Wednesday, April 24, 2013

25.5 miles closer to a cure: Part 1 - Marathon Monday

I'm finding that it's nearly impossible to put into words the story of what was Marathon Monday. What is in my head and my heart aren't transferring neatly onto the screen. I've started probably seven different times and each time I end up feeling that I either haven't done the day and its events justice or feeling bad that I have some of the emotions I do or that I don't have others. Suffice it to say that Marathon Monday up until about 2:50 p.m. went better than could have been expected. After that? Well, that's a different story. A story told many times over from lots of heartbreaking perspectives throughout the past week. This, however, is my story. And sorry, but it's a long one. A really, really long one. 

Here's part 1:

Ryan and I woke up dark and early Monday morning. The girls had spent the night having a sleepover in grandma and grandpa's hotel room down the hall so we wouldn't wake them as we got ready. I slept great, Ryan not so much. Must have been first-marathon jitters (Ryan would phrase that "first-and-last-marathon jitters"). 

We cooked and ate our oatmeal, pulled on our spandex, laced up our shoes and pinned on our bibs. We were ready. 

The drive north into the city didn't take long at all. Boston and the surrounding cities seriously shut down on Marathon Monday, or Patriot's Day in Massachusetts. So the majority of the cars on the road at 6:30am were marathon related. We wound our way into the Boston Common parking garage where we parked our car and gathered our bright yellow bags and race-day belongings. 

As we walked up the stairs, we entered the historical Common full to the brim with so many runners of all shapes and sizes.  Young, old, trim, husky, male, female, muscular, not-so-much. That's one of my favorite things about marathons. Sometimes you run right by the person you think will blow you out of the water while the person you are certain you will beat leaves you in the dust. It's definitely a physical race, but it's also mind over matter and that is very evident on race day. 

We got in a line - the longest of all the lines, we later found out - and, as we made friends with the man and women in front of us, wound our way to a big yellow (heated) bus where volunteers in bright yellow jackets ushered us onto the springy green vinyl seats. Our bus driver was playing some pretty sweet mid-90s jams, so Ryan and I felt right at home. They had runner transportation down to a science. I could not believe how quickly they were loading buses and shipping us off to the start. As soon as one line of yellow buses left, another line was ready and waiting. 

I stared out the window as we exited Boston and headed west to the runner's village. A marathon is a long way to run and it seems even longer when it takes you 40 minutes to drive there on the freeway. Eeek! I dozed off a bit and then woke as we neared Hopkinton. The streets were already beginning to be lined with smiling well wishers and it made my heart swell. 

As we exited the bus and bid our driver farewell, we made our way into the runner's village - a mecca of sorts in the running world. Porta potties lined the entire outskirts of the village (a high school field every other day of the year). Three large tents housed thousands of runners camped out on chairs and blankets - some trying to catch that last bit of sleep before the starting gun, others stretching or chatting with friends old and new. Ryan and I stood in line for the port a potties before we snagged a bagel and made our way to where Team Rett was congregating. 

I truly was thrilled to see the other members of the team. Though I already knew a handful of them and met a few more the afternoon before, it was such a great feeling to stand together with them, all wearing our purple singlets for these brave and strong girls and boys. We discussed refueling strategies for the race, sharpied our names and the names of our Rett inspirations on our arms and legs and got everything situated in our new running belts - advil, shot blocks and headphones for me. And with that, Wave 3 was called. The photographers snapped a few pictures and we dropped our yellow bags on the bus as we walked to the starting line.

It's a bit of a walk from the village to the actual starting corrals. And the fact that we were the ninth corral out of nine means we were as far back as you could be. We stood, jammed like sardines, in the chute and waited for the gun. At 10:40, we heard our cue and eight minutes later, crossed the starting line for the 117th Boston Marathon. 

I was really doing this. 

I started out slow and steady. I had heard from so many people to not overdo it on the first four miles. They're downhill and pushing it here will cause a lot of pain later on in the race. So, slow and steady it was. Before I knew it, mile 1 was behind me! Just 25.2 to go. Somewhere in the second mile, I felt myself sort of trip over something. Someone must have dropped a gu or they were already shedding layers. But then it happened again. When I felt it happen a third time, I looked down at my own pouch and saw my baggie of advil drop to the ground in what felt like slow motion only to be lost in the still-crowded street behind me. Turns out the first two items I thought some poor schmuck had lost or shed were actually my own shot blocks and headphones. Guess I won't be listening to music for the next four hours.

Shortly after, Ryan caught up to me. We were both feeling good. The crisp morning air was perfect and the energy on and off the streets was unbeatable. Not too far ahead, I noticed three other Team Rett runners - two of whom I knew were planning to run my goal pace. As I made my way to them, Ryan ducked off to the side of the road to do that thing that boys can do so easily in races. For the next few miles I shadowed my teammates and made small talk. After doing all of my training runs solo, it was a little strange to be running with other people. But i was just soaking it all in. The fans in Hopkinton were fabulous and the encouragement was contagious. 

Around mile four, I veered off to the side of the street to grab a quick sip of water. My team pacers did not and I lost them for good at that point. I did, however, catch up to Danny, a Rett dad and fellow team member. We fell into the same pace and jogged side by side for the next nearly seven miles. Together we passed through Ashland and Framingham, two otherwise sleepy little towns that, on race day, are filled with fans lining the street giving their full support. Families on lawn chairs, friends camped out at the corner gas station. Local retailers and townies alike screaming our names (Go Purple! Nice work Team Rett!! And my all time fav: Go Runner Person!!) and holding hilarious signs. (Some of my favs: If this were easy it would be called Your Mom, Your butt makes you look fast, You trained longer than Kim Kardashian was married,Toenails are for sissies, Keep Calm and Marath On.)

Soldiers dressed in military uniforms cheered us on, and I love that Danny shook their hand and thanked them for their service. We high (or low) fived so many little kids lining the streets. Three and four year olds cheering at the top of their lungs and adding our hands to their running tallies (seventeen! eighteen!!...). We ran by street after street of fans holding out popsicles and wet paper towels, oranges and twizzlers, cold sponges and vaseline. This race is a part of these people. It runs in their blood and they are just as much a part of it as the racers.

We refueled at mile 10 (big thanks to Geoff from Team Rett who gave up one of his gels for me). Around mile eleven, Danny stopped to stretch. I knew if I stopped, I would keep stopping, so I just kept running. A few minutes later, someone squeezed my backside and, thank goodness, it was Ryan. And he was looking good! I have to admit, I feared the worst with his knee, so I was happy to see him running with a smile. We ran together for a quarter of a mile or so when he stopped to stretch and I continued on. By this point, at mile 11, we were nearing Wellesley and a whole slew of friends ready and waiting for us in their Team Leah Bean shirts. I was feeling good, but was definitely ready for a little extra push. They said they would be "somewhere in between miles 11 and 13." Mile 11 stretched on, so did mile 12. No sign of them. Just before the mile 13 sign (or just after? I don't remember), I saw them. Eighteen familiar faces, screaming MY name and holding signs reading, "Go Team Leah Bean," "Maren & Ryan - Go Team Rett," "Team Rett Fundracers - Go! Go! Go!," "We love you Maren & Ryan!," "Run Laytons Run!" 

I buried my face in my hands for a second to pull myself together and then  embraced each and every one of them. I was halfway through and they were exactly what I needed to see. I was so frazzled from the excitement that I didn't even think to stop for a picture, and after our quick embraces, continued on my way. They had been tracking us and said Ryan was about a minute behind me. 

As I pulled away and continued on the course, I said a silent prayer of gratitude for these friends and so many others who stood by my side cheering me on not only on race day, but also the last five months - or five years for that matter. 

About a half mile after my refueling-by-friend, Danny again caught up with  me. This time, for good. We ran together for the rest of the race, minus about a quarter of a mile combined where one of us needed to stretch.

Wellesley was amazing. That town knows how to do the fan club for the Boston Marathon. They cheered like you would not believe. Before we knew it we were running through what is known as the "screaming tunnel" of girls from Wellesley College. They were all holding signs saying "Kiss me...I'm Irish" (or ...I'm from Georgia, ...I'm Asian, ...I'm single, ...I won't tell your wife, ...etc.). I resisted, but Danny found himself a willing volunteer for a great big bear hug. He gave me permission to tell his wife. 

At mile 16, the hills started. But my training in New Hampshire and Danny's training in the hills of Orange County actually prepared both of us pretty well. The first hill was nothing. And as a reward at the top, we got to see a whole slew of Rett families on the side of the road to cheer us on. Seeing a handful of amazing angels was exactly what we needed to keep us moving. 

Just after this, I felt some minor chafing under my arm. About a half mile back, we had passed a knowing spectator holding popsicle sticks doused in Vaseline. Not feeling the chafing at that point, I passed them up. But it was starting to get bad, and fast, so I mentioned to Danny to be on the lookout. We grabbed some power gels at the aid station at mile 17 and refueled again. Just after, we saw another Rett family. Geoff, the dad who gave me my first gel, was running the marathon and was probably a mile or two ahead of us. His incredible wife was jumping up and down screaming our names and her big hug infused me with energy. I gave their sweet Sam a hug and continued down the street. A few blocks down, Danny yelled, "Vaseline! Vaseline!" and sure enough, there was the most blessed sight I had ever seen. A tall, graying man in khakis and a button down shirt holding an enormous jar of Vaseline. I ran across the street and, as I dug my fingers in to scoop out the good stuff, said, "Bless. Your. Soul." A few feet away, his wife said, while laughing, "You mean bless my soul." I laughed, blessed both of their souls, slathered my underarm and ran on my way. 

As we turned the corner, we mounted another hill, this one steeper but shorter than the first. I think we walked part of it. I don't remember. Danny was cramping in both of his thighs and I welcomed the break. 

Mile 19 found us in Newton. As we made our way down the tree-lined streets, I spotted six more Team Leah Bean shirts. My friend from church and her five cute kids were visiting her sister, who lives a few blocks off the course. Another round of hugs, another burst of energy. And she told us Ryan was still tracking about a minute behind!!  I again didn't have the clarity of mind to snap a group picture, but I know her sister took a few as we quickly chatted. 

We hit a bend in the road just up ahead and climbed the third of four hills, this one similar to the second - short and steep. The next mile or so was a blur as we prepared for the fourth and final hill - heartbreak. We were exhausted, but eager to have the hills behind us. We ran the first half, then through an intersection, and then arrived at the final half of the final hill. We did walk a bit as Danny was still in pain and my right quad was quickly seizing, but we made it. We made it though the hills. So we took a picture to prove it.

The top of heartbreak brought us to the entrance to Boston College. And I'll just say right here, right now, that Boston College gets the award for best crowd. For a solid mile, students lined the metal barricades shoulder to shoulder, leaning over as far as they could before they toppled to the ground, with their hands outstretched. At first I was in the middle of the road, too far to reach their palms. But after about 30 seconds, I made my way to the right hand shoulder and, for the next mile, slapped hundreds of hands. Seriously, hundreds. And as I did, they cheered for me, personally. Go Team Rett, you're doing awesome. Lookin' good purple! YOU, RIGHT THERE, you're doing amazing! Keep it up! You can do this!! 

I did stop to roll out my thigh for about 10 seconds and then continued on with the barrage of hand-slapping and morale boosting. I was grinning from ear to ear. Done with the hills. Less than five miles to go. And I didn't even realize it at first, but my cramp was gone. I've got this!

Danny and I continued on at what I felt was an increased pace from the previous few miles. We rolled gently down the hills into Brookline where the skyline got a little taller and much less residential and the fans got a little more crowded

At mile 24, we approached Coolidge Corner where, much to my surprise, three of my friends and their families were again standing to cheer me on! I wasn't expecting them anywhere else on the course and I was thrilled! I was just ahead of Danny at this point and he caught up as I was getting my picture taken with them. 

"We need to stop running," he said. "We need to get off the course."

Part 2 - We need to stop running
Part 3 - Unfinished


Amy said...

Oh Maren, I feel like I'm right there on the course with you. You are an amazing writer. What a blessing to have so many wonderful people along the course to re-energize you. I keep thinking, "hurry up Ryan, catch up so you can run together!" Haha... I can't wait to read the rest of the story, although I wish it ended here, happily. What a sad day in America's history. But congrats to you for doing awesome.

Shannon said...

just had to stop reading to say that I'm already tearing up from all of the support you guys had! Okay, on to part two.

Molly said...

I read every word. Not too long. In fact, not long enough. This has been the most endearing story. Thank you for sharing your race with us. We love you guys!

Emily said...

Thank you for posting Maren, I feel like I am running the race with you. I am so glad you are posting your experience. Sending love your family's way :)

Candace said...

Great post!! Your'e awesome!!