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The 2017 Boston Marathon

April 21, 2017

Preparing to depart for Boston on Saturday, I had two disparate feelings battling it out for control of my psyche: 1) The glee that a little child feels on Christmas morning. We’re going to Boston, the runner’s mecca, on the weekend of Patriot’s Day! This is going to be great! 2) Dread. The storm clouds of worry were gathering on the horizon. I knew what Heartbreak felt like for those poor, unfortunate, unfit souls like me. Let’s euphemistically call it ‘unpleasant’. I knew torture that would violate the Geneva Conventions awaited me sometime early Monday afternoon.

I tried to focus on the former and repress the latter, treating the worry like any old-school American man does – shove that shit deep, deep down and try to forget about it. But nevertheless, it relentlessly hovered in the background, occasionally shoving its way up front and reminding me it was there.

Pre-Race

Having just recently flown and very nearly missing my flight due to insanely long security lines, I told Laura I wanted to be at the airport at least two hours before our flight. We dropped off our ecstatic dogs at NoDa Bark & Board shortly after 9:00 AM and headed straight to the airport.

Brock, clearly devastated that we’re about to leave him for nearly a week

In line to check in, we ran into William Adair, who would be running his first Boston. I gave him some advice, sharing the analogy I give every first-timer, hoping to scare them into remembering, “Boston is a 16-mile sliding board ride into a meat grinder. TAKE IT EASY FOR THE FIRST SIXTEEN MILES, or pay the price.” I was telling William but I was also reminding myself.

Now a tradition, Laura and I always have a couple of drinks before boarding the flight to Boston. I enjoy this for a couple of reasons: 1) I love beer and 2) I need something to help me calm the fuck down. So we bellied up to the bar where I downed a Hop Drop while Laura got her daily ration of vitamin C via a Mimosa.

Laura and me performing an annual tradition

In the airport bar, a replay of the recent NCAA basketball championship was on TV. Up to this point, I’d been trying to decide what to wear in the marathon – I took this as an omen and decided to go with my Carolina singlet. I texted a pic of the game to my buddy Franklin, a fellow Tarheel alum who would also be running Boston this year.

We made it to our condo without incident, in spite of my directional challenges, continuing years later to utilize the directions Danielle wrote for us way back in 2014.

Orange is the new green. And people wonder why I get confused at the T stations…

We plopped down in the glorious condo that we rent every year and started making plans to meet Laura’s sister’s family for dinner – they were driving down from New Hampshire to spend a little quality family time with us. A couple of hours later, we met the Hicks (again, for those of you unfamiliar, this is their name, not a description – they are actually lovely, intelligent people) at the ArtBar in Cambridge, adjacent to, with a lovely view of, the Charles River, near MIT. I drank a couple of locally-brewed IPAs, from Clown Shoes (not sure this beer could compete with Hop Drop, but it was tasty nonetheless) and munched on some fabulous fish tacos. After a pleasant dinner, we hopped back on the train, made our way back to the condo, and called it a night.

Strickland and Hicks selfie at ArtBar in Cambridge

On Sunday morning, we awoke and chatted with the couple we were sharing the condo with, Ross and Ansley, whom we’d just met on Thursday night at Triple C. They put my mind at ease about sharing a place with folks I didn’t really know as the more we talked the more clear it became that they were perfectly fine folks who weren’t going to murder us in our sleep or anything.

After our chat with Ross and Ansley, Laura and I set out to run a little. I needed a shakeout and Laura needed to test out her injured heel – we’d use this run to see how the heel felt, to determine if Laura would be able to make a go of it on Monday. First we stopped into a Dunkin Donuts and grabbed some coffee and doughnuts, allegedly because Laura was supposed to take some medicine with food, but probably really because she wanted some doughnuts. In there, some guy tricked, er convinced, me to buy him a coffee by dazzling us with his esoteric knowledge of Charlotte.

Once we had some sugar and fried dough in our bellies, Laura and I jogged Boston Common. It became painstakingly obvious to me very early in our run that it would be a very bad idea for Laura to attempt to run the marathon – she was limping pretty badly and was clearly in pain. When I asked her to rate the pain on the one to ten pain scale, she answered, “Probably a five or six” which anybody that knows Laura at all knows is an eleven or twelve to the average person. We made our two-mile goal, but by this time Laura was in significant pain and burst into tears – we were reversing roles from the previous year where I was devastated that I had to sit out the race. I desperately tried to console her and told her that spectating at the Boston marathon was so much more fun than she could realize during this moment of despair. She recovered quickly, putting on her game face probably as much for me as for herself, and we headed back to the condo.

The rest of Sunday was the Boston marathon Sunday standard, “I’m going to get off of my feet any second, just as soon as I…”. We went to the expo where we walked around forever because, well, Laura loves an expo. Then we went to lunch. Then we met a bunch of Charlotte peeps at the finish line for a group pic. Then we went to Trader Joe’s.

 

Laura and me hanging out in the hot sun the day before the marathon.

 

This is me playing pack mule on the 87-degree day before the race. A lot of folks complained about how hot it was Monday but I like to remind them that it could’ve been worse. We could’ve gotten Sunday’s weather.

According to my fancy Garmin watch, I covered over 15,000 steps on Sunday, or 8 miles, and most of them in the hot sun. Not good. If I was expecting/shooting for a good time on race day, I would’ve lost my mind. But luckily I wasn’t expecting/shooting for a good time, so I never flipped out.

We made it back to the condo around 5ish and I set in on another of our Boston traditions – cooking a big spaghetti dinner the night before the race. Several of our Charlotte buddies joined us. Here’s proof:

Back row, from left to right: Ross and Ansley (they were unable to join us for dinner but made it home just in time for the mandatory dinner selfie), Franklin, Bob. Front row, from left to right: Your blog master, his beautiful wife Laura, Paula, Melissa.

After all the earlier sun-walking, a certain level of anxiety began welling up inside of me. But by the time we finished dinner, I had calmed down considerably. We had another lovely evening with friends – that was much more important than some silly little race in the morning.

We finally retired to the bedroom, where I made all my race preparations while Laura mapped out directions for me  to Duke’s buses in the morning. After all, my biggest fear for the next day was not Heartbreak Hill, but rather getting lost and not making it to the starting line in time. But once Laura went through the logistics with me, my number one worry was assuaged.

Race Morning

After a fitful night of shitty to non-existent sleep, I arose a few minutes before my alarm was set to go off at 4:00. I gathered up all my stuff and made my last-minute preparations – applying nipple band-aids, putting gels in my race belt, lubing my fat gut and muffin top, etc. I stepped on the scales and freaked out a little at my weight – 174. I weighed 169 on Saturday morning. Oh well, nothing could be done about it now – I don’t think Weight Watchers has a drop-5-pounds-in-5-hours plan.

I walked to the kitchen where I tried to quietly make coffee, but the coffee machine (an incredible piece of machinery that produces amazingly delicious coffee) wailed like a banshee strapped to a jet engine – my apologies to Ross and Ansley who were trying to sleep some 25 feet away. Delicious coffee in hand, I went back to the bedroom and went through a mental checklist – Bib, check. Gels, check. T pass, check. Sunscreen, check. Then, still clad in slippers, I nearly exited the condo. Jesus H. Christ, I changed into running shoes. It was already in the mid-60s by the time I left the condo – my throwaway sweats never left my suitcase.

I was perfectly on schedule – I entered the T Downtown Crossing station at 5:00. A homeless guy jumped up and piggybacked through the automatic doors as they retracted when I inserted my T pass. At least he was friendly, chatting me up about the marathon. Boston’s homeless seem much friendlier and amiable than Charlotte’s, just an observation.

The train would arrive at 5:30 to take me to MIT, site of my buses, in time for the 6:20-sharp departure. I reviewed my plans as I waited. Another gentleman clothed in athletic wear walked up and said, “You must be going to the same place as me. Duke’s buses?” and I replied “Yes.” We had a nice little conversation about how to get there – he’d performed a dry run a day earlier, to play it safe, so I decided to just follow him. A third runner showed up moments later and we all chatted about qualifiers and marathoning and I was thankful to these guys for helping ease my typical race-morning anxiety.

The train showed up right on time and we hopped on. Moments later, we hopped right back off at the Central station near MIT. Another couple runners joined us and we all joked around as we made our way to the buses. A lady with us freaked out a little as our path looked to dead end into a wall. Now it was my turn to calm somebody else – this exact wall had nearly sent me into a nervous breakdown two years earlier, but not this time. We approached the optical illusion of a dead end and the route was made obvious as I told the story of how I’d panicked at this spot in 2015.

But I had a few moments of panic this year, too. Both of my calves had cramped earlier, on multiple occasions, from the Downtown Crossing T station to Cambridge. W T F?!?! If they started cramping early in the race, I might be in for a very long, very painful day.

We made our way to the buses where I hopped on the nearest bus – I picked the right one because moments later, a large contingency of Charlotte runners boarded: Rob, Johanna, Stacy, Mary Kate, Megan (Hovis), Caleb, Jeanette, Rodolfo, Joe (I’m not sure how to spell Joe’s last name but it’s SpeedDemon on Facebook. This was his 17th Boston marathon and 335th marathon overall!), and Chris (Whelchel) who sat next to me and told me horrifying stories of ultra-triathlons in 100+ degree days. Oh and if you ever plan to take the Duke buses, note that when Duke says the buses are leaving at 6:20-sharp, he means 6:20 sharp. My watch read 6:19 as we pulled out.

Some of my Charlotte busmates, from left to right: Megan, Stacy, Caleb, Mary Kate

 

Then Caleb gets kicked out and replaced by Anna

We were in Hopkinton before 8:00, which meant I still had nearly two and a half hours to kill before race time. I sat patiently on the bus and got my $39 worth out of the bus restroom – I wrecked that thing. Chris and I walked up to athlete’s village where I grabbed a bagel and some water. Eating breakfast before 5:00 AM with a 10:25 starting time doesn’t cut it – I didn’t want to be starving at gun time.

Just before 9:30, I lathered up with sunscreen, gave the rest of the bottle to Joe, and headed up to athlete’s village. I used an old Nathan Stanford trick and grabbed a box, flattened it, and sat on it in a shady spot under the big tent. By this point, the temperature had reached 70. Oh joy, here we go again.

Finally, the announcer called for wave 2 runners to make their way to the starting line. I had this picture snapped as I left the village:

I saw what Mike Moran and Andrew Charters looked like last year – that is why I am doused with sunscreen here. After all, I was about to spend somewhere between three and six hours in the sun.

Things were a little different here than what I remembered from past Bostons. We lined up in sort of a pre-corral corral according to our corral numbers. So wave 2, corrals one and two walked down first, then they let corrals three and four go, etc., until finally my corral seven walked down with our pals from eight.

As luck would have it, I suddenly desperately needed to pee. Fortunately, I’m a veteran and know that there’s a giant area with hundreds of port-a-johns just before the start – no need to panic. I could spot first time Boston marathoners by watching how they ran, panicking, past everyone to rush to their corrals – this is an unnecessary move that I made back during my first Boston. Tsk, tsk, tsk – rookies!

As we walked down Main Street Hopkinton, a group of big, young New England guys were already partying hard in a yard up ahead. They yelled loudly, trying to get runners to drink beer. When they spotted me, they singled me out like the weak antelope in the herd. “Hey Tarheel! You guys are national champs! The least you can do is share some beer [pronounced bee-YAH] with us!” and he shoved a Bud Light in my direction. Oh, what the hell. I grabbed it, took a long swig, and the guys erupted into cheers. It was the most heroic I’d feel all day.

The large gulp of beer did little to help my urinary woes however, but the port-a-johns 400 meters ahead would. I joined hundreds of others and jumped into a very long line. Some guys leaving said to me and anyone else that would listen, “Much shorter lines farther back”, so I headed in the direction they pointed. I made a mental note of who was directly in front of me in my original line, just out of curiosity. When I finished, I noticed that the folks who had been directly in front of me were still waiting as I exited, but they were next in line. I might have gained thirty seconds on them.

And then I was herded into my corral. Go time.

For the love of God Allen, can you please get to the race?!?

Alright, alright, the race.

I forget what the announcer said because by this point, I was one giant bundle of nerves. My calves had cramped at least two more times on the walk to the start so you’ll forgive me if I was less focused on announcements and more focused on loosening up my calves. I desperately tried to shake them out, and stretch them, and repeat both of these moves over and over and over until the gun fired and we were moving.

Be cool. Be like Fonzie. I ignored all the people sprinting by. I immediately switched my watch display to heart rate. Pace for me was irrelevant on this day. This would be about soaking it all in (something I’d never really done here as I was always obsessed with my time). Oh, and survival. Go out too fast, AGAIN, on a warm day and I would pay a very dear price.

So I relaxed. If my heart rate exceeded 150 beats per minute, I backed off. I looked around at various folks, wondered what their qualifying story was. One lady’s was obvious as she had this little sign pinned to the back of her singlet, “50th marathon. First Boston. It took me 42 races to qualify. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.” How’s that for motivation?!? I thought about running up beside her and starting a conversation but thought better of it – I needed to save that  energy to be used late in the race. I was pretty confident I was going to need it more later.

I noticed that I was sweating profusely before we hit the mile one marker. Uh-oh. I decided that as long as my stomach could handle it, I’d drink Gatorade at every stop.

And so I did. The first water stop was at mile two, and there were stops at every mile thereafter. I formulated a strategy – grab a Gatorade and drink it, then grab a water and dump it over my head. At every stop. Every. Single. One. Early on, the water was still cold enough to nearly take my breath away when I poured it on myself. Perfect.

We passed TJ’s bar and the motorcyclists were out in full force, as usual. I forgot about the race for a minute and thought about these folks. What time did they get here? How much had they had to drink already (by the volume of the cheers, I guessed a lot)? The joint was PACKED and there was a line that stretched down the street, seemingly forever. How long did one have to wait here for a beer? But they looked to be having fun and quite a few of them gave me “Go Heels!” cheers. I waved and gave them the thumbs up.

I stuck to my admittedly very simple strategy – monitor the heart rate, drink a lot, use water to cool off. And it seemed to be working, at least initially. I felt fine, as well or better than I had on any long run of my training cycle, and the miles clicked off. Of course I felt fine in 2012 too, until I didn’t. But I was much, much more conservative on this day, jogging 8+ minute miles. I reached mile five, the point where I started hyperventilating in 2012, and I still felt perfectly fine, sans hyperventilation. I told myself, “Okay, warm-up’s done. Let’s start a 21-mile long run.”

The Carolina singlet was a good call. People screamed for me everywhere. If I had a dollar for every Carolina reference yelled in my direction, our trip would be paid for and then some. “GO HEELS! Yeah, Carolina!” Any Carolina fan worth their weight in salt knows that when someone yells “TAR!” you yell “HEELS!” in response. This happened so often that my voice is still hoarse (I’m writing this on Thursday). Probably should’ve yelled a little more quietly, and maybe skipped responding a couple of times to save energy for the latter stages of the race, say Newton for example, but I swear to you as any Tarheel fan that’s attended multiple games can attest to, this is a reflex.

Somewhere around mile 6, just before reaching the Framingham train depot, I spotted Bart Yasso, so I yelled, “Give it up, Bart!” and high fived him as I ran by. I still felt good, under control (for a point of comparison, I felt infinitely better here than on my long run with Gucci at Kings Mountain Gateway). I continued to use my tried-and-true method of self-deception, “Good warm up. Let’s run a 20-mile long run.”

The miles clicked off effortlessly – while it was warm, I felt that as long as I continued to run conservatively, the heat would not be debilitating. The weather was light years better than 2012. For starters, there were some clouds and they even blocked the sun on occasion. We had a significant tail wind for much of the race. While you can’t typically feel a tail wind, I knew it was there because at several of the water stops, when I threw down an empty cup, the wind was blowing so hard that the cup would pass me on the course. And there was actually shade in spots as many trees, unlike in ’12, were blooming and therefore made lovely, cooling shadows.

I soaked in the incredible Boston atmosphere. We passed several guys with PA systems and they called me out without fail. “We’ve got a Tarheel in the house! Congratulations on your national championship!” and I’d wave, and/or pump my fist, in appreciation and the crowd would respond with even more vigorous cheers. It was really cool and made me especially glad for my wardrobe choice.

I was still feeling good at mile 11, despite the relentless sun, when I could hear the sound tunnel of Wellesley up ahead. When I got there, I stayed left so I could just run past everyone stopping and enjoy the show from afar. So it seems pretty obvious to me that the girls of Wellesley have some sort of competition to see who can get the most kisses. But who keeps count? Who maintains the official tally? They employed various strategies in an attempt to draw in runners.

Some girls tried the witty/funny route:

But will Russia help me win? (Photo courtesy of masslive.com)

Some girls tried the geography approach. “I’ll draw in every runner from Michigan!”:

But what if you’re from Flint? Sorry, I can’t take that risk. (photo courtesy of masslive.com)

And finally, others employed the tried and true method of sexuality. I’ve never seen so much cleavage at Wellesley. Come on y’all, you’re distracting me – I’m trying to run here!

Is this a road race or a rated-R movie?!?

But the one lady who seemed to be crushing everybody in the kiss acquisition competition was an elderly woman in a Wellesley t-shirt: guys were literally stopping and queuing up to get a kiss from her. I bet she won in a landslide.

Every Boston, I inadvertently speed up through Wellesley – the scream tunnel and the downhill stretch here propel you through the halfway point. I hit the half in just over 1:50 which is right around what I would’ve expected, if maybe just a smidge fast. I was still happy.

If I’m being completely honest here, I had entertained pre-race notions of DNFing (“did not finish” for any non-runners who may have stumbled upon this blog). I knew I was not in the best of shape and that things would most likely get ugly and painful – I wasn’t sure I was up to putting myself through the torture of the bonk of the unfit man. If you’ve read this blog before, you may have read me talking about the fact that I don’t know how to quit, not metaphorically, but literally. As in “How do I quit? Do I call a cab or Uber? Do I just stop and wander around and hope that somebody notices me?” But I knew how to do it here having spectated a year earlier – I knew exactly where to get on the T in Newton so I told myself before the race, “If you’re feeling bad before Newton, just hop the T and call it a day.”

But how could I quit and then later try to implore my JITFO teammates to keep working hard in the Blue Ridge Relay? How could I yell at somebody running up the mountain goat leg, “Keep working! Don’t quit!” Wouldn’t they look at me incredulously and think, “The Boston quitter is yelling at me not to quit?!?” How could I lead a running group that is specifically about not quitting in the face of adversity?!? So when I crossed the halfway point and still felt okay, I abandoned this idea of quitting in Newton. “Okay, finished the warm-up. Let’s run a half marathon.”

Through the half, it was all puppies and rainbows. But shortly thereafter, the wheels on the bus started getting wobbly. And the fatigue didn’t seem to creep up on me like it typically did in the marathon – it jumped up and slapped me in the face.

Ten of my first 13 miles were run in under 8:30. After the half, I’d only run one more mile in under 8:30, and that would be the steep downhill of mile 16, just before hitting the hills of Newton. Somewhere around mile 14, Brian Morris, fresh as a daisy and pacing a buddy, popped up and said hello and it’s when I went to respond, fatigue punched me in the face and said, “Not so fast”. When I tried to say, “Hey Brian!” or the like, I huffed and puffed and sounded like someone with a speech impediment. Uh-oh, very uh-oh. Brian looked like he wasn’t even sweating, like he’d just stepped off the curb and began running ten feet ago. I looked like I just went 15 rounds in an MMA fight and lost, badly.

Brian and his pal zipped by me like I was moving backwards. I tried to hook my wagon to their train and go with them, but when I did, I felt super labored. I glanced at my heart rate. 150. 155. 160. Fuck. If I wanted to finish this race, I had no choice but to back off. Bye Brian and pal! They ran off into the sunset. I began to struggle and had my first, “Am I able to finish this thing?” moment.

But here’s the thing about Boston. Every time you think you can’t go on, the crowd reminds you that you can. Every time I thought, “Ok, maybe I’ll walk here” some random Bostonian would scream, “You can do this, Carolina! Don’t you quit on me!” And then I passed this guy who was clearly VERY determined and working his ass off:

You want some motivation? Here ya go! Read about Luis here.

Then this guy:

Ben Beach ran his 50th consecutive Boston marathon on Monday despite a debilitating condition that renders his left side partially paralyzed. See Ben’s story here.

Try rationalizing quitting after seeing those two guys out there. And if those guys weren’t enough to get you fired up, then check this sign out (Franklin and I agreed, this was the best sign of the day):

I’m not a Patriots fan, but I have to admit, this is a good sign. Although I do feel like the sentiment is a little backwards. Atlanta is the runner. The Newton hills are Tom Brady.

I was tired at mile 14, but not completely destroyed (again, see 2012). At this point, I started telling myself, “Just keep running – don’t walk.” Gather yourself, Newton’s coming.

Then I was there, Mile 16 – the Newton hills. So here’s the thing about these hills – everybody that trains in Charlotte runs on hills that are just as bad, if not worse, than these. The difference is you don’t normally race 16 miles first. Laura has a good description/comparison – she tells folks it’s like running the big hill on Morehead. Four times. After 16 miles. It’s the location of these that make them so goddamned tough. You’ve just cruised 16 of mostly down and flat and now you have to climb? Oh fuck me.

But this wasn’t my first Boston rodeo – I knew exactly what to expect. Nut up or shut up, Buttercup. On the first hill, I reminisced back to last year in an attempt to distract myself from the pain. Oh look, there’s the Starbucks where I bought coffee. Ah, there’s where I stood and cheered. I envisioned a Twilight Zone moment where 2016 and 2017 were merged, where I both cheered and ran simultaneously. 2016 me cheered on 2017 me, “Keep those legs moving, Tarheel! WWJBD?!? What would Joel Berry do?!? If he can win a national championship on two bad ankles, you can run up this hill on two good ones!” That last bit made me smile. Thanks, 2016 me! And real life 2017 people cheered me on, screaming similar things. I reached the top – one big hill down, three to go.

I jogged down, gathering myself for the next big one. When I approached it, I looked down in hopes of avoiding intimidation. I slogged up it, gradually. Two down, two to go.

I always seem to blow past the third one. I’m always brain dead and long run loopy at this point and 2017 was no exception. Was that it? The next thing I knew I saw the Heartbreak Hill Sports sign. Here we go. It’s like getting ready to be waterboarded, but I’m pretty sure Heartbreak is worse. Like seriously. Like I mean if someone pulled me off the road right here and said, “Ok, let’s make a deal. Make a choice. Ten minutes of waterboarding or ten minutes running up Heartbreak? Choose.” I think I honestly would mull it over. “Flip a coin, man.”

I staggered up it in ’12. I slogged up it in ’14. I cruised up it in ’15. I made myself a goal for this year – just don’t walk. I did something akin to running for the duration of the hill. When I reached the apex where a lady stood with a sign that read, “Top of Heart Break Hill”, I wanted to hug her:

Oh my god, I love you random lady!

I told myself, “The hard part’s over.” I lied.

Five miles and change left. Five measly, mostly flat or downhill, miles. I have a run longer than that about six days of every week. You can do this, piece of cake, easy peezy lemon squeezy. I tried everything I could think of to convince myself this would be easy. Alas, I knew better. The truth was this was going to be a bitch.

Past mile 22, I saw a medical tent on the right. I thought about quitting when I had an inner debate with myself. “Are you serious? You want to quit at mile 22 of the Boston marathon?!? Shut the fuck up and keep running.” Um, okay, I guess I’ll just keep running.

It had been a long time since I’d seen a double-digit minute mile in a race (I think the last time I saw one was, you guessed it, 2012, at this very race). I’d see a few between here and the finish line. I so desperately wanted to be done. “That’s it. I’m done. This is the last marathon I will ever run.”

And I was back to hating the Citgo sign (I didn’t hate it my last time running the race in ’15, but oh god how I hated it in ’12 and ’14). When you’re struggling, both physically and mentally, seeing that sign is demoralizing because you know that you have a mile to go once you reach the sign. And you see the sign at least a mile before that. It feels like it’s a hundred miles away, evil and ominously staring at you like the goddamned eye of Sauron.

Showing my utter disdain for the Citgo sign by snot rocketing in my expensive marathonfoto pic

It seemingly took forever to cover those last miles, especially mile 26. I passed 25 and kept expecting the famous right turn onto Hereford any moment. But it never seemed to come. “Any minute, I’ll see Hereford. Just keep moving. Just keep moving. Oh for the love of god, where the hell is Hereford?!?” I was so beat at this point that when people cheered Carolina cheers I wanted to yell back, “Leave me alone! Enough already! I can’t do this anymore, quit putting pressure on me!”

And then finally I saw it, Hereford. I slogged the famous righthand turn. It was hillier and longer than I remembered, but the wall of sound buoyed me onto Boylston.

Struggling up the longer, hillier Hereford.

I made the left onto the hallowed Boylston Street and there, way, way off in the distance, was the finish line. I grimaced and steeled myself for the final stretch:

You can see the promised land! Get there already!

I struggled mightily until I got one last boost. I heard someone yell “Allen!” and I looked to my left to see Franklin cheering me on (I would find out later that Paula and Laura were with him). It was the last push that helped me across the line.

Post-race

Oh thank god, I’d done it. Boston #4 in the books. I had accomplished goal #1. Now to accomplish #2 – stay out of the medical tent. This might prove to be difficult.

In 2014, I’d made the mistake of sitting down shortly after the race which resulted in a cascade of cramps up and down my body, ultimately leading me into the medical tent where I spent nearly 2 hours. In 2015, I’d learned from my past mistakes and kept moving until my body had recovered some. I vowed to repeat 2015 and not 2014 so that when I crossed the line this year, I kept moving, walking down Boylston.

I felt like all the other finishers were moving in slow motion, which miffed me a little bit as virtually everyone walking in front of me had just beaten me in the race. I walked pretty briskly because I feared if I walked any slower, the cramps would set in. Miraculously, my calves hadn’t cramped since before the race and I was hoping to keep it that way, thank you very much. Every time I slowed down a fraction, I felt all pukey-passey-outey, like one of those two things, if not both, was imminent.

I made it to the point in the finishing chute (the longest of any race I’ve ever run, by the way) where they were handing out medals and I proudly snagged one and placed it around my neck. By god, I’d earned that mother fucker.

I continued moving, weaving in and out of the hordes of Boston marathon finishers, until I finally reached the end of the chute, which for some reason was blocked off which frustrated me to no end. I had to hang a left until I could finally find an exit.

I limped my way through Boston Common, desperate to make it back to the condo almost exactly one mile from the finish line. As I tightened up, I kept reminding myself, “Just keep moving. Just keep moving.”

I took my cellphone out of my running belt and turned it on. It immediately rang and although I didn’t recognize the number, it was area code 704 so I answered it in case it were a friend whose number I hadn’t stored in my phone (say Bob, for example). I heard, “Hi, this is Frank [not his real name] with the Cabarrus County Volunteer Fire Department…” I instantly hung up – my apologies Frank but now was not the time – I was quite light-headed and had valid concerns about losing consciousness. Maybe I should’ve stayed on with Frank so I could cry out, “Quick Frank, get help, I’m passing out in Boston Common!” just before I went down. Then I got an automated page/text from work. Oh my god, are you shitting me?!? I am not in the mood, guys.

The next call was legitimate – it was Laura, asking me where I was. I explained and she asked me if I could stop and wait, or circle back to meet her to which I replied, “No, dear. I’m sorry. I can’t add any distance out of the way. I’ve got to keep moving.” And I talked her into meeting me back at the condo.

I made it back to the condo building, gimpily limping every step of the way. In the elevator, I walked around in a circle like a caged tiger – any time I stopped for a second, I was instantly dizzy and nauseous. Once on the fifth floor and in the condo, I walked around until Laura made it back. I tried to take a shower, but even then, about an hour after the race by now, I was still nauseous and dizzy and had to bend over to keep from puking in the shower (which conjured up memories of puking in the shower in ’12 – those were good times).

Semi-clean, I lied down on the bed. I wanted something to drink but still wasn’t quite ready for anything sweet – I’d drank so much Gatorade in the last four hours that I felt like I needed a shot of insulin. But eventually I felt like I could stomach something so Laura brought me some Ultima and dry cheerios. After I finished those, I started feeling a little better. Exhausted, I dozed off.

When I came to, Ansley and Ross were back and we all exchanged battle stories. Ross fared quite well, within a couple minutes of his PR, while Ansley’s experience was more like mine, a tough battle of attrition. Laura clearly had the most fun of all of us, drinking beer with friends on Boylston:

 

A bunch of Charlotte pals cheer on their significant others in the Boston marathon. Back: Joe (cheering on his wife, Flavia), Bob (cheering on his wife, Melissa). Front: Paula (in baseball cap, cheering on her beau, Franklin), Laura (cheering on her hubby, me)

Eventually, I felt recovered enough to crack open my first post-race beer, a local craft IPA, Boom Sauce, from Lord Hobo Brewing Co. Solid. Let the games begin.

The gang came over again and we had a couple of celebratory beers before setting out in search of food. We got turned away from one joint (which seemed a little too hoity toity for my purposes anyway. I typically just want a big, greasy burger after a marathon.) since we had no reservations. We ultimately landed at Cheers where somehow everybody knew our name. I succeeded in scoring my greasy burger with fries and onion rings and life was good. We were all wiped out so called it a night by like 10:00 or so when I proceeded to pass out and sleep the sleep of the dead.

Tuesday

By Tuesday, most folks were heading home. But I felt rushed last year so booked the condo til Wednesday this go round. Laura and I hit Boylston where we did a little shopping and then had our annual brunch at Max Brenner. Afterward, we headed over to Sam Adams to take the tour with Franklin and Paula.

A lot of Boston marathoners will claim the Citgo sign as their favorite of Boston. I think we’ve firmly established I’m not in that camp. Here’s mine:

Me with my favorite sign in Boston

I think all of us thoroughly enjoyed the tour. Here’s a little visual evidence:

Franklin miffed as I polish off pitcher

After much fun and beer tasting at Sam Adams, we jumped the free shuttle over to Doyle’s, a nearby pub advocated by the Sam Adams crew. Franklin put on a Boston accent to get our hostess’ attention, “Miss. Miss. SWEETHAWT!” Much fun and laughter was had by all.

A little while after the Sam Adams tour, back on Boylston.

We had a few beers and dinner at Doyle’s before grabbing the T back into town. The girls wanted to go shopping so we headed towards the shops. We ran into Joey so while Laura and Paula shopped, we walked and chatted about racing. Joey had to bolt as Franklin and I popped into yet another pub.

After several more beers, the Stricklands and Pridgley (it’s going to take somebody that knows us all to see what I did there – it probably won’t make sense to out-of-town blog followers) stopped into the Adidas Boston Runbase store. I was freezing (what a cruel joke by Mother Nature – the Boston weather was marathon-perfect the day after the race. Sigh.) so I bought a hoodie. I threw that thing on and finally warmed up as we stepped out of the store.

As soon as we exited the store, we were pounced on by a local TV reporter. “Hi! Would you guys like to be on TV?” she asked, shoving a microphone in our faces. Drunk and obviously not thinking clearly,  Franklin and I both cried out, “Yeah!” with no clue what we were committing to – I was expecting softballs about the Boston marathon in general. As soon as we agreed, the cameraman popped on the camera and spotlight, and the reporter started asking questions. “Did you guys get the email from Adidas today?” Me, “No. What email?” Reporter, “Today, Adidas sent out an email with the subject line, ‘Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!’ What are your thoughts on this?” Oh shit! So this is what it feels like to be a famous politician getting blindsided with a topical, tough question.

My mind raced. The light from the camera was blinding. The mic was in my face. With my new hoodie on and my unshaven face (a light beard is nature’s sunscreen – I like a day or two of growth before a sunny marathon), I looked like a homeless guy. Think Allen, think. I paused for a long time, long enough that the reporter said, “It’s okay, just be honest.” It wasn’t honesty I was worried about – I was worried about pissing off Boston. Finally, I answered. The abridged version is “I can understand why people are offended. I get it…but I feel like Adidas should be cut some slack.” And she then asked me, “You ran it. Do you feel like a survivor?” While I get that the wording of Adidas’ email could be perceived as insensitive, if you started in Hopkinton on that sunny warm day and ran 26.2 miles into Boston, fuck yeah you felt like a survivor. So I answered truthfully, “I do.” Franklin was on the same page, “I don’t feel like there was any ill will intended by it, but at the same time, they should’ve been more sensitive.” But when she walked away, I started freaking out – I had this grave concern that I would be the most hated man in Boston. “You think Adidas should be cut some slack?!? How dare you, you redneck from North Carolina! Go back to your backwards-ass, HB2, redneck state! You are not welcome here!” I envisioned being banned from the Boston marathon. Franklin talked me off the ledge, simultaneously making me feel both better and worse by saying, “Allen, you’re not that important.” Awesome, and aw man. See the story that aired here. Oh, and lest you feel judgemental, note that this was us about two hours, and some six pints, prior to the interview.

 

Local reporter interviews homeless man and professional golfer about insensitive Adidas email.

Thank god that the story was pretty objectively presented. I feel like they so could have thrown us under the bus with editing, but didn’t. We’re not famous or infamous. We can come back to Boston unnoticed.

And that’s the plan. While running the last few miles of the 2017 Boston marathon, I vowed never to run another marathon. But maybe an hour later, Laura and I started chatting about where we could try to qualify for next year’s race. Boston, I love you. Hopefully, Laura and I will both qualify and we’ll run the Boston Marathon again next year. See you there!

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