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Posts Tagged ‘Boston’

Running Towards the Smoke in Boston

April 16, 2013 8 comments
Finishing Boston - Boylston Street was a sight for sore eyes and tired legs

This is what it’s supposed to look like.

Instead of reading her a story, I laid down with my eight-year old, Ella, and I told her about the Boston Marathon that would take place the next morning.

I told her it is the most popular and iconic marathon in the world, it is the crowning glory for thousands of runners, who log hundreds of solitary miles in preparation. It overtakes the city for the weekend, packing out the world famous pasta joints in the north end and clogging Logan International with runner-clad travelers. It has an atmosphere all of its own, uniquely Bostonian, and someday, I hope she will experience it first hand, and I will come and cheer her on.

It is chilling and saddening to think this very same conversation could easily have been repeated in the household of eight-year old victim, Martin Richard.

It’s been three years since I ran Boston, and being there was a dream come true – as boring as that sounds it is crazily accurate. A seed was planted in my head with a surprisingly fast (for me) half marathon time.

That was it. This odd thing on my computer screen told me I could qualify for Boston, and I decided it would be foolish of me not to try; computers aren’t dumb. I trained, qualified, and registered for the race I had always dreamed of doing, but never believed I could. I tell you this because people who are not runners may not realize that Boston is more than a race, it’s a lofty badge of honour.

In racing terms, my result was disappointing, but the experience of running it was anything but. Every mile was filled with laughter and inspiration, and kinship with the other runners in my midst. Some things you can’t put a clock to, Boston being chief among them. I didn’t want that race, that journey filled with people  – the very best of people – running into their dreams, to ever end.

And so, for someone to mar this event, this moment for thousands of amateur runners like myself, who feel like running Boston is the closest they will come to glory on a grand stage, is particularly vile and upsetting.

My friend, who had finished the race and was waiting to meet his buddy when he heard the bombs, wrote an emotional email to his many supporters after the tragedy. He wrote, “marathon runners are such amazing, peaceful people, and everyone is walking around with their heads down instead of celebrating.”

But of course, there is another side to the story. Someone – maybe just one person – planted those bombs. Hundreds, and by now likely thousands, in different ways, jumped forward to help. I responded to his email:

“When things are senseless, there’s no point in trying to make sense of them. On another note, though, did you see the people who immediately ran towards the smoke? See, there is hope and humanity all around us, let’s concentrate on their huge contributions, and not the crazy bastards who attempt to ruin our world.”

For its victims and their families, their worlds stopped yesterday, and for those people we collectively grieve and mourn. Yet, I can’t stop replaying the images of the hundreds of people trying to help. To all those who didn’t think of dangerous consequences, and selflessly did what they could for the injured, thank you thank you thank you for your bravery. You give us hope.

So for me, Boston will still be Boston, filled with unlikely heroes and courageous runners, spectators and officials alike. And maybe one day, my daughter will run this marathon, and I will stand on Boyleston Street and cheer her on.

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Marathon Memories of Boston

April 15, 2011 2 comments

It was only one short year ago that I was in Boston on this very weekend, getting ready to run the marathons of all marathons on Monday. People have since asked me, “Was Boston really all that?” The answer is it IS that, and so much more.

From the moment you set foot in Boston for marathon weekend, you feel you are on holy ground. The city transforms itself into a sea of blue and yellow, and you would feel out of place if you had anything on your feet besides runners. Runners signify athleticism over geekiness, a welcome change of events.

People everywhere near the runners expo at the Hynes Convention Center have their recognizable blue and yellow race day packages slung over their shoulder. Workers are lining the street with barriers and building the finish line stands. People are photographing each other on the finish line, smiling today knowing they may not be smiling on Monday. It is a hub of activity and excitement.

As you walk around on this blue and yellow cloud, it’s hard to believe it is just a regular weekend in other parts of the world.

I was humbled by the people I was meeting, runners who have run not one or two but sixteen and seventeen Boston’s. I met a man who had traveled from New Zealand for the race. People from all corners of America who regularly make this pilgrimage. The camaraderie is non-stop and all-invasive – not the place for a quiet weekend of reflection. It’s a place to embrace, and be embraced, by our great sport.

It’s hard not feel like you’re a part of running history by simply being there. At the runner’s expo I brushed elbows with storied people like Kathrine Switzer, Amby Burfoot, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and David Willey. Heady with touches of greatness and cross-eyed by the massive amounts of people, I actually got lost in the expo and couldn’t find my way out.

Everywhere, people are helping people. It restores ones faith in humanity. My high-tech Garmin watch broke on Sunday, and the manager at their booth simply gave me her watch to use. I was traveling alone, but was invited by a fellow runner to have dinner with his large extended running family in Boston’s storied north end. Everywhere people are speaking the body language of helping. It is impossible to get lost, or not know something. The first person you ask will help you.

It was surreal to walk out of my hotel at 6 am on race day and see the street lined with yellow school buses as far as the eye could see. Making my way to the Commons it could have been rush hour, as long lines of people waited to get on the buses that would take us out to Hopkinton, 26.2 miles outside of Boston.

The athletes village, set up at the Hopkinton high school, housed gigantic tents, with food and beverages being served at several tables for pre-race nutrition. People milled around in large groups, music boomed from speakers, and runners nervously chatted about their strategy or lack thereof. It was like being at a gigantic party. I reluctantly tore myself away from it and made my way to the starting line.

Waiting in my corral at the starting line, excitement crackling in the air, I could feel the ghosts of past runners who had stood on this same spot; albeit with fewer participants. In widely varying weather conditions, snow, rain, draining sunshine, people had stood here on Patriot’s Day, waiting to begin the journey to Boylston Street.

If the entire weekend leading up to the race wasn’t incredible enough, the race itself is out of a dream sequence. The festivities continue long after the sound of the gun. I saw a runner down a beer at the biker bar just down the road from Hopkinton, to the delight of the bikers. A runner veered off course in Natick to play lawn bowling with residents. Several runners stopped to kiss students in the Wellesley tunnel of love. I ran beside Captain Canada for a while, decked out head to toe in maple leafs and flags. Along the way people are holding up signs with the latest Red Sox score. Thousands of people lined the route, high-fiving and screaming the entire time.

It was evident that this was a moment in time. Despite a nagging pain in my knee that started only 5 km in, the momentum of both the crowd and the runners carried me through long after I would typically thrown in the towel. Boston is far from typical.

After Wellesley there are the Newton Hills, of which Heartbreak Hill is only one. Looming even larger is the descent from Heartbreak Hill to the Cleveland Circle, for me infinitely more difficult on my legs that were by then searing in pain, complaining loudly that they had had enough.

But Cleveland Circle leads to Beacon Street, and that meant thousands upon thousands of spectators lining the route, in some places 8 people deep, people on rooftops and balconies, everywhere spectators cheering you on. The Citgo sign appears, a vision to shoot for, proof that the end is actually in sight. If you can only put one foot in front of the other for a few more miles.

Fenway Park and the Citgo sign are the the last mile markers that send you through the famous directions, right on Hereford, left on Boylston, the shortest turn on the course, and undoubtably the loudest. Rounding the corner, the finish line is a short sprint away. Or crawl, depending.

As for the finish, let’s just say it is an odd juxtaposition, feeling physically terrible but mentally high. Yet I very much recommend it. If you ever get the chance to run the Boston Marathon, just do it. The mountains you may have to move to get there will be waiting for you when you get back. The memories of the race will stay with you forever.

Relieved to be finished

Second time’s a charm – A better marathon experience

November 24, 2010 2 comments

No pain, no gain!

My first marathon was no triumph, as you will glean from my last post, My First Marathon (warning: NOT a success story).

It left me with a bad taste in my mouth and an ache in my knee just thinking about it.  So in the years immediately following it, I erased it from my memory, and kicked my running habit to the curb.  We moved to London, England, smack dab in the middle of the city.  Aside from a few magical predawn runs down Pall Mall, I found it generally too busy and smoggy to run, so I didn’t;  I even had an opportunity to train with an amazingly multicultural, international running group, including some incredibly fit Kenyans, but I politely declined.  A stupid mistake in retrospect, but at the time I had no interest.  My running days were done, I thought.

Missing the sweet combination of ocean and mountains that we are spoiled by in Vancouver, we moved back and started a family.  I was in various stage of pregnancy and post pregnancy for the next six years, so running took on new meaning: it was invaluable self time.  I got to listen to music, think, and feel like the person I used to be before having tiny dependents affixed to my legs for the better part of most days (and nights).  It was a welcome respite.  I rekindled my romance with my former favorite pastime.

We took it slowly, flirting in the beginning with short, half hour runs, often with the baby jogger along as a third wheel.  As our attraction mounted, we started dating Sunday mornings for longer runs.  I found a 10 km training schedule in Impact magazine that coincided perfectly for the upcoming Vancouver Sun Run, and we were officially an item.  I was back in love with running.

I was particularly pleased with a half marathon time I eventually posted, and the thought of training for another marathon crept into my mind.  When I got home I immediately plugged my finishing time into one of those handy (yet for the most part useless) marathon calculators to see if I could possibly qualify for  the Boston Marathon – if I was going to to do this again, I wanted to take it to the next level, and in my books running Boston was shooting for the stars.  According to this very unscientific predictor, I would qualify easily.  Ignoring the fact that I could not have run another step after that half, let alone another thirteen miles, I decided to give it a whirl.

I found a free training program online.  It was boldly entitled “The Boston Qualifier Program”.  That should work, I thought, and printed it off.  It had one main problem:  it wasn’t tailored for any particular age group, and used time instead of miles, so instead of calling for a six mile run, it said to run for an hour.  But the qualifying time for a twenty year old man is drastically different from that of a fifty year old female, for instance, so the fact that we were all running the same amount of time for long runs puzzled me.  However, it had promised success in the title, so I stuck with it.

I faithfully followed this program.  Save for tweaking it in a few places to substitute spinning classes for those throw away runs – easy days to pad your mileage – I somewhat blindly did what it told me to do, hoping its creator knew what they were doing, and had not published it as a hoax.

There had been a few improvements registered in the running world since I had turned my nose up at it.  The proliferation of GPS watches was a big one: I had a much better handle on my pacing and mileage thanks to this Christmas present.  Gels and power bars were very much on the scene, and helped to sustain me better on long runs, as did water enhanced with electrolytes.  And it was much easier to find physiotherapists and chiropractors with running expertise who could treat injuries.  A new day had dawned since my first marathon, thirteen years earlier.

With technology on my side and scientifically improved nutrition, and the “Boston Qualifier” program in my back pocket, I felt ready to do battle with the marathon again.  The Victoria Marathon – flat and beautiful – would be my testing ground.

Tight IT bands had been causing me knee pain in the run up to the race.  My main worry was this would pose a problem for me, as it usually did after mile sixteen.  The night before the race, as I restlessly paged through old Runner’s World magazines, I came across an article about preparing for your marathon.  The tip that most resonated with me was to decide beforehand what type of pain would stop you in your tracks, and what pain you would run through.  I’d been told by more than one medical professional that my IT bands would not snap if I continued to run even though pain was present.  I decided to ignore any pain my knee might throw at me, and only stop if I felt discomfort that was alarmingly different.

My other worry about the race was that it would rain, but race day dawned sunny and beautiful, and a temperate 12 degrees Celsius – ideal running conditions.  I drank a glass of water – instead of the two liters I had consumed before my last marathon – and headed to the starting line.

Things went swimmingly and according to plan up until the halfway mark when my right knee started hurting, four miles too early by my calculation.  I tried to shake it out mid stride, the people around me throwing me strange looks, but I ignored them because it seemed to relieve it.  I tried to change my stride a little, putting my right foot down gingerly, or kicking up my back heel more than usual.  Just when I thought it was subsiding it would seize up again, and I would go through the motions to try to loosen it.

Otherwise I felt great.  I was inspired when the out and back course afforded a view of the leaders, and they effortlessly strode past us.  I repeatedly saw some spectators that held up a sign reading “My Grandma thinks you’re hot!” which cracked me up every time.  I was well under my projected time by mile sixteen, and thought if I could run four miles with the pain, I could probably finish, and plugged on.  The knee pain slowed me down a tad, but I tried to focus on the beautiful scenery and my fellow runners.  I stubbornly ignored the pain as it came and went, and by mile twenty I decided there was no stopping me.

The last three miles are always a question mark – most of us don’t run that far for our long runs, so you wonder how you will possibly get through them.  I didn’t feel great – my legs were shouting “enough!” – but I was still determined to finish this and meet the qualifying standard for Boston.  The miles ticked down, one by one, until finally there was only one to go.  There weren’t many spectators at this point, many choosing instead to line up on the final stretch, but someone had stuck posters to telephone poles that read “You’ve made it this far – you can’t quit now!” Quite right.

I savored the final stretch.  People were cheering so loudly they managed to drown out the searing pain in my knee, and although it may have looked like I was hobbling, in my mind’s eye I was flying.  This was the more like the ending I had been hoping for, thirteen years ago.

Better late than never.