined by my family and friends, making new friends, being a part of (what may arguably have been) the most important marathon ever, the Charity Teams party, the Sunday morning Easter church service, the opportunity to meander around the finish line, exploring my new favorite city and many more things.

So, here are my observations from this whole event.

The Expo.  Wow. 

All running things all the time.  If you were a runner and went to the expo and couldn't find something that intrigued or interested you, there may be a problem.  If nothing else, the 26.2 special Samuel Adams brew should have been enough to show that this was no ordinary expo. Yes, I sampled it.  Yes, I chose one of the restaurants we ate at simply because they had it on tap.  And, yes, I brought home the souvenir glass. 

The Scarves.  How cool.  

At Old South Church with banners damaged in 2013. 
The "Church of the Finish Line" (also known as Old South Church) headed a project to provide a blessing to runners by wrapping them in a handmade scarf.  Although we planned on going to the church service, I was concerned that I might not able to get one (since there were 36,000 runners and only 6,500 scarves) so we headed to the church on Friday.  Instantly, they were the hot commodity.  Everyone kept asking where they could get their scarf.  And, amazingly--it was 50 degrees out, but everyone who got a scarf wore it proudly the whole weekend.  I didn't want to take mine off and talked with other runners who felt the same way. 

The Church Service.  Incredible. 
Inside church service

We headed back to Old South on Sunday for Easter services and rearranged our schedule to go to the 9:00 service since we heard the 11:00 service would get more crowded.  Although we arrived at the church around 8 am, there was already a line since they didn't open the doors until 8:30.  Imagine being a regular churchgoer who couldn't get in because of all these runners...but everyone was so gracious. (The pastor announced they had broken a 300 year old attendance record.)   And, what a church service it was. 

The Message. Inspiring.  

During the church service, I had an "aha" moment.  As the senior pastor spoke about Jesus and the resurrection, I realized it was no accident that Marathon Weekend fell on Easter.  While most people had been complaining about that, it suddenly made sense to me that this year was also the resurrection of the marathon.  The Lord certainly knows what He's doing. 

The Bagpipes.  Spine-chilling.  

As part of the service, a bagpiper led a processional to honor and bless the athletes.  I don't think I've ever been part of a church service with a bagpiper, but I'd happily participate in another one. 

The Second Scarf.  Feeling conflicted. 

I wore my scarf to the service and never expected to get a second one.  Thankfully, the church had reserved scarves for those who attended Easter morning services as most of the runners there didn't have one. As I stood for the blessing, a gentleman handing out the scarves passed one to me.  I was thrilled to see it had a "secret message" for the recipient but then felt very guilty about having a second scarf.  After some discussion, I decided to bless another runner with it.

The Blessing.  Awesome moment.  
Me and scarf at expo

So, the plan was to go back to the expo and wait for someone to approach me and ask about the scarf.  We spent a good 45 minutes or more walking around with me quietly saying, "Ask me about my scarf.  Ask me about my scarf."  But no one did.  As we were on the verge of leaving and I was on the phone, a woman stopped to ask.  I motioned for her to wait and then told her the story of my two scarves followed by letting her know the plan to bless another runner with one of them.  She teared up as I wrapped my first scarf around her and we had a joyous hug together.  

The Finish Line.  Powerful. 

 During the day or so leading up to the marathon, it was possible to walk up to the finish line area.  Although I didn't tempt fate by having my photo taken by it (assuming it was bad luck to do so before actually finishing), I was thrilled to be there with family and friends.  Of course, it was also very sobering to see the tribute to the victims of last year's bombing and pass by the site where the first bomb went off.  (This race was really about them and I was thrilled to see that Meb, the eventual winner of the race, had the victims' names in each corner of his bib.)

The People.  Nicest. City. Ever.  

Boston is my new favorite city.  I enjoyed it when I visited on my last two training runs there, but it just keeps impressing me over and over.  Everyone was so positive and so excited about the race.  From the hotel staff to the taxi drivers to the "T" attendant who opened up a special access area for us once he saw I had run the marathon--the area's vibe was incredible. The only person who had anything negative to say was the taxi dispatcher who said, "I hate Marathon Monday" as we were trying to figure out where and how the taxi could pick up my crew to get them from Point A to Point B on race day.  And, I don't think she meant it maliciously, 'cause...really, getting around was a pain in the patootie. 

The Crowds.  Even the crowds were crowded. 

It took a special set of patience to get around the city this weekend.  But, by and large, everyone took it in stride.  My family and friends tell some great stories of what it was like to get on the T to head from Natick (around mile 9) to the Finish line area during the race.  (Think heads in other people's armpits, luggage being held overhead and coats getting stuck in doors.)  Then, it was a matter of "you can't get there from here" once they got off the T and tried to get to the finish area. 

The Finish Line Passes.  VIP's, baby.  

As a top team fundraiser, I was fortunate enough to get two finish line passes and two awesome teammates gave me theirs.  While at first I didn't understand, I get it now. Not many locals want to get into that downtown fray.  Luckily, the organizer gave me an extra one as well so all seven of my peeps could gain access.  It took them so much time to get from their first viewing spot to the finish line area, that--had I not gotten injured and been able to keep my pace--they would not have seen me finish.  So, there is a blessing in that!  

Security.  A Necessary Evil.  

Part of the delay in getting to the finish line area was having to go through security screening. But, runners were also subject to very tight security.  To get to Athlete's Village, we had to go through two wand checks and screening of anything we carried.  I also had to give up a balloon I was carrying that I had hoped would ensure I could meet up with a friend who planned to run with me.  Luckily, I didn't need the balloon and he was able to find me in a sea of Flutie shirts!

Even More Security.  Visible Presence.  

Pretty much everywhere you went there were groups of soldiers or police.  Helicopters flew overhead, and they weren't just news cameras following the race.  At one point, a souped up Gator with an armed officer in a flak jacket drove through the runners.  Not sure what that was about, but that was kind of a surreal moment. Although I didn't obsess about it, there were a few times on the run that I imagined what it must have been like to have a bomb go off or to have the entire race just stop.  

Athlete's Village. Like being an Olympian.  

We had to walk 7/10 of a mile to get from the buses to Athlete's Village and had just enough time to stand in the porta john line and take a couple of group photos before it was time to head to our corral--yep, those 7/10 of a mile back.  The path was lined with security and volunteers--everyone in a good mood and thanking everyone else for being there.  ( I walked to the start I saw Jeff Galloway, king of the run/walk method, and was excited to say hello to him.)

Doug Flutie.  What a guy.  

As a runner on the Flutie team, I had the good fortune to spend some time with Mr. Flutie over the weekend and I am quite impressed.  He's a really sincere and gracious man (who also does a mean air guitar and quotes movie lines with the best of them!) It became even more of an honor to have represented the foundation he and his wife founded on behalf of their son, Doug, Jr.   Note that he began to train for the marathon but had some difficulty due to his knees from all those years of playing football.  After coming into the city for the Charity Teams party on Friday, he decided to take back his bib so he could actually run in the marathon.  With no marathon training, he got shoes and running gear on Saturday only to show up at the start on Monday and pull a 5:23 while taking photos with fans, signing autographs and throwing footballs along the way.  (That beat my very first marathon time with six months of training! Yes, I know I could never be confused with pro athlete, but still...)
At the Friday night Charity Teams party
Holding the ribbons representing all my $100+ donors
Charity runners. Totally rock.  

What an honor to have been a charity runner this year. There are some who disdain the charity runners (since most don't run a qualifying time and "earn" their bibs through fundraising), but let me tell you.  Sincere charity runners do at least twice the work to get there.  Not only do they have to train, they also have to raise as much money as they can for their organization.  I am SO PROUD to be part of the Charity Teams organization (one that manages about 30 of the smaller teams) and to have helped to raise more than $3.1 million dollars for those charities. And, there are just some incredible people on the charity teams with different stories and different motivations. Even though I didn't live close enough to participate as much as I would have liked, I am proud to be associated with these awesome people and thankful for the friendships I made. 

Some of the teammates I got to know best. 

The Jacket. Wearing it proudly. 

The day after the race with my team adopter!
 Some of you may know I agonized over getting a jacket because it represents a marathon finisher and the assumption is that person was a "qualified" not charity runner.  I planned on getting the jacket but wanted to have my name and "Dougie's Team" embroidered on it to make it clear I hadn't qualified. Now that the marathon is over, I have and love my jacket. Yes, I still plan to get the embroidery, but it will be out of a sense of pride, not as an apology. And, don't worry, you won't be able to miss seeing me in the day glo orange!

The Race.  Almost secondary.  

The race itself was incredible and the miles just flew by.  I play a little mental game in each of my longer races by telling myself I just have to get to the next mile.  At Boston, they have water stops every mile after the first two miles.  So, I'd get to the mile sign, go about 1/10 of a mile to the water stop...walk the water stop...start running again and by the time I looked at my watch, I'd already be halfway to the next mile!  It was great!  

The Spectators. Too many to count. 

I guesstimate that 80% of the race course had spectators at least two deep. Sure, there were spots that had only a few people, but they didn't last for long.  And, what  a crowd they were!  Those who have run Boston before said there were noticeably more people and more support than other years.  For the first time ever, I put my name on my singlet (peer pressure at its finest) and I think I heard my name more times than I did when I got in trouble as a kid!  It was highly motivating and I will do that from now on (although I might be disappointed when there aren't as many spectators!)

Taking the Finish Line Back.  Best Spectator Prize. 

Somewhere in the middle of the race, I saw and heard a man yelling, "You take that finish line back!  You take that finish line back!"  Although I didn't yell back at him (and I'm sorry I didn't), I decided to take the finish line back just for him.  As I struggled a bit due to the pain, I kept thinking of that man because I was determined to make it to the finish line for him. It became really personal and I only wish I could find him and tell him how he inspired me.

The signs. Fun to look at. 

Most of the signs were ones I had seen before, but one that made me laugh was one that said, "You worked harder than this giving birth to me!"  There were also a lot of  "Press here for power" buttons that I mentally activated!  

More celebrity sightings.  No autographs please!  

I got really excited at seeing Team Hoyt on Heartbreak Hill.  Another regret is that I didn't say anything to them, but I was so surprised to pass them, I wasn't prepared with anything!  Also, in that area I saw the man who spearheaded the One Run for Boston that I had participated in (although had to bail after five miles due to sickness.)  We saw other people with One Run shirts on and would yell out the number of the leg we ran as another show of solidarity.  

Final thoughts. You know I have them. 

So, the question I'm being asked most now (other than about my foot) is....will you go back?  And, the answer is YES!  I can't wait to go back.  But, the plan is to go back as a volunteer or spectator.  There is so much energy and so much to love about the race that it's a worthy place to be in any capacity.  (We already have a place scoped out in Natick that was having quite the par-tee!)  

And, believe it or not, getting in as a volunteer also takes some maneuvering.  In previous years, they've turned away more than 2,000 interested volunteers.  This year, it was 5,000.  (Get the feeling you will be reading a blog about that in your future?)

When I started running, I started a charm bracelet to remember all my races.  Typically, I buy the charm ahead of time and have my husband put it on, then bring it to the finish line so I can wear it right away.  This year, I decided not to get the charm ahead of time because I thought I might want to get it engraved with my time (depending on how well I did.)   And, I thought about that, but I knew looking at my finish time would always bring a "what if" with it.  

In the end, I decided to engrave it with the words that totally sum up this experience. 

                                             I AM BOSTON STRONG.

Seeing my family and friends at the finish. 

The guy who inspires me to run for autism.

Me with my mom, dad and brother. 

Catch you later at the back of the pack.....especially since I'll be in a boot and on crutches!

Donation link.  Yep, there's still time!  :)