Monday, May 4, 2009

Memories From My First Boston
The 2009 Boston Marathon Race Report
Part 4 – Heartbreak, The Last 10K, and The Finish

Mile 19 – A Mile of Calm
After conquering two of the four notable Newton Hills, I know I am half-way done tackling the toughest portions of the course. Although my pace had slipped to a few seconds about 7 minutes the past two miles and my heart rate began drifting about 170 for the first time in the race, I continue to run calm and steady, knowing the push to the finish is just two miles and two small speed bumps to go. The road levels to a gradual downhill at this portion of the course, allowing my legs a short reprieve and the opportunity to regain my form and stride. With Heartbreak Hill looming so large in the distance, I do not dare speed up like some of my comrades who were using this decline as an excuse to surge ahead. “Either they are veterans and are accelerating here by design or they are amateurs heading for a cataclysmic blowup in the next mile or two. I’ll find out soon enough!” I thought to myself as I shot them a glance as they passed by. The crowd is thicker now and louder than I remember them a few miles back. Some of the college kids were offering us beer disguised in cups meant to hold beverages of another sort. Unlike earlier when the frequent interactions between marathoners and spectators made running near the sidelines somewhat entertaining, few runners here were paying any mind to the roaring crowds spilling onto the course like crashing waves over a sandy shore. In my head, I hear nothing but my own synchronous footfalls hitting pavement as I follow the running caravan due east toward Boston. (Statistics: Mile 19 – 6:58; Overall Time – 2:09:33 Overall Pace – 6:49)

Mile 20 – A Physical Lockdown
Since Rover the Garmin hadn’t yet learned to report exact distances (or accurate paces for that matter) and I lost all ability to do math after about the first mile, I’m not sure what my overall pace is at this point in the race. However, as I pass by the mile 19 marker and see the next hill a bit further off in the distance, I know I am still south of goal pace by a few seconds per mile. However, I also know that I will need to avoid catastrophe scaling Heartbreak if I am to have any shot at breaking 3. The sun has climbed a bit higher in the sky, but it struggles to fight off the wind, which has also gotten stronger as morning gives way to midday. I make my way down Commonwealth Avenue and quickly arrive at the foot of the third Newton Hill. I lift my eyes, see the crest and quickly realize that this ascent is fairly short. “No big deal. A Cat Hill!” I mutter to myself as I begin the climb. Looking straight at the top while imagining myself as a gazelle, I scale the hill triumphantly and eagerly anticipate what’s to come next. Because the back side of this hill is speedy, narrow and straight, many runners are galloping past me like thoroughbreds chasing for the top prize. I was already planning my tactical assault on Heartbreak when a sudden jolt of intense pain in my right back leg stops me dead in my tracks. The awkward sensation was so unexpected that it took a few seconds for the neuronal message to register. Apparently, right here at mile 19.7, without any previous foreshadowing or pain, my right hamstring, the one that was slightly strained many weeks ago when I ran the last mile of a tempo run too fast, inexplicably decides to lock up on me and throw a tantrum. Within two seconds flat, I am transformed from a free running gazelle to a stand alone mannequin, unable to make the slightest movement with my right leg. I am embarrassed and petrified. As my mind desperately searches for answers, I lift my leg to take a step but find the shockwaves of intense pain radiating throughout my entire right leg simply too excruciating to bare. Beyond the cacophony of footsteps scampering every which way around me, I hear voices from the crowd yelling my number, urging me to “Walk it off!” and “Stretch It Out!” For a few seconds, while instinctively stretching and massaging my right hamstring, I think about admitting defeat, calling it quits and limping off the course. After all, the NJ Marathon is in a couple weeks and if I can figure out what went wrong and recover well enough, I can just chalk this up as a hard training run and try again for sub-3 there. Best of all, since I’m completely anonymous amongst these runners and spectators anyway, no one has to know! But as soon as the thoughts became coherent, I remember all of my bloggy friends back home who are right now tracking me. I remember the sign that Margo prepared and sent me the night before. I remember my running friends who have used my journey to Boston as inspiration for their own running. I remember F.L. who is dealing with injury issues of her own and running this race with me anyway. Most of all, I remember the race I am running in and know I’d never forgive myself if I DNF’d my first Boston. Besides, what am I going to do, throw away my celebration jacket and just pretend I never came? So, soon after I stopped, I make a new promise to myself that no matter what, no matter how, I am bringing this sorry body, crummy leg and all, across that damn finish line! Miraculously, once I realize that quitting was no longer an option, I feel my body relax, which allowed the tension in my right leg to dissipate. I am still in throbbing pain, but can almost as a dare force myself to take a few steps. Upon realizing that I did not crumble to the ground like I had feared, I begin to walk very gingerly as best I could. And after walking slowly for what seemed like another eternity, when in actuality was only 5-10 seconds, I begin to wonder how long it’d take me to walk the remaining 6.5 miles to the finish and how long it’d take my left leg to stiffen up too once I am walking. So I force myself to start running again. I define “running” extremely loosely in this context because although in theory I am carrying my body from point A to B as fast as I can given the circumstance, in practice, my forward motion compares more favorably to an interpretation of the triple jump (hop, skip, and a jump) than a run by any stretch of the imagination. It must have been quite an inspirational sight to see because once I began moving, the ovation I received from the generous crowd of marathon spectators was louder and more boisterous than any I’ve ever gotten for anything I’ve ever done in my life! (Statistics: Mile 20 – 7:47; Overall Time – 2:17:20 Overall Pace 6:52

Mile 21 – The Heartbreak Hill
I blink twice hard once I see the digits from the horrific mile flash across the Garmin display. I climb Heartbreak with the knowledge that quest for sub-3 is officially over. I am disappointed in myself even as I know there really wasn’t much I could do about it. My troublesome hamstring continues to throb with each uncertain step as I make my way up the hill that has gradually become synonymous with my outlook on the race itself. It feels somewhat anti-climatic to be running up this historic landmark now that the pace and time no longer matter for me. Although many has described it as the longest uphill mile you’ve ever run, my review of this mile is rather modest, as it closely resembles the 5th Avenue Mile at Mile 23 of the NyC Marathon, only that it’s less steep and quite a bit shorter than it’s NYC counterpart. It is also somewhat less decorated than I’d imagined as I hardly even know I was there until I was at the top staring at a sign in the crowd that read “It’s All Downhill From Here”. To be honest, I was somewhat disappointed upon reaching the summit since I was expecting more and had so much left to give than what the numbers would show afterwards. (Statistics: Mile 21 – 7:24; Overall Time – 2:24:44 Overall Pace – 6:53)

Mile 22 - The Graveyard Mile
Once over the top, I see the city skyline unfold off in the distance and feel again the palpable excitement of the crowd. There is a festive atmosphere here as the runners all around me celebrate their conquest of Heartbreak by tearing down the steep and lengthy descent. I cannot join in the revelry with my slow and awkward gait so I slide off to the side to avoid the impending stampede. As the multitudes run conveniently by, I see and feel the derogatory stares from runners I had passed many miles back. I thwart their glances and turn my head. A thousand uninhabited tombstones follow my gaze and greet me as I scamper painfully by. I curse myself and wonder aloud why I’m hurting so bad and being subjected to such ridicule and shame. (Statistics: Mile 22 – 6:57; Overall Time – 2:31:41; Overall Pace – 6:53)

Mile 23 – Beacon, Brookline, and Misery
It is becoming cloudy and cold as I turn onto Beacon Street and enter the town of Brookline. Despite the harsh headwinds impeding our arrival into this suburban town, the last of its kind before Boston, the locals around here don’t seem to mind. They are grilling burgers out on second floor balconies and dancing in the streets to loud music pumping out of frat houses and bars. The roar of the crowd lined four to five deep is almost deafening as we approach closer and closer to our destination. Unfortunately for me, despite their affectionate outpourings of support and wild displays of joyful exuberance, I have just about given up on my race by this point. My leg is crampy, my quads are burnt, my gait is uneven and awful, and my pace is unrecognizable to me. The only solace I have is the knowledge that I’ll be done with marathons for a while after the next few miles. I try again to speed up beyond a comfortable pace with the intention of getting this torture test over and done with ASAP but my hamstring seizes up in anticipation of a preeminent cramp. I return reluctantly to a slow manageable pace even as I know from experience that my heart and lungs are capable of so much more. (Statistics: Mile 23 – 7:26; Overall Time – 2:39:07; Overall Pace – 6:55)

Mile 24 – An Emotional Ride
I continue on through Beacon St, running almost in fumes. I am hurt, angry, depressed, disappointed and extremely tired. For the life of me, I cannot imagine why I ever thought THIS would be fun. As I am about to slip further and further away from the marathon and the crowds and into my own world of pain and self-loathing, I remind myself to speak to the one person who never fails to bring clarity and perspective to mile 24 of every single marathon I’ve run. I have a secret and emotional rendezvous with my sister who I can see and hear most clearly when I’m at my worst. I start by telling her about my life, my running, what has changed and how it’s changed since the last time we met at mile 24. She listens attentively while I discuss with her why I think running this race and inspiring others to do the same has made me a better man. Despite my physical pain which is making this spiritual conversation more difficult than I’d imagined, I ask for her forgiveness that I have forgotten the main reason I run marathons which is so I can share these silent, powerful and private conversations with her that no one can listen to or see. My sister does not communicate with an audible voice, but I feel her presence none the same. She wants me to know that I am a good runner and a good man, like none other she’s seen. She tells me she’s proud to be a sister of a Boston marathoner, just like I should be of myself, and urges me to seize the moment and run as happy and as free as I can. Before reaching the next marker and leaving this conversation behind, I say a prayer of gratitude, tell sis I’ve really missed having her around, dry my eyes with the underside of the bandanna on my forehead and return to the race with a renewed fervor and attitude. (Statistics: Mile 24 – 7:27; Overall Time – 2:46:34; Overall Pace – 6:56)

Mile 25 – The CITGO sign
I finally arrive at downtown Boston where the giant CITGO sign up ahead shines against the dark and overcast sky like a giant beacon of effervescent light guiding us toward the finish line. The headwind which started as a breeze coming over Heartbreak has gotten significantly worse as the afternoon wears on. By this point, everyone is his own worse enemy as I see more than a few runners walking and limping off to the side. I myself am caught in no man’s land as I alternate between running, shuffling and waddling. The sharp cramps in my leg have subsided to a constant but dull gnawing pain as I struggle against my better judgment to finish off the race. Kenmore Square and the legendary Fenway Park pass me by but I can no longer lift my eyes to enjoy the majestic scenery. All I can afford to think about is putting one foot in front of the other in whatever gait that won’t aggravate the right leg and getting to the CITGO sign that seems to be moving deceptively further away from me with each and every step. (Statistics: Mile 25 – 7:28; Overall Time – 2:54:02; Overall Pace – 6:57)

Mile 26 and The Last .2 – The Final Push
Eventually, I arrive at the CITGO sign and almost instantaneously pass through the Mile 25 marker. I react to the juxtaposition and become livid with disgust. For some reason, I had thought that the CITGO sign marked the end of the race. From seeing signs from the crowd declaring “Almost There. 1.2 Miles To Go!” I wanted to curse the whole world and drop dead right there on the course! Suddenly, no doubt suffering from a delirium brought on by extreme anger and utter disappointment, I stop caring about the precarious nature of my leg and make up my mind that I will run like hell for the finish line. Right there and then, I started running. Fast. Down the rest of Commonwealth and the right onto Hareford and finally the left onto Bolyston, I ignore the fatigue, the pain, and the screaming pretenses warning me to stop. I don’t look up to soak up the atmosphere and the crowds like I always imagined I would but just kept running and counting the steps until the finish. As I did, I must have passed 10-20 runners during that last mile. It was a small consolation prize for missing the original mark and gutting it out to the end. I keep my drive and do not stop until I cross the finish line in front of the Boston Public Library where I was imagining a more triumphant victory 24 short hours ago. I stop my watch and immediately see that I had finished a second behind my PR time despite carrying what I thought was a ferocious pace in the last 1.2. I am extremely disappointed once again even as I know I had absolutely given it my all just not to limp off the course, not to DNF and finish what I had started in the toughest and most physically challenging marathon I’ve ever run. (Statistics: Mile 26.2 – 8:19; Final Time – 3:02:21; Final Average Pace – 6:57)

*Addendum and some pictures to follow. I apologize for the tardiness of this last update, but it has been extremely difficult for me to recapture these moments and re-tell my tale. Please don’t hate me for it! I’ll explain further in a subsequent post. I appreciate your support and your patience.

30 comments:

DeAnna said...

Amazing. I can't even imagine what that was like (although you did a great job of making us feel like we were there). Congratulations on FINISHING your first Boston, what an accomplishment. I was following you on race day and was sad to see you didn't make sub 3 as you had wanted but still felt like you must have ran a great race to finish in the time that you did. I never would have imagined something like this. What guts and determination it must have taken to not walk off that course. Wear that jacket with pride.

Betsy said...

You have every reason to be proud of what you accomplished. You'll get that sub-3 someday. What's important is that you kept going, gutted through, and finished your race.

DDYA!

Pilar said...

Great job Lam!

joyRuN said...

Your hammie cramped at mile 20 & you still pulled off a 7:47 pace - daaaannnng. Holy hard core!

I'm glad you were able to reconnect with your sister & finish off an impressive race.

Congrats on a great Boston, & a wonderful race report.

Irish Cream said...

Aw, Lam. I am so amazed by what I just read, I can't even begin to tell you. As I was tracking you, I assumed that the wind/elements had gotten to you (like everybody else that day) and slowed you down a bit--I had no idea your leg had freaked out on you like that. To have finished Boston in the time you did, with those winds and cramping issues? THAT is seriously impressive, my friend. You'll get the sub-3. We all know it, and you know it yourself. Thank you for sharing the journey with us, despite the fact that it must have been tough to relive it. You are seriously tough, and you are an inspiration to all of us!

Jamie said...

Wow! Hammie pain and still only 1 second off your PR - wow! I hope you can look back now that some time has passed (or you will be able to soon) and see all that you did to finish the race. Congrats on an amazing performance at your inaugural Boston!

J said...

I hope that you can see the good in all of this, see your potential and how strong a person you actually are. With all the adversity you pushed through and ran the Boston Marathon. You are a talented runner and an example for all to follow. Keep your head up Lam, you are amazing!

Spike said...

the section about your conversation with you sister is powerful, I will never forget it.

great job not giving up and finishing so strong. in the end, it is the emotional victories that last longer than the prs. thanks for always inspiring.

Chic Runner said...

You are amazing, and inspirational Lam! I know it stinks to hear it but great job. So glad you finished and worked your butt off.

RazZDoodle said...

I bow down in reverence. Nicely done!

lindsay said...

i'm with joy - ham cramps and 7:47 pace...incredible. way to push through it lam. i can't imagine the battle that went on in your mind but i am glad you gutted it out and didn't quit. i know you'll always feel down about your performance, but to me (and surely many others) a 3:02 at boston is amazing. you'll get your sub-3!

M2Marathon said...

It is disappointing when you don't accomplish exactly what you set out to...but I have to say that the determination and ability to still run that fast (ok, maybe not fast to you but fast to me!) is quite amazing. What always helps me is to think of all the people out there that can't even run one mile...or 5 miles..or 10, let alone 26.2 at a good clip, while in pain. I hope now that you've had a little time you are proud of what you accomplished; I've no doubt you'll get that sub-3.

Running and living said...

Wow, what an incredible journey. Thanks for sharing, Lam. Congrats on pushing through and finishing strong! Perhaps it was meant to be for you to get your first sub 3 back home, at the NYC marathon:) Ana-Maria

Mike G said...

You would make a very tough - but good - track coach ;)

Nitmos said...

Yeah, cramps suck.

Way to fight through it though. And you'll fight again another day!

runner26 said...

wow, lam. what a story! I'm totally in awe of you. That sub-three has got to be in your near future. Hope you're resting and recovering like you should be (ie. not chasing me halfway through the park just to say hi ;))

Michelle said...

You have my utmost support Mr Leslie Boston marathoner!!!

Are you kidding me?? Dude I know you feel disappointed but you really rocked those last 6.2 miles!

I am proud of you!!!

Tami said...

as the days have passed i hope that you found some type of happiness with just completely the race.....someday a sub3 for now, you have joined the few to say i ran boston

Marci said...

I think you are being hard on yourself. Don't let time overide your great accomplishment. In reality you ran your best marathon a second time on a tougher course!! You will run sub 3, but more important you finished Boston in a REALLY FAST amazing time! Congrats Lam.

matpedw said...

I always enjoy reading your reports. I know parts of it must be hard to re-live but it truely does help people like me learn to become better runners.
I found your blog after googling like mad for marathon experiences the night before my first marathon. I guess I was a little anxious and confused about how to approach it. Your race reports really helped me the next day. I suspect they will continue to help me. Thanks for that!

Cowboy Hazel said...

"Rover the Garmin." Nice. I like it.

Anne said...

You may be disappointed, but I still think you're awesome. My brother ran Boston five years ago and at one point he found himself lying in the middle of the road, clutching his cramped hamstring (he qualified for the marathon with a 3:01, but finished it in, like, 3:30-something).

And I love, love, love your mile 24 conversation. Thank you for sharing that with us. When I feel low in a long race I think of my oldest son and everything he's endured and survived. It always chokes me up, but always spurs me on, too.

Susan said...

You may be disappointed with the outcome of Boston, but I am still amazed at the awesome race you ran, even with the little hamstring set back. I'm so sorry that flared up when it did, but I think it means a lot that you kept going and finished the race you set out to run. You'll get that sub-3 soon!

jb24 said...

Congrats on a fantastic race. I know that you are disappointed that you didn't break three hours, but you still ran an incredible race and a PR on a very tough course. You will reach your goal the next time. Get some rest. On the bright side, you were able to follow up your marathon PR with a PR in the Half only a couple weeks later.

carpveviam said...

I'm really proud of you for finishing up the final post. I know it helped when I wrote mine, even though I still feel like I didn't truly capture the moment for what it was.

I find it very interesting the thoughts we have while running marathons. The irrational things we consider. The emotional things that get us through. I think it all characterizes us and becomes symbolic to who we are. I learn so much about myself in every race I run...especially marathons.

Well done, Doc. So proud! ;)

Run For Life said...

Lam, while you did an amazing job during the whole race those last 6.5 miles certainly show what you're made of. I hope your hamstring is behaving itself and that you're feeling less disappointed now. Your sister is right, you are a great runner and person!

aron said...

thank you again for another amazing and honest race report. they are the best! you did a GREAT job getting through that course and finishing up that marathon, you should be very proud and hold your head high :)

now i just need to listen to my own words :)

you are an amazing and inspiring runner lam... thank you for all your support you give all of us in the blogging community.

The Happy Runner said...

Wow. Congratulations. I can't imagine gutting it out like you did. That must have been so hard but you did it. You finished your first Boston in a terrific time (even if it wasn't exactly what you were shooting for). Just awesome! And, your race reports were great! Thanks!

M*J*C said...

What an amazing journey! As always reading your report totally "got me" and I felt like I was there. I was thrilled to read that you thought of MY sign during YOUR FIRST Boston Marathon! I feel completely honored.
You should be so proud of yourself, really really really proud!

sRod said...

Thanks for sharing the journey Lam. Would love to run a race with you one day, but I would have to invest in a rocket pack first.

 
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