For many, including myself, the idea of running a Boston marathon, heck any marathon, was a far off dream. Even if you are fortunate enough to secure a bib for the race, you face a struggle with a Boston winter training regimen and one of the more difficult marathon courses around. In total, we had 17 HBS runners participate in the 115th running of the race. Though we all experienced our share of ups and downs, it was a tremendously rewarding experience and something I will never forget.
Due to the popularity of the city’s Patriots day race, capacity is capped at ~27,000. Qualifiers are required to run a marathon in the prior twelve months with blazing speed to secure their spot. These standards continue to tighten as marathon popularity has skyrocketed in the last two decades. For the 2013 race, male and female runners will need to complete a prior marathon in under 3:05 and 3:35, respectively.
This year 17 runners from HBS threw everything they had at the race. Three runners met the entry requirements while the remaining 14 partnered with charities they felt strongly about. The HBS teams raised over $50,000 to support Dana Farber Cancer Research and the American Liver Foundation.
When I learned of the opportunity to join nine other HBS students and partner with the American Liver Foundation I couldn’t pass it up. Years earlier I had developed the crazy ambition of running all five major marathons (Chicago, New York, Boston, London and Berlin) and this partnership with the Liver Foundation provided the access, along with my HBS network to support me along the journey.
One of the best parts of running a marathon is sharing the experience with friends and family. On Friday afternoon I met my mother at the airport, and we headed directly down to the marathon expo at the Hynes Center. There I would pick up my race packet, do some shopping for gear and check out the new products hitting the market. Even though we arrived 30 min before the expo opened, hundreds of people were already lined up to pick up their coveted bib. Upon dropping the barriers at 2pm, thousands of people poured in. You could feel a contagious energy of expectations and dreams filling the air that I have seldom experienced outside of marathons and triathlons.
On Sunday my mother and I headed down to a brunch hosted by the American Liver Foundation to recognize the athletes, fundraisers and beneficiaries. As uncomfortable and stressing as it was to ask friends, classmates and colleagues for donations, this event made it worth all the effort. We heard from 15 year old Tom Williams and his mother about their struggles. Tom had suffered numerous serious health issues and hospitalizations, culminating in acute liver failure a year earlier. Fortunately, nine months after being placed on the organ donor list, Tom received a liver transplant and has moved steadily down the road to recovery. The American Liver Foundation supported the Williams family and now Tom and his mother have become strong advocates of the cause. Tom has gone on to build a program to spread awareness at his high school and in the community. He summed up his experiences stating that after years of struggles, he now appreciates every healthy day and is committed to living his life to the fullest.
Come race day it was a 5:15am wake-up call and a taxi downtown to catch our busses out to the start at Hopkinton. Sitting on the bus for the 45 minute freeway ride out to the start area it began to sink in how much distance we would cover during the day. Getting off the busses at athlete village at 7:15am we were slammed with cold winds. I was not looking forward to the cold 3.5 hour wait before our run would begin. The HBS liver team found an open area on the side of hill, threw down garbage bags to sit on, wrapped up in blankets and chatted about expectations for the day. Regardless of whether you are a marathon veteran or newbie everyone constantly questions their preparation. We asked ourselves, “did I train enough, am I well hydrated, how much should I eat, how much clothing do I wear, do I have enough GU packs and should I apply sun screen. Most importantly, we ask “at what times and where is the best place to find a porta-potty”?
Three hours had flown by before I knew it, immersed in excitement and conversation with the rest of the team. We made final adjustments to our gear and were on our way down the 0.7 miles to the starting corrals. The music blares, the announcer wishes us a final good luck and the gun sounds. We started down a steep pitch, running shoulder to shoulder as the massive crowd gained speed. Jordan Bohnen, Michelle Richards and I ran single file, attempting to avoid the more congested center of the course. The narrow course is an accident waiting to happen. Only a mile into the race Michelle was one of the unfortunate runners to get tripped up in the mess. Even though her ankle was badly sprained Michelle ran half the course before stopping to get it wrapped and then persevered through the finish line.
Jordan and I continued to run together and pace each other for the first 16 miles of the race. Having a running partner and chatting for the first two hours made time fly by in the blink of an eye, with only slight traces of pain. Soon after Jordan pushed ahead and I made a quick stop at the Wellesley Hospital to give my mom a hug, get a picture taken and pick up some more GU gels before I was off again. I was feeling great and on pace to shatter my personal marathon record until I hit mile 18.5 and the cramps set in. Marathon runners can share the dejected feeling that overcomes you when that first cramp sets in, as they normally only get worse. You immediately become emotional thinking of how hard you have trained and the sacrifices you have made over the last three months. You are very discouraged that the goals you were striving toward will not be met. It was at this time when I asked myself, “Why in the hell do I put myself through so much pain and misery”?
After stopping twice to stretch over the next two miles and drinking several cups of Gatorade I once again picked up the pace. By mile 21 my legs felt like concrete but my spirits rose when I saw the Boston skyline. With my body in extreme pain I fell into a trance for the next three miles. Even with amazing crowds of rowdy supporters lining both sides of the road all I can remember is passing a blur of colors and movement, hearing everything and nothing. Twenty minutes later I looked down at my Garmin watch and noticed any moment I would be hitting mile 24. There I would hit Coolidge Corner and the HBS cheering section. Though I wanted to fall over and pass out I had to put on a somewhat happy face as I went by. After hearing the cheers and encouragement of friends, three of my section-mates jumped out onto the course and ran the next 1.5 miles with me. I had hit the wall and their support is what gave me the energy to finish out the race.
I didn’t set any records or even break my own personal best in the 2011 Boston Marathon but now that the race is over I realize that I enjoyed it more than any previous race. Running for a purpose and seeing the difference that our fundraising and awareness campaign has in the lives of people like Tom Williams has been very rewarding. I will remind myself to never take my health for granted and make the most of every precious day I am given. Lastly, I have realized that even though running is a solo sport, it is the support and shared experience with friends and loved ones that makes the effort worthwhile.