I don't even know where to start. But I think it's fitting to note, as shown in the picture below, that I went to Boston knowing that I had the most amazing support I could have asked for. Over 30 people I knew made the trip to Boston wanting to see me have a great run. My parents flew in from California to cheer for me. I knew many more in New York and elsewhere were constantly refreshing their computers to track my every move. I spent the last hours before the race with the best of friends. And I was encouraged and supported every step of the way for the final long stretch by one of my closest friends in the world. The whole thing was just a wonderful, wonderful experience, and I will never forget how so many of you did so much to give me the most amazing time of my life. Thank you!
The night before the race, 27 Front Runners and friends joined together at Antonio's of Beacon Hill, the same place we went to last year, for a grand pre-race carbo-loading dinner. We took over almost the entire restaurant! It was the perfect way to spend the time before a big race calming my nerves and reminding myself that so many people were pushing me along the way, and that regardless of the time I ran, I was so blessed to have the support of so many great people in my life.
The food was great, just like last year. Mike pre-ordered a bunch of pastas for the table, so there was no long wait or difficult decision making. My favorite was the penne with broccoli and chicken, but we also got linguine with pesto, and a fusilli with marinara. The homemade fusilli was so much fun, its long corkscrews were like eating little pasta Slinkys.
One of the highlights of the evening was when Koach Kelsey handed each of us who were running the marathon 10 individual M&M's. It's one of Kelsey's pre-race rituals; long ago, the night before a big New York City track meet, Kelsey happened to have exactly 10 M&M's after dinner, and the next day, he had an amazing race. He now made sure to have exactly 10 M&M's before each of his big races, and I felt lucky and special to be able to share in this tradition with him.
The biggest moment of the night, though, was Kelsey's customary pre-race pep talk. Anyone who has run a marathon with Front Runners over the past several years knows exactly what this means. Check your baggage with your bag, he said. There are a million reasons to slow down or give up during a marathon; all you need is one reason to keep you going; find that one reason and have it take you to the finish.
I knew what my one reason was going to be. During dinner, Steve sent me a text message that almost made me cry. He said, "Your training will pay off and you are going to make a lot of people happy tomorrow." It was exactly what I needed to hear. I knew I had put in the right training. I knew I was prepared to run a great race. But most of all, I knew that so many people, particularly my Front Runners family, would be so proud of me for running my best race. I decided to make that my motivation--to make people as proud of me as I am about being a Front Runner. This club has done so much for me over the past five years, taking me, a non-running, out of shape smoker, and turning me into an athlete, a marathoner, a Boston Qualifier. I was so happy to run in honor of Front Runners New York, and to wear its logo on my singlet. And I knew that that motivation would carry me to the finish line.
I slept surprisingly soundly that night. Monday morning, I woke up, ready to go. Kelsey and I met Jerry at Boston Common at 6:25 to catch the bus to Hopkinton. Last year, I remember it was only a few minutes' wait, but this year was probably at least 45 minutes. On the bus, I had my breakfast of a Dunkin' Donuts coffee cake muffin--650 delicious calories in a stomach-friendly easily digestible treat (it's Kelsey's usual pre-marathon breakfast; I'm now looking forward to long training runs so I can have a reason to eat more of these muffins...they're really yummy!).
The drive took forever. Having been hydrating for two hours until that point, Kelsey and I both had a pressing bathroom issue to contend with on the bus, which was seriously delayed because of all the traffic going to Hopkinton. Luckily, we were able to improvise. A Gatorade bottle and coffee cup were involved. I suspect other people on the bus had the same idea.
By the time we got to the Athletes' Village, it was close to 9am, and we didn't have much time to spare. We made one final bathroom visit (where we randomly found Janice and took the picture below), checked our bags, and headed off to the start corrals.
At the start, I found Daniel, another Front Runner who was in my corral. He said he was going for about a 3:05, so I made a mental note to keep him in front of me throughout the start.
And then we were off! It was exhilarating! I felt so excited and fortunate to be a part of this race, one of the greatest and most storied sporting events in history.
But it didn't take long for me to focus on the running. Anyone who knows the Boston Marathon knows that the first six miles are generally downhill. And you always hear people say that Boston is made or broken on how fast you run those first six miles. Run too fast, and your quads take such a pounding that they become mush by the time the hills of Newton come 16-20 miles later. Instead, you always hear people say, take the first six miles conservatively.
Kelsey thinks of it differently. It's not about how fast or slow you run the first 10K; it's about how your feet strike the ground. Run too fast, and your feet will be pounding down the hill and your quads will be destroyed. But slowing down against the natural pull of gravity means forcing your feet to brake with each step and increasing the ground's force against those same quad muscles. Instead, run lightly, with the feet tapping the ground and picking right up, without the constant stomp-stomp-stomping that people so often do when running down hills. That would prove to be very wise advice.
I was wearing a customized terrain-adjusted 3:08 pace bracelet (available here), which I configured to give me a "fairly even effort," a "fairly slow start," and a "medium fade." It had listed the pace of my Mile 1 (mostly downhill) as 7:27, the exact same pace it listed for mile 21 (mostly uphill, including Heartbreak Hill). I was skeptical. A different terrain-adjusted 3:08 pace bracelet that I got from Nike said I should do that first mile at 6:55, over 30 seconds faster. So I was a little confused. I ended up just deciding that I would use the pace band that let me start off slower, although I would not fret too much if I ended up being slightly faster than its prescribed times.
Mile 1 ended up being 7:15, or 12 seconds faster than goal. I thought that was within the range of fine. So I just made sure to keep going forward, picking up my legs with each step. Then Mile 2 came: 6:54. Eeek! 25 seconds faster than goal time. That was clearly too fast. I tried to reel it in a bit, being careful not to brake with each step. Miles 3-6 were all 5-12 seconds within my goal pace, so that was better.
To be honest, I don't really remember too much of the first 6 miles except trying not to go too fast. But once I got to the Framingham train station at Mile 6, the race kind of started for me. That's where we began our "Blue Line Run" two weeks ago when we ran the last 20 miles of the course (plus 2 extra miles), so I was now in familiar territory. I started dividing the course up into memorable landmarks. I knew, for example, that at Mile 10, we would go through downtown Natick, and then hit the Dunkin' Donuts where we picked up Matt two weeks earlier. Sandi and her crew would be at 11, the Wellesley girls at 13, the first Newton hill at 16, and Mikey waiting for me at 19.
The next several miles were all about 5-10 seconds faster than goal pace. I felt, however, like I had settled into my proper pace, and I felt good. I started feeling comfortable enough to enjoy the scene around me, noticing more the other runners and spectators. There was a cute runner in a speedo. There was another cute runner wearing a "glee" singlet (hmm....). The spectators were wonderful.
At Mile 11, I was running with Daniel. I mentioned to him that there should be a group of Front Runner cheerers coming up. And sure enough, a few seconds later, Sandi, Leah, Katrina and A.J. were on the left screaming their heads off. I was on the right side, and must have annoyed a few runners as I darted across the street to say hi to them. But it was great to see them, and it definitely helped me to get to the next landmark: Wellesley College.
Everything they say about the Scream Tunnel is true. You hear it about a mile away. It makes you feel like a rock star. It propels you. This year, I decided to forgo a kiss from a Wellesley student, and instead channel their energy into an increased focus on my running. It was incredible, but instead of letting their screams push me to run harder than I should, I made a quick mental check to see how I was doing. At the halfway point I felt very good, especially considering my time for the first half (1:31:49) was, until just a month ago, only 19 seconds off of my PR in the half marathon. I've had two marathons fail miserably before (Chicago 2008 and Virginia Beach 2009), and in both of those races, I knew by the half that it was going to be a bad run. This time, though, I felt like I had a lot more juice in me, and was excited about the prospect of having a good time.
After Wellesley, I was in a zone. I knew Mike would be coming up at Mile 19, but before then, I would have to tackle the first two of the Newton Hills. I almost missed the first one. I think I was so focused that I didn't even realize it was one of the hills until I crested it and realized I was going downhill. The second one, after the turn onto Comm. Ave., I was ready for. But again, it didn't seem too bad.
But, these few miles in Newton also saw the first time that I had slowed to below my goal pace. Mile 17, at 7:25, was 7 seconds slower than goal. I wasn't too worried about it, since I knew I had more than 2 minutes in the bank, but I refocused myself to stay on pace for the next mile. Mile 18 was better, a 7:18 pace, or just 1 second slower than goal. But Mile 19 was when it started to get tough. It was supposed to be a fast mile, coming down from the second hill. I started feeling that my legs were heavy. I realized that I didn't know whether I should let up a bit and save my legs for Heartbreak Hill, or just try to run it fast. I picked something in the middle, ending up with a 7:13, or 9 seconds slower than goal.
And then, just as I started to get worried that my pace was slipping through my fingers, there I saw them. I thought it would just be Mike (he said he would be by himself), but it was a big group of Front Runners cheering wildly for me! Todd, Derek, Chris, Mike, they were all there! I could tell they knew that I was running really well. And they were ecstatic! And then Mikey jumped in, and my next four miles were all within a second of my goal pace! It's amazing how much of an effect your friends can have on you, but as soon as I saw them and Mikey, I got a sudden, new burst of energy. And I went into my zone again.
For the next six miles, Mike ran by my side. Until we departed ways, I think I only said one word to him (an extremely faint, scratchy "Gatorade"). But I knew he knew I was so, so, so happy to have him there running by my side. And honestly, he did everything, everything right. He told me that I was doing great. He said I was running the race of my life. He said that I had trained so well and so hard that I was going to rock the race. He said everyone was going to be so happy for me. And he did this for six long miles, during which I said but one single word. And I couldn't have done it without him.
Unfortunately, I got all caught up in my zone that I totally missed my parents standing by Mile 20 cheering for me. But they saw me, and screamed their lungs out for me. I knew they were there, though, and even though I didn't get to see them, I took their energy as I went up Heartbreak Hill.
It was tough, but Mike talked me through it. "This is it, Dave! This is what you've been training for for six months! You got it, Dave!" As luck would have it, it was right at Heartbreak Hill that we caught up with Patrick. The three of us were able to work together up that hill. It was amazing. Just by our presence, we carried each other over the top of the hill. It was the hardest part of the marathon, and I had two friends alongside me to work my way up.
And then, finally, after a brutal and long haul, we had made it. My legs were beat, but my head was clear: I had just finished the hardest part of the Boston Marathon, and I was on a solid PR pace. Nothing was going to stop my from having the run of my life!
The downhill after Heartbreak Hill was nice. I was spinning my legs quickly, leaning forward, letting gravity take me down. Miles 20, 21, 22 and 23 were all within a second of my goal pace. Everything was going well.
And then I started to slow down a little bit. Patrick had pulled the tiniest bit ahead of me. We had made our way into Brookline, and the crowds were going crazy. But I was starting to lose focus. I had a hard time converting the spectators' cheers to energy; instead, I seemed to block them out and try to muster my own strength to go forward. By Mile 25, I was struggling. What was supposed to be a 7:14 mile turned into a 7:34. But I knew I only had 1.2 miles to go. I broke it down into 200's, telling myself it was just over 9 times around the track. Still that last mile seemed to take forever.
And then came the moment I was dreading, the little underpass beneath Mass. Ave. It's just a little ramp that you have to go down and up, over not even a tenth of a mile, but why the hell do you have to go up a ramp at Mile 25.5 of a marathon I just don't understand. Luckily, Mike stuck with me all the way until we turned right on Hereford Street.
And that was it. I thanked him and said good-bye, no hug or anything, and off I went to finish my race. It was like I was left all alone with 30,000 runners and for a moment I got sad and nervous. But then I decided I would honor all the work Mike did by pushing myself hard for that last half mile. And when Mile 26 came, I saw my time was at 3:05:25. I realized that I had about 90 seconds to finish the race and get under a 3:07. So I mustered up every last drop of energy I had left in me to make it to the finish line. I knew it was in my grasp. And when I got to towards that finish line, I knew it was going to be huge!
And then I made it!!! A huge PR of over two minutes!!! On an unforgiving course, a race where the best runners in the world come to compete, not only did I just break my own personal record, I shattered it. I far exceeded my goal! I felt like a superstar. I felt like I conquered Boston! Like I came back and rose up after a year and a half of struggling. It was an amazing feeling.
I saw Patrick right at the finish line and we gave each other a huge hug. We had both done it! Just a few weeks ago, neither one of us were sure how we would do, but we both rocked it!
Of course, I wasn't the only one running on Monday. I am so, so proud of my teammates who raced as well. And while everyone had a different race experience, we are all able to say that we finished the Boston Marathon this year; the oldest, most fabled and prestigious road race in the world. And we've all become part of history. Congratulations to Kelsey, Jerry, Lavar, Kevin, Daniel, Patrick, Richard, Paul, Audra, Rachel H, Rachel K, and Janice. You all make me so proud to be a Front Runner, and I feel so honored to be able to share the road with you.
Thank you to Koach Kelsey. I am not exaggerating when I say I literally would not have been there (and I don't know if I would ever have run a marathon) if it weren't for you. When I joined the club in 2006, you made me feel at home. And when I started running marathons, you gave me the physical training I needed. But most of all, you've been a wonderful friend, mentor and coach. Thank you so much for all that you have done for me and the club.
And thank you Mike Terry. You know how much I love you! There's no one who I would have rather shared those last 6 miles with. You're an amazing friend, and I'm so lucky to have you in my life.
Thanks to everyone else who has supported me, encouraged me, run with me, or just put up with my running. You've all made me a part of who I am today. I am truly blessed to be surrounded by such great people.
Finally, I am proud to say that Audra, Janice and I have raised over $5000 for the Trevor Project in our quest to run the Boston Marathon. To those of you who have donated, thank you. Your contributions will make an enormous difference in the lives of LGBT youth. For the rest of you, it is not too late. Please considering making a donation by clicking on the image below. Thank you so much.