Saturday, April 26, 2014

Boston on my mind

Ever since last week, the Boston Marathon has been on my mind. I just haven't had any quiet time to record my thoughts. I remember last year when the bombings happened at the finish line, my first thought was (re. terrorism), "Really, a marathon?" Then I felt angry because the Boston Marathon is the most austere and premiere marathon in the country. My next thought was, "Is nothing sacred anymore? Terrorists have to hit one of the most uplifting, positive, healthy and inspirational events in the United States?" Of course they did.
My Boston Marathon medal from 1998

I ran the Boston Marathon 16 years ago, and I will never forget that experience. It is an event that lives forever inside you once you complete it. I was able to run in the race as a member of a charity team (I was nowhere near any sort of qualifying time). I raised money for Boston Children's Hospital and was able to secure a number. Boston was the first (and to date, only) full marathon I'd ever attempted, and although I put in many, many training hours, I was a pretty slow runner. My finish time was just shy of 5 hours, but I still made it in time to get a finisher's medal, a medal I cherish to this day.
The crowds along the Boston route are amazing! The best by far that I've ever encountered. There is something a little unnerving taking the bus with all the other runners out of the city to Hopkinton, 26 miles away. I can remember thinking that I was pretty much out in the middle of nowhere with only my legs to get me back home. When we drive to Boston now for pleasure, I always reflect on the fact that where the Mass Pike and I-95 meet, you can glimpse a view of the Boston skyline. It is just about the distance of the marathon from there, and I ran that. DAMN! It still blows my mind. 
It is funny how I can remember certain details of that race 16 years ago like they were yesterday. I liken it to the fact that my husband can recall nearly every detail of every round of golf he's ever played. I guess when you find your sport, you have a mind for those kinds of details. I remember the huge crowd at the starting line and the fact that it took a good 15 minutes or longer to even get up to the actual official starting line after the race gun went off. I remember the song "The Long Run" by the Eagles blaring at the starting line from the home of someone who lives right there. I remember being in the back of the pack chatting with people as we ran along, offering encouragements, laughing over the fact that by the time we were at about mile 8 or 9 the front runners were already done. I remember being passed by a guy/girl dressed in a foam rhinoceros costume. I remember seeing blind runners tethered to sighted guide runners. I remember the weather was pretty perfect for running, not too hot, not too cold, not too much sun or wind, but I also remember the wind pushing down in to my face as I ran up a long, slight hill in the Needham area somewhere around mile 18 and feeling very cold, tired and wiped out. Then I remember seeing a work colleague at the next water station, and hearing her words of encouragement, I perked up enough to get through to Heartbreak Hill. I have to admit, I don't remember much about Heartbreak Hill, other than I walked a few steps of it near the top. After that, it was all downhill to the finish line. :) I remember the Wellesley College "Wall of Sound" and thinking how cool it was that they were all screaming for me. I remember another work friend jumping in somewhere around mile 23 to run with me for a few blocks, helping me to take my mind off of the pain. And I remember making that turn on to Boylston Street, seeing the finish line straight ahead, scanning the crowd and finding my husband-to-be, mom, best friend and mother-in-law-to-be like a shining star of light. It was a most unimaginable experience to trek those 26.2 miles, and it is both humbling and triumphant at the same time. Your body is pushed to the limit, but your mind can get you there, along with some well-placed supporters along the way. 
So to hear that terrorists attacked the marathon last year was just so disheartening. That experience of accomplishment and triumph was taken away from so many runners, only to be replaced by fear, injury, disappointment, anger, and sadness. All the things the most glorious marathon shouldn't make you feel. I was overjoyed to see Boston come back so strongly this year. I'm so glad the marathon took place without incident. Although, as I said to my mom, "God help anyone who tries to mess with the city of Boston and their marathon this year. The residents of the city will seriously turn out in mob rule to take care of anyone who tries anything." 
The stories coming out of this year's marathon were full of inspiration. It was amazing to see all the stories of those returning to finish the race they didn't have the chance to run last year. Seeing the runners who lost limbs in last year's bombings participating was just incredible. If faced with the same situation, I don't know that I would have been as brave or motivated. I'm thrilled that an American man won for the men, and although I was hoping for Shalane Flanagan to take this one for the hometown ladies, she ran an amazing race. I even had to laugh when I saw Dean Karnazes's post on facebook after the race. He ran the marathon from start to finish in 3:42 and then turned around and ran from the finish line back to the start in 3:25. What a rock star. 
Meeting Dean Karnazes last November

Everyone has their own personal race story. Everyone has their reasons for running. I'm just glad that this year everyone was able to finish and revel in the moment. It is something that can never be taken away.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Chi-Town Run Down, State #14, IL

I left home Saturday morning and arrived in Chicago around noon. Despite the enormity of O’Hare, I found the kiosk for the Go Express shuttle bus that I booked to get me from there to my hotel in the city. The ride to the hotel was nice. I met a woman from Melbourne, Australia who was traveling all around the states, and we chatted for the entire ride. She was a most interesting person, as she lives with a rare skin condition and speaks as an appearance advocate for people who look different from others and who are treated as such. We talked about her travels and experiences in the U.S. and online. In addition to being a speaker, she is also a writer and shares her work on a blog. She was such a lovely person, and it saddened me to hear of some of her experiences with unkind people. You can check out her blog here if you want to learn more about her:
Carly exited the van before I did, and I was the only other person on it. My hotel was the Hotel Lincoln, which is located right across the street from Lincoln Park and the Lincoln Park Zoo. What an awesome location! Sunday’s race looped all around the park, and the starting line was reportedly .4 miles from my hotel. Nice! 

The hotel was so cute and cool. It had very eclectic urban decor which I loved, and the staff there helped so much with all my questions and necessities. The room I had was on the small side, but the decor was very cool and the view was to die for; a window overlooking the park and Lake Michigan! Gorgeous! 

After dropping off my suitcase, I made my way to pick up my race number. The pick up location was not really near the hotel, so I opted for a cab to save some wear and tear on my legs, as I knew I wanted to walk around the park later. Once that was done, I went back to the hotel to drop off my number & tech hoodie and hit the park. I wanted to see if I could figure out where all the race action would be tomorrow morning so I’d know just where to go. 

I walked through the zoo a little bit and spied some farm animals, an outdoor water preserve, camels, llamas and a tiger cave. I stopped inside the information booth with my half marathon map to see if someone could help me pinpoint where the race started. I was heading in the right direction. I kept walking but did not see any signs of race day set up. This didn’t sit well with me. Where were the porta-potties? What about some tables for registration, water, food, etc.? I walked around much longer looking for some sign of race life, and after asking two other folks (the golf range guy and the flower show conservatory guys), I decided to give up, figuring that it would be there in the morning. It was nice to stop in to the conservatory and look at the flower show there. Here are a few shots I snapped while I warmed up from my chilly walk. Can you spy what is hiding in the green jungle?

I headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. I was meeting up with a couple of college friends for dinner. I changed and went to check out the rooftop bar at the hotel which boasted a gorgeous view of the park and lake. I sidled up to the bar for a club soda with lime before heading out to the restaurant. My friend, Chrissy, selected Dinotto’s restaurant for our dinner. A perfect choice that was within walking distance for me, full of terrific Italian dishes and a nice atmosphere. Unfortunately, by dinner time, I had heard from my friend Tim who wasn't feeling well. He wouldn't be joining us after all. But Chrissy and I had a super time catching up on all the goings-on with her and her family. It was great to see her, and I’m so glad that I reached out to her, as she and her husband and kids are moving from the Chicago area to Florida soon. It always helps to see friends before a race when in a far away place. Dinner was delicious, and Chrissy definitely filled me with some happy pre-race endorphins. We said our goodbyes, and I picked up some last minute groceries for the morning on my walk back to the hotel. I wish I’d taken a picture of us at the restaurant! I can’t believe I forgot! Thanks for a great night, Chrissy!
Race morning I woke up a few minutes before my alarm and promptly made my way to Starbucks for a big bold brew. I walked back to the hotel and made my breakfast and enjoyed it while watching one of the most incredible sunrises I’ve ever seen. It was inspirational to see that incredible vista before the race. I could tell that it was going to be a beautiful day and hopefully a great race, too.

I walked through the park, stopping to take a pre-race selfie atop a footbridge that boasted a super view of downtown Chicago. Fun! 

I meandered through the zoo area and out through their parking lot where I was grateful to see plenty of cars, runners and hubbub near the starting line area. A large line of porta-potties stood prominently before me. All my worries were put to rest. Let the race begin!
I lined up with the 1:45 pacing group and easily kept up with them for the beginning of the race. The running day weather could not have been any better. It was about 38 degrees at the start with sunshine and low wind. Perfect conditions! We took off and headed north in the park, looping along through the paths, both paved and unpaved, through tunnels and out along Lakeshore Drive. The path along the water was glorious! The sun was shining down on us, the view of the lake was sparkling and the beach was just beautiful. I made a mental note to return with Craig and the girls someday. They would love it. We looped back around the southern part of the park and then back up to the north. The park was filled with other runners, walkers, bikers, and dogs soaking up the morning sun and enjoying the day. I suppose the Chicagoans were out in full-force to enjoy the nicest day of the year so far. After the horrible winter we all experienced, I do not blame them. It was great seeing everyone enjoying themselves. 

As the race progressed, I felt myself warming up, so I removed my hat and gloves and rolled up my long sleeves a bit. I was still with the 1:45 group through mile 8 and stayed close to them through mile 9. After that I started to lose ground. I was feeling pretty depleted, and I noticed at this point that this race had fewer water stations than others I had done, and so I started to fade a bit. My legs felt heavy and sore, and at the 10 mile mark we turned in to the wind which didn’t help either. I pushed as much as I could, but I knew I had slowed considerably at this point. I swear, the last mile is always the longest!  I crossed the finish line just under 1:49 with an official time of 1:48:56. When the final results came back later that day, I came in 7th in my age group. I was very happy with that! Not bad for my first half after a winter of training mostly on the treadmill. 

It was a slow walk back to the hotel for a stretch and a shower, then I walked to the Old Town area to find some lunch. I ended up at a little pub called Woodies where I had a southwestern chicken wrap and a Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale. Yum. After that I had to get ready to head back to the airport, so it was back to the hotel to catch the van. I wish I could have stayed in the city longer to explore more, but after arriving home and telling everyone all about how great the hotel was and the area, the girls are dead set on getting to Chicago someday. It will be loads of fun when we return. The Chi-Town Half was a beautiful race in a terrific place!