A Day to Run Through the Cramps after Shaking the Winner’s Hand

I am an avid runner who normally trains 75 miles per week when not in marathon training phase. I’ve been running consistently for eight years, after seven years of no running while serving in the U.S. Navy. Prior to the Navy, I ran in high school for three years from 1994-1997, seeing lot of the New York City marathon being televised in my backyard, since I am a Jersey kid.

I was always intrigued about racing in a marathon, but I was more intrigued about racing the Boston Marathon. I ran three marathons prior to the 2014 Boston marathon. My debut was the 2010 Suntrust Richmond (Virginia) Marathon. I took 11th place with a time of 2:39:09. That time qualified me for Boston, but not the 2011 race since registration closed out the preceding September. My BQ was good for 2012. Good thing I was not motivated to race the 2012 Boston Marathon, since it was an oven that year!

Well, my second marathon was again the Richmond Marathon one year later. This time I ran a 2:37:14 personal best and, of course, another BQ (again this time was good for the following year – the 2013 Boston Marathon). I decided to put Boston off for another year. In the fall of 2012, I decided to run the Toronto Waterfront Marathon as my third marathon. I chose this one since Toronto is only three hours from Syracuse, NY. In that marathon I came in 26th place overall with a time of 2:38:41 and first overall from the U.S.A. Another BQ, this time for the 2014 Boston Marathon.

On Patriots Day of 2013, I watched the entire Boston Marathon race online, as I have done in the past. About two hours after the race was over, I turned on the news and saw what I could not imagine happening in a marathon race! Especially in the most prestigious marathon in the world (I’m holding back tears as I am typing this). From that day I have decided to go ahead and throw my name in the hat to be one of the runners who would be participating in the 2014 Boston Marathon and to taking our marathon back.

My Boston Marathon training phase began back in December of 2013. I was exposed to the worst and one of the most brutally cold winters Syracuse has experienced. I was logging in 90 miles per week and touched 100 miles twice during this four month cycle. My training was going great! There were days when I had a bad run or I just wanted to give up because of the negative wind chills, but what kept me motivated was the “Boston Strong” wristband I wore throughout the training cycle.

Leading up to Boston, I was in the best shape of my life, setting a personal best on the indoor track (5,000 meters, 16:18). In February, I headed down to Virginia Beach for a week vacation to take a break from the winter. I raced the “Virginia is for Lovers” 14k (8.7 miles), and took second overall with another personal best in 47:46. I was very happy with that effort since all I had was two months left until the Boston Marathon.

I ran my tune-up race at the New Bedford (MA) Half Marathon, and ran a personal best of 1:13:43 with no taper. I knew then that leading to Boston I would be able to destroy my personal best of 2:37:14 at the most prestigious marathon in the world. Two weeks after the New Bedford half, I decided to meet up with a group of runners to run the first 22 miles of the Boston marathon course. I must’ve arrived at perfect timing since I ran into Lanni Marchant, the Canadian women’s marathon record holder. We ended up running together and chatting about the course and about the Toronto and Boston Marathons while we were clipping away 6:07 pace per mile. After that 22 mile run (last one before Boston), I was very confident I would destroy my personal best come race day.

Then it’s Saturday of Boston Marathon weekend, and my family and I arrived in Boston. We went straight to the expo. I grabbed my bib number with a breeze, bib # 464. As we walked around, I met a couple of friends and saw the legendary Bill Rodgers giving autographs and taking pictures. Next all I wanted to do was purchase the bright work zone cone color Boston jacket. I did not stay long in the expo: it was the most congested expo I have ever seen in my life! I can understand why. I took some family pictures at the legendary finish line and we headed over to our hotel in Waltham, MA.

Race day! I get dropped off at a friend’s place who owns a home approximately 400 meters from the start of the Boston marathon. At around 9:30 I jog over to the start. While I am waiting for the race to take off, I feel very privileged to be right behind the elites! Among others, I shake Meb’s hand, not knowing he is going to be the winner of the 118th marathon.

Then it is 10:00 am and we are off! The first couple of miles, I go out at a conservative 5:55 pace per mile, but at mile 2, I feel this is going to be a long day for me, since I already start pouring water over me. It feels unusually hot to me, I guess because of the brutally cold winter I trained through. I am so amazed how many spectators Boston has on this day! It gives me chills in a good way and I feel very patriotic! I click along at 5:50-5:55 with no problem at the 10k mark. Still I keep pouring water over me at each water stop and drink lot of fluids. I hit the half way mark in 1:17. Perfect pacing. I tell myself this will be a PR day if I keep this up.

Well, around mile 18, I started to cramp. Instead of easing up to shake off the cramp, I decided to speed up past mile 18 until mile 19. I kept cramping up bad. Mile 20 at two hours: good, I am still with striking distance of my PR and for sure another sub 2:40 marathon. But I cramped so bad I was forced to stop and stretch on top of Heartbreak Hill. I gave it a go after stretching the cramp out, but around mile 23, I cramped again.

At this point I wanted to drop out but I glanced down at my wristband which states “2013 Boston Strong.” I decided to just complete the race by jogging the rest of the way. I lost my momentum, but put my pride away and ran for Boston! For the people who were injured and for those who lost their lives the previous year, and to prove as runners and Americans we are not quitters.

I do not remember much of the finish line. All I remember is crossing the line and being happy I got to know the real meaning of Boston Marathon. The reason why I entered the race back in September was not about me; it was about America and the city of Boston and about the runners.

I covered the last 10k in 51:42, crossing the line in 2:51:42, the slowest marathon of my four, but the one that made me appreciate what it is to run for a cause (in this case the 2013 Boston), and made me appreciate my previous faster times. Had this been any other marathon, I would have taken a DNF, but no, this was Boston!!!

I am looking forward to registering in September to chase the unicorn next April, and also to race a fall marathon to better my personal best.

Juan Martinez
Syracuse, New York
April 21, 2014
Age – 35
Bib # 464