The Tale of Dick Chase's 2009 Boston Marathon

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Yeah, so I suck at keeping a Blog. I used to be great at it. Really. Check out Simmerstock or Honest Cuisine. Anyway, I kept up with all the training and I finished the 113th Boston Marathon. Here's what happened:

Late in the afternoon two Monday's ago, somewhere on Boylston street between Exeter and Dartmouth streets, a nice woman untied my right shoe, removed the timer chip that I attached the night before, re-tied my shoe, and draped a pewter finisher's medal around my neck. I made a short visit to the medical tent and then walked with Francie and Jason to the Arlington T station so Francie could head back to Sharon and David's in Brookline to get Samantha and Halle. Jason walked with me to the Westin to make sure I was OK, and I took advantage of the Liver Foundation's room on the 26th floor to take what may have been be the most wonderful shower of my life. 

And that was it. It was all over: Five months of training through a snowy cold winter; exhausting Monday nights at the indoor track in the MIT Johnson Athletic Center; monthly team meetings/pep rallies at the Westin; countless miles run between One Beacon street and Newton, around the Charles River and up and down the hills of Southborough. And, it's over.

Athlete's Village
Francie dropped me off at Hopkinton State Park around 7:30 where I caught a shuttle bus to "downtown" Hopkinton (the pharmacy at the intersection of 85 and 135). From there I walked the half mile or so to the athlete's village at the high school (that's right, there's at least a mile or so of walking involved before you even begin a marathon). I met up with the rest of the liver team and waited. And, we waited. And, we waited a bit more. As hydration is vital to any successful athletic endeavor, I spent much of the time slowly sipping from a bottle of Poland Spring water. At one point I, along with several thousand other runners in the field behind Hopkinton High School needed to do something about the water we recently ingested. Fortunately the BAA provided us with a few hundred porta-potties. Go ahead, do the math. I'll wait... I'm very patient... Done?.. No worries, just let me know when you're ready... OK?... No problem... You two up ahead, have you figured it out yet? No, OK... Ahhh, looks like there's just one one of you now. I understand, and I'm sure you do too and you're trying to figure it out as fast as you can... Done? Wonderful! What a relief!

Mile 1
I crossed the starting line only four minutes after the 10:30 second-wave gun went off. Not bad considering there were a few thousand people in front of me. I was amazed at how much room there was to run when I got to the start line. I could actually run as I passed over the starting mats - not fast - but it was running.  

Lots of people passed me in the first mile, which was a good thing.  Everyone warns you to not start off too fast. Go too fast at the start, you run out of steam when you hit the hills and become just one of the walking wounded crawling to the finish. Between the excitement of starting such an important race, and the long downhill slope of the first few miles, it's very very easy to go off too fast. There's a saying for marathoners that goes "if you don't think you're going too slow at the start, you're going too fast." I finished the first mile in 9:58 - which was perfect.

Mile 2 - 7
As far as the eye could see, the road up ahead was filled with runners, bobbing bodies in bright colors flowing down Route 135. It was incredibly exciting, just being part of it all. Every few feet clumps of people stood on the side of the street, continuously cheering us on. Kids extending their arms out hoping a runner will slap their hand as they go by. Big guys in well worn Patriots hoodies and Red Socks hats holding PBRs in green Celtics koozies shouting at us to "Keep awn runnin'." Teenagers holding up signs and waving their arms in the air. Just outside of Hopkinton there was a bluegrass band playing in front of a lawn and garden center. In Ashland we passed a parking lot filled with hundreds of leather clad bikers next to their gleaming Harleys cheering us on at the top of their lungs. In Framingham a woman with a sequined white cowboy hat, satin blue blouse and white leather fringed vest sang country western tunes in front of a bar.  At one point I was passed by general Lafayette (or maybe it was Rochambeau?) running in his best powdered wig and blue silk stockings, and just a few moments later by President Lincoln, complete with stovepipe hat. I did begin to worry a bit, though, when I was passed by a banana.

By the end of mile seven I had been running for an hour and nine minutes - a perfect pace of just under 10 minutes per mile. I had a little bit of pain on the outside of my left knee, but nothing too bad - one of those things that comes and goes and moves around from body part to body part in the course of a 26 mile jog. I alternated between gatorade and water at each water station (there's one every mile) and ate three black cherry shot blocks with caffeine at mile five. I was feeling fantastic, with less than twenty miles to go!

Mile 8-11
Route 135 from downtown Framingham to Natick center is a long straight gradual uphill section of the route. My pace slowed a bit, as planned, to about 10:20. My strategy for the rest of the race was to stay on a 9:45-9:50 pace on the flats, ease up a bit going uphill and use gravity to my advantage going downhill. The time lost on these long uphills would be well made up on some of the long downhill sections of the course in Wellesley. The goal in distance running isn't consistent pace as much as a consistent sustained effort - during training I sometimes joked that, "Fast and erratic wins the race."

The crowds were getting thicker, the roads now continuously lined with people. That morning Francie helped me write "Chase" in black sharpie on my arms and the front of my shirt, and sure enough every few feet I heard a total stranger shout out "Go Chase! You can do it!" Just past the train station I saw Mary and Jacqueline. I don't know what it was, it must have been all the adrenaline and endorphins, but I became incredibly emotional seeing them - "Friends, OMG, I'm going to cry!" Fortunately I had my joe cool Oakley sunglasses on, so no one could tell. Just after Speen street (or was it just before?) we passed an elderly care home and the nurses had all the residents along the side of the road, tucked in to their beds and wheelchairs with white blankets, cheering us on. Every runner around me applauded *them* as we passed.

Just past Natick center I saw my old boss Barbara in the crowd cheering me on and managed a hand slap as I passed her. While the cheering of the spectators lining the road really do keep you going, It is amazing the size of the energy jolt you get when you see someone you know. It really gives you the feeling that there's no option but to finish, and , at least at that moment, that you could win the whole damn thing!

I stuck pretty much to water at this point, drinking down a few gulps at each station. The gatorade was a bit strong (it's different from the stuff you get in the store) and, in combination with the shot blocks (three more at mile 10), it upset my stomach a little bit. I also accidentally splashed some in my in my eye at one station, and boy does that stuff sting! From mile 10 my pace was a little slower that I wanted it to be - just shy of 11 minute miles, but it was a constant uphill with a total elevation of about 100 feet. As I neared the end of mile 11 I knew the course would flatten out again, with a couple of nice long downhills at miles 14 and 16 in Wellesley. The pain in my knee continued. It was the same pain I had a week before, after my last 8 mile run and during the last easy 4 mile track practice. The pain kind of went from my hip to the knee, with the knee as the epicenter. It still felt manageable until the last couple hundred yards of mile 11, when it suddenly didn't feel manageable.

Mile 12-16
The pain in my knee didn't feel manageable at all. With each stride my left knee released a searing pain that traveled up my thigh, dissipating when it reached my hip for just the barest moment as my foot once again struck the road to start the cycle of pain over again. It felt as though someone were whacking me with the tip of a red hot iron. But it only hurt when I ran. So I walked. Then I'd run, and it would hurt even worse than before, so I'd walk again. I stopped at an aid station and sat for a few minutes with and ice pack. The knee began to feel a little better (or, to be more precise, I could feel the knee a little less), so I had them tape the ice pack to my leg. I managed to jog a few hundred yards from there until I just couldn't stand the pain any more. So I walked. And I cried. You can hear the screams of the Wellesley College women a half mile before you even get to them. To me they sounded like the shrieking eels in The Princess Bride. As I walked through the gauntlet of hundreds of young women shouting out my name and words of encouragement, waving signs advertising free kisses or just screaming at the top of their lungs to see how much noise they could make, I wanted to just yell at them to all just shut the f*ck up, and go home. Fortunately from all their noise no one could hear my big heaving sobbing and, again, no one could see the tears streaming down my cheeks behind my joe cool Oakley's (damn, I really do look like a serious jock with those things on).

I picked up a new ice pack at each aid station I passed - at this point on the course there was one about every mile. As I began the climb from Newton Lower Falls towards the I-95 overpass I looked down at my watch for perhaps the 176th time in the past 5 miles. It was 1:58 in the afternoon - nearly three and a half hours since crossing the starting line back in Hopkinton. It took me close to an hour and a half to travel those last five miles, so with a little over 10 miles left to go I wouldn't cross the finish line until 5:00 PM at best. The BAA turns of the race clock at 4:45 PM. My knee hurt, and I had no idea why. If I continued on I would cross the finish line, but I would not have an official Boston Marathon finish time. Would I even get a Boston Marathon finisher medal? I wasn't sure. What was really wrong with my knee - did I tear something - would I need surgery? I had no idea. Had I damaged my knee so that I wouldn't be able to keep running in the future, or would I do so if I kept going for another 10 miles - and if I couldn't run again because of what I'd done to my knee, would I just gain back the 75 pounds I lost in the past two years because running was the only exercise that I enjoyed that I could do on a regular basis and I wouldn't be able to do it anymore?

Newton-Wellesley Hospital was less than half a mile ahead. It would have been so easy to just take a right when I got passed their emergency room. It probably have also been the smartest thing to do at the time. And I really did want to stop. Stop the pain in my knee. Stop everything - just give up, crawl into a ball, wallow in self pity and wish the world would just go away and leave me alone. I know they would have let me do that there, at least for a little while. But, then I wondered how I would get in touch with Francie. She and Sharon and the kids would already be out in Coolidge corner waiting for me to come by. In fact they were probably expecting to see me at any moment. Francie didn't have her cell phone and I didn't know Sharon's. And then I began thinking about what I'd have to do with the money everyone had donated on my behalf. Of course I'd have to offer to give people their donations back after failing them (no, I wasn't thinking clearly - i'd just run ten miles and then walked five more in sheer agony - I was a blithering idiot by this point). But I didn't have the money to do that. And what do I tell people? How do I look anyone in the face after claiming for the last five months that I was going to run the Boston Marathon? The BOSTON MARATHON!? How do I explain to Francie and the kids that my being away all that time for training was all for naught? How do I tell Dan that I quit? It would be worse than that time that I left the subject blank in a company-wide email!

So I walked past Newton Wellesley Hospital. I walked past the remnants of the Liver Foundation cheering section. I walked past the PowerBar folk breaking down their promotional booth. I picked up the pace a bit, managing to power walk at four miles an hour. I was driven. Driven by that thing that I truly believe drives most of humankind's greatest advances. Driven by the one thing that drives every great, athletic, business and political leader. I was driven by the abject terror of the humiliation and embarrassment that comes from failing. Yes - I was going to finish this thing because I was as big of, if not bigger a wussy than anyone else!

Mile 17-21
These are the famous Newton hills, ending in Heartbreak Hill just before Boston College, and I don't really remember much of them from marathon day. We ran them a lot in training, pretty much every Saturday since January. You go up a hill and then down a hill. Not much to it. When you do it enough times it gets to be pretty boring. There's a famous statue of John Kelly (ran the marathon 61 times, winning it twice) outside of Newton City hall near the top of Heartbreak Hill - I don't remember ever seeing it, even though I've passed by it at least a dozen times. I do remember very clearly the thrill and excitement I felt as I crested the top of the last hill during our 22 mile training at the end of March. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, I'd made it 22 miles from Hopkinton to just before Boston College at my target training pace and I felt that I could do another five miles easy. From marathon day I just remember that it was just cloudy, cold and windy. But I'll never forget walking into that medical tent at the top of Heartbreak Hill.

As I had at countless aid stations before, I walked into the mile 21 medical tent requesting a new ice pack and tape. For the first time, they said no. Two women crouched down and looked at my knee. They mentioned that it was swollen. One woman poked and pressed it and asked the poking and pressing hurt (it didn't). The woman who did the poking and pressing looked at the other woman and said "IT Band" (To illustrate how flat out delirious I was by this point, let me inform you that my first thought was "How do they know I work in IT? And I barely play guitar, let alone play in a band with co-workers"). She then had me lie down on a cot and proceeded to lift and bend my leg in various directions. She explained that the IT band was a muscle that runs along the outer thigh from the knee to the hip (joining the Ilium and the Tibia, thus the Ilioltibial or IT Band). She said it was as hard as a steel bar when it should be soft and flexible, and the pain came mostly from it rubbing across my knee and thigh bone. In poking and prodding my knee and bending my leg she didn't detect any damage the cartilage or ligaments in my knee itself (no significant pain from the poking, prodding and bending). She then began stretching my leg, pushing up and across my right leg while I lay on my back. All of a sudden I swear I felt something pop, and my knee felt better. She kept pushing and stretching and it kept feeling better and better. I stood up, and there was no pain. It was very very sore, but there was no real pain. She said I really shouldn't continue the race, but that she knew I probably wouldn't listen to that advise given that I hadn't dropped out already. She strongly advised that I just walk the rest of the way, and I agreed. I thanked her profusely as I left the tent, and I could tell from her eyes that she knew I was lying to her. There was no way I was going to just walk the rest of the way.

Mile 22 - 26.2
I didn't full out run the rest of the marathon. But, I was able to go back to my original strategy of constant effort. I walked when the road went up, ran when it went down, and jogged when it was flat. In the end I was able to average 11-12 minute miles.  I still wasn't sure at the time if I'd make it to the finish by the 4:45 cut-off and I simply wasn't capable of doing the math in my head (though I actually had plenty of time, even if I walked the whole way, my calculations had me either winning the marathon in record time or finishing sometime in early June). But I did enjoy the last few miles. Shortly after Cleveland Circle some BC or BU student jumped in and started running with me, chatting me up. At first I was annoyed (I was just coming off over two straight hours of some serious self-pity action), but as he started to get what was left of the crowd to cheer me on ("Give it up for my man Chase, here, he's almost there!"), I really began getting into it. And then when I spotted Francie a little before Coolidge Corner, well, my heart just soared. I don't think she's ever been more beautiful than the was for me at that moment. My anonymous pacer peeled off, I imagine to give much needed encouragement to another lagger trying to make it the rest of the way, and Francie and I jogged through Coolidge Corner past Samantha and Halle and their "Go Dad Go" sign, up and over the Mass Pike, past the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square, under (and then up, ugh) the Mass Ave overpass, right on Hereford (NOTE: against normal traffic flow), and left on Boylston. From there I sprinted (yes, really sprinted) the last 400 yards or so to the finish line in front of the library. When I crossed the finish line I got a huge bear hug from this bearded volunteer and I thought "gosh, these volunteers really are into it!" After a moment I then realized it was Jason and actually hugged him back.

I crossed the finish line around 4:15 PM, five hours, forty-five minutes and 46 seconds after I started. I was officially the 22,644th person to cross the finish line of the 113th Boston marathon. 205 people made it to the finish after me before they turned off the clock. Of the 13,547 men who finished the 2009 Boston Marathon, 3 saw nothing but my backside on Boylston Street. Of the 2,178 40-45 year olds, 10 ate my dust.

Two weeks have passed since I crossed the finish line in Boston. And it's taken me most of those two weeks to get over myself. As everyone I've talked to since the finish knows, I've not had a very easy time accepting that I literally just barely finished the marathon. I've been screaming inside each time I hear "But at least you finished" - and I've heard it a lot. But this past Thursday a guy I met at a conference helped me put it in perspective. He too was a marathon runner (24 marathons). Making my usual "Eh, not too good, very disappointing, but I couldn't do much about it" answer to his query about my race, he responded by letting me have it, and good. "I hate people who whine about not making their personal record, or complaining that they were hurt or they didn't enjoy this or that part of their marathon," he said. "You finished, man, you did something that most people wouldn't even think of trying to do. You trained hard and you earned that medal that you got - don't belittle it with whining about what you could of done but didn't do. If you could of done it then, then you should be able to do it later, so focus on doing it later instead of complaining about not doing it before."

I did do it. I did run the Boston Marathon and am entitled to wear my celebration jacket an finisher's shirt with as much pride as any of my other fellow finishers. I did transform myself from a 250 pound couch potato to a 180 pound, well, athlete. I did successfully overcome liver disease and I did raise a boatload of money for the American Liver Foundation. I do have the best family on earth, the best friends and the best colleagues. Right now there is nothing in my life that I can be anything but thankful for. So I am. I've had two physical therapy sessions with six more to go and am on track to being able to run the Harpoon 5 miler on June 6.  I am now a life-long runner and proudly call myself a marathoner.

The Hartford Marathon is coming up October 10. Maybe I'll make my 4:20 time then...

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This page contains a single entry by Dick Chase published on May 3, 2009 11:22 PM.

Giving Thanks was the previous entry in this blog.

Once more, with Feeling is the next entry in this blog.

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