I guess we start at the start. But not really. We begin with recon. April 19, day before, Mom (caps for respect, always) and I went to scout out the course, and naturally the finish–the actual goal of the endeavor right? The End, my only friend, and so on. Mom and I took a train into Boston. We ate 3-cheese pasta and Mom had an espresso martini (big-time jealous me, mouth salivating) and we took photos of race stuff/sites and picked up my race number and T-shirt (brilliant yellow–I am somewhat Irish and look Jaundice in yellow) and bought a shit-load of marathon/running gear at the expo.
I spent a lot of cash. I was thinking, “This is Boston. This is the Superbowl of running. The Mecca. The Kelly Clarkson. The day you just float on a 3 inch layer of enjoyment off the ground. Fuck the recession.”
The buzz of the expo was like a drug, a powerful drug. Cocaine mixed with a Goodwill coat and served with French vanilla ice cream, like that. What a scene. The runners I have adored from afar for years–Steve Jones, Bill Rodgers, tons of others, etc–were in front of me, signing posters (now hanging in my Man Room) and talking with me, shaking my hand, even advising me. (About my training while injured and under-trained for the marathon, Mr. Jones said: “You will finish A to B, but much slower, much slower than you think.”)
A great prediction. I qualified with a 3:02:01 marathon, but what would I actually run the next day, on the notorious Boston course?
I think the greatest runners are like the greatest writers: they could walk down the street and not one person would stop them or notice, with rare exception. That’s OK, both groups keep their charm inside, their glow. Both activities are basically solitary acts, carved from days of hammering out alone (words or miles, miles or words), and both groups are fine with this, seek this life, or fight it, for a while, then return, to find themselves there anyway, alone and pounding away their word-age and/or mileage. From what I have seen, both groups are gracious, helpful, usually very hip (in its old, true sense), or at least kind. Please don’t think up the exceptions that prove the rule. I did add the qualifier usually.
Also people think writers and runners are talented. That’s funny. ALL the top runners in a marathon run 100-150 miles, maybe more, per week. Do the math folks. Talent? You might want to put ass in seat, and write. And write. And write. Put your mileage in, freak.
Runners are always skinnier than writers, but I digress, and skinny is often overrated. They both seem to drink a bit more than the average person. Not sure why. I am just reporting what I have observed.
Back to the motel for me…hydration and eating of oranges and hydration. Lots of water. Then rest. The AC unit clunked on. I like to keep my hotel rooms cool, like glacial, and them just pile on, pile on, pile on the blankets. I like to burrow. I am all about burrowing.
I donned my jacket and went to the lobby to get Mom a coffee. She wants her coffee all day and night. She loves her coffee. I bought a bunch of Starbucks stock in her honor once; it costs me hundreds in losses. Did I mention my Mom bought me the sweetest vintage jacket at the expo? You don’t wear this unless you finish, but I let her buy the jacket.
I knew I would at least finish.
The day dawns.
The big story this year: Could the Americans win Boston? Finally. We haven’t won since 1983! It’s on our own turf, on Patriots Day, the most legendary marathon in the world, and the U.S. can’t even win the thing. But this year the buzz is on two runners…everyone talking and writing and TV-ing. The pressure must be incredible. Everyone just knows they can win. I already feel for them. It’s hard enough your first Boston. Let’s meet our runners:
Advantages: He toes the line with the fastest marathon time of all the competitors at Boston for 2009. Dude is FAST, with a 2:06:17 PR. Also Ryan has been training at altitude on a simulated Boston course at Mammoth Lakes, California (7,000 feet). He is also one confident, disciplined dude.
Disadvantages: A Boston rookie. Boston is a strategic race, with high winds and torturous hills. Speed isn’t going to do it alone here. You must know the course. Ryan is also super-Christian. That’s cool, but sometimes Christians can lack the killer instinct, especially if they actually live the faith, as Ryan does daily. All that meek, turn the cheek, etc., can sometimes hold an athlete back. To win Boston, Ryan will need to go Old Testament. He will need to turn the Kenyans to mounds of salt, and throw in a frog plague or a river of blood for good measure.
(another disadvantage for Ryan might be the number of African runners lining up alongside him…Such as, oh, maybe Robert Cheruiyot, the 4 time Boston winner, defending champion, and world record holder at the course!!!)
Advantages: She placed third in her try at this distance, the 2008 New York Marathon. She can obviously dance with the big clogs of running. Her coach is Alberto Salazar, a total bad-ass. Lastly, her home is the track, really. So has a big finishing kick.
Disadvantages. Another Boston rookie. She also has a nagging self-confidence problem. She says things like, “I am drowning” and “I have lost faith” when discussing her running. She tends to run with a dark miasma of doubt. Every day is a Tuesday in February. The Boston course is no place for self-questioning.
Another problem (the same as Ryan’s) would be the defending champion. Dire Tune (wicked-ass name) is fast, smart, and, uh, Ethiopian. All the African runners have strong kicks, too, so maybe Kara’s track advantage not so great. We’ll see.
Lastly, the king of Boston, Bill Rodgers, is racing this year! Folks, America used to actually win this race. In fact, Americans use to stop for water and re-tie their shoes five times during the race (WTF, Bill?) and still kick everyone’s ass…
la dee da, think I’ll just pause here a second….
Yep. That worked.
Ok, on to my race….Here are 26.2 miles for you.
I wake, anxiety in my stomach like a double helix staircase of fake nails. Mom takes train to finish line. I eat. Pre-race meal is:
One Berry Blast Smoothie Powerbar.
One bottle old-school orange Gatorade.
One can sugar-free Red Bull.
Two cups black coffee.
THE START: I stand here freezing. Goosebumps. They load me into a corral. I am cattle. They say, “Don’t leave your corral!” Two f-16s flyover loud and close. I see a Kleenex at my feet, speckled with blood. A woman next to me says she is from South Africa. A man says he is from Hawaii. I say I am from Muncie, Indiana.
And we are off!
1.) Holy trampling. If you stop, you die. Some dude bites it; he tumbles like a wind-blown sitcom. Everyone yells, “Man down!” My body begins to heat. I feel like a memory for a moment. People throw sweatshirts and gloves and hats into the air, into yards and road shoulders. The road is lined with thousands of crazy cheering humans. I take off my gloves and throw them at a small child’s forehead. The first mile is odd. You think, “Well, 25 to go.”
A woman yells out, “Almost finished!”
2.) Wow, we are flying downhill! We pass TJ’s Food and Spirits, a biker bar. We see bikers and their biker-women. (One of the biker-women looks like Cher if Cher was a cactus. She isn’t wearing much clothing, either.) Ten in the morning and they are loud and sloppy and drunk. They scream cigarette-horse screams. They hold out beers and some red drink in cups and a bunch of shot glasses to the runners. I see no one take the drinks from the bikers. We are really hurling downhill. If I let myself go, I will pay later for running too fast now. If I brake too hard, I will crush my quads into ravioli filling.
3.) I forget what happens at three. I guess I feel OK or something. I see a guy dressed in a flowing orange cape, but not sure why. A woman passes me wearing the smallest shorts I have seen in my life. There is a man running in a full Batman costume. All the kids scream out, “Batman!”
For a minute I am jealous of Batman. But then I refocus. I have a job to do here.
The sky is the color of cold Stephanie.
We pass 143 Subarus. There are Subarus everywhere in Boston. Crazy. But we all know the Subaru is a liberal car, so I guess it makes sense.
4.) We reach a small stretch of scrubby woods and maybe 200 male runners leap into the shrubbery, take the stance, and begin peeing. I think, “What do the women do? Surely they over-hydrated all morning and also need to pee.”
5.) Run over some train tracks. More train tracks. It was here, in 1907, a train came through during the race. That was fine with Tom Longboat, a Onondaga Indian from Canada. He was so far in the lead that he beat the train, while the rest of the runners were forced to a halt. Tom won the race that day, my friends.
You wanna say something about it? Huh, huh?
6.) Course finally flattens out. And 6 is a psychological big deal for a marathoner. I think, “OK, only two ten milers to go.” I grab some Gatorade (I am drinking every mile, water/gator/water and so on). This old man says, “Stay on the left at the water stops. Always the left.” Good advice. Humans have a natural tendency to merge right. The left water stations are much more open.
A row of green Port-o-Johns. Two women exit. That’s where the women go to pee, the Port-o-Johns.
I pass a man who looks like Christ. He is holding a Coors Lite.
7.) A giant sign is hanging from a fire-station. In huge letters it reads OBAMA SAYS YES YOU CAN BUT STILL A KENYAN WINS.
What in the hell kind of sign is that?? I mean how many possible interpretations are there, and why is it on the side of a firehouse?
8.) We pass Henry Wilson‘s Shoe Shop. He would leave shoes and go onto be vice president in the Ulysses S Grant administration, for what it’s worth. Speaking of, we pass a frat house here with a major kegger going on. I see a couple in their underwear kissing. I see a guy doing a keg stand and a girl passed out under a yellow wheelbarrow. More offers of giant cups of beer. Again no takers. One fat guy is double-fisting beers and yells out, “You pussies!”
(I actually thought this was the best thing I heard all day, only because it was in no way encouraging.)
9.) We pass a lake. The wind is a wounded llama now. Brutal. I pass a man who is pulling an oxygen cart behind him. He has tubing connected to his mouth and nose. Apparently, he is running (more shuffling) the marathon while on oxygen. OK. Is that doping, or just awesome?
10.) Ten is a bad time for me. I have it blacked out. I can’t remember. I can’t remember shit.
11.) A rangy dog skitters away and across the road. Maybe three runners leap over him. I can not stress how narrow this road, a road holding 26,000 + runners. Dog almost got Niked to death.
In 1961 a black lab ran with the lead pack of the marathon for 12 miles. Pretty cool, right? Yep. Right until the dog tripped up leading runner (and former champion) Johnny J Kelley, leaving him shaken and bloodied. Kelley lost the race. The dog ended up in Maine.
Did I mention 1947? This time it was a fox terrier and leader of the race, Korean student Yun Bok Shu. Yun just punted the puppy, launched that little sucker into the Massachusetts air, and ran onto victory.
I told you this race took strategy…
By the way, if you were reading this in real time
Americans Ryan and Kara are leading the marathon
at mile 10!
12.) This is it: The famous screaming women of Wellesley!! 2400 screaming college students! They hold signs saying, “KISS A FRESHMAN!” and “KISS A SENIOR” etc. I don’t see any runners kissing the students. They are VERY loud. This is one of the most energetic times in the race so far.
WOW!! If you aren’t fired up here, head back to the beige house of your soul.
13.) Water station. A lanky woman runner finisher her cup, crumples it up, and throws it right into my chest. She looks Russian to me. She apologizes, and I say, “No problem.” We run together for a few strides. Maybe it is destiny, me and this lanky Russian, maybe we will run from our current lives and strike out on a new, stranger, bolder path and–then she accelerates and is gone forever.
14.) Fourteen is my favorite number. I took a photo with my phone. I have never taken a photo while racing before, but this is Boston. I am thinking my favorite number will make me run well. I am feeling good right now. Marathons are odd that way–you feel way down, then floating way up.
I like to play red 14 in roulette over and over, all night.
15.) I am floating way up now. I feel like a piece of unclaimed sky, or a pigeon on microwave popcorn. A giant orange sign says SHORT CUT with an arrow pointing into a bar. That’s kind of mean. I would love a beer, a well-chilled one with also some nachos. My mind is wandering…
16.) A runner in front of me does a fucking cartwheel. He’s doing cartwheels while running the greatest race in the world. He’s testing the gods here. Don’t test the gods, dude.
Kara is still leading!!
Ryan just got caught….damn.
17.) Passing Newton fire station! So? So. It is time for the Newton Hills. This will include the infamous HEART BREAK HILL.
I am not scared of hills. I run hills well, always have. I’m not scared of hills. I am not. I am. I.
They are passing out Power Gels! I grab two of them. I brought two with me, also, so will ingest four of them during the race.
A woman in the shape of a gourd holds up a sign reading: YOU ARE HURTING RIGHT NOW BECAUSE YOU ARE KICKING ASS!
18: People start falling. A young woman stops and crumples. “I can’t breath,” she says to a volunteer. A man runs straight into a Subaru.
19-20: Holy hills. Wow. Up, up, up, down, down, down. I just focus, focus, one step in front of another, stay light on your feet, stay light.
Down goes a man in yellow. He sits on the curb and grabs his head. He’ s not going anywhere.
Robert Cheruiyot drops out of the race!! Hills zapped him. He won’t be defending that crown….
Kara is still leading!
Ryan is fading. You went out too fast, Ryan!
A man stumbles into a tuba player. Both collapse to the ground as if shot.
22.) In 1997 Jean Driscoll was trying for an amazing 8th victory in a row in the wheelchair division, but it was not to be. Why? The train tracks right here at mile 22. She snagged a wheel, blew a tire, and went tumbling.
A chipmunk tries to cross. Nope.
There is the famous Citgo sign.
The air smells like leaves, or bologna boom boxes.
A woman drops to her knees and topples over. Is she sleeping on a manhole? Yep.
23.) Two runners entangle–legs all pasta–and lasagna themselves right into a dumpster.
24.) A kid tries to cross! What? Three runners hit him. It’s like pinball. Kid bounces from a shin to another runner’s head to another runner’s stomach. (I mean abdomen. The stomach is an internal organ, as you know). OOph! Kid made it across, though.
25.) Pain. Tunnel vision. Focus. Pain. Pain. I can’t remember much. I kept repeating over and over: “You are going to feel pain, but are you going to suffer?”
We pass the famous (or infamous) Kenmore Square Station. I hate to give a cheater any pub, but this is most likely where Rosie Ruiz leaped from the crowd, into the race, and on to become the winner in a new record time. She sure didn’t look tired at the finish, someone noted.
“I never see this woman,” said 2nd place Jacqueline Gareau.
Of course not, Jacqueline. She was at home eating Twinkies during the early miles. But how did Rosie qualify for Boston? By running the New York Marathon. Uh, by riding the subway and jumping into the last mile of the New York Marathon.
This is why we now have major video surveillance of all runners. And we wear microchips. Oh, Rosie. Oh my, Rosie. too much.
A man leans against a YIELD sign. He’s not moving. I see a cloud in the shape of Bill Murray.
More crumpling runners. They fold like playing cards.
Kara is still leading! And she ran the whole way. Could this be the year?
Here is a photo my mom took of the overall winner…
Uh, apparently Mom underestimated the speed of a professional runner.
FINISH BANNER! OH DEAR GOD. SHIT-EATING GRIN ON MY FACE. GLOW, GLOW, GLOW.
One more step!
I DID IT!!!
Mylar blanket. Water. Power Bar. Water. Get my medal. Can’t find mom. Found mom. Whew.
3:21:39. My slowest marathon to date, but that’s cool. It is Boston.
Bill Rodgers took over four hours. I beat a Boston Champion!
Ok, look. Did I mention? Bill Rodgers is 61.
In the train station with my medal. They say you look ten years older at the finish of a marathon, but I think I only look 8. It tastes like victory to me.
But what about the Americans, Sean?
Ryan went out like a jackrabbit. And was devoured by a lion named Deriba Merga. Ryan got caught, but battled back for third place. Good work, Ryan. And he’s 26. He shall return.
Ryan thinking: Uh, this hurts.
But what about Kara??
Does she look happy to you?
And is that a runner collapsed in the background?
Yep. An Ethiopian runner. One Dire Tune, defending champion. She got 2nd and headed right for the hospital, on a stretcher.
When she awoke she asked the nurse, “Who won?” The nurse said, “Salina Kosgei.” “Oh,” said Tune, “then I am going back to sleep.”
What happened to Kara? She got third.
Cheer up, Kara! Kara, quit thinking, “My life is a meaningless sandstorm of doom and smelly socks.”
Boston has been here 113 years. It will be here waiting for you.
I am sore.
I am sore.
I am sore.
Time for nachos…