Wednesday, April 18, 2007

2007 Boston Marathon Reprise

There should be a graph of my Polar heart rate chart from the 2007 Boston Marathon here, but in its infinite wisdon, Google has yet again changed their Blogging format and user system. Trust me, this is only de rigeur for the past... oh my God, has it really been six days of my life?

The 2007 Boston Marathon has been a cluster fuck for yours truly from beginning to end. And in some ways, it has been one of my most enjoyable marathon experiences ever. And I do mean ever.

Let me start from the beginning as they like to say...

Last year I qualified for the 2007 Boston Marathon in Boston itself. The 3:30:39 marathon I ran in Boston in 2006 I have come to think of as my best marathon race effort ever. It wasn't my smartest race - because I came dangerously close to bonking in the early stages - but I thought it was the marathon where I dug the deepest in the final stages and was willing to pay the highest price to do well.

The last 10 K of Boston last year was the hardest ten kilometres I have ever experienced in terms of cramping, pain and suffering. It was glorious. And to funnel between those enormous, raucous, thundering crowds of race fans to cross the finish line was simply a spine-tingling, hair-raised-on-the-back-of-your-neck, never to be forgotten trancendant experience. Honestly, I still get a little choked up thinking about it.

This year I ran a 3:48 something. Don't remember the seconds, don't really care.

I bailed on the Boston Marathon as a race this year before the starting pistol for the second wave ever went off in the cold and damp and drizzling rain of Monday morning.

I entered my taper this past few weeks with tremendous reservations about my level of fitness and readiness for the 2007 Boston Marathon. I started this Boston Marathon training cycle back in December, but family health issues made it very difficult to focus and concentrate on what I needed to do. In addition to that, December was a tough month to train in weather-wise - although hindsight suggests it would have been perfect preparation for Boston this year!

I got untracked in January, but come February I found myself struggling to fight off a cold and then succumbed like so many others plague victims in Vancouver this Spring. I spent five solid days in bed and didn't venture outside to run for almost two weeks. When I did hit the road again I was as weak as a kitten.

A month ago I managed to polish off all my long runs and my speed work, but I never felt like I was on top of my training. Even well into my taper, and happy to be a svelt 182 pounds, I never got a sense that my legs had the pop and snap, that edge of speed that I had felt in my previous two marathons.

In the week preceding the marathon the weather reports were enough to give one pause. I knew that I was only marginally in peak fitness and I knew that an attempt at a sub-3:30:00 time in Boston this year - I had long since given up on my dreams of a sub-3:20:00 - was going to take a heroic effort of Herculean proportions. Even then, I knew it was going to be a toss-up if I could re-qualify. Throw in reports of freezing rain and steady 20-30 mph headwinds with gusts up to 50 mph and I knew I was facing a potentially stacked deck.

Arriving in Boston last Friday, with my flight delayed several hours and my luggage missing in action, I was already equivocating. Because of my missing gear I had to buy a whole new outfit at the Boston Expo - I had the good sense to pack my runers in my carry-on luggage - and I began to feel like poor old Sisyphus. A visit to the Start Line in Hopkinton on Sunday, feeling first-hand the freezing temperatures and seeing the snow still on the ground and the abandoned boothes and stalls that are normally crowded with thousands of runners and race fans made my decision the night before a relatively easy one.

One of the highlights of this year's Boston Marathon was finally meeting Wayne "Scooter" Baker in person. Wayne and I have traded e-mails and Blogs for several years now. What a treat to go out for beers and trade stories and talk about the history of the Boston Marathon and the runners we have met and all the myriad reasons why we love the Boston Marathon. Meeting with Wayne crystalized why running, why marathons and why the Boston Marathon in particular have come to mean so much to me. It's about the people, and the shared experiences and about a sense of community among people with whom you share a passion.

I went to bed on Sunday night, filled with a couple of pints of Blue Moon and the knowledge that more than anything else, despite the weather and the difficulties training and in getting there, I was in Boston to enjoy the Marthon for itself and the people that surround the race, the other runners and the incredible Boston Marathon volunteers and the fabulous fans along the course who create such an amazing event. It was about high-five from little kids, and people handing out water and orange slices and paper towels and who shout out their support and encouragement and yes, love, and it's about the wonderful Wellesley women, young and old, of all shapes and sizes and all of them beautiful and LOUD and they rouse your spirit and carry you on their energ down the road for another few miles until the next group of race fans picks up your spirits and propels you forward, until you crest Newton and Heartbreak Hill on gutted legs but you hardly notice because of the SCREAMING of strangers who are running with you vicariously and downing beers ALL BECAUSE OF YOU! Because you had a dream to run in Boston and you made it happen.

On race day I woke up in pitch black, listening to the wind howl against the hotel in Milford. A peek out the window revealed conifers bent nearly double as they twisted and turned in the wind. I opened the window a crack and closed it immmediately as rain and a chill wind hammered to get in. In the dark dawn hours I dressed in a layer of Vaseline, shorts, tights, a long-sleeved and a short-sleeved shirt, a rain jacket, a touqe, a hat and gloves. I packed a rain ponch for the start line. Inside the hotel room I almost immediately broke into a sweat. But the idea of running for three and a half hours in near freezing temperatures in a steady rain and high winds made it an easy outfit to live with. I knew I wouldn't be warm long.

The shuttle bus to the start was slow and steamy. It was a little like the costume parade in the Medoc Marathon as you had to see to beleive some of the get-ups that runners had fashioned to stay warm and dry. I would venture to guess that no plastic bag within a radius of twenty miles of Hopkinton survived this past weekend. They were all hunted down and sacrificed to make gumboots and rain coats and rain capes and gloves and hats and probably a couple of pairs of underwear.

I decided before the race to aim for a time somewhere around 3:40:00. It would be respectable, but I wouldn't have to die trying to run it. And my attitude was pretty much, hey, whatever the race yields on a day like to day, I'd be happy with.

Although I was in the 11,000 pen by bib number, I dropped back several corrals to run with a friend. It was a good decision, as we chatted away and did our best to ignore the cold and the drizzle. The weather by the start was getting better, brisk but not brutal. The start was still something of a frenzy.

Standing around it was impossible not to stiffen up. I tried jumping jacks and running on the spot, all pretty much to no avail. Cold is cold! And it was cold. I started out easy and an 8:30 per mile pace seems light years away from 7:45 or 7:50, which is what I launched myself out at the start last year. I took at least thirty minutes to warm-up and although the crowds were thinner this year, those race fans who showed up made up for the smaller numbers in sheer volume.

After fifty minutes and just short of the 10K mark I was overheating. I tossed away my toque, my mittens and stripped off the singlet I had over my long-sleeve shirt. A brand new singlet, but not made of gold or anything.... I tossed it to the side of the road near a father and son, a boy of about eight or nine. He raced over to my shirt, screaming "Oh my God!, Oh my God!..." and for the first and only time in my life felt like a star athlete. You'd think that kid had just been given Ted Williams Red Sox jersey! It made me feel like a million dollars.

My friend developed bad cramps at 15 miles and had to walk - and urged me to run on. So I did. I stepped up my pace and sailed through the final 11 miles, really seeing and appreciating the course, especially the hills in Newton, for the first time. In fact, it was an excellent exercise for my next Boston Marathon.

The last few miles were just amazing. I was running hard, at my lactate threshold, but I wasn't on the ragged edge, where you are so intent and so focused on the race that you develop tunnel vision to the exclusion of everything that isn't immediately in front of you. I could see and appreciate all the course had to offer, could take in the fans, slap some palms, sample the pretzels and even try a proffered chocolate brownie... Yuck! Two chews and I had to spit it out. Some things are not meant to be eaten in a marathon!

For all you dedicated marathon runners out there, if you have a chance, you owe it to yourself to experience at least once in your life the final stages of a Boston Marathon. For us aging amateurs it is as close as we are ever going to know what it is like to enter the Olympic Stadium. My word, what a way to end a race. Every hair on your body stands to attention, every goose-bump you own goes ballistic, every fiber of your being comes alive. The sound, the roar of the crowd - simply electrifying.

I zoomed across the Finish Line, letting my heart race and my lungs sear. I owed myself that much.

In the finishing pen I was approached by a CBC film crew and asked a few questions. I was wearing my beloved 2005 Vancouver Marathon Clinic Group Leader rain jacket from the Running Room and the sharp-eyed correspondent picked up on it. When asked about the conditions I had to say it was much better than expected. Was in fact pretty good weather and conditions to run in.

At the end of the race, I felt SO good that I experienced a few hesitations and wondered if my decision to back off had been the right one, but when I saw that the elites won in a time a full seven minutes slower than last year, all doubts flew from my mind. Sometimes you have to take what the race gives you. There is always another marathon.

So I am back to Boston or Bust. I need to re-qualify this Fall for the 2008 Boston Marathon and after a few easy weeks, I'll be dusting my ass off and getting back in the saddle.

And Wayne, thanks again for the beers.

To the race fans and volunteers in Boston, thanks!

It was great!

I didn't even mind the fact that United lost my luggage again on the way home. As a matter of fact, it just showed up on my doorstep and I am gazing at my 2007 Boston Finisher's Medal as I type this...

It IS great...


Anonymous NR said...

Sounds like a true victory.

Well done.

11:47:00 AM  
Blogger M. Tate said...

That is almost worth printing out and sticking on my wall.

Hope to see you there in 2008

12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Justin Callison said...

Nice work buddy. We'll soon commune over a fine Scottish malt and plan for the fall.

2:55:00 PM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

"ALMOST, worth printing!"

6:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

When are you going to write the book, Vince?

I might even buy a copy!

9:39:00 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Congrats on the great run despite the crappy conditions!

Thank you for providing such a superb, highly detailed recount of your race. I felt like I was there with you. Even though you were slower this year, I enjoyed this year's story a lot more than last years. This year's story had more of a "stop to smell the roses" flavour to it.

Your story has got me so pumped up for my first half marathon (the BMO Vancouver, on May 6). If I have even a tenth of the interesting experiences you had in Boston on Monday, I'll have some wonderful memories.

11:46:00 AM  
Blogger M. Tate said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:54:00 PM  
Blogger M. Tate said...

I was running low on ink and had some things I needed to print regardless if they were a little faded here and there. But now I have ink and 6 pages of Boston recap. I won't be putting that on my wall, but I'll keep it handy.

1:58:00 PM  
Anonymous J said...

Congrats on your race Vince! I have a feeling you were hoping for faster.

However you did Fantastic!

I hope you are pleased. . . you should be!!

3:31:00 PM  
Anonymous L said...

Congrats Vince on your race!

We were following it on TV...not the best conditions to be racing.

Hope your body is not too sore.

3:35:00 PM  
Anonymous H said...

Well done Vince in surviving a challenging race with difficult conditions!

3:36:00 PM  
Blogger Papa Louie said...

You ran a great race and I enjoyed your report. Good job.

5:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Susan said...

You really make the experience come alive.

After reading your post I felt like I had been there.

Good work to go with a good run.

9:46:00 AM  

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