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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

THE Boston Marathon.

The Sean's Kit
On Monday the 18th of April the largest group of the fittest individuals I have ever been privileged to share the road with boarded a stream of yellow school buses for the ride to Hopkinton. Once there we waited, avoiding the morning wind, and made the final preparations for the journey to our coral and the gun. Now, the long weekend of chatter with runners from all over the world was over, the celebration could begin!

Following some cheesy military themed entertainment, the elite men's field walked to the start (women already underway) from the church to my left. I tossed my throw aways to a volunteer and stood my ground amongst the excited throng of coral 2 (and 3 eventually). There were some fast men and women all around me and in a blink of an eye the waiting was over- we were off!

Settling into a Dream
We were running the Boston Marathon. As we left Hopkinton at what felt like an absolute crawl I looked around at the masses cheering from the side of these historic roads. I looked at signs made with love for runners, I thought of what it takes for this event to take place and what it means to have reached this place in my running and my life.

This half mile of reflection brought me to tears as I ran along thinking of my wife and my son, my family in Florida, my friends all over the world and the epic journey that I have been so fortunate to call my life. The running dream had begun 13 years earlier as I entered the "real world" in my home state of New Hampshire and now, I was home again, running the greatest of all marathons in my beloved city of Boston!

Under Control and Down the Hills
Mile one- 7:00 right on the money. My goal was to run about 43 for the first 10k and then hold on... as the field spread out, the road opened a bit and allowed the pace to pick up slightly but it felt so easy...  RIGHT!
I reached 5k in 21:08 and was now settled into low 6:40 pace, a bit quick with the goal to go out in 6:55s. But it felt so easy...  I did correct myself and began hitting paces on the nose through the half marathon mark running consistent 6:52s, or goal pace to reach 13.1 in 1:29:38. So far- so good...

(L-R) The Sean, Georgia Snail and Psyche.    Reflective @ Chattooga 50k
Around mile 8 I began to feel some weakness, particularly upper body/ shoulders sagging and also felt the sun introduce itself. At 11am that tailwind you have all heard about was negligible in my neck of the tightened pack, but the sun was not. Was it hot? no, but I did notice it.

I kept on fluid and gel schedule and remained very relaxed in my running, on pace, on schedule and really enjoying the journey as a full on pilgrim of running! This  section included running by The Hoyts as the proud Papa once again moved the team over the familiar terrain, what an honor! Though I am sure he would enjoy a quiet and peaceful run away from the well-intentioned but constant support from each of the 2,000 runners in the race (to that point)

During this stretch I came to know a few characters in my general area including two that stood out in my mind: The Snail, no, not that Snail (but I am sure he was a representative from the home office). I was happy to have my thoughts drift to my ultra friends like Thomas and then a mile later to Psyche when I ran by a girl holding a neon pink sign reading, "Run Like Ya Stole Somethin'!"... coincidence? Not A Chance!

The Boston Shuffle
The Second Act
Reaching The Scream Tunnel was insane, literally. If I was blind, I would have been terrified. Like everything else Boston, the stories do no justice to the shear volume here.

Guys, picture running along when suddenly, in the middle of nowhere thousands of college girls are climbing over barricades, leaning and reaching over one another to reach 'you', waving flyers with pictures of their faces adhered to them (I guess for marketing purposes) urging you to kiss them in a strangely competitive fashion. The only relative silence on the course was the half mile following these young ladies... for the women runners- no word on when you will have your own tunnel of love?? (and how to opt out of such a certainly disastrous venue.)

I was able to maintain my pace through that trap and now settled in for the last mile before the hills began. Though now, I was not fresh and was feeling the miles... with 12 more to go! I smiled and steeled my will for the journey. A right turn passing the Fire House awaited and I did my best to commit this all to memory.

Now the splits were slower, into the 7's in the hills but coming fairly easily still. I was not overly concerned as I reached the base of Heartbreak Hill. I had always heard it was not that bad, just in a bad place in the course. Well, for me, on that day... it lived up to its name. I passed runners (and walkers) all the way to the top, getting passed by a few myself. I watched the spectators go wild for runners they recognized, noticed that some guy named Jeff had people EVERYWHERE on these hills- he could have staged a take over I believe.

By the top of Heartbreak I knew I had a LONG way to go, splitting mile 21 in 7:44 and feeling way over my head physiologically, the tank was empty and at that moment, a woman on the sidewalk looked me in the eye and cautiously exclaimed, "looking good!"

"Looking Good" at The Boston Marathon
Smiling away the Pain!
Well- I was going to have to rely on substantial bonk-experience and my stubborn will to get me to Boylston St. The PR was out the window, the B-goal of sub-3 was not a consideration and even the C-goal of sub 3:10 was not something I was going to focus on- now it was survival, running the next step.

I was in dire straits, I'd consumed my gels, all of them, I was feeling like a good puke and I had a giant stupid, happy-to-be-right-here-in-this-mess-on-these-streets smile on my face!!! I was going to enjoy the agony, every step, jump in!

Down through the Boston College students I ran, and as great as the Wellesley girls were, these guys and gals were a bit wilder... they'd had an extra hour of beer! With my race in the tank, I focused on the experience and let myself get carried away. At one point I went sprinting downhill high-fiving Eagles with both hands  causing a roar and excitement! and then OUCH!!! The left hamstring came out waving its finger at me to quit it. From that point I eased back, eased and lengthened the stride and ran conservatively, but with no less joy.

The splits were now reaching the 8's and I couldn't even look at them, for lack of energy to lift my head back up:)  Each step was a concentrated effort to continue on the threshold of momentum and vomit prevention. I was hearing lots of "You look great!" now, a sure sign of the times... but I just smiled and laughed and reminded myself of everything that led me to this place, you can "look great" with style!
Best by Hall (by a mere 64 minutes)

Finally, I spotted the Citgo Sign, I knew now that in about 10 minutes I would be making the final turns on Hereford and Boylston and wanted to run every step. Ultimately I stopped twice, once in the fortress of solitude (aka porta-john, the only quiet place out there- needed the quiet) for 30 seconds and then a walk break from 25 miles to the 1 mile to go marker (.2 mile if you do the math).

With all the momentum of a lifetime I ran that last mile, soaking in the last minutes of the journey culminating in a right turn on Hereford and a left (uphill btw) onto Boylston. I covered that last mile in a blistering 7:56... That final stretch was perfectly long, like a parade of achievement, determination, fortitude and dedication. Final chip time: 3:09, under the old BQ standards- a fair agreement between me and this mecca of the Marathon... but not enough to handle Ryan Hall- this time at least.

The Long Walk Home
Following the race we had to endure the gauntlet of the handout. Guys were being carted away in tinfoil capes as the wind gusted and bottles of fluids and bags of food were changing hands every which way. The volunteers continued to exemplify the world class atmosphere of this event.

It cannot be overstated that this event exceeded all of my expectations. Everything was done with class, efficiency and with pleasure. You got the feeling that each volunteer was there just for your day- not that you were incidental in the throng of 26,000 runners. They treated each runner with the respect of their achievement. I did not hear one complaint in 4 days of being there...

So, for all of you working to get to that future starting line, keep working. Be consistent and your dream will come to you. It took me 13 years from inception to completion and now I move on to other goals with a full appreciation for the journey. If you allow the experience of the moment to shape you, you might find something special right where you are. It is not about a BQ, it is not about an arbitrary time: it is all JOY!

Happy Running!


  1. Wow Sean! I've been waiting to hear about your experience. Sounds amazing. I can't imagine what it would be like to run with those type of crowds and with that level of athletes. One of those experiences you won't forget. Congratulations again.

  2. This was by far one of the best recaps of the bunch! Congrats Sean! You did it, you made it there and you made the most of the situation when the tide turned. So proud of you for both your perseverance and attitude. Spike had a similarly rough day at the end, actually you both finished within a 30 seconds or so of each other and he did the same, just made the most of it. Congrats again on completing the journey to Boston!

  3. Wow!!!! Seanathin!!!! I am sooooo proud of you; I know how long you have wanted this and you did it!!!!! You had an amazing run and I am excited for you. =) I am so proud and lucky to call you my friend. Congratulations!!

  4. Great report, Sean! Congrats on a great Boston finish and especially for running for JOY! That's what it all boils down to...

  5. brilliant race and report! my favorite phrase of this write up "happy-to-be-right-here-in-this-mess-on-these-streets smile on my face!!" What a lesson to behold...the importance of joy within every moment. thanks for sharing the journey! congratulations :)

  6. This is awesome! Way to go!!!!! Congrats on an incredible time and super run!!! Woohooo!!!

  7. Congratulations on a spectacular achievement! Very solid time on a challenging course. That final photo conveys both satisfaction and relief!

  8. Congratulations! That is so awesome!!!!!

  9. What a wonderful report on your experience! Without a doubt, one of your best ever! So awesome to be there! And so awesome to bask in the experience. Who cares if it wasn't your best run ever. I just believe it may be one of your most cherished memories. Congratulations!!

  10. Congrats on achieving your well deserved goal. I take some confidence from your 13 year journey to the completion of this goal - it is one of mine and I know I still have a few years left until I reach it.

    I've enjoyed the journey and look forward to continuing to follow yours (& mine)

  11. Finally getting around to reading your Boston recap--you nailed it.

    For me it was a great race, great experience, and terrible disappointment at the same time. I think that's the mystery of Boston. See you there next year.


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