By Ron Peck
After a brief foray into running for my high school cross-country team in my senior year, I forgot about running until I started again in my late 20s as a way to relieve stress. I soon found that I needed goals to keep me motivated and, without a plan for structured training, signed up and ran in a couple marathons in 2002. Thinking that marathons were simply not painful enough, I was bitten by the triathlon bug and completed Ironman Wisconsin in 2003 and 2005.
After that 2005 race, I thought I would take a short break from training. With the exception of a few half-hearted attempts to get fit again, that training break lasted eight years. Suddenly, I found that I had accumulated two beautiful daughters, a real job, and some flabbiness around the midsection. In August of 2013, I put on my running shoes again — I think they had been used about five times in four years of ownership at the time — and managed to run two miles around the “steep” hills near my home in Waterville.
I decided I would again need a goal so I used the time-honored tactic of signing up for a marathon, the Bay of Fundy Marathon, in 2014. After sticking with a training plan, I did well and had fun in that race [Editor's Note: Ron won that race with a time of 3:01:31!]
I found that I enjoyed running itself, but also liked the competitive and social aspect of races. Since then, I’ve run in races at distances ranging from the Quarry Road Summer Race 3K (tough but short!) to marathons.
I had run the Boston Marathon in 2015 and was amazed at the huge support shown by Boston and the communities along the route. I was especially looking forward to the race this year because my wife and daughters could accompany me so we could enjoy the city of Boston together (and then appreciate the slower pace of Waterville). Although my training had been hampered by a slow-healing sprained ankle, I was confident that I could at least get through the race. My goals were to have a few pictures of me actually smiling and perhaps to finish under three hours.
After arriving in Boston, I took the whole family to the zoo pre-race expo to pick up my race bib and assorted swag. The expo, of course, is a mass of nerves and excitement as runners and their supporters walk around bumping into everyone and everything.
We picked up my bib and then checked out the vendors’ booths with all the latest in (legal) ways for runners to get fitter and faster — shoes, training devices, clothes, treadmills, books, more shoes, and nutrition. The nutrition booths were particularly popular as they all had free samples of their amazing new products. One memorable gel had the definite look of cat excrement, and, unfortunately, the flavor wasn’t much better.
The actual purpose of the expo is, of course, looking at other runners and comparing yourself to them. The Boston Marathon is especially ideal for this activity since bib numbers reveal the "faster" runners—lower bib numbers = faster qualifying times. Although most runners might deny it, I think everyone subconsciously checks out other bibs — "OK, that guy looks fast, but he has a higher bib number than me…Wow, sub-1000 bib for that guy, really?”
In my case, I felt like an imposter since everyone with a number in my range looked way fitter than I felt. After having my fill of bad-tasting nutritional products and nerves, we returned to the hotel. Dinner was with some friends where I had the requisite plate of pasta and half of a pizza. I was loaded with carbs and ready to go!
Morning of the Race (April 18, 2016)
After pointlessly tossing and turning in the bed for a few hours, I got up at 4 a.m. and had my usual pre-race fare of fried-egg sandwiches with bagels and coffee. I dressed in my lucky race gear—2014 Quarry Road Race Series shirt, Quarry Road socks, one red shoe and one blue—and departed to walk to the Boston Common.
Given my complete lack of directional sense and the confusing streets of Boston, I was worried that I would get lost on the way. However, this concern was unfounded as the streets were full of streams of runners flowing toward the Common. I met and struck up a conversation with Jake, a triathlete from San Diego who grew up in Wisconsin. As a former Wisconsin resident, I could empathize with his desire to move to a place without winter. When we arrived at the Common, I was awed by the enormous line of school buses waiting to whisk 30,000 runners to the start line; it’s perhaps the most visible reminder of the logistics involved in organizing the marathon.
I found a lucky bus and was off to Hopkinton. The bus ride seemed really long (actually, it’s 45 minutes) which was psychologically tough because I knew that only my feet would carry me back to Boston. I passed the time by talking to my seatmate, a young biomedical engineer developing better methods to detect cancers from blood tests. I gave him a few suggestions (use better antibodies and give me a huge fee to consult), and we briefly discussed our preparation for the race. Fortunately, he had a much worse training cycle than I did, so I had some confidence that I wouldn’t finish in last place.
We finally reached the Athletes Villages, a fancy name for a school surrounded by hundreds of Porta-potties and several Jumbotron video screens. I waited in line to get my picture taken next to the "Hopkinton" sign and met a fourth grade teacher who grew up near my hometown in Idaho. We reminisced about potatoes for a while, and I would later find out she was actually the winner of the Salt Lake City Marathon. After I got my picture taken with my trademark cheesy smile, I passed the time looking for the most ridiculous throwaway clothes: jackets with neon colors, sweatpants in various seasonal themes, and even pajamas with R-rated graphics. I think my favorite was the guy wearing a one-piece giraffe costume complete with a tail.
Around 9:30 a.m., we were herded towards the actual start line. This, of course, is the most stressful part of the race because I wanted to save energy, but somehow move fast enough to make one last bathroom stop before the start. (Success!)
The start line is divided into corrals assigned by bib numbers. I made my way to my corral and squeezed in with all the other sweaty, nervous runners. I could barely hear the National Anthem and the introduction of some famous person to fire the starting gun. More waiting, waiting, waiting…. (“Could I have made one more port-a–potty visit?”)
BANG! We were off...er, not really, as it took about a minute for me to reach the actual starting line at a walking pace. Finally, we reached the timing mat and a chorus of chirps and beeps marked everyone starting their watch at EXACTLY the precise millisecond they crossed the line.
The first few miles of the marathon course are a notoriously steep downhill section. Combined with the huge adrenaline rush, it’s very easy to go out WAY too fast. I ran the first mile about 15 seconds faster than my goal pace and was still passed by thousands of runners. I settled in and remember thinking how odd it felt to be running a big city major marathon through classical New England countryside.
After maintaining my pace for the first half, I was boosted by hearing the loud cheers of the famous Wellesley scream tunnel. In addition to their loud and continuous cheering, Wellesley students are known for holding up signs with offers to kiss runners. Since I’ve heard of mononucleosis (and I’m happily married), I politely declined the offer.
I managed to hold my pace for the first 16 miles, but the notorious hills of Newton knocked the life out of my legs. As I crested Heartbreak Hill at mile 21, my wife and daughters cheered me on and made a short video. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice them as I was undertaking the all-important task of checking my watch for the millionth time. I wanted to just walk the remaining miles, but, perversely, I also knew that I wanted to qualify for next year’s Boston Marathon.
I willed my legs to keep moving and, after an eternity, made the turn onto Boylston Street. Since it isn’t often that I have a friendly audience, I used the LONG straightaway to play to the crowd and even managed to force a smile when I crossed the finish line. I wasn’t thrilled with my time of 3:04, but it was good enough to qualify for next year’s race so I have the option to suffer again next April.
One of the many amazing volunteers draped a medal around my neck. (Seriously, where do they find such selfless people willing to even get close to a bunch of smelly runners?) I then grabbed some of the free food offered and made my way to the family meeting area conveniently located in the windiest and shadiest spot downtown.
Since the race was a bit on the warm side, I was nicely drenched with sweat to freeze while waiting for my selfless wife and irritable daughters. After a few forced smiles for pictures, we went to the subway station so I could enjoy walking down three flights of stairs very, very slowly.
We all recovered for the afternoon and then went to the marathon after-party at Fenway Park. Since I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan, this was a special treat as we got to walk around the field, sit in the dugout, and even get close to the three most recent World Series trophies. It was also fun to see thousands of people shuffling around taking the opportunity to proudly show off their finisher’s medals. (It isn’t often that you can wear a medal and not look ridiculous.)
Altogether, I had a great experience and it was ideal preparation for the more important task of taking on all-comers at the Quarry Road Summer Race Series this summer.
Congratulations, Ron! Thanks for sharing your race report just in time for readers getting ready for September registration for the 2017 race! Ron finished 2022 out of 26629 finishers, so not last.