The Run of Champions: A Recap of the Boston Marathon ’17

Photo by Madeline Bills, Boston Daily

Most times when you run a race there’s a clear case of “hated it” or “loved it” only rarely are you caught in the middle, ambiguous about where on the running experience spectrum it belongs. My Boston run this year falls somewhere along the lines of amazing and disappointing.

@the start line

No surprise that the disappointment was all due to the weather, which, in all honesty, was hardly surprising as for days leading up to the event we were made aware of the impending warm temperatures. Of course one can always hope as in instances such as these, that maybe, just maybe, it won’t be as bad as all that. It turned out to be maddeningly so, though it felt slightly better than last year, or maybe I was just better prepared. Whichever it was, I’m thankful that I had a better experience.

The truth is, it was amazing. I can find no fault with organizers as the race was seamlessly executed and we were treated to the full effect of phenomenal volunteers and spectators along the course. It’s hardly the organizers fault that the sun graced us with its unabashedly glorious presence from the moment we disembarked the busses at Athletes Village until about mile 22. I did then what every runner had to do, which was adjust my expectations and my strategy – got comfortable with the idea and was able to enjoy the race – for the most part.

Spectators @ Framingham, Massachusetts. (Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images), abc2news.com

The cheers helped tremendously, so did the endless supply of Gatorade and water, both from the amazing volunteers and the awesome spectators. And then there was the sprinklers and open fire hydrants and soaked sponges and wet paper towels and the ices and the list goes on and on. Even the dreaded heartbreak hill and the other minor mountains didn’t seem so bad at all. In fact, the steady down hills for the first half of the race proved more difficult and taxing on my prevailing runner’s knee issue, that flared up during those said miles, than when the course was flat or uphill.

In the end, it was the sure knowledge that I was in Boston and approaching Bolyston Street and the finish line that bolstered the last mile and saw me running it in my fastest time since mile 3. Nothing like running down the home stretch to the uproar and cheers from a sea of spectators rooting for you every step of the way.

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The Chicago Marathon, my running sweet spot

source: bankofamericachicagomarathon.com

@ the start line          bankofamericachicagomarathon.com

Last Sunday 40,400 runners crossed the finish line in Grant Park at The Chicago Marathon. We weaved a determined and exhilarating path through the streets of Chicago, from the downtown area through the suburbs and neighborhoods, out to the medical district and back. Runners came out in their numbers, each wanting their moment of glory, some with personal goals, others as part of a collective effort to raise money for a favorite charity. Whatever the reason, we embraced the warmth, cheers and encouragement of over 1.7 million spectators and thousands of volunteers to cement this, at least in my mind, as the most superbly organized marathon event I have run thus far.

The New York City Marathon runs a close second to Chicago because of its phenomenal crowds and volunteers and because..well, it’s New York. I don’t for one second take for granted how challenging it must be to pull of an event of this magnitude in any city. We, runners, are just super thrilled that organizers of these racing events have the experience and know-how to make it happen and thus afford us these epic moments. Because this was my second time around in Chicago, I was prepared for am amazing race. I had such a good time last year even with a slight injury; this year I had no such encumbrance and felt that as long as I was well rested I would do well. While circumstances did not permit such ideal conditions – I missed my flight on Friday and got in Saturday afternoon, which is an entire blog by itself – for various reasons, many having to do with optimal training (no over-training this time), better rest, hydration and diet in the weeks leading up to race day – all somehow conspired to make sure I ran amazingly well.

bankofamericachicagomarathon.com

bankofamericachicagomarathon.com

Chicago is a beautiful city with a diverse populace and a common passion, or so it seems – a love for running and the marathon. Because I always credit the success of a race in large part to its spectators and volunteers, I truly appreciated the huge turnout on both counts. I maintain there is nothing in the world quite like running down the home stretch of a race to the tune of a roaring crowd urging you on while suddenly hearing your name announced over the loud-speaker as you approach the finish line. That is one of the remarkable moments, and there are others, that we, runners, run for. That and the medal of course.

Like ever race though, this one was different and special. Foremost was my reason for running, I felt so motivated to run for the kids at St Jude’s to the extent that I kept up an average 7:45 min/mile pace for most of the race. My intent was to try for a negative split but I ended up running faster in the first half, then fluctuating a bit, then dropping down to a 8min/mile until mile 24 where I was able to up the anté and run my fastest time through the finish line. I finished at 3:27:11 – my fastest Marathon and a personal best. I was/am thrilled. However, like most type A personalities, I’m quick to see that I could have done better. Because I  was scared of running out of energy, for the first half and a bit beyond, I consciously reigned in my enthusiasm, which was probably wise, as it ensured I finished strong, but it’s also possible I could have put out just a little more, since at the finish I felt reasonably strong.

me @ around mile 15.5 in Chicago's medical district

me @ around mile 15.5 in Chicago’s medical district

Oh well.. hindsight remains what it is while I remain committed to improving that time. My next big race is the Boston Marathon in April while I volunteer at New York City Marathon next month. In the meanwhile before Boston, chances are looking really good for another race.

2016 Bank Of America Chicago Marathon Medal

2016 Bank Of America Chicago Marathon Medal

The Boston Experience: 26.2 but how

IMAG0047

Pre-race @Athletes Village

So much of life depends on how you handle what is thrown your way. Too much of it has the power to define you, your ability, perspective, attitude and even cause you to question your belief in yourself..if you let it. My Boston run was everything I could never have anticipated.

As an athletic person – yes, that’s what I consider myself, not a pro by any means but one just the same – you always think you’re ready for the unexpected, you can deal, until it happens. By now you’re guessing it didn’t go down well, and you’re right, it didnt. No matter how prepared I told myself I was, I just was not prepared for my body to check out of the race hardly before it had begun. As it is, I will forever remember mile 4 as the point where my body not just disappointed me, but failed me miserably.

There are always reasons and excuses for not running a good time on any given race day and I will not fall into the trap of assigning blame. Frankly, I’m only interested in what can help me to understand what happened out there on the course, that no matter how hard I pushed or what I told myself during that run on Monday, I couldn’t get my body to co-operate with my mind. Maybe if I understand, there may be a way to make sure it never happens again. If you can, imagine running 22 miles with, not in, your mind; it was just about the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It felt like a mile by mile battle of wits except I was fighting myself and could hardly understand why. This left me confused and unable to truly appreciate the course and crowds, which by all accounts were phenomenal and so typically Boston Strong. In all honesty, I cannot even blame my breathing issue, sure I had a bit of a struggle there, but it was not insurmountable, not like the unknown that I was faced with.

So what did I do? Well , I did what any one in my running shoes would, under those unknown circumstances, I ran with my head; my only thought to cross the finish line with some dignity. You may ask, at what cost? Well dearly I’ll say: an official finish time of 3:59:14 – no where close to my goal and so there goes my pride, my time, training and so many other little investments unrealised. Such high hopes and plans all dashed to pieces, pieces, by the grace of God I was able to pull together and drag to the finish.

Still, I’m thankful I have my life and limbs, with which I live to run again. My health though remains an open-ended question, I can only hope the doctor has good news as I’m in dire need of some just about now.

A Marathon Frame of Mind: Boston Strong

Sports-Illustrated-Boston-Strong-2014-spread_1

source: wcvb.com

Just a few more days left to go, two and some to be more precise, and for a while there I was wondering if it would ever get here. Now there’s a part of me silently screaming that it’s all too much too soon, while the other part – the marathoner – is yelling to bring it on.

Only one time before have I felt anything other than excitement at a big run such as this, you may recall my first marathon – the New York City Marathon – which I ran with a sprained ankle. Back then, I had a similar feeling of trepidation, which didn’t result in any great feat accomplished except to probably make me the only person crazy enough to run 26.2 miles with pain and a hobble. Fast forward to Monday coming, seven marathons later and a 100% belief in my ability to finish.

Today’s bit of anxiety really stems from “the elephant in the room” also known as my breathing problem and now becoming popular among athletes, Exercise Induced Asthma. My acceptance of this diagnosis is cynical at best while the reality is much less so and one I must run with; and so my concern is really about my finish time. This may seem silly – here I am with a very real health issue and yet all I can think about is a goal time. Well try not to judge me too harshly. I promise you, run enough marathons and the question becomes not about finishing, which is a given, but only “in what time.” That being said, I’m by no means nonchalant about my condition, only aware of my body and its evolving boundaries, which I think I’m becoming quite good at exploring and extending bit by bit. This is my comfort and that which gives me hope going in to Boston.

I can absolutely do this. The training is done and I’m as ready as I will ever be at this point. I look forward to a phenomenal experience: the new course, amazing spectators, good weather (we can only hope), and an all-round fun time. Determidly so, I might add, because I’m mindful that I’ll be running in the footsteps of all those who have gone before me, in the spirit of all those who hope to come after and for those who can only dream.

As such, in the spirit of Boston, on this the third anniversary of fhe Boston Marathon bombings, along with the survivors and those who lost their lives on that fateful Marathon Monday in 2013, I promise to run Boston Strong.

NYC Marathon; The marathon we love to hate

Caught on camera @ the TCS NYC Marathon finish line

Caught on camera @ the TCS NYC Marathon finish line


It will be some time before I can talk about the TCS NYC marathon 2015 without some disappointment and frustration. It can’t help that I have immediate proof of its passing in a pronounced hobble that passes for walking and the accompanying pain it produces. This is by no means a pity party as I was fully aware of what I was facing on Sunday gone, but I am one wont to hope and in this instance it didn’t seem to pay off so well.

Armed with pain meds, a good breakfast, a night of semi-sleep, my eternal optimism and beautiful weather, I felt I was in  a more-than-less good place at 9:50 on Sunday morning. My plan had always been to start with the 3:30 pace group and so I did. We took off amid much fanfare to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s New York, over the Verazzano bridge in Staten Island, a beautiful view for those who took the time to enjoy the magic up there. Thousands of us in wave one ran into Brooklyn, the elite and wheelchair participants some distance ahead. It would be fool-hardy to imagine a seamless take-off, even though that was only a fraction of the race at that time. Inevitably what happened was a persistent dodging and weaving among those of us who were trying to keep pace for about 4 miles while pushing harder to make up for lost time. Around mile 6, I figured to slow down the blistering and unsustainable 7:42 p/mile pace and take the chance of losing the pace team, which I did, and realized I should have done it a whole lot sooner to save myself the angst and energy of weaving through hundreds of runners. For about 10-12 miles of the race we were in Brooklyn, one of the five boroughs of New York and home to the most amazingly diverse mix of people you will ever find anywhere. Brooklynites were on point with their support for every nationality under the marathon sun, they cheered, sang, danced and urged runners on and up 4th Avenue to Atlantic Avenue to Bedford Avenue all the way into Queens. Here we were met by a much smaller crowd but they were by no means any less supportive and did Queens runners proud with their unwavering support and encouragement for all runners. We headed over the Pulaski bridge at around mile 13, the second of the five bridges that make this a tough but essentially scenic, interesting and culturally unique marathon experience that highlights the unique aspects of each of the five boroughs.

Mile 16 presented one of the most challenging aspects of this marathon, the ascent of the Queensboro bridge with no end in sight and also no crowds. It turned out to be the longest, lonliest, most silent segment of the entire 26.2 miles. My knees took such a pounding, I honestly did not recall such an experience the first time around, that they almost seized right up when I greeted some friends a couple miles later on first avenue. On the bright side, it is the most thrilling experience to come out of isolation and be greeted with the roars of applause and chorus of cheers that overtook us as we came off the bridge and entered Manhattan’s first avenue. I greedily sucked it in as I’m sure did the other runners, happy to see the crowds but happier still that we were about 8 miles away from the finish. The support and encouragement in Manhattan is an experience you run for; the endless cheers and giving you are showered with along the way from both the crowds handing out everything from candy to paper towels and volunteers with fuel, sponges, fruit and gels. Losing yourself in the crowd is easy here and for a few I forget my quads that feel like they’re in a vice grip and my ankle that has begun to throb like nobody’s business.

At any other time I would be happy to cross this “little” bridge but on Sunday the Willis Avenue bridge that took us into the Bronx felt more like the hill from hell and I could feel a steady decline in my pace from there on. Up to that point, except for the Queensboro bridge, I had been keeping a steady 8:10/min mile pace and was only slightly removed from my goal but suddenly it was all about not stopping. The goal shifted from finish time 3:30 to just keep moving as the words “Welcome to the Bronx” was sung to us from a jazz player on the bridge. If the Bronx is known for anything, it is for being the birthplace of Hip Hop, so ideally I would have loved to be jiving along to the music and sounds that we were treated to as we ran along, except that I was totally tuned in to my pain by then and all I could manage was a few grimaces and thanks. And, as if I hadn’t been punished enough, there was a final hill – the Madison Avenue bridge – I sincerely hated all bridges at this point and crawled on; my deternination stronger than ever that I would not stop, not even at the water stations. The cheers continued and carried us back to Manhattan and onto the famed Fifth Avenue, which is a key indicator that there was just about four miles to go.  Ordinarily, I would be exuberant at being so close but I was too busy trying to connect with the crowd, anything to not think about my ankle, that I almost missed the turn into Central Park for about a mile. My family perked me up a bit coming out of the park and then it was the final stretch of 59th Street, into the park again, and a sudden burst of energy as I touched Trinidad and Tobago’s national flag on my way to the finish line. I made it in just behind James Blake from the Cancer Research Foundation and was totally humbled to share his struggle if only for a moment.

Looking up and seeing the clock somewhere in the vicinity of 1:50 left me feeling mildly surprised as I was convinced I had toiled up 5th Avenue for the better part of one hour; a dead watch and phone did not help. There were numerous thoughts running around in my mind then but more than anything, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment for having run those 26.2 miles, not for myself, but for the children – the cause I ran for. It was that, coupled with the crowds’ encouragement that kept me going when the going was tough. As it is, I do not as yet feel like I have conquered this course; it is for this reason I pledge to do it again. Plus, they say three time’s a charm. I’m counting on it!

Deconstructing The Marathon

how-to-run-a-marathon-finish-it-and-live-to-tell-the-taleEver wondered why 26.2 miles is the standard by which most runners measure their ability? What is it about this race that captures our imagination and incites a ridiculous passion within that causes to us to defy everyday expectation? Why do we seek to stretch ourselves beyond average human endurance to achieve a moment of glory to which we come back to time and time again?

I submit it is the intrinsic desire of every person, runner and non-runner alike, to matter; to live a life of meaning where what we do matters to someone in some way. It gives our lives purpose and direction and motivates us to put our best foot forward in spite of the challenges we face. The Marathon for many runners is a benchmark by which we judge our performance, our competitiveness and even certain aspects of our character such as perseverance and tenacity. Often, it becomes “The Challenge” that is the driving force behind our careers, our passion, our purpose and/or our life’s mission.

Running, I’ve always maintained, is a natural ability that we are all born with, some more so than others. While the advent of time and the changes in pop culture have surely impacted our desires, it has no more made a runner of you than it has me. We’ve always ran to some degree, some are just no longer satisfied with the average 6-13 miles. For most of us who’ve honed and sharpened our skills, a half marathon is no longer enough to satiate our hunger for more challenge, more adventure, more competition – even if we’re competing with ourselves. It’s now a warm up. Mind you, it didn’t start out that way. We have graduated to a secure place in our running from 5 mile short runs to 10 mile tempo runs to 13-15 mile training runs to 18-20 mile long runs to where 26.2 is now “The Run.”

Running a marathon is a dream, goal or, bucket list event for many runners. The actual race however, is no easy feat. No one gets up one day and decides to run a marathon, it involves lots of training and racing prior to “The Run.” While it is a challenge; hardwork, sacrifice, commitment, and perseverance, it is doable. As is often said, the man with a plan can. This is true for many things but it is especially so for running a marathon. A plan is needed for training and for race day. In previous posts I have discussed both butI want to reiterate how important it is to have a race strategy. Obviously, we cannot know exactly what will go down on that day but knowing how you intend to tackle the challenge it is will make for a better run.

The Marathon is easier run in parts. By this I mean that it appears more doable if it’s broken up into segments. The first 5 miles is pretty easy running -nothing we haven’t done time and again – running at a steady easy pace, it can be looked at as your warm up. Miles 6 through 12 takes us into training mode, we have been here; it’s comfortable and so we can up the ante some bringing us up to miles 13-18. Here is where we begin to feel our leg muscles working, pushing, reaching, stretching. Every part is now working in unison; legs pounding, arms pumping, in and out we breathe taking us further and a tad bit faster through to miles 19 through 24. Here the challenge is real to focus on the finish line, the medal, that moment of glory over the pressure to slack off and ease up just a little. Muscles are oftentimes screaming at this point because its breaking down. All the extra cross strength training comes into play here to give the extra push fueling those muscles and propelling you forward into the final leg. The final 2.6 miles is strictly mental. Pain, discomfort, exhaustion exists somewhere on the periphery of reality, one that is filled with the sounds of cheers and shouts of encouragement. You dig in for that reserve of strength and speed that was awaiting this moment.. here it comes.. You can see it now, taste it even, the roar of the crowds give wings to your feet and you’re in. You did it. Aside from the chunk of metal hanging around your neck, take a breath and a minute to absorb it all. This, right here, is why you’ll be back soon.

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