I heard two huge booms, very loud, within seconds of each other but it just did not register. After running 25 ½ miles my mind failed to figure it out. I thought briefly, “It must have something to do with Patriots Day.” Then there in the center of the road was a Boston Police man, asking us, almost begging us to stop. “There has been an incident at the finish line, we need you to stop right here.”
I started running late in life and took up road racing because I loved the competition. I had only run a few races when I decided that, for me, marathoning was the ultimate test. Before I had run my first marathon I wanted to qualify to run Boston. To get a spot in the Boston Marathon you have to run a qualifying time in another marathon. For anyone who calls themselves a distance runner, qualifying is the ultimate prize. Not many people make it and, the percentages are against you. When you are young the qualifying times are fast. When you are old, well you’re old and the times seem even faster.
A large group of runners started to back up behind us. Spectators and runners with phones started to get the news – Finish line, Explosion, Injuries. My family and friends were near the finishing line waiting for me. Panic instantly set in. It was cold and since I had unexpectedly stopped running I was now freezing. I managed to find a spectator, bless her heart, who let me use her phone. I called my son William but it went right to voice mail. The cell phone network was overwhelmed. Every phone in Boston was being used; all at the same time with everyone frantically trying to locate their family and friends.
After my first marathon, I almost qualified and I thought qualifying one day would be easy. On my second Marathon I missed my qualifying time by just a minute. After coming so close surely I would be able to attain my goal on my next attempt, but the next two marathons went badly and perhaps it was not to be. So I gave it one last shot and in 2009 managed to get my Boston Qualifier. I ran the Boston Marathon twice and this year was to be my third Boston and my 10th and final marathon, – I was retiring.
As it would happen I was stopped right in front of our first apartment in Boston. So when I left William a message it was easy, “Will, I am in front of 384 Comm Ave. Please, try to get here, we can meet here, I am OK, I hope you guys are too.” Now I was really scared.
My family was headed to the finish line when the bombs went off. Just four blocks from the explosion. The day turned from happiness and excitement to sheer terror in just a moment. People were running towards them and away from the finish area, some screaming, some crying, everyone obviously fearful.
I was shivering almost uncontrollable at this point. The combination of cold and worry had sent me right over the edge. Then I heard someone calling my name, “George, George where are you?” It was the woman who had lent me her phone. She said, “I have a text from your family they want to know where you are.”
It took an hour to actually get us all back together. We were all safe. The city reacted so fast. First everyone – I mean everyone – helped each other, helped the runners, helped the injured, the sick, the just plain scared. People were wonderful. It is hard to describe, as suddenly, we were all in it together. The sirens were unending as police, ambulance, fire fighters, EMS and every resource you can imagine rushed to help. Then in what seemed like a moment there were police everywhere, dressed for combat, and on most street corners, guarding the hotels. It was a show of force that was both comforting and terrifying.
The running community in Boston is large but also very small. I knew so many people who were running The Marathon, my nephew’s wife and friends, 40 people from my running club and dozens of my running buddies. We are so very lucky. No one we knew was physically injured but we were all effected and we will never be the same.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the many people impacted directly by the events on Boylston Street. We also are concerned for everyone involved in The Marathon as the sights and sounds will have a lasting impact on us all.
On Marathon Monday in Boston two men did horrid things – then thousands of people did heroic, kind, wonderful, heartwarming, brave things for people in need. The goodness of everyday people to those around them is the memory of this day that I chose to focus on.
When I passed this sign I decided that I was going to run the last mile of my last Marathon. Little did I know that just ½ mile later I would be stopped. Not stopped because I want to stop, but stopped. I heard two loud booms one after another but given my condition it did not register. I briefly thought Patriots Day stuff? But then, there they were, two Boston Police Officers almost begging us to stop. “There has been an incident, we need you to stop right here.” I could see the runners that just a moment before I had been right behind disappearing down under the Mass Ave bridge, ready to make that right on Hereford and left on to Boylston Street that every Boston Marathoner dreams about.
It quick became apparent that there had been an explosion. Runners and spectators with phones were getting updates and trying to make calls. At this point I was so cold I could barely control my shivering and then to make things even worse, I threw up. The people around me were so nice; a girl gave me her jacket, others offered water and a very nice man talked with me to make sure I was OK.
I pulled myself together and knew I need to get in touch with the family as they were at the finish line. I borrowed a phone and called William but it went right to voice mail. I left a message and almost cried at the end of it. The message did not get through at first but the missed call notice did. William recognized it was a number he did not know but guessed that it could be me. He texted the number and the nice girl whose phone I had used found me again (“George? George? Where are you?” she called out) and then texted William my location.
In short order the family found me. You can only imagine the fear, joy, relief, anger and sadness that came pouring out in the moment. After giving me a heavy shirt and a coat we managed to walk a mile to our hotel.
I was incredibly lucky, 2 minutes, just 2 minutes faster and I would have been on Boylston Street. I wasted 2 minutes at mile 16 waiting for a port-o-potty.
I love the Boston Marathon – it is The Marathon. I am obsessed with running it.
My running world has been changed forever.
It hit me driving home today – I was frightened, really scared. It was way to close. I can only imagine what I put the family through. I can even imagine how to process it all.
It seemed hard to believe that people were doing normal things. I thought, “What is that UPS man doing delivering packages? Has he not heard the news?”
To those who were physically harmed, to those who lost loved ones, my thoughts, and prayers are with you.
I’m running a few races in advance of The Marathon. This past weekend did the Wicked 10 a nice little race in Salem, MA that plays with the whole Witch thing.
I went in thinking I might have a 1:10 in me as I have been training well and feeling super fit. But alas, was a wicked tough week at work and I was pretty run down. (Even had to take a nap after work on Friday) So ended up being very pleased with a 1:15 on a pretty perfect day for running. Recovered nicely so was a positive building block towards Boston.
This week I am doing the unthinkable, 21 miles on The Course on Saturday and then two – yep – two 5Ks on Sunday. One with the Somerville Road Runners and then one with CBW in Somerville. Wicked fun!
My last prep race will be in two weeks at the New Bedford Half. I have run this race a number of times and will use it as a final measure of my fitness.
42 days to go:
I have arrived at this point, 6 weeks, 43 days, from The Marathon with a solid base of mileage and most importantly no pains and no injuries.
The plan calls for the next 4 weeks to be intense, 50+ mile weeks, a 230 mile month, with lots of challenges.
As a reminder to myself, The Goal is to get to the starting line on April 15th ready to run my last Marathon, healthy, happy and ready to have a great day.
Since I love to train, like training hard, like testing myself, the next month should be a joy.
Here we go!
Traveled way out west to Eugene, Oregon for the marathon hosted in the wonderful little college town. Perfect weather, great course and a super organized race especially considering the relatively small size of the race.
More to come later, perhaps, but for now, the news. I ran the race just the way I had planned it. Even, even pace, fast enough to make the goal but not so fast as to give me a chance to blow up.
The goal; a Boston Qualifying time for 2013. For me that is a 3:40 but last year just making the time was not enough, so I wanted a 3:35 or ‘slightly’ better.
The result, a 3:34:44 and my best Marathon ever. Felt great, really great, through 20 and then worked hard to finish. I was never in danger and knew at 20 that I had this one nailed.
What a day!
So Boston 2013 will be my 10th and final Marathon. Can not wait for the fun to begin.
The Boston Marathon course provides a number of unique challenges. Although it is very much a net downhill course I think that provides as many problems as aides.
I divide The Course into four parts miles 1 to 6, 7 to 16, 17 to 21 and 21 to the finish. Each section has its own characteristics and I want to tailor my strategies to each section.
Section One: Six miles steeply downhill at first with an overall a net loss of some 250 vertical feet. Here the object is to go easy, not let the emotion of the day get to you, conserve energy and not pound your legs down the hills. The road is fairly narrow and very rural and you will have lots of company. Follow the plan and just run easy taking in all the sights and atmosphere that a great Marathon has to offer. Although not strictly at the 6 mile mark the Framingham train station is a good signal that you are down the hill and transitioning to the next section.
Section Two: The next 10 miles are essential flat and now is the time to really settle into your rhythm. By now I would expect to be right on my Marathon Pace and clicking off the miles within a very narrow range. I as a mental crutch I count upwards until mile 16 (after which I countdown) so at mile 10 we pass through Natick Center, then by the Wellesley College Campus, into Wellesley Center and so on. This section ends with a HUGE downhill, the largest drop on The Course. This downhill takes you down 118 vertical feet with an average grade of -3.7% and a peak grade of -5.2%. You have not seen anything this steep since mile one. From Wellesley Hills down to the Charles River in Newton Lower Falls. Caution all, this hill can wreck you for the next section. Use that elevation drop wisely. Take food and water at the bottom of the hill setting you up for the hills.
Section Three: The Hills – Hospital, Firehouse, Kelley and Heartbreak. Starting when you cross over the Charles River you start to climbing, 1st over the Interstate 95 (a.k.a. Route 128) a devious hill as it is strictly speaking not part of the Newton Hills and does not have the reputation of the hills to come. It takes you up 75 vertical feet with an average grade of 2.4% and a peak grade of 3.2%. It is exposed to the elements and can be windy and cold plus not many spectators want to hang out on a highway bridge. My strategy, My race day mantra is, “arrive at the hills with my legs under me” and then “run the hills strong.”
Making the turn
Now my favorite place on The Course, the right turn at the Fire House, the first turn since you started the race 16 ½ miles ago. (The Course only has 6 turns!) The crowd has grown by leaps and bounds. There are supporters everywhere. Now comes the famous 3 1/2 of miles hills, with 3 climbs. On the first I mentally put my head down and push. I stop paying attention to anyone or anything other than my running. Focused on form and pace I push up the hills. 1st Firehouse Hill at 74 feet, 4.7%, and 4.9% then Kelly Hill at 63 feet, 3.0%, and 4.5%. (Look carefully for the John Kelly statue hidden over to the left) (If you ever get the chance, rub the shoes on the statue, it will bring you good marathon luck) Now it is time for the most famous hill in Marathoning, Heartbreak at 97 feet, 4.6%, and 5.2%. It is a real hill but if you followed the plan and arrived at the Fire House in good shape then it is up and over and almost literally all downhill (-250 vertical feet) from there.
Section 4: The final five miles are more or less a cruise all the way down Beacon Street. The crowds will build with every block. There are a couple of landmarks to mark the miles and a gradual downhill to help along the legs. If I (or if you) survive the Hills then you can do this last part. I know you can. My plan or perhaps my dream is at this point that I can really run. I see myself having enough left in my legs that as I turn on to Beacon I can race to the finish.
There you have it. Really, it is a simple plan. Four sections, each with a plan. Execute the plan, enjoy everything that is going on around you and run a fun race. You can do this!
The Run to Remember Half Marathon and The BAA 10K. I viewed these as prep races, fun races as I prepared for what was The Real Goal (TRG) – a Fast BQ in Chicago. You see it is no longer good enough to BQ. Now you need a BQ less 20, 10 or 5 minutes to assure entry.
The R2R half was run on a hot and humid day and I ran a very uncomfortable 1:46. Saw a number of my Fernando training buddies at the race which was fun.
Ran the BAA 10K in June and I love racing in BAA events. Dave McGillivray who organizes The Marathon among other races always put on a great race and the BAA wanted the 1st running of this event to go off flawlessly. I ran a descent race, 44:56 (7:14) and a 5th in my age group.
This was another race with lots of Fernando trained runner and after the race we got together for a group photo. Now these runners are fast, well trained and in another league from me but I have a blast training with them as they push me to train harder and run faster.
Not only are they all fast but they are also Goon Squad Runners, well except me.
After the BAA 10K I settled into my Marathon training all aimed at Chicago. This would be my 4th Chicago and I had high hopes for smashing my PR in this race.
As we start 2012 I am now fully recovered from my calf injury and working my way back into Marathon shape. Our first session with Fernando is tomorrow night and the weather is taking a turn for real winter. But what could be more perfect than 20° to begin serious training for a Spring Marathon?
I am a Marathoner but I wonder why. Why do I keep doing something that has caused me so much pain? Why put myself through it? If I want to keep racing I could easily switch to a distance that is more forgiving. Following my painful races I tell myself never again. Then just few weeks, days, hours later I am planning my next Marathon.
After running The Boston Marathon in 2010 I was so depressed by the events of April 19th that I was in a funk for weeks. My coach at one point, after hearing my moaning, suggested that maybe Marathoning was not for me.
In 2007 at the finish of the Bay State Marathon I nearly cried – not from happiness – from disappointment.
After the Marine Corps Marathon in 2008 I swore I would never run a race again, any race.
I ran my 1st Marathon in 2004 and have run one Marathon every year since except in 2006 when I was injured and in 2010 when I started three and finished two. I will tell anyone who will listen that I love Marathons. Most days I really do.
I perhaps like the training even more than the race. Those three months of schedules, long runs, track workouts and intense commitment to a goal bring an order to my life that I thrive on. I also love race weekends as there is nothing like a big city all lit up for a race. Marathon week in Boston, as an example, is a wonderful experience and being part of that is thrilling. Race mornings with the pomp and circumstances, the excitement, the crowds and the shared joy are electric and the start of the Marathon never fails to nearly bring me to tears.
So why do Marathons make me so miserable? If they make me so miserable why do I keep running them?
Started nine, finished eight and of those only three have brought real joy. That leaves six filled with mental pain. That’s right, mental pain, it is never the physical pain that makes me unhappy, it is the failure to attain a goal. That is perhaps the problem, the goal. I should be, at my age and with my level of pure talent, happy with finishing. I am not. I want more, I train for more, I expect more.
2011 was a year that has tested my willingness to be a Marathoner. I fought a hard fight to have a descent Boston. Descent by my standards. I did run a Qualifying time but just a BQ was not my goal.
I finally feel after eight Marathons that I understand what it takes to run one. Understand strategy, pace, discipline, execution and concentration.
Now what I need is to understand what success really is.
I am a Marathoner after all.
A couple of items of note about this picture. Cynthia has gotten my bag from the MV Strider bus and I have changed out of my wet shirts into a 2009 Chicago Marathon shirt. Not all that interesting. The gloves I have on however have travel a very unusual route to the finish of The Boston Marathon. You can read all about it here in He Ate My Glove.
When I saw this picture again recently I was struck by what a bad member of the Marathon community I was that day. See that poor runner just to my right. Cold, miserable and all alone. I can not believe I hobbled away with out so much as asking him if I could help. Buddy, whoever you are, I am so sorry!
What defines a good marathon result? We all have our personal standard and we like to say things like; I gave or did my best, I had fun, I was competitive, I meet a goal. Is what we say publicly the same standard that we hold deep in side? Do you reveal to others your true feelings about your marathon?
When I qualified for Boston 2010 I told people I was just happy to have qualified. Achieving a BQ is one of the hardest accomplishments in amateur sports, I would say, and now getting to run the world’s greatest Marathon was just a reward. As I trained through the winter and the spring leading up to 2010 Marathon my private and public goals were miles apart. I thought I had another BQ in me, I thought that after running 3:30 in Chicago that a 3:45 in Boston was very doable.
My sister (commenter: older little sister) caught wind of my changing goals and called me on it. She asked, pointedly, “I thought the goal was to have fun?” I dodged and weaved. Public verse private goals.
Boston 2010 was a disaster. I did try to race it hard, went for that BQ, went for a PR and paid the price. I exploded in the hills and had to walk home. My worst Marathon ever and I was mental crushed – for weeks.
I was determined to make Boston 2011 different. I ran the course, ran those hills that did me in, a lot, leading up to The Race. I trained hard through a tough winter to be a distance runner. (Boston had tons of snow making road work near impossible) My public goals and personal goals this time were in complete alignment – 3:45.
Why 3:45? Because running a Boston Marathon qualifying time (or faster) has become my personal measure for a good result. If I am going to train for and run a marathon then I want a BQ time.
I had what I thought was a tough day on The Course in 2011. However, I pulled myself together at near end and ran the last few miles as hard as I could. I finished in 3:45:19. After such a huge improvement from the previous year and given that, as far as most people would think, I had hit my goal was it a good performance?
The BAA, after the turmoil of 2011 registration process, had announced a number of changes to the standards, including taking away the “extra” 59 seconds on the qualifying times. So those 19 seconds meant, I thought, I had not qualified.
I love this picture. Sitting on the steps of Grille 23 where I meet the family after the race. I look pretty happy and in many ways I was. Gosh it was such a better result than 2010. I am determined to not let those 19 seconds bother me. I thought at the time I am just going to enjoy what a great race it was. Soak up all the positives from the day, forget the 19.
Over the next few weeks I thought about those 19 seconds a lot. It helped shape my future race plans. On morning runs I would think about where I could have “saved the 19″. It is less than a second a mile! If you asked me, despite the 19 I still said I had a great race. But deep down, I was disappointed, no BQ.
This week when I registered for the BAA 10K I happened to look at the qualifying time page. I realized that the magic 59 seconds was not going away until 2013. I had run a Boston Qualifier on April 18th after all.
So – What we say versus what we really think. I was pleased with my 2011 Boston Marathon. I told people I was happy and I never let those 19 seconds get me down. Now that I know that I ran a real BQ in Boston this race has been elevated. I still ran the same 3:45:19 I had a few weeks ago. It is silly really, how can meeting someone elses standard, make such a difference? Perhaps it makes me shallow or vane or obnoxious to put so much value in that standard. But it is not someone elses standard its mine and it is a very hard and very public standard as well.
So what is a good result in a Marathon? Everyone has their own definition for that one. It should be what ever makes you happy. I was happy on April 18th when I finished. Now I am even more pleased with my 2011 Boston Marathon. One BQ was very special, a second, on The Course no less, just as special.