Boston Massacre (Marathon)
Monday, April 16, 2012
Time: 3:30:32 (8:01 pace)
3145th place overall of 25,000
533rd place M40-44 of 2015
As soon as I saw the blue ice cooler sitting squarely in front of a man on the side of the road, I made a beeline in that direction. I had just started walking for the second time in as many miles and was in dire need of something cold.
“Might you have ice I could steal?” I asked while pointing at the cooler. I had been running with a Ziplock baggy filled with crushed ice for the last mile. I held the bag open as if to show its contents; it was devoid of ice.
The man, standing beside a woman and child, sprung into action. Quickly he bent down. As he did, his wife followed suit. Together they flipped the white plastic top off the cooler. Meanwhile, the boy, all of 5 or 6 years old, looked on with wide eyes, almost in awe that someone from the sea of runners would come directly to them. With great hurry, the man and woman extracted from the cooler a Ziplock baggy. “Take this,” the woman said pushing the bag of ice toward me.
As she said this I looked into the cooler to see that the cooler was now without ice. A deeper look revealed the same. This bag was their only ice. “Thank you,” I said, “but I can’t take your ice; you’ll have no more left. I’ll find someone else.”
With the day growing hotter and more unbearable and the race clock ticking uncontrollably forward, I turned to go with a parting word: “Thanks anyway, I really appreciate it.”
Just then the woman grabbed my sweaty arm, and in one swift action she grabbed from me the empty Ziplock bag I had been holding and stuffed in my hands her family’s ice. “Take it,” she insisted. “It’s okay. Go!”
Take it I did. Within seconds my core temperature dropped; seconds after that I was back running a strong pace, thanks to these people and many like them over the course of the 26.2 miles of the 2012 Boston Massacre.
An hour glass ticking away precious life, my source of energy was found in these cold cubes. I was overheating so badly that when the ice melted away, my body would shut itself down, forcing me into slog and then a slow walk. But with ice in hand cooling my wrists and neck and head and thighs, I was able to get back running again.
It was ugly, to be sure, and it came early in the race.
Even an hour and a half earlier, as I was standing in my Corral (4th Corral, 1st Wave, Bib #3328) at the starting line in Hopkinton, I knew this moment would come; only I did not think it would come so soon or be as ugly.
The problem was that the day was already hot, and this was before the race had started. My body was just hot enough that it was sweating in attempts to keep it cool.
I knew I had a decision to make: the heat would be a major factor in the race. For race strategy, I could either dial effort back and try to run like the Turtle, slow and steady, and hope in the end to be fast and in control; or I could take marathon pace EFFORT, regardless of what my real pace would be, for as long as I could handle, and then limp home from there. Good, bad or worse (worse?), I chose the latter.
I knew it would get ugly – it was just too hot – but I didn’t realize just how ugly it would really get.
Mile 1 (6:48) was high energy in typical Boston Marathon fashion, the party that is the world’s most prestigious marathon, complete with television cameras and spectators, recording and cheering on the event, getting underway. The smiles and parade feel would not last long. Even the helicopters overhead seemed to scatter quickly.
In fact, Mile 2 (6:59) was the beginning of when things would change. This is where the raging waters of runners flooding down the street out of Hopkinton and into Ashland halted. Pace dropped off noticeably, as if the collective was saying, “Holy shit… What the hell are we in for?” It was hot and getting hotter. Runners were already dialing it back.
Sticking to my plan, I carried on with marathon pace effort, trying to pick an open path between throngs of runners now slowing down. The next miles (6:53, 6:45, 6:54, and 6:49) stretched the field so that it was easier to run. I couldn’t help but notice that aid stations were more crowded than normal. Where typically some runners do not hit every aid station, this year everybody hit every single one. The day was already hot, the sun beating down from a cloudless sky – getting in as much fluid as possible was mandatory.
Banking miles, I kept running marathon pace effort. Splits followed nicely. Only, it was here when I noticed the heat radiating from the street. It was getting hot. I wondered how much longer I’d run at pace. Unfortunately, my answer came quickly.
Mile 7 (6:58) was a struggle. Although my split was only a few seconds slower, I was starting to labor so I had to dial energy output by a sliver. Sweat was pouring off me. My shorts were completely soaked. And I was already starting to chafe as if it were a down drenching of rain.
During this time I consciously dialed pace back again so that effort was steady. That netted Mile 8 (7:02), 9 (7:03), and 10 (7:12) on the slow side but with even effort. This was okay. I was closer to Half, which meant I was banking miles. The more I accumulated now, the less I had to suffer through later. Unfortunately, this was also where I was starting to get hot, uncontrollably so. There was only one course of action at this point: Marathon pace effort was too much; I had to back off even more.
Back off I did. Mile 11 (7:26), 12 (7:45), and 13 (7:45) were better, but damn, why was I laboring so much? What felt easy minutes ago was now hard and getting harder.
A benefit of such a warm day was that spectators came out enforce. Easily 25% more support than an average year, Wellesley College was no different. The scream tunnel was 5 or 6 deep, and the deafening noise lasted for heart-thumping half mile or more. Young co-eds held handmade signs: “Kiss me, I’m Irish!” “Free Kisses Here!” “Kiss me, I won’t tell your wife!”
Karma can suck. Shortly after the stretch that was the Scream Tunnel, the halfway mark of the marathon came in 1:33:03; this is when running became exponentially tougher. Mile 14 (7:56) was slow, my pace getting slower. I was overheating. Even the wind was out to bring us down. The slight tail wind made it seem as if the air was stale and stagnant, as our sweaty bodies moved along with it, not against it.
And then it struck, without warning. Just like that, I was walking – barely 14 miles into the race. Never before had I been forced to walk so early in a race. Of my 72 marathons, I walked in, maybe, three or four of them, and never as soon as mile 15 (8:26). I was sweating uncontrollably with my heart beating in my throat. And I was WALKING!
Instead of wallowing in self pity any longer, the Ironman triathlete in me leapt into action. I quickly assessed the situation, catalogued symptoms, and next guessed what might be wrong. From there I thought up corrective action in hopes to get me back running again.
There was very little guessing. Telling was that I was still sweating (a good sign), so I knew that I was hydrated well enough; I had popped a salt tab a few miles earlier, so I knew it wasn’t that I had sweat out all my electrolytes. I had wished my problem was one of those, because those are the most correctable in a sustained way. No such luck, I was overheating. There was little I could do. My core temperature was inching higher and higher to a dangerous level. At those upper temperatures, my body would not allow me to run.
Just then I heard a voice yell loudly: “ICE!” It was coming from the side of the road. A woman was handing out Ziplock sandwich bags filled with ice. As if on demand, there it was my savoir. I grabbed a bag of ice and held it to my wrists. Within seconds my core temperature came down enough for me to return to running. Meanwhile, the theme song to Rocky was blaring in the background. It was a good sign, I had noted, that I became aware of this.
Mile 16 (7:54) was better. I was cooling myself off and feeling good again. My mind turned to a quote I had heard on the radio on the drive to the starting line in Hopkinton. WBZ radio was interviewing the Boston Marathon Medical Director. He said that the day would be a slowly unfolding “mass casualty event.” He was right. There were casualties all over the course, people walking here and there, heads down, few people talking. One guy even ran right off the road. Realizing the impact of this statement, I decided from here on out to not play with fire. I would not let the ice in my bag melt. I would fill it up before it gets empty. This was my job.
By Mile 17 (9:06), ice in the bag had melted completely. I was forced into to another walk. I needed ice, and I needed it now. Although I was not able to always fill my bag with ice, I followed this survival strategy for the rest of the way in. My fuel was the cooling effect of those ice cubes. Once that went away, so too did I. I was still sweating, staying well hydrated, but I was overheating, and ice was the only way I could safely get from where I was to the finish line.
Mile 18 (9:50), 19 (9:09), and 20 (9:18), seemed neither fast nor slow. I was locked into focus, deep within survival mode. I had a job to do, and I was doing it. I heard little from the crowd, and I saw less. I was surviving, locked in. I wanted to get through this as quickly and safely as possible.
“Thor!” “Thor!” “Thor!”
By the time it registered that someone was calling my name, I was now 10 paces beyond. I turned back to see Kathy and Thor, my sister-in-law and nephew. All I could muster was a wave of the arm. Where I usually go over to give hugs and high-fives, this year I was surviving. There was no way I was going to retrace even 10 steps. I was hurting too badly.
The hills, including Heartbreak, were now over. Having been so focused at the job in hand, and in knowing the course so well, this point came quickly. Mile 21 (8:55), 22 (8:55) and 23 (9:05) felt better. I was buoyed, even if slightly, by a gentle breeze and downhill section. In fact, I was feeling better here than I had in the previous 8 miles. The Citgo sign was straight ahead, and the finish line was coming closer.
Mile 24 (8:36) was good, but I was getting in trouble again because the ice in my bag was nearly gone. Mile 25 (9:53) was still good, but it cost me time because in desperation, in my fear of running out of ice, I stopped several times in attempts to refill my bag with ice. It was a hard sell, until some college kid hooked me up. This was the same ice that was keeping his stash of Bud Lite’s cold. Good on you, mate. Not so good on me.
Not long after, I made my way past Fenway Park and into Kenmore Square. The Citgo sign was high above to my left. This is when I passed the “One Mile To Go” mark. The crowds were deep and loud. Just beyond that I saw Heather on the side of the road, exactly where I had been expecting her along with our dear friends Bob and Maureen. After dishing out hugs to Bob and Maureen, I gave Heather a kiss before setting off for the finish.
Right on Hereford. Left on Boylston. I finally made it. As I ran the final half mile, perhaps the greatest stretch of any race in the entire world, I made sure to soak it in. I was too tired to play with the crowd like I usually do but I was sure to have the video camera in my brain imprint this one forever. For this one will leave a mark. It was too painful not to.
Mile 26 (9:06) and the finish (26.2 – 1:46) came.
I was happy to be done, happy to have given it my all. I think I could have made better decisions, such as going out far more slowly, but… live and learn. What’s interesting is that the more time that passes and the more war stories I hear, the better and better I feel about my performance. It wasn’t until I wrote my splits down that I realized that in my death march I was still logging 8 to 9 minute miles. Not so bad after all.
Something that keeps resurfacing in my mind are the words from the Medical Director when he said that he thought of the day as a slowly unfolding mass casualty event. The more I thought about the mass casualties, the more I keep thinking that this was, for me, the Boston Massacre. Just brutal it was.
1 – 6:48
2 – 6:59
3 – 6:53 (noticeable slowdown in crowd)
4 – 6:45
5 – 6:54
6 – 6:49
7 – 6:58 (slowdown starts)
8 – 7:02
9 – 7:03
10 – 7:12
11 – 7:26
12 – 7:45
13 – 7:45
14 – 7:56
15 – 8:26 (first forced walk – overheating)
16 – 7:54
17 – 9:06
18 – 9:50
19 – 9:09
20 – 9:18
21 – 8:55
22 – 8:55
23 – 9:05
24 – 8:36
25 – 10:00
26 – 9:06
26.2 – 1:46