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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Boston Marathon 2009

This year I was very excited for Boston. I had been healthy all year, had lots of miles and workouts under my belt, and felt like a PR was possible if all the stars were aligned. The weather was mostly looking cooperative, with the exception of an East wind predicted up to 15 mph. Since the advent of the Elite Women's Start, the top 50 or so women begin the race 28 minutes before everyone else, to allow the women exposure and a sense of their competition. The down side to this is in a fairly short amount of time, the women are very spread out, and we have less opportunity to work with groups of runners to fight the wind.

Monday morning felt relatively mild. At 6:20 I walked the one+ mile to the elite athlete bus, passing the 1000's of runners lined up in Boston Common to get their rides from one of the many school buses lining the streets. It was a sight to behold - so much excitement and energy! Once on the bus, Devon caught my attention and I took a seat beside her. At 7:00 a.m. we were all loaded and given the traditional motorcycle escorted ride-in-style out to Hopkinton, and deposited into the Korean Church. We quickly dispersed into various rooms, sitting, stretching, eating, drinking.

Relaxing before the dance

Mary getting her back number pinned on

At 9:00, the women went out the back of the church to warm up in a residential street. In small street length circles, we jogged, eying the field of "who's who" - most notably Kara Goucher, under the watchful eye of Salazar, plus Colleen DeRueck, Elva Dryer, the strong Russian contingent, as well as the Ethiopeans and Kenyans. I was warming up with Devon and Mary Akor - an underrated 2:33 marathoner.

The air was chilly, but dry, so when it finally came time to assemble at the start, shorts, singlets, gloves and arm warmers were sufficient to stay warm. With the field being so competitive, I didn't qualify for special fluids, so decided to carry a half bottle of EFS to ensure I would get something down for awhile. I tucked a gel flask in my right arm warmer to use when my fluid was gone. I also knew there would be bottled water on the course.

Kara was getting well deserved attention from the media as the race time approached. We were given well wishes from Ingrid Kristiansen, and finally the time arrived. The gun went off, and anticipating a quick spread of the field, I was surprised to find myself in a dense pack. Either I was really fit or we were going really slow by the standards of the top women. We cruised gently downhill, reaching the 1k in 4:00. Slow. At this point, Colleen, a bit frustrated with the pace broke away. None of the open competitors chased her - presumably no one wanted to take charge going into the wind, and mile one was a unspectacular 6:30. Finally the top women picked it up and broke away, with a trail of runners in their wake. Devon made her way to my side, and we began our work together in lock step. Anxious to get on 6:20 pace, we went through miles 2 and 3 in 6:10 pace.

Devon's pink and black striped socks were the topic of interest as we passed the hordes. "Love dah sahcks!" was repeated time and again, and Devon ate it up, giving the hang-loose sign and a few high fives. Miles 4 and 5 went smoothly, averaging 6:15 miles, despite the headwind. The field was quite spread out by now, ahead and behind, but Devon and I continued our work side-by-side. I was keeping a close eye on my heart rate monitor (HRM) - each climb or increase in wind brought it higher than I desired, so every downhill or occasional lessening of the wind, I focused on relaxing, trying to get it down.

The next 4 miles were slower - averaging 6:30. When the wind would blast, Devon and I would exchange complaints, then fall silent as we pushed on. During mile 11, Devon began to fall back. I yelled back "Devon, stay with me! Come on!" She pulled back up, saying she hoped I wouldn't notice. I told her to run behind me for awhile to draft, and we hung together awhile longer. Mile 11 was 6:33, then mile 12 - 6:21 and through the Wellesley scream tunnel - it seemed louder than ever this year. I wasn't sure where I was overall pace wise, but when I reached the first half in 1:23 plus, I realized my time goal of 2:44 was not happening today. The wind was costing too much. Devon dropped off pace again, and I surged on.

I consider myself a time trialist at heart, but at this point in this race, I had a change in mindset. I decided to race. I looked ahead at the very spread out field - I could only see 2 runners ahead - and decided to focus on them and try to reel them in. I was also being driven by Brian's request to not dwell on his ongoing health issues and the tendency that has to bring me down, but to run hard instead. So with that fuel, I powered on. Miles 14 and 15 were 6:23, 6:33 - through the town of Wellesley. I was looking forward to mile 16 - my cousins Delissa, Quentin, Alex and Samantha would be there cheering me on. The fans were thick and my eyes scoured the crowd when I finally spotted Quentin cheering loudly. As usual, family boosted me up.

Mile 16!

I had my eyes on number 36 - a women in pink socks and blue shorts - she was coming closer back all the time, while at the same time, number 30 caught and passed me on an uphill. I came through mile 16 and 17 at 6:24 pace, and began up the first of the Newton Hills. I had been taking EFS gel from a flask, grabbing water at aid stations to wash it down. Thirty was pulling away, and I was staying even with 36. Near the top of the hill, the bicyclist for the lead men came by, assuring me I was in a good position to let the men come through. Then the lead vehicles for the men came through, and although the cameras were all focused on the men, I felt a bit like a fish in a fish bowl looking at all those lenses. Shortly after, the two lead men - Merga and Rona - absolutely flew past, heels flying as high as their heads. Then a pack of three, including Ryan Hall. It was very inspiring, and after cresting the hill, I was surprised to find that my legs were still feeling strong. I let my stride open and dropped 36, and focused on catching 30. Mile 18 split was 6:41, and 19 was 6:33 - I was surprised that I was running that fast given the hills, wind, and distance. My ultra persona jumped in and shouted that I had better hurry up because this race was almost over and I needed to work hard to the finish.

Before mile 20, I saw the number one seeded female master walking slowly by the side of the road. I slowed slightly as I passed and touched her on the shoulder. She appeared understandably distraught. I felt for her.

After mile 20 (6:44) was the infamous Heartbreak Hill. Number 30 pulled away again, but I didn't fade terribly. Halfway up the hill I spotted something I could not figure out - it appeared to be a man running up the hill with his legs swinging side-to-side. At first I thought someone from the crowd was in the street mocking the runners, but as I approached I realized he was a double amputee with prosthetic legs that swung laterally as he propelled himself forward. He was accompanied by a pacer who was doing a great job of the engaging the crowd with the runner, and they were cheering him wildly. Suddenly, I was at the top of the hill, with my slowest split of the day of 7:14. Still, I was able to push. The next few miles were blurs of crowds, the men's field, aid stations, and trying to close the gap on the few women ahead I could see. Unbelievably, I was feeling good and strong. My heart rate was still strong, not falling like it often does at the end of a race. I felt my calves cramping a bit, so I managed to get an S!Cap from my sleeve, but had no water. I popped it in my mouth and after a few minutes was able to swallow it, and desperately scanned ahead for the next aid station and grabbed some water. Miles 22, 23, 24 were 6:18, 6:34, 6:19.

It was almost over - and I still had some women ahead in sight. Number 30 had pulled further ahead, but another woman in a white jersey was slowing. I just kept focusing and driving, and mile 25 came in 6:30. Now the sounds were deafening, and with each street turn, I was closer to the white shirt. On the final turn, I caught her. I could see the finish line, very far away, and yet another woman within striking distance. Another gear was found, and halfway to the finish, I passed her, surged across the finish line. I had no idea what my overall time was even close to, so I was stunned to see 2:49. Close to an even split, it may not have been my fastest time, but it now stands as my best marathon performance ever.

I was escorted into the elite tent, and sat for a spell, and very soon was joined by Devon and then Michael.

Happy Devon

Michael Wardian

The awards ceremony was run as smoothly as always, with much inspiration coming from the older generations and the times they ran. I had the privilege of standing beside Colleen at the awards, for my second place finish in the 45-49 age group. She not only won our age group, but won overall master and was 8th female overall.

Lots of crystal

80 years old and going strong!