Archive for April 26th, 2014

The 2014 Boston Marathon, A Shot At Redemption

April 26, 2014

“Wait! Wait! Wait!” I thought as we began running. For two years, all I could think about was getting back to this very spot in Hopkinton, and suddenly it was all happening too fast – I didn’t have time to think. I needed a moment to process, to reflect on this epic journey and how much hard work and sacrifice it’d taken to get here, to remember the events of 2013 and what it meant to be a part of this, “the most significant road race ever”. But there wasn’t time – we were off and running, literally. It was time to roll. Second chances don’t come along very often and it was time for me to take advantage of this exceedingly rare opportunity.


I woke up Saturday morning amped and ready to begin this adventure. I rolled out of bed and grabbed my phone and noticed it was dead, deceased, blank, as in not working at all no matter what I tried. Sigh. Oh well, so I would be incommunicado in Boston – so be it, probably a blessing in disguise. Laura and I scrambled to get ready and an hour or so later we wrangled Lucy and Brock, our two rambunctious dogs, into the car.

We dropped the dogs off to be boarded at our vet’s. Brock, as usual, was oblivious and excited about this strange adventure with all these new people. Lucy, older and wiser, knew the deal and was not particularly pleased – she gave us the stink eye as we left. I felt bad for her but what could I do? We left the vet with Lucy’s glare burning our backs.

I was a bit worried as friends had warned us to get to the airport early – there was a great deal of construction going on and parking would most likely be sketchy. But we rolled right in and immediately found a spot.

Laura got stopped at security and had her hands swabbed, ostensibly to check for bomb-making chemicals. She was stunned that she was stopped and I wasn’t, but maybe she just looks more suspicious than I do. And I was pleasantly stunned when we weren’t required to take our shoes off or remove laptops from bags – I didn’t know when this changed, but I was happy about it. Moments later, Laura ordered a $15 mimosa, apparently to help her overcome the traumatic experience, and it worked. At our gate, we ran into Clayton and chatted with him about race plans. I think we were all excited and anxious to toe the line.

Our flight to Boston went exceptionally smoothly and I was digging some JetBlue – more legroom, TVs at every seat, super courteous staff. We flew to New England without a hitch as my anticipation continued to build and build.

We landed at Logan and proceeded to follow Danielle’s instructions – she had graciously written up a detailed itinerary for us, including how to get from the airport to the condo we were sharing – take the silver line bus to the red line train to the Downtown Crossing stop – easy, peezy, lemon squeezy. Things could not have gone better.

When we stepped off the train, the Crockfords were waiting for us and helped us carry our luggage to the condo they’d rented. The place was simply amazing. Check it out:

The Crockfords procured these sweet digs for us.

The Crockfords procured these sweet digs for us.

I was beginning to believe my luck had finally changed for the better. A couple of weeks earlier, during one of my last workouts, a hill run, I was stopped at an intersection when a construction truck sped past. A shovel fell off the back of the speeding truck and skidded by, narrowly missing me. Odd and surreal, this bizarre occurrence seemed a good omen to me. I couldn’t put my finger on just why, maybe because the shovel missed me, but I prescribed positive meaning to it. Like perhaps it meant that I was burying the past in general, and the 2012 marathon specifically. It certainly seemed a better omen than the gaggle of buzzards I encountered on this same stretch of road a week or two before my last trip to the Boston Marathon.

We dropped off luggage and the four of us shot over to the expo. We picked up our packets and snapped this pic as we made sure our race tees fit:

I don't know who that dork in the hat is but, in the words of one Danielle Crockford, "he outkicked his coverage" when he tricked, er managed to convince, this girl into being his girlfriend.

I don’t know who that dork in the hat is but, in the words of one Danielle Crockford, “he out kicked his coverage” when he tricked, er convinced, this girl into being his girlfriend.

The entire weekend was a whirlwind of activity. Saturday night, Laura and I ate in Boston’s little Italy. I was so wired that I drank a couple of beers in an attempt to calm down.

Things certainly didn’t slow down on Sunday. Laura and I went on a little shakeout run through Boston Common where we talked a random stranger into snapping this photo:

Laura and I with the state building in the background. Before you start making fun of my wardrobe, you might like to know those are my throwaway sweats. I wanted to get my money's worth out of them before they got abandoned in the athlete's village at Hopkinton.

Laura and me with the state building in the background. Before you start making fun of my wardrobe, you might like to know that those are my throwaway sweats. I wanted to get my money’s worth out of them before they were abandoned in Hopkinton.

Before this trip, I vowed that I’d stay off my feet on Sunday. I felt like I had tried to squeeze too much into the Sunday before the race in 2012 and that had played a role in my demise. But alas, the best laid plans and all that jazz – we ended up walking all over Boston. Here’s the breakdown of Sunday’s activities:

1) Shakeout run.

2) Walk to/from the grocery store. To, empty-handed. From, grocery-laden.

3) Rush to expo to see ‘The Legends’ (Kathrine Switzer, Bill Rodgers, Amby Burfoot, Jack Fultz, Greg Meyer, Dave McGillivray), moderated by Bart Yasso, speak. It’s here where Bart called the 2014 Boston Marathon “the most significant road race ever”. Note: All the legends (with the possible exception of Boston Billy who seemed a bit ditzy and unprepared) gave incredible speeches, but none were as moving and motivational as Dave McGillivray’s (the race director). I was in tears when I joined the audience in giving him a standing ovation.

boston legends

‘The Legends’, minus race director Dave McGillivray whose rousing speech moments earlier left many of us in tears.

4) Lunch with Laura’s sister’s family, the Hicks (that is not me making fun of them, that is actually their name – they’re really quite sharp, urbane, and perfectly lovely folks)

5) Met a bunch of Charlotteans at the finish line for a group photo. I have photographic evidence of this one:


That’s me on the back row, fourth from the left, between the buff dude (aka Chef Chad) in the black Triple Threat Racing tee and the hot girl in the pink Triple C shirt.

We had planned on hitting little Italy Sunday night with the Crockfords, but I was wiped out and on the verge of flipping out after badly breaking my vow of staying off my legs. Laura’s FitBit, notorious for underestimating distance covered, showed that we had walked six miles, so we had probably walked more like 8+. I suggested to Chad that we grab some pasta at the grocery store and cook in the condo instead of going out (which would have meant additional leg time) and he was completely on board with the idea. It wasn’t a hard sell to Laura and Danielle either – I’m pretty sure we were all wiped. So Sunday ended with us all stuffed on a delicious pasta dinner, courtesy of Chef Chad Crockford.

So it was with a full stomach and an anxious heart that I retired to our Murphy bed early Sunday night.

Monday, Race Day

I had a fitful night of sleep, but at least got a few hours of shuteye – I’ve definitely had worse pre-race nights. I woke up around 4:00 and abandoned any idea of squeezing in any more sleep – I was wide awake and nervous as hell. I got up and went through my usual pre-marathon routine.

We were supposed to meet Jay and Matt at the Boston Common Dunkin Donuts at 6:45. When we agreed to meet there, I was a little concerned there might be more than one Dunkin Donuts nearby so Jay told me “the one at the Southwest corner of Boston Common”. As a directionally challenged individual, Southwest Corner did not help me much. I hoped it was the only/obvious Dunkin Donuts – everybody that reads this blog knows by now that I’m not that lucky.

Laura and I arrived at the (a!) Dunkin Donuts adjacent to Boston Common and no Matt or Jay were to be found. When we asked the manager if another Dunkin Donuts was nearby, he proceeded to explain that there were two, in opposite directions, within two blocks of where we stood. Some lady overheard us and said, “This exact thing happened to me last year. I bet your friends are at the one up the hill.” So I was sold on heading to that one. Laura was not so easily convinced and wanted to try the other one. I should have known to go with Laura’s smart gut over my dumb one, but the lady was so convincing that I pressed up the hill with Laura begrudgingly in tow.

Of course, my gut was wrong – no Matt or Jay there either. Now it was getting lateish and I was  downright panicky, so I convinced Laura we should go ahead and check our bags – which we did. As we were standing in the bag check line, Laura’s phone, already secured in her bag to be checked, started ringing and we could see through the clear plastic bag that it was Matt calling. I pressed the answer button through the bag and answered loudly, “Matt, hang tight – we’re trying to get Laura’s phone out of her bag check bag!” After some scrambling and plastic stretching/tearing, I got the phone out – Matt was calling from Dunkin Donuts and wondering where we were. I told him we’d be right there.

Anyway, to make a very long story slightly less long, we walked to three Dunkin Donuts and never found Matt or Jay in any of them. But again, as was the case time and time again on this trip, luck was on our side – when we headed to the bus lines, there stood Matt, waving at us. It seemed like everyone in Boston was so accommodating and the folks in line were no exception – I asked people if it was okay if we joined our friends at the front of the line and everyone answered, “Sure, no problem!”

Jay, who finished last year’s Boston Marathon in 2:37, and Matt, who qualified for this race with a sub-3:00, would both be cruising this year, running with me and helping me shoot for another BQ, and if things went exceedingly well, maybe even a PR (low 3:19). Jay was going to wear my GoPro so I gave it to him as we waited to board the bus. Jay introduced a couple of his friends, Josh, a 2:34 marathoner who would also be joining us, and Katie, another sub-3:00 runner. I felt old and slow but anxious to toe the line for a shot at redemption. We were getting tantalizingly close to go time.

The ride up on the school bus was uneventful, even pleasant. I had been worried that I’d made a mistake by not securing a ride on the private Duke’s buses (bathrooms on board!), but the trip went smoothly and I had no need for facilities.

We arrived at the athlete’s village in Hopkinton and the place was packed. It looked like a giant convention of skinny hobos as thousands upon thousands of runners were clad in old, yet warm, clothing that they’d be abandoning at race time since the usual process of checking bags at Hopkinton was no more thanks to some asshole terrorists. Here’s a picture of our little group of skinny-homeless-looking runners:

2014 boston marathon us in hobo attire

Running hobos, from left to right: Matt, Josh (although Josh’s jacket looks way too nice), Jay, yours truly (I will miss that sweat jacket – although it cost like $5 some ten years ago, it has served me well over the years), Laura (one less article of State clothing in our household – hurray!), and Katie.

I was stunned at how packed athlete’s village was – it wasn’t exactly empty during my last visit in 2012, but it was much more crowded this year. For months now I’d been complaining that only some 2,700 qualifiers were being excluded when the BAA could easily have let in everyone that ran qualifying times. But looking over the mass of humanity, I wasn’t so sure anymore. This place didn’t look like it could accommodate another five people.

Our little group staked a tiny patch on the grass and sat down – I used a trick Nathan taught me in 2012, grabbing an empty Power Bar box and flattening it out to use as a seat. Some folks from our party held down this fort while the rest of us got in the long, long lines to the port-a-johns. I was growing more and more concerned because: 1) I wanted to get off my legs to conserve them for the grueling task at hand and 2) The temperature was rapidly rising and there wasn’t a single, solitary cloud to be found in the greater Boston metro area. “Oh dear god, not again!” I thought. 3) I was hungry – I’d last eaten at about 5:00 AM. It was pushing 9:00 by this point. I wasn’t too keen on running 26.2 miles on an empty stomach.

Laura and I finally made it to the port-a-johns and took care of business, then set out to find Adrienne, Laura’s running partner for the day who she was supposed to meet at the information tent. We circled the tent and yet Adrienne was nowhere to be found. I spotted bagels and water in a nearby tent and dragged Laura over there and grabbed one of each. I calmed down a little after I had more nourishment in my belly.

Prior to arriving in Hopkinton, I had been concerned about the wait – I remembered it feeling like an eternity back in ’12. But time flew by on this day – so much so that I felt like the passage of time was too rapid. I started getting this uptight feeling of “Wait, I’m not ready yet! Give me another couple of minutes!” But old man time marched, or rather sprinted, on without the least bit of concern for my feelings, that old son of a bitch.

Before I knew what was happening, the MC was calling for Wave 2, my wave, runners to head toward their respective corrals. Laura wanted to get the obligatory “It all starts here” photo, but I was downright stressing now and was afraid the line would be too long. But we walked up and there was virtually no line whatsoever. We had the following pic taken after a total wait of maybe 45 seconds:


I think first-time Boston marathoners are required by law to have their picture taken in front of this sign.

I think first-time Boston marathoners are required by law to have their picture taken in front of this sign.

I was flat out jittery at this point – I tried to remain calm as I’d be needing every ounce of energy for the race. But Laura still hadn’t found Adrienne and we were scrambling to locate her – more walking! We made another lap around the info tent to no avail. We stopped for a second so Laura could grab a sharpie – I was wondering what she was doing as she grabbed my wrist and wrote, ” I love (actually the heart symbol signifying love – I’m not symbol-savvy enough to figure out how to type it) you. 4/21/14″ She told me to look to that for motivation when the going got tough.

Then lo and behold, we spotted Adrienne. Whew. I kissed Laura, wished her good luck, and rushed over to find Jay, Matt, and Josh. I found them quickly, we all dumped our respective hobo attire, and made our way with the throngs of other wave-two’ers towards corral 5. The throwaway gloves I’d bought at the expo never made it out of the athletes’ village – it felt way too warm for gloves.

“Oh shit, this is all happening too fast!” I thought. A photographer stopped us and snapped this photo – I think I hid my anxiety pretty well:

3 fast, young guys with red, wave 1 bibs, and 1 slow, old guy with a wave 2 white bib.

3 fast young guys with red wave 1 bibs, and 1 slow old guy with a wave 2 white bib. Notice the zip-code-like length of my number. The bib numbers at Boston signify your rank based on your qualifying time.

As we casually strolled toward our corral (I had grown wiser since 2012 – then I had rushed and ran toward my corral, weaving in and out of the crowd, wasting energy like a great big dummy), Matt commented, “Wow, it’s warm. Ideally you should feel uncomfortably cool at the start of a marathon.” I flipped out inside a little with flashbacks of 2012 where I puked and staggered my way for mile after mile. I really, really didn’t want to go through that hell again.

I had been drinking a lot of water and Gatorade in an attempt to ensure I was properly hydrated. Now all the fluid was asking for freedom from my body. I noticed port-a-johns but they were on the opposite side of the road, on the other side of thousands of people – there was no quick or easy route across. I’ve felt this nervous desire to go before a race many times in the past – often, it disappears shortly after the race begins, as if my body said, “I know I recommended earlier that you go pee, but the kidneys and I talked this over and decided we’re going to put that liquid to better use elsewhere, probably for sweat, but maybe tears. So by all means, carry on.” I hoped this would be the case today. We walked past a guy who just whipped it out and peed right there before God and country and I envied him.

I heard what sounded like a muffled cannon up ahead – Matt joked that it sounded like someone had just dropped a giant cannon ball into a pool of pudding – and knew that was the start signal for our wave. It was on like Genghis Kahn.

I started the race with two goals – 1) Unlike the 2012 debacle where I ended up torturing myself, I wanted to enjoy this day. In light of last year’s tragedy, this race was profound, historic, and I was running it. I wanted to be fully present, not overly obsessed with pace and watch and my usual junk. 2) BUT this was also the Boston Marathon, a race with a tradition of excellence like no other. And I wanted to prove that I belonged. The best way I could think of doing that would be to run a good time, ideally one under my Boston qualifying time. These two goals may sound mutually exclusive, but they don’t have to be. I was going to run my best, but I was also going to live in the moment and cherish this once in a lifetime event.

But we still had a ways to walk before we hit the starting line. We got there, jogged a few steps, then stopped when everyone in front of us stopped – there were so many runners, it was like attempting to pour ten pounds of sugar into a five pound bag. But after a few seconds, the sea of runners funneled through and we were running.

I remembered standing in the corral and shedding a tear or two in 2012 – I fully expected a complete bawl this year, in light of the emotionally charged environment fueled by last year’s events. But there was never time – there was no pause and no standing around. We were running and I had no time for tears.

I tried to lock into goal pace – the plan was to run nice and easy 7:55-paced miles through the first 10K. But at least for now, I was completely at the mercy of this running mob of thousands. I was but one tiny fish in a giant school.

Luckily, the school seemed to be swimming right around my goal pace. I relaxed and tried to soak it all in. If you looked ahead, there was this giant bobbing mass of different shapes and colors – it was an amazing sight to behold and I can’t wait to see Jay’s GoPro footage of it.

The streets of Hopkinton were lined with thousands of cheering folks, as would be every single foot of the 26.2 mile course from here to Boylston Street in Boston. And they were LOUD. I felt like one of the Beatles circa 1964. I settled into goal pace and simultaneously tried to soak in the spectacle.

We went through the first mile in 8:04 and I secretly/inwardly cursed a little – one of my goals was to not crack an 8:00 today. Oh well, scratch that one off. But I was also glad – I’d not gone out too fast. In a marathon, you can recover from going out too slowly, but if you go out too fast, I know from experience that that can result in bad things, very bad things. We clicked off a 7:35 second mile and I was right back on pace.

Somewhere in these early stages, Jay was attempting to adjust the GoPro on top of his head and he lost the securing pin. He turned back and, like a salmon swimming upstream, ran against the thousands of oncoming runners – I was concerned for his safety. But he was back in seconds and said, “People were not impressed.” I was – that was practically miraculous.

And on we went towards Boston – the crowd roar was virtually deafening. We had to yell to hear each other – I did very little of this as I desperately tried to conserve energy. I felt like I was already expending too much energy weaving around, trying to avoid slower runners, but I could see no alternative other than to run slower and that didn’t seem like a very good option.

Jay and Matt were godsends. Often, they graciously offered to fight through the crowds at the water stops and grab a drink for me – I was so very grateful. And the miles were clicking away – old man time had not slowed down in the least yet.

Around mile seven, Jay spotted a sign up ahead and said, “Hey, isn’t that the CRC [Charlotte Running Club] logo?” I thought “No way” – from a distance, it looked a lot like the CRC logo, but something was a little off. As we got closer, I realized why it didn’t look quite right – it was a modified version of the logo. Our pal Michael Kahn had made a sign with a hybrid logo, merging the Charlotte Running Club logo with the JITFO one. Awesome! Kahn screamed for us and we screamed back. It was one of the highlights of my race:

Kahn cheering us on!

Kahn cheering us on!

I yelled, “KKKKAAAAHHHHNNN!” It was a really cool moment.

We reached mile eight and I felt relieved – this was the point where I started walking in 2012. I was still running and I didn’t feel the least bit of fatigue. I turned to the guys and told them that we had just passed the point where I had started walking two years earlier. But then I quickly dropped the subject – it was finally time to leave the death march of 2012 in the past. We were out here building much more pleasant Boston memories.

Past the point where I started walking two years earlier. Still feeling and, based on this picture, looking like a runner!

Past the point where I started walking two years earlier. Still feeling good, like a real runner, like I belong!

Somewhere around this point Dezi Kabouris (you might know her better as Despina) ran up alongside us. We had a brief little chat where she met Jay, then we discovered that she and I had basically the same time goals, so she joined our little entourage.

The miles just kept slipping by, quickly and effortlessly. Don’t get me wrong, I could feel the heat rising and the sun starting to beat down – thank god that when I was packing, at the last minute I made sure I brought along a pair of cheap sunglasses. I could always throw them away if the predicted scattered clouds ever showed up and saved us from the sun. But who was I kidding? I’d never seen a cloud in Boston before. But the sun and heat weren’t debilitating. Yet.

This race was stimulus overload – I tried to live in the moment, enjoying every minute and yet still keep track of pace and splits, all while being engulfed in a 26.2 mile wall of sound. I watched Jay and Josh high five thousands of kids. And everywhere we went, Jay admonished the crowd by yelling things like, “Come on Boston, make some noise!” And nearly every time he did, an already loud crowd erupted into a deafening roar. It was an amazing site to behold.

jay hyping crowd

Jay fires up an already fired up crowd. They would go from very loud to deafening with his encouragement.

Up to about mile twelve, I had fought off the need for a pit stop, but I’d had to go since before the race started and by this point I’d been consistently drinking water and Gatorade for hours. I was reaching critical mass – things were so bad now that I wanted to skip water stops and that was a very bad idea on a warm and sunny day. So when I spotted some port-a-johns, I told Matt I was making a pit stop. I ran over but a split second before I arrived, a spectator jumped in the one unoccupied john ahead of me. Seriously?!? That meant all four were occupado and there was no way in hell I was going to wait for one to become available so I darted around to the back and relieved myself. It seemed like it was taking forever, but my god, the relief! I reentered the course a new man, with a dryer pep in my step now that I was no longer lugging around that gallon of excess liquid.

Matt had graciously waited for me and when I rejoined him I said, “Aw man, I forgot to time it!” Matt replied, “I got it. 31 seconds.” Ah good, I could make that up no problem.

Moments later, we approached one spot on the course where even Jay’s encouragement couldn’t make the crowd any louder – Wellesley. Apparently they used the Spinal Tap volume gauge – they were already at an 11 when we arrived. The girls of Wellesley simply did not disappoint – they cheered wildly as runners, both men and women, stopped for kisses. I had no time to spare and had gotten my Wellesley kiss in 2012 so I felt no need to stop – I just moved to the middle of the road but still watched and thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle off to my right. And as this was a downhill stretch, I utilized it to make up a little of the time lost from my bathroom intermission.

We came through the half just under 1:42. It was a tad slower than where I wanted to be, but acceptable. All I needed to do now was negative split this thing (for you non-runners out there, this means run the second half of the race faster than I ran the first). Piece of cake – I was teeming with confidence.

With Matt by my side and Jay and Josh just ahead, I cranked out a couple of sub-7:30 miles. Perfect.

Then we entered Newton, world-famous for the toughness of its hills. But I was still confident – I came prepared. I’d hit the University hills multiple times over the past few weeks – they were at least as tough, arguably tougher, than those of Newton. During one recent long run, I’d run up both Senator Royalle and David Taylor into a brutal headwind. I’ve run the Grandfather Mountain leg during the Blue Ridge Relay – a grueling 10-mile stretch of a road that’s so steep you need a sherpa to traverse it. These Newton hills, including their penultimate Heartbreak, were nothing compared to those runs. I had this.

My plan all along was just to survive the Newton hills – don’t get crazy, just run them strictly on heart rate. I’d watch my Garmin and run until my heart rate hit the high 160’s. 170 or higher was dangerous – there I’d be tiptoeing dangerously close to the lactic acid threshold.

So that’s what I did. I hit the first hill and when my heart rate hit 168, I backed off a little and tried to lock into pace. And when we hit the downhills, especially Lower Newton, I cranked, in hopes of evening things out. It was through this section that I ran what I think is my first ever sub-7-minute mile marathon split.

At the second Newton hill, things got a lot tougher – my quads and hamstrings started to cramp. I did everything I could to ignore them, “Just keep moving, just keep moving” I told myself. Luckily Matt, along with thousands of our friends that lined the streets, gave me much encouragement. I was barely running, my stride was shortened down to what felt like inches. Matt yelled, “Lengthen your stride – you’ve got this!” I had somehow lost Jay and Josh and hadn’t seen Dezi since somewhere around the pit stop. But luckily Matt was right by my side and yelling words of motivation.

Somewhere in Newton a lady held up a sign that read, “Meb won. Yes, really.” Thanks for the spoiler, lady – somebody turn off my DVR. But seriously, this got me stoked. For the first time since 1983 an American had won the Boston Marathon, and I was running in the same race. It lifted my spirits – no matter how bad things went from here on out, I had run in one of the races for the ages – that could never be taken away. Don’t get me wrong, I hadn’t given up, but I had a new perspective. And still I surged, “Run like Meb!”

But I still had a few more Newton hills to traverse, and by the time I gutted through them and made it to the grandaddy of them all, Heartbreak Hill, I was rapidly fading – I felt like a heavyweight boxer who had absorbed body blow after body blow through the early rounds – they had taken their toll. Matt was both encouraging and extolling me. As were the crowds. But I was struggling. I turned my arm over to read Laura’s note for motivation – perspiration had washed it away. Uh-oh.

Then we spotted Kahn for the second time. He screamed “Run for Dick! Run for Dick!” (I had secured a spot in the race by raising money for the Dick Beardsley Foundation.) Matt and I laughed and the humor of the situation seemed to give me a little something extra. I believed I could still do this. But it was going to take a yeoman’s effort – I had seriously hemorrhaged time up that last hill. There’s a reason it’s called Heartbreak and it’s not because it has a lot of failed relationships.

Seeing Mike was a boost in the arm, and Matt continued to motivate me. I picked the pace back up and my Garmin showed the pace as under 8:00. If I could just crack under 8’s the rest of the way, I could finish well under 3:25 and get a solid Boston qualifier and prove I belonged. It was not looking good for a PR or sub-3:20, but I still had a great shot at re-qualifying.

Somewhere shortly after Heartbreak, I heard, “Allen! Allen!” and looked up just in time to see Jason, Laura’s brother-in-law. He screamed some words of encouragement and I pounded my fist in the air to signify, “I’ve got this!” And I believed I did. I took my last gel and hoped I had enough energy left to run a decent time.

I always thought if I could just survive the climbs through Newton, I could crush the rest of the mostly down/flat course. Maybe the majority of my climbing was done, but my splits were just getting started. Up they went. I fought valiantly.

Matt was a trooper – if our roles had been reversed, I don’t know if I could have remained as upbeat and positive. We hit Boston College where there was like a 50-foot stretch of shade and Matt commented, “Huh, what do you know, there is shade along this course.” Which made me chuckle. And chuckling helped me forget about the pain. And forgetting about the pain helped me speed up.

Matt and I somewhere near Boston College.

Matt and me somewhere near Boston College.

Then suddenly Jay was back with us and he too cheered me on, “Come on Allen, this is the Boston Marathon!” He surged ahead and I tried to go with him. He pumped his hands in the air and yelled things like, “Let’s hear some noise, Boston!” and again, the crowds erupted, and I was buoyed along by the sound. I picked up pace again. For a bit.

But short of actually physically picking me up and carrying me, there was only so much that could be done. As in so many of my marathons in the past, I was neck deep in the bonk, or as I like to call it, The Darkness.

But on this day, in this place, an interesting thing happened. The Darkness wasn’t so dark here. I had friends running next to me and helping me. I had a million and two people cheering for me.

Matt said, “Look, there’s the Citgo sign!” I knew that from that sign, there was only one mile to go. Gut it out to the sign.

We reached the sign and Matt and Jay sounded the Charlotte Running Club battle cry, “Uno Mas!” and I gutted it out as much as I physically could. Right on Hereford, left on Boylston, and let the crowd carry you in. One year earlier, this was the sight of carnage and tragedy. This year, redemption.

I missed my Boston qualifying time by a minute and sixteen seconds. Those who know me at all know that anywhere else, at any other race, I would have been despondent. But I wasn’t. I felt redeemed, triumphant. I ran across that sacred finish line, the one that the city of Boston and over thirty thousand of my running friends and I had just reclaimed, with my arms and head raised high.

An epic adventure ends with redemption.

My epic adventure ends with redemption.