Wednesday, April 16, 2008

One year ago today

It was exactly a year ago today that I was running the Boston Marathon. That was the culmination of a commitment I made several years ago to be the best runner I could be, and, if possible, to qualify for the most renowned of all amateur races. I missed my qualifying time in 2005 when a leg cramp forced me to walk the last two miles, but the next year I made it with 12 seconds to spare (3:35.48). No point wasting any extra effort!

The weather conditions in Boston were appalling. A Northeaster had blown in, and parked itself over all of Massachusetts. The night before, I lay in bed and listened to the howling wind and pounding rain. My normal pre-race jitters were hugely elevated as tree branches raked the side of the house in which we were staying. The marathon organizers had issued several email warnings to the participants the day before to prepare us for severe weather, and we learned later that they came very close to canceling the race during the night. They feared mass hypothermia. The forecast for that Monday morning was strong winds from the east (the direction in which we were running), temps in the 30s, and possible snow. This is the same marathon in which runners suffer from heat stroke some years.

Conditions had improved somewhat by the time we got to the starting corrals. Temps were in the low 40s and the rain had turned to showers. I had hooked up with a local running club from the Reading area (suburbs north of Boston), so had the luxury of sitting in a warm coach with its own bathroom up to the time we had to head out into the village of Hopkinton to start the race. Most of us were dressed in disposable rain gear—garbage bag couture. The rain almost completely ceased a few minutes later, making for treacherous footing the first few miles as everyone ripped off their plastic. It stayed chilly and breezy all day, but conditions were vastly better than predicted.

All of my previous marathons had been in scenic locations—along the Yaquina River and through the Columbia Gorge. While the 26.2 miles into the heart of Boston were quasi-rural over the first few miles, the route then passes through smallish towns, larger suburbs, and finally into the big city itself. The region reeks of history. Along the way we ran within a short distance of Walden Pond, Sleepy Hollow and the Minuteman Monument. We went straight through Framington, which is famous for a heart study that has tracked coronary heart disease in residents for 60 years. If a runner was going to have a heart attack, this would be the place to have it. Of course, we also passed Wellesley College, which is famous for the students (mostly but not exclusively women) who scream incessantly as the runners pass, and who offer kisses to the runners. I wasn’t tempted.

Having qualified for Boston, I wasn’t obsessed over my finishing time. My training had been less rigorous than in previous years. I remained hopeful, however, that I could set a PR, as I felt I still hadn’t reached my potential. After the first few miles—and an unplanned pit stop that took a couple of minutes—I decided to just relax and enjoy the experience. The Boston route is deceptive in that it’s mostly downhill over the first 18 miles, and then hits the Wellesley Hills, which are capped off by the well-named Heartbreak Hill. I "ran" the hills, but at times it was barely more than a shuffle. My pace was probably about 12-minute miles, which put me way behind where I needed to be for a PR. A lot of runners walked. Some sat on the curb with their heads in their hands. I saw a couple people puking.

I ended up finishing in 3:57.47, which disappointed me at the time but which now, with the distance of time, I can accept as pretty good. It was a tough course, the wind slowed us all down, and I didn’t push myself as hard as I could have.

It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that had I done interferon last year, as my surgeon had advised, I wouldn’t even have been in a position to run Boston. That was after I had checked out clean of metastases, and interferon seemed like overkill. I don’t regret my decision. We all have events in our lives that become our touchstones. This is one of mine. Running the Boston Marathon was important to me way out of proportion to the event itself. Especially now. In some literal sense, and certainly emotionally, I continue to draw strength from having met that challenge. And now I have a new test. May God grant me the power to complete this race as well as I did that one.


Steven said...

Peter, this is good stuff. As you did a year ago, keep your eye on the goal. You have an army of supporters watching from the sidelines and praying you on. Keep the faith and do your best.
Your buddy,

Ben said...

Meeting those personal goals tell us a lot about ourselves. What you learned about yourself in the training for and the running of marathons may well be important for you now. I enjoyed reading your post, especially from the perspective of one that has a (much smaller) goal to reach soon myself. Who knows why I'm shooting for this one?

Anonymous said...

Peter: The illuminating description of the marathon was new.

Marsha said...

I'm glad you got to realize this dream.