Seventeen minutes. That's how much slower I was this year compared to last year's Boston Marathon, a difference of about 40 seconds per mile. Despite running two other twenty-six milers, along with enough 5 and 10Ks to earn a closet full of t-shirts screenprinted with poor quality clip art of smiling runners, Boston was the first race to break me, to leave me shivering beneath a pile of blankets in the medical tent trying to recall enough dialogue from House to remember whether O2 Sats were something that determined whether or not I'd end up with a misdiagnosis of amyloidosis or just uncontrollable bleeding from the ass.
But let's back up to the beginning of the day, which started with a pair of donuts and a side of promise. My Dunkin-filled breakfast and I were on the bus by 6:45 for the hour-long ride to Hopkinton. The race course is what's called a point-to-point, which means you start in Hopkinton and essentially run a straight line back into Boston. Once my jelly-stained shirt and I stepped off the bus, we had another two hours to stand in the cold, alternately huddling on the ground pretending to do a little-known yoga pose called the Crumpled Wad of Paper or hiding in the noxious warmth of the port-a-john, wondering how long I could stay in there before I was overwhelmed by the scent of partially-digested Powerbar.
At about 9:40--after scarfing several complimentary bagels and making countless strangers uncomfortable with the way I rubbed my own inner thighs--it was time to walk toward the start line. I was in Wave 1, which meant that I'd share a corral with 13,000 of my closest friends, wondering why some of them already smelled like a glove box full of rotting meat. It took six minutes from the official start until I actually made it through the mass of people onto the race course. My goal for the day was modest since my training had been less-than-stellar, interrupted by our miserable wet winter or the unexpected ill effects from eating a bag of Sour Patch kids before a long run, but I still expected to roll in at around the 3:30 mark.
Through eleven miles, that seemed like a possibility. My mile splits were all between 7:55 and 7:25 and I felt effortlessly awesome like the people in Michelob Ultra commercials, minus the moisturizer and cosmetic dentistry. I high fived some kids on the course, I waved every time someone shouted "J-Money!", and seriously considered ending my race to tongue kiss an insanely attractive fortysomething who was standing on an overturned Igloo cooler outside a car dealership.
Anyway, everything was cool until just past the eleven mile mark when something popped in my Achilles tendon-y area. Despite having zero medical training other than once beating Dr. Mario on GameBoy, I knew that this was Very Bad, especially when my calf meat was slapped with searing pain, like it had just been shoved through a sausage grinder. "That's it, then," I told myself out loud, because that's what crazy people do. "You're done." I knew there was a medical tent at the halfway point--mile 13--so I planned to seek treatment and call it a day. But when I started to run again, the shrieking ache in my ankle went away. I made it to the medical tent all right...and decided to keep going.
It took less than a mile before I realized that this would be filed under Bad Fucking Idea. In an effort to avoid further damage to my left side, I made subtle changes to my stride, which caused a number of Latin-named pieces of my right leg to throw a tantrum. By mile 15, I couldn't push off with my left side and was struggling to extend my right. My mile splits got slower--8:00, 8:40, 9:00--as I fell into a pained shuffle, trying to blink back involuntary tears.
Eleven miles to go, and I tried to lose myself in the more pleasant parts of my brain, first attempting to recite the entire script of A Fish Called Wanda, starting with John Cleese's opening "And on that point, members of the jury, I rest my case." Next, I rattled off all of Robyn Hitchcock's album titles in order, spending the duration of Heartbreak Hill arguing with myself about where to put Queen Elvis. Then I tried to remember the last time I had sex.
I was approaching another dark green medical tent when my mind drifted toward the internet. It's a sentiment that borders on Hallmark Hall of Fame territory, but I thought about everyone who takes the time to read this site, the people I "know" from their comments or Twitter or Tumblr... all of my imaginary friends. I thought about how bad it would suck to type out several paragraphs about how I quit. How I dropped out. How I gave up.
So I didn't.
Instead, I dragged myself through another pair of miles. When my limping form made it to Boston College, I learned that the more you're struggling, the more the crowd cheers for you. By that point, I looked like something that would be dredged out of a scum-covered marsh during the opening credits of CSI. In every picture from the event--both the expensive official ones and those snapped by my friends on the course--I look like I am:
- About to cry
- Just finished crying
- Soiling myself
"That's four laps around the track," I said loud enough to attract the attention of a woman wearing a pair of inflatable angel wings. "Let's do this." I picked up the pace, refusing to give in to the ache in my leg or the fire in my lungs, sprinting down the straight stretch and hoping I didn't lose too much time making the final left turn. I couldn't have had more than a quarter mile to go but the finish line looked like it was in Minneapolis. My arms felt heavy and worthless, like dead animals or Rachel Ray. My throat burned like I'd just smoked a pack of fiberglass-filled Marlboro Reds.
I checked the time. Run faster. Ten seconds. Faster. Five. Pick it up. Finally, my feet landed between the I and the S in the word FINISH. I stopped my watch.
The maximum finish time I could've run and requalified? 3:40:59.
My time? 3:40:59.
Sometimes Fortune kisses you on the mouth.
"Congratulations," a fluorescent-clad race volunteer told me, draping me in a foil blanket that made me look like a half-eaten Big Bacon Classic. She handed me off to a handsome Australian who untied my shoe and fumbled with my timing chip. "How're you feeling?" he asked. Rather than answer, I thought it would be more effective to just pass out. He waved for someone to bring him a wheelchair as he scooped me off the pavement and I was pushed into the medical tent.
I was quickly informed that my blood pressure had bottomed out and my temperature had dropped to a reptile-quality 93.5, so I was wrapped burrito-style in a thick blanket and monitored for 90 minutes while a number of different medical professionals periodically checked my aforementioned O2 Sats and asked me questions I would've struggled to answer on a good day, things like "What's ten times nine?" or "Why would you do this voluntarily?"
When my temperature returned back to human levels, I autographed some forms that said the Boston Athletic Association wasn't responsible if my heart exploded later in the day and was released back into the wild so I could--no shit--walk another mile and a half back to my hotel. It was approaching 3:30 at this point, so I stopped into Burger King for a large fry and a six pack of those dwarf-sized burgers because I decided if the race couldn't kill me, a paper bag full of trans fats couldn't either.
Injuries aside, I'm heading back to the gym this morning but will be taking a two or three week trial separation from running. I probably finished this race at the expense of others, but I'm OK with that. The important part is that I finished.
That makes for a much better story.
P.S. A lot of you have asked about my gloves, my haircut (thankyew) and what it means to 'qualify' for the Boston Marathon. Since--according to the description on the cable guide--I've already seen this afternoon's Law & Order: SVU episodes, I'm going to do a running-related Q&A post later today. If you have any other questions, leave 'em in the comments...