Monday, April 29, 2013

Perspectives on Boston: Part 2

This is the second of a series of posts from my friends who attended Boston this year and  who were willing to write about the experiences.  This one is from my friend, Geoff Rook, who runs with me (when he is out for an easy day) on Team Playmakers. He is a master's runner, but one who has no intentions of slowing down. Here is his story. 

I started running marathons last year with the intent to run the Boston Marathon. I was inspired mostly by my friend Rob who had run it several times. I love running with Rob. We match pace and distance quite well, and I thought that with a little hard work I could make it to Boston. I missed Boston Qualification (BQ) on my first marathon, Kalamazoo, by just 16 seconds. Four weeks later I improved my time by about 1-1/2 minutes at Bayshore and got my BQ. I couldn't wait to apply for the Boston Marathon, and I was so happy when I got my acceptance letter. I couldn't wait to experience this event and earn a Boston Athletic Association jacket and finisher's medal.

For the next few months I absorbed every bit of information about the Boston Marathon from fellow runners, online videos and articles, and books. I used the Hanson's Marathon Method advanced training plan and followed it exactly except for 3 days in week 13 when I had the flu. I completed 845 miles of training, maxing out at 63 miles in week 15. Boston is famous for its hills, so I included lots of hill repeats on local roads and about 70 loops around the cemetery hills.

By April 15, I felt I was ready.

We arrived in Hopkinton, where the Start line is located, on Saturday and took in all of the sights. Everyone is so amazingly polite and accommodating. The police officer gladly stopped traffic so I could get a picture standing on the Start line. I took a few more pictures, scoped out the Athlete's Village at the middle school, then proceeded to drive the course. The roads are typical New England, usually narrow, winding curves, and gently rolling hills. None of the hills seemed all that bad, particularly the famously named Heartbreak Hill.

We walked for miles at the Expo on Saturday. It’s rows and rows of runner candy: socks, rollers, shoes, clothes, gadgets, and advertising for other races. One I found interesting is Gasparilla. Their medal is a hinge-jawed pirate skull. I may have to earn one of those next year. Bring a back pack to hold all the stuff you buy and collect. The gear drop bags you get in your packet do not hold up well during a day at the expo.

We had a group dinner Saturday night at a nice little Italian restaurant near Kate and Mark’s hotel in the North End. Angela Lett, one of our fellow team mates that recently moved back to Boston, met us there. After dinner she introduced us to a Boston tradition of cannolis at Mike’s Pastries. The line was very long but moved quickly. The cannolis were huge and delicious. Those have carbs, right?

Sunday I was back at the Expo but spent most of my time off my feet at several seminars. I encourage you to go to all of them. The speakers are awesome, and you can learn a great deal about the Boston Marathon and running in general. It’s so cool just to be in the same room with them. I met Bart Yasso and was really impressed with David McGillivray, the race director.

Monday started at 5:00am with oatmeal, a banana and some Gatorade for breakfast. I had laid out all my running gear the night before which calmed my nerves, helped me sleep, and made it easy to get ready in the dark so as not to wake my son who came with me to Boston. I met Lynn in the hotel lobby and we made our way by train to the Duke Hutchinson coach buses on Vassar St near MIT. Rex was also on our bus and we made several new running friends on the trip to the Start in Hopkinton.

Race weather was near-perfect. About 45 degrees and sunny, rising to about 55 during the race until the cooler bay breeze hit you closer to the finish downtown. We stayed on the bus until our wave was ready to assemble. I made it a half mile walk down Grove St from Athlete’s Village to the Start corrals with only minutes to spare before we started running.

The race went by so quickly for me. I feel like I missed so much. The crowd support is beyond amazing. For the entire 26.2 miles the crowds were never less than 2 deep. Lots of cowbells, cheering, and kids giving out high-fives. At someone’s suggestion, I put my name on my shirt. It’s incredible how it feels to have so many people cheering for you by name. The Girls of Wellesley were everything I had read about, and their cheers are deafening. I ran a long line of high-fives with them and with the Boston College students farther down the course.

I was able to maintain a very steady pace the entire race, fading only once that I can remember. I think it was more a loss of concentration due to the crowds, rather than muscle weakness. I charged up every hill with no problem. I started slowing on down hills due to muscle fatigue as the marathon wore on. I had great surges of energy in the later miles and sprinted down Boylston to the Finish line. I managed to finish with a time of 3:29:25 which qualifies me for next year’s Boston Marathon.

After crossing the finish line the crowd of runners brings the pace to a slow walk as we get a Mylar blanket, a finisher’s medal, banana and bottle of water. Then I had to walk a few blocks to find the bus that had my drop bag. I put my sweat pants and hoodie on to keep warm then walked a few more blocks to the Family Reunion area to meet up with my son, Gary.

I wanted to meet up with Kate and Lynn as they finished their race. We met Mark, Kate’s husband, and were looking for Kate when we heard a loud boom nearby. My first thought was an industrial or construction accident, but when the second explosion happened within seconds and the city was flooded with sirens, I knew something bad had happened. We found Kate shortly after that and tried to make sense of everything among the chaos. A young woman was crying and asked to use my phone. It was nearly impossible to make calls due to volume, but texting and internet seemed unaffected. I posted updates to Facebook and responded to texts as quickly as possible to let people know we were okay. We were about 2-3 blocks away on a side street so we could not see how bad it was. Someone said “They blew up the Finish line.” We finally got word that Lynn and his wife Christine, and Rex and his wife Tori, were okay then began a long walk to Kate and Mark’s hotel in the North End. It was absolutely surreal to watch the events unfold on TV at their hotel.

With the chaos and disruption, Gary and I finally got back to our hotel around 6:00pm. We walked for miles to find a train station that was open that could get us back to the hotel. The city was still very alive with sirens, groups of police walking everywhere, and speeding emergency vehicles. Once I got my phone recharged back at our hotel I was overwhelmed with the number of voice mail messages, texts, and Facebook posts from concerned friends, relatives and co-workers. So many people were tracking my race progress through automatic texts as I crossed timing mats along the course so they knew I had finished but weren’t sure if I had gone back to watch friends finish the race.

I have so many emotions about the entire day: the race, the bombing, family, friends, the people of Boston, the victims. It will take a long time to get over the bad feelings. Two weeks after the race I am finally feeling better and more proud to wear my Boston Marathon jacket. At first I felt like I did not want strangers to know I ran the marathon. Most people only wanted to know about the bombing. Now that the suspects have been caught I can turn the focus on what an amazing event it is and how hard I worked to earn that jacket and medal. There are still things that trigger very strong sad emotions but time heals all wounds.
There are so many people who inspired me in so many ways. Several people from our local running group, Team Playmakers, hosted a pre-marathon celebration for the four of us from the group that were going to Boston. I asked everyone to sign one of my team tech shirts that I would then wear during the marathon. I thought about each message throughout the race.

I dedicated each one of the miles to specific people and groups of people since I have so many cherished friends. Here are just a few highlights of that process. Mike and Lynn introduced me to Team Playmakers at my third 5K race. Mike beat me by one second at that race so I ran mile 1 for him. Lynn has been an awesome coach and friend and I ran mile 2 with him in mind. Janet could have quit after a 5K (3.1 miles) but has transformed into a running and exercise machine with amazing results. I ran mile 3 for her. Tina got Heartbreak Hill.  Michelle was mile 18, my slowest mile (sorry Michelle). Rob was mile 24 for pushing me to go the distance. My mantra was “just another run with Rob” during that mile. My Dad was mile 25. I miss him so much and fought back tears during that mile. Mile 26 was mine. I earned it. The last 385 yards down Boylston, my fastest pace the entire race, was for Theresa for being there during all my training and at the Finish line for my first two important marathons. She’s running her first marathon in May 2013. Good luck and enjoy every minute of it. The list goes on and on and I’m sorry if I did not name everyone individually but you were all a big part of it.

My first Boston Marathon was an experience I will never forget for so many reasons. I can't wait to do it again next year. And the next year. And the next year…

Related Posts:
Perspectives on Boston: Part 1
My Thoughts on Boston 2013


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