Junior BananasAt 6:35, I took the elevator to a bustling hotel lobby, full of fit runners all preparing to take the bus to Hopkinton, the start of the marathon. I was immediately greeted by ABMP Vice President of Communication Leslie Young and members of our ABMP Education Team Katie Mills and Kathy Laskye. The latter two proudly sported banana costumes; the chief Banana—Sarah—stayed upstairs getting a few more winks. I was overwhelmed when I saw they were holding a banner signed by all my colleagues at ABMP. It was the first time of many I would get choked up during the day.
Kathy, Les, and Katie.Leslie kindly provisioned me with a bagel and two bananas, to start my fueling. With the bagel consumed and bananas in my gear bag, I was ready. I also then realized all the runners in the lobby were taking a charter bus, and I had a ways to go to catch my bus to the far-away starting line. A few minutes after 7:00, I briskly walked out of my hotel seeking others carrying the ubiquitous yellow Adidas runner bags. I wound through the Prudential Center mall and out onto Boylston Street, all the while noticing the efforts underway at the finish line—trucks, golf carts, and service vehicles. Lots of workers were dedicated to producing the finish of the world’s most prestigious marathon. And I was part of it all! Inspiring and bit humbling as well. I started wondering about the time, so I stopped and asked two Boston police officers where Boston Common was. They looked at me funny at first, but then realized I was hustling to get to the busses, and indicated they were a few blocks down. I thought how “Boston” they were—no nonsense, a bit gruff, but with chuckles in their voices. You could tell they were good guys. Finally on the bus and headed toward Hopkinton, I was reminded that my knees don’t fit on a school bus any more (kind of like flying United economy). Exciting to be passed by motorists and get the thumbs up and honks of the horns. Starting Line In Hopkinton, the Athletes’ Village is a melting pot of runners—stretching, drinking coffee, and waiting in line to poop. It’s invigorating with loud music and regular announcements about who needs to be at the starting line.
The sea of port-a-potties in Hopkinton.One disappointment: I didn’t have a rendezvous plan with Kathy Borsuk and Tom Heidenberger, my Massage Therapy Foundation Running for Research teammates. I couldn’t find them among the 20,000+ in Hopkinton.
Self-portrait. Dread? Fear? Constipation?I called my 81-year-old dad at his nursing home and told him I loved him; he told me not to overdo it. After that, it was time to go. I handed off my Adidas bag (with my gear and my phone) to marathon volunteers and headed toward the start. The walk from the Athlete’s Village to the start on Ash Street is about one-third of a mile; along the way, you hear lots of chatter and cheers, and a voice on the PA (former New England Patriot Tedy Bruschi was getting the crowd pumped). That’s where it dawned on me: this is about to happen. Since I woke up that morning, I had told myself to relax and start out slow. My friend Cynthia Ribiero had told me to walk the downhill start to save my quads. The only problem with that strategy? It’s downhill for about 16 miles—and the day is only so long. The streets in Hopkinton were lined with staging fences, and behind them were hundreds if not thousands of people, seemingly as excited as the runners. The enthusiasm surrounding this race is palpable. As I moved toward my corral, the announcer counted down and sent us off—10:40 a.m. The first five minutes or so was a gentle walk toward the start line, and once we crossed the start line people broke into a jog. I was in the third wave—the marathon starts in three waves, and you are placed according to your qualifying time. Nearly everyone in Wave Three is a “charity runner,” meaning they, like me, didn’t qualify for the run, but instead raised money for a favorite charity. Getting into the Groove The race began and I immediately started forcing myself to slow down. Running down a two-lane road with thousands of others, cheered on by thousands more, does something to your adrenaline. It’s so uplifting, but the voice in my head kept saying, “this is the beginning of a really long run, settle down.” I was a bit chilly when I walked to the starting line, so I helped myself to another runner’s abandoned long-sleeve shirt. Now, as I knew would happen, about three miles in I began to heat up. I detoured off to a port-a-potty to empty the tank and lose the shirt. When I resumed my run, teammate Kathy Borsuk cruised up beside me, looking fabulous and showing no signs of even the slightest effort. She briefly chatted, and I thought, “I hope she waits for me at the finish.” For a recent running convert and first-time marathoner, Kathy looked like a natural. She also inspired me to pick my feet up and get moving. I kept a leisurely pace for the first five miles, clocking in at a 10:30 mile pace. I was grateful I didn’t need/have to run any faster—I was soaking in the environment, and was oh-so-aware of how much race there was left. I followed a tip from Race Director Dave McGillivray, who counsels, “for the first half of the marathon, count up; and for the second half, count down.” That seemed a bit simplistic to me when I read it, but on race day, that’s what worked. What really got me into the groove was the Boston playlist on my iPod. I have had an on/off relationship with playing music during my runs; for most of my training I had chosen not to run with music. For the marathon, however, my intuition told me to run with it—I wanted to make my long day as pleasant as possible. Listening to the Black Crowes, Van Morrison, Death Cab for Cutie, Deadmau5, and appropriately, The Dropkick Murphys (“I’m Shipping Up to Boston”), gave me the energy I didn’t think I had, and made the miles tick off. I couldn’t always hear the music, however; many times, there was music playing on the side of the road—live bands playing bluegrass, or some heavy metal (I fist-bumped with the lead guitarist), or a car stereo blasting “Eye of the Tiger” or a DJ playing some dubstep. Add to that a steady cacophony of cheering, and my music was relegated to being a part-time treat. Going Bananas Meanwhile, my support crew was en route to their first cheering spot. Their initial plan was to see me at the 6-mile mark, in Framingham, but that didn’t work out. One good way to pass the time in the marathon is to look for your support crew—miles from 6 through 10 went by relatively quickly because I was looking for Sarah, Peter, my niece Megan, and the rest of the Bananas. Oddly enough there was a guy running about 100 feet ahead of me wearing the same banana costume, and he was getting lots of comments. I kept thinking he was one of MY bananas. I finally caught a glimpse of my Banana crew. The marathon is fun, but also solitary. By now, I had been running for around an hour and 40 minutes, and had been solo since leaving the hotel around 7. So I was happy to see friendly faces. Seeing loved ones 10 miles in is like getting a shot of B-12; I was feeling pretty good beforehand, but I suddenly had a massive dose of momentum. Heartened by hugs and high fives, I sped off (or at least it felt like I sped). But that segued into another funny thing about the marathon—it’s really long, and feelings of elation can subside in short order. Physically, my legs were showing signs of wear. Cynthia was right; well, I couldn’t have walked, but my quads were screaming. Just 15 minutes after feeling the high, my quads, right knee, and feet asked me if I was planning on doing this all day. As a result, I slowed down. By the time I hit mile 14, I started to wonder if my legs would hold up for another 12 miles. At a water station, I stopped and stretched my knees and quads, hoping to add a little life to my limbs.
The bananas track Les' and Tom's progress.As I mentioned, the first 16 miles of the Boston Marathon are downhill, which becomes debilitating if you are not used to downhill running. Thankfully, those miles are lined with entertaining, friendly, warm, supportive people. I kept up my energy level by consuming a PowerBar applesauce (supplied by Sarah), along with a handful of gummy fish, and some Swedish fish, all supplied by strangers along the race route. My Florence Nightingale appeared somewhere around mile 16, in the form of a lady holding a tray of orange slices, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen. I detoured across the street, nearly making a U-turn; I surprised myself with ability to turn my body that quickly. “What do you need, honey?” she asked me. “Three ibuprofen would be great, thanks,” I said, not thinking about the fact that I had no water to wash them down with. “Sharon!,” she screamed in her Boston best. “(That’s my sistah.) Bring him some wahter, he’s taking ibuprofen!” Sharon promptly delivered the water, and I took my medicine gladly. That scene alone shows you what the Boston Marathon is like—a woman standing on the curb in front of her house with a tray of pain relievers and orange slices to soothe total strangers. Conquering the Hill Mile 16 is the first of three uphills on the course, the last of which is the infamous “Heartbreak Hill.” The scouting report on the marathon is to not go out too fast, because the downhills will tear up your quads, and then the uphills will do you in. Fast or not, my quads were in seriously bad shape. When I got to the uphills I expected the worst. Then something I had hoped for happened—in spite of my underwhelming training schedule, I DID train at elevation. The ABMP office is at about 7,500 feet above sea level, with nary a flat running surface to be found, so my legs knew exactly what to do. I actually felt good on the hills, and a little momentum was exactly what I needed. At mile 20, just before Heartbreak Hill, I got my last push of adrenaline thanks to another visit from the Banana Crew. Sarah and Katie led the pack, and joined in the run with me for a few hundred yards. Between the ibuprofen, the small snacks along the way, and the Bananas, I felt great. As I left the Bananas and looked up and saw Heartbreak Hill, I said to myself, “I got this.” Massage Therapy Foundation’s Running for Research team that ran the 2013 Boston Marathon. Right now we’ve raised more than $51,000 that will go toward research on the efficacy of massage and bodywork, and fund community service grants to bring massage to underserved populations.