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Member's Musings

Boston 2013 Race Report: Life is Strange – Aubrey Blanda

This is the strangest race report I’ve ever written. I’m not even sure how to do it, so think of it as a series of loosely related short stories that may or may not have to do with the Boston Marathon.

Prologue: I started training for Boston in December, following a modified 18 week Pfitz plan provided by Tom Deeg (Cartman from the old RT forums). Tom acted as my unofficial coach and adviser this time around, and I will always appreciate his help. My goal when I started was to match or break last year’s PR of 3:53:45. Training went very well until late February when I injured my hamstring. Because that was just as peak training was starting, I never took the time I should have to recover. I laid off hills, but it never really healed by the time Boston came around. Ah well, it would be a fun weekend except for the race, and since Boston no longer allowed deferrals, I figured I may as well go run it since I may never qualify again.

Story #1: Nothing To Do With Anything, but Kind of Funny.

Two weeks before the race, Philip and I went into Manhattan to have dinner and catch Book of Mormon on Broadway. I was very excited; it’s a rare treat for us to see a show and we’d waited nine months for these seats, and I’m a huge South Park fan. We had dinner reservations at La Grenouille,an beautiful, old school French restaurant just off Fifth Avenue,where suits with names you recognize go for power lunches (I heard the name dropped on Mad Men recently, which amused me to no end). Roger highly recommended the place because a very close family friend is a chef there. It is famous for its huge flower arrangements and souffles, and I was out to try everything. But right after our appetizers came, the manager came out and very apologetically told us that they had shut the kitchen down because the NYC health inspector was there, and could not serve food. WTF? Roger’s friend came out, he was mortified and I said it was really no big deal, which it wasn’t. I’m not going to get upset because  I missed dinner at a fancy restaurant when the world has far bigger problems. And the appetizers had been quite filling anyway, so we left and headed to the show (which was awesome). Well, the next week a reporter from the New York Post contacted us. She was writing a story about the increased number of health inspections during prime restaurant business hours and how it hurt business and discouraged people from patronizing the restaurants in the City. I spoke with her, then she asked Philip and me to come to the restaurant so her photographer could take pictures. Why not? It sounded like fun, so I agreed, even though the “photo shoot” would be the day before leaving for Boston. The photographer took about 100 pictures, and we really hammed it up for the camera. This is the Post, after all. We held up a fork and knife in front of an empty plate with pouty faces and other exaggerated expressions, we stood outside and pointed to the restaurant and looked really sad, it was a blast. The story should run this week sometime. Maybe I can bribe someone to buy me a copy so I won’t have to be seen buying the Post, haha.

Philip and I drove to Boston on Friday. I hit the expo to pick up my packet; Kathrine Switzer signed my bib,as she did in 2011– and both 2011 and 2013 were crappy races, so I’m not going near her at Boston ever again, if I ever do manage to qualify. That night we met up up the amazing Enid H. and her incredibly talented daughter Renee, who was giving a trumpet recital at Boston University. The recital was fantastic, and I was honored to be there and see Renee perform. On Saturday Philip and I checked out the aquarium, and met up with more amazing and awesome forumites Cindy (Seoulrunner), Caroline (Mogul Girl), and Tim and Crystal Wilson. Philip left for home on Sunday morning because our kids had school on Monday, but Cindy and Caroline accompanied me to dinner in the North End with some of my running club peeps from New Jersey. I’d been feeling ambivalent about the race for weeks. Everybody has heard me whining about the hamstring I injured in late February, and honestly, I felt tired. I wasn’t looking forward to 26.2 miles of a pain fest. When I woke up Monday morning, I realized I’d never felt so negative about a race. I only had a few hours to change my attitude and get my game on, yada yada, but I still felt kind of blah about the whole thing up until I left Athlete’s Village. Which brings me to

Story #2: I’m a Friend of Suzie’s!

When I left Athlete’s Village for the corrals (#2, third wave), my only goal was to finish. I’d taped my hamstring, but it still hurt before the start. Not painful, but sore and tight. I started walking down the street you walk down before turning right, into the corrals. Just before the right turn to the corrals, there was a house with a table set up in front near the street, with sunblock, water, gels, stuff runners might need. It wasn’t connected with the BAA, it was just some very nice private citizen doing a nice thing. I needed sunblock, and while I was applying it I heard a man to my right tell the guy behind the table,“I was told to tell you that I’m a friend of Suzie’s, there’s a club group meeting here, right?” And the guy behind the table waved him into the house. A lightbulb went off above my head; I really had to pee, and did not want to wait 20 minutes in a porttapotty line again, so I said to a different person behind the table, “I’m a friend of Suzie’s,” and waited to see what would happen. It was like saying “Open Sesame!” He waved me into the house. So I hung out with a lovely group of runners from Houston,TX, watched the elite race on Suzie’s flat screen tv, used the indoor plumbing about 3 times, and then left with three of the group who were also in my corral. And if I wasn’t friends with Suzie before I met her, I sure was when I left her house! I have her bib number and need to look her up. And I was so happy when I left her house, I felt so much better about running. So when we started, I fell into step with one of the guys who’d been in the house. Allan set a tough pace for me, we were running about 8:45 to 8:50 for the first 8miles. But it felt ok at first, so I changed my goal to holding the pace until the half-way point and then slowing down and seeing how I felt. I stopped for water at mile 7 and lost Allan, who sped up, but I felt good until mile 10. Then I realized that the reason I didn’t notice my hamstring wasn’t bothering me was because every other muscle in my legs, including my ankles, was shot. Six miles to go until the Newton hills, and my quads were completely dead from running the first 8 miles too hard (and the hamstring prevented me from training on hills enough). But I did hang on to mile 13.1,which I hit in 1:55. That’s one minute faster than I hit the half at my PR marathon last year, not awful. I think if I heal up and train right, I can hit my PR in the future.

At that point, my legs were trashed and I had the entire second half to go. I slowed way down. It wasn’t exactly hot, but the sun was as harsh and bright as in 2011, when it also badly affected me. I dawdled; I slapped kids’ hands and drank lots of water; I ran even more slowly past the bongo drums and college kids, just trying to enjoy the vibes. At mile 16, this weird hernia thing I have popped out like a huge abdominal muscle cramp when I bent to push my calf panties down, and I had to wait until the muscle relaxed so I could push it back in. I felt a blister on my left foot, my right big toenail was coming off, and every step by that point felt like a hammer was pounding my upper hamstring/glute,but I just wanted to finish and get that medal, and be done with Boston. But all things considered, things weren’t terrible. It crossed my mind that I had a shot at finishing in under 4:10. I’ve run a lot of marathons, and 80% of them have been between 4:00 and4:10. I would be happy with that, if I cared, which I didn’t at that point. So I wasn’t that upset when I turned onto Hereford Street for the final push up to Boyleston and the finish line and realized I was4 or 5 minutes slower than 4:10, which brings me to

Story #3 Can Someone Tell Me What’s Happening?

I was in the middle of Hereford when the first of two huge explosions occurred to my left. They were seconds apart and sounded just like a building imploding, so I assumed it was a construction project. No worries– for about another minute, when I reached the corner and started to turn onto Boyleston. I could see a huge cloud of dust and smoke down at the finish, and immediately assumed that the grandstand had collapsed. I never thought of a bomb, just that a terrible accident had occurred. Police were running toward me screaming for all of us to turn and run in the opposite direction. I stopped my watch and it said 4:10. Later I saw the explosion on the news, and a clock was in view that read 4:09 something. A woman was crouched on the ground next to me screaming over and over, she was completely in shock and hysterical;she must have seen the explosion when it happened, although we were what, .4 mile away? Then someone pulled a barrier across Boyleston. Now, one thing I learned from being so close to 9/11 (my husband’s train stop at that time was the World Trade Center, we live about twelve miles outside of NYC), is that when a cop tells you to turnaround and run, there is no questioning and no arguing. You turn the hell around and run. But I, and a woman next to me, had been standing there for about two minutes after 25.8 miles and our legs were cramping and stiff. We hobbled as quickly as we could, and as we did, I thought, “Where are we supposed to go? The barricades along the street are impenetrable (tied with thick plastic bands),we can’t climb over them with our legs, and even if we could, what does one do, run into a building? Is it better to stay outside?” No one knew what was happening, but I felt very calm. It wasn’t surreal to me like 9/11 was, it was very real. Like, “Oh, there’s an explosion, I guess I should run now, see you later alligator.” I also thought, “It’s deja vu all over again,” thinking of 9/11. It was all rather orderly considering. The woman I was with,Charlene, and I were starting to shake and freeze up, so we ran into a nearby bar, which brings me to

Story # 4: It’s a Bomb. Yes,You Heard Right, a Bomb.

Charlene and I ran inside the bar looking like a couple of drowned rats. Cold drowned rats. I borrowed a cell phone, but none were working. I finally used the bar’s landline to call Philip, who was freaking out after hearing the news while in a meeting. Then a group of wonderful young people came over, gave us their jackets, and got us water and Coke. They all wanted to help in someway. We’d been in the bar about 15 minutes when people were saying it was a bomb that exploded. I couldn’t wrap my head around that. I asked someone what they meant by “bomb” a few times, as if they could not possibly have intended to use that word. Rumors were flying, it was said that the cell service had been intentionally shut down to prevent remote detonation of explosives(not true, it was just overload of the system), and also that there were seven other devices found on the marathon course (not true, no other devices were found other than the two that blew up at the finish). I ended up going back to an apartment with a group of total strangers, who turned out to be among the best people in the world. I later felt guilty, because while thousands of runners were being diverted to Boston Commons, where they stood in the cold without anything waiting forever for information, Katie (the apartment’s owner) gave me dry clothes, computer access, cold beer and hot tea. We watched the news on tv, having decided not to go outside until we learned if it was safe, or at least, if my hotel was accessible. Charlene’s hotel, the Westin, was on lock-down and her husband couldn’t leave. I’m not sure why they locked that building down,maybe because the mayor and some senators were headed there for a press conference. Meanwhile Katie’s sister arrived with her six year old daughter. They’d been a 1/2 block from the finish line, with friends, when the blasts happened. The friends took the daughter and started running, and for what had to be the longest minute in the world, Katie’s sister didn’t see her daughter. She did find her quickly, but she was crying as she told the story. Watching all of this, I felt like a space alien who came to observe life on earth. I didn’t really feel anything but gloriously happy that I hadn’t been 5minutes faster. Later I also felt incredibly sad for the people who died and lost limbs, but in those early hours I was just helplessly,inappropriately, giddy. Katie and some others offered their congratulations and told me that I should be proud of my accomplishment, and I didn’t even understand what they were talking about. Then I realized that they thought I was upset that I didn’t get an official finish or a medal. Ha! I never thought about it! Maybe if it had been my first Boston, I might have thought differently, but honestly, I doubt it. In 2010, I finished Boston in4:00:01, and I was thrilled about it. This year, that time might have resulted in a different experience. I didn’t care about the finish, the medal, nothing. People were dead and many were injured,and I missed the scene by less than 5 minutes. Need I say more?

 

I left Katie’s apartment at about six pm, completely in awe of these people. There was no hesitation tor each out and help a complete stranger. She gave me a lift down tomy hotel (we had to take a long, circuitous route since the finish area was between her apartment and the Park Plaza). I went past the hotel, found where all the remaining drop bags were and retrieved mine, and walked straight to Jacob Wirth’s Pub, where there were still some Running Friends (Facebook group) hanging out. Cindy,Caroline, John Fenton, Pam Kennedy, and some others were there. I hadn’t eaten since before the race and I couldn’t even see straight. I only hoped I didn’t stink too much. I felt like a hobo. But that post-race burger was absolutely necessary. Got back to the hotel later and found 70 messages on my texts and Facebook; I am so humbled by this show of concern, words can’t express it. All my friends in the area were safe and accounted for. I finally showered,couldn’t fall asleep. At four am I turned on the computer for news and saw the horrible photos from the finish area for the first time. The whole thing really hit me then, but I never felt like I almost died or anything. Almost a half-mile may as well be 50 miles away if you were never in real danger, which in retrospect, I never was. I’ve read that the perpetrator may have timed this incident just as the most people were finishing, but the bombs were under the grandstands and those are always packed with people. The timing could have been completely random, happened at any time. My husband reminded me later that night that I would have a greater risk of dying in a car accident when I drove home the next day (that was supposed to be comforting, hahaha!). I finally packed up and drove home at about 7 am, and the whole way home I thought about the incredible kindness of the strangers I had met both before the race and after the explosions. In the end, really, that’s what the story is all about.

 

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