Thursday, April 19, 2012
The Boston Gauntlet of Marathon Death
I should have just set up a treadmill in a sauna.
Anyhow, despite the absolutely punishing heat, and navigating a course that turned into a veritable battlefield littered with the strewn bodies of passed-out heat-stroke-stricken runners, that race will go down as the most satisfying, memorable, and masochistic thing I've yet accomplished in my fairly un-noteworthy life.
Boston itself is electric during the whole marathon weekend. The town residents see it as an excuse to drink copiously in public on a free, Boston-only Monday holiday, and being that they're Bostonians, they fully embrace the added economic revenues and the pure gladiator-theatre spectacle that is the marathon. Idiot humans, running 26 miles, totally flogging themselves -- paying for the privilege. They don't know whether to admire us or wonder how much more de-evolved we'll become.
But anyhow, it was my first trip to Boston, so in addition to going for the race spectacle, I was equally excited to check out such a historical, venerated city.
So runners. We are total nerds. You could spot the runners in the airport and all around town everywhere you went. Skinny, wearing wicking fabric (to the airport, breakfast -- wick wick!), and big, overbuilt sneakers. There was this distinct cockiness in the air -- a haughtiness that comes from the prestige of having to qualify to get into the race in the first place, coupled with the fact that the Bostonians themselves tend to tip the scales north of a reasonable BMI level -- making the runners feel even more smug about their chosen time-suck of a sport.
But it was electric, nonetheless. The energy and excitement were palatable.
On race day itself, we caught our bus at 6 a.m. for the 10:20 race start. That seems a bit early for a mere 26 mile one-way bus ride, right? Well, considering that over 22,000 started the race, and that they had to round up probably every school bus in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, it's actually amazing that it worked out as smoothly as it did.
By the time my wave lined up at 10:20, it was in the high-70s, and we were all sweating at the start line. The wiser ones in the crowd seemed to be calculating their very-revised plans for running a fast race, but most still made the mistake of starting out too fast, or thinking that they would be above the effects of the Almighty Heat Stroke.
I was in the second camp. I slightly adjusted my pace, but in looking at my first half split as compared to my second half split, I clearly went for the positive split strategy -- which, as any runner will tell you, is not the best way to run a race. And it was a funny thing -- the temperature effects bared their ugly fangs fairly early on, so I took on plenty of water, doused myself in nearby neighbor's hoses, treated myself to plenty of ice handouts, and even took an occasional popsicle from a kid, but I just could not stay ahead of the heat-effects during the second half and still run a pace that had the number 8 anywhere in the beginning numbers. By the end, I was STOKED to see a 9:30 mile. At least I'm not hurling and fainting like the people around me, I thought. It was not a normal marathon.
It hurt, for sure, but there was this distinct feeling in the air -- this shared, collective resignation that no one was going to meet their time goal, so all 22,000 of us banded together, slowed our pace, and supported each other in our shared suffering. As the miles ticked on, the course became more and more of a battlefield and less of a prestigious marathon course. People everywhere walked up the hills. Took long breaks at the water stops. Laid down in the grass. Got carried away by the medics. Took off their shoes. Shuffled along, willing the miles to happen.
And that's when I started to love it. I loved that I was a part of this wave of craziness -- this nonsensical event we do that hurts our bodies more than it builds them, and then to collectively decide to continue on in defying temperatures that our winter-training had not prepared us for -- just so we could finish. There was this incredible feeling of accomplishment because of the added struggle, and it was interesting to feel a part of such a thick skinned-will to finish something so senseless and painful.
My favorite part, by far, were the crowds. For 26 miles, from rural Hopkinton all the way to the city center, the crowds jammed the streets screaming their heads off. It was deafening at times. They sympathetically handed us extra water and ice, told us we were crazy in their Boston accents, and cheered us on. The Wellesley girls kissed us and screamed and bore signs proclaiming messages such as "Kiss me because I'm not Irish." "Kiss me because I'm stoned." "Besame porque soy Mexicana." "Kiss me if want to drop out," "Kiss me if you want me to take my shirt off," and so on. Closer to the city, the Boston College fraternities showered us with beers and signs that said "Shortcut, this way!" "Quit now!" and other encouraging slogans.
The last few miles to the finish line were extra punishing with the heat, so I tried to concentrate on the screaming people, the fact that the race had been going on for 116 years, and that I was now a part of the oldest and most revered marathon in the world.
Probably the worst part, post-finish, was the long, long walk to the buses to retrieve our drop bags. My bus, effing thing, was the very last bus on the street, so I hobbled along, stepping over bodies, tears running down my face, willing myself to make it to the bus so I could grab my phone and call people for immediate sympathy. Everyone else had the same plan. It was hilarious -- we were all on our phones complaining and demanding sympathy and congratulations for our self-induced flog fest.
Post race, Kelly and I met up with some friends from our North Carolina days, and being that we weren't so concerned about our fitness for the immediate future, I rallied everyone to drink Irish Car Bombs (which are, incidentally, illegal in fine Boston, but that's a whole other post). The men, having their wits about them, resisted a bit, so I may have introduced some jabs involving their lack of cajones, and pretty soon, they were slamming 'em down, in fine form.
I'm pretty sure that's the only marathon where I came home with a solid extra few pounds, thanks to the copious Irish bars and excellent fish and chips that the city is known for.
So final time, 3:48. I had originally hoped for a 3:23- 3:25-ish marathon, and I'm bummed I didn't re-qualify, but I am so glad I got to experience everything Boston threw at me.