As soon as we were allowed to approach our corrals, I started jogging along, afraid I was going to miss my spot. At first I was one of the few joggers, but eventually we caught up to the masses where everyone was hurrying along. Or warming up. I'm not quite sure which.
Just before reaching the corrals I came across a huge port-a-potty lot with hundreds of stalls and NO PEOPLE. My heart lifted with excitement. Hundreds of port-a-potties and they're ALL MINE! I ran up to the first one, but the red indicator on the front told me it was occupied. So was the next. And the next. I jogged past 50 of these things and they were all occupied. For a minute I thought I was in a pre-race anxiety nightmare. But eventually I reached an available one.
After taking care of business I headed to my corral. I looked around at the people I was competing with, and oh, my god did they look like serious runners, every last one of them. Traveling light, none of them had anything but shoes, socks, shorts, and a tank top. I felt out of place with my fanny pack (it carried my phone so I could find people at the finish line). I decided at that point that whatever everyone else did, I was going to do. Nobody warmed up. Nobody stretched. Everybody sat down on the pavement. And so did I. But my bony butt can't handle sitting on the pavement so I stood up. And I stretched and jogged in place a little. Then the elite runners paraded past the corrals. First the women, then the men. Everyone jumped up and ran over to check 'em out and cheer.
I ran through my race plan in my head. I wore my Timex IronMan watch on my left hand, and a pace bracelet on my right. The pace bracelet displays my planned pace, and my expected time at every mile split. While researching the course, I read recommendations to run slower early in the race, faster later in the race, faster on the downhills, and faster during the long middle flat section. As complicated as it sounds, it all seemed to add up to roughly running a steady pace throughout. My planned pace was 6:15.
The starting gun went off, and my corral quickly worked it's way to the starting line then ran as a mass at a good clip. For the first mile, we ran along at 6:15, my target pace. Once I had some freedom to move, I started passing people slowly. I was feeling really good, it felt like a pace I could keep up for a while so I stuck with it. However, at around mile 6, something unexpected happened. I had been running along confident that I was banking 15 seconds at every mile. A fellow minimalist runner in Vibram Five Fingers hovered next to me and told me he was shooting to finish the race in 2:48 or so. We were on pace to run 2:40 or less! I chuckled to myself thinking, "he's going way too fast". However a short bit later I looked down at my watch and compared it to my pace bracelet to find that *I* was behind by several minutes! Maybe he was exactly on target, and I'm falling behind! Agh! What is happening?!? When I'm running a race I completely lose the ability to do any kind of simple math, and finally I concluded that I was, in fact, way behind schedule. So I sped up. For 3 miles I averaged a 5:50 pace before correcting my situation. It turns out I had done something goofy like maybe hit my lap timer after seeing a kilometer sign instead of a mile sign. My watch was screwy, I had been going too fast, and now I'm going even faster. After realizing my mistake, I returned to my still-too-fast 6:00 pace.
Why am I going 15 seconds faster than my goal pace? You know what? I just felt awesome. I believed in the impossible. I was running along comfortably, so why slow down? When I reached the halfway point at 13.1 miles, I noticed my time was 1:18:50. My fastest half marathon is 1:18:01, so I was going pretty darned close to my fastest half marathon pace. That's when I realized I was going way too fast and was going to pay for my mistake. But I held on, and continued my 6-minute pace all the way to the famed Newton Hills at which point I slowed to a 6:30 pace, which seems pretty reasonable for the uphills. However, my physical state was steadily declining. My calves occasionally cramped. My hands started going numb. I worried I was going to pass out. I had banked several minutes during the first 16 miles. Not a good idea mind you, but I knew that slowing down a little was going to be way better at this point than bombing out completely. By the time I was really suffering, I only had six miles left to go. Surely I could hang on for that long.
Just then, I spotted M and her crew cheering me on. I turned to M and opened my mouth to announce my limitless love and joy at seeing her, run over and give her a huge hug! What came out of my mouth was a miserable-sounding, "BLEEEAAAARGHHHHH!" while my legs just kept instinctively moving forward as if a small change in direction would lead to complete collapse. So no hug.
The uphills were not bad at all. In fact it felt refreshing to slow down and chug up them. The last 6 miles are all downhill. I had it in my head that once I reached the top of Heartbreak Hill it was all going to be smooth sailing. It was anything but. My pace was slower on the final descent than during the uphills. With each mile I lost a little speed. My final mile was the slowest at 7 minutes. Not bad at all under the circumstances.
The last mile or two of the race take you through downtown Boston. Grandstands were set up along either side of the course filled will screaming people. It felt like entering a huge arena, a national stage, where I am part of the main event. At mile 26, amongst a deafening roar of cheering, I clearly heard a yell of "STOOOOOOKEEEEEY!!!" and looked to my right where my eyes landed squarely on my friend J with his hand cupped around his mouth, mid-"STOOOOOOOKEEEEEEY!!!!". I flapped my arms and gave him my best look of excitement, and felt a renewed spirit for the final .2 miles.
I stopped my watch as I crossed the finish line. With blurred vision I checked out my time: 2:43:45. I blinked once or twice. That number sounds familiar. I looked at my target finishing time on my other hand: 2:43:45. I couldn't believe it. By sheer coincidence, or twist of fate, through the fast miles and the slow miles, it all evened itself out so that I hit my goal to the exact second. I did it!!!
I was in rough shape after crossing the finish line. Barely able to hobble, unable to lift my legs more than an inch or two. Fortunately, a lot of walking was necessary which helps to keep from tightening up too much. I wandered around eating bananas and chugging water. After a half hour or so I actually felt reasonably ok. Sore and tired of course, but able to walk. M, J, M, and I met up for lunch where I had a veggie burger, beer, and water. We sat at a tall table with bar stools which allowed me to stand up some of the time and stretch. My leg muscles didn't tighten up, instead they were a soggy mess and sore, with an almost bruised feeling. Particularly my quads, calves and more than anything else my lower calves. Over the next two days they tightened up while I did occasional light walking, stretching, and spinning on a stationary bike. On the third day I went for a 4 mile jog. For the jog I was a little tight, sore, and gingerly, but it made me very optimistic that I would not have much longer to recover. As of day 4, I have not experienced any kind of joint pain or pulled muscles (knock on wood) which were my main concerns. I had a sore knee that put me somewhat out of commission for a couple of months after the last marathon where I really pushed it. So far this has been a really successful recovery.
Yesterday I did an hour+ of yoga with some massage. Oh, and maybe got a little ahead of myself and made plans for a tough 15k trail run for today at Moreau Lake State Park. Yesterday evening, my left calf felt really sore. Not sure if it's from anxiety for the upcoming run, or if I stretched a little too far yesterday. Perhaps the massage brought something to the surface that had been lying in wait. Or it could be just a delayed reaction to the whole marathon thing. Today's run will definitely let me know where things stand based on whether I loosen up during the run or not.