I fulfilled my requirement of writing one book page before blogging today, so here we go on what is sure to be the longest race report by someone who didn't actually run the race...
Watching the Boston Marathon in person is one of the greatest experiences a runner can have. Running the Boston Marathon is the best experience a runner can have. Somewhere between the two lies pacing someone to a jaw-dropping PR in the Boston Marathon.
I started running ten years ago after watching the Pittsburgh Marathon go through my neighborhood. When you well up with tears as a spectator at mile 10, you better find some good running shoes and see what you can do. Qualifying for Boston with a sub 3:40 is still in my master plan, but just being part of a major marathon is like a potent fix for me.
Case in point: on the T out to Boston College yesterday, the train made the turn onto Comm Ave, and I saw my first glimpse of "marathon evidence"--tables of paper cups stacked in a pattern that would make a geometry teacher weep with glee. Or a silly runner like myself, who was eagerly dead set on jogging a couple miles from BC to mile 17.5 so I could stand at a corner for two hours to wait for a friend, who I would pace 9 miles to the finish.
As the train careened around the corner, I saw the cups, the numbered tables with bottles for the elites, swarms of yellow-jacketed volunteers at the ready, and the barriers that try and fail to keep rabble like me off the course. Shortly after turning the corner, I looked out the window again and saw the winner in the wheelchair division speed by--faster than my rambling Green Line train, I might add.
As I jogged slowly from the T stop to the Newton firehouse where I would eventually see Jessica, I watched more wheelchair races crank up the hills. If you're ever feeling pained and sorry for yourself on a hill, watch this video:
I didn't shoot the video, but it also shows the landscape of the world's best marathoners that I took in on my little joggy jog down the course from mile 21-18. Not too shabby. Kara Goucher's legs? Also mighty fine in person. She's also taller than I'd expected, so she'll clearly have a long career in runway modeling after hanging up the flats.
So what does it mean when my brief moments of viewing the elites makes me well up for the second time in less than an hour?
It means I will be a sobbing mess when we cross the finish line.
Standing on the corner where Route 16 meets Comm Ave, I noshed on a couple Power Bars for lunch, cheered for some friends as well as people like Blue Hat Guy and Lady with the Cape. I also had plenty of time to grow paranoid that I would miss Jess and have to make my way back to Boston by myself. Brian was tracking her online at home and texted me when she crossed the half and the 30k, so I stopped cheering for random people and fixed my eyes for Jess to make the turn. She'd been holding an 8-minute pace the whole way, which made me a little nervous for a bonk on the hills because she'd intended to hold 8:30s.
When Jess turned the corner, I ran up alongside her and we just kept going like the whole thing had been scripted. We started up the first of the Newton hills and because I was starting cold, I immediately freaked that I wouldn't be able to hold the pace of someone who'd been running for 18 miles. This would not do, obviously.
I warmed up quickly enough and decided that if Jess wanted to hold 8:00s, we would hold 8:00s. So I moved ahead of her by about a meter and intentionally stayed that way the rest of the race. I wanted to block the wind gusts, but I also wanted to keep her motivated to hold her pace. Every time she fell back, I slowed, but as soon as she caught me, I moved ahead again. Frustrating, eh, Jessica?
We got to the base of the third hill, and I said, "Okay, this is it." She prepared herself for Heartbreak, and up we went. We coasted down again, continuing to pick off runners.
Then we got to the real Heartbreak Hill. I said, "This is just a little bump and then we're downhill to Boston." So I'm a big fat liar. Whatever. It worked. She let go of the myth because I'd lied and up we went, still picking off runners.
At mile 20, Jessica turned and said, "I think I can PR."
"I know you can," I told her. "You can do this. You can get your 3:40. These people are all completely wasted to get you there." I don't know if she heard that part because her headphones were back in, but she held out her hand to me. I thought she wanted a Gu, so I reached in my pocket.
"No," Jess said, but she kept her hand out. I grabbed her hand, squeezed it hard enough that she might have finished Boston with a broken pinkie, and we kept going.
We hit Beacon Street, and I told her, "You've got a tunnel, a right turn, and a left turn. That's it." Still a bit of a fib, but I'll do what it takes, man.
When we finally made the turn onto Boylston and saw the banner, I was more than willing to step out as she sprinted down the stretch. I asked if she wanted me to cross with her or hop out, and before I could finish the question, she said, "Cross."
We looked at the clock just before the line and both our eyes bugged out. Not only did she break 3:40, she broke 3:35. A nine-minute PR. In Boston. In the wind.
We both broke down in tears, hugged, then cried some more like the weepy sillies we are. It was one of the most awesome race experiences of my life, pacing someone to that kind of finish.
Needless to say, I highly recommend running the last nine miles of the Boston Marathon. But more than that, I think every runner should help a friend by pacing him or her. Even though I'd love to get paid to do what I did yesterday, the truth is that I'd do it for free any day.