The Boston Marathon is quite an experience, and this week I’ve read quite a few reports that capture what it feels like to be part of it. This is Mike Girouard’s view of the marathon from the first corral. I met Mike at the 2009 Boston Indoor Games. If you’d like to know more about him, he has recently started a new blog at giromike.blogspot.com.
This was easily the most relaxed I have ever been going into a Boston Marathon, my 4th one. After finally deciding to do it in January, I went into it with one goal: to enjoy it. I wanted to, for once, appreciate the whole marathon experience. I didn’t feel like there was any way I’d be ready to duplicate the kind of race I had at Bay State in October so soon (2:49:19) and I didn’t have the energy to try. And I really wanted to enjoy it. For once. That seemed like a good goal. Enjoy the Boston Marathon.
On Sunday afternoon we packed up the kids and went out to my mom and stepdad’s house in Shrewsbury, about 20 minutes from Hopkinton. We had dinner and I ran around outside with the girls. They’re getting fast now and I can’t catch them without trying anymore, so I probably did a little more running than would normally be prudent the night before a marathon. But it was okay. It was a beautiful night. After it got dark, we put the younger ones in their pajamas and I helped load them into the car. I got lots of hugs and kisses and good luck wishes and then they left. I’d sleep at my mom’s and she’d drive me to the start in the morning.
On the short ride to the Hopkinton State Park I was relaxed but excited. I knew no matter what happened I was going to run a Boston PR and I wasn’t all that concerned with the exact number. My training had gone well and I was ready. It was very foggy as we pulled into the state park and the lake where the runner drop-off was looked sort of eerie as you could only see about 15 yards off shore.
I could hear the PA announcer and the hoopla from downtown Hopkinton echoing across the invisible lake. It was game time.
My mom and stepdad wished me luck and I hopped on one of the school buses for the 5 minute ride into town. From this point forward every person I met in a yellow BAA volunteer jacket absolutely welcomed me and took care of me with open arms. Our bus driver was a jolly fellow who kept asking all kinds of dumb questions to break the tension for the nervous runners, “So how far is this marathon anyway?” and such.
After the quick ride we unloaded in Hopkinton square. As I stepped off the bus another smiling, yellow-clad volunteer greeted me, “Good morning and welcome to Hopkinton, runners!!” It would have been almost annoying in a Disneyland sort of way except everyone was feeling the exact same euphoria. It was Boston Marathon day, and where else would you rather be than right here, right now?
I chatted with a friendly Canadian fellow as we walked toward the athletes village at the high school. “That’s a pretty low number you got there,” he said, gesturing to the yellow gear bag with my number on it slung over my back. We chatted all the way down the road. The place was a-jitter with very fit people. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the athletes village.
I didn’t leave myself that much time, for one, and then I spent most of in in a port-o-potty line. After that I was ready to check my gear and get out of there. I checked my bag in, which meant stripping down to racing gear in some cold temps, and then began a relaxed walk down to the corrals, occasionally meeting a runner I knew or chatting with a random fellow runner–there are no strangers in this crowd. We’ve all earned our way here the same way.
The walk to the 1st corral is the longest, but it’s a great walk. As you get closer to the front, walking along the side of the street past the descending numbered corrals the crowds get thicker and the starting line hoopla comes into focus. I have to admit, walking into that corral is a pretty cool thing. There are literally people lined up at the gate to the corral congratulating you as you go by and the volunteers there to keep out the riff-raff give you some encouragement as you show your number and walk on in…and then the whole atmosphere changes.
With 20 minutes to the gun still, everyone is just chilling. A lot of guys are sitting down. Some are walking or stretching. Most are just shootin’ the shit. With 15 to the gun, I sat down and leaned my back against one of the fences for a minute as I sucked a Gu and drank a cup of water.
A big, burly old timer volunteer in a BAA jacket was walking around introducing himself to every runner, “What’s your name? Where you from? Have you run Boston before? Well good luck, sonny.” The answers were more interesting than the questions…Ireland, Minnesota, Manitoba, Japan…when he got to me he could tell as soon as I said my name, “You’re a local guy? What town you from, Mike? Well good luck to you, have a great race.” And like that.
I bumped into Mark Hudson and some of the Whirlaway boys and a few other local guys. We made idle chit chat for a few minutes, talked race plans. Everyone was still pretty relaxed.
The first corral is like the coolest fucking club on earth….until the elites come out. When they walked along the side of our corral to take their place in front of us, the cheers started coming out: “Go HALL!, Go HALL!, HALL, Go Ryan, bring it home! HALL!!” It was pretty cool. A little pomp, national anthem, Air Force flyover and, shit, the gun.
Here we go. I cross the start about 10 seconds after the gun and started my watch. We roll down that first steep hill as the press truck marking the elites drifts off in front. The first thing I always notice is how the embankment on the right side of the narrow, 2-lane road almost acts like bleachers and how thick and LOUD the crowds are as you get underway.
It’s like starting in a stadium.
The first few miles are always blur. The biker bar on the left side of the road a couple miles in, at the Ashland line is a hoot–very loud and festive. Crazy crowds. The wind now isn’t bad yet. It’s cool but not uncomfortable. There’s lots of chit-chat. A guy in an orange Adidas top asks me what I’m aiming for. We’re around the same pace so we run together for the next bunch of miles. 5k is around 20 minutes, that would become a pattern for a while.
Framingham is loud, and fun. Natick is louder and funner. Everyone knows Wellesley is coming. We’re rolling along pretty good and it’s feeling easy as we hear the roar in the distance getting closer and closer. The wind is noticeably picking up and most of us are squished over to the right side of the street trying to draft off people in front. This makes the whole Wellesley thing that much more nuts because we’re all on the right side of the street where the girls are. Wall of sound, as thousands of future leaders of America and the world practically hurl themselves over a fence at the runners and scream incessantly.
It seems to go on for a mile, a mile that probably goes by in under 6 minutes. Calm down now, chief.
Halfway in 1:25:05, on the fast end of what I was aiming for but okay. Slower than Bay State so well within what I can handle.
At Wellesley center the crowds are a little more well-heeled than those in Natick and Framingham but they still bring it. The narrow street and stores on both sides also captures the sound. Wellesley is nice, lots of nice homes and stores and good looking people. The Newton hills are looming but before that, my girls!
On the steep downhill into Lower Falls, I start to move left out of the pack and into the direct path of the wind. As the road bottoms out I start scanning the crowd until I see them! I drift straight at the girls waving and smiling. After some high fives and pats on the head I’m off again, “Go daddy, go!” following me down the road. I move back into the pack on the right to begin the first climb over route 128 and it’s time to get to work now. Playtime is over.
The first climb is really gradual and is really just there to soften you up for what’s ahead. Around Newton-Wellesley hospital the road flattens out a bit and the crowds get even thicker.
For the rest of the way the crowds will be thick, boisterous and excellent and will build all the way to Boylston Street. At the fire station I take a deep breath, turn the corner and join the fray of hill number 2. Turnover is becoming a grind now; the wind is stronger, the cold is having an effect, and fatigue is setting in.
Around heartbreak I start to allow myself to do the backward math…I could run 8’s from here and still break 3, not that I’m going to but I could.
I have to say the Boston College crowds brought their A game this year. They’re not in Wellesley’s class but they are definitely more festive (drunk) and they try hard.
The downhill into Cleveland Circle is strange. Lots of people who were running along fine all of a sudden stop in their tracks and walk or stretch–they’re cramping up. I can feel my hammies talking to me and at one point when I let my stride open on the downhill just a bit, I feel the right one grab and I slow it down, “Whoa, tiger, keep it under wraps, lets not get cocky now. It’s a long way to the Back Bay still.”
At Cleveland Circle I know I’ll be battling daemons the rest of the way. This is the part I’ve never been able to appreciate in years past and I’m determined to this time. But it’s starting to get really really hard. Turnover is forced and everything hurts. But it’s not as bad as other years, I say. I can handle this.
The Newton Hills have pretty much deflated my legs and the idea of returning to the 6:30 pace range is sort of a joke now. I’m just running, pushing. Just keep moving. My quads and hammys are taking turns cramping and screaming at me. It’s okay. I’m fine.
Sometimes I hear my name (though I have no idea if it’s for me) or someone yells “Shamrock!” and I give a wave. Anything to distract from the effort. I’m looking for the Citgo sign. The crowds are deafening. There are a lot of really solid runners falling apart around me now. Occasionally a runner who’s been reduced to a walk will force himself to pick up a choppy run again and the crowds will go insane–willing him on toward Copley. I feed off those cheers as if they’re for just me. But I’m okay still.
40k. Good lord. The bridge over the Mass Pike is where the wheels really come off. The last 2k will easily be my slowest but I’m still running and it doesn’t matter. Fenway Park. Kenmore Square. 1 to go. Loud. Crazy. Cold.
The road has to go under Mass Ave, where is it? There it is, the line of runners bends to the left. Go there. Down we go, fade to black…oh look at that I’m seeing stars in the dark spots…up a hill now? For real? Where’s the right on Hereford? Oh there it is. Here, turn here. Is this up hill? It kind of seems up hill. I don’t know. Loud.
Boylston. We’re in the arena. Chaos. Damn it’s loud. Smells good. Barbecue? Mmm. Beer. Finish line is moving..? Away from me…? How??? Just. Keep. Pushing. Push, push, push, push, push, push, PUSH, PUSH, GRIND, GRIND, GRIT…
“Congratulations, you ran the Boston Marathon!” she says, handing me a bottle of water.
“Thank you!” I exhale.