Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Boston

15 Hours of Absurdity at Boston 2018

One of the Canadian runners staying at my inn pretty much summed it up.  “Absurd, just absurd.”

3 A.M.  Hard rain has started in earnest, pounding on the metal roof outside my Back Bay window. I  sleep off and on but finally give up.

6 A.M. I’m ready for coffee and  dress just enough to be presentable in the dining room. The inn has set out a 6 a.m. breakfast for marathoners. The speedy group assembled from Sweden, Canada and several points in the Western U.S. are enjoying bagels and yogurt before making a dash to their buses. I’m left to chat with a few early rising non  runners.

7 A.M. It’s back upstairs to get dressed for the battle with the weather. Assuming we will be running into the wind the better part of 26 miles, I tear a piece of dry cleaner bag into a rectangle, anchor one end in my running bra and the other in the waistband of my tights as an extra layer of protection on the chest. Then, I tear a small square for the crown of my head before adding my beanie and the yellow runner trucker hat that was a giveaway from Trackmaster. It turns out the hat is perfect for the weather with a bill large and wide enough to keep the rain directly off my face.

Finally, I ask myself whether a sane 70-year old woman would wrap herself in plastic to run in pelting rain for 26 miles. No one answers.

8:55 A.M. Left my inn for the short walk to meet my friend, Becky, on the Boston Common where we catch the bus to Hopkinton.

Given that it rained most of the day pre-Boston Marathon, I decided earlier to take one of the last buses out. You can get away with that when you are in the 4th Wave, 2nd Corral. I’ve been to wet Bostons in the past and could envision the condition of the Athlete’s Village.

Everyone in the bus line is ensconced in old marathon heat sheets, plastic bags, throwaway rain jackets with a few in some really solid quality rainwear. Anything that keeps the unrelenting rain off. The temperature is in the upper 30’s but feels colder with the wind and rain in our faces.

10:15 A.M. ish We arrive at the Athlete’s Village or what is left of it. Picture hours of pouring rain, a couple of large tents with shivering runners squeezed in for cover, a knoll at the edge of the field leading to the tent and portapotties that now resembles a mudslide.

Shortly after arriving, the announcer calls for the last of the 3rd Wave folks to find their way to the start, then encourages Wave 4 to begin finding our way as well.

Becky brought a change of shoes and headed down the mudslide to  the tent. I called after her “I’m not following” but I’m sure with the pelting rain she did not hear. It was a good decision to stay where I was and walk through the Village on the paved path. Wave 4 runners making their way up the knoll from the tents were slipping and sliding, some crawling to keep their balance.

I spotted a few porta-potties only steps off the pavement and joined the line. Volunteers  had devised boards and tarps to keep us out of deep mud and to protect what if anything was left of the grass and sod.

11:00:  We’re moving en masse to the start line. A man on my left runs by hurrying to his corral. His feet slip on the slick pavement and he is down. A couple of us around him try to assist, but he pulls himself up, left calf and knee bleeding and he continues on in a run. I’m sure the rain fully washed that blood away in minutes.

Near the start line, I remove my warmups and place them on a pile of clothing that would later be collected by Big Brothers and Big Sisters. My running skirt, compression socks and the thick layers of body lotion on my skin would have to do for lower body warmth.

11:20 A.M.  I’m looking for my corral and expect to be squeezed in like previous years, but no – they were releasing runners on arrival and we simply moved through the start.

Miles 1 – 3: Running more slowly than usual, getting a feel for the slickness underfoot I make my way through castoff clothing and plastic bags and try to get a feel for pace.

Mile 4: I move to the edge of the course when the rain subsides a bit and remove the throwaway warmup jacket under my rain jacket, then rebundle myself with arm hole vents open, every other zipper tightly closed. My fingers are getting cold and my gloves sopped so it is taking more time than I anticipated.

Mile 6: Why, oh way, didn’t I bring waterproof gloves? I find a plastic bag stuffed in my pocket, tear it in half and wrap pieces around each hand. It’s working. Not that my hands are warm, but there are degrees of cold and this was better. I see people wearing latex gloves and wondered why I hadn’t thought of this.

Mile 9: I take a moment to be thankful that I had the foresight to bring my North Face rain jacket. Not necessarily warm, but it was a nice layer against the wind and kept my upper body dry while rain ran down it.

Mile 14: Another thankful moment that my goddaughter Jess is out along the course and if I must drop (yes, it did cross my mind), she will be but a call away.

Mile 17: The strongest gale yet hits us head-on and I am lifted off my feet. I feel a hand on my back and for a moment think I am having a religious experience, but no. The hand belongs to a man running behind me. We continue to run, his hand on my shoulder blades, until the gale passes. Thank you, kind stranger.

Mile 19: Is that hale?  I try to convince myself it’s sleet but it is in fact little hale balls. It must be localized because within five or six minutes, I run out of it and back to plain, simple heavy rain and wind.

Mile 25: Turning right onto Hereford, the pavement is swathed in raincoats, plastics, everything the 22,000 runners ahead of me had used in attempts to keep warm and dry. I pick my way through the few spots of still bare street, understanding runners ridding those layers for that last drive down Boylston where they know finish line photos and dry clothing are waiting.

I ridded myself of nothing. Any sense of reasonable appearance was left behind many miles ago, and in fact was left behind as I left my room. I would not have identified myself in the finish line photo save for the yellow bill of that trucker hat.

Finish Line: My watch says 4:53:40. The shivering begins as soon as I stop running. A short and fast walk to my inn. water continues to stream off me as I enter. I reach for a hot cup of cocoa, hand still shaking.

After a long, warm shower, I cuddle into a blanket and pull out the various snacks (yeah, salty potato chips) from the finish bag, replenishing with additional snacks from home.

OK, I am done and not coming out from under this blanket.

Dinner invites declined.

Good night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Acceptance – Boston Marathon 2016

Four weeks after Boston 2016 and I’m finally coming to acceptance that my days of finish times on the brighter side of 4:30 may be in the past. Having pondered and ruminated over disappointing Boston results, I’m ready to close the book on it. My conclusion is that the overused analogy “life is a marathon” is spot on. As with so many plans we make for our lives, many of them far more important, beautiful or devastating than marathon training, the results are sometimes not what we have worked for.

I had set a modest goal of sub-4:30. This was the first marathon training cycle where I managed to get in each and every scheduled run and speedwork session. I also did a couple of successful shorter races during the training. Those optimistic online calculators indicated that my 4:30 plan was conservative.

During the huge pre-race events that are part of the Boston experience, I managed to stay low key with only one quick whirl through the expo on Saturday. Sunday, I took up an offer from some non-marathoning friends and joined them at the Boston Film Festival. Sitting in a cushy theatre for several hours was a great way to avoid the temptation of spending too much time on my feet.

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The Athletes Village looking a bit like a beach party as my speedy friend Holly and I wait for our waves to be called.

 

Race morning, I timed my arrival at Boston Common to catch one of the later buses to Hopkinton. 

Not to worry about getting chilled while waiting in the village, the temperature was already at 70 degrees when I arrived.

I usually swing over to the water tables every 2 or 3 miles, not this year. From mile 2, I was a regular visitor. Generally, I don’t imbibe in gatorade until I have passed the 20-mile mark. Not this year. From about mile 7 on, I could feel my quads tighten in a way I don’t usually experience until the last couple miles. Pitifully, I trudged up the Newton hills with no pretense that I was still running this course.

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Trudging past friends along the course. Credit: Jessica Billings-White

About mile 16, there was a short-lived revival in energy level. Around Brookline, our overheated bodies met with the shock of a chilling wind in our faces. Where spectators at Hopkinton and the first several towns were in shirt sleeves and tank tops, as we journeyed toward the finish, those cheering along the way were in jackets and hats.

Finishing at 4:36, with cold fingers attempting to hold my banana and water, the wind took my much needed heat sheet.

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I continued through the gauntlet to exit at Arlington and saw my friends waiting just outside the barricade. They ushered me the short blocks back to my hotel and waited patiently while I luxuriated in a long hot shower. 

Off to a delicious dinner and conversation and time to begin the process from second guessing to acceptance.

A Stage at a Time – One Run for Boston

It seemed like a good idea at the time. In fact, it was a very good idea. Three creative and organized event planners from the UK envisioned a fundraising mechanism for victims of the Boston bombing. For more background, here is a link to their story.

So, yes it was actually a fine idea brought to fruition. photoIt was just a few second thoughts about my participation as I tiptoed out the door into the 3:45 a.m. darkness to meet friends a half hour away at a car park. One by one, we arrived, Emily, Stacey, and the dynamic duo, our leader and organizer, Jeremy and Caryn Hand. Before our 4:30 a.m. departure for another hour drive north, Caryn laid out a home-baked cake-style oatmeal on the Jeep hood. With those morsels of nutrition, we were on our way to take our place with One Run For Boston(ORFB). For his part, when Jeremy isn’t arranging details for a ORFB stage, he is running ultras and directing a race to support the Millersburg Ferry.

Our quintet of runners was headed north to Stage 290, Selinsgrove to Stonington PA, 11.8 miles with a 6:40 a.m. start. Arriving at the Stonington Fire Company, where we met up with Lindsay and with Barry.  Leaving a vehicle at Stonington, like a bunch of school kids we lumbered into Barry’s van for the drive to the Selinsgrove start. Barry is a local runner and Boston Marathon veteran. At our start, we met Mark, another Boston Marathon veteran, 25 Boston races under his belt as well as a coach (irunicoach) who did some wonderful fine tuning at the local level for publicity and preparation for our stage.  His wife, Robin – no stranger to marathons herself, provided welcome support along the route.

As we saw the Stage 289 runners approach in headlamps and reflective IMG_8364gear it was applause and greetings all around. They had been running through the night, since 3:15 a.m on a brisk 30 degree morning. We chatted for a few moments, wished each team of runners well and they were off to their day as we were off to begin our stage. The Sunbury Police gave us an escort through the heavier morning traffic as we entered the street to the Shikellamy High School  where cheering students  had erected an arch for ORFB runners to pass through as we headed out of town.

photoLeaving the mostly flat terrain behind us, we were soon progressing through a series of hills. I believe there were four, but at some point you just stop counting.  My Boston training held me in good stead, only feeling a serious calf burn on the last, and what seemed like the toughest, hill.

As we approached the finish of Stage 290, a deer peaked out of the woods to greet us. That greeting was followed by cowbells and cheers coming from runners signed up for Stage 291 of ORFB, ready to take on more of Pennsylvania’s hills in the journey east to Boston.

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Mingling with Stage 291 before we cheer them off

There, our vehicle awaited us. We said good-bye to Stage 291 as they enthusiastically continued down Route 61. We gave our thanks to super support Robin, and good-byes to Mark and Barry, both of whom are headed to Boston in a couple of weeks.

As I push the button to publish this post, the ORFB torch and more than 25 runners in Stage 308 have likely crossed the New Jersey/New York border.

There is still an opportunity to be a part of this crazy-how-could-this-possibly-work event.  Go to One Run for Boston and click on the yellow half-moon icon on the left of the page that reads “DONATE.” Nothing can undo the pain and loss, but we can all share in doing what we can to ease the load.

 

 

 

Frugal Friday – Race Fees Paid for Naught

We interrupt the litany of Boston tales to explore the costs of races we don’t run – either because we don’t make it to the start line or the race is cancelled.

"MONEY"

“MONEY” (Photo credit: Englishpointers

English: Symbolized moneyAs with any type of travel, participating in road races sometimes requires transportation and lodging costs in addition to registration fees.   So, for those of us who want the max from our running budget, how do we minimize costs when the race is a no-go?

There are online registration services that provide insurance coverage for fees in some circumstances, such as injuries, but those I’ve seen don’t address cancellation of a race.

So, why don’t we get to the race start line?  We’re already invested and it’s understood that race registration fees are nonrefundable.  In my personal case, the most costly recent races I have missed and may miss, both in travel costs and entry fees cover both the scenario of the cancelled race (NYC Marathon) and potentially this year’s Boston Marathon; the first a race cancellation, the second an injury.  (Note to self:  Downhill skiing was not the wisest choice of cross-training.)

Injuries and unexpected family events are the primary reasons I have been a no show after registering for a race and I hear those reasons most frequently from running friends when they bail on a race and the registration fee and travel expenses go down the drain.

English: Dripping faucet Deutsch: Tropfender W...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And what are the reasons that races actually cancel? In my experience, weather-related cancellations are most frequent and they make sense.  I’ve been registered for races where portions of the course were under water.  Adventure races aside, do you really want to be out there anyway?
The most notable weather-related cancellation,  the 2012 New York City Marathon found runners from around the world either settling in for New York City shopping and shows, or more likely scurrying to find another marathon, preferably along the Eastern seaboard.

Then, there is the March 17 Rome Marathon.  No, not cancelled, but Runner’s World reports the start time may be delayed from 9 a.m.  to late afternoon depending on the date a papal decision is made.  So, registered runners may have a little more time to lounge on the piazza sipping cappuccino before they begin their journey past the Coliseum and the Trevi Fountain.

TREVI FOUNTAIN

TREVI FOUNTAIN (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then, there is the previously scheduled April 10 Gaza Marathon which in fact was cancelled after authorities in Gaza determined women would not be allowed to participate.  The United Nations Relief Agency then promptly canceled the marathon.
While I was looking forward to New York, I’m not enroute to Rome this year and I’m not one of the 370 women who had registered for the 26.2 mile Gaza run.  But, who knows what wiles of the world will occur between the time I commit to my next race entry and the time the start whistle blows.

If someone has the answer for this frugal senior runner, please let me know.  I’m daydreaming of an easy cost/benefit formula that would intuitively tell me when it’s time to hedge my bets with insurance coverage or some other method of cutting my losses.  You may be saying it already exists – it’s called common sense.  True, but common sense is sometimes in short supply when the lure of  intriguing travel and race destinations call.

Tales of Bostons Past – No Soup for You

A Victorian B&B with street parking and a convenient metro stop was base for my 2010 Boston Marathon.  imagesMy host greeted with a question spoken in an gentle old word accent. “Are you a marathon official?” No, I clarified, I am in Boston to run. “You, you are running the marathon?” Having assured him that, yes I qualified and had run the marathon previous years, Rudy shook his head and made a thoughtful offer to have a pot of chicken soup waiting after the race.
I settled into my third floor bedroom to prepare for an early a.m. departure. Race morning, I caught the metro to the Boston Commons, found a window seat at Dunkin Doughnuts, sipped coffee and, until I joined them, watched runners congregate at the shuttle pickup.

The Bus to Hopkinton

Time flew at the Athlete’s Village and I was soon throwing my warmup bag into a bus window.  In my corral were several women in the 60-64 age group. We compared qualifying times then suddenly we’re off, punctuated with the beep-beep-beep of chips on the trip that would end at Copley Square.

Boston

Boston (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Within three miles of the start, I ran across my goddaughter, running for Dana-Farber. We fell in, chatting long enough to arrange to meet at the finish, then went on our separate journeys.

My goal for this Boston was to actually qualify for Boston at Boston, a time that had so far eluded me. I had trained well and felt strong through the hills. Crossing the finish line, my Garmin indicated I was 30 seconds off my qualifying time. (Later, seeing my time listed as a BQ on marathonguide.com, I realized while I didn’t technically meet my goal, I did qualify within the 30-second grace time Boston then allowed.)

Finding my goddaughter (would love to have a photo but lost it when my cell phone crashed) and her family at the finish, I declined an invite to join them at a Vietnamese restaurant, thinking ahead to the soup

7852353-an-image-representing-chicken-soup my host had waiting for me.

Arriving at the B&B, Rudy greeted me from the second floor landing, waving my freshly printed results, excited and incredulous. “How did you do that?”
After receiving his congratulations, my evening went downhill. He had forgotten a commitment to a bridge tournament during the day which did not leave time for cooking. “So, you see, I am sorry but I have no soup for you.”
Having waved off friends who were now on the other side of town dining on comforting Vietnamese cuisine, I accepted the annoucement with all the grace I could muster. After making my way back to the third floor and luxuriating in a warm shower, I reassessed my food stock: two energy bars, a sandwich bag filled with a mix of pecans and walnuts, a banana, 2 small cartons of chocolate milk, and a can of Pringles. Opting out of a restaurant search, I dined on an odd mix of these items and was soon asleep.

Although there was no soup for me, morning came and Rudy served a wonderful Dutch omelette accompanied by fresh fruit, hearty bread and interesting conversation. It made the last trip from the third floor on my post-marathon legs worthwhile.
Soon enough I’m leaving the Mass Pike,

Massachusetts Turnpike

Massachusetts Turnpike (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

listening to a couple of DJ’s continue the neverending debate over the best pizza in New Haven.
So long, New England and Boston – I love you, I’ll miss you and I’ll be back.