Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Race Report - Boston Marathon 4/19/2010

First, I’d like to mention that I blasted through my goal and raised $10,658 for the American Liver Foundation, placing me in the top 20 fundraisers. Overall, the team has raised about $1.1 million. As a liver disease patient myself, I can’t thank you all enough. I’m so lucky to have my health back to even have the opportunity to run the marathon. And of course, the best part about being alive is spending time with the love of my life, Liz, and watching our twins Maya and Augie grow up.

On that note, I decided to write “Grateful DAD” on my orange Liver Team jersey (well, Liz wrote it since she is more meticulous). It was a perfect way to express both my main motivation for running as well as acknowledging my love of the Grateful Dead, whose music has kept me going through good times and bad. For the following race report, I also decided to start each section with some of their lyrics which seem particularly appropriate for what I was feeling/thinking in the race. Also, Liver Team members are highlighted in orange font below. Enjoy!

Pre-Race: Athletes’ Village
Some come to laugh the past away
Some come to make it just one more day
Whichever way your pleasure tends,
If you plant ice, you’re gonna harvest wind.

Liz drove me to Hopkinton, and I got to the village around 7:20. My start time wasn’t until 10:30, so I had a couple of hours to kill. I found the Liver Team and set up camp – put on some tunes, took some pictures, and chatted with my teammates. Kevin Mulvey and Robin Dooling set up next to me, and I also spent some time chatting with John Donlon (who I learned also has twins). The weather was perfect – sunny with a couple clouds, around 40 degrees. I felt great. Training had gone almost perfectly (I had basically followed the Higdon Intermediate I plan – about 560 miles total), I had no injury issues, and I had a great shrimp and pasta dinner with a baked potato on the side the night before. There was a positive vibe in the air. I busied myself putting on some Bodyglide and sunscreen, and then I took my daily Baraclude (an antiviral that I still have to take every day). A little later, I found my old college buddy Luau who was on a quest to run a 3:20. He was chomping at the bit like a racehorse ready to go. We chatted for awhile, hit the portajohns, and before I knew it, it was time to head up to corrals.

Start, Miles 1-5
9:21, 8:48, 8:34, 8:32, 8:42

Long distance runner, what you standing there for?
Get up, get off, get out of the door

Got into my corral right on time. I spotted teammate Crystal White getting focused. I hadn't met her previously, but she gave an inspirational speech the morning before at our team brunch. For those who aren't familiar with her story, you can read more about it here. She is an amazing woman who has donated part of her liver to her daughter Tigerlilly. I let her know how much her speech moved me and wished her good luck on her run. I think she was a little weirded out.

My shoes felt a little loose on the walk up. I hesitated a bit, then decided to re-tighten them. The timing chip was bothering me somewhat, but if I loosened up the laces on it, my shoes felt too loose. Oh well. Right after 10:30, we started walking uphill towards the start line. Finally we hit the steep downhill and pass the starting line. The legs felt good, breathing was easy, all systems go.

At mile 3, I see a woman wearing a Team Fox jersey – she is running for Michael J. Fox’s charity for Parkinson’s research. I swing over to tell her that my father-in-law is in the end stages of his struggle with Parkinson’s Disease and I thank her for running. She was appreciative, and we bid each other to have a good run.

Miles 5-10
8:34, 8:30, 8:33, 8:29, 8:47
Well the first days are the hardest days
Don’t you worry anymore
When life looks like Easy Street
There is danger at your door

My basic goal was to finish in under 4 hours, but in my arrogance I decided to push the envelope as much as I could. Our coach and team veterans had pounded into the rookies’ heads that if it felt too easy in the first 10 miles, then you’re going too fast and should probably slow down. Well it definitely felt pretty easy, like a victory lap more than anything, but I didn’t slow down. When I looked at my splits, I kept hitting close to 8:30s. This was way ahead of the 9:09 pace I would need to make 4 hours, but like many other rookies before me, I decided that maybe today was just going to be the perfect day. After all, training had gone really well, right? But that’s why Boston is a difficult course – the early downhill miles lure you into trying to bank time in the first half, and that’s generally a bad strategy because for every minute you bank, you pay 5 times longer in the second half. To be fair to myself, my personal best in the half marathon is 1:45, and that was from almost a year ago (with a lot of base miles since then). So pushing for a sub-4:00 didn't seem completely out of line.

At some point around mile 6, Luau (who had started in the very last corral) caught up to me. I told him he was looking good and to throw it down. He shouted back something like, “Not just yet!” but I didn’t see the wisdom in his words. A few moments later I saw some tall dude in front of me talking on his cell phone while running. I had a few snarky thoughts before I realized that it was Coach Brian – the running coach for the Liver Team (who I believe has a personal record below 3 hours). Now, you might think that at that point I would slow down – passing the coach can’t be a good idea, right? Well, I had heard a rumor that he was running his 2nd of 3 marathons over 3 weeks, so I figured he was just holding back because of that. Onward I went! I caught up with Robin who was running with (I think) Francie Chase. I said hello and kept moving. Somewhere in these miles, I also chatted with Mike and Katie Crowell. The legs felt great and the breathing was easy. I wasn't trying to run fast, but I wasn't trying to slow myself down either. Later I passed Pat Padden. He encouraged me on, but maybe I should've stopped to think. I met Pat on the very first Saturday team run back in December. We were going the exact same pace that day and it felt good. I also used him as a pacer on the 17-mile Valentine's Day run. Hmmm...

At around mile 9, I was passed by an older gentleman (probably mid 50s) wearing a full Cat in the Hat costume. I’m talking the full-body, furry zip-up costume, replete with tail, white gloves, red bowtie and tall red/white striped hat. If I had any final thoughts about slowing down at that point, they were instantly banished because I’m not gonna let the Cat in the Hat beat me! I pressed ahead and left him to eat dust.

Miles 11-16
8:42, 8:32, 8:47, 8:49, 9:03, 8:46
Casey Jones you better
Watch your speed
Trouble ahead, trouble behind
And you know that notion just crossed my mind.

We left Natick and headed up towards Wellesley College – famous for the young women setting up a “scream tunnel” and giving out kisses to the runners. It was pretty loud, although not quite as loud as I expected. I stayed to the left and avoided the kisses.

At the halfway point, my split was 1:54 which was almost exactly where I wanted to be when I planned out my pacing strategy. I figured that if I could do an even second half, I would miraculously end up in the high 3:40s. If I slowed down to a 2:00 second half, I would still be 6 minutes under 4:00. Around this time, I felt a couple of curious new pains. First, my right foot started to ache around the outer edge. I think I had tightened my shoe a little too much back in the starting corral. Doh! My left foot was also tingling a bit and going numb. I figured that at least if it were numb, I wouldn’t feel any pain there. So I kept truckin’. The other new pain was just a slight, dull ache in my right quad. Now this was completely new to me. In training, the few small issues that I did have were generally calf or shin related, but I never really had an issue with my quads. This planted a seed of worry in my head since I was only halfway home, and a 13 mile run should have been pretty painless even at this pace.

Along the way in Wellesley, I kept seeing a Liver Teammate ahead of me running at a steady pace. I didn't know who he was, but at one point I got close enough to see he had written "For my Di" on the back of his shirt. For some reason, this simple statement really hit home with me. I used him to help keep pace for awhile, then finally went over and said hi. I may be quiet in real life, but apparently I'm a chatty runner.

As we headed towards Newton, I remember seeing my splits slowing up a little. But instead of rolling with it, I decided to put in a little more effort to get the splits back down. As we started down the steep downhill to Newton Lower Falls, I tried to take advantage of it for a faster split rather than keep the same speed and use the downhill to conserve energy. Big mistake. Our team Chair Nhu Vu specifically warned us about this downhill at the last team meeting, but it apparently fell on deaf ears.

Miles 17-18
9:01, 9:10

Move me brightly
Light the song with sense and color
Hold away despair

Mile 17 starts with an uphill climb over I-95 (rt 128 for the locals). This overpass starts the area where I’ve done the bulk of my training, and I’ve never had an issue with this uphill. But after running 16 hard miles, it was definitely an issue. I labored, staying to the side because I was thinking that my friend Tracey might be near the top of the hill at Beacon Street. I didn’t see her (turns out she was down in Back Bay). It was a little bit of letdown.

Coming down to the Newton Wellesley Hospital, I saw a sea of orange hats and shirts on the right. It was the Liver Team cheering section, and boy did it cheer me up. I headed over there and they started screaming. I saw team manager Jen Fluder and high-fived her, then I got totally amped up and screamed and high-fived my way down the whole section. It was an awesome morale booster - definitely a highlight of my run. I think I did burn some extra energy there, but it was worth it.

Mile 18 starts almost exactly 1 mile from my house, so at this point I was running on friendly ground. Lasell College is around the corner, and while they drive me nuts during my training runs (forcing me off the sidewalks, trying to run me over, etc.), they were simply awesome during the marathon. There aren’t quite as many of them compared to Wellesley, BC or BU, but they were good and drunk. And then they started screaming at me. I had already been getting a lot of responses to my “Grateful Dad” shirt – it started early, all the way back in Hopkinton. I heard “Go Dad!” so many times, I lost count. When I came up on Lasell though, a bunch of rowdy kids started a huge “GRATEFUL DAD!” chant over and over, and they screamed wildly when I pumped my fist. Soon I was at the Firehouse for the right turn onto Comm Ave. I took the turn wide to position myself on the left of the Brae Burn hill because my wife and kids were going to be about halfway up the hill. As I did so, I ended up being the closest runner to the crowd barricade (most of the runners cut the turn tight). Some guy with a bullhorn started screaming at me, and next thing I know the whole corner was chanting “Dad! Dad! Dad!” The fact that it was my home turf made it even more special. In a scene that would be repeated many times over the remaining miles, I smiled and pumped my fist again.

The crowds were super heavy on the hill. It was so packed that I worried that I might not be able to see the kids. I saw the Temple St opening ahead, which is where they were supposed to be (thank you to the Krummells, who graciously hosted Liz and the kids in their house). But I didn’t see them. I started to feel a little down, worried that maybe they couldn't find a space. All of a sudden I spotted a small opening in the crowd just beyond Temple St and there they were! Liz was holding Maya up and I came in for a kiss. She didn’t want to have anything to do with me at that point, and I can’t say that I blame her! I gave Liz a “salty” kiss and patted Augie on the head (he didn’t want to have much to do with me either!). After I left, Liz, Stephanie (our Super Nanny) and the kids headed to Back Bay to meet me at the finish.

Seeing the kids gave me that extra boost I needed to get up over Brae Burn hill, but at that point, I knew that the remaining 8 miles were going to be a struggle.

Miles 19-21
9:07, 9:43, 10:17

Dark Star crashes
Pouring its light into ashes
Reason tatters
The forces tear loose from the axis

Mile 19 starts just after cresting the Brae Burn hill. You go down into a little knoll then head up a small hill again. From there it’s a nice downhill to mile 20. This is a decent place to re-focus – if you haven’t gone out too hard in the previous 18 miles, that is. At this point, my quads were really starting to hurt. More disturbingly, my brain started to hurt too. I had logged hundreds of training miles on this road, but I could barely recognize where I was. I started to think about how far I still had to go and I got really depressed. The crowds had thinned out, and when I looked at my split, I realized that I hadn’t been able to take advantage of the downhill at all from a time perspective. It certainly wasn’t any easier on my legs either. Now I had to start fighting my brain – the signals telling me to stop running. From what I understand, this is a common feeling when you start “hitting the wall” – i.e. running out of glycogen stores. Your brain can really only run on glucose (it can use ketones too, but that’s a whole different topic). When you run low on glucose, your brain tries to shut your body down to conserve fuel for itself. Bad brain! Don’t you know I have a marathon to finish? Who cares if you need fuel – I killed a lot of your cells in college already, what’s a few more?

Mile 20 started and soon I'm heading up the middle Newton hill. I don't really have much memory of this hill. I usually think that it's the easiest of the three main Newton hills, but this time it just seemed to go on and on. It never really peaks out - it sort of levels off a little, but it keeps a little grade for almost a mile. People are still screaming at me quite a bit - I purposely ran near the edge of the road to keep the motivating shouts coming. And despite my agony, I smiled and pumped my fist at everyone who called to me. This was where I felt my first true cramps of the run - and it was in my face! I was smiling so much that at some point the muscles in my upper cheeks started to cramp

The hill finally leveled off and we got a small break before hitting Heartbreak Hill. At this point, I'm just trying to keep my feet moving. The crowds are getting thick again, and the BC kids are starting to show their presence. It's getting crazy. Again I get a whole section of kids chanting "Dad!" at me. The road is getting a little jammed too, as many runners start to walk here. I'm in a lot of trouble, but I'm not ready to start walking yet. I think I was yelling at myself at one point to keep moving. Finally we get to the first crest and I start thinking that despite my pain, I can start enjoying the downhills from here.

Miles 22-23
9:50, 11:28
The Wheel is turning and you can't slow down,
You can't let go and you can't hold on,
You can't go back and you can't stand still
If the thunder don't get you
then the lightning will

Right as we started mile 22 on the backside of Heartbreak, my right hamstring seized up in a charley-horse. It was excruciating and I could no longer bend my leg. I guess my body just did not like going downhill at that point. I headed off to a quiet spot near the BC church and tried to stretch it out. But when I bent over to stretch it, my left quad started seizing up from bearing the weight. I quickly straightened up and then felt my sides cramping as a result. Seeing no solution to this quandry, I decided I best just try to keep moving. I carefully squeezed my legs until they loosened up a tiny bit, then headed on.

The bottom of the hill was easily the most intense part of the course. The Boston College kids were absolutely crazy. It almost felt like we were getting hazed. I tried to adjust my gait to protect my hamstring, but that usually resulted in a different part of my body seizing up. Finally, we left the crowds behind and hit the "Graveyard of Champions." It's a little quiet here and sure enough there's a cemetary on the right. At this point, no longer able to maintain my little dance between cramps, I became one of the walking wounded. I was trying to squeeze my right hamstring while still walking, because as soon as I stopped walking I would get cramps in other parts of my body. I eventually started to run again, if you can call it running.

Just past Cleveland Circle I see Thomas Murray ahead of me running with a friend. I don't really know him (I just recognize his beard to be honest), but we're wearing the same orange jersey. So when I saw that it looked like he was hurting too, I decided to team up for awhile. He tells me that he is cramping everywhere too, including some side stitches. We started running again, but after awhile he tells me he needs to drop back for a bit. I decided to keep going, because I felt like I needed to take advantage of the bursts when I had them (I think he eventually re-passed me and finished just ahead of me - nice rally Tom!).

Mile 24
One way or another
One way or another
One way or another
This darkness got to give

Brookline was just a struggle. I would have to walk a minute for every few minutes of running that I could manage before the cramps threatened to completely lock up my legs. The general pain was runable, but when the charley-horses started to come on, I would have to walk it out. I tried everything I could think of - changing my stride, adjusting my posture. Every solution just brought its own set of new problems. It's too bad, because I originally started running when I lived in Brookline, about 5 years ago. But nostalgia was the least of my concerns.

Somewhere, I spotted that mysterious Liver Runner ahead of me again - "For my Di". Seeing his message helped remind me of my own motivation - my wife, my kids, my brother. It turns out that the mystery runner is Daniel Davis. I didn't see him again, so he doesn't know how much his message helped keep me moving through these last few miles. If you're out there reading this Dan, thank you!

Miles 25, 26, 26.2
11:37, 11:18, 2:22
Long distance runner, what you holding out for?
Caught in slow motion in your dash to the door
The flame from your stage has now spread to the floor
You gave all you have, why you want to give more?
The more that you give, the more it will take
To the thin line beyond which you really can't fake

Coming down from Coolidge Corner, I saw Mary Elise Donington come up on my left. I had only met her once, way back in December I think, but I recognized her because I had passed her and a pack of Liver Team folks back in Framingham or Natick. I told her that I was in big trouble and that I had made the rookie mistake of going out too hard - that I should've just stayed with her and the other Liver teammates back there, because she looked good. She told me she was hurting too, but she kept a steady pace going and pressed on ahead. Later, after the finish, she told me that she was able to get in at 3:59. Congrats on a great run! That's the way you're supposed to do it.

After she moved on, I ended up having to walk some of the Mass Pike overpass near Fenway park (another of Nhu's warnings - he's like a Jedi or something). It was frustrating being so close to the end and not being able to run it. All of a sudden, I felt someone rubbing my back. A mysterious woman in all black (including tights) was walking next to me, and without saying a word she started running again. I followed her as best I could. My first thought was, "Thank you." My second thought was, "Aren't you really hot wearing that?" I mean, I'm dying in the sun - my hat is soaked with sweat, my cheeks are crusted with salt and my wristband has no more absorbancy left. Anyway, I get over the overpass
where I see the 1 mile to go sign. 1 mile never sounded so far.

The Boston University kids were putting on a great show of support in Kenmore, and again I had big crowds of students screaming at me. It sucked having to walk at times, because one of my goals was to not have to walk at all. But on the positive side, it was an awesome feeling when I would start running again and hear them erupt in cheers. I had to stop the fist pumping though as my shoulder and back would start cramping hard when I tried to raise my arm. At some point, I still had the brainpower left to chuckle at the juxtaposition of having one of the most incredible experiences of my life, while also wanting it to end as soon as possible.

When I got to the Mass Ave underpass, I had to walk again on the downhill. The early downhills all the way back in Hopkinton must've really trashed my legs. I think my aforementioned friend Tracey saw me there, and I'm sure it wasn't pretty. Eventually we climbed back out of the darkness and I started running as best I could. I hit the first turn of the
Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston combo and was astonished at how long and how uphill Hereford looked (I don't think it's either of those things in reality, but my perception was messed up).

Finally, I got to the left on Boylston and started turning the corner. I could see the Finish Line, but it looked so far away. Suddenly, the crowd started cheering wildly. I was confused, then I saw out of the corner of my eye
, the Cat in the Hat sprinting around the corner (and with enough energy left to ham it up for the cameras and the crowd). That bastard Cat ended up leaving me eating his dust and finished just minutes ahead of me. I started cracking up at the hilarity of it all. It was a long, strange trip from the optimism of the village, to the groove of Natick, through the darkness in Newton, and now back dueling with the Cat. And I was also smiling because as I neared the finish, I remembered the words I had told myself after watching Liz run the Boston Marathon for the Liver Team back in 2002 - "I will never, ever run a marathon." Well, here's to promises not kept!

Final chip time: 4:04:24

It was an amazing journey from 2002 until now, and I'm incredibly grateful for all the support I received from my family, friends, colleagues and teammates. Thank you!


  1. You're a rock star Dude! Loved that we had a few moments together before and during the race, thoroughly enjoyed this post. Frakkin' Cat in the Hat...gonna send our new dog after him...

    Seriously though, congrats on running your first marathon. You got farther than I did in my first before cramping up. How's about you join me for Bay State this October?

    I hope you realize just how proud you should be!

  2. Thanks bro. Yeah, it was an awesome time. Top 5 in my life for sure! I'm definitely thinking about putting Lowell on the list!

  3. Outstanding race report, really enjoyed the lyrical references! And here I thought I was the only "Grateful Runner" out there! Best of luck to you and your running!