Monday, July 4, 2016

A Day Off in April

After my last marathon I was sure I would run another but didn't have any specific goals or ideas. 30 for 30 was great fun but what next?  I slowly started thinking about qualifying and running Boston. There's a huge part of me that said; (and keeps saying) You're too slow. You're an endurance athlete, sure, all day at 10 min pace, sure. But run fast? For 26 miles? No way. The other part of me (shall we call it the stubborn part?) started looking into it. For a 30-35 year old female to qualify they must run a 3:35 marathon. My PR is 3:45. What's 10 minutes? It's 20ish seconds a mile. Sounds small. The more I read into it the more I realized 3:35 wasn't going to cut it. No one who just qualified was making it in.To even be considered, runners needed to shave almost two and a half minutes off of the standing qualifying time. If I was going to do it I would have to start training to run a 3:30 marathon. 

The last week in January rolled around and I felt great. I had been building my base miles and cross training like a kid with ADD in a play ground. I decided to map out a plan and go for it. Hindsight being 20/20, I went for it a little too hard.
Now what? Should I try to qualify in May? Should I can the race and retrain? Push it back a month? 

Epic Man
Every year for the past eight, a couple if my friends have turned the Boston Marathon into a triathlon/fundraiser/inspiration mission. They call this the Epic Man. The general gist is to ride their bikes from Portland, Maine to Hopkinton, Ma overnight in time to start the marathon. Usually, they throw in a kayaking element to round out the Tri. Over the past eight years the event has grown and shrunk. Encompassing back to back marathons, trans American flights and skydiving. This year they were keeping it simple, ride to Hopkinton and run the race. 
I have wanted to participate since its founding but never thought I was fit enough and had the lucky excuse that I was usually sailing in Antigua at the same time. This year I was available and fit bit didn't want to derail my training a month before my marathon. When a boat delivery got delayed and I realized my training had gone out the window anyways, I agreed to ride the first half of the ride and see about the rest. I would say anyone that knows me knew I would go for the whole thing. A piece of myself must have known when I packed warm cycling clothes and my running shoes, just in case. 

Just after noon on Sunday a group of 9 riders, 3 support cars and some family and friends gathered at Flatbread Co. in Portland to kick off Epic Man 2016 with some pizza and beer. The 50 mile warmup ride to Kittery was great. Beautiful weather and a casual pace. Refuel (more pizza, more beer) and off to the crash pad for the night in North Hampton, NH. We warmed up and slept for 2 hours before hitting the road at1:30 am. Riding down route 1, through towns I usually just pass on the highway, in the middle of the night, was a pretty intense feeling. The weather was perfect though. Not a breath of wind and clear skies with a 3/4 moon. We rode for a couple of hours and took short breaks to refuel and regroup. The overnight pace was a bit faster than the day pace, to keep everyone warm, together and to get to Hopkinton on time. As the sun came up somewhere around Bedford, Ma, the lightening sky and sounds of birds reinvigorated a tired team. With little sleep and a lot of miles, the remaining 40 miles seemed pretty daunting. I only started riding last summer and my longest ride before this one was a solo 60 miler I did at the end of the fall. 70+ miles in one go, after another 70, was starting to wear. As we climbed into farm land near Maynard and Concord I started to wonder how much further we had to go. Our chase car came up and shouted an encouraging "SINGLE DIGITS!" at just the right time. As we rode into Hopkinton State Park to strange looks from the early morning volunteers, huge smiles covered our faces. We had a couple of hours before the 10am start of the marathon. Coffee, bagels, Nuun, water and even some RedBull was consumed as we chatted and changed into less sweaty running kit. The beautiful weather continued and it was going to be a warm, sunny day with a head wind throughout the race. We headed to the start on the spectator bus, swearing up and down to the volunteers that we were not there to run, just watch. We promise. For real. 

There is a lot of debate in the running community over bandit running races. I understand the view of race directors and paid contestants and would never consider running a race I didn't officially enter other than Boston. Banditing Boston is a different case in my mind. The race is closed to those who have qualified or are running for charity. Historically, after all the official runners started, the start was open for anyone else to run, with the expectation that you would peel off before the finish or at least not claim a medal or any swag given to the runners. Running without a number became a thing. This year also marked the 50th anniversary of the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. Because of the rules at the time that prohibited women from entering, Bobbi Gibb ran as a bandit. So we watched the start of the elites and the first few waves and then casually stepped off the curb and into the race.

This year was the 120th running of the Boston marathon. The hype that surrounds Boston, for runners at least, is something palpable. It's funny to me because I have never even spectated along the route or watched it on tv. My father ran for a charity he was involved in when I was a kid and I remember watching the movie he made of the experience. (Mostly, I remember the soundtrack he used and Stand By Me and That's What Friends are For and those songs will always remind me of running). In recent years I have been in the Caribbean through April and noted it's passing through friends that were running. When the bomb went off I was sailing between St. Barths and Antigua and only found out that something terrible happened through a text message late that night.

As I ran down the road I gobbled up the crowds along the side of the road. I had been worried about taking water from the water stations since I hadn't paid to enter the race. I needn't have worried. Spectators were giving out everything! From high five to freeze pops and bananas! The energy was surreal. Through the first 12 miles I didn't think about my hamstring or my foot. I didn't think about the 150 miles I had just put on my legs. The only thing that hurt was my face from smiling and laughing! The low point of the course passed and we started climbing the hills. You always hear about Heartbreak hill, the last big climb of the Boston course, but they don't mention that there are three others! As with most races, the middle bit is pretty blurred but as I ran passed the 20 mile marker I started looking around for an exit. The Epic Team race plan was to exit around mile 23 and finish our 26 miles at Tyler's house, a few miles from the course. The only flaw with this plan, as I discovered, was in order to keep the crowds out, there were barricades that were also keeping runners in! I wondered if I could fit through the bars, fearing that if I got stuck the gate would topple over onto a runner, be caught on someones phone and become a Youtube sensation overnight. I spotted a med tent on the right side of the course and headed for it. Jogging a block away from the course and checking my phone I realized I had exited on the wrong side of Beacon St and would have to cross it to head towards Tyler's. There was only one way to do that and I headed back to the barricade, realized I could fit through, and re-entered the race. I jogged another half mile or so and ducked out on the other side. The noise of the cheers and energy of the crowd died quickly as I rounded a corner and wove my way towards Watertown. I was done.
I arrived back at the house and slowly everyone filtered in, grabbing a beer and a spot on the couch. Looking around at the people in the room, some newbies, some who have completed all 8 editions of the Epic Man, all started a journey the day before. Many of us had doubts about completing the journey but started anyways. A week before I didn't think I would join the Epic team, a week after I was sailing offshore. But those 24 hours were about a journey. Moving forward, on the bike or on foot. 176.2 miles towards a couch in Watertown.

Because what else are you going to do on your day off?