This was my fifth marathon. A distance is swore I would never – NEVER – do. Where the Half Marathon is a challenging distance, but still doable, the full marathon is straight pain cave nonsense. The elite runners – the folks who have sponsorships to do this stuff – do this seemingly at will. Sure, they’re training, but it’s also their job. For Joe Average, this stuff is hard work.
Back in 2019 or so, when I was fresh off my Baystate Marathon personal best, my friend Eric suggested that I should run this marathon. Mostly downhill, beautiful scenery, relatively inexpensive and small. There was a lot to like about this. “Sure. Why not?” and so I pried open my wallet and registered.
It is not generally considered to be good race preparation to run an ultramarathon the week before you run a marathon. During this training cycle, I ran 20+ miles three times – this is generally considered to be good training practice, but the thing is I ran 50k trail ultras as 2 of those runs…and they were within the last 3 weeks.
So, that’s a thing. I’ve decided I’m fully overcome by madness at this point.
I’m sure the descent into madness began slowly. So much so that it’s difficult to put my finger on exactly when it began. Perhaps it was the first time I attempted to run an ultra-marathon with my friend Rich…in a blizzard. Or maybe it was simply the result of so many gateway “52-Week 5ks” with Central Mass Striders. Or long runs with Duke, training for nothing. Perhaps full psychosis began the weekend I ran two Spartan Beasts. Regardless. Five weeks ago, I ran a half marathon. A week later a 50k to a personal record. Two weeks after that (last week) a second 50k to a PR. Today, Baystate Marathon. To a PR.
It seems to me — and this may be the speech of madness speaking —that with age 50 screaming up to me faster than I care to admit, I have two choices because putting fingers in my ears and humming isn’t going to work. I can either walk dignified toward it, or I can scream like hell back and let Father Time and all who bear witness know that I am not going quietly. Today, I screamed like hell. Quite mad, indeed.
I’m so pleased with the consistency of my pacing throughout the race – a real Goldilocks pace. Not too fast, not too slow. I started to lose my bearings Miles 23 & 25, but overall it went well.
I was really happy to have been running with friends – it was great to have people you know with you, to keep me accountable and to help keep accountable. Kristina and I relied on each other for most of the race – I wouldn’t have come close to my time without her having been there. Eric started out too fast and blew up later on, but we did get to run together for a bit.
It was also super important to have support on the course too. Derya came out to watch the three of us at several places along the course and Mrs Mo and Junior were waiting at the finish for me. Nothing like having the support of your people.
This was the time result I was hoping for from Boston those months ago, for whatever reason that didn’t happen then. Today, I’m actually thinking I could qualify for time at some point. I need more work, but there remains that possibility. Were I competing in the F50 age group, it would be a BQ…but alas, not so much.
The course itself was super flat – by my Garmin there was 538’ of gain. To put that in context, running around super flat Cambridge, Mass for 7 miles earlier in the week netted me 335’.
There were ample water stops and enthusiastic volunteers, both of which were appreciated. Some points were more easily run than others – squishing down to essentially only the breakdown lane in spots to half a street in others. The finish chute was a little awkward to navigate but the finish festival was solid. Would’ve been better with a finishers beer, but can’t ask for too much I guess.
It was a good course – not my favorite but good enough. The organization was good and the overall experience was on point.
It has taken me all week to gather my thoughts for this race. I admit, I was excited about running, but I didn’t expect the sheer emotion of the finish. It was a hard race – it was 26.2 miles after all – but it was the finish that I didn’t expect.
Having alternately grown up near/not-far-from the later stages of the course, and having spent some formative years in and around the earlier stages of the course, this was seeing the area in a much different way. Various memories came back to me along the course. This is an experience I will not soon forget.
First, this is a story of “home field advantage.” Since the marathon is a point-to-point event, most runners start in Boston and take the BAA buses to Hopkinton. This means you’re staying in the city (very expensive!) and you have few amenities with you at the race. You can bring their clear plastic bag to the runner village, but that’s it. My running club, on the other hand, charters a bus to the runner’s village in Hopkinton, gets two hotel rooms in Boston, and charters the bus from Boston back home. While you’re awaiting your start, you can stay on the bus (and out of the elements), use the on board bathroom, etc. You can also have access to your stuff. So as we were walking to the starting corrals, all dressed for our races, everyone who had come in from Boston were walking around in shoes covered with plastic bags, slogging through the mud to get to the porta-potties, shedding unwanted layers into “donation” piles. It had stopped raining while we were en route to the start, so by the time we were walking to the starting line, we were dry and comfortable. Others? Not so much.
A few weeks previous, we took part in the BAA’s final organized rehearsal run for the race – “HOP21” – where we ran from the starting line in Hopkinton to Boston College, the first 21 miles of the race. It was a pleasant day and I hit a very comfortable stride. I was confident that I could get this race done in less than 4-hours. Perhaps even 3:45 if the stars aligned.
The stars did not align.
At the start it was roughly 45-50 degrees and overcast. Actually, quite perfect marathon running weather. I felt good and comfortable, in no small measure due to the above treatment I’m sure. By the time I hit Framingham though, the clouds were beginning to part and the sun was coming out. By Natick, it was full on sunny and beautiful – an otherwise gorgeous day – but for a runner in a marathon, it was draining. Oh, and I had to poop something awful.
For the majority of the course from that point, it was glorious and I was happy I went with the choice of shorts and running singlet. It was the first time in months that I had run in something so minimal, and it was glorious. I’m fast enough that I can be reasonably competitive, but not so fast that I can’t appreciate my surroundings to some degree, so I saw some friends near the start, and some others a little further down, high-fived some kids along the course.
HELPFUL HIT, NEWS PHOTOGS: Don’t take those happy reunion pics by setting up on the course, or you will likely get knocked over. Sorry dude, it’s a race I paid quite a bit to run and your picture is not my priority.
The scream tunnel at Wellesley College was not anything I expected at all. That’s not wholly true, I mean I’ve seen the course videos and read enough to know what was there, but experiencing the enthusiasm was just next level. That was great fun.
As I got to the half-marathon point, I knew my family would be coming up soon. They were going to be at about mile 17, somewhere near Route 9 and I-95. I was really starting to struggle a bit, but no sooner had I found that I was slowing down, I looked at my watch to see I was coming up to mile 16 so I would be seeing them soon. When I looked up, I saw a poster sized picture of myself being held up. They were a lot closer than I anticipated and it was exactly what I needed when I needed it. Running club friends, work, school friends and my family. As I ran by, I was able to high five everyone. Almost a week later, writing this, I’m still welling up in tears. This display of support meant the world to me and is something I will take to my grave as one of the most meaningful gestures of my life.
A little further down the street at the I-95 overpass, as that high started to wane, I ran into some childhood friends who called out some (unusually) supportive words and that lifted me for a little down past the country club and hospital. From there it became an exercise in endurance and willpower.
Now, for the better part of 10-miles, I really needed a bio-break. At every opportunity, I looked for porta-potties. For 10-miles each bank of them had a line of some size, and as long as I felt like I could keep it together I wasn’t going to wait in a line – I’m running a race after all. As I got to the fire station in Newton, not far from the start of heartbreak hill, I saw my opportunity. There were a bunch of them, and vacant! I ran over, opened the door and…. yeah, whomever was there previously had not only peed all over the seat, but left a nice little…..well, I’d say nugget, but it wasn’t that solid. Thanks ace.
So I did my obligatory cleaning, and took care of my business, but I couldn’t get everything back into the compression shorts quite the same way. It was going to be another 7-miles or so getting chaffed and otherwise flopping around. Much better than the alternative I submit. I did lose a couple of minutes with that break, but I have to say I rationalize it by assuming had I let it go, I wouldn’t have finished.
By heartbreak hill, I was scuffing. Some guy was handing out Bud Lights, so I took one, drank some for calories, poured a bunch over my head and chucked it. I already knew my time goal was toast so may as well have some fun.
Long about mile 23, the clouds started to come together and it got much cooler. The wind picked up and it was not unpleasant. Had I not just run 20-someodd miles, I’m sure I would have been cold, but since I had it was perfect and refreshing. That said, it really didn’t help me pick up the pace, but it did keep it from getting worse. There were portions of the next 3 miles that I just could not run at all, I just had to walk. Sometimes I look at these moments as gut checks, and I can will myself to get back at it. This was not one of those times.
Mile 25. ALMOST THERE. Annnnd the sky opens up. Of course. I was struggling with pace. I knew I was near the end, I could see the blue line painted on the street indicating the final mile, but I just could not will myself to move. I made the turn onto Herreford and then the final turn onto Boylston, and could see the finish line and yet I could not run. I could not will myself to move any faster than the shuffle at which I was moving.
And then…and then I saw that familiar poster board from Mile 16-ish. My old friend and his daughter were at the finish for me. I moved as fast as I could over to them, hugged him, and he gave me a t-shirt. I’ll never forget this as long as I live, he then said “Now, go finish your race.”
I took off as fast as I could, looked at the shirt – it says “I’m Not Dead Yet” – and headed for the finish. As I crossed the line, I held the shirt over my head. I am not dead yet. Didn’t die. Didn’t finish last.
I’m actually not entirely sure where to begin with this recap. This was an emotional event by design and a personally important event. This affected me on several levels. Let me start with how I came to this point, what I decided to do with this, the results of the work I’ve put into it, and finally the meaning behind the race itself.
Earlier this year, I learned that the Marine Corps Marathon was accepting lottery entries and just like the way I’ve managed the rest of my life, I entered the lottery because it didn’t require any sort of real commitment: if I were accepted via the lottery, I could choose to register or not, unlike, Say, the Chicago or New York Marathons where in order to enter the lottery you have to cough up your credit card that will be charged if you are accepted to enter via the lottery. I remember I sent my registration fee to my undergraduate college because it was refundable vs. the more prestigious school that had a non-refundable deposit. When you’re making $3.60/hr, $100 means a lot…I guess.
At any rate, I entered the lottery on the last day I could. Within a few days I was notified I was accepted for entry and that I had only a few days to register…which I did on the last day. Now that I’d committed, I wasn’t quite sure what I should do with it.
Now that I’d committed money to my race, I needed a reason to do this. I actually hadn’t anticipated getting into the lottery, although the lottery is apparently not as lucky as one may expect.
Given the Marine Corps Marathon IS hosted by the Marines, and is an exposition of not only the organizational prowess of the Marines, but also the expression of gratitude for the fallen, this is something much more than any other race in which I’ve participated. This is a city built on the expression of history. I’m proud of the fact that I ran this to raise funds for modern Veterans facing the problems of modern life.
I met a woman on the shuttle over to the runner’s festival from Crystal City. We discussed the weather – a generally innocuous topic when speaking with strangers – she felt very cold while I thought it was perfect running weather, perhaps even balmy. It turns out she was from Barbados, which would explain our differing sense of the same experience. It further turns out she was exactly the person I should meet heading to the race: a professional motivational speaker and life coach, she had me ready to run through a brick wall by the time we were off that bus. I appreciated her friendship for the 15 minutes or so that our lives intersected, because she really did help me see this for what it was: living my best life and giving back. Thank you for that Joya.
Now, my goal for my first marathon was 4-hours. I’m never going to time qualify for the Boston Marathon, unless I can maintain my pace for the next, say, 30-years, but I am interested in maintaining a respectable pace. So the 4 hour mark was kind of important to me for reasons. End of day, for the Marine Corps Marathon, I ran 4:03:17. A little disappointing – I got a very nasty cramp between miles 24 and 25 that effectively derailed my 4-hour attempt – but overall reasonably respectable. According to one site, in the 2011-2012 marathon season the average time for any person, regardless of gender or age, was 4 hours, 24 minutes and 0 seconds; the median finish time for men was 4:17:43. I’m sure there’s some variation from 2012 to today, but it seems like a reasonable number that shouldn’t vary too too much.
The first couple of miles are up hill, not unlike the hills I run in and around Worcester, so while I was used to it, I wasn’t feeling it early on. I was stiff and just didn’t feel up to it, at one point asking myself if I was going to be able to finish. After that first hill though, the payoff was the downhill for a couple of miles, which had me feeling much better about things, and from there until the finish line it was reasonably flat. I was on cruise control for more or less the majority of the race. There were a few places where I was running out of gas – more than I care to admit, frankly – but I was still on pace for that 4-hour mark. I was actually pacing with the 3:45 runners for a while, but clearly by mile 22 I was running on fumes. and it was clear 3:45 was not going to happen for me. The finish is uphill toward the Iwo Jima memorial, and curiously enough I had enough in the tank to run up and past several others because of the hills around home – thank you quads!
Percent of the U.S. population that has run a marathon
Record time for the fastest marathon ever run
Total number of U.S. marathons held annually
Total number of people who finished a marathon annually
Now, this was an amazing race and I’m glad I took the opportunity to run it. I loved the crowd support, and seeing folks lining the streets. My own family was along the course to root me on, and the energy was palpable. Running 26+ miles is hard, but running with others is certainly motivational.
Before I left Washington, I made it a point to visit Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Of the times I’d been to Washington, I’d somehow never been able to get into the cemetery: it was either closed or my schedule didn’t permit it. This time though, it was important to me to be sure to visit: for perspective, to remember, and maybe most importantly to be sure I gave back just a little more. I was moved by the race’s “Blue Mile,” I was there raising money for veterans in need; I needed to show respect for those who have come before me and who have given their lives. I needed to give something to them too. It’s an amazing place, and I was humbled being there. Godspeed, soldiers.
ONE MONTH. In 30 days I toe the line at my first marathon at the 43rd Marine Corps Marathon. I’m using the opportunity to raise money for an Army veteran in need through the O’Connell Valor Fund. 25 pledgers have helped me raise $1750 of my $2000.
Although the training miles have piled up, I’m not going to qualify for the Boston Marathon, especially not with the qualifying times changing, but more specifically I’m not that good a runner. I’m hoping to finish in the 4:15:00 – 4:30:00 range — only an hour or so (30%) longer than my BQ time. Supporting this run is not about supporting a runner seeking any glory other that the personal victory of finishing a marathon. This is about doing good, giving back.
The O’Connell Valor Fund has presented me the family this fundraiser will support and they have a devastating and heartbreaking story. Our veteran was medically discharged from the Army, disabled and unable to work, he has been undergoing treatments at the Veterans Administration. Meanwhile, his wife had been supporting the family and his son with special needs had been contributing to the family income.
Earlier this year, his son committed suicide in the family home. If not devastating and traumatic enough in and of itself, his family now stands on the verge of losing everything as his wife has been unable to work as a result. After months of working with local resources, they’re able to move out of their home – away from the trauma and closer to his treatment options.
Our veteran has been vetted through Veterans Count, the philanthropic arm of the Easter Seals Military & Veterans Services, and the O’Connell Valor Fund directs 99% of their funds to Veterans just like this. To learn more about why I’m doing this, I detail it here, but simply put, it’s a labor of love and to give back. The money raised here will help our Veteran move away from the trauma, and move back toward regaining his life.
One of our supporters is running the MCM to raise funds for one of our Veterans. Please read more about his campaign here – a share is as good as a donation: Thank you… https://t.co/4mq0MLqQp6
I would consider it an honor for you to express your support for this effort, no matter how small. I need just 10 people to pledge $1 a mile to reach the goal. 10! I’ve been presented this veteran because I believe I can raise this money. The sad part is that while his story is heartbreaking, there are many many more stories just like his. We need to do better for the men and women who have served our countries and for their families. I know there are 10 people who can help make this happen.
You can make a flat dollar contribution or pledge an amount per mile (26.2!!) by clicking the graphic above or just following this link.
Contributions/Pledges are tax deductible. Thank you for your consideration and support.
I just updated my 2018 Race/Goal Tracker page. My monthly running total for March, despite having three more days than February, came up 10 miles shorter than last month: 140.75 vs. 150.8.
NB: I usually only record tenths, unless I’m recording a quarter mile. So I’ll only record a 0.1, 0.2, 0.25, 0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.6, 0.7, 0.75, 0.8, or 0.9.
So, as I’m trying to increase my mileage, it’s important to me to be sure I’m on track; I use the approach that if you manage the week, then you’re managing the month; if you’re managing the month, then you’re managing the quarter; if you’re managing the quarter, you’re managing the year.
Anyway, I finished March with 393.55 miles run on the year, which puts me at…get this… 26.2% of my goal for 2018 (it’s actually 26.237% but that’s neither a compelling story nor is it wholly accurate due to the rounding discussed above, so we’re going with 26.2%).
Oddly enough, on March 29 I was informed that I had been selected in the Marine Corps. Marathon lottery to be invited to participate in the 43rd MCM, an invitation I chose to accept. I had registered for the lottery on the last day it was open as a lark – I mean, seemed interesting enough and I had poked at it with a stick previously enough to know what package tours and the like cost. So I clearly hadn’t ruled it out, but I honestly didn’t think I’d get in.
I didn’t plan to be 26.2% of my goal, didn’t set out a plan to run a marathon – I’ve famously avoided running marathons, actually, opting for either halfs or 50ks and thereby fully bypassing the 26.2 mark totally. The reason for that is typical me: a former supervisor has asked me if I was planning to run any marathons and I responded “I will never do 26.2…” so in the interest of maintaining my integrity, I’ve just skipped over it. I mean 31.1 is by definition NOT 26.2 and don’t think the irony of my “no 26.2 mile races” commitment being undone by a race honoring “Semper Fidelis” is lost on me.
Somehow it all came together at the end of the third month of the year. The fates have apparently dictated that I do this. I have remained true to my vow I would not run a marathon, but once the fates start lining up what am I supposed to do?
More interesting is the idea that on the 44th week of the year last year, I hit my goal of 1000 miles. That week was the week of October 29 and November 4. The MCM this year is October 28, so perhaps there’s a possibility that I could hit my 1500 mile goal at that point. As I write this, I’m currently 95 miles off the pace that would have that happen, but I have almost 8 months to get onto that pace.
Sometimes goals, and challenges have to be fluid and flexible, and sometimes you just have to go with the flow – to be ready to accept a challenge when one is offered.