Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Boston in a word: Bittersweet

As the Big Head Todd and the Monsters song proclaims: Bittersweet; more sweet than bitter, bitter than sweet.

Boston 2009 was, as I texted to friends back home "the most amazing and suckful things I've ever done". I have had some time to process what happened, and I am pleased with my ability to enjoy the experience, as disappointing as the race was.

I have to consider myself so lucky: DH took time off work to come to Boston with me- we spared little expense and had some wonderful dinners. He and my folks supported me in every way that they could: from scoping out the race course to giving me space after the race. THANKS!

When I qualified for Boston last year at the Flying Pig, I was on a high. My training had gone great, my race went pretty smoothly, and I just KNEW it was going to be my day. This capped off a calendar year in which I had set PRs in the 5K, 10K, 1/2 marathon, and then marathon- at age 42. My legs felt great, and I was looking forward to running a fall marathon, and then either Boston or Pittsburgh in the spring.

Long story short: as often in life, things do not go as planned. My knee started hurting in June, and never really fully recovered. I took many precautionary measures: did not do a fall marathon, took 3 weeks off from running, did yoga, massages, followed a minimal-running training program for Boston, yet still was getting on the plane on Saturday with knee pain. As I said in my last post, I knew that my knee was going to be a factor in the race, the question was how big.

I tried to shove that fear into the back of my head, and enjoyed a great dinner w/DH and my folks Saturday night. The best part of my Boston marathon experience was on Sunday, when I met up with Sara, Jackie, Barb, and got to get to hang out with them and their SOs, and meet Sara's family. Sitting at lunch on Saturday I realized this was truly an amazing experience: having lunch with running friends from across the country. We had a lot of laughs and it was so good to meet these wonderful ladies who had been so supportive during my training.

Saturday night we had a yummy dinner at Cantina Italiana in the North End, which was crawling with marathoners intent on carbo-loading. I got a good night sleep (surprisingly) and headed out to the buses around 6:45

As I stepped out of the hotel, a woman came up behind me and asked if I minded if she walked with me. She was from Cincinnati; had a very similar running history to mine, and was fun to talk to. We ended up hanging out together for the next 3+ hours, until it was time to go to the corrals. (We didn't even make it to Athlete's Village until 9:00 or so, and I missed hooking up with the girls.) I had to make one last pit stop, and she went off ahead. Thanks to her, I was pretty relaxed and the time passed by quickly.

The start for me was pretty anticlimatic: at NYC I was in line on the bridge while they played the National Anthem and then 'New York, New York'. Not this time--when I was walking to the corrals I heard the announcement that the second wave had started. I found my corral, and set off.

Now, keep in mind that I was at the back of corral 18, so most of the folks around me were women of my age, older men, or charity runners. The charity runners added an additional dimension to the race. It was truly inspiring to read some of the messages on the backs of their shirts, especially those running for specific family members and friends. This is an element to Boston that is unique, and probably many people don't see, b/c they are w-a-y ahead of were I was. The slightly annoying element they bring is that they tended to lump together in groups, but yesterday was not a day for me to be passing people.

My #1 goal was to run pain-free: something at that point which was out of my hands. I thought if I ran a 9 minute/mile or so pace that might help the situation. The first few miles I was on target overall, but either was hitting 9:15 or 8:45 or so. By the 10K point, I was on the 9 min. pace, but that was when my knee started to hurt. I tried to ignore it for a mile or so, and took some Tylenol around mile 7. I kept looking for the downhill segment of the race, but the course was really rolling hills the first 10 or so miles.

I hit the 10 mile point, and was starting to feel cautiously optimistic: I hit it right at 1:30-- on target. After that the knee sort of took over. Several thoughts went through my head at this point-- one of the them (gasp!) was even to DNF. But, this was BOSTON, and that was not an option. So, somewhere between mile 10 and 11 I just let go of my goal pace, and tried to have a good time. It was really hard to do, but I figured it was the only way I would finish with a smile.

I saw my folks and DH between miles 16 and 17, which was a great boost- I knew they were getting text messages of my times, and would be worried as to how I was feeling. So I plastered a big smile on my face when I saw them. The hills were next-- that famous right-hand turn onto Commonwealth set them up ahead. I am very proud of myself that I did not walk on any of the hills. I was going very slowly at this point, but kept running.

I also had been feeling lightheaded from time to time. I knew from past experience that Gatorade was not my friend, neither was GU, so I started taking offers from the crowd. I took a Twizzler and thought of one of the girls from the RWOL forum who had just run Paris with a horrible cold/sinus infection. I took some jelly beans, oranges, and an Oreo at mile 25~ not that it was going to help me any, but damn it-- I was hungry at that point. My Clif bars had worked fine, but I dropped one of the bags pretty early on. Then, when I went to take the last couple of bites from the second Clif Bar, they fell out of the bag onto the ground. At this point I was almost laughing at how absurd my run had become. I turned around, and to the dismay of some behind me, picked up the turd-like pile of chocolate chip clif bar pieces that had fallen out. I actually was grinning b/c I was thinking of the scene in Caddyshack with the candy bar in the swimming pool. The lightheadedness came and went throughout the race.

The one thing that sort of baffled me was the lack of porta-potties on the course. I had been warned about this, but when I did HAVE to stop, there was actually a line... all of the porta-potties had lines. That took up about 4 minutes, but when a gal's gotta go....

After the hills, I sort of picked up a bit-- the crowds were dense from this point on, and loud!!! The gravity on the downhills really helped at this point, plus I was running through a part of town I knew pretty well from when I lived there. Seeing the Citgo sign was such a boost-- I was going to make it! I somehow missed seeing my peeps again at mile 24, but met up with them back at the hotel. I was running from time to time around a guy who had a banana top on his head, and the crowd loved 'Banana Man'. This was a nice boost, even if it wasn't for me!
During the race I thought often of the gals from the RWOL forum: when my knee started hurting early, I thought of how one gal's daughter is battling cancer and how much harder that is than running. The twizzler and gummis I took reminded me of another, as I mentioned. Banana-man reminded me of another gal, and I knew she was posting little cheerleader emoticons for us all during the race. Thanks girls!!!!

After I finished and completed the death march that is the post-marathon chip return/medal receiving/drop bag retrieving process, I made my way back to the hotel and found one of my friends in line at the hotel bar. We were trying to meet up there. I got to give both of the girls a quick congrats before they headed off-- they both looked great, and I was so happy to hear they had both had great times!
Our trip home was uneventful, which is good. It was so amazing to hug the boys when they got off the school bus. Friends of ours had dropped off congrats balloons, which we all enjoyed bringing in to the house.

One of my girlfriends just dropped off a Boston Cream Pie and bottle of my favorite wine for me (now, is that a friend or WHAT?), and asked "was it the most amazing marathon experience". I answered as truthfully as I could: it was and it wasn't. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity, yet wish that I had not limited during my training and especially on race day by my knee. On the other hand, considering I have had problems with said knee since 1993, I should be grateful. should... not my favorite word right now.

The memories of the Boston marathon will be most likely the fun I had with my DH and folks, and of the great time I had at lunch with my RWOL friends. The race itself.... I guess I'm still processing that part. As one of the gals on RWOL said about a recent destination marathon: the trip was great, except for the marathon part.

What's next? Well, I'm signed up to do the Pittsburgh Half Marathon in two weeks, but if the knee is not pain-free I will bag it and either try to volunteer at the last minute, or take the boys down to cheer on my friends who are running the half and full. Most likely that was my last full marathon. A bittersweet way to end the marathoning part of my running perhaps, but I'm not sure I can put my body and my emotional self through that again.


Black Bear! said...

Betaboo - What a great (and honest) race report. I laughed out loud when you picked up the clif bars! I know it's not what you wanted, but for all the training stops/starts/ pain and the super long potty stop 4 minutes???, ugh, you ultimately had a pretty nice race time on a tough course into the wind.

Way to go!


Mir said...

Great report Beta!! I am so sad for you that your race didn't go as planned--but wow, you sure are a study in sticking it out when the going gets tough. I really hope this doesn't turn out to be your last marathon, but certainly understand why it would be. Rest that knee!!

TiredMamaRunning said...

I'm with Mary and Mir. It's frustrating to be unable to show up physically at 100%, but it's all about doing the best you can with what you've got that day-and that you did. WTG, I'm proud of you, and ditto on babying that knee.

BarbBQ said...

Beta, as you know, I feel bittersweet about Boston, and that's after (when I look at it objectively) a good training cycle and a great finishing time. I guess I'd not only hoped for, but kind of expected, Boston to be a complete joy, with me running on air the entire time, blowing kisses to the crowd. But now I think part of the mystique that is Boston is not just the journey there, but the race itself. It is tough on those of us lucky enough to be injury-free, and absolutely brutal to those who, for whatever reason, are not able to perform at their best.

For me, by far the best part of the entire weekend was meeting you, HG and MM. I will cherish that memory.

Girl In Motion said...

Aw, sweet Betaboo, what an experience you had! Congratulations though on so many counts; no walking up those blasted hills, keeping a great attitude on throughout, defying that knee of yours...

You have not had the easiest time leading up to the race, so I just want you to know I am incredibly impressed with your whole training cycle, you're such a positive woman I can't help but hope that if faced with such "suckful things", I'll be as classy as you've been from the get-go. Love and hugs, girl!!

Nat said...

Tara! I think it is AWESOME that you ran Boston and stuck it out. i know it wasn't the race you wanted but they rarely are. Not all races great and sadly, as I am finding a lot of the kind of suck. But quitting always feels worse. . .

I know it is hard because-- even when we know the odds are stacked against us come race day --during training we never entertained anything but success. Because imagining success IS what gets us through those tough training runs. So I think that makes it even harder when race day bitch slaps us.

But a marathon isn't just about about race day; it about all those months leading up to it. Don't let a few hours diminish your whole experience. Rest, heal and keep on running the long miles.

I hope to see you next year toeing the line again. Cheers to you!

L.A. Runner said...

Consider this a big virtual hug. I don't really know what to say, except that I'm sorry you had to go through so much pain. Sometimes things (like your knee injury) seem so big that we can't see past them. Take time to heal, then rethink the marathoning. Take care.