Monday, March 31, 2014

Longest Run, March 28th: Peak Run

Although 21 miles really isn't significantly further than our previous 18s, there was a lot of build-up around this particular run. Probably because it is our peak run before the taper, and also because it serves as a dress rehearsal of sorts--actually being bussed out to the start, beginning earlier in the day, etc. Good practice for establishing the pre-race mental checklist. Did I remember my iPod? Can I fit all of these gels in this tiny pocket? Is my tape secure? We made a better effort to get to Joint Ventures early this time, which left time to foam roll and lube up (almost forgot to BodyGlide...dear God). At 7:15 we all piled onto the 3rd of the 4 buses that were carrying us out of Kenmore Square, although we probably should have picked one that wasn't already mostly full so that we weren't only left with the back seats that were repeatedly blasted by bad bathroom air every time the door swung open. The sun was out, it was already high 40s, and spirits were definitely up. I was saddened, however, when talking to Morgan who informed me that Katherine (my buddy on the BMC team) is currently not cleared to run, although she may just go for it anyway. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to be knocked out by injury this late in the game.

When we got to Framingham, the mass of runners headed out of the parking lot right onto route 135, about 6.5 miles from the official start in Hopkinton. I started out with Katy, Helene, and Natalie. After about a mile, it was clear that I was going to need to shed my long-sleeved layer, and I was so grateful that I had decided to put a short-sleeved shirt underneath. Our aid stations were set up about every 2 miles, so we were able to hand off unwanted clothing to John to bring back for us. I was itching to speed up, but past experience has taught me that starting out slow is definitely wise, so I held myself to around a 9:30 pace with the others as we finally got a glimpse of uncharted course. Framingham is not actually particularly gorgeous, although the variety was more than enough to satisfy me, and it was fun to see the occasional lake or patch of woods. We entered Natick very soon thereafter, and I immediately recognized the area. Back when I was jobless and staying with my Earlham friend Carolyn, I ran on these roads for a good month and it was fun to revisit them a year and a half later. Soon after passing the street where her parents live, I gave in to my desire to speed up, so I put in the earbuds and said goodbye to the others.

As I headed through Wellesley with the miles slowly ticking by, it was exhilarating to see how many runners and supporters were out. Given that this marks about 3 weeks until the race, a huge number of runners were also doing their peak run on the course. A whole plethora of charities had aid stations set up, often with a small cheering squad to go with. Shortly before the big downhill coming down Washington Street, I passed a tent for the Martin Richard memorial foundation, in honor of young boy who was killed during last year's marathon. His mother, who has been recovering from her own terrible injuries, was there handing out gatorade and the heaviness of their family's difficulties (many of whom suffered serious injury) welled in my throat. Passing each charity tent, I found myself struggling emotionally, thinking about how we were all undergoing this difficult physical journey for essentially the same reason--that we had been hurt by the loss of a loved one for whatever reason, and were now on a mission to spare other families from the same hardship. Although there were also some sports companies out to support us as athletes, such as the Saucony tent. The runner ahead of me received emphatic praise for wearing Saucony shoes, while my Brooks Adrenalines and I just got a stony nod. My running capris were Saucony brand, but apparently that wasn't worthy of acknowledgement. Heading down Washington Street, I passed our usual feeder road from all the Riverside runs, and knew I was about half way. John Furey passed by in his pickup on his way to the next water stop, and we had a brief conversation yelling through the open window as he checked in on how I was managing. He has really just been the best trainer.

As I turned onto Commonwealth Avenue from Washington Street, I passed the fire station right at the corner. With the recent loss of two Boston firefighters last week during a severe blaze in the Back Bay, the marathon seems to have gained one more layer of significance to many people. The firefighters out at the Newton firehouse have unfailingly set up a drink station each Saturday throughout the winter, and were out as usual to support the runners. Having just recently experienced a fire of my own, the recent blow to the Boston firefighter community has hit home a little harder than I would have anticipated. Tackling the first of the four hills to cheers from a group of sideline supporters, my emotions were all over the place and seemed to stay that way for the majority of Commonwealth Avenue (a "roller coaster" would be the most conventional metaphor for the state of my mood, but I think roller coasters are the best thing ever, so I am not sure if that phrase works as well for me). One second I was cheesing from ear to ear, and the next I felt like my chest was about to implode. I am beginning to suspect that these feelings will be amplified x1000 on race day, which might get messy. Running while crying is sort of like trying to talk while being tickled.

Body-wise, I had taken great care to tape both ankles this time, and I was so thankful that my usual PTT did not make much of an appearance. Although around halfway through, I began to get occasional shooting pains up my left achilles tendon, which slowly morphed into a steady burn by the time I reached the bottom of Heartbreak. This new and exciting phenomenon thankfully did not slow me down, but I was a bit concerned as the soreness increased with each mile. Going around 8 minutes per mile or maybe a bit under, I was beginning to feel a little tired but was able to climb the hill without much trouble. When I hit the crest adjacent to BC, the Prudential and John Hancock appeared on the horizon and I got all sorts of sentimental tinglies up and down my arms and legs. Slogging along the course, it almost felt like I was reliving the pain of the last three years in reverse, but physically this time. Coming up to Boston has been a major milestone in my life since Nathaniel died, and seeing the skyline burst into view as the endpoint to my longest run thus far in my life, I felt some semblance of gladness that I had been brought to this point in time. Obviously I wish things had gone differently, very differently, but it is unlikely that I would have moved up here and found myself taking part in this 117-year-old tradition had my life unfolded as planned. I am sure that Nathaniel had terrible associations with Boston, given his only times up here were sudden trips to McLean Hospital and MGH during his lowest moments, and I often wish he could just run with me and see the city and how beautiful she is. It is hard, being unable to share something so special.

When I got to Cleveland circle, I ate my final gel--the one with extra caffeine to put some pep back in my step. A lot of my teammates opt for the super all-natural, caffeine-free fuel made out of bee pollen or beet essence or whatever. I admire their health-consciousness, but I am personally a fan of the chemicals in these situations. My legs were beginning to feel a bit sticky and I could tell I was dehydrated, but with that final dose of stimulants plus a high-five from a random BU kid, I knew I was going to make it. I passed through Kenmore and finally found myself heading down Boylston Street and saw the newly-painted finish line glowing yellow and blue on the pavement. The sidewalk was clogged with totally oblivious shoppers just doing their thing, and as I stood next to the Public Library soaking in my accomplishment, I had to resist the urge to shake the nearest person by the shoulders and scream, "HOLY CRAP, I JUST RAN HERE FROM FRAMINGHAM!!!" So I instead just gave myself a pat on the back (weak), and then turned to run the final mile back to Joint Ventures via Beacon Street so I could satisfy my morbid curiosity and take a peek at the site of the awful fire. It was very sobering to see, and I lingered a while to talk to some others who were doing the same.

All in all, I would say that it went better than I could have expected. My left achilles was quite sore, but seems like it should recover with rest. I ran the 20 miles to the finish in 2 hours and 47 minutes, which includes all of my stopping for gatorade, at traffic lights, and for a few pictures. It is intimidating to think that had I not run the first few miles so slowly or gotten caught at lights, I would theoretically be able to beat the Boston qualifying time of 3 hours and 35 minutes. Seems unlikely that will happen (especially given the traffic-jam situation that will undoubtedly plague the first few miles during race day), but the idea that I could be capable is enough. I think Nathaniel would be proud.

Post-run picture of Nicole, me, and Nicole outside Joint Ventures in Kenmore Square

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