Boston 2014 will go down as a running event like any other. Not only did the world's oldest continuous marathon see its 118th iteration, but a city, a state, a country, and large swaths of the world bound together to avenge the catastrophic events of 2013. It was impossible not to be moved by the stories of resilience, of facing down terror, or overcoming incomprehensible adversity to take back an event which now unarguably transcends running.
#BostonStrong pretty much sums it up, but the meaning of "Boston" part of that has taken on an ever more broad definition.
For my part, not having qualified for 2014, I was determined to be a part of it, especially if I could do so by helping someone else realize his or her own goals. Through a series of fortunate coincidences, I found myself assigned to guide a visually impaired runner, Corvin Bazgan from the Bay Area in California.
There is little reason to subject the few decent people who find themselves ensconced in the contents of this blog to a long narrative race report, especially since Boston 2014 wasn't about me. Perhaps a list of highlights and other memorable aspects would be the better approach, then.
- Corvin's original goal was to improve from 3:45 last December to 3:26 in one training cycle, in his third marathon and first Boston. We revised that goal to 3:40. It was a warm day, and the Boston course is notoriously unforgiving, especially to first-timers. Alas, we ran a 4:25. I enjoyed every second; I suspect that Corvin - at least at the time - did not.:-)
- Doing this magnanimous thing led me to get to hobnob with one of the only celebrities over whom I would ever fawn . . . one of the other sighted guides was none other than NPR's "Wait, Wait . . . Don't Tell Me!" host Peter Sagal [or, as one Facebook friend called him, "Peter F-in' Sagal!"]. I got to have brunch with him; hang out for a few hours pre-race with him; run the first 7 miles of the race with his runner, Erich Manser, and him; and decompress after the race with him. His in-person persona resembles his radio one, and it was very enjoyable to exchange barbs and banter with a pro.
- I also met Aaron Scheidies, whose visual-impairment didn't stop him from running a 2:44 (!!!) at Boston 2013 (and a 2:47 this year). Talk about another inspiring story.
- The energy in and around the city of Boston and the marathon route defies verbal description. It made me feel warm and safe and energized and happy and loved and accepted and all sorts of other things. It's unlikely I'll ever get to be a part of something quite like that again, and I'm extraordinarily grateful that I was.
- I was the recipient of myriad acts of kindness, including having another runner, Dan Streetman, volunteer to clear a path ahead of my runner and me, as well as navigate the aid stations, every big-city marathon's most challenging feature. It is unfathomable to me to have gotten through the race without that extra help.
- I had wished many of my runner friends good races and "pleasant surprises". My own pleasant surprise was that my friend Holly fell in with my runner and me at just before the halfway point. Her sore foot was our good fortune, and she stayed with us until the finish. That allowed Dan to surge ahead to find another visually-impaired runner who had outrun (!) her guide and was fumbling her way on her own. Holly's grace helped two blind runners and one guide.
- Seeing friends from all over before, during and after the race was a nonstop source of joy. Some of these "virtual" friends have turned into some of my actual closest real-life friends. Seeing so many of them on Saturday night and then again on Monday was a tremendous bonus. I even got to have a nice quiet lunch with Mark Remy, without even having had to enter a Runner's World contest or anything. :-)
On Tuesday, I went to the office, and eventually got home feeling pretty wiped out. Wednesday was an intense work day, before the kids and I took off to Vermont for a couple of days of their school vacation. I ran some during the week, got back home Friday night, packed up more gear and left for the next running-related adventure . . . a 50-mile race around Lake Waramaug in Connecticut.
Monday, Boston. Tuesday-Saturday, frantic bustle of a busy life. Sunday, a 50-mile race in order to qualify to run 100-mile race.
On Tuesday, I walked a couple of miles. On Wednesday, I worked feverishly, so I could not make time to run as I'd hoped. On Thursday, I slogged through four-plus S-L-O-W miles, starting up dirt roads/XC ski trails towards Mount Mansfield near Smugglers' Notch, then turning into a stiff headwind and finally ending on the roads amidst unwelcome snow flurries. On Friday, I managed a lovely 10+-miler, into Jeffersonville, Vermont and back. Saturday saw a 5+-miler in a cold rain before driving down to Connecticut to meet my equally crazy friend Tom and his wife for dinner before finding our B&B.
Saturday proved to be a cold rainy day, with a small wondrous window of mild sunshine just in time for our early dinner in West Hartford. We even sat outside. After a few sweet cheats post-Boston, I mostly kept to my low-carb/Paleo/NSNG way of eating, and felt good energy-wise.
Meredith and I vegged out to "Ghostbusters", which I hadn't seen in who-knows-how-long, and got to sleep reasonably early.
The B&B was nice, with other runners lodging there, as it was about 20 minutes from the race start. Innkeeper Bill was super-hospitable, even making me eggs upon special request. He was confounded by a distance runner not carb-loading before a race. I spared him the inevitably sanctimonious-sounding explanations.
Pre-race breakfast consisted of COFFEE, two hard-boiled eggs, some salami, provolone cheese and a couple of peanut butter "Barista Balls" from my favorite local coffee shop. These are delicious shots of fat and protein, which taste sinful but help me start many a day on a positive note, carrying me through to lunch with no hunger pangs or energy dips.
Meredith drove me to the race, where we got settled [she'd obtained permission from the RD to do an unsupported long run during the race], and I kept my sweats on in the chilly morning temps. It was hard to tell what the day would do weather-wise, but the forecast called for mid-50s, sunny with 10+-mph winds. Visually, the lake looked stunning in the early morning light.
Nate met us there, and Tom rolled in at around the same time.
I wore my official Boston 2014 participant shirt, so that it might explain why I was running so slow. Given the general badassery of the ultrarunning crowd, though, doing a mere marathon in the same week as a 50-miler is not really anything special. I spoke with runners who had just done or were about to do 100-milers, and for whom the 50K or 50-miler was just an easy training run. I also sported thin gloves and a visor, since hats no longer stay on my froed head when I run.
The course started with a 2.2-mile out-and-back section, leaving a total of 6 loops around the 7.6-mile lake perimeter to get an even 50 miles. All I knew is that I needed to finish the race in less than 12 hours, and that I wanted to be done in under 10 hours. I was mentally prepared for a long day, and was patient in the early going.
Nate took off ahead, intent on breaking 7 hours for the 50 miles. He would end up deciding to drop down to the 50K distance, and finished second overall with a smoking 3:54.
I decided not to look at my running pace at this race, focusing instead on heart-rate as a measure of sustainable effort. While the early pace seemed "fast", my heart rate stayed at or under 140 bpm. That seemed just right.
Tom and I were jovially talkative in the early stages. We engaged with other runners. We joked when we crossed the "finish" line for the first of 6 times. We smiled for the cameras. We ran together, except for bathroom breaks (since portapotties are a bit tight for two). Everything was going well, though the temps did not rise, but the wind did pick up. The sun made occasional brief cameo appearances. For the first time in a race, I actually added a layer.
Undertaking to finish my first 50-miler [I'd dropped out of the JFK 50 in 2012 [sorta injured but really grossly under-prepared], I wanted to have a solid fueling strategy. Based in part on the phenomenal recent racing success of Zach Bitter, I decided to stay low-carb during the first half of the race, and then eat whatever appealed to me during the second half. I took only water for about 10 miles, then had one Chia Warrior Coconut bar, which I take on runs of 3+ hours these days. I also had some of those delicious Barista Balls, though my cold-compromised fingers dropped two of them as I finished the second full lap. That's when I said, to no one in particular, "Oh shit, my balls!", as I saw that delicious pair roll downhill towards the lake. In an ultramarathon, it's a good idea to bring extra everything, and I was glad to have more balls in reserve. ;-) Turns out, I would need them.
Somewhere around Mile 20, the reality of the moment hit me. I had committed to running 50 miles today, just 6 days after the Boston Marathon. This race was on pavement. Things started to hurt: calves, quads, hips, shoulders/neck. But, I shook off the negativity and just stayed in the moment: this lap, the next aid station, the next mile.
After completing the third lap, we were at about the 27-mile mark, more than half-way done and past the marathon distance. And, for me, the Festival of Unrestricted Fueling was about to begin. And that was my basic mindset for the rest of the day: Run to the next aid station. Eat and walk. Start running again. Repeat.
A sampling of what I did end up eating/drinking in the second half of the race:
- Chicken noodle soup
- Grilled cheese sandwiches
- Deviled eggs (am-A-zing!)
- Potato Chips
- Peanut M&Ms
- Graham crackers
- Candy fruit slices
Coming into the Start/Finish for the final time, I saw Meredith and Nate. My spirits were still good, but my body was tired. I'd passed my all-time mileage PR (40 miles when I turned 40) and was in completely uncharted territory. I felt some new aches, and had a blister which felt compelled to remind on every other step that running 50 miles on pavement is kind of a stupid endeavor.
The last time around the lake was a bit of a slog, but Tom and I treated it as our chance to say goodbye to the wonderful aid station volunteers, including the flirty ladies at the second station; the self-styled aid station chef (auteur of the morning's breakfast burritos, bacon, soup and grilled cheese), the soft-spoken blue-Gatorade peddler at the third station and then the home stretch.
Without a doubt, the least pleasant section of the course was a 2-mile stretch along Route 45, which was much busier than the rest of the lakefront road, and took us straight into headwinds which gusted upwards of 30 mph. The final turn back onto North Shore Road was a blessing. Tom and I cruised through the last aid station, where I had some coke and water, and then we headed for the finish.
My Garmin was reading long, so I expected to finish closer to 50.4 miles, as measured by my watch. Tom was struggling (as was I) and he asked me if we had about 1.5 miles to go. I didn't mean to be brusque, but I sort of snapped my response: "Don't worry about it." He said something else, but I didn't really hear it, because a switch suddenly flipped and I picked up the pace. Before I knew it, I had sped up by over 3 minutes per mile, dropping down into the low-7:00-minute range. I had no idea that that could ever happen after running for 9 hours. As I pumped my arms and breathed fast-but-steadily, I came upon a woman ahead, another 50-miler who'd been ahead of me for most of the day. I flew by her less than 100 yards from the finish, and she was clearly a bit befuddled (as was I).
I raised my arms, hooted and hollered and literally took a flying leap under the finish banner [nearly crashing into the aid station table when I landed]. Official time: 9:07:56. 9th male finisher; 12th overall. Tom came in a moment later, having been sort of blindsided by my unexpected kick. I hugged Meredith, and Nate, and Tom, and would have hugged anyone else who'd have let me.
50 MILES DONE IN UNDER 12 HOURS. VERMONT 100 QUALIFICATIONS ALL SATISFIED. RACE PLAN EXECUTED. EXPECTATIONS EXCEEDED.
As I said up top . . . it was a memorable week.
Thanks for reading. -Ron