Tuesday, April 16, 2013

How I Want to Remember the 2013 Boston Marathon

Carrie wrote about our Boston Marathon experience in the previous post. I will not mention the attack again because that is not what I want to remember about the day. I feel like my memories and celebration of an unique and life changing experience were stolen from me by an act of madness and hatred. I want to capture how I felt about the race before my positive memories are overshadowed.

The starting line was buzzing with potential energy in a way I've never experienced before. Some people were kicking their legs and a few were stretching out, but most were looking forward with a steely gaze toward the starting line. I had a set of headphones on, listening to some music to get pumped up for the race but I didn't really need it - and unlike all of the other Marathons I had run I planned on not wearing the headphones for the actual race. The racers lined up in the corrals were like a giant spring compressed as tightly as possible. Thousands of elite athletes who had trained for this moment and who were so full of power bars, cliff shots, gu, and honey stingers they were nearly ready to burst. When the race began it was a tidal wave of speed. I'm used to jostling for position at races but this was more like getting caught up in a surge then fighting to get ahead. The course starts downhill and everyone is so amped up that it is easy to go out too fast.

My right leg had been really bothering me for the past two weeks ever since I started tapering off my training. I did a speed work session at the jr. high track and felt like I pulled something. I had low expectations for this race since I could hardly walk around Boston without a hitch in my step on Sunday. I seriously thought I was injured and wouldn't be able to run well. I'm sure my friends and coworkers were tired of me trying to lower my expectations. I was just going to enjoy the experience. The time is not important I kept telling myself. The course is too difficult to set a Personal Record (PR). I told my coach (Carrie) that I would try to go out at 7:20 pace and see what happened.

That plan lasted about a mile. With the wave of adrenaline and the help of some ibuprofen my leg felt pretty good - and with the spirit of the event I just wanted to run. I found a group of people that were going at a pace that I thought felt good and decided to try to shadow them. There was a beefy blond guy in a yellow singlet that I nicknamed Wolverine for some reason. A black woman with an easy to spot long braid that had a "Run with us, it's better than therapy" shirt on and a red headed girl that I stereotypically labeled Ginger. So I fell into step with Wolverine, my therapist, and a member of the crew of the S.S. Minnow for the next 8 -10 miles. Since I was not wearing headphones I was having a hard time hearing the audio pace cues from my iphone GPS app. I thought I heard them clocking in at about 7:05 minute per mile pace. That was much too fast - but I was feeling good and I wasn't sure of my pace because the crowd was so loud!

In regards to the crowds - I have never felt more like a rockstar than I did on the course of the Boston Marathon. My wife had made me a sticker with my name on it and I wore it on the front of my shirt. I must have had at least 1,000 people yell "Go Matt", "You got this Matt", or my favorite "Way to be Matty boy!" during the course of the event. My face seriously started to hurt from smiling so much. The people of Massachusetts were unbelievably supportive. I gave hi fives to hundreds of kids. There was a guy with a sign that said "Go Go Idaho" on a ladder that I literally jumped up to for a high five. That was probably not the best move for my pace but the endorphins were firing like crazy. I was so full of dopamine I was just being silly. 

Around mile 10 I ran into some LDS missionaries and gave them a shout out - and noticed a guy running next to me did as well. I asked if he was Mormon and he said he was. We chatted a bit - something that I never do when racing - a peril of not wearing my headphones. It was fun to have someone to talk to. Maybe I'll try to be a more social runner in the future. We lost each other at the next water station though. I had also lost track of the other folks I had been using as pace bunnies so I settled into my own pace.

I really enjoyed running through the smaller towns like Ashland and Framingham. Being a small town boy myself it was fun to run through them. The crouds reminded me of the Eastern Idaho State fair parade.

I ran near a guy dressed as a hamburger for a while but pressed forward since I didn't want to get beat by the burger guy. I was able to turn up my volume on my phone and confirmed around mile 11 that I was on 7:05 pace. This was much faster than planned and I needed to make a decision. There were still the dreaded Newton hills ahead. I was starting to feel a tiny bit of a hitch in my stride. It was probably best if I backed off the pace for a bit - after all I wanted to be able to walk tomorrow. But, instead I decided to go all in and just try to maintain the 7:05 pace as long as I could and see what happened. It was time to go big! This was the Boston marathon. I started to make small goals. I would see how I was doing at the halfway mark in Wellesley - plus I wanted to be in good form for the legendary Wellesley College screamers.

A note about my nutrition plan. I felt I didn't eat enough for the Victoria Marathon and that perhaps that had contributed to me flagging at the end. To remedy it I ate a lot more during Boston. I had a plain Bagel (72 cal) in the morning on the train ride in and a banana (105 cal) and powerbar at the staging area (230 cal), a package of honey stingers as I walked to the starting line (180 cal), two cliff shot block packages spread out from mile 5 to 18 (caffeinated 400 cal total), and a power bar vanilla energy shot (100 cal). I also probably drank at least 20 oz of Gatorade (517 cal). So, in total about 1600 calories consumed between waking up and finishing the race.

Back to the Wellesley screamers - they were great and very supportive - although I didn't feel their volume lived up to the hype. They were loud but not deafening. There signs were very clever and it was one of the rock star moments of the race. Favorite signs "Kiss me I'm from WA" and "Kiss me I won't tel your Wife / GF" and "Kiss me I'm an Engineer". I gave a high five to the WA girl but did not partake of the kisses. I did see some men accepting the invitations though and it seemed like we all got a boost of energy from the attention.

I made it through Wellesley maintaining my pace. My next milestone was when I expected to see Carrie and our friends around mile 16. Surely I could keep it up until then. I wanted to make sure to be in trouble with coach for being four minutes ahead of schedule. I was starting to feel the affects of the fast pace at this point. I could feel myself breathing harder. My feet were starting to hurt and I wanted to relax my running posture. I felt like the people cheering for me were saying "looking good" less and less and "you can do this" more and more.

Mile 16 came and went and I didn't see Carrie. I thought I would see our friend Mark first since he was on a bike and was planning on shadowing me through part of the race. I started to worry that they had troubles getting to the course and only took solace in the fact that perhaps they missed me because I was so fast.

Happily, around mile 17 I spotted Carrie before she saw me and swooped in and gave her a big hug and kiss - pace be damned! It was great to see her and it gave me a much needed shot of energy as the dreaded Newton hills began.

This is when my hubris started. I was actually looking forward to the hills. I run on mountains in Washington and I was excited to see what all the heartbreak was about. I started taunting the hills a bit in my mind.

"Is that all you got?"
"My hill is five times your size!"
"I'm from Bellevue and this is nothing!"

I felt good through the hills and passed a lot of people. When I crested heartbreak I didn't believe it. I was worried someone was playing a joke on me and that there had to be at least one more hill. I had reached mile 21 and knew it was all down hill from here. My pace had slowed to 7:08 through the hills but I was still well below PR pace and feeling like superman. On the downhill after heartbreak I just took off. I ran one of my fastest miles of the race and the crowd was screaming my name! I knew that the hardest part of the race was still to come but I didn't care in that moment. I wanted to fly.

At around mile 23 I started to pay for my hubris. In my sprint down heartbreak I let my form deteriorate and it was catching up with me. I locked on to a guy in an NRA singlet that had a good pace going and just tried to let my desire to keep up drag me through the last 5k. It doesn't seem like 3.1 miles should seem like a long way to a marathoner - but at that point it felt like an eternity. I could start to see my dreams of a new PR fading away.

As we got closer into the city the crowds were getting bigger and bigger. Unfortunately it was harder to connect with them as I wrestled with myself in my head. The body definitely wanted to shut down. But I thought of all the thousands of people that had given me this gift - the people in Hopkington, Framingham, Ashland, Wellesley, Newton, Boston College. They gave me this one perfect day to run their race. I thought of my wife and my kids and how the race had inspired me to not only run with more heart than I had before but to live my life better than I have before. I wanted to finish strong for all of them.

I also didn't want to pass out - which I was definitely was in serious risk of at this point. I could see the Citgo sign which marks the 1 mile to go point but it seemed really far away. NRA guy pulled up because he had something in his shoe and I passed him which actually felt disheartening rather than encouraging. My arms started to feel numb and tingly and I could feel myself drifting into a bit of a trance. I had to keep talking to myself to make sure I was there. I really wanted to stop running. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other. I passed the Citgo sign and the NRA guy passed me. It was good to have my friend back. One mile to go.

At this point people saying my name was really helpful because it helped pull me hold on to consciousness. I slapped myself in the face every few hundred feet to keep myself alert. I waved my arms to the crowd to try to get them to cheer for me. Carrie saw me do this and later reported I looked like a wounded bird trying to take flight. I turned the corner onto Boyleston street and was daunted by how far way the finish line was. I wasn't positive about it but I had a feeling I was close to my PR. I gutted it out and just kept my feet moving. After what seemed like an eternity I crossed the line and could finally stop. I finished in 3:10:10. Just 30 seconds slower than my PR - but on a much more challenging course and not in as good of shape. I was so happy. This was much better than expected - even though I was a little disappointed about missing the PR and about not hitting the qualifying time for my age group by a mere 10 seconds.

I was laughing with joy and stumbled around the finish area trying not to pass out and trying to soak it all in. I had finished the 117th Boston Marathon and it had been the greatest run of my life. I was so happy. I jumped on my phone and was overwhelmed by all the texts and Facebook messages and emails from the people I love that were cheering for me - it's pretty awesome how technology can magnify this type of experience.

I will always cherish this trip to Boston and the love I felt from all the people in this area. I've never run at any of the other major marathons but it's hard to believe that they could match the spirit of the people here! Despite other events that occurred I'm already scheming about how to come back - good thing my time in Victoria can count toward next year too.


Debbie said...

Awesome job Matt!

Rachel Eddington said...

Matt, I haven't been able to run a marathon for a few years because of injuries, but reading this really reminded me of the 4 I ran. The description of the feeling of the last 5k is spot on. Sounds like a great run.

Chris O. said...

Sounds like an excellent race. Well done!

Hi! said...

Thank you for this, so inspiring. Thank you for telling us about your day and not letting anyone or anything spoil it for you and your family! Awesome job, and a day you will never forget! SO glad all is well!

LaVaun and Robert said...

Congratulations Matt and coach Carrie! We love you and are so happy for you.

Rachael said...

I am inspired. I loved your account. I also loved how you ran without headphones. My first marathon I did just that and I felt more connected with the runners and the race and definitely more joyful. Born to run!

Beth said...

You had a great run and are such a good runner! I'll never qualify for Boston, but I am inspired by your running!

SewSara said...

Awesome, matt! I'm so glad you posted this. It was really fun to read and i'm glad you got to do it. Thanks for sharing! Glad you're ok and had a great experience.
(Sara Packham)

Anonymous said...

Great job Matt!