Monday, April 29, 2013

Perspectives on Boston: Part 2

This is the second of a series of posts from my friends who attended Boston this year and  who were willing to write about the experiences.  This one is from my friend, Geoff Rook, who runs with me (when he is out for an easy day) on Team Playmakers. He is a master's runner, but one who has no intentions of slowing down. Here is his story. 

I started running marathons last year with the intent to run the Boston Marathon. I was inspired mostly by my friend Rob who had run it several times. I love running with Rob. We match pace and distance quite well, and I thought that with a little hard work I could make it to Boston. I missed Boston Qualification (BQ) on my first marathon, Kalamazoo, by just 16 seconds. Four weeks later I improved my time by about 1-1/2 minutes at Bayshore and got my BQ. I couldn't wait to apply for the Boston Marathon, and I was so happy when I got my acceptance letter. I couldn't wait to experience this event and earn a Boston Athletic Association jacket and finisher's medal.

For the next few months I absorbed every bit of information about the Boston Marathon from fellow runners, online videos and articles, and books. I used the Hanson's Marathon Method advanced training plan and followed it exactly except for 3 days in week 13 when I had the flu. I completed 845 miles of training, maxing out at 63 miles in week 15. Boston is famous for its hills, so I included lots of hill repeats on local roads and about 70 loops around the cemetery hills.

By April 15, I felt I was ready.

We arrived in Hopkinton, where the Start line is located, on Saturday and took in all of the sights. Everyone is so amazingly polite and accommodating. The police officer gladly stopped traffic so I could get a picture standing on the Start line. I took a few more pictures, scoped out the Athlete's Village at the middle school, then proceeded to drive the course. The roads are typical New England, usually narrow, winding curves, and gently rolling hills. None of the hills seemed all that bad, particularly the famously named Heartbreak Hill.

We walked for miles at the Expo on Saturday. It’s rows and rows of runner candy: socks, rollers, shoes, clothes, gadgets, and advertising for other races. One I found interesting is Gasparilla. Their medal is a hinge-jawed pirate skull. I may have to earn one of those next year. Bring a back pack to hold all the stuff you buy and collect. The gear drop bags you get in your packet do not hold up well during a day at the expo.

We had a group dinner Saturday night at a nice little Italian restaurant near Kate and Mark’s hotel in the North End. Angela Lett, one of our fellow team mates that recently moved back to Boston, met us there. After dinner she introduced us to a Boston tradition of cannolis at Mike’s Pastries. The line was very long but moved quickly. The cannolis were huge and delicious. Those have carbs, right?

Sunday I was back at the Expo but spent most of my time off my feet at several seminars. I encourage you to go to all of them. The speakers are awesome, and you can learn a great deal about the Boston Marathon and running in general. It’s so cool just to be in the same room with them. I met Bart Yasso and was really impressed with David McGillivray, the race director.

Monday started at 5:00am with oatmeal, a banana and some Gatorade for breakfast. I had laid out all my running gear the night before which calmed my nerves, helped me sleep, and made it easy to get ready in the dark so as not to wake my son who came with me to Boston. I met Lynn in the hotel lobby and we made our way by train to the Duke Hutchinson coach buses on Vassar St near MIT. Rex was also on our bus and we made several new running friends on the trip to the Start in Hopkinton.

Race weather was near-perfect. About 45 degrees and sunny, rising to about 55 during the race until the cooler bay breeze hit you closer to the finish downtown. We stayed on the bus until our wave was ready to assemble. I made it a half mile walk down Grove St from Athlete’s Village to the Start corrals with only minutes to spare before we started running.

The race went by so quickly for me. I feel like I missed so much. The crowd support is beyond amazing. For the entire 26.2 miles the crowds were never less than 2 deep. Lots of cowbells, cheering, and kids giving out high-fives. At someone’s suggestion, I put my name on my shirt. It’s incredible how it feels to have so many people cheering for you by name. The Girls of Wellesley were everything I had read about, and their cheers are deafening. I ran a long line of high-fives with them and with the Boston College students farther down the course.

I was able to maintain a very steady pace the entire race, fading only once that I can remember. I think it was more a loss of concentration due to the crowds, rather than muscle weakness. I charged up every hill with no problem. I started slowing on down hills due to muscle fatigue as the marathon wore on. I had great surges of energy in the later miles and sprinted down Boylston to the Finish line. I managed to finish with a time of 3:29:25 which qualifies me for next year’s Boston Marathon.

After crossing the finish line the crowd of runners brings the pace to a slow walk as we get a Mylar blanket, a finisher’s medal, banana and bottle of water. Then I had to walk a few blocks to find the bus that had my drop bag. I put my sweat pants and hoodie on to keep warm then walked a few more blocks to the Family Reunion area to meet up with my son, Gary.

I wanted to meet up with Kate and Lynn as they finished their race. We met Mark, Kate’s husband, and were looking for Kate when we heard a loud boom nearby. My first thought was an industrial or construction accident, but when the second explosion happened within seconds and the city was flooded with sirens, I knew something bad had happened. We found Kate shortly after that and tried to make sense of everything among the chaos. A young woman was crying and asked to use my phone. It was nearly impossible to make calls due to volume, but texting and internet seemed unaffected. I posted updates to Facebook and responded to texts as quickly as possible to let people know we were okay. We were about 2-3 blocks away on a side street so we could not see how bad it was. Someone said “They blew up the Finish line.” We finally got word that Lynn and his wife Christine, and Rex and his wife Tori, were okay then began a long walk to Kate and Mark’s hotel in the North End. It was absolutely surreal to watch the events unfold on TV at their hotel.

With the chaos and disruption, Gary and I finally got back to our hotel around 6:00pm. We walked for miles to find a train station that was open that could get us back to the hotel. The city was still very alive with sirens, groups of police walking everywhere, and speeding emergency vehicles. Once I got my phone recharged back at our hotel I was overwhelmed with the number of voice mail messages, texts, and Facebook posts from concerned friends, relatives and co-workers. So many people were tracking my race progress through automatic texts as I crossed timing mats along the course so they knew I had finished but weren’t sure if I had gone back to watch friends finish the race.

I have so many emotions about the entire day: the race, the bombing, family, friends, the people of Boston, the victims. It will take a long time to get over the bad feelings. Two weeks after the race I am finally feeling better and more proud to wear my Boston Marathon jacket. At first I felt like I did not want strangers to know I ran the marathon. Most people only wanted to know about the bombing. Now that the suspects have been caught I can turn the focus on what an amazing event it is and how hard I worked to earn that jacket and medal. There are still things that trigger very strong sad emotions but time heals all wounds.
There are so many people who inspired me in so many ways. Several people from our local running group, Team Playmakers, hosted a pre-marathon celebration for the four of us from the group that were going to Boston. I asked everyone to sign one of my team tech shirts that I would then wear during the marathon. I thought about each message throughout the race.

I dedicated each one of the miles to specific people and groups of people since I have so many cherished friends. Here are just a few highlights of that process. Mike and Lynn introduced me to Team Playmakers at my third 5K race. Mike beat me by one second at that race so I ran mile 1 for him. Lynn has been an awesome coach and friend and I ran mile 2 with him in mind. Janet could have quit after a 5K (3.1 miles) but has transformed into a running and exercise machine with amazing results. I ran mile 3 for her. Tina got Heartbreak Hill.  Michelle was mile 18, my slowest mile (sorry Michelle). Rob was mile 24 for pushing me to go the distance. My mantra was “just another run with Rob” during that mile. My Dad was mile 25. I miss him so much and fought back tears during that mile. Mile 26 was mine. I earned it. The last 385 yards down Boylston, my fastest pace the entire race, was for Theresa for being there during all my training and at the Finish line for my first two important marathons. She’s running her first marathon in May 2013. Good luck and enjoy every minute of it. The list goes on and on and I’m sorry if I did not name everyone individually but you were all a big part of it.

My first Boston Marathon was an experience I will never forget for so many reasons. I can't wait to do it again next year. And the next year. And the next year…

Related Posts:
Perspectives on Boston: Part 1
My Thoughts on Boston 2013

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Perspectives on Boston 2013: Part 1

[I qualified for Boston this year in the hopes of making the trip with a group of my friends.This was my fourth time qualifying, but I have yet to actually be able to make the trip. Unfortunately I was not able to go again this time.  Little did I know that I would be missing probably the most historic Boston ever.  

Several of my friends did go, and some of them have agreed to share their experiences of Boston 2013 with you. This is the first of a series of posts from my friends who attended Boston this year and  who were willing to write about the experiences.  This one is from my friend, Kate Johnson (mom of the famous Nick who wrote the Turkey Trot race report).  It was her first Boston.]

Kate in Boston

4/15/13 was a day that I looked forward to for months. I found out in September that I had been accepted into the 117th Boston Marathon. Miles and miles of training and it was finally time to “Enjoy the moment. Celebrate the pain” as my friend Tori put it. 

I am very fortunate to have an awesome support person in my husband Mark. Without him I would not have gotten in the training needed to qualify for Boston let alone train for the race. He upgraded us to the VIP Boston experience which was so exciting! [Best husband ever!!] The highlight for me was the opportunity to meet the pioneer in women’s running, Kathrine Switzer. Mark had given me her book, Marathon Woman for Christmas and it is an amazing read.

The night before the race we had dinner with Kathy. There were 19 runners in our group, mostly women. She told us that we were setting a record to have 11000 women running the 117th Boston Marathon!
She signed my book with this note: “Kate – This is in Honor of your 1st Boston! A Victory Forever! Be Fearless!

Kate and Kathy
I didn’t sleep much that night, but I didn’t expect to. I couldn’t eat much the morning of the race either. I spoke to my kids who wished me luck and got ready to head to the start. The transportation was a Limo bus for the 19 runners and we had a lot of fun. Many of us were running our first Boston. One amazing woman was running her 9th Boston and another, Janine, who started running at 45, was running her 2nd Boston and 35th marathon. She showed me the ropes at Athlete’s village.  I felt like a new runner and excited to be a part of history.

Kate and Janine

I was pretty short on time with the bathroom stop at Athlete’s Village and the walk to the start. Suddenly it was time to get to my corral!

The race was very exciting. I had read the book, 26 miles to Boston by Michael Connelly, another gift from Mark. We had also driven the course on Friday morning. The crowds were amazing. I took a friend’s advice to have my name on my shirt and I lost track of how many times I heard it called out.

There was not a lot of talking among runners and I was running mostly with women. I kept a comfortable pace and took the rolling hills in stride. About mile 12 I saw Hannah Johnson on the course and that was a lot of fun. Soon after we went by the famous Wellesley scream tunnel and the energy was amazing.  I knew there was a big downhill about mile 15 and made sure to focus on my form. I looked forward to the timing mats, knowing how many friends and family were cheering for me back home.  I knew Mark and Geoff’s son Garrison would be near mile 17. I saw them and the wonderful sign that Tori Menold had surprised me with.

Mark and Tori

We all knew the first of the Newton hills was approaching after a 90 degree turn. The first was the hardest as it was ½ mile long. But the sign at the top that said, “9.2 miles to beer” made me laugh! It was a series of uphills and downhills and I still felt pretty good. Running by Boston College was amazing. Heartbreak Hill was approaching and it was tough mainly because it is at 20.5 miles into the race. It was my slowest mile but I didn’t stop to walk.  About 23 miles into the race my body wasn’t feeling that great. I kept pushing and took a few extra electrolyte tabs to help with the nausea. I remembered my mantra, “The faster you run the sooner you are done”. I kept looking forward to the timing mats, knowing the cheering was continuing at home.

Once we were on Beacon St, I looked forward to Citgo Hill. We had perfect weather up until this point and then the wind hit and it was cloudy.  Citgo Hill was just another landmark to me, I didn’t slow my pace.
I bought a great shirt at the expo that says, “Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston. 26.2”  I was looking for Hereford as I got past the 25 mile mark. I was still keeping on pace but my body was resisting. My heart was not giving up. I finally saw Hereford and it is a short street. The left on Boylston marks 600M to go. I didn’t have much left at that point but the crowd was amazing. I kept going to the finish and was thrilled to have earned a PR and another BQ!

It was the hardest race I have run and by far the most exciting. Only about 30% re-qualify at Boston, and I did it, along with my fast friends Geoff and Rex. 

The finish area was very crowded. This was my first large marathon, so I had no idea what to expect. There was a lot of stop and go to get water, snacks, blanket and, of course, our medals. Then we had to walk even
farther to get to the school bus that had our gear that we checked in at the start.  It was by bib number so at 17,161 I had a long walk.
The Medal!

I was very cold and tired and ready to collapse at this point.  I still had about 3 more blocks to walk to find Mark in the family meeting area. It was when I was walking on this street exhausted  that the first bomb went off. I didn’t know what it was. No one reacted, and we just kept walking.

I finally got to where I was supposed to turn right to get to the family meeting area. Everything was blocked off. They wouldn’t let me through, and I was almost in tears. My watch said it was 2:55. I had been on my feet since 9:00 when I got off the limo bus at Athlete’s Village and had finished my marathon at 2:05. A woman let me use her phone to call Mark, but of course there was no service. 

The family meeting had hundreds if not thousands of people. I happened to find Mark in that crowd. I was so thankful he is 6’2”! He never would have seen me. It took a few more minutes to get over to him, and then we met Geoff and his son Garrison and congratulated each other.  We were getting some information at this point and were told to clear the area. They had closed the subway, and we couldn’t get over to the finish area at all.  So we had to walk 2 miles back to our hotel. I think it took me close to an hour.

I was overwhelmed by the number of messages and phone calls I received during that afternoon, evening and the next day. Watching everything unfold on the news was very difficult. I had a lot of different emotions. I was so thankful to be safe but very sad for those who were not as fortunate as us. My son shares my love of running, and I am so thankful that he, along with the rest of my family, was safe at home. I am thankful that I ran fast enough to be able to finish safely.  

I am still angry at what was taken away from the runners. Those who trained and didn’t get to turn onto Hereford then to celebrate running down Boylston and cross the most famous marathon finish in the world.  I am part of the 117th Boston Marathon, and it will always be a part of me. I look forward to training and running the most prestigious marathon again.  

Related Posts:
My Thoughts on Boston 2013

Thursday, April 18, 2013

My Thoughts on Boston 2013

Most people who know me know that I almost always have something to say about nearly everything. However, when something like what happened at Boston occurs I am unusually quiet. I mean really, what can one say that makes any difference?

We are all shocked and sorry. We all feel devastated for the losses. Most of us have shed tears for the victims that we did not know but who could have been our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and friends. We feel anger. We feel gratitude and pride for the actions of all those who were involved in aiding the victims.  

After thinking about this for a while, the thing that stands out for me about this is how personal this attack was. I had several friends at Boston. I spent the hour after the explosions glued to my computer and my cell phone trying to find out if my friends were safe. Where was Kate, her husband Mark? What about Geoff? Dr. Tom and Hannah? What about my friends Paula and Matt, from over on the other end of the state? I was most concerned about my friend Lynne. I knew from tracking him all morning that his finish time was just a few minutes before the blasts. Were he and his wife still milling around the finish area?

Besides concern, the other thought that was going through my mind is “I can’t believe I am sitting here trying to be sure that none of my friends have been affected by a bombing – a terrorist attack!!???” It was unbelievable.

Social media again came through for us in a key time. Reports were popping up on Facebook by the minute. Soon my other running groups started reporting in, everyone rushing to share any information they had and to help others who were worried about friends.

I am sure this same scene was played out in running groups in every community in the country. This was a key difference between the Boston tragedy and 9/11.  With 9/11, I felt attacked as a country. My heart went out to the people of New York, but I did not know anyone who had been personally affected. I felt devastated and I cried, but honestly it was somewhat remote. As graphic as the images were on the television and as deeply moving, it was not something that touched me personally in the same way that this incident did. I now understand what those people were feeling at much more personal level.

I think that is a key difference that many people are feeling. There is hardly a city or town in this country that did not have at least one person from the area who was running Boston. This horrific act on the streets of Boston reached out and touched communities all over our country in very personal ways. Suddenly the realities of the world we live in today were brought straight to the forefront. It could be any of us that are the victims, at any activity. I guess this is what is supposed to put the “terror” in terrorism. However, I don’t find my reaction being terror. I find it being anger and disappointment.

The attack also targeted a “community” that was already highly cohesive and supportive. One of the benefits of being a runner is being part of the “running community.” This is often meant on a local level, but anyone who has run for a while is aware of the greater community. I can go anywhere in the country, find the group of local runners, and know I will be welcomed. I can go to a race by myself in a strange city and know I will find hundreds of other people I can relate to. I was proud of the actions of my community in the aftermath: runners running straight to the hospital to give blood, local Boston runners offering their home and aid to out-of-town runners who may be stranded or need help in the aftermath, and the myriad ways that runners have devised to show their support for the victims since. Besides the anger and disappointment, I also have feelings of pride and gratitude to be part of such a great group of people.

This weekend I will be running the Lansing Half Marathon. We have already received an email from the race director assuring us that security is a priority.  Several of my friends have volunteered as course marshalls to help make sure that the runners and spectators will be safe.  Will the Boston tragedy be on our minds? Of course it will. Our reaction as a community will not be fear. It will be solidarity and a refusal to allow a few evil people to change what is good and beautiful about our country and our sport. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Some Down Time... and Good Luck to My Boston-Bound Friends!

I will admit it. I am in a bit of a slump. If you have been running very long I am sure you know what I mean. I am having motivation problems. Races that I excitedly committed to a few months ago don’t seem so exciting any more. The long runs that used to be a good excuse to get outside and enjoy a day now seem impossibly long, hard, and boring. Getting out for a short run right now even seems monumental. 

Part of it is the weather.  Spring has not yet made it all the way up here to Michigan. It is still cold, and the gloomy, freezing weather has been replaced by gray wet weather.  Unfortunately this lack of running inspiration has spread to lack of inspiration in the rest of my life as well, as the lack of posts lately can attest.

Just as the buds are starting to sprout out on the trees outside my window, I am confident that inspiration will strike again soon.  In the meantime, I will have to rely on guest posts from people who are enjoying their running right now, such as Leslie, who wrote the wonderful race report on The Lost Dutchman Half.  I also did manage to squeak out a few races that I am putting together reports on for later in the week.

Finally I want to wish good luck to my Boston bound friends Kate, Geoff, Rex, and Lynn. I hope that you all have a wonderful time (pun intended).  

Geoff, Kate, Rex, and Lynn