Running the Boston Marathon

Tom from shared his story of running the Boston Marathon this year. He agreed to let me share it with readers:

The Boston Marathon. To runners, it is the high holy ground. The super bowl of running. Boston is an event that only the truly great runners can qualify for. If you can run 26 miles in around 3 hours, you can qualify. The Boston marathon attracts 25,000 of the world's best. Others are not invited.

But as a Boston native, I know that even if you aren't invited you can still crash the party. You see, locals know it is a big race, and since amateur participants aren't allowed to be "officially in", they have formed a large group of "bandit" runners. Bandits start at the back and run the course. The estimated number of bandits is between 5,000-10,000. This is a large group. Almost as many people bandit run Boston as run Detroit total. My brother and I were among them.

Training: Many of you probably didn't know that I was training for a marathon. That is because I knew I wouldn't do well, so discussing it wasn't really high on my priority list. I am no athlete and I hardly had time to complete an elaborate training regimen. I got as fit as possible within the boundaries of my life and schedule. I also bought a plane ticket to Boston and ate some pizza on the night before the race. That was my training.

The Start:
The most elite registered runners start at 10:00 am. I was in line at the porta-johns.
At 10:30, the second wave leaves. 15,000 more people that can run a 3 hour marathon are there. I consider them to be elite runners as well, but they are called second wavers in Boston. It takes their kind 15 minutes to pass the starting line. I crossed at 10:45 after all of the qualified runners started, the bandits go.

You have to walk at this point because the crowd is huge. I wanted to be at the very back because I am slow, but people keep coming out of side streets, parked cars and back yards to join the unregistered troop that has suddenly formed. Within site is one guy with a 3 foot afro wig, a woman in polka-dot pants and three guys dressed as nuns. Within a fourth of a mile, we are running. We are running at a good pace. We are all smiling away. It is fun.

At mile 2, my brother and I split up. I am not a great runner and neither is he. Although I pledged to stay with him, I am not able to change my stride enough to keep his pace. I am slightly faster so I run ahead. See you at the finish bro.

I am jogging now. I am not paying attention much, but I am really comfortable in this pace. Almost all of my training was done on a treadmill, so running outside on a nice day feels great. I am cruising along. The people around me are jogging this fast too. The crowd is huge. Everyone is cheering us on. By mile ten I have given at least 500 kids a high-five.

My shirt has my name on the front. It's a trick I noticed when I was a spectator in college. If someone wrote "Bill" on the front of his shirt you yelled "come on Bill, You can do it!". It is tradition. My shirt says "Calm Tom" a name I have given myself because I like the way that it sounds. Although the two words are easy to say individually, when you put them together they sound funny. A friend told me this relationship is described as "assonant". Even the word assonant makes me giggle a little.

There are 500,000 spectators at the Boston Marathon. At least 10 per mile have figured out how to say "Calm Tom". They are cheering my name. As long as I live, I will never forget that. It is, by-far, the most enjoyable thing about the entire event.

Wellesley College is the peak of spectator frenzy. The smartest women aged 18-22 in America scream as loudly as possible in your honor. It is an amazing motivator. I probably ran my fastest mile here.

Let's go back to the race. It is mile 13 and some change, the halfway point. I have never run more than 5 miles continuously in my life, but today I have made it 13. I finally bother to do the subtraction to realize that I have run the first half in 2 hours and 25 minutes. I remember the words of advice from the guy at the running store. "don't run too fast during the first half". Oops! I did just that. I can't continue this pace.

At mile 14 I start feeling crampy and sore. Fortunately, Team Banana is there to hand out bananas. This is a group of kids handing you half bananas. The ground is littered with thousands of banana peels. I ask if anyone has slipped, amazingly no one has. Loony Toons has been wrong all these years.

I haven't been eating or drinking enough so far, so I up my calorie intake. My legs are hurting, so walking and jogging are appropriate now. Spectators start to observe that I look calm. Two of the guys dressed as nuns pass me.

My mind is short of oxygen now so memory is not a strong point, but there are a bunch of hills here. One is called heartbreak hill. It is the last and biggest. It is here where I make my crowning achievement. I passed a guy pushing a wheelchair. No, not that famous guy that pushes his son in a wheelchair. Just some guy pushing another guy in one of those hospital wheelchairs. Up a big hill. He is one guy, exerting enough force to get two people up a hill. He has been doing this for 18 miles or so and I passed him. I am happy about this mainly because at least I didn't lose to that guy.

At the top of the hill someone has set up a veritable candy store for the runners. It is a big table with a ton of candy on it. It looks like Willy Wonka's yard sale except everything is free. They had Swedish fish and jolly ranchers. I think I have climbed all the way to heaven. I take one fish and two ranchers (blue raspberry).

It is mile 18 or so, and I am getting closer to where I went to college. I start recognizing places, but my brain isn't working too well and I am in lots of pain. These places seemed a lot closer together when you ride the subway.

The next water station has a big billboard that says "brain off, legs on". My brain is mostly off at this point, so I just follow instructions and do it. The next few miles are rough. Lots of walking, pain, limping. Once in a while, a bit of candy or goo or something causes some energy so I jog. I jog maybe half of each mile. I learn from a helpful person running near me that this gate is called "the survivor shuffle". This makes me smile.

My fellow runners deserve some credit here. You may think that I am the slowest guy in the race or that running as slow as I run must have me way behind, but this is not the case. There are many, many people around me at all times. Even at the finish, there are so many runners near me that I couldn't trip without being trampled by a person or two. At one point, the combination of bananas, orange slices, Gatorade, candy and goop bubble up inside me and cause me to burp. I have no energy to stifle this burp and it is loud. I received applause from at least 20 runners. We are an ugly, pained, slow group, but we are moving forward and we will finish this son of a bitch. We also think burps are funny. I like these people.

At mile 24 I am in my old neighborhood. I pass my old apartment. The crowd is thick with college kids and they all keep telling me some guy named Calm Tom will finish this race. Cool. I wonder who he is.

At mile 25 I start to run again. I am going well. I can smell the finish and I start passing people. I pass a guy named Mark that I was running with and a lady Deb that I was running with at mile 5. I know their names because it says so on their jerseys and spectators have read it aloud hundreds of times. Another woman who I though was named "Dana Farber" wasn't. She was wearing a Dana Faber cancer institute jersey so that is what people were yelling.

Finally, in the home stretch, I make my crowning achievement. I pass him. I finally pass the Indian grandpa. He has a list of his grandkids names on his back. I can't right now but it looks like there are about 24 of them. The text is small because he is small, about 5 foot two. He also has a knee brace on. I didn't lose to him either.

I finish five hours and fifty-two minutes after I start.

I take a short subway ride to meet my sister. She is proud of me and tells me I smell really badly. I have salt caked on my forehead from dried sweat. I will never work this hard again and that is fine with me.

Finished a marathon. Check.



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April 27 , 2008 

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