I FINISHED THE BOSTON MARATHON !
OK, so I didn’t PR. Actually, I set a new PW ( a personal worst) time of 7:31 . But hey, I made it to the TOP FINISHERS list..lol
Before I get into the details of the trip, first of all let me just say what an incredible experience this has been for me (and Im sure for the other 25,000 runners). All the hype that you hear about the Boston marathon is absolutely true. There is simply no other marathon like it on the planet. This was absolutely the best marathon experience Ive ever had! It’s the runners themselves, along with the fans and the people of the Boston area that make this event so special. It’s difficult to put into words the emotions you experience when you have a half million people rooting you on mile after mile, every step of the way… and I do mean EVERY STEP! From start to finish, the fans were there!
Hard to sum up this marathon experience in one word, but if I had to, I’d choose the word… ” Overwhelming” , cuz thats what it was. Now I know why people want to do Boston. The encouragement and support from fellow runners and the fans is overwhelming. My shoulder was tapped on so many times by passing runners telling me how awesome I was, that it was sore by the end of the race. My voice actually became horse from thanking literally thousands of fans along the course who took the time to acknowledge my presence in the race, and I felt like I was going deaf from 7.5 hours of non -stop cheering.
I trained very hard for this race and for the most part , I think it paid off. If I would have pushed myself harder, I could have perhaps finished in under 7 hours, but frankly I was enjoying myself too much to shoot for a silly 7 hours PR. After 6.5 hours, who really cares…right? As far as the hospital thing, well that was just a fluke. The medical people had never encountered an athlete like me and got a little freaked out by my numbers and my medical history. But, at least you know by my experience, that if you ever need medical attention at this marathon , you’ll certainly get it ….. and then sum . lol
I left San Francisco early Friday morning with a scheduled stop-over in Denver. I had lucked out an got an upgrade to First class on United. Wow..what a difference to fly first class. FREE FOOD ! Anyways, As my plane landed in Denver, Mike called me up and we all met up at one of the airport coffee shops. Mike lives in Denver, and because it had begun to snow, his flight was delayed . This worked out great for both of us , because I had a few hours to kill before my next flight left as well. By 1 pm , we both got on our connecting flights. And though we were on different carriers, we both touched down in Boston within minutes of each other. From the airport I called the hotel and they sent a bus out to fetch me. I arrived at the Hyatt Harborside at sunset.
This is the view I encountered when I entered my hotel room.
Saturday morning I caught the water taxi from the dock at the hotel, and in 7 minutes I was in downtown Boston. From the there I caught the “T” subway train heading to the Expo. Boston has a fantastic public transport system ( too bad California can’t learn from them) Even though I was staying on the other side of the river, total trip time from my Hotel to the Expo was only about 30 minute. I spent most of the morning and part of the afternoon at the Expo. I collected my Bib and goodie bag .There was so much to see and do. While waiting in line for the registration office to open, I met up with two young ladies from Modena Italy. When they saw that I could speak Italian, we became instant friends. Turns out that they had both done the Rome marathon . After picking up my Bib, I headed over to this little mini theater they had set up where they were doing a virtual video tour of the course. I watched that thing from start to Finish. OMG…. just watching the video was giving me second thoughts about doing this race.
As promised, friend and fellow running bloggerFrancis called me up and we hooked up out in front of the Expo center. Francis qualifying time for this race was something like 3:10. He’s worked so hard over the past 2 years to get to Boston, I was really happy for him. Francis had heard that Ryan Hall was signing autographs , so we went back inside and got in a line that seemed to wrap around the entire Expo floor. Hall was only signing autographs until noon and the line was so long, I thought for sure we wouldn’t make it. But, after an hour of inching our way forward , we made it to the front got out posters signed! This may sound crazy, but I didn’t really know who Ryan Hall was until I read about him later that evening. I know Francis was a huge fan, so Im happy he got to meet him.
In addition to seeing Ryan , I also got to talk to and meet with the Hoyts . These guys are amazing .
By 2 pm the Expo was so crowed, I was getting claustrophobic and decided I’d had enough . From the Expo I set off on foot do some sightseeing in the area. I wish I had spend more time checking out downtown Boston. There’s so much to see. Next time I will for sure.
Here are some pictures taken in and around the Expo as well as the Downtown Boston area.
Sunday at 5 am, Mike , myself and his crew all met in front of the Hotel for the drive out to Hopkinton ( the town the race actually starts in). The Oxygen company that was helping sponsor Mike for this marathon, actually flew a couple of there people out to Boston and provided us with a cozy van that took us out to the starting village. The ride from Boston to Hopkinton only took about 60 minutes, compared to 2 hours it would have taken on the jammed packed buses that were hauling most of the runners.
We arrived in Hopkinton at about 7 am and were allowed to hangout at a special gym across the street from the starting Village where all the wheelchair athletes were warming up. They provided us with foam pads to lay on and free hot and cold beverages to hydrate. After Mike put the finishing touches on his O2 cart, we wandered outside to watch all the pre-race stuff.
There were tons of Satellite TV trucks and News Vans parked out front. We were interviewed by several News organization ,but I cant really remember which ones ( it was all happening so fast.) I remember speaking with a couple Boston Globe Reporters , but there were others. Everyone was waving microphones and cameras in our faces, trying to find out what our story was.
As our starting time was growing closer, I was starting to get a little concerned about the weather. I had heard forecasts that were calling for a slight chance of rain in the late afternoon, but that it would be light. My biggest weather concern was the temperature. When we arrived in Hopkinton it was a freezing 33 degrees and foggy. I was debating whether or not I should wear a jacket during the race. Luckily, just minutes before the race started, the temperature had already risen to 47 degrees and the fog was starting to lift.
Here’s some pictures of the starting area:
About 30 minutes before the start we met up with our spotter and guide, Chuck. All I can say is ..thank god for Chuck! This guy had the tedious job of tailing us on his bike for 7.5 hours. Chuck was there to monitor us and be there in case we had any medical issues or if Mike had any equipment problems. I can’t tell you how reassuring it was to have someone right there on the course, encouraging you, assisting you , and making sure you had everything you needed.
One of the coolest things about having Chuck along, was that if I had to use the bathroom ( which happens a lot) I would let Chuck know ,and he would ride out ahead of us and scout out toilet locations.Then he would reserve a spot so that I wouldn’t have to wait in line when I got there. Now, thats what I call the Royal treatment!
Unbelievably , Mike did not one stop one single time to use a john. How he did it , I’ll never know .
At 5 minutes to 9 they had all the MI ( mobility impaired ) athletes line up at the starting line. I think there were a total of 18 of us.
At that time, they had us walk back and forth across the timing mats to make sure our chips were registering. After that, Dave McGillivray, Race Director of the B.A.A. shook our hands and then simply said……..READY, GET SET….GO! And so began our 7 and a half hour journey !
For the first mile or so, there were only 18 of us on the course. And except for the helicopters flying above us and the camera trucks in front of us, it was eerily quiet. There were only a handful of spectators, mostly people sitting in their front lawns. I thought to myself…this isnt so bad. Where are all the fans? I quickly got ahead of Mike , in fact , except for 2 runners, I was head of all of them. The problem was, that in order for me to maintain that lead, I would have to continue to jog , which my lungs were not liking. Looking back behind me, I could see that Mike was starting to settle in a comfortable, but slow pace of about 17/min.
As we crested the top of the first hill ( mile 2) , you could hear the faint cheers of spectators carrying on, but as we descended and rounded the first bend…Whamm! All of a sudden it was like we were the featured guests at a home coming festival. Both sides of the narrow 2 lane road were lined with screaming spectators for as far as the eye could see. I have never witnessed anything like this in my life. There was the men and women of the National Guard posted at ever corner, waving us on. There were tons children’s group, special organizations and just regular people, high fiving us, wishing us well, trying to shake our hands. Offering us food..you name it. The adulation was overwhelming and non-stop. At one point the fans got so aggressive trying to touch us, that our spotter and the motorcycle cops moved us to the center of street where we remained throughout the rest of the race.
About every 30 minutes or so, another wave of runners would pass us by. We would pull over the side of the road and let them pass. First it was the wheel chairs, then the Womens Elite and then the Mens Elite.
Here’s a pic that Mikes partner Cameron , captured as the Hoyts streaked by us:
About 3 hours into the race, The 25,000 other regular runners caught up with us and from then on it was pure pandemonium. It was like a huge rolling block party/running parade. It was as if everyone was high from the experience. People seemed less concerned about running fast and more concerned about having a good time.
Never had I experienced just comradery among runners in a single race. We were cheered on as much by our fellow runners as we were by the fans.
The course traverses through 8 small towns, but it seems like a lot more than that. Just Imagine that every time you would enter a new town, there would be another huge celebration going on, and that you were the subject of that celebration! That’s what it was like.
Here are some photos that either I took with my phone along the way, or that Mikes Pit crew took while they were waiting for us to pass certain areas so that they could change out Mikes tanks.
OK, Fast forward to mile 18.
As promised, Heartbreak hill was brutal. Not exactly the way I had pictured it in my head, but nevertheless a tough climb. For some reason I had pictured this portion of the course as a steep climb up a narrow baron road. It wasn’t like that at all. It’s actually a series hills along a wide tree lined beautiful section of road, which gradually ascends it’s way up through what appeared to be very affluent neighborhood. It was at this point though , where you could see people pooping out. Some were literally falling down , and the people that remained upright were walking…not running!
This pic was taking at the crest of the final hill. You see me and mike at the 21 mile marker. From here on it was all downhill.
I think I faired better than most, because I live and train in a very hilly city. It’s not so much the steep steep steady climb of those last few hills, it’s their position along the course that makes them so tough. They occurred at appx miles 18-19-20 , not exactly the best place to have hills in a race, but I guess that’s what makes this marathon so challenging.
From here the last 5 miles are mostly downhill and I could have easily shaved 20 minutes from my time by jogging, but I decided that I would stay in pace with Mike and finish with him.
By mile 22 , I could feel my calf and thigh muscles starting to cramp and I was also getting nauseated. For the next few miles I would run out ahead of Mike , so that I could stretch out my legs against a tree or curb to prevent an all out cramp and look for a private place to puke if I needed to, then I would catch up with him. I would repeat this scenario every half mile for the remainder of the race.
Mile 23, the city of Boston was finally in site and you could actually see the finish area. It was at this point I knew I would finish the race within the time limit. The problem now, was that weather had gone from a pleasant 53 degrees to about 40 degrees in a matter of moments. In addition, the wind was picking up ,making it feel even colder. For the last 3 miles, I thought I was going to freeze to death. To make things worse, the constant headwind was aggravating my lungs, making me wheeze. By mile 25 , I was definitely feeling like I had done a marathon.
At mile 26, we made the first actual turn of the course where you head into the finish plaza. At this point our spotter, Chuck was not allowed to follow us anymore and we made arrangements to meet up in the VIP tent on the other side of the finish line.
As we entered the final 1/4 mile stretch to the finish line, it was starting to get dark outside and I could tell that we were probably going to be the last 2 people to finish the race. But, believe it or not, even at this late hour, there were huge crowds of people lining the streets that waited to see us finish.
Then in the last 100 yards or so, my emotions hit me like a tons of bricks. It finally dawned on me of what I had just accomplished. In the span of just 3 years, I had gone from an old out-of -shape COPDer who could barely walk a city block, and who was basically written off by the medical establishment, to achieving what many people said was silly, crazy and impossible. I was about to finish the Boston marathon!
As I set foot on the finish mat, I couldn’t control it any longer….. and the tears just gushed out. (I hope no one saw.)
I did it ! Me…..I did it !
I will deliberately end the story here , because I don’t want the wonderful memory of this most extraordinary experience to be tainted by what followed shortly after crossing the finish line. Instead, I will write a separate post regarding my little stint at Boston General.
For now I want to congratulate my partner in Crime, Mike Mc Bride on his incredible endurance and will power in this race. He is still an inspiration to me and was by far , one of the favorites of the fans that lined the course.
Let me end by saying, that I’m grateful for being given an opportunity to take part in this race. It was truely a dream come true and an experience I will never forget. I hope that other people with lung disease , will see by my example, that anything is possible if you try hard enough.
And Finally, to the BAA, the people of Boston , the nearby communities and to all the fans and runners who made us feel special.
Thanks from the bottom of my heart!
Ohhh…….and I qualified for next years race!