20
Apr
17

Boston 2017: Time to look back

Constant, forward, motion. Or, confortion, as I like to call it.

The process of running a marathon is all about looking ahead. All the training goes “into the bank” for the big day. When that comes, plans are made for travel to the start, when to get there, when to start hydrating .. all with a nod to the future.

For this year’s Boston Marathon, one of my goals was to look back. It would take some time to get that point, but you never know when you’ll be back.

Race day was as hot as advertised, so it didn’t take long to realize that even though I was in what I thought was 3:20 shape, that goal had to be reset. The 7:30 pace I started at quickly turned to an 8-minute pace.

Before it got too hot, however, some clouds rolled in around Mile 9. There was a tailwind too. Natick never lets me down.

The sun returned at about Mile 16 and it soon become clear that with the Newton hills still to come, this was not going to be a day to requalify for next year’s Boston. It was time to soak it all in.

The hills were tough, as usual, but I got up them without having to walk. Another goal reached. And out of nowhere, near the top of Heartbreak Hill, someone screamed out my full name. I turned and didn’t recognize this enthusiastic person at first. I’m used to seeing him in running gear. It was one of my running partners Brian Reeves and his daughter.

I was so startled and excited and didn’t know what to say, so I yelled “I need a hug!” and jumped into their arms. The hills were behind me. No looking back.

That scene made up for not spotting my wife and daughter in Ashland by the rock wall that I always see them at around Mile 3. They were there. I ran by. We never saw each other. Oh, well. Onward.

In Natick, not only did I get a snack and drink from my friend Kinch, but my cell phone too. I planned to run with it in my pocket and slid it in there and slapped some duct tape around it so it would stay in. Then I got caught up in the race just after downtown, where someone was blasting “Don’t Stop Believin.’” I was slapping hands and thrusting my hands in the air while Steve Perry wailed.

Then I reached down and felt for my phone. (Gasp!) It was gone. I certainly wasn’t going back to look for it. Constant, forward, motion.

After Heartbreak Hill, the crowds are never silent. They push you toward the city. The wind did too, blowing runners, and streams of cups, along the road.

Once the Citgo sign comes into view, the end is near. I knew my Rock Star status was also coming to an end. Everyone wants to cheer for me and touch my hand on this day, but in a few minutes, I’ll just be another stumbling finisher with a medal around my neck, a Mylar wrap blowing up over my head, and a water bottle in each hand.

But as much as you want to be done running, the final mile is a time to savor. Especially at Boston.

You go under the Mass Ave. bridge – with the Boston Strong banner hanging proudly – and there it is: Hereford Street. The penultimate turn on the course.

At this point in the race, the barriers keep spectators well off to the side. You really have to make an effort to get over there to slap hands. Same with Boylston Street, where the crowd is ever more pushed to the side. Last year I wanted to slide over the pound some flesh, but I felt too tired. And with the finish line looming like on oasis in the desert, I headed straight for it. And regretted it. Those fans deserved some love too.

This year, after the final turn onto Boylston, I bee-lined it to the barriers. And got one last high on high-fives before finally stopping for a 3:46 finish. There was, however, one final goal to go after.

One of the iconic images from the marathon is seeing all the runners stream down Boylston Street to the finish line. TV cameras constantly show that shot each year from the photo “bridge” above the finish line.

I’ve been a part of it, but I’ve never actually seen it from afar. The previous five times I ran Boston, I finished and then kept moving forward. Water. Medal. Mylar wrap. And then off to meet family. Constant, forward, motion.

But this time, I wanted to look back. It actually was a goal I set a year ago. I had to remind myself, “Don’t forget …”

And I didn’t. After finishing, I turned around and found a step ladder – right near where Uta Pippig was standing – to lean on and watched all those runners coming toward me.

I know what those final yards feel like. Your legs barely work, but your arms want to reach for the sky. You’ve made it to the end, a fact not guaranteed until your feet land on Boylston. I lingered for a minute to watch it all. Without a qualifying time, I may never have that chance again. Some things need to be savored.

Not only did I look back, but I went back to Natick the next day to pick up my phone. Someone had picked it up and turned it in. My father received a surprise call from “Tim” late on Patriots Day, and he knew it wasn’t from me: I told him at Mile 23 that I had lost my phone.

And when a member of the Natick Police Department was on the other end, he was even more surprised.

Getting my phone back put a bow on another memorable day along the route that connects Hopkinton to Boston. It’s always worth a look back.

 

 

 

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