Flying into Boston, I was depressed. This would be the first year since the bombings that I would not be participating and I was upset about it. But what could I do? I decided I’d just smile, grit my teeth, and try to have fun while supporting Laura and my many other running pals. But it wouldn’t be easy.
Friday was a typical frenzied day of travel – pack, drop the dogs off at the vet, scurry to the airport, etc. Other than a lady passing everybody in the airport security line and saying: “I’m sorry, can I go ahead? I’m going to a funeral.” Me to Laura: “I don’t see what the big rush is. They’re not going anywhere.”, travel to Boston was pleasant (aside: Jet Blue ROCKS!) and without incident.
Pre-race was mostly the usual stuff – hanging out with Laura’s sister’s family who’d driven down from New Hampshire, hitting the expo, eating in Boston – with one notable exception, and the one advantage to not running on Monday, all pressure was off. When I wanted another beer from the Sam Adam’s booth at the expo, I got it with zero fear that my race might be derailed.
Saturday night, Adam (our condo roommate this year, along with Ghost), Laura and I headed to a Nedlo-recommended restaurant, Myers and Chang. On the walk over, Adam mentioned concerns that we might be headed the wrong way as the neighborhood looked a little sketchy, to which I responded, “Don’t fret. Nobody ever got stabbed to death in Chinatown. You might get math’d to death.” But Laura won “Apparent Top Racist” award when she saw the word Asian painted on the side of a building in the distance and said, “We must be getting close. Look, Asian.” As she intended to point at the sign, it appeared that she was pointing directly at the Asian gentleman walking towards us. “Man, you are so racist” said the guy who seconds before had made a Chinese-mathing-you-to-death joke.
And so went the entire pre-race – basically, I ate and drank like a Roman emperor, cost be damned. The day before at Cheers, I scored this sweet Fenway hat that I put to good use at the Sox game on Sunday:
Sunday, after the Sox game, Ghost, manager at Charlotte Running Company, managed to get us into an invitation-only Skechers Meb party. Y’all do remember Meb, right? The guy who won the 2014 Boston marathon? Yeah, him.
We all got to chat with him for a bit so, of course, I asked him if he’d like to join our JITFO team for this year’s Blue Ridge Relay. And he didn’t say no – I’m just saying, Rob.
After hanging with Meb, we swung by the local grocery store and grabbed a bunch of stuff to cook our big Boston pasta dinner. This is the third year in a row we’ve done this and I gotta say, it’s sooo much nicer than waiting all night in a restaurant for the opportunity to pay exorbitant prices. I look forward to next year when hopefully I can turn the cooking reins back over to Chef Crockford as he is a much better cook than I am.
With our bellies full, the runners in our condo scrambled to get everything together for race day while I just kind of jealously stood around and watched. Then we all hit the sack in preparation for the big day.
After a fitful night, one where neither of us slept very well, the Stricklands were up by 4:30. Laura got ready to run and I got ready to spectate. All three runners were long gone from the condo by 6:00 or so, leaving me alone and dejected. For a few minutes, I seriously considered changing into running clothes, hopping the school buses at Boston Common (less than a quarter of a mile from the condo), and run/walking the damned race. I was so close to running that I nearly texted my voice of reason, Chad, to talk me out of this very bad idea. I started taking inventory of pre-race stuff and what finally sealed the deal for me was the inability to find lube – there was no Body Glide or Aquaphor anywhere to be found. No way in hell would I try running 26+ miles without lube. With hours and hours to kill, I sat around and read for a bit before heading out.
Danielle had given me some spectating directions so I followed them. I hopped on the train and exited near mile 16 of the course. There, still some four hours or so before the first runners would come by, I went in search of coffee and eventually found it nearly a mile away, a Starbucks near the base of the first tough hill of Newton. Coffee in hand, I headed back up the hill.
I was worried for the runners because it was warm. Ugh, not again. As I walked up the hill, I began sweating profusely. This was the first time in months that I actually felt relieved that I wasn’t running.
I found a good spot near the top of the hill and parked and waited. A random lady accompanied me and chatted me up, filling me in on all the gossip at her workplace, a real-life Peyton Place at some hospital in Michigan. I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Eventually the military marching folks came by. Then the wheelchair racers. And finally, after hours and hours, the elite women leaders came through.
My spot was amazing – I was literally close enough to reach out and touch the runners, if I wanted. In fact, several hugged the edge so tightly that I backed up in fear of getting clipped by a runner. Short of running the Boston marathon, this was the next best thing.
The elite women’s lead pack came through. Then the top two American women, Sarah Crouch and Neely Spence Gracey. Then Charlotte’s own Laurie Knowles, who I cheered wildly for:
Then the elite men (having started some 25 minutes after the women) jetted by. And before I knew it, thousands of runners were streaming by.
In the 2012 marathon, the spectators lining the course got me through – they were what kept me going. It was time to pay it forward. I cheered as loudly as I could for everyone I could. I did my best to personalize my cheering. When I saw a Purdue singlet, I yelled, “Yeah, go Boilermakers!” Michigan State, “Go Spartans! Do it for Izzo!” Every person that wore their name on their shirt – if I saw it, and could pronounce it, I screamed it. I saw a lot of MR8 shirts so I screamed, “Yeah Mister Eight, go Mister Eight!” I found out later those were the initials of the eight-year old bombing victim, Martin Richards. Oops, my bad.
I tried desperately to spot, and cheer for, every single Charlotte runner I knew, and even some I didn’t. When I saw some guy coming through wearing a Let Me Run singlet, based on where we were time wise, I knew it had to be local speedster, Justin King, and although I’d never met him, I screamed, “Yeah Justin King! Way to run, Justin King!”
I probably missed as many Charlotteans as I saw. Somehow I missed Billy Shue (how the hell did I miss Billy’s unmistakable gait?!?) and Mike Kahn and Chas Willimon even though I am very familiar with their running form. But surrounded by thousands of runners, they snuck past.
I snapped as many pics as I could. For example:
When Paul Martino ran by, I started worrying that maybe I’d somehow missed Laura as they should be in the same wheelhouse. I was hoping he’d started in a corral ahead of her as that would explain why I hadn’t seen her. And just when I was about to start panicking, this happened:
Whew, was I ever relieved to see her! She ran over and kissed me and handed me her pacing chart (it didn’t register to me at the time that this meant the race wasn’t going as planned) and then took off. With Laura past, I said “Nice to meet you! Good luck to your husband!” to the lady who’d been chatting with me, grabbed my stuff, and ran to hop on the train.
The plan was to jump the train back towards town and hop off around mile 22. Best laid plains. As I was running up to the T stop, I saw a train pulling away. The next one didn’t arrive for a good ten minutes. And it was packed. I barely made it on.
For the rest of the trip, the train stopped at every stop where people desperately tried to get on. We headed back towards Boston at a snail’s pace, spending way too much time in my estimation at every stop. I was screwed for seeing any more of the race – Laura on her worst day would’ve beaten this train to mile 22.
So I stayed on and eventually made it back to Boston, where my real odyssey began. My condo mates and I had all agreed to meet at a bar near the finish. This had seemed easy enough when we had walked by the bar a day earlier. But now, with thousands of runners pouring in and with thousands more of their friends and families descending upon the area to meet them, this was looking less and less easy. Now add to the mayhem the fact that multiple streets around the area were cordoned off and suddenly getting to the bar seemed impossible.
I joined a very, very long line that had policemen inspecting bags before letting people in. I stood there probably 30 minutes without moving an inch. At this point, after the crazy long train ride in, Laura should’ve beaten me to the rendezvous point. I was getting exceedingly anxious and once again wishing I had just run the race as exiting from the finish line would’ve made getting to the nearby bar oh-so-very-much easier (you know, assuming I hadn’t made any stops in say a medical tent).
“Ok, this is ridiculous.” I thought as I dreamt of punching Dzhokhar squarely in the face for creating this disaster. I spotted a parking deck off to my right and realized there had to be an exit over there that dumped me closer to my destination. So I gambled and bailed on the line I’d so patiently been waiting in.
I walked maybe 200 yards through the parking deck and lo and behold it was like the parting of the red sea. The street was cordoned off from this side too but the line was literally two people, 2, as in a couple. I was through it in thirty seconds and at the bar in another five minutes. Hallelujah.
Sure enough, Laura had beaten me back. I spotted her, Adam, John, and Walt all seated around a table. Fate played one last cruel joke on me as there was no readily available entrance to said outside bar – I could see the gang a level below me but there was no way to get to them. I had to walk around the bar, get interrogated by hotel employees, before finally gaining entrance. Hallelujah, again.
Then I resumed playing my role of Roman emperor. Beer and nachos and race recaps and making fun of gimpy runners trying to dance. Life was good again.
And that was my 2016 Boston marathon experience. I have already qualified for 2017 thanks to Milwaukee. Hopefully next year I’ll be a runner again. See ya in Beantown.