It’s the night before the big race. I’m at J’s place after an amazing pasta meal at Basta Pasta. Too amazing. One of those meals where you just can’t seem to put the fork down. We are watching The Dig, an awesome movie about the fall of the Atari video game corporation. As I sit my body is falling apart. My knee is aching. My hips feel like gigantic swollen hippopotamus hips. Worst of all, just today my wrist started hurting for no reason. Leprosy. It’s the best explanation I can come up with as to why all my body parts want to fall off.
More likely these are phantom pains that all marathoners feel. They are just worse than usual today. Phantom pains combined with a bit of real soreness after a training cycle with more downs than ups.
Logistics are sorted, clothes are picked out, bib and gels are pinned to my shorts. I lay down for 5 hours of deep slumber. Nothing actually matters except waking up, eating breakfast, and getting myself to the starting line. I bundle up and head out the door to the nearest T station. Last year a police officer held open the subway gate saying, “on Patriot’s day, marathoners ride for free”. For that reason I didn’t bring a charlie card with me, not really thinking about the fact that no guardian would be holding the gate open for me, and that the station has no way to buy a charlie card. But that’s no big deal. I can just stick my panic-stricken face through the gates and yell, “uhhh would somebody swipe me through? I can give you two dollars.” Lucky for me Bostonians are incredibly kind and generous and somebody paid my way.
I get on line for the bus and take a seat. I remain quiet for most of the ride and finally open up to the runner sitting next to me. He’s from the midwest, has been running for most of 10 years and has never run the Boston Marathon before. He asks if the crowds are thin for the ‘rural’ parts of the race. I tell him that last year there were hoards of screaming crowds for the entire 26.2 miles. “Where do they come from?”. The occupants of each town along the way show up in mass numbers to represent. Without wanting to give away too much, I describe to him the Wellsley all-girls College. For the better part of a mile, depraved college girls are crawling over each other reaching out for high-fives and kisses, screaming like they’re at a Beatles concert. There is more raw energy behind the sidelines than anything 30,000 runners could possibly dish out. He asks if I have advice. Yeah. That’s easy. The race begins with several downhill miles. It’s impossible not to go out too fast. But do everything you can to hold back at first.
We spend a few hours at the Athletes’ Village before being allowed to walk to the starting line. I help myself to a banana and some water. I visit the portapotties, then hide from the intermittently pouring rain under a tent. I walk around a bit and meet up with B. His training has gone incredibly well and it shows. He is confident and ready to run. We chat with C for a bit, who runs a lot of races in Albany.
I head to the starting line. It’s an incredible honor to be in Wave 1, Corral 1. I don’t expect to run as fast as anyone in the corral, but starting directly behind the elites feels like a once in a lifetime opportunity that I don’t want to pass up. I stay in the back of the corral, at the far left. Before long, the elites make their way through. I stick out my hand and high five Meb, Ryan Hall, Sage Canaday, and all the rest.
The national anthem, then the starting gun. We’re off! I keep what feels like a comfortable, mellow speed, trying to keep my spirits up while a thousand runners pass me over the next 20 miles. J blazes past in the first mile with a hearty hello. The first 6 miles are effortless. Looking at my watch, miles are ticking by more quickly than I would have planned for, but not so fast as to raise major concerns.
I see some young outstretched hands. I run over to the sideline for some high fives. I slap a larger hand amongst the smaller ones. I look up and hear, “Jake Stookey!”. It’s C’s hand, she’s here to cheer on H! What are the odds?
The miles quickly stop feeling easy. Over the next 13 miles or so, a weird sort of hip pre-pain appears and steadily grows. It weighs heavily on my heart as I run. With 20 miles still to run, all I can think about is that it’s going to explode at some point. I realize however that I’m running a great pace and it hasn’t exploded yet, so I stick with it. The cold and the rain are not helping with the mental aspect of the race. Negative thoughts start to overpower the cheers from the crowd, making for some really difficult miles. My pace slows. I have entered the Newton Hills. 5 miles or so with a significant incline overall. Except I don’t know that I’m going uphill. All I know is that I’m going slowly, everything hurts, and that I am sucking. I reach mile 18, where M is going to be cheering for me. Then I reach mile 19 and there’s no sign of her. This is my darkest mile. I am truly upset, thinking that I somehow missed seeing her. I make my way to some porta potties. Not really for any good reason, I think I just want to take a break for a minute or so. I’ve been thinking that I’m not really out of breath while running. However when I stop to take a leak, I can feel my heart pounding and hear my heavy breathing and realize how warped my perception gets during the excitement of a race.
I duck under a rope and get back into the race. Before long I see M on the right and give her a big kiss. As I run away she yells, “Your bleeding nipples!”. I look down. Yes indeed, my nipples are bleeding.
I suddenly hit the perfect storm of positive emotions. I indulged in a bit of a rest. I didn’t miss M after all. For the first time in the race the remaining miles are not daunting at all. I crest heartbreak hill and hear an announcer say, “this marks the end of the Newton Hills, it’s all smooth sailing from here!”. As if all of that wasn’t enough to lift my spirits, mile 20 means it’s time to suck down a caffeinated gel packet.
6 miles? That I can do. I start putting some muscle into the run and passing some of the multitudinous runners who passed me over the first 20 miles. I feel great, like I’m flying. I hold back just a little bit, I can feel the wide open veins in my legs quavering, on the verge of cramping. I catch up to D, a familiar looking sandal-wearing runner. We trade a few words. It turns out he finished two places in front of me at this year’s JFK 50 miler. I see J, a local runner with the Willow Street running club who yells out my name.
I know my buddy J will be at mile 26. The rain is really coming down now, and the chill wind is tearing through but I’m feeling great. I hear my name and look to see a bearded face and yell back, waving frantically. Let’s bring it on home!
I cross the finish line, amazed at how things turned around for me. I grab a hooded space blanket and a water, and march quickly along to where I’m supposed to meet up with M and J to grab lunch. There is no reason to dilly dally in my soaking wet short shorts and t-shirt. Many people will get hypothermia today, let’s just hope it’s not me. I walk briskly for several blocks. A runner walks up behind me and says, “Are you from Albany? I’m used to seeing you run barefoot, I hardly recognized you in sandals”. The lucky guy takes a right into his warm hotel. I keep walking. Eventually taking a right into the subway station, from which a steady stream of piss-warm subway air wafts out. Another runner says, “I’ve never been so happy to hang out in a subway station.”
Before long we all meet up and grab an awesome lunch at the same restaurant and same table as last year.