One month ago today, I was running the 118th Boston Marathon. If you have read my blog in the past, you know I was participating in the 2013 Boston Marathon when I was unable to finish because of the bombing at the finish line. It was important for me to get back to Boston to finish what I started last year.
I thought last year was going to be a one-time event for me so I wanted to make the most of it. My friend, Jack, and his wife, Barbara, were also up there last year. Neither Jack nor I got to finish so we both went back to remedy that. If you missed it, you can read about my experience last year here. After what happened last year, I could not wait for the opportunity to get back there.
I flew up to Boston early on that Saturday morning. Once again this year, I wanted to make the most of my time in Boston. As soon as I got there, I headed straight to the expo to pick up my race packet and bib. I had been unable to check into my hotel, Boston Park Plaza, because my room was not ready. I roamed around the expo waiting for the hotel to call to let me know my room was ready. The longer I waited, the closer it came to time for me to head over to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox play the Baltimore Orioles. It was a beautiful day for a baseball game and there is no place like Fenway to watch a ballgame. Of course, just as I got to Fenway, the hotel called to say my room was ready.
Jack and Barbara got to Boston about the time the game was over. We had agreed to meet for dinner before going to the Easter Vigil at Trinity Church there in Copley Square. After a terrific dinner at Max Brenner, we headed to the church since the vigil started at 8pm. It was my first Easter Vigil and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The church is spectacular and there was a reverence in that building as we celebrated the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The service lasted for a while as there were more scripture readings than they normally have. When it was over, we went downstairs and had desert. The Episcopal Church knows how to end a service!
The next morning, I headed back over to the expo to try to meet Dick Hoyt again. Dick is the father in Team Hoyt, which are running heroes of mine as I have previously written. When I got to the expo, I found the Team Hoyt booth quickly but Dick was being interviewed by the local media. I walked around for a little while then made my way back to their booth. This time I had an opportunity to speak with him again. Dick and his son, Rick, are legends of the Boston Marathon. Last year was supposed to be their last time to run the race but, since they also did not get to finish, they came back for one more year (their 32nd running of the Boston Marathon). I am awed by what Team Hoyt is still able to accomplish, even as Dick is now 73 years old and Rick is 52. I could watch YouTube videos about them all day.
After talking with Dick, I headed over to the finish line where I was scheduled to meet Larry Miller for a brief interview. Larry is a reporter from ABC 33/40 here in Birmingham that made the trip to Boston to cover this momentous event. Before I found Larry, I ran across the group photograph for the Marathon Maniacs. I always miss these pictures so it was cool to finally get in one. I also got the honor of meeting Larry Macon. If you are not familiar with Larry, he ran 108 marathons in 2008 and was recognized by Guinness Book of World Records as the most marathons run in a single year. Not to be content with the record, he ran 113 marathons in 2011 and another 157 in 2012. As if that was not hard enough, Larry ran an unbelievable 255 marathons in 2013. Needless to say, Larry is a legend in the endurance sports community. After leaving Larry Macon, I was able to find Larry Miller for my interview. My wife, Caroline, got to Boston on Sunday morning and met me while I was talking with Larry Miller. Jack spoke with him after I did so he could tell his story.
Caroline and I went back over to the expo so she could see what they had. We also went by the Skechers booth so she could try on a pair. I have raved about my GoRun Ultras so much, she wanted to see if they had something she liked. They did and I found another pair as well. We roamed around the expo a little before heading back toward our hotel. On the way back, we stopped at Marathon Sports so she could see it. You may remember that one of bombs detonated right in front of this running store last year so there were people coming by there all weekend. We made it back to the hotel to rest some before meeting Jack and Barbara for dinner. As a guest of John Hancock, Jack got us entry into their dinner at The Fairmont Copley Plaza. We attended this dinner last year and knew there would be some running celebrities in attendance. More importantly to us, this was the same hotel where our friend, Meb Keflezighi, was staying.
We had been in contact with Meb’s brother and agent, Merhawi, in hopes of getting to see them before the marathon the next day. We had run into Merhawi at the expo but had yet to see Meb. He told us Meb was at the elite’s dinner, which was also in the hotel lobby area. When we were unable to catch up with Meb, Merhawi just told us to go up to his room so we did. We did not want to stay too long because we assumed Meb would want to get to bed early. We stayed in his room for about ten or fifteen minutes during which time Meb’s wife, Yordanos, came in. Although I had spoken with her on the phone when we were with Meb in Houston, this was the first time I had to pleasure of meeting her in person. When we got ready to leave, Jack asked Meb if he could say a quick prayer for him. After the prayer, Meb asked if we wanted to get a picture before we left. Of course, we said yes. He went to his safe and pulled out two boxes. One contained the Silver Medal he won at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. The other held the medal he received for winning the 2009 ING New York City Marathon. He put the Silver Medal on Jack and let me wear the New York medal for the picture. Now that was cool! As we headed down the elevator, Jack and I talked about how confidently calm Meb appeared. We knew he was going to run well the next day.
On Monday morning, Patriot’s Day in Boston, Jack and I met up to do a telephone interview with Good Day Alabama on FOX 6 in Birmingham. The interview was short and sweet then we made out way to catch the shuttle bus in Boston Common for the ride out to the start in Hopkinton. We felt like we rode that school bus forever. Jack even tweeted that he thought we were headed to New York. 🙂 Once we made it to Hopkinton, we headed to Athlete’s Village. The place was crazy. There was such a buzz in the air. It was a beautiful day but we feared it could get warm for a marathon. We hung out in the school gym for a little while as Jack was able to convince the lady at the door to let me go in with him even though I was not a John Hancock VIP. We closely followed the race as the Boston Athletic Association was tweeting updates on the progress of the elite runners, especially Meb, Ryan Hall and Shalane Flanagan. It was exciting as the Americans were leading both the men’s and the women’s races on every tweet we saw. It was finally time for our wave to head to the start line. It is quite a long walk but it was the first time I have ever had spectators cheering for me as I walked to the start corrals. If nothing else, I knew the crowd would be amazing.
The race finally started for us and we headed down the road. All I could think about was that a year of waiting was finally over. I had decided that I wanted to take everything in this year instead of trying to run a personal record. I felt like I missed some things last year trying so hard to run my best marathon. This year, I was just going to run comfortably and enjoy the entire experience. I felt like that was the best way for me to honor those that were injured last year as well as honoring the memories of Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu, Martin Richard and Sean Collier. Throughout the race, images of these four victims would come to my mind. I just wanted to do right by them.
My race was going as planned early. I had thought I would like to run a time better than what was assigned to me last year (4:12:51). In my mind, that was certainly doable without requiring maximum effort. After all, I had just run 3:51:18 at the Houston Marathon in January. Around mile 7, I started to feel hot. Although the temperature was not overly high, we had not been running in any heat yet in Alabama. We had a mild winter and spring so I was not acclimated to any heat. I think I saw the first person being taken off on a stretcher around mile 8. It may have just been in my mind, but I started to feel like I was overheating as well so I slowed down a tad. I hit the halfway point at 2:03:23 so I was right where I wanted to be, but I knew I was starting to suffer. Around mile 12, I actually felt like I was starting to hit the wall. I knew there was way too much race left to be suffering already so I pushed on, albeit at a slower pace. The only solace I felt at this point was when a man on crutches near Wellesley College told me MEB WON. I was ecstatic and thought that bit of information would propel me through to the finish. Unfortunately, around mile 16 I was really beginning to hurt so I decided to walk a little and I started getting two cups at each water stop (one to drink and one to pour on my head). By mile 19, I knew it was going south in a hurry so I called Caroline. I wanted to let her know that I would be coming to the finish line much later than I had expected and I did not want her to worry. I really had to fight myself mentally to keep moving forward. I was hot and hurting but knew I had to finish regardless of the time. Finally, I spotted the famous Citgo sign that is about a mile from the finish. I was still about a mile-and-a-half away from it, but that is when I knew I was going to finish for sure. I knew I could push for a little longer. I also knew it was not too far past that Citgo sign where the police stopped us last year. At that moment, I decided that I was going to run from that spot to the finish line regardless how bad I was hurting. I had to finish the marathon strong even if I struggled through most of the second half. When I crested the small hill, I recognized the place where people were standing in the road last year yelling for us to stop so I started running. The crowds that had been so enthusiastic all along the route seemed like they had been whipped up into a frenzy. I knew there was only about a half-mile left and people were going crazy. I started running faster, somehow. I came to Hereford Street and turned right. The crowd was so loud and crazy. My adrenaline was keyed up. When I got to Boylston Street and turned left, it was like a movie. I could see the finish line about four blocks away but the number of spectators blew me away. Here I was, coming up on five hours of the last wave and Boylston was lined with thousands of screaming people. I felt like I glided to the finish line. I am not even sure if my feet touched the ground. It was the most amazing experience. I may never get to do anything like it. In terms of finishing times, this was one of my worst at 4:54:06. In terms of experiences, this was one of the best ever. I was able to run across the finish line on Boylston Street, something that was denied me last year. More importantly, my good friend became a Boston Marathon Champion and joined a very short list of runners to win both the Boston Marathon and the New York City Marathon. I could not have been more happy.
In the spirit of honesty, I was hurting more during and after this race than I ever have before. As soon as I crossed the finish line, I asked a volunteer to take my picture with the finish line behind me since I did not get to do that last year. As soon as she took the picture, my iPhone died. I made my way to the family reunion area to wait for Caroline. Since my phone was dead, I had no way of telling her where I was. The first letter I came to was “O” and it looked like “L” was way down the street. I saw a man standing under the “O” sign doing something on his cell phone. I went to him and asked if he would send a text to Caroline to tell her that I was also at the “O”. When she found me, I was sitting on the curb still trying to catch my breath. She asked why I was at the “O” and I told her that I did not think there were too many people whose last name started with “O” so I thought it would be easier for her to find me. I also told her the “L” sign appeared to be down the road and I did not want to walk that far. We eventually made it back to our hotel and I got a much-needed shower. I laid on the bed and Caroline said she wanted to take a post-race picture. Since I was already laying down, I told her she would have to take it with me that way. She had me put on my medal and snapped the picture. I obviously looked very bad because a number of my friends expressed a great deal of concern for me. In my mind, I just needed to rest and get off my feet.
We met Jack and Barbara for dinner at Abe and Louie’s to have a well-earned steak. Since Meb won the marathon, we lost the opportunity for him, Yordanos and Merhawi to join us. I have to admit, as much as I would have enjoyed spending some time with them, I am glad he had other obligations that go with winning the Boston Marathon.
I may never get to run this marathon again. If that turns out to be the case, I cannot complain. It was an amazing experience that took over a year to complete. There was a lot of emotion that welled up inside me all throughout the race, especially when I finally saw the finish line. Several times during the race, I found myself thinking about those that were killed and injured last year. It was an honor to be part of this Boston Marathon and it was an experience I will never forget.