Here is what I remember of April 17…the weekend began with friends and hosts Kevin and Mariani taking me out for seafood pasta on Saturday night, then a perfectly cooked sirloin steak dinner out on Sunday night to get set for Monday morning’s marathon. Slept okay Sunday night, too much going on in the brain to completely relax.
Kevin dropped me off at the Red Line Alewife station early Monday morning, 6 am, to head down to the Commons for the buses to take us to the start at Hopkinton. Seemed everyone on the train was either running or cheering for the marathon.
On the Marathon bus, chose to sit next to someone who looked quiet, didn’t want to chat. Then snoozed for the hour or so of the ride, glad because I didn’t want to see all the distance we had to run back to the city.
At Hopkinton, we were marshalled to the gathering area, the Athletes Village at the high school, like cattle being herded towards slaughter. As the sun shown and caffeine took effect, nerves gave way to thoughts of great possibilities ahead. Which would be the ending was still unclear.
Walked down ½ mile to the start line corrals, the route feels like the 4th of July with the Hopkinton residents out with flags and lawn chairs. Did our business in the port o pots nearby, then…a sharp pain in my left bicep. A guy’s doing warm up knee kicks and knees in my arm, ‘what the F*CK!!’ He says sorry. Just before the start to the Boston Marathon, my arm’s bruised. I rub the arm, try to shake it off, pissed, enter the 3rd corral, about 50 yards behind the male elites. It’s getting warm.
The national anthem, then the gun, I’m still standing still, we start walking, then jogging, pass the starting line about 90 seconds into it. No worries, the official time begins at the start line.
Was warned about the downhills in the first few miles, but realize they are even more treacherous. Very steep, the quads are already feeling it, many runners are gunning it already – they would be toast later. Boxed in by several hundred people around me, can’t really go much faster than this, use it to my advantage and reserve energy for later. The pace is probably close to 7 minute/mile for now. The big problem is getting over to the water stations without crashing into people.
It’s very warm, arms and legs are already feeling the heat, I start drenching self with water at the first water station and would continue to do so at every station along the way.
Go through the 5k around 20 minutes, much slower than planned, but no worries, it’s warm, still a long long way to go. Some runners are already making moves – bad idea – I stay composed, begin my mantra for the first half – ‘easy, take it easy’ – I’d repeat this over and over for the first 13.1 miles.
We pass the 10k mark, I forget the time but know that I’m starting to pick up the pace closer to goal – but not forcing anything, not straining, let others do that, ‘easy, take it easy.’
Around the 10 mile mark, it’s hot now, but my legs and arms are loosening up, feeling smoother, the pack is stringing out, I’m now passing people consistently – some are already starting to fade. I’m still splashing myself and taking a sip at every stop.
Around mile 11, I make sure to grab a cliff gel. Now getting close to the halfway point, feeling pretty good, start thinking ‘this could be a good day’ but keep myself from getting too excited. Approaching 13.1 miles, still passing people, have to stay patient and not push it too soon, must wait til then to start pushing a little. ‘Easy, take it easy.’
Licking my lips, I reach the half point, now it begins. The pace remains the same, but I get geared up mentally, this is getting serious now. The mantra has changed to ‘Go.’ It would be ‘Go’ the rest of the way.
A deceptive long incline begins just after the half, I feel fine, many are hurting going up this thing. My focus now is on the runners I’m catching. The crowd along the way are insane, so insanely helpful.
Around the 15th mile, the legs start feeling it a bit but still okay. Approaching mile 17, I could hear the famous Wellesley girls screaming, insane. As I pass them gratefully, I know the hills are coming up, take another gel on the course, bear down for the first hill, can still hear the girls cheer ½ mile behind me.
Feeling relatively good still, ease up the first hill, past some hurting runners; the same on the second hill after a brief flatness; then again over the third hill, again not too bad. Hit some flatness for a while after the 3rd Newton Hill and await the big one, Heartbreak. Arms and legs are now feeling the previous three hills, but I’m still game. After going around a winding turn, I look up at the monster – holy f*ck – I used to run up this hill while living in Boston, don’t remember it being this steep.
Start climbing, hot, passing a runner here and there ever so slightly, move up this hill, spectators doing all they can to will us along. The hill seemed to be a mile long, someone mercifully is holding up a sign “you’re at top of Heartbreak,’ thank you, I could have kissed him. Getting emotional now, having made it into the city, to the streets where I used to run and began my adulthood.
But the adventure continues because then a steep drop down Beacon Street begins – again, I don’t remember Beacon Street being this steep. The quads are pounding now – am afraid of legs cramping up like during my BQ marathon – and the blisters on the bottom of the feet are screaming. But can tell I have some gas left in the tank, I use my arms to gain some momentum down the hill, using gravity to pass more hurting runners. Getting some rhythm back, keep drenching self at water stations, passing mile 23, someone from the side recognizes me and screams out ‘Go Jim Park from Buffalo, New York!!’ I’m pumped, give him a left thumb up, and start feeling all the friends back home and in Boston cheering for me, get emotional, I start tearing up.
I take one more sip of Gatorade at the next station but this breaks the momentum and I start struggling again. Then I see the Citgo sign again, emotions abound again, tearing up knowing I’m back in the streets of my old home, so many memories; running past Kenmore Sq, I start picturing all the friends rooting for me, including my late college classmate Rich, and bear down for the final mile, going down and up Commonwealth Ave under the Mass Ave Bridge, still passing runners. Then one more hill up Hereford Street, then a left turn onto Boylston for the final stretch to the finish line in front of a screaming crowd. But all I can see and hear are the runners around me, and we’re still racing, working to move up in the placing. Finally reach and cross that iconic finish line in front of the library – the clock says 2:49, but I guess the net time at around 2:46/2:47 – can’t hold back the tears and a huge smile. Don’t know where I placed, but for the run to have gone this well after putting in so much work was incredibly gratifying. Slowly walk, feeling pretty good for having run 26.2 miles, past the congratulatory volunteers, can’t stop smiling.
Walk towards the family area to meet Kevin and Mariani and others, Kevin approaches before I notice him, a nice bookend to the morning. Kevin thinks I placed high in the age group, I’m not so sure as the time was a tad slower than goal, possibly from the warm day. Along with Kevin’s friends who also ran that day, we have lunch at a nearby Legal Seafoods. Now really curious about the results, we’re monitoring the marathon website, Kevin thinks I cracked the top 10, no way I’m thinking, I think probably top 20, maybe top 15, someone finds the results and I see ‘5th in Division.’ I’m stunned. A few minutes later, it’s officially confirmed, 5th in 50-54 Group. Stunned. Cracking the top 10 had only been a dream.