On Sunday night before THE MARATHON, I set the alarm in the hotel for 5:20 eastern time, got a wake up call, and set the alarm on my BlackBerry. I slept surprisingly well….
But I still woke before five (which is before four at home). I meticulously set out all my gear on Sunday night. Much the way I did before Chicago, I spent the first hour of the morning quietly, almost ritualistically putting together my gear and packing everything into the bright yellow Boston Marathon “drop bag” while prayerfully meditating about this run. I sent my daily text, and as I have done with every race, I sent Hebrews 12:1-3
1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
In the hours before bed on Sunday night, I was anxious, but in a different way from the feelings I felt before Chicago. The reason for these feelings had at their core the three weeks I spent dealing with the illiotibial band injury in my right knee: I realized at a minimum, I was going to run with pain in the morning, but could very likely be unable to run at all. Despite physical therapy, medrol dose pack, Celebrex, countless stretching exercises, and ultimately a cortisone injection in the outer side of the right knee, I still had a great deal of tightness and some mild pain even, at rest.
After I dressed on Monday morning, ate my traditional steel cut oats and bananas; and drank a little coffee, I met Jonathan Stewart around 6:00 a.m. We shared a cab from the hotel in Cambridge over to Boston Common. As we drove across the St. Charles River, we began to see hundreds, and I mean hundreds of yellow dog school buses. As we approached Boston Common, those buses were lined up one after the other, and runners were approaching from all directions, carrying their drop bags, and loaded the buses for the long slow drive to Hopkinton. We showed our bib numbers and were directed toward a bus to load up. The first race volunteer I encountered saw my Nike dri-fit orange cap with a big white T on it, and said “hook-em horns.” I am proud to say over the course of the day I heard several people scream “Go Vols” as I ran past. I also had an orthodontist from Knoxville seek me out because of my cap.
On the bus drive, Jonathan and I shared pretty much whatever came to mind from the tour I had taken the day before, to the details of our training over the past months. We arrived in Hopkinton around 6:45 a.m., and were routed into Athletes’ Village where all kinds of food, water, coffee and Gatorade were provided. Tents were in place for runners to sit and wait for the call to the corrals in advance of the start. The temp was in the 40’s and the wind was blowing from the northeast at 10-20mph, so we were shivering cold within just a few minutes. I put on every piece of clothing I had with me, and then put a large garbage bag over all of that. It may have helped some, but it was way way cold.
We found a spot to sit down and stretch during the over two hour wait. While we waited, we received a call from Lisa Logan, who is a great lady from the Chattanooga area I ran with during the Chickamauga Marathon. I had the privilege of helping Lisa run and finish with a qualifying time in that run. We visited with her for a few minutes and I found myself eating way more than I have eaten before a run in the past. I had a Power bar, two more bananas, and a bagel, and of course started worrying that would somehow slow me down.
The announcement came that Wave One runners should go and leave their drop bags and then make the way toward their designated corrals. The drop bags were separated by bib numbers and put into dozens of different school buses. This unfortunately meant we had to leave all of our warmer clothes behind. At this point, I start feeling those pre-big event butterflies and my mind is racing from finding a place to take one last pee, and the magnitude of what is about to take place. The walk from the village to our corral was close to a mile. As the runners began to assemble, it was so different from other races because everyone looked like serious runners. There were none of the folks who were there to give it a shot without the appropriate training. Everyone around me was a seasoned experienced runner. During the moments before the 10:00 start, I recall the ocean of people assembled behind me, the national anthem, and the pair of F-15 fighter jets that flew by as part of the pre-race ceremony.
At Chicago, the start felt almost like riding over a “whee bump” in a car, but here, the start was much more fluid and calm. I didn’t have the “Holy Smokes” feeling until I saw the start line paint on the road where I had been standing with Angie, the kids, Chris, and Judy on the day before.
The first several miles of the race are primarily downhill and we had been warned against going out to fast. I really ran the first several miles faster than I should have, and Jonathan repeatedly warned me to slow down. We clicked off several miles in the 7:20’s. My knee had only minor discomfort during those miles and it seemed we were out of the town of Hopkinton in no time. The crowd of runners did not thin out much at all throughout the entire marathon. It was never as crowded as Chicago at any time, but there remained a significant crowd all the way.
It somehow gave me a great feeling when we crossed over the 10k mark and I knew the first text message update was being sent out to everyone. This is particularly true because I knew that Angie would have a sense of comfort I was able to run the first six miles at a pace close to my normal running pace.
We had been told by our tour guide there would be some stretches along the route where there would be no spectators. However, I don’t remember any significant place without fan support along the way. In fact, I have no doubt that I ran past a million race supporters, cheering, playing music, providing water, food, Gatorade. There were so many cheering fans it almost came to feel normal during the run. In other races, the wild cheering at the end is a real surprise, but at Boston, you have screaming, cheering fans all the way.
The Boston Marathon is not a run “in” Boston, but rather a run “to” Boston. On the way, you cross through one after another small New England towns with beautiful historic homes and town centers. From Hopkinton, you travel through Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Weston, Newton, Brookline, and several others I can’t recall. Through these small towns, we saw Santa, a row of people on mini trampolines, bagpipe players, bands, drummers, dancers, and all the screaming you can imagine. I heard the theme to Rocky three different times. We even passed Team Hoyt along the way.
The pain in my knee started really increasing around mile 7 or 8. I decided I would not allow it to take away from the experience, and I am proud to say it did not. Jonathan has run with me long enough that he sensed I was feeling pain, but reassured me my gait was not showing any change. He also did an outstanding job of talking me through the entire run, keeping my focus on the significance of what we were doing and helping me not miss any of the sights and sounds.
Jonathan and I fell into a pretty good pace rhythm and managed the aid stations together. We talked together about everything we were experiencing along the way and quoted from memory Hebrews 12 together out loud.
As we neared the town of Wellesley, the screaming increased exponentially. In fact, as much as a mile away you could hear the deafening noise. The sound was coming from the co-eds at Wellesley College who were following the long tradition of lining the streets at the College and scream and wave signs that say “Kiss a Wellesley Girl” or “Kiss Me I am from Cali”
As we left Wellesley I remember thinking the Boston Marathon experience was half over and I told myself to soak it all in. During these same miles, I also had a strange pain I have never experienced before. Every few minutes, without warning, I would feel a really sharp pain, almost like someone would hit the side of my leg, and it would make me feel I was about to stumble. Fortunately, I never stumbled or fell because of the sensation, but I do think some of our miles between 14 and 17 were affected by that new sensation.
At mile 17 we entered the city of Newton and the famed “Newton Hills.” The hills go up and up and up. Just after mile 20 we ran up “Heartbreak Hill” and just as advertised, there were people everywhere offering us beer and cheering like crazy. All the way up Jonathan kept saying what a privilege it was to get to run up this famous hill in this race. He was exactly right. At the top, all the fans were screaming, “You did it!! You conquered Heartbreak Hill.” They also repeatedly said “It’s all downhill from here,” which is not really true. There are several more significant hills along the last five miles.
As we left Newton and entered Brookline, I started feeling pain and burning in both my legs that were affecting my ability to maintain our pace. I am pretty sure this pain was the effect of no running for the three weeks before the race. During those three weeks, I worked hard to maintain my cardio vascular fitness, but I couldn’t do anything to keep my legs ready for this type of distance without running. Jonathan urged me along and he made all the difference.
As I had done in Chicago, I spent a good bit of time focusing inwardly during these miles. I had hoped the entire race would be a leisurely sightseeing tour. However, I did have to rely upon introspective motivators to carry me through, but in hindsight that is pretty symbolic of my whole life, and maybe everyone’s life for that matter. We use the example, encouragement and spirit of others to move us. For me during this race I thought as I always do about Angie and how she gives and exhibits strength every minute of every day. I thought in particular of her pain I have witnessed through her C-sections and other surgeries. I thought about my mother, Sheila and the sacrifices she made for me, for my sister Carla, and those she continues to make for us and for others while keeping a smile on her face. I thought as I did at Chicago, of the many friends and relatives that were focused on Jonathan and me at this particular moment. I thought about my dad. Mostly my thoughts of him related to a spiritual communication just to let him know he was on my mind during this run.
About mile 24 ½ Jonathan and I could see the CITGO sign which is the “one mile left” mark. We started cheering and high fiving each other. I started thinking “I am hurting like crazy, yet I hate for this moment to end.” Jonathan was grinning from ear to ear and he ran along high fiving the vast crowds of people. We passed Fenway Park on the right and we could see the fans still in the park watching the game. We ran along Beacon to the right turn on to Commerce and then the left turn for the home stretch on Boylston. Just as we made that left turn we saw Angie, Shannon, Judy, Chris, Deana, Weston, Jenna, Marshall, and Carlee Hayes. We screamed and cheered with them. Jonathan took Carlee Hayes in his arms and carried her with him for the last 400 meters. We took 13 minutes to run that last mile. We just slow jogged it and soaked it all in. As I got to the finish, I just walked, looked at the finish canopy, the cameras, the crowd, and looked at the sky and gave thanks to God Almighty for this incredible blessing.
For more personal accounts of the 2009 Boston marathon, click here.
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