Marathon No. 3: Rookie mistakes

My first Boston was overwhelming.

It was such a big deal to be running in a race I’d watched as a kid, growing up in Natick. Or on TV. It was THE race. One that dominated the headlines in the weeks leading up to the start.

We used to walk downtown as a family to watch the runners go by. I remember distinctly, while positioned in front of Morse Institute library, asking how long a marathon was.

The answer was unfathomable to a 10 year old. But we watched most every year, and not always in Natick: we went to Heartbreak Hill, yelling out “Last Hill!” over and over.

I remember rooting for Bill Rodgers and I remember the “Run for the Hoses” when Jack Fultz won on a 90-degree day. My mother took pictures and put them in an album, writing a caption next to them. It was a long time ago.

Now, I was preparing to run in one of the most anticipated events of the year – locally and worldwide. The 2003 Boston Marathon.

I was still living in Vermont, so my wife and I stayed the weekend of the race with my parents in Natick. I was keyed up the whole time. Nervous, excited, even a little scared. And because of all the emotions, I did not sleep well either Saturday or Sunday night. It was a recipe for disaster.

The morning of the race, I was up early, even though it didn’t start until noon. I just could not sleep any longer. My body was ready to go, or so it thought, but was working on two lousy nights of sleep.

After being dropped off at Hopkinton High for final preparations, I waited in a long line for a porta-potty. That’s when I began to realize that I was not feeling great. The tell-tale sign: I was cranky. The person in front of me kept turning around, looking back toward the end of the line, probably just looking for someone familiar in the crowd.

And it was annoying the heck out of me. Turn around, damn it!

That’s when I knew: The lack of sleep from the two previous nights was catching up to me. And I hadn’t even run my first step.

En route to the starting line along Hayden Rowe Street, I passed a long line of school busses. And then I heard someone call my name. “Is that Tim!”

My first thought was “who, out of all the thousands of people gathered, knows me here?”

It was Gerry Greenwald, by way of Boulder, Colo., from the Keene race. The one who needed the “unplanned pit stop.”

We exchanged hellos and then it was off to our starting corrals.

Once there, I tried to snap myself out of my funk. I jogged a few blocks; nothing worked. I figured once the gun went off I’d be all right. I was coming off a sub-3-hour marathon and trained well and that would carry me through.


Then I made another rookie mistake. I went out too hard. Yes, this was my third marathon, but I still had much to learn about how to run one properly, smartly.

My goal was to run the race in 3 hours. But it was 71 degrees at the start, higher than what was predicted. And I started running sub-7-minute miles anyway. Not a good idea.

Things started well enough. I saw my friends and family in Natick and hit halfway in 1:33. But not long after the Scream Tunnel in Wellesley, I started to fade. The people around me started to pull away; they weren’t running any faster, though. I was slowing down.

By the time I got to the Rte. 128 overpass, near Mile 16, cramps in my legs forced me to walk. Race over.

I didn’t drop out, however. I rotated between walking and shuffling. I’d walk, then someone would call out my bib number to cheer me on, and I’d shuffle for a few feet. Then it was back to walking.

The last six miles were mostly a walk. I was pissed that all the training went for naught. But I kept on moving. I figured if I planned on running 26 miles, I could at least walk the final six.

When I finally crossed the finish line, I couldn’t even break 4 hours. My time was 4:04, still my slowest marathon ever. Now it was time to find my family and get my bag of clothes that they had brought for me, and head home, tail between my legs.

When I reached the family meeting area, an hour later that I’d planned, my parents and wife were nowhere to be found. It was after 4:30, the shadows from the tall buildings were growing long and I was getting cold.

Finally, they appeared. They had gotten delayed trying to get on the T. Every train they waited for was packed. I was glad to see them, even though I had a lousy race.

But as time passed, I realized that it didn’t matter. In the grand scheme of life, having a bad marathon means little. At least I was able to experience Boston. There would be more chances. Since my Keene was race in late September, the qualifying time was good for another Boston.

Count me in.


2 Responses to “Marathon No. 3: Rookie mistakes”

  1. April 1, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    I’ll be running Boston for the first time this year, and I’m feeling a lot of that same excitement and anxiety. I went to BU and cheered for so many years, I’m excited to pass the current generation of drunk college kids. I’ll have to work hard to calm myself down and get some solid sleep in the days before the race!

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