The Boston Marathon or, ‘The Invitational’, as I have so dubbed it took me 3 years to get to. 3:15, 3:13, 3:15, 3:02 (the year Boston sold out in 8 hours) 2:58 and a 3:00 were my times and the last 2 secured my spot thanks to the new application procedures. Why am I telling you this? Mainly, so non-runners understand what it means to run Boston. It’s something you earn. Runners work long and hard for the privilege to run with the best-of-the-best. I feel like my time had come and I have been very excited ever since I was accepted!
Abbe, Erica Sara and I hopped a train mid day Saturday. I had a few beers with me, Abbe made us sandwiches and Erica brought supplies to make friendship bracelets. We had a really fun time traveling up. The girls even taught me how to make a friendship bracelet, but I think I need some practice.
We checked into our uber fancy hotel (the Langham) and headed down to the bar to have a pre dinner cocktail. Next, we headed out to Union Oyster House for dinner. For those that don’t know me personally, I have an affinity for history and the preservation of historic landmarks. Union Oyster House is all of the above, claiming to be the oldest restaurant in America.
Erica and I had Lobsters (it was her first) and I guided her in lobster eating lessons. Abbe opted for Salmon. Also, my New England Clam Chowder was the best I have ever had and you can quote me on that.
Back at the hotel bar we met up with Maura (Deeds), Bryan; Brandon and Yo; Susan, James and Amy for some drinks. We chatted about the race and all things running. The heat warning had not been issued to their fullest extent yet.
The following morning Abbe, Erica and I went on a running jaunt around Boston. It was awesome! Following our run we hit the expo. We had a bullet list of things to do which we executed perfectly.
Zeev from Zensah wanted us to pop by. We chatted a bit and he gave us the low down on some of their newest products. SIDENOTE: He is coming to town Tuesday the 24th and organizing a run. Stay tuned, there will be free Zensah gear to the first 10 runners.
After the expo we hit the Barking Crab, another fantastic institution. Situated on the water, it has a huge outdoor covered deck and inside it looks like you might be in the Caribbean. Deeds and Bryan met us again an we chilled out eating and drinking as I needed to stay off my feet.
That night we went over to Deeds and Bryan’s house in Jamaica Plains for some home cooked food! They have such a cute place. In the middle of hanging out on their porch I got the call… it was Coach!
Our conversation was a pretty typical Coach to Student pep talk but with a shift of plans. Sonja told me a week ago that I was to race this puppy with everything I had. Sure, I’m totally game! But now, with the 89 degree heat warnings things were a little different. I have run 2 other really hot races, the NJ Marathon of 2010 and more recently Ironman Arizona which is in a desert, so I wasn’t entirely nervous to be honest. She knows I’m good at reading my body and racing smart and she said to be safe using that knowledge. My goals, I told her, were to basically run 6:45s – 6:50s (6:50 is a 3 hour marathon) and see where that takes me. Her words, which resonated, were, “Remember Chris, a bad day at the Boston Marathon is still a great day.”
Abbe made pasta with kale pesto and shrimp while Erica made a kale salad with avocado and grapefruit. I couldn’t have asked for a better pre-race dinner! Thanks gals and thanks to the Weber’s for being such superb hosts! Just when we started having fun I had to go to sleep. Stupid run.
I slept really poorly. I was asleep from 10-1, then 2-4, then awake until 5:30. Awesome.
I geared up, kissed Abbe goodbye and headed out. It was 65 degrees at 6AM and so I had no extra layers. As I stepped outside it was gorgeous, perfect running weather right NOW. In my head I thought, “Holy S*&t. This is gonna be rough.”
On the (school) bus out to Hopkinton I sat next to a really excited gal named Shawna. She was way cool and had qualified with her first marathon, San Fran. I tried to ease her worries about the heat and to be honest, I was still not concerned. Play it as it’s dealt was how I was thinking. Little did I know what was in store.
The ‘base camp’ is so much cooler than New York City’s. It’s 2 giant fields and its very easy to navigate. As I entered the MC was like, “If you are just arriving, to your left is Gatorade, up ahead powerbars, further down bagels and if you need coffee come to the very very front.” I thought, “DO I need coffee? YES! I love this man.”
That’s exactly what I did (no not love that man) but head to the coffee zone. There I also found a bagel and bananas. I roved around until I found a quaint sunny spot on the blacktop. I had 1:30 hours until it was time to get into corrals so slowly I ate my bagel, banana and coffee. It was quite lovely actually. Then, I covered my body in Zinc Oxide, predicting that I was going to get scorched.
Once I was done with my breakfast I decided to roam around. On one of the fields this photographer stopped me and took my photo. Then, this girl goes and jumps in the picture with me and I’m all confused and then I realize it’s my friend Eissa! No way! She was with one of her friends and I hung with them until it was time to leave for corrals.
I also ran into my friend Dorothy Beal (we went to rival High Schools!) who happened to be walking by. Her and I chatted, both of us peppy and not too worried about the heat.
As I walked to my corral, a very long walk, for the first time I felt like I had earned my spot. It really sunk in and I got choked up thinking, “Dad if you could only see me now. I’m about to run the Boston Marathon.”
I snapped out of it pretty quick though as some guys on the sidelines had a grill offering us (in Boston accents) “Braghts! Who wans some braghts n bear!” I could only imagine the horrible consequences of eating a sausage and beer before a marathon.
Getting to Wave 1 Corral 3 was kind of like looking for your car in an airport parking lot. I just kept walking and walking following the numbers. Before going into my corral I ran into Paddy and we chatted for a bit. Next up I saw Sebastien. He and I chatted about times. Because of the heat he was going to shoot for a 2:40. “Totally man, play it safe.”
As I entered my corral I saw Susan’s pal James (who was aiming to go 2:50) and my old pal Rowland! Rowland and I have always run the New York City Marathon together. Like, 3 times but here’s the catch… we don’t know each other (well now we do) and we don’t plan it. We have ‘spot on’ the exact same pace. In NYCM last year we ran neck and neck miles 1-9 pacing each other like a force to be reckoned with. I lost him and we finished within 1 minute of each other.
Just standing in the corral I felt the power of the Boston Marathon. These people all around were hard core and they looked it. There were tons of team singlets from all over the world. It was so cool. I was also sweating and they were only just starting on the Nation Anthem, this worried me.
The gun went off and we… we didn’t go anywhere. It took me 3-4 minutes to get tot the Start and I was in Corral 3! Yes, there were that many speedsters in front of me!
As the run began it was very crowded. It stayed like this for 3 miles or so and I was dismayed wanting to surge ahead I looked at my Garmin, 6:50. I was right on target! So wild that there were so many people hitting the same pace.
Miles 1-3 were great. In fact I was rockin a steady 6:49 pace. I had been carrying a Gatorade bottle that I had filled with water and was strategically using it to pour on my head when needed. Really though, the heavy water pouring wouldn’t start til mile 6.
Since we mentioned it, lets just jump head to Mile 6 since nothing terribly exciting happened from 3-5. Mile 6 is right around the time I said something like, “This is fucking bananas.” It was in the high 80’s, no shade and zero wind. The gods were betting against us. SIDENOTE: If you haven’t seen a picture of me racing take this time to do so. I am really white. Blistering sun with no shade is my arch enemy. I had a few guys run up along side of me and say they hoped I put on sunscreen. Guys. I didn’t become pasty white overnight, I have been managing severe sunburn my whole life and I have also run a few times outside in the sun.
By now there was a little more breathing room on the course. The crowds, however, were a lot thicker than expected and were extremely loud and muting out my internal monologue.
I think Mile 9 is when the downward spiral began. I saw time slowly slipping away on my Garmin. I did a systems check… hydrated, check; energy, check; full stomach, check. It was the hot sun and steaming asphalt beating me down. This pissed me off since everything else pointed to signs of a potentially good race.
I was now pouring 2 cups of water on my head for the rest of the race at every station and drinking one. That’s a lot of cups… like 75 or something?
As I hit the Half at 1:33 I thought, “Well this isn’t the worst first half I have ever run.” But actually, I think it was. I also thought about all my friends tracking me and seeing me slowly fall to pieces wondering what was happening. I honestly thought about pulling out of the race.
Miles 13-15 also sucked bad. I ate a Gu and my time was fading even more. Should I quit? As we hit Wellesley I saw my long lost Aunt Jen! (her and my Uncle divorced when I was 12 and I haven’t seen her since.) She yelled, “Go Chris Baker!” Thanks Aunt Jen.
Mile 16 is where ‘S%$t Hit the Fan’ so to speak. My vision was blurry and I was more stumbling than running. Was I okay? Was it in my head? My feet were on fire so I started pouring water into my sneakers, a trick I learned in the Jersey Marathon. The crazy part was, once I was drenched from head-to-toe I would be bone dry 3/4 of a mile out and repeat the whole process at the next aid station. The aid stations at this point were a disaster. They were like giant traffic jams filled with drunk drivers. No one had it together, people were slogging around and weaving in total chaos and there were hundreds of cups and oranges on the ground.
I suppose it was right around now that I made the decision to carry on, no matter what. I thought about how long I had wanted to run this race, what it meant and that all I needed to do was finish. We were all in this together, so I slogged forward.
Back to the feet on fire thing. I was convinced my socks were the culprit so I pulled over between Mile 17-19, took off my sneakers and socks, then put my sneaks back on barefoot. Did it help. Yes, a lot in fact! I was running in Newtons and they have great ventilation on the top so my feet instantly felt cooler. The question is… did anyone keep my socks?
At Mile 19 some college kids has cups of some strange liquid. I ran by and one said, “Ice cold beer!” He may as well have told me I had won the lottery. It was the most delicious coldest thing I had ever tasted. So foamy and amazing, it turned my frown upside down.
There were also spectators with oranges, icy pops and ice cubes. I took all of these things all the time, especially the ice. Seriously, it was like Ironman. I was consistently thinking about what could help me. For instance, someone was handing out what I thought were cold wet paper towels to wipe off salt and grime, but they were dry towels. I immediately threw it on the ground.
So, I have to tell you about this guy that pissed me off. At this point during the race everyone was in survival mode, meaning, no one gave a damn about anyone else. Up ahead I see this spectator with a hose and a spray gun attached drenching the runners. “Hell yeah man!” I bee-lined it to the right so excited to get cooled down again and as I approached, the guy in front of me TOOK the hose from the spectator. He aimed it at his face and just blasted himself like an Irish Spring commercial. He did this for 2 minutes! I kept looking at the spectator like, “C’mon man, reclaim the hose!” Finally he did and sprayed me. I started running again and as I passed the hose hog I yelled, “Not cool AT ALL man!”
I saw Elizabeth around this point which picked up spirits!
Heartbreak Hill wasn’t so bad. It was a big long hill but I would have taken ten of them in a row if it was 50 degrees out.
Miles 20-26 I got kind of a second wind. Not like I was running at break neck speed, but I was at least holding a consistent pace. My quads were on fire but I just wanted the end to come. I broke the course up into 6, mile long segments (yeah it was that bad) and told myself to just take it one mile at a time.
At Mile 23 I saw my Uncle Curt who screamed my name. Then, I saw Kelly across the other side who cheered me on and finally Abbe, Erica Sara and Maura who I high fived! I thought about stopping to talk to them but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to start running again.
As soon as I passed them I shut everything else out of my vision. I stopped looking and listening to the crowds and just focused on maintaining my pace which was now in the 8:28 range.
The last mile was a giant wide open space and for the first time during the race I tried to enjoy the moment. I soaked up those last minutes fighting fatigue. I saw my friend Robert here and when he yelled I nearly cut off this poor fella in my excitement! The Finish came into view on the historic straight away and it took forever to get to! It was here that Susan’s friend James popped up along side of me and said hi.
Crossing the Boston Finish was the first time I ever thought of the Finish in a race to be memorable. It’s a pretty impressive Finish line and as I crossed I put my hands together in a prayer-like motion, not triumphant, but thankful to have made it.
Time: 3:23:41, my slowest marathon by 8 minutes. Am I upset at my time? Not at all. Sometimes just surviving a battle is a win.
My chest hurt as well as my legs and well, my body felt like it was in an oven. I grabbed 2 waters and emptied them on my head, instantly feeling better. As I was chatting with a group of runners all of them said the same thing, “That was my worst marathon time.” Ditto.
Since I had nothing on me I walked back to my hotel after chilling out in the family reunion area for a second. My legs needed a break and I thought the girls might have made their way over to collect me. At the Langham the concierge told me that we had checked out, but alas, my very ‘stand out’ Kompetitive Edge Team bag was easy to identify. (Big thanks to Kompetitive Edge for my awesome race outfit too! The crowds were screaming, “go Kompetitive Edge!”) The concierge emailed Abbe telling her I was there and then let me shower in the Health Spa.
Afterwards, I was hanging with the Concierge and he asked if I wanted water. “I am so sick of water. Ive been drinking it all day and soaked in it. I really want a beer.” “Well Mr. Baker, I would suggest you go down the street to the outdoor pub. We will tell Ms. Abbe when she arrives.” These guys rock.
I sat down outside on a quiet street and took in an ice cold Harpoon IPA while basking in the sun.
Abbe ran up shortly after and gave me a big hug and kiss! I think she was more excited at my finish than I was. Erica was right behind her and after some food we caught our train.
While on the train Eissa tweeted at me asking if she was on our train? Indeed! We added one more to our train party and it was such a blast!
What a fantastically fun weekend this was. Had it not been for the marathon part it would have been perfect! I’m kidding. I learned a lot during this marathon. Mother nature is an unstoppable force, but mainly to never give up, no matter what. On the right part of my site I have the definition (in my words) of what Beyond Defeat is all about.
“Beyond Defeat represents the will and drive to never give up, no matter what challenges you face. It is the acceptance of the challenge. All of us are Beyond Defeat, we just need to rise to the occasion. “
Many of my friends were beyond defeat today and fought through some of the worst conditions I have ever seen in a Marathon. For that, I proudly tip my hat to all of you.