Sunday, April 22, 2012

Episode Three: Steady Forward Progress

...Time to cut to the chase!

"If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment." -  Henry David Thoreau
We make our way down a gentle slope, along the tree shaded streets of Hopkinton. For a brief moment I realize that I do, indeed, remember how to run. I glance down at my Garmin: 8:30ish pace. Too fast for today, but it feels good right now. I know better than to trust that good feeling, but hell, my whole race strategy has already flown out the window with the hot, humid breeze, so what the heck. I know that this run is going to hinge on whether or not I pay very close attention to what my body tries to tell me.

I know that I am looking into the eyes of people lining the roads, but no faces are etched in my memory, save one little girl who absently holds her hand out. I veer to the right to high-five her outstretched hand. She is startled from the daze of thousand of runners streaming past her, and smiles up at me.

So goes the first few miles. We cruise along feeling not too bad. We still believe (though we know better) that we can feel like this for the next 23.2 or so miles. That's the optimism required to even begin.

Soon enough I begin the process of dumping water on my head. At first I try to be neat about it - wetting my hat, but not pouring the water over my head. I know I want to try to keep my feet dry. I will realize soon enough, that this is a futile effort.

At the 10k mark I cross the rubber mat across the road. Friends and family receive their first notification that I am actually running - that I didn't bail at the last minute. Just knowing this offers a degree of comfort and encouragement. 
Sent: 11:37 AM Mon, Apr 16 Msg: At 11:37 AM: Athlete Alert. Caolan Macmahon @ 10km. Time 0:57:03, Pace 9:10
And thus far, things are moving along better than anticipated - certainly not the pace I was originally aiming for, but better than what I had feared.

When we reach Framingham the heat become hideous. This is the first stretch of road completely devoid of trees or grass or anything green and cooling (the evening news that night reported a high of 91 degrees in Framingham and Wellesley) and it seems to go on forever. On both sides of the road there is only concrete and more concrete reflecting the high sun. Storefronts line one side with the T blowing through town on the other. At this point I liberally dump water over my head.

It's here that I score my first dose of ice, thankfully offered by a spectator. I greedily stuff it into my bottle, fill my hat and slide several chunks down the front of my jog bra. I knew there would come I time when I would appreciate being a female runner - and after 40 years of running, believe it or not, it's right now!

Spectators spray us with water from hoses and hydrants, water guns, spray bottles, buckets, bowls...They offer Popsicles, little cups of electrolytes, grapes, oranges, pretzels, gummy bears, hamburgers - beer - and there's a tent with the sign that reads: "Quitter's Tent: Free Ice Cream". I pass by a whole line of people jumping on mini-tramps and another group furiously pedaling away on stationary bikes. A man sits on a ladder yelling down at us to look at ourselves as we pass his storefront windows because we are "lookin' soooo good".  As if!! This place is nuts. Too much heat has cooked their brains, poor things.

At the 20k mark I'm pleasantly distracted by the Wellesley women and the infamous scream tunnel. Distraction is a good thing at this point because at the 10 mile mark I decided that I really really really hate the shoes I'm wearing and my feet just ache. At that point I can't help but think, "Oh my god, I can't believe I have 16 more miles to go".

At some point between 10 and 13.1 miles tunnel vision kicks in with a vengeance. I'm really not feeling good and the thought of continuing for many many miles more is agonizing. All I can remember about this part of the race is moving forward...steady forward progress, passing by faces, buildings, cheering crowds, other runners...but it feels so painfully slow.

I stop to use a vacant loo. When I come out I see and hear a woman, a spectator, shouting "That's not cool dude" at the top of her lungs, chasing down a guy in an orange t-shirt. He's grabbed a Spibelt with someone's bib attached, left outside the porta potty - a bloody stinking bandit stealing someone's bib while she's in the loo! This will not be my last encounter with Boston bandits (more on that in another post!).

Half way point: 13.1 miles: 
Sent: 12:45 PM Mon, Apr 16 Msg: At 12:45 PM: Athlete Alert. Caolan Macmahon @ Half-Marathon. Time 2:04:22, Pace 9:29
Oh my god, I can't believe we're only half way. This is not a good thought to have. I feel that I'm moving at a snail's pace. I'm afraid to look at my Garmin, then I see I'm still under 10 minute miles. How can that possibly be? I just focus on grabbing every piece of ice I can get my hands on...

The street widens. I haven't a clue where we are. There's water everywhere, flowing down the street. Rivers of watery-sticky-Gatorade. Crushed cups stick to the bottom my feet...slop, slop, slop. We try to run along the south side of the street, catching some shade from the buildings. I remember to do a Clif Shot - but then realize I need more water. Outstretched hands offer cup after cup of water. I look, thankfully, into a Samaritan's eyes, but nothing much registers. Drink and go...drink and go...drink and go...

I avoid the B.A.A. "misting tents", which are more like "downpour tents", because my feet are killing me and my shoes are about as wet as I can tolerate. I feel blisters starting. This, in addition to the aching that began several miles earlier makes every step feel heavy and painful. Oh, ah, oh, ah, oh, ah...I'm not used to this.
Sent: 1:43 PM Mon, Apr 16 Msg: At 01:43 PM: Athlete Alert. Caolan Macmahon @ 30km. Time 3:02:48, Pace 9:48

The Newton Hills are, well, hills, but they're pretty indistinguishable from any of the other dozens of hills we've already gone up and down and up and down. At this point a lot of runners are walking.

Halfway up Heartbreak Hill I stop to check on my taped foot (taped because I have PF/PTT, both of which are killing me). It feels like the tape is doing something funky down there which isn't helping the aching feet situation. I pull off my shoe and sock and see that the tape is still in place, though it's not exactly stuck to anything. I figure as long as it's not rolling up it's better than nothing. I ring-out my sock, which is now all stretched out and baggy, slip on my shoe, and continue the climb. At this point all the time spent stopping to get ice and water and Gatorade and ring-out socks really doesn't make a difference.

At the top of Heartbreak Hill the course narrows with spectators moving into the street, in places 10 deep. As we pass Boston College things get a little crazy, and I don't have the mental or physical acuity to deal with it. Four college students leap over the fence lining the course and start running and giggling. One young woman, wearing flip-flops, falls about 5 feet in front of me. I veer around her as she jumps back up to her feet. "That's really not cool guys", I yell at them. The police lining the course have NO control. Two more college students jump the barrier and start running with a female friend. A cop yells, "get off the course!!". One of the boys yells back "We gotta run with her. We gotta run with her." The cop let's them go. 

As we head downhill into the final stretch with Boston in sight I feel chills. Is it emotion or heat stroke? At last I can see the Citgo sign and I know that that's a good thing though I don't remember why. What mile are we on? My thighs are so tight and heavy.

The last miles are a blur. I see runners, very fit looking runners, lying on the ground being tended to. Oh, to get this far and not make it all the way, I say to myself! It's too scary to think about. The last two miles through the city are baking hot and the air is entirely dead still.

We turn on to Boyleston and there's the finish, in sight but still .4 mi away. Tunnel vision consumes me. Must get to finish...must get to finish. I see nothing around me, my eyes totally focused on the goal. I'm aware of the crowds but I'm completely unaware of any runners around me. I cross the mats.
Sent: 3:06 PM Mon, Apr 16 Msg: At 03:06 PM: Athlete Alert. Caolan Macmahon @ Finish. Time 4:25:41, Pace 10:07

I'm done...finished...toast...stick a fork in me...My second slowest marathon ever (first slowest was in Boulder in 2009 - 86 degrees). All I can think is: It's bad but not as bad as it might have been.

So what's the take-away here?

I think I ran this as well as I could have given the conditions. I didn't cramp up, that's good. I 'ran' the whole way though I really really wanted to walk many many times. This is something that's important to me - it's a personal thing. I learned a lot from my previous experiences and I used that here.

So here's the thing - Now I want to run Boston again! I didn't think this would matter, but now it does. I want to run it in better conditions and really experience what I feel I missed. I missed the marathon because it was more an exercise in survival and toughness then actual running. Sure, I guess I experienced the spectacle of the Boston Marathon, but I didn't really get to RUN Boston. Unfortunately I also failed to get a qualifying time, which I firmly believe I could have done handily had the situation been different. Since my next marathon is in November (NYC), it seems that 2013 is out for me :(

But now I have a new bee-in-my-bonnet, so I guess I should thank the weather gods for giving me new purpose in my life. Or, maybe not
"We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope." Martin Luther King, Jr.

"What keeps me going is a constant sense of disappointment with what I've already done. " Robert Wyatt


  1. Again, great details! I still would give an organ or two to have been there.

    Onward and upward, right? Third time's a charm for the weather.

  2. AWESOME job hanging tough and dealing with all the challenges along the way. You are due for some good weather at your next Boston!!!

  3. Amazing run, thank you for writing about your experience and sharing it with us!

  4. You showed amazing disciplined and strength in this marathon. You understood the situation of the heat and adjusted. You kept running and completed your goal FINISHER! Congratulations

  5. Wow, what a tough race. I admire your discipline and 'getting the job done'. I totally know what you mean about feeling that you didn't really get to 'run' Boston. Whenever that opportunity comes, I know you'll crush it when you get there.

  6. You may not have run Boston as you'd expected it to be, but you certainly ran it as it was, ran it well, and finished it! Mega congrats!

  7. Beautiful!! you rock!!!!

    1. Thanks Barb :) But it really did suck! Which is of course why I must go back.


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