For the better part of the past 30 hours I have been fixated on one thing: The Boston Marathon. Yes, much of this perseveration has dwelled on the heinousness that befell "Ah faih city" (apologies, I know Click and Clack are referring to Cambridge), but it has also focused on what I saw before and after that. Initially, this chunk of time I had set aside was to write a report about the TARC 2013 Don't Run Boston 50K/50 Miler, but since about 4:09:44 into the Marathon yesterday, it has taken a different tilt. At first I figured I would scrap all recollections of DRB, as it seemed trivial. My perspective has changed however. While, in the grand scheme of the universe, a race report is rather self-centered, telling the tale of event from the ego's perspective, I realized it is also what makes our sport so great. It is human nature to share our tales of triumph (or tragedy). We take solace in the voice of others and find excitement and inspiration in their journeys. And that is why, with all that has happened over the last day in the city where I live and work, I am not angry (confused and saddened? Yes. Angry? No.). I have been inspired by my friends who were running both at DRB and at the Marathon. I have been inspired by the Mr. Roger's quote that is making the rounds via social media (I have shared this with my kids - for all the evil that exists, we must remember to see that there is a lot more good, there are a lot more "helpers"), because, as all the video and coverage shows, there may have been a few people who committed these acts of hate, but there were countless more who showed us, both before and after the attacks, just how strong the human spirit is.
Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the aim of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned - Buddha
I am working with a coach, Emily Harrison and Ian Torrence, from McMillian Running. I decided that because I have never had a structure to my running and simply ran, and I want to put my best effort into the Vermont 100 this year, I should try to do something differently (besides just running as many miles as I could every day/week). Problem was, I had no idea how, hence the coach. Thanks to Emily, my running has a purpose and flow. And yesterday, Patriots Day, Marathon Monday, was, like the Sabbath, a complete day of rest (at least for my running). Having run 50 miles the day before, at the DRB 50K/Miler, an un-marked, lightly-supported race through the Blue Hills, just south of Boston, coach was telling me to not run. I listened (afterall, I'm also on school vacation this week, and aren't we just supposed to just laze about on vacation?).
Yet running was still a big part of the day, for it was the Boston Marathon - a day when it seems everyone in the greater-Boston area is a fan of running. A day when people line 26.2 miles of road, often 3 - 5 people deep, to cheer professionally athletes seem like they are effortlessly floating as they run sub-5:00 pace (seriously, the front runners never look like they are even working hard. It is a thing of beauty!). A day when those same spectators remain, for hours, not to cheer the pros, but to cheer and congratulate and encourage the every-man and every-woman. The people who work their jobs everyday, take care of their kids and sick family members, who train, not for money, but for personal fulfillment. Who train to say, "I CAN DO THIS!"
Knowing that I was not running, I was able to enjoy the day and the incredible energy that comes with it. Watching the start on TV at home with the family, we all started jumping up and down when we saw our friend (and U.S. 24-Hour Team qualifier!) Scott Traer (looking good in his green shorts!) start the race before everyone, guiding a friend of his, who is a runner (and amputee). Talk about inspiring - a world-class athlete, guiding/pacing a friend to the finish. Even watching last year's winner joking with other guys at the start line - it reminded me of most ultras I've been a part of. And then there was meeting up with Sam, our friend and, uber-stud (the dude is winning everything from 5Ks - 50 miles lately), at mile 20 and handing off a prepared bottle of GU Roctane drink, as he flew up the last of the hills. And, by chance, seeing Sebastien, who came from Quebec with his family, and yelling for him and seeing the smile on his face as he tackled the last hill. Or encouraging the folks who started getting the "I can't do it" look, and seeing people clapping in rhythm for them, for no other reason than everyone is inspired by what these folks are doing. You don't find any Mass-holes along the marathon route on Marathon Monday. Even the drunk college kids are amiable and positive. And that is the feeling I will cherish about my day off from running (which still involved a lot of running!).
Taking a day off from running is rare for me. But I relished it, especially after my 51.13 mile effort at DRB the day before. TARC's Don't Run Boston has a special place in my heart. It is where I first got involved with the Trail Animals, and where I first met Bob "Diesel-san" Crowley, my partner in crime for many of the TARC Trail Series races (despite what he says, those last "19" miles of the DRB 50 are closer to 20 - 21!), and, where Garry Harrington, who I clung to lest I were find myself horribly lost in my first year at the race, possibly changed my life when he told me, after we finished the 50K together in course record time, "You're probably one of the best trail runners in New England" (I've never mentioned this to anyone before, but Garry, I owe you a huge thank you. That meant (and means) a lot to me still, as DRB that year was only my second successful race ever). It is also a race where the course is not marked and the course description reads like prose ("at the crest of a small rise there is an indistinguishable path at a cluster of 7 birch trees. Turn left onto that path." My favorite part of whole course, and I will never miss that turn (although one of the birches is rotting it appears)) and the advice given to first timers is: "Run with someone who knows the course (who is still liable to get lost) and then come back and learn the course." There is no-fanfare, just an aid station in the back of someone's car. It was founded to be the anti-Boston Marathon (run the day before, on trails, no markings, etc.). Today, I can't help but see the similarities.
This year's edition started, as always, with Howie drawing a line in the sand and saying, "GO!" (unfortunately, Howie couldn't run this year as he is returning from an injury). From the start Double Top vet Anthony Parillo (who knows this course better than almost anyone and is aiming to run ten 100-milers this year), long-time Boston-area resident (and first-time visitor to the the Blue Hills - how is that even possible?) Daniel Larson, and, one of my personal heroes, Jack Pilla (to know why, simply read this. B-A-D-A-S-S), whom I have met before, but never gotten to run much with, and I ran up front. Not knowing the course, Daniel and Jack were anxious to stay with Anthony and myself. We chatted for a while, and then, after about 6 miles or so, Anthony and I were consistently about 40 or 50 yards up. I went into the race with the idea of simply following my heart-rate, keeping it around 75%, and was doing a decent job with that (except the hills - they're short, but pretty darn steep!). I was feeling fine, and when we pulled into the aid station halfway along the rugged Skyline Trail (the "aid station," which you hit three times during the 50K) I was honestly quite surprised to be about 30 seconds up on Anthony and about a minute up on Jack. We left to finish the little Skyline Loop, with me "talking" to those guys for about 5 minutes (I was up front) before I realized I was, in fact, talking to myself. I had, unintentionally, pulled ahead. I didn't slow down though, and just decided to run alone the rest of the day.
Each time I would come into the aid station, it was a mini-celebration. Looking back, the volunteers, including Dima and Karen (two of my favorite people, who are always smiling and in good cheer), provided that same energy that I felt along the marathon course the next day (Dima and Karen happened to be running the Marathon as well and were quite close to the blasts). While much of our time in these events is spent alone, in our own heads, we truly don't run them alone (except for Jack, as described above!), and, the positive energy that emanates from everyone is addictive. The human spirit is indomitable and I'm coming to see that this fact is brought into sharp relief when we run.
The rest of the race was rather uneventful for me personally (especially compared to last year, when Scott and I were running together and he got bit by a dog, right on the butt - poor guy had to get rabies shots too. He started running faster after he was bit too!). It was a routine of eating my homemade energy chews and checking the heart rate (I only got off course for about 20 yards, in the last 5 miles of the 50K). I battled a few mental demons when I just couldn't get the legs moving quick enough to bring my heart closer to the 75% I was shooting for (it was dropping to around 70%, although this might have been a technical issue with the heart rate monitor, because I felt like I was working!), but was steady the whole time. I also discovered the magical power of Pringles (original flavor). Not one to eat much solid food (or take salt pills), I ate a huge stack of Pringles at the mile 41 (and ~47) water drop. Not only were they delicious (and a nice change of taste from my energy chews), ithey seemed to give me some sort of supernatural ability to move quickly again - maybe it was the salt, or the "there is nothing natural about this product" quality of them that did it. I didn't look at the time on my Garmin at all, except to get a split for the 50K (4:54 - slower than last year, which was a bit disappointing, but the goal was to run faster in the 50 miler, so I was fine with it), and then at mile ~47, when I wanted to see if I had a shot to go under eight hours.
When I saw 7:40 on the watch at this point, I knew sub-8 was out of the question (it takes me at least 25 minutes to cover the last section, as some of it is on, as per the course description, "paths mostly used by deer, not people."). I still tried to run hard, and, when I got close to the end, I knew I had a shot to break last year's mark (8:11). My attention to the heart rate must have paid off, because that last mile or so, my Garmin said I was running pretty darn close to 6:00/mile pace and it felt okay (guess I should have been running harder throughout!). I knew the time was going to be really tight, and I ran up the stairs to the parking lot (the "official" finish line), and hit the stop button. 8:10:31ish (the file is still on my watch, has been uploaded to my computer, but continues to fail to upload to Garmin Connect - any help?). About 30 seconds faster than last year. Even knowing that we had a few more bonus miles last year (and the canine attack), I was happy with the result - I was running alone for about 38 miles, and I felt like I could have kept running if need be. I hadn't experienced any real big swings in energy or attitude, hitting those extreme highs and lows (I think that is a result of my homemade energy chews, which feature a lot of "good" fats, especially from coconut oil). Hanging out with the handful of folks at the aid station post-run (which included Garry, Dima, Karen, and Jeff List - another local incredible-person/runner) just brought home the whole good-vibe that I have come to love about TARC and running. To top it off, Lindsey Topham (TARC's "official unofficial" photographer) interviewed me about why I run ultras and am involved in TARC. It was like my ego on steroids! Liz and the boys picked me up and we went out to Bertucci's and Orange Leaf (a great self-serve fro-yo place in Lexington). It was one of those days that reinforces how remarkable this life is.
So there it is. Despite my fear, despite my anxiety (Liz was at the Marathon finish line last year on her breaks from work, directly across the street), running brought me great joy this weekend. Today, as I ran through the woods (coach said it was okay to go out for 45 minutes!), just minutes from my door, I started thinking of the gruesome images of those whose lives were irrevocably changed, or taken, yesterday. I felt sad, thinking of the young man who lost both legs, and as I started down a rocky slope, wondered what I would do if I could not do what I was doing, in that moment, anymore. And then, as I twisted and turned along this rocky downhill, I started to smile. Not because I am callous or cavalier. Not because I don't care. But because, in that moment, I realized that what I was doing, freely running through the woods like I did when I was a kid in Vermont, was something incredibly special. I realized that every moment of my life had led to that (and this!) and that was something incredibly special. I realized that all I had was that moment, that next step, that next footfall precisely between two rocks and then two roots. I realized that running is so powerful because it is such a personal journey, meaningful for what we put into it and strive to get from it, but made more so when we share it with others. That much was proven to me as I came into the "aid station" each time at DRB, or, as I stuffed my face with Pringles at mile 41 and waved to the volunteer dropping more water off for us to be able to finish our journey. That much was proven to me when my friends, my wife, my children, and I cheered strangers up some hills in Newton. It was proven when I saw footage from the finish line, both in celebration, and in chaos, as strangers rushed to help each other. Sometimes, when we look for answers (Who did this? Why?), which is what I have done for the better part of 30 hours, we forget to find meaning. Hopefully we can all find a little bit of meaning in what happened this weekend and find a way to celebrate the awesome power of the human spirit.