For us, this was a difficult year for marathon training, and for Boston in particular. It wasn’t the necessarily the cold, or the snow, the wind, the length of winter, or any other single factor , but rather the combination of all of them together this year that seemed to bleed the motivation out of me. No February thaw to remind me of coming Spring; nothing to make me look forward to the April sunshine, dry roads, crowds, and just plain electricity of Race Day in Boston. Laurie trained very hard, as did other members of the Tigers, but I joined in only half-heartedly. Two weeks before the race, I told Laurie that despite the plane tickets, entry fees and hotel reservations paid, I wouldn’t be joining her. I was not positioned to make a run at my PB time, and I had run Boston three times before. I was too old to take a ‘victory lap’ around Boston.
Laurie, who before this had taken a “I know you’re not feeling good about your running, so just do what you need to do” position, now let me know what she really thought. It wouldn’t be the same. And she was right - we’d always gone together, even the first year when she ran and I watched. So I decided to go. And if I was going to go, I’d determined not to be a buzz-kill for everyone else. I’d fake it.
Once I decided this, things seemed to get better. The pressure was off. I accepted I could not perform to my best. Even better, everyone else seemed to have much lower expectations from me, so I was covered six ways from Sunday! I began to look forward to a weekend in Boston, and even began to enjoy the training runs a bit more (What training runs, surely? -ed.). Unfortunately, as I began to take my foot off the gas pedal and smell the roses, everyone else around me seemed to blow their engines up. Hard training and speed work took its toll on the Whitby Tigers as almost everyone in the Boston contingent got injured within three weeks of the race (ironically, in the ‘taper’ phase). Back problems, blown calf muscles, ankle problems, hamstring injuries, and in Laurie’s case, a hip pain that came 7 miles into a 14 miler, two weeks before race day. The next day she could barely walk, and had difficulty climbing stairs. After 3 or 4 days of rest, she tried to run to the mailbox: no good. It became not a matter of whether she could perform to her training, but whether her hip would carry her the 26 miles at all. This is particularly important in Boston, which is not a loop race; you start 26 miles outside of Boston, and run your way back to town. Drop out at 5 miles, and your still 21 miles miles from home. Laurie didn’t run at all until race day, and joined the throngs of Tigers walking wounded boarding the flights to Boston.
Calm before the Storm.
Pre-Race in the Athletes Village
I finished a respectable 3:32. I didn’t take it easy. That was as fast as I could run that day, because I hadn’t prepared properly. But as usual, things worked out. I didn’t qualify for next year, which is perfect; if I want to go back, I’ll have to earn it. Qualifying with a second-class effort is anathema to the whole enterprise.
Laurie had a rough race, and showed why it’s generally a bad idea to mess with her. Her hip did bother her, starting early in the race. She gutted out a 3:54 with which she wasn’t pleased. I, however, was quite proud. You would be, too, if you saw what happened to her hip over the next 72 hours (Modesty, and Laurie, prevents me from posting pictures). At the end of the race , walking into the hotel room in shorts, running jacket and wind pants, I immediately noticed the swelling from 10 feet away. Being doctors, we measured a 2 inch difference in thigh circumference. Over the next 3 days the area got more swollen, brawny and bruised. Returning to Whitby, she had an ultrasound which confirmed she had torn open her iliotibial band, and had some herniated muscle and a big blob of blood on top (medical-speak; don’t worry if you don’t understand).
Just like me, she wasn’t that excited about going to Boston, and just like me, she didn’t run her best time. Just like me, she hasn’t ruled out going back next year.
There’s something special about Boston, and if you haven’t run it, I don’t know that I can explain it to you. But part of it is that for a day, you are a participant in a major American sporting institution, like playing in the Masters, or pitching in the World Series. You’re on the same course, with the same spectators, with the world’s best. One of the best ran again this year, Bill Rodgers.
Bill Rodgers won Boston several times, as a home-town hero in the seventies. He is 35 years older now, and recovering from surgery for prostate cancer. He ran again this year, in about 4 hours. Think how tough that would be for a guy who won it more than once. I was reminded of one of my favorite statues - a statue of another famous Boston Marathon champion, Johnny Kelly. There are pictures of Kelly winning his first Boston marathon at 27 years of age, in 1935. In all, he ran the Boston Marathon 61 times. The last was when he was 84 years old. The statue is Johnny Kelly at 27, after his first win, arms raised, hand in hand with another runner..... Johnny Kelly at 84, finishing the Boston Marathon.
As we get older, we will get slower. We will be disappointed with our times. If my main reason for running is to exceed performance oriented goals, there will inevitably come a time when I decide I’m not capable of improvement, and I’ll probably stop. So there has to be a different reason for challenging yourself, time after time. Why did Bill Rodgers run this year? It sure as hell wasn’t to run 4 hours. He must have found some other thing in his running that made him want to keep doing it. If that ‘thing’ is to be found anywhere, I’ll bet we find it in Boston.