Boston 2014 Finish

Boston 2014 Finish

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Back to Boston with Baby

One year ago I looked ahead to Boston 2014 and I had a clear image of exactly where I would be and what the experience would be like.  I could picture David, I had a perfect vision how marathon Monday would go, I could see myself - back to my old weight, running my old times.  It turns out the whole experience was completely different than I'd imagined, but it was nonetheless pretty terrific.  Incredibly terrific.

Because of the Easter conflict, the BAA 5K, which Mike was running, was on Saturday instead of Sunday, as was the afternoon weekend Red Sox game.  So Mike, my mom, David, and I loaded up the car and headed to Boston on Friday morning, giving us an entire extra day of Boston Marathon weekend fun.

Friday was no more than travel, quick run from the hotel, and dinner. Saturday morning we headed into the city bright and early, cheered on Mike in the 5K, picked up my bib number and packet, and hit the expo.  First of many "marathon travel with an infant" reality check moments: infants and world major marathon expos are a bad mix.  Someone had the bright idea (it was me) to take the stroller.  "Oh the stroller will make it SO much easier!..." as mom and Mike look more than skeptical.  It turned into an in, buy gu, out, experience.  And fine by me, it was crazy town.

We exchanged our expo allotted time for a quick trip through the Prudential Center mall, where I found a Crumbs bakery kiosk and bought a four pack of gourmet cupcakes (which would become my post marathon meal of champions) and got a Pizzeria Regina single slice with mushrooms - a marathon weekend lunch staple.  And then we let the bright bulb whose idea it was to bring the jogging stroller (still me) jog it, sans baby, back to the parking garage seven miles away (slight exaggeration) before we headed to Fenway.

I must have insisted to Mike a minimum of 15 times that the game started at 1:05.  We found our seats, and noted that for 1pm on the dot, attendance was pretty sparse.  We were in the shade and the wind made the sunny, pleasant day, a relatively chilly, unpleasant one.  Flashback to Friday morning as we packed the car to leave: "Rachel, are ALL of these blankets going with us?" "Yes." "Really?  FOUR baby blankets?"  "Yes."  Back to Saturday.  "Mike, I didn't bring a blanket and it's really too cold for him."  We came home from Boston $40 poorer and with FIVE baby blankets and not so much as one deep sigh or eye roll.  If you've ever wondered whether or not Mike is a big softie.... :) 

That is not to say, however, that we made it out of Fenway without a deep sigh or eye roll.  That came in its own time when Mike checked his phone at 1:10 (why are they not playing ball?) to find that the game started at 1:35pm.  Jogging stroller, blanket fiasco, keeping a baby in the wind and cold for an unnecessary 30 minutes - fair to say it wasn't my finest day.  But we were all smiling and happy, and it turns out that there isn't much in life that a baseball game, ice cream, peanuts, clam chowder, and a baby who decides to nap in your lap, can't fix. 

Sunday was David's first Easter, and if Mike wasn't already there with the baby blankets I may have come close to pushing him over the edge when I insisted the Easter basket fit into the car for the trip.  Packing for this marathon was really a new mom experience - I could have forgotten my running shoes and 10 miles down the road gone "eh, I'll pick up a pair in Boston", but I'd be darned if we were pulling out of the driveway without that Easter basket.  

As I wasn't batting a thousand on Saturday, it's only logical that I would have also forgotten something at bib pick up Saturday morning, forcing us to make an Easter day trip (30 miles each way) back to Boston.  Getting my things around for race morning I realized I hadn't picked up my medical check bag which was the only way I would be allowed to take my breast pump to the start with me.  Knowing I'd be away from David for a minimum of six hours from drop off to marathon finish, (and who knows if he'd nurse right at drop off or how long it would take me to run, it had the potential to be far longer), there was no choice but to head back to Boston.  

My mom and Mike took it all in stride and after picking up the bag we had an Easter brunch at Legal Seafood.  Lobster roll, check.  

Marathon morning David decided to sleep in (hooray) allowing me to pack up our room and get myself ready.  We had breakfast, packed the car, and headed to the drop off point just outside of Hopkinton.  Like packing for the weekend at home, my morning was David-centric.  "Use this milk first, he likes this book best, sunblock is here, don't forget his hat, please don't forget him in the car in the parking garage I keep having nightmares about that, if he won't drink milk he might take this juice, this is his favorite taggy, his gloves and hat are here if it's chilly, his sun hat is here, I packed two extra outfits is that enough?, try this bottle first and then the sippy cup, call me if he won't eat and I'll take the nearest T to the finish..." as mom and Mike (mom's seen him nearly every day of his life and Mike is his dad and lives with him and knows as much, if not more because he's less fruit loopy, than I do about parenting) just smile and nod.  The 5 1/2 month old who I was sure would take a bottle by then and who I was sure I'd be comfortable leaving by then?  I don't leave him and he doesn't take bottles.  Oops.  I was a mess. 

Not only was I a mommy mess, but in other news I was definitely not at my old weight, and was definitely not running my old times.  I was wearing my old shorts, but I was prepared for the wrath of chafe that my post baby thigh chub brings after every run over 10 miles.  Thankfully I went with our running club shorts and singlet in black - it was as flattering as it was going to get.

We pulled into the parking lot where I'd take a bus to the start, and David nursed like a champ.  I always swear that kid knows what's going on and does what he can to make life easier for everyone.  He's a super baby, not that I'm biased or anything.  And then I had to get out of the car.  And buckle him back in his car seat.  And shut the door.  And watch them drive off.  And I cried.

In fifteen marathons I've yet to NOT make a friend, and this year's friend was met not 100 crying steps from the car.  Jen, mom of six (yes, SIX!), the youngest of whom is just eighteen months, gave me a big hug when I told her about my sad mommy morning and the two of us chatted literally until the gun went off in Hopkinton.  We rode the bus together, waited in line for a porta jon, got a bagel and water.  She was even allowed in the BAA operations tent with me while I pumped (with three other crazy bf'ing running moms) as "moral support".

I crossed the start line in Hopkinton with no idea what I could do for 26.2, but figured I'd find out in the next few hours.  My training looked a lot like the training of someone with a five month old would I guess - pretty rough. Just two weeks over 40 miles, a pile of 30ish mile weeks, and a long run list that was anything but long - 14, 15, 17, 19, 21.  The 21, two weeks before race day, was the only run that wasn't interrupted at some point for a meal for myself or David.  The 19 was the most interesting - 8 miles, nurse and eat pancakes, 6 miles, nurse and eat a granola bar,  5 miles.  That one 21 miler didn't leave me certain I could even finish a marathon without feeding myself or the baby.

The run was great.  Better than I could have ever imagined.  I kept thinking "these have got to be the greatest, loudest crowds I have ever seen at Boston."  Turns out they were as spectators were double the usual for this year's race.  I ran at a really comfortable pace, that turned out to be in the 8:05 to 8:08 average range all the way to mile 20, when I got really thirsty.  It's happened to me before in marathons - sometimes no matter how much I drink in a race (it was sunny and warm - 60ish - and I was taking a water and a gatorade at every station, every mile, though drinking while running you really only get one good gulp), I'm still just incredibly thirsty.  I decided to walk at the mile 20 aid station in an effort to get more of the fluid in, and was horrified when I stopped running at just how bad my legs were.  I wasn't sure they'd hold me up for 6 steps, much less 6.2 miles.

I called Mike to let him know I was walking, it was bad (out of nowhere!) and that I didn't know how long it'd take me to finish.  Mile 21 was 11:48, and I decided I should at least try to make the motion of running.  Running felt better than walking and with the exception of a rogue 9:44 mile at 24, I kept the other four of the last five miles all sub 9.

I have no better adjective for the right hand turn onto Hereford than awesome.  Spine tingling, tear inducing, awesome.  I've never heard volume like that, and could have never imagined that many people packed onto one such small street.  And the left on Boylston I have no adjective for.  I'm not sure there's ever been a descriptive word fitting for that experience - one of the greatest in running in my humble opinion - and there certainly wasn't this year.

I hit the banner at 3:45:23. I had figured I was in the 3:40ish range of fitness, and "knew" in my gut before the race I'd run between 3:35 and 3:50.  But something about accomplishing it this time just filled me up with pride.  Sometimes in life I think it's okay to pat yourself on the back.  Important to do so even.  Boston 2014 was one of those days for me.  I know everyone who is a parent has a shared experience, but I'm just in awe of life and what the body, mind, and spirit are capable of.  I know what I went through five months and two weeks before April 21st, 2014.  As does Mike, and, as David Chesley was intent on making his entrance into the world an incredibly stubborn one, so do a whole host of medical professionals who were in the room.  To look down at the feet that carried an extra fifty pounds of me and baby in October, legs that have carried the burden of the extra 40, then 30, then 20, then 10, and now still 7 extra pounds of weight as I got back into running.  A body that's been deprived sleep for months and that can pound out miles and miles of training and not only still keep me ticking, but can create and deliver absolutely everything David has needed to survive thus far.  All that, and it can still run a 3:45 marathon.  3:45 doesn't re-qualify me for the 2015 race, it's a full 36 minutes slower than my PR, and it wasn't accomplished after already swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112, but this 26.2 takes the cake in the pride department.

I crossed the finish line and made haste through the water, mylar, medals, and food stations, eager, panicked almost, to get to David, Mike, my mom, and Mike's dad.  Mike found me first and led me to them, and David, being held by my mom, gave me the biggest, most beautiful smile I've ever seen.  I plopped down right there in the Boston Commons park, fed the baby, changed my clothes under the mylar robe they handed out this year, and we headed to the car to start the long drive home.

And so, six Bostons down and I'm in the pickle (for the first time in all of those years) of not having a qualifying time for number seven yet.  I contemplated for about 5  minutes just giving it up for a year.  Nah, crazy thoughts!  I'm registered for an August 17th race in Pa in hopes of running a sub 3:35 to make that right on Hereford left on Boylston in 2015.  Wish me luck!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Baby's 1st Boston

This blog post has been two months in the writing in my head.  Imagining how April 15th, 2013 would play out - my 5th Boston, my 13th marathon, but my first 26.2 with unborn child in tow.  Playing out the experience before it even happened helped to relieve the anxiety I had about running while pregnant, and keep my mind off of my slowing pace.  Envisioning myself crossing the finish line, both of us happy and healthy, only to unveil a "mom's 5th, baby's 1st Boston Marathon 2013" pic to friends and family.  Mike and I talked about what a fun story it would be to share with this little person someday, that he/she actually ran the Boston marathon in 2013.  Little did we know.

For a couple of years I've contemplated different "preggers in Boston" situations.  At just how pregnant could I still run?  Would I still want to run?  Was I being ridiculous to believe I could bring life into the world without breaking my Boston streak?  And then, just a week after racing the MV 20 miler and celebrating our 3rd wedding anniversary, I found I had a real life scenario, and that come Patriot's Day 2013 I would be 12 weeks pregnant.

It seemed perfect.  I was in good shape, my mileage and long runs were up, and according to everything I read and every medical (and life experience) professional I talked to, it was completely safe and fine.  But as the weekend drew closer I started to doubt myself more and more and questioned whether or not it was anything but completely selfish for me to attempt 26.2 miles in what my great uncle calls my "delicate state".

With Mike registered for Sunday's BAA 5K, and our travel plans already made, I decided I had until 10:20am Monday morning (my start time as a second wave runner) to decide.  Saturday we drove to Boston and picked up our bibs and packets from the expo.  Sunday, the day usually reserved for sitting around a lot, feet elevated, pouring in the liquids, began with a 6:30am depart from our hotel to drive back into the city for Mike's 5K.  He ran wonderfully finishing in 16:43.  And instead of spending the rest of our day relaxing, we spent the rest of the day shopping, eating, catching a Red Sox game, and touring.

By the time we got back to our hotel at 8pm, I was in tears insisting that I'd made up my mind and I wasn't running the next day.  But after long talks with Mike and my mom, I decided I'd sleep on it. I did, after all, still have over 14 hours to officially decide.

At 6am Monday morning, I ate my breakfast next to the greatest running friend that's ever existed Emily, and I was still undecided.  I went back to my room, put on my running clothes and bib, covered up in throw aways (this year it was the super fashionable combination of the pj pants I'd been sleeping in all weekend, a long sleeved cotton shirt of mine that was oober small, and an oversized tech shirt of Mike's that was covered in ink stains), and packed my bags.  And then Mike handled it just the way I needed someone to - he said "okay, you'll just carry your cell, call me whenever you want to be done, text me every 5 miles so I know you're okay, and if all goes well I'll see you at mile 16 and run in with you".  And I cried again.

Emily and I piled onto a bus headed to the start when it was almost full, so I took a seat next to a fabulous older woman who lived just outside of Hopkinton.  She told me that she rides the bus to the start every single year, and that to her it's better than Christmas - "just as exciting and you don't have to be prepared with food or gifts!" I agree with her wholeheartedly.

We sat in our secret spot at the start line, and though our gang wasn't nearly as large as it has been in past years and we missed them terribly, we went on with tradition.  Emily braided my hair.  We watched the elite women start.  We listened to the annual singing of America the Beautiful.  Emily was off and running with wave 1, and before I knew it I was lining up for my own start at 10:20.  The sun was shining, the skies were blue, and the air was chilly.  There couldn't have been a more perfect day for marathoning.

My first mile was 8:42 and I thought "whoa, too fast, too fast".  I was bound and determined to exercise complete and total overkill caution for the day.  I stopped for gatorade and/or water at every single station, often walking through them to take my time drinking.  I gave lots of high fives.  My eyes were drawn to babies who looked only months old, and I welled up at the thought that our own little Murphy would be spectating his/her first Boston at less than 6 months old.  I made my first of what would become six total porta jon stops at mile five.  (I stopped at a porta jon twice in 12 13th, 6 potty breaks).   I texted updates to Mike and even stopped on the side of the road to read and reply to a text from my sister in law who was having trouble tracking me.

It wasn't until mile 9 that I was able to strike up a conversation with another runner.  I'm big on 26.2 chit chat, it's my favorite thing.  But it's difficult to make friends in a race when, seeded by qualifying time, runners are flying past me as if I'm standing still at my new found comfy pace.  I was approaching a woman with a "baby on board" sign on her back.  20 weeks pregnant, her company was just what I needed mentally and emotionally.

I've really tried to soak up the Boston experience the last couple of years, and this year was no different.  I tried to notice more about the towns we run through, read the signs more carefully (my favorites included: "this is the worst parade ever", "you're nowhere near the finish" (mile 6), and "run like Ryan Gossling is waiting for you at the finish with a puppy"), and really notice the fans.  Thank people for the orange slices they cut up in their own kitchens, and the popsicles, and tell them how outstanding they are for knowing how runners covered in gatorade stick appreciate the wet naps they hand out.  And I was overwhelmed for the love the spectators have for the event.  As if each and every one of them knows each and every runner like a close friend or family member.

By the time I got to Mike at mile 16 I was starting to feel the run in my legs, but I knew it was just from sheer amount of time on my feet, certainly not because I was overdoing it.  He offered me the out to just call it quits and go to the car, but I felt fine and knew I wanted to finish.  I sat next to him on the curb and ate a little bit, and we were off together.

Running with Mike made all the difference in the last ten miles.  We talked, he showed me the picture of him and the friend he'd made while waiting for me...Lauren Fleshman!  He gave high fives (I'd given them up at that point), waited for me on porta jon stops 5 and 6, and was not only supportive of, but actually encouraged some of, my walk breaks.  He thoroughly enjoyed the Boston College crowd, and he commented over and over how much more enjoyable those last 10 miles are to run fresh:)

At mile 25.5, just before the dip into the underpass and before the famous right on Hereford, left on Boylston, we parted ways and he stayed straight on Comm Ave while I ran to the finish.

The crowds were, as always, loud, enthusiastic, and packed onto the side walks of Boylston.  Just as I crossed the finish line, the clocks overhead (which had been changed to 3rd wave time) were just passing 4:06:00, though I knew that my time was really 4:26:and change - a far cry from the 3:11:41 I'd run there just two years ago.  I pointed to my belly with my left hand and gave a number one with my right for the cameras, in hopes someone at marathonfoto would get a good souvenir pic of baby's first Boston.  And, just like I had each of the four previous times I crossed that line, I cried.  And though it was my slowest marathon yet, there was definitely no sadness at all to my tears.  Words can't express how happy I am to be a runner.  To already be able to share the goodness that is the world of running with my child.  To know that this child will have this story forever.

I scooted past the medical help, thanking them for their service to the race, took two bottled waters from the Poland Spring volunteers, skipped past the cups of gatorade table, and stopped at the first volunteer handing out mylar blankets.  "Congratulations!" she said, and as she put it around my shoulders, it happened.  Offensively loud, a number of people around ducked down.  The rest of us turned around to see Boylston behind us filled with smoke.  And as we watched, wondering, a second explosion, that from our view point seemed to fill the entire famous Hereford/Boylston corner.

In the next few minutes there was a lot of "everyone stay calm", "please keep moving", and a few less calm "run, get off Boylston!".  Mike called almost immediately to see where I was and if I was okay.  We decided to meet at the Boylston/Arlington T station.  A fellow runner asked to borrow my phone to call her daughter who'd been standing to cheer at the corner of Boylston/Hereford, and when she handed my phone back to me there was already a USA today breaking news update about the explosions on my home screen.  I called my mom immediately to let her know I was okay.  I turned around to look at some point and realized that everyone coming at me was wearing medals and I realized that I'd rushed right past the table.  And so, completely idiotically, I went back.  It's so odd how we process things.  Sitting here now, completely rational, I have no idea what would have possessed me to back track.  But when I got to the table, a friendly volunteer, as calm as anything says "you didn't get a medal!", and handed me one.  And I looked at him and said "you shouldn't be handing out medals!  You need to leave!".

I found Mike in the insanity that was the area surrounding the Arlington T station.  Security was clearing out the station pushing everyone back up, as hundreds of runners and their families were trying to get down.  Mike and I walked around the block to Comm Ave, and sat on the steps of a church to collect our thoughts and come up with a plan.  I had on no clothes but my running shorts, shirt, bib, and mylar blanket.  Though the sirens of emergency vehicles filled the air, cell service was shutting down, and just one block from us was mass chaos, the city seemed almost eerily calm.  And though I'd seen the smoke from the first and the second explosion with my own eyes, there was a seemingly general hope that all was really okay.

We walked a bit, ironically back toward the site of the explosions, just a block behind, and thought about trying to find a warm place to get into until we had a plan.  A nice man, who had obviously also run the race, approached us and introduced himself.  Another runner and his wife joined the conversation too.  A physician who had just completed his 44th Boston, a civil engineer and his wife, and Mike and I, became fast friends who were all headed to the Riverside T station, roughly 17 miles from where we were standing in Boston.

We decided we'd have to walk for a bit, and that we'd try to get a cab out of the city.  We passed the underpass just before Hereford and saw the thousands of runners whose run had been stopped short, just standing crowded in the road, no doubt wondering what was happening and how they'd reunite with family.  The line of runners was backed up as far as we could see toward the famous Citgo sign by Fenway park at mile 25.

After about a mile and a half of walking it became obvious that finding a cab would be near impossible, so we decided to hitch hike.  The entire city had turned into a community of trust and caring and friendship.  The very first car to see us stopped.  The five of us piled in with the an early twenty something guy who graciously drove us about five miles out, and it was through him we learned that there were already two victims reported deceased and multiple wounded.  When he let us out, we were again picked up by the first car that came along.  This time a man in a mini van, and his two young daughters who had just finished their day at parochial school.  They quietly ate their apples and looked back at us sweaty runners suspiciously every few minutes.  The man drove miles past his house and took many detours to get us to the Woodland lot where the physician's wife was waiting with our 3rd ride, a Prius.  We all piled in, again, and were able to catch a small bit of humor in what had become a very dark afternoon as Mike squeezed himself into the hatchback.

Once back at our own car, we said goodbye to our newfound friends, got cell service back, and began the wait on hearing from running club friends to make sure everyone was safely headed out.  About 30 minutes later everyone was accounted for, and we started home.

It wasn't until the Today show the next morning that I realized how soon after I crossed the finish line the bombs went off (less than four minutes), or how close to the finish line the first bomb was.  I was met at school with teary hugs, and have felt, for nearly a week now, relatively numb telling the story over and over.

I'm certainly not sad for myself.  I don't honestly feel like I was even a part of it.  My own very small imprint on the day seems almost surreal.  When I become overwhelmed with the day it's my thoughts of the 20 week pregnant woman I ran with.  I'm near certain she finished behind me, and I don't even know her name.  Did she finish?  Where was her husband and two small children when it happened?  Were they waiting on Boylston?  Fred Bostrom, one of my all time favorite running club members, was running his 38th Boston, and was stopped before his turn onto Boylston.  Where was his dear wife waiting at 2:49pm? Knowing I wasn't "racing" and realizing there was a definite chance I wouldn't even run, my mom didn't travel with us for the first time in five years.  Each year she waits at the corner of Boylston to watch my finish.  Where would she have been four minutes after watching me run by this year?  And the mom's and dad's holding the wee month old babies I'd adored early in the many of them had made their way to Boylston to watch their friends/family finish?

I am fine.  I've responded to each of the overwhelming number of concerned texts, emails, and facebook messages I've received with "I'm safe, healthy, and oh so happy to be home".  But my heart is broken.  Broken in that irreparable way that a heart breaks when horrible wrong is done to the most innocent and good.  I can assure you that there is no greater concentration of goodness and kindness and gentleness in a place than there is in the participants and spectators of the Boston Marathon.  And I think the only way to heal is to keep running, and to keep cheering.  

Marathonfoto released pictures late this week and I was able to find a picture of me running through the 15K with my newfound "baby on board" friend.  Thanks to the genius of social media I was able to make contact with her, and she's safe and healthy.  Our running club, Triple Cities, also held an informal "Run Strong for Boston" group run this morning, where over 150 people turned out to donate over $1000 to victims of Monday's tragedy.  I got to finally hug my friend Emily and see her beautiful face for the first time since she was off and running at 10am Monday morning, and then leave for a run with a beautiful sea of blue and yellow clad runners united in love of, and belief in, the goodness of the sport of running.  It felt really good to be home with them.  And I am awe struck by the flawless and heartfelt way the Boston Athletic Association has handled Monday's horrific events.  I've yet to open my gmail account this week and not close it in tears - their words are perfect, and their sentiments remind me why Boston is so important to me and so many others.  They truly do regard all of their runners and spectators as family.  In their most recent email they even assure those injured that we'll all be with each of them as they relearn to stand, walk, and yes - even run again.

This was our baby's first Boston, and I am so happy that he/she is already surrounded by the goodness, kindness, and gentleness that is the running community.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Rachel Murphy, YOU ARE....


I've spent a year day dreaming about the moment I would hear Mike Reilly say those words.  Swimming laps, out on runs, on the bike, I'd picture myself in that finish chute.  I'd be finishing with friends I'd made out on the course, all of us politely insisting "oh no, YOU cross the line first"...I'd be waving to my family, blowing kisses...I'd be energetically giving high fives to the spectators who enthusiastically line the chute and cheer for hours each year...I'd savor every second of that finish.

In reality, I thought I was dying.  I vaguely remember Mike Reilly saying my name.  I don't remember a single spectator lining the chute, I may as well have been finishing in a completely empty space and not the Lake Placid Olympic oval surrounded by hundreds, thousands possibly, of screaming ironfans.  I remember one blonde woman wearing blue rubber gloves grabbing my arm and asking if I was okay.  That's it.  Months of beautiful day dreams replaced by one sweet girl and her blue rubber gloves.  Not what I'd imagined, but as it turned out she was one of the most glorious and welcomed visions of my whole life.

Fortunately the fourteen hours and seventeen minutes it took to get to that finish chute weren't collectively as horrific as those last moments.  Feel free to stop reading whenever you'd like, as I'm about to share the long and gory details.

After a 3:39am wake up call (random, but Mike couldn't sleep until the 3:45 alarm and I was sleeping pretty lightly anyway), I put on my tri kit, ate a bowl of oatmeal with berries and honey and guzzled a big mug of hot coffee.  This is no doubt TMI for the internet, but ironman makes no room for modesty, so I'll just share that this breakfast should be the fixings for a guaranteed bathroom experience within the hour, two at most.  As of 6:30am, standing in my wetsuit beside Mirror Lake, nothing.  And I was freaking out.  I've never EVER raced under that condition, not a 5K, much less a day long event.  I did my best to push the worry out of my mind, kissed and hugged my family good bye (my mom, father-in-law, sister and brother-in-law, and five nieces and nephews all clad in "Rachel and Mike's ironman support crew" tees), and headed into the lake.

I made my way into the water with Julie and Mike by my side, said good bye to Mike right away (he's a very strong swimmer and headed to the front) and Julie shortly after (she's also a strong swimmer).  I slowly breast stroked over to the area I thought was best for me to start in.  And I cried for the first of many times for the day.  I cried for a lot of reasons.  Because my heart ached for the missing member of our ironfan crew...the member who would have no doubt been captain.  Because I was proud of myself for simply having the courage to be there.  Because a really sweet woman I passed in the street at 6am (who obviously saw how nervous I was) took the time to stop me, grab me by the arms and give me the pep talk of my life.  And because I was scared.  Terrified.  Thank goodness for goggles:)

I pulled myself together and talked to a few people in my area of the swim start about swim time expectations and realized quickly I was exactly where I belonged.  With U2's "Beautiful Day" blaring, Mike Reilly wished us well, and with the cannon we were off.  All two thousand and eight hundred of us.

Even where I started, it was rough and crazy from start to finish.  Kicking feet in my face, elbows coming down on my back and coming back up into my face, shoving my goggles into my eye socket, and all before I even got to the official start of the swim course.  All I could do was giggle.  It was such wonderful insanity.  None of it hurt, and I knew that everyone was in the exact same boat as me.

My goal was to come out of the first loop under 50 min, even though my trial swim in the lake on Wednesday had been 52 minutes.  I didn't wear a watch in the swim and when I came out of lap one the clock said 57:xx.  Freaking out that the swim had taken me that long, I frantically asked the girl next to me what she had for time.  They still had the clock running for the pros who started 10 minutes before us, so my first loop was really 47:xx.  I was ecstatic.  So ecstatic that as I began my second lap, I cried for the second time that day.

My total swim time was 1:37:xx, a full 8 minutes faster than my expectation of 1:45.  I had my wet suit stripped and ran down to the oval to transition.  The volunteers were amazing.  I grabbed my bike bag, and ran into the womens' change tent where I had my own personal helper.  She dumped my bag, put my socks and shoes on my feet while I put my helmet on, and stuffed honey stingers and fig newtons I'd packed into my back pockets while I took care of anti-chaffing needs.  It was amazing.  I grabbed my bike from the nice boy who had un-racked it for me, and was on my way.  Well, almost anyway.  I'm not embarrassed to admit that I stood in the mount zone for a few seconds to shove half of a peanut butter jelly sandwich in my mouth.  I knew the course started with a really sharp downhill and that I'd have trouble eating a pbj and riding downhill, and also that I'd need the calories.  No regrets.

I took my first pedal stroke at 8:44am, elated that the swim and T1 combined had taken me one minute less than I had expected the swim alone to take!

The bike portion of the race was quiet.  There are very few spectators on the course (or there may be a lot, but spread out over 56 miles they seem pretty sparse), and no one talked, just pedaled.  I was happy though that it felt almost effortless and that I was doing more passing than being passed.  The miles and time flew by, and it seemed like I'd been on the bike for 10 minutes when I came to 30 miles and the out and back section where I got to see Mike who was 10 miles ahead of me.  I spent my time focusing on staying comfortable and eating and drinking.  I got in a bottle of ironman perform, three water bottles, four fig newtons, half a pbj, a banana, and a bonk bar (that I swiped at an aid station to replace the clif bar that popped out of its wrapper and into a ditch).  The last 10 miles of the loop are climb, climb, climb, but the last doozy of a climb into Lake Placid is lined with great cycling fans and was definitely the most entertaining part of the course.  People sitting right out on the road in camp chairs cheering, running along side of you, holding fun signs.  It felt like my own little 50 meters of tour de france.

I decided at the bike special needs station that I'm not hard core enough to wet my pants on the bike, so I dropped my bike with a friendly volunteer while I stopped in a port a jon.  Then I took a few things out of my special needs bag, and started on loop two.  I saw our ironfan crew just as I was starting the second loop.  I still felt fresh and good and not at all daunted by the idea of having another 56 mile loop to ride, which I figured was a good sign.

The second loop was chattier.  I munched on my potato chips that I tucked into my tri top and got in another bottle of ironman perform and another three full bottles of water.  I made small talk with a few people as I passed or was passed.  There was a lot of "how are you feeling?"..."how are you holding up?"...."doing okay?, almost there!"... on the second loop.  Again the first 30 miles flew by, I couldn't believe I was at mile 90 when I saw the sign.  That was the last time anything on the bike flew by.  The last 22 miles were loooooonnnnnnggggg.  I literally vowed to never EVER ride a bike again.  My butt was inconsolably sore and the hills felt like mountains.  A couple of British ironfans at mile 100 told me that Mark Cavendish had won the last stage of the tour on the Champs de elysee, so that lifted my spirits a little.

It wasn't until I was sitting in a folding chair in transition that it really hit me that I now had to run a marathon.  I was hot, sunburnt, salty, dirty, thirsty, and tired.  But I was excited to get out there too.  The thing about swimming and cycling is how solitary they had been.  I'd been out there for nine hours with very little human interaction...I was ready to get my run and mingle on.  Another wonderful volunteer helped me with my shoes and socks and compression calf sleeves and sent me on my way.

The first few miles felt great, and I found it really easy to focus on the moment and the mile and not the whole big, ugly, scary, picture.  It was an out and back that you did twice, so I got a chance to see our cheering squad just a quarter mile into the run, and Julie and Mike out on the course who both looked great.  There was an aid station at just about every mile and I decided from the beginning to walk through each one, but from the very beginning of the run it was hard to take anything but ice.  In the first loop I did manage to get down an entire package of honey stingers and a couple of swigs of coke.

At mile 8(ish) I came across a girl finishing her second loop.  I was so excited for her, and we chatted for a while and ran together.  I was in awe that she was going to finish in well under 12 hours.  She told me that her goal was going to be to run with me for as long as she could.  I was so inspired that I ran through the next two aid stations with her (she wasn't stopping).  We passed Mike at our mile 10, his 13.5ish, and he yelled to me "if you can keep running, you're going to catch me!", and the girl I was running with said "oh, you can keep running - go get him!".   I lost that girl not long after, but have no doubt she finished strong in her phenomenal debut ironman, finishing well under twelve hours.  Whoever you are, huge congrats and thanks for the company!

There is a super steep climb coming back into town, and fans on the course line the hill yelling "we want a runner, we want a runner".  My run had slowed to a brisk walk at that point, but being a runner at heart I couldn't let them down, so I picked it back up to a run and they cheered and screamed like I was scoring a touchdown for their favorite team in the superbowl.  And out from the screaming running fans popped Emily Piza Taylor!  I gave her a big, sweaty, salty hug, as she yelled some words of encouragement.  More tears as I turned the corner - I just feel so thankful to be surrounded by people who are also crazy enough to find great pleasure in extreme endurance events.  Emily and I have run a LOT of miles together, and she and the rest of the TCRC crazies are a big part of why I was able to be out there.

By mile 12 and the special needs station I decided I really needed to walk through if I was going to make it another 14 miles.  I couldn't take anything at special needs.  I didn't want to take the time to go through my bag and I'd felt so "good" (all things being relative) on the first loop I was just itching to get onto loop two and know I was finishing.  My first half marathon was 2:07 by my watch, and I was thinking I could definitely pull out a 4:30 for the whole marathon giving me a 13:30ish finish time.  I was excited to see it all coming together, and really excited to know that I had six hours to cover a half marathon if I needed it.  I realized that barring something really extreme like a broken limb or cardiac arrest, I was going to cross the finish line.

I ran back down the main street through town, gave high fives to the nieces/nephews, and told my mom to expect me to slow down a little bit the second half, but not to worry.  Little did I know just how much I would slooooooowwwww dooooooowwwwwnnnnn.

I got out of town okay, but was starting to really struggle to keep up my run between aid stations.  I saw Emily again and she yelled that I looked great, and I remember thinking that I wished I also felt great.  I made it to mile 14 and that's where the wheels really came off.  I'm always preaching endurance events to be 99% mental, and miles 14 - 23 were definitely mental for me.  Miles 23 - 26.2 were that rare 1% of true physical, but I'll get to that in a minute.

I fell into a walk (well before an aid station) just past mile 14.  The two men I walked with were lovely humans no doubt, but we were all only as good company to each other as the hell we were in would allow us to be.  I talked with them for a bit, and then decided that while the course was downhill, I should do my best to run, but running downhill hurt horribly.  I made it to the next aid station and then again, took to a walk.

On this (long) walk break, I talked to a guy from Rochester who asked me what other triathlons I had done.  I told him Syracuse 70.3 back in September and he asked what else.  Umm....  Here I was, closing in on mile 16, and admitting to someone that this ironman was my second triathlon....EVER.  The second time in my life I've ever swam and then biked and then ran.  I didn't know whether to feel proud of myself or like a complete idiot for getting myself into my situation.

I passed Julie who was closing in on mile 21 just around then and she looked PHENOMENAL and yelled "this is the part where we're supposed to be having fun, right?!"  I love that girl:)  She went on to rock out a 12:49:xx....awesome!

Just before the out and back turn around I saw Mike and realized that if I did just suck it up and run steadily for a bit I could catch him.  He looked really good and healthy, he just didn't have legs left for much running.  I worked as hard as I could (I may have put out the most well earned 10 minute mile of my life) and came up to him just as we were both hitting mile 19.

"Running" with Mike was wonderful.  We picked points to run to, made it to that point, and took breaks.  What I was starting to notice most was how out of breath I was, and I couldn't catch my breath on the walk breaks anymore.  I also felt like I had to pee (pardon the term - sorry mom!) terribly, but after three porta jon stops before meeting up with Mike I hadn't been able to go.  Mike told me to try again at mile 23 (I was really in pain) and so I did and it was successful!  As silly as it seems, I think its just because I was rushing myself before not wanting to miss a Julie or Mike siting, but knowing Mike was waiting for me I could relax.  And then I got up.  Whoa.

Cue the real hell of the event for me.  We'd been running every other set of telephone poles up to that point, but stopping in that porta jon made me dizzy on top of unable to catch my breath.  Sure my feet ached, my legs were screaming, and I had a hitch in my right hip I'd picked up somewhere along the day that was singing loudly, but that pain is the name of the game and pain I've learned to deal with in the past.  Dizzy and unable to breathe with 3.2 miles to go?...this was new to me.

We still got a few runs stretches in, but they were agony.  I knew when we crested the hill into town that Mike was feeling MUCH better than me by the way he responded to the "we want a runner" chants with a little jog up the hill.  All I could do was stare at the ground and hope my legs would keep moving forward.

The out and back by the brewery was cruel.  It was on the way back by the aid station (closing in on mile 26) when an aid station volunteer came right up to me and asked what I needed.  I figured I didn't look all too great.  I don't think I took anything.  The last few aid stations had been water or coke that I'd put in my mouth and spit out.  I didn't feel thirsty or hungry, I just felt like I was going to pass out, and like I really just needed to get to the finish.

Coming into the Olympic oval we saw our brother in law Scott waving and cheering, no doubt there to alert the troops that we'd arrived.  (I'm pretty sure they were ready to call the medical tents at this point looking for us).  It had gotten dark.  I felt like every step I took was going to be my last upright, I was so winded and dizzy.  Once we hit the track in the oval Mike said "you ready?"...but I told him that I was afraid to run because I didn't think I'd make it.  Mike was so sweet in those last few miles, and just said, "then we'll walk as long as you need".  So I said "okay, let's go", and we headed off in a jog.  I heard my name, heard Mike's name, remember Mike taking my hand and holding it up in the air....then blonde and blue rubber gloves.

It's amazing what an RN, a cup of hot chicken broth, company in your misery, and 45 minutes can do. Julie came back to see how we were, and Mike held my finisher shirt and hat and brought me a piece of pizza.  That first piece of pizza was the worst thing I've ever eaten and I had to gag it down like medicine.  The two after that - BEST PIZZA EVER.

By 10:30pm, Mike, Julie, my mom, sister in law Mara, oldest nephew Noah, and I were standing on the bleachers inside the oval finish line, dancing and cheering on finishers.  We cheered in every last athlete right up until midnight, then said our family good byes, found our bikes and transition bags, and headed to the car.  Part of me felt as though I must not have left enough out there if I had that energy left in me, but I've decided over these last few days that I have no doubt I gave every ounce I had to that run - there was nothing more that I could have done safely.  The fact that adrenaline allowed me to stay on and cheer the finish? - just a bonus:)

Driving back to our rental house, we had to take the dreaded out and back road by the brewery (miles 24 - 26 for finishers), and at 12:39am, saw three athletes still out there running - they won't be deemed ironmen because they didn't make the 17 hour cut off, but I have as much, if not more, respect for them as I do Andy Potts who won that day in 8 hours and 25 minutes.  I have so much respect for anyone with the mental fortitude to finish the ironman.  It's an incredible feat, and really, even five days later, impossible to put into words.

My "never again" claims have never lasted outside of the finish chute of a marathon.  It's usually just a promise I make to myself to get through the last couple of miles.  "Never again" on the ironman lasted a good 24 hours.  And then I started thinking...I could get a lot stronger on the bike....maybe I could join a master's swim program and get stronger in the water....if I was stronger on the bike, could I finish an ironman with a sub 4 hour marathon?...

Ironman Mont Tremblant 2013, anyone?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

20 Ways To Celebrate Boston Marathon Week.

This weekend was busy. B.U.S.Y. And it's only the beginning - Mike recently brought to my attention that we have not a single weekend free between now and the big day, Lake Placid July 22nd. Not a one. Fortunately for us, however, busy is how we happily roll.

And so in busy-ness, I apologize for the day late-ness of this post. One whole day of the second best holiday week of the year has already passed. But no worries...there is still plenty of time to celebrate...

Boston Marathon Week!

Runner or not I highly encourage you to join in the festivities. For your optimal Boston Marathon week enjoyment, I have developed a list of celebratory activities. Feel free to participate in any, but do not feel pressured to hit them all. After all, they've been running this race for 116 years, so the odds are heavily in the favor of a hundred and seventeenth running.

1. Throw back a Sam Adams.
2. Eat a Boston creme donut.
3. Read chapters 6 - 8 of Kathrine Switzer's "Marathon Woman"
4. Buy your gas from a Citgo. (As you approach the station, give the sign the finger in honor of the thousands of runners who want to, but just don't have the energy to do so at mile 23).
5. Watch a youtube clip of Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley's "Duel in the Sun"
6. Throw back a Sam Adams.
7. Watch the movie Saint Ralph.
7. b. Cry.
7. c. Download all of the songs from the soundtrack.
8. Listen to the Saint Ralph soundtrack.
8. b. Cry.
9. Throw back a Sam Adams.
10. Cheer for the Red Sox.
11. Create a scream tunnel with friends. As local runners come by, cheer loudly for them and offer them kisses on signs.
12. Pull a Rosie. (eg - enter a local 5K, start, duck behind bushes, and finish as the leader having not broken a sweat. Later, refuse to give back your winnings. Assure local race directors you were simply celebrating Boston Marathon week. What's the biggie?)
13. Wear oversized, cheap or old clothing over your outfit for the day. Just as your day begins, throw the oversized clothes off and leave them where they land.
14. Throw back a Sam Adams.
15. Find a hill in your town. Run up it yelling "heartbreak".
16. Drink Poland Spring bottled water.
17. Throw back a Sam Adams.
18. Eat a full days worth of calories of nothing but sample size portions of gu, shot blocks, power bars, honey stingers, etc.
19. Pour over the weather forecast, paying special attention to wind direction.
20. Use a porta jon a minimum of ten times.
And finally... Get training!...the 2013 qualifier is 5 minutes faster for every age group, but right on Hereford, left on Boylston is calling your name!

Happy Boston Marathon week everyone! And please remember to celebrate responsibly...if you participate in items 1, 6, 9, 14, and 17 (especially all in one day) - take the T.

P.S. - Wondering what the best holiday week of the year is? Troy Fair, sillies! Written in my marriage vows..."to love, honor, cherish, and hold sacred the Troy Fair..."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Marathons suck.

...again, written yesterday and not posted until actually two weeks from now I'll be home from school, limping around, sporting my Boston shirt...anyway, I plan to blog lots between now and April 16th...let the two week countdown begin! Oh, and btw - I let Mike title the blog...this next will be his 6th Boston and 13th marathon and he's feeling a bit cranky toward the distance:)

Boston is two weeks from today. Actually, two weeks from this very moment I should be (assuming all goes according to plan) headed home, all cramped up in the car becoming increasingly stiffer and sorer by the minute. Ah yes, nothing screams "reward" for those months of hard work and dedication quite like the inability to sit on a toilet seat, inability to pull on your own pant leg, six hour drive home, throbbing headache, loss of appetite, and intestinal distress that so often accompany the finish of a marathon. Congratulations, here's a medal and a little silver blanket, your family should be somewhere about a mile that way sweetie, now you go on and find 'em.

It's funny why we do what we do. During our last Boston long run yesterday morning, Chuck and Emily and I were composing a pre-marathon motivational speech. All we could come up with was "what the hell is wrong with you all", "welcome all of you who have also obviously lost it", "warning, this is going to suck a lot", as well as a few tips on controlling your bodily functions. Three runners with nearly 30 marathons combined completed and this is all the motivation we have to offer. And yet, there we were, pounding out one last 24 miler before our next marathon adventure.

It's that punch drunk long run conversation, and so many others like it, that make up a huge part of the reward - the why in doing it. Boston won't actually happen for another two weeks, but I've already reaped the vast majority of the rewards. The long runs, the post run coffee, the french toast and waffles, the bonding, the joking, the lost socks, the angry Sunday morning drivers encountered and then giggled about. No matter how many times it's done, the feeling of accomplishment after running 20 miles or more on a weekend morning never becomes any less satisfying, and there's no better sound than the clomp clomping of numerous sets of feet all setting out on a long run together.

And so, in some small way, the big to-do has already passed. The long runs are banked, the last post run breakfast was shared, and all that's left is tapering, overpriced adidas garb, large crowds, and THE 26.2. Don't get me wrong - what's left of the experience is enjoyable. There will still be bonding, still be group meals, still be more to giggle about, and no other long run offers the screaming tunnel of love at mile 12 like the girls of Wellesley College in Boston does. It's exciting, but I've come to realize that it's not the prize, and definitely not the point. The prize is being able to come home to start the whole process over again, and knowing great and crazy people to share the process with.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Like a two wheeled Subaru

Mike's laying on the couch across the room from me lamenting loudly that his pictures from the weekend have yet to be blogged. I've been engrossed in a project for a crochet class my mom and I are taking (a baby cardigan - it's so cute and I'm elated that I've read the pattern and created it *almost* all by myself), but after having to tear out a bazillion rows because I missed a "chain 2" an hour ago, I'm frustrated enough with crafting for the night that Mike wins.

Unlike my cute pink 18 mo cardigan, my Specialized tricross comp bike has yet to be aggravating since we brought it home one week and two days ago. If it is possible for a bike to serve as chiropractor, marriage counselor, and mood enhancing drug, this is the one.

With the natural gas boom in our podunk county, the main roads, which were already far from ideal for bike riding, have become entrenched in large truck traffic. Stone truck after stone truck after water truck after water truck after large equipment trailer. There are days that traveling the roads by car is unsettling, much less trying to run or bike.

Lucky we are though to be surrounded by rural dirt roads. SURROUNDED. Mike has spent the unseasonably warm and snowless winter touring the back roads on his tricross bike. He pulls out of the driveway and comes back hours later covered and mud and grinning ear to ear. When I run after dark, he escorts me with his bright helmet light. He rides up the dirt roads to family dinners at my mom's house. He rides all the places around here ideal for riding - all the places the gas traffic and the tri and road bikes can't go.

Chenango Cycles in Binghamton had the exact same bike Mike bought two years ago, only in my size and on phenomenal sale. Being a 2010 model they no doubt really wanted to get rid of it. I've been eyeing it for a couple of months. Last Saturday after the St. Pat's 4 miler, we pulled the trigger and brought it home.

I've never enjoyed riding a bicycle so much, and never felt so comfortable on a bike. We're on grit and gravel and stone and mud and climbing and descending and climbing and climbing, but riding this bike is like driving a Subaru with two wheels - no matter what the condition of the road under your wheels, you're safe and it won't let you down.

Four hours on the bike Saturday morning loosened up the nagging pain in my right leg from a pestery bulging disc that acts up when my mileage goes up, and my run later that day felt the best any had all week. Those four hours were also the first Mike and I were ever able to be on bikes together and not argue - we have a strained road biking history to the extent that we refer to tandem road bikes as divorces with wheels. Not only did we not argue, we got along famously, even after I had a minor meltdown regarding large rocks the gas company has spread over a few miles of Warren Center back roads and an incident with a German shepherd. If you don't know, I'm terrified of dogs. There were tears. But the stones and dog were nothing fig newtons at the LeRaysville Dandy couldn't fix, and I pulled back into our driveway happier than I've ever been after a bike ride.

We went out for another ride Sunday afternoon after our long run, and tonight I got my first chance to escort Mike on his run in the dark and drizzle. Mike did all of the picture taking this weekend, so I apologize in advance that this is a bit of a photo collage of myself - but if you look past the cyclist in the pictures, you'll see some of the beautiful places we're able to tshirts in March no less!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Swimmer? Okay, maybe not. But closer.

I wrote this Wednesday night and never posted. Update: in last night's swim I was able swim further without breaks in my new swim "style". That said, old habits die hard, and I feel like all I do while swimming is think...I think about my arms and my hips go back to their sway, I think about my hips and stroke is sloppy again. I wish it were more natural for me, but I'm working at it slow and steady, and I suppose that given my swimming status I should just feel grateful that I haven't required lifeguard assistance yet! Next post will be up soon - we've adopted another two wheeled family member, and spent four hours touring the back roads of our gas infested stomping ground together today. It was almost a complete win.

When I say I "learned to swim" this past July, I really mean that I attempted and succeeded putting my face in the water, breathing to the side, swinging my arms and kicking my legs. I have since called it swimming.

It gets me from one end of a pool to the other over and over and over, and it got me through (heavily wetsuit aided) the Syracuse 70.3. It just gets me these places very slowly. Swim workout after swim workout, I go to what I know...face in the water, breathe to the side, swing my arms, and kick my legs. And move painfully slowly.

Now I know I'm biased here, but Mike's middle name may as well be Phelps. He's a swimmer extraordinaire. Or at least was "back in the day" and is still very good. He's been patiently giving me little swimming tips whenever we swim together. I felt as though as I was a lost cause though when last Saturday's only "tip" was "I think you just have very little upper body strength". And I had become resigned to calling anything under the two hour and twenty minute cut off time in the ironman a win for the day.

Tonight in the Elk Lake pool, Mike's faith in me must have been renewed, and he started offering all kinds of advice. Advice on stroke. I'd work on it for 100. Advice on kicking. Work on it. And then he did something magical - he mocked me. He swam for me the way he sees me swim. I look ridiculous. I asked if I REALLY moved my hips that much, and he said yes, and so I asked why he never told me to stop, and he assured me that he's told me plenty of times, but that he assumed I just couldn't stop because I hadn't.

So I stopped. No more thrashing my hips about. I swam the next 25 yards in literally 1/3 of the time I have ever swam the length of a pool before. Keeping everything straight and long, I swam another and another and another. And Mike said "I can't believe look like a swimmer." I could've cried.

Now mind you - I still suck. A lot. Swimming that way was hard work. I had to rest between every 50. And I have a lot of work I need to commit to doing just to successfully get through the swim at Lake Placid regardless of time. But for today, my Mike Phelps called me a "swimmer".