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.

Boston-Bound and Race Readiness

What does race readiness look like? For that matter, what does Boston-ready look like? I’m not sure even I know at this point. It just so happens that this race falls smack in the middle of Easter, which is a big deal in these parts, and I normally have a routine I diligently follow. That’s all turned upside down now, but I’m nothing if not adaptable, so although the last couple days have felt like I’ve been on something akin to a rollercoaster, with getting to Boston and the Expo and all that entails, while getting in some church time as well as a tad bit of the sights and sounds of Boston. What can I say, it’s a beautiful city, I love it here in gorgeous Spring.

All that said,  I’ve somehow managed to make it to the eve of marathon day and I’m ready to hit the sack. I’ve gone over my checklist: running gear, bib, pins, shoes & socks, hat, gels, heat sheet, chap-stick, snacks & Gatorade.

Additionally, I’ve read over the course details as well as the transportation details to the start. I think I’ve got it all covered and save for getting up four hours – enough time to eat breakfast, dress and get to the start – before my race time, I’m pretty much ready to run. Maybe I’m Boston-ready after all.

A Check-In with our 2016 Running Goals

2016-predictions-930x527

“The trouble with not having a goal is that you could spend the rest of your life running up and down the field and never score.” – Bill Copeland

We’re back in “running” business! It’s always a struggle to get runners to rest up, mainly because we’re too afraid of losing momentum. We often think that we will have to fight our way back in as the body can become quite use to being on vacation. There may be some merit to that but only to the extent that a break amounts to weeks or months off. Surely it can’t mean one will suffer a setback if he or she takes a well-deserved couple of weeks off? In fact, struggle or not, coming back from my two weeks off feels great and based on my running this week, its all good. You can breathe and rest easy now; two weeks will make you not break you.

Also, we can get ready for better running weather, for it’s May and we’re on the brink of summer – how did that happen? In any event, this is a good time to stop and reassess or check-in regarding our running goals for this year. Yep, the very same ones we were all excited and up in arms about around January 1st of this year. You’re totally entitled to a bit of guilt if you’re nowhere where you want to be, but know that it’s ok. You’re here, healthy (hopefully) and so happily you can give it another shot.

A big goal of mine was running the Boston Marathon so.. check – not the desired result – but it’s done. Even so, there are other races on my agenda, others I still have to do. What is interesting to note is that as I cross one item of my list, it actually has bearing on my other goals in a real way. Take for example Boston, I have now decided to run it again next year, to earn my medal this time, if my registration is accepted. As a result of this decision, I’ll try for a better qualifying time in Chicago this year. It’s a little crazy how it never stops with me; it’s as though there will always be another goal, another race. Maybe there always will be, but goals do many things, chief among them is to inspire us to give of our very best and even if we fail, we get up, stomp the dust off and try again.                                                          

In the upcoming months, (half the year is almost up, unbelievable), I have two, maybe three, big races and a few smaller ones while I have my heart set on a 5k and Half-Marathon PR. Additionally, I have a charity goal to fulfill which I will do at the Chicago Marathon. Because summer is usually an all-round hot time, I will be limiting my runs to fun, short ones with one destination marathon in July.                                             

I jokingly say that my life is a scatter plot, with my running all over the graph. But despite how it seems, it keeps me focused and happy – the world could go to pieces around me, as long as I’m running, it’s fine. LOL! I’m kidding! It’s really not that bad, just a tad bit crazy (my friends would say). Regardless, I’m no fine running example as I have fallen off the goal wagon a time or two. For yet another year, I’ve been terrible with keeping count of my miles while I can’t seem to start the tri program just yet. I try to convince myself that maybe I will in the summer but in the meantime between getting a handle on my health ( making sure I’m fit as a fiddle) and getting coached to improve my time, and working and keeping up with my volunteer activities, I’m a little stretched for time. While I’m not complaining, since that’s the way I like it, I would love time to slow down just a tad and maybe someone up there can add a few more hours to my days? Just saying.

The Boston Experience: 26.2 but how

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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.

Embracing what’s left of Fall and Running On

Source: runnersworld.com

Source: runnersworld.com

I often wonder what I would do with myself if I weren’t always training for a race, how would I keep my very active self motivated to stay running; then I think I’d probably divide my time equally between running and hiking – my next great love. As it is, training for a race or two at a time keeps me pretty much in a marathon frame of mind year round with an endless wish list of races to run with the only thing impeding my characteristic jovial attitude being the winter weather.

Looking ahead to what’s next now that New York’s behind me, for this year at least, I’m filled with nervous energy as it pertains to Boston 2016. My track record this year has been anything but stellar though I began with a PR at the New Jersey Marathon in March, my performance took a dive thereafter, finally succumbing to injury a month ago and it’s been pretty much “bleh” since then. Given all that, I have reason to be antsy though I’m one for not dwelling too much on things out of my control. What is needed is a quick plan of action to get me up and ready for Boston in April and so I’ve been getting some feedback from some of my “groupies” aka my running group with the sole intent of tailoring my training and diet from here on (or as soon as my ankle allows) so as to maximize strength, efficiency and distance.

While all this is in the works, there’s still the holidays and winter to get through. The holidays present it’s own challenges with eating and drinking, family, travel and then there’s winter: an even bigger challenge for me. Where, how and what to run becomes a very real dilemma that has very little hope of being worked out or planned for in advance. It becomes a sorta wait-and-see season, which cannot be good for runners planning a big race in early spring. Now we know where we are and where we’re heading, all that’s left is finding the best way to get there – the easy half. Haha not really, but definitely doable. That’s my running mantra these days.

In spite of all that’s gone down so far, I remain encouraged by the running community and the various inspirational stories that come out of all the dedicated training and sacrifices that many runners subscribe to in order to achieve their goals. It’s that kind of spirit that drives me and provides the impetus for subsequent runs. The variances in running also keeps me on my toes; despite all the training and plans, one can never be quite sure what will give as time progresses. This can prove to be a good thing more often than not as hard work often brings rewards. That being said, I will try not to dwell too much on the upcoming season but remain solidly rooted in Fall, enjoying these rainy, sometimes chill, sometimes humid, sometimes perfect, pretty, falling-leaves days when running outside is still very much a treat.

Is there a Runner’s code?

2014 Boston Marathon

                   2014 Boston Marathon

“That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I’d just run across the great state of Alabama. And that’s what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going.”  – Forrest

Quite a few times in my writings you may have seen me close off with the term – “runner’s honor.” As to whether there is indeed such a thing, I can only speculate and hope, on good basis I might add, since my observations & experiences with runners over the years have been overwhelmingly positive. I surmise that in all likelihood there exists an unspoken but very real code of honor that we runners adhere to. If I were to put it in words it would look something like the above quote from the movie Forrest Gump.

Formost among others, runners have an enormous capacity for endurance and the unerring and dogged ability to pursue a thing to its end.  Fortified with vision and purpose, there is little that can stand in the way of us realizing our goals.  Day after day, week after week, month after month, we condition our minds, bodies and spirits to achieving the pinnacle of our dreams through tireless practice, the sacrifice of other pleasures and dedication of our time. We are the most accomplished when we’ve gotten our daily run in.  Runners recognize that we belong to a community of passionate believers, that many will call crazy, who respect the human body as being the ultimate machine that will take us as far as we let it – only insofar as we care for and treat it right.

Runners share a camaraderie of spirit which propels us to encourage and cheer on fellow runners. This is evidenced by the many times I have either been on the receiving end of, or given, words of encouragement or a running hand to other runners on the course. Also, runners expect and give respect on the course. It can be harrowing sometimes at the start and at other points on the course with the share numbers out there; while competitiveness is the norm, we never allow this to overstep our respect for the runner behind, in front or beside us, giving way or making way as we run along. Another code runners honor is that of the injured runner. We look out for, ask after and if necessary give comfort and support to those who are hurt or in pain. Here, I particularly remember the Boston Marathon of 2013; a tragedy that touched the world but more so, the running community. Everyone united “Boston Strong” and ran for months after in support and solidarity with those injured and the three spectators that died that day. Even today we speak of them with such pride and admiration. Still, we are mindful of our purpose and will no sooner see a runner helped than we are off single-mindedly to pursue our goal.

Additionally, an important code runners share is their solidarity to the sport and sometimes cause of running. Runners unite in the achievement and vision of other runners and support the advancement of the sport and the use of running as a platform to make a difference in our world. It does not take ingenuity to decide that running can impact the lives of thousands but it does take ingenuity to decide to run to make this happen. Time and again, we dedicate out time and talent to transforming lives through our passion for running. We spearhead, support and enlist the help of our running and wider community to highlight the disadvantages that many in our world face through many charities and causes. Lastly, runners are continuously inspired to run longer, faster and stronger. We are united in our efforts to become the absolute best version of ourselves, which simply means constantly pushing beyond perceived limits and challenging ourselves to another PR.

As with all things human, we will often find a lot to complain and disagree about, and if we look well enough we may even find those that do not ascribe to the general code, but I argue that they would be the exception to the rule. Runners by far are the most giving, gregarious, open and welcoming folks I have had the fortune to know. I do no say it lightly when I say runners rock. They do!

Fall In Love with Running this Fall

imageI am the eternal optimist. Let me tell you right off that I haven’t always been this way; times past, I have been quite the critique and complainer, what some people call.. high-maintenance, but a couple of years ago I made an important discovery.. my Aha moment if you will. I figured life is full of disappointments and dread but juxtaposed to this is its wonderful surprises and beautiful things.. depends on who’s looking and from where; remember my “perspective is everything” mantra? You see, battling disappointments can be a consuming past-time, who has time for that, so I decided to lean on the side of beautiful things as I really don’t have time for much else. Fast forward today and finding out yesterday that I missed the cut off 1:02 under qualifying mark for Boston 2015 by 22 seconds.

After the initial dread and tears which lasted a few minutes, I cannot allow for days as others who’ve described their past experiences, I smiled. Because I’m proud of me. Proud that I qualified within my first year of trying and that I came so close. While I’m in solidarity with the 1,946 other qualifiers who didn’t get in, I have so much hope for next year. Now to be honest, it is no easy feat to qualify: the sacrifice, commitment and hard work, that went into doing so is a testament to running excellence and is reason enough to be proud of your achievement. For some though, it might be impossible to do so again.. It is for those that my heart goes out; that you will never know the reward of your effort. May it be enough that you qualified. For others like myself, we know that runners never quit. It is the indelible spirit that unifies us, that we will train harder, run faster, do better and we will RUN BOSTON.

So tears aside, the race goes on and there are some great races all over the country to choose from if you’re going ahead with trying for Boston 2016 right away. Just so you know, the qualifying window opened last week, so all qualifying races that you run from here on until next year can count. I’m playing around with ideas such as Philly, New Jersey, Marine Corps DC or Anthem Richmond Marathon; all in beautiful Fall and with good courses to do a fast time. Whichever you choose, don’t forget to make sure it’s a qualifier.

The best things about running in the Fall season is nature and its transforming beauty. I heart its colorful changes, musicality and cool sunshine. And I get to do it from beautiful New York, oftentimes, in lovely Central Park. Therefore, it was only fitting that I ushered in the season with a 12 mile exhilarating run there two days ago. I felt so buoyant, so hopeful, so filled with wonder then and even now. I hold on to that, not allowing the disappointment of yesterday to steal my joy in today and in the promise of some beautiful Fall runs.

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