Saturday, April 26, 2014

My 2014 Boston Marathon

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall — think of it, always.
Mahatma Gandhi
The Story of My Experiments with Truth, 1927

Unless you were living in a cave this week, or just mesmerized by CNN's seemingly never-ending coverage of the disappearance of flight 370, you probably noticed that Monday's 118th Boston Marathon went off without a hitch.

I received an email from the Boston Athletic Association yesterday, indicating that of the 32,456 runners that crossed the starting line in Hopkinton, 31,913 completed the race (a 98% finisher-to-entrant ratio). It was the second-largest Boston Marathon in the race's history. An American male (and fellow UCLA alum! Go Meb!) won for the first time in 31 years, and Rita Jeptoo set a women's course record with her third Boston win. It was a joyous day, in stark contrast to the traumatic events that occurred during the race in 2013.

As I sat down to write this post, I recalled the day I wrote my last post-race report in the middle of a week that was filled with tears, anxiety, confusion, and anger. Over the course of last week, I revisited those feelings upon seeing the finish line on the morning of the attack's one-year anniversary, when I later walked into the Marriott Copley Hotel (which I hadn't visited since we were evacuated from its lobby), and as I spoke with friends who were injured in the bombing or were running the race and stopped short of their finish.

When all was said and done, I'm extremely happy that I decided to run again this year. In order to gain some closure, I, like so many people here, needed to have a beautiful and amazing, incident-free Marathon weekend. And it did not disappoint. Below is the story of my 2014 Boston Marathon experience.

My weekend started off on Friday night after work, when my friend Hannah and I headed down to Nike Boston to check out the pictures on display in the store from the photo shoot we attended. That day was Nike's grand opening so it was very busy, and I'll admit it was kind of awesome to see pictures of myself up on the wall at a retail store, even those in which I was in some contrived stretching pose. We grabbed some food with a few other runners and then I headed home for an early bedtime.

On Saturday morning, Kristen and I got up early and headed into the city just in time to see people racing down Boylston at the end of the B.A.A. 5K. We met up with Hannah and her roommate Katie again at Nike, so Kristen could check out the pictures while the rest of us joined the Nike Run Club for a "shake-out-the-cobwebs" run along the Esplanade. They actually had some of the elites there to warm up with us, including soon-to-be-record-holder Rita Jeptoo, last year's men's winner Lelisa Desisa, as well as the first-ever winner of the Olympic Women's Marathon, Joan Benoit Samuelson. So cool!

We then made a quick stop by the Old South Church near the finish line, where a group was handing out scarves that were made all over the world for the runners. With the sun shining and everyone in a good mood, walking down Boylston to the Hynes Convention Center felt like a dream. The Fitness Expo, however, was a complete nightmare: it was jam-packed with people, so we quickly picked up my bib and my marathon jacket, then got out of there.

On Sunday afternoon, Kristen's parents joined us for the Dana-Farber Pasta Party. As with last year, it had a number of touching moments and we were very excited to hear that DMFC had already exceeded $6M in funds raised for the Barr Program (which is about a million more than its goal!). There were ~700 runners on the team this year and I was amazed by how many people were recognized as "Pacesetters" (including myself, thanks to the generous donations which allowed me to hit my own personal $10,000 goal).

When the third Monday in April finally arrived, my anxiety fell away entirely. I had a long wait at the DFMC refuge in Hopkinton, but it passed quickly and I met some nice people, including a guy named Scott. A few weeks ago I started working at a technology startup with my friend Keith, whose kids happen to go to school with Scott's, and I'd been hearing about this guy for weeks. I had even recommended my old officemate, Andrew, to do some contract work for him. 
We both reflected on this amazing coincidence-- that out of 36,000+ participants and 700+ DFMC runners, we happened to sit down right next to one another just before the race. I noted that it felt like one of those "the universe just wants to be noticed" moments (a reference to quote in John Green's The Fault in Our Stars), and so fitting for what we were all about to do together.

It's hard to describe what it's like to run in the Boston Marathon, other than to say it is 26.2 miles of pure, radiating positivity and happiness. Coupled, of course, with a large number of miles of serious pain and a necessary determined focus to make it to the end. It was hot-- temps got up into the 70s, which was a shock to the system of those of us who trained in sub-30 degree temps for most of the winter. With a few exceptions, the 20-something people I knew running this race all said they cramped up and had a rough time out there. I read similar stories online about other runners. I think I read that 10% of the field required medical attention at some point during or after the race, and upon finishing I saw many, many people in rough shape. I ended up running a smarter and stronger race than last year, but finished in 03:39:29, 2 mins slower than last year and my slowest marathon time to date.

But I didn't care. I decided to do this race without setting a hard time goal for myself, because more than anything I just wanted to appreciate it. After I saw Kristen and her mom in Wellesley, I was still feeling pretty strong but entering the Newton hills my calves started seizing up and I kept having to stop and stretch them out. But then I started seeing people I knew...

Friends from Achieve Fitness throughout Newton and then again entering Kenmore Square. The Zoom Multisport crew screaming their heads off at me as I started up Heartbreak. Friends from the Broad Institute in Newton, Brookline, and Boston.  Other people yelling at me in various spots, including my friend Christian as I went under the Mass Ave overpass in a moment reminiscent to the home stretch last year. And finally, crowds 8-10 people deep along both sides of Hereford and Boylston. After finishing and having the medal hung around my neck, I don't think I stopped smiling for the rest of the day.

Last year's event shook my city to its core and affected me in a profound way. I felt a persistent "don't worry, we'll get through this" undercurrent here all the way up until the night before the race. My friend Jack wrote a great blog post a few weeks ago about his experience training for this marathon, having grown up in Cleveland, and I could relate to much of what he said about bonding with this city. And in thinking about how best to convey my experience in this year's race, I thought mostly about that bond. While many saw this as an opportunity to celebrate our country's resilience and patriotism (this is, after all, the reason for Patriot's Day in Boston), my experience gave me a reason to feel at home again.

Monday was a perfect day, and one that left me feeling the embrace of my city and its residents, the running community, and of course, my friends and loved ones. I was proud of my accomplishment and that of my friends, and grateful for the hundreds of thousands of people that I saw across those 26.2 miles whose only purpose in those moments was to celebrate the human spirit. To relish the bonds that define this community, which are based on a shared pride in where we live and what we do. Those bonds are the essence of "Boston Strong" and I'm proud to call myself a Bostonian.

In closing, I want to say thanks to all of my family and friends that have supported me over these past two years of fundraising and training-- especially my wife, Kristen, without whom, I wouldn't have been able to raise as much money for Dana-Farber. All of this is a ton of work, and I'm not sure I'll be doing it again next year, but I will most certainly be looking forward to attending next year's Boston Marathon.

For those still wishing to make a donation, you may still do so!

Monday, April 7, 2014

We All Run Boston

Only two weeks until race day, so here's a quick update:

I've somehow managed to become a "DFMC Pacesetter" for the second year in a row, and am only about $1400 short of reaching my fundraising goal (thank you thank you thank you!). I've miraculously reached a state of being tendonitis-free in my knee, despite the steadily-increasing mileage (kinesio tape is magic), and have felt strong in most of my long weekend runs. Most importantly, I think I'm ready to run the Boston Marathon again.

This last statement speaks primarily to a sort of psychological and emotional conditioning during of my past several months.  Back in February, I attended a special DFMC meeting at which a guy by the name of Patrick Downes talked to us. He and his fiancĂ© Jessica each lost a leg in last year's bombing. After hearing his story, I asked him a question:

What are you doing to mentally prepare yourself to enjoy April 21st, a day that will no doubt be laced with memories and feelings related to the life-changing awfulness you experienced last year?

Patrick answered my question by talking about the outpouring of love and support from people all over the world he and his wife have experienced over the past year and how the Boston Marathon bombings have amazingly brought people together in a way that is truly remarkable and will be celebrated during this year's race.

I think this was a good answer to my question, but it has only resonated with me in the past few weeks, as the weather has started getting nicer and excitement has started to build around me here in Boston. I think I needed to answer that question for myself in the context of my own personal experience-- and have made a point to reflect on the moments I've had over the past year that would not have been the same without last year's tragedy:

  • A few weeks after last year's race, I spent 24 hours in a van with a group of complete strangers during the Massachusetts Reach-The-Beach relay race, and discovered some fantastic new friends.
  • I joined Achieve Fitness in Somerville and met some more friends, including the owners, Jason and Lauren, who offered to host a "DFMC MetCon" charity workout for me last month. Thanks to a great turnout of my friends at Achieve, who invited some of their own friends, I raised another $850+ toward my goal.
  • I got to show my Grandpa Bob, who passed away last month at a ripe old age of 96, a photo album my mom put together of last year's race weekend.  He was so, so proud of me.
  • In November I ran the New York City Marathon with my friend Susanna, beating my Boston time by 9 minutes. Some of our friends made the trip down to cheer us on, and after the race I received so many incredibly supportive emails and Facebook messages from other friends of mine who were tracking me during the race.
  • In the past six months, I've competed in two foot races with my five year-old nephew, Jackson. I won the first race, but he smoked me the second time.
  • A few weeks ago, I spent a morning masquerading as a Nike model, attending a photo shoot with some other "real" Boston runners for their newly-renovated Newbury Street store that's set to open next week. I also got invited to the Red Sox game this past weekend with the Nike Run Club, made some more new friends, and got my picture taken with the World Series trophy.

I am so incredibly grateful for all of these experiences and all of these friends. Through running and fitness, I've found a community of extraordinary people who mostly just want to have fun together but find as much value in challenging themselves as they do in supporting one another. I could not be so mentally and physically prepared for this race without these experiences and others like them. And through them, I've experienced an outpouring of love and support for myself.

I wanted the focus of this year's race to be on its spectacle, not its tragedy, but I've come to realize that this is all just part of the story of the Boston Marathon.  Last year was a terrible year in it's history, but I think we will all share a particular appreciation of human resiliency and community as a result of it.

I'm ready for closure, and so excited to run my heart out for my city.

I'm humbled to be a part of it.

My bib # is 26313, and you can learn how to track my progress during the race here. There's also plenty of time to help me hit my goal for DFMC...