My Boston Marathon & Aftermath Story 10:00am April 15th, 2013-- 106th place; 2:32:49

By Russ Stein, russ-stein.com , Apr 16th, 5:45pm PDT

I know we aren't supposed to ask these things, and this probably sounds trivial in light of everything, but I still haven't found a satisfactory explanation of why it's necessary to get on a 6:00am bus to a race that doesn't start until ten o'clock. Just tradition? We were sitting around for hours, and I ended up in the Porta Potty lines three times. Another thing about Hopkinton I didn't know was how far the actual start was from the high school where they dropped us off. Once they finally told us to get moving it was kind of stressful trying to push through the mobs making their way to the start from the high school. It was at least a half mile to the corrals downtown, and when I finally made it to Corral 1 it was already packed. (Note to self: next time leave the staging area 15 minutes before they tell you to.) I pushed past lower bib numbers as much as possible, but I still didn’t get anywhere near the front of the corral. Didn’t matter--when the gun went off everyone around me went flying.

I think I passed Joan Benoit on the steep hill at the start. Was she running yesterday? Then I found myself trading off with a blind runner and his guide for a few minutes. Around mile 3 I surged to get away from the dudes in pink spandex onesies, cuz I didn't want to hear "Yay Pink!" the whole race. (C'mon guys: It's a race, not a circus.)

After the start I was surprised by how long I could see the contenders and the race truck for, maybe even until like mile 4. They must have been going out very conservatively. At Chicago last fall I could only see the clock for maybe two minutes—after that the elites were gone.

welcome2hopkinton.jpg

In spite of the cool weather, the steady 5-10 mph headwind made Boston a challenging, mentally draining race for me. I never really found a pack to run with at my pace (5:42s, at least until the wheels came off on Beacon Street), and I ended up plowing into the wind alone for miles. In the first half I was tracking a huge pack that was maybe like 20-30 seconds ahead, but I figured the penalty I'd pay for surging up to them would outweigh whatever benefit I’d get from drafting off them.

For a while I was running with a couple of guys, but they got away when they got psyched up by the delirious cheering at Wellesley and sprinted down the side of the road, high fiving all the college girls, while I tried to run a disciplined pace through there, so I was left by myself again. I didn’t catch up to them until several miles after that. (I didn't high five any Wellesley girls because I didn’t want them stealing my mo’.) This was my first time running the Boston Marathon (though I'd been a spectator in Brookline several times) and I thought the crowd support was incredible--almost overwhelming at times.

Sometimes I was running in a line of guys, but never consistently, because the people around me were running up the hills harder than I prefered, or going too slow on the downhills. When I came out of the drafting lines for water or whatever I could feel the breeze pushing back firmly. Tough conditions, I thought. But what the heck, I'd trained hard and done all my long runs, so I gambled that I was in good enough shape to nail a sub-2:30 'thon even in less than ideal weather.

So once again I failed to adjust to the wind in a marathon, to my cost. Long story short--I went through the half in like 1:14½, a bit slower than planned, started hurting in Newton, had a really bad patch on, I think, the third of the five Newton hills, and although I recovered okay and went flying off the Heartbreak summit, past BC, and down into Cleveland Circle, I hit the wall hard somewhere before Coolidge Corner, where my aunt and my sister were standing, and that was pretty much it. From there to the finish I felt like I had cement blocks on my feet.

I’d hoped the wind would shift in the city, but nope, if anything it got stronger. By Kenmore all my race plans had gone up in smoke, as the numbers on my watch and the split clocks weren’t coming close to adding up anymore. The plan had been to cross the bridge over the Mass Pike at like 2:21-2:22, but when I got there my gps said 2:24. Then several negative splitters picked me off downtown, though not the hordes I was expecting. Maybe everyone struggled with the conditions.

One question I had before the race was, can you see the Hancock Tower (the big blue glass building at the finish in Copley that dominates the Back Bay skyline) from the Newton Hills? The answer is yes, I did catch a glimpse of it from the Heartbreak summit. My advice—don't look for it. From out there it looks puny and far away on the horizon. Seeing it, it's hard to believe you still have that far to go after you’ve already run so far.

Finally I made the turn on Hereford and mustered up a half hearted finish sprint down Boylston. The clock read 2:33, not what I wanted but still my second best marathon time, on a tough course in less than ideal conditions. So I beat the bombs by like an hour-forty. (When I finally got on the Internet today I was quite surprised to see I’d officially run a 2:32. I was certain it had been a 2:33. That's what I saw on the clock when I was crossing the finish line. I guess it must have taken at least ten seconds to cross the start line from Corral 1.)

Other than that nothing seemed unusual about the finish area. I got my medal & my picture taken, grabbed some food and beverages, and trudged the half mile to the baggage trucks. At one point I felt sick and took seat on the curb, but I got up when I noticed medical volunteers hovering. “Don’t sit too long, you’ll cramp up,” they told me. I didn’t want to end up in the hospital tent, so I kept walking and pretty soon I felt better.

I got my bag and went to the lettered family meeting area to wait for my sister and my aunt to make their way in from Brookline. Once they showed up we decided to find a place get some coffee and hang out, so we went into Copley Plaza. While waiting in line at Sbux we heard two really loud, hollow sounding BOOM BOOMs. The cashier didn’t know what it was, but she didn’t appear alarmed, so I promptly forgot about it. To me it sounded like a construction crew had dropped a dumpster or something. There were no seats at the coffee shop so we decided to go to the food court at the mall. When we started across the skybridge over Huntington Avenue, however, a mob of panicky looking people began rushing across the bridge in the other direction. I turned to my aunt and said, “Something happened. I think we should go the other way.” Some kid running by said, “Somebody’s shooting!” into his phone. (That’s how fast bad info spreads in these situations.)

My first thought, naturally, was that the Pru was coming down. Well this is it, I thought. I always knew one of these skyscrapers was gonna collapse on me. Ever since 9/11, I knew. We hurried through the mall. When we made it to the Back Bay side of the building, however, things seemed less dire. The stream of panicked people coming through the corridor slowed to a trickle.

Through the lobby windows we could see police running towards Boylston Street. We sat on a bench in the hotel lobby to drink our coffee while our phones started filling up with texts and emails. But we had no solid intel, so it was hard to know whether there was still danger, and whether anywhere else would be any safer than where we were. It was sort of surreal trying to hold a normal family reunion while watching the cops and ambulances converging on Copley Square. I couldn't decide how concerned to be. I lived in Boston for several years after Sept 11 and saw plenty of big police mobilizations downtown. Sometimes it was nothing, and whatever had been the source of the alarm wouldn't even make the news. Sometimes it was Red Sox stuff. Another time it turned out to be some kind of prank pulled by, I kid you not, the PR agency for the Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Suddenly this big guy ran up to us and asked where to get “the train.” He looked spooked. I was like, “You want the Orange Line?” and he said, “No the train ! The commuter train! I gotta get out of the city!” I directed him across the street into Back Bay Station. He’s probably in California by now.

A few minutes later we decided we’d better get going ourselves. We had to get to South Station cuz my aunt needed a bus to Maine while my sister had to get to Logan for her flight. Initially we were going to take the Orange Line and transfer, but after hearing at Back Bay that Downtown Crossing was closed (still unsure why) we ended up escaping on foot down Stuart Street to South Station. I’d already run 26.2, what's a few more? Anyhow, not the most harrowing terror survival story, but a memorable day at least.

Before you send angry emails know that I did debate whether to post this, but I do a write up after all my marathons so why should I do anything differently cuz of terrorists? Just like I don't think the management of the marathon needs to be drastically altered due to these kinds of incidents, I’m not gonna change anything I’m doing. I definitely don't think heavy handed security measures should be instituted that will smother all the fun out of the race. There's events attracting big crowds every day in the USA, so what can we do? If there's medal detectors every time we go outside, lets just surrender. I'm willing to assume a few risks to continue living in a free country. But that’s just my worthless opinion. I can see how someone who was more directly affected by yesterday’s events would feel differently.

Anyhow, looking my gps data today wasn’t as as discouraging as I’d thought it would be. While my pacing wasn’t perfect and while I eventually paid dearly for all those optimistically paced miles into the wind, I really didn’t bonk that hard. My mile 21 Heartbreak split was 6:08, mile 22 off the hill was 5:38, mile 23 was 5:53, 24 was 6:02, and the wheels didn’t really come off until a 6:21 mile 25 followed by a sort of pathetic 6:39 mile 26.

In fact I'd say this was probably my best marathon even though it wasn't my best time. I just need some luck with the conditions and I’ll get there.

Moreover, the elite race was really pretty slow, and several people I know who are consistent sub-2:30 runners didn't get anywhere near 2:29 yesterday, while some of the elite women with sub-2:30 PRs could only manage 2:30-whatevers in yesterday's conditions. So while I probably should be discouraged, I’m not. If the weather cooperates I’m pretty sure I can get under 2:30. A tailwind would definitely help, I think.