Boston is the oldest marathon in the world and is the only one (other than the Olympics) that requires its runners to qualify first, which has created an incredible aura.The odds of getting in by running a fast qualifying race are only about 10% — comparable to Harvard’s admission rate. And I was proud that I had somehow qualified not one time, but 10 times in 10 states as I try to run a marathon in every state. And this would be my third one in the last three months.
By comparison, I had only run two marathons in 2008. My first one was just in 2005 in San Diego as I was turning 50, so I am pretty new to this. Here’s a little background about how I started running and why I run. Read this.
Last Saturday afternoon, I went to to pick up my race number first thing and shop at the enormous Expo. The convention center was packed with runners and it was buzzing with excitement. That evening I enjoyed eating pasta (what else?) at an Italian restaurant with a group of talented and supportive marathoners from a Runners World Magazine forum. Here’s a picture of our group. I’m the second on the left, back row.
The next morning, after watching some short distance races on the rainy course, I met my nephew Joshua, a Ph.D. student at Harvard, and his wife Helen, who graduated from Harvard Law School last year. We drove to central Massachusetts to visit my 98 year old aunt Sarah and took her to Amherst College for lunch, Later, Josh and Helen very nicely cooked pasta in their apartment overlooking downtown Boston. Then, after carefully laying out everything I would need for the race, I crashed at 11:00 o’clock.
Race day began way too early at 4:30 a.m. (3:30 CST). I drank a little coffee and a lot of water (see below) and ate oatmeal, a banana, and some of my wife’s delicious granola to make sure I had more than enough fuel for the long day ahead.
I walked down the eeriely quiet final stretch of Boylston Street at 6:00 that would look like this photo later that day. I hiked over to the Public Gardens to catch a school bus for the long 26 mile drive out to Hopkinton. The weather was great: chilly (at least to a Texan), dry, and although there was a 10-15 mph wind, at least it would be coming from our sides, not off the Atlantic Ocean into our faces.
I struck up a conversation with Kate, a perky senior on the track team at the University of Pennsylvania, who was running even though she had suffered a stress fracture to her foot, very impressive. The lines moved quickly and we were on the bus before we knew it. Kate and I rattled on to relieve the pre race anxiety. But an hour later, she and I bolted from the c r e e p i n g bus to (sorry) relieve our bursting bladders in the woods. Then I hiked to the Athletes Village to wait and continue to hydrate and carbo load before joining the river of excited runners marching through the quaint village to the starting line.
I looked for Mark (a friend from the forum), not that’s he’s hard to see with that beard (see the photo; that’s me behind him). We chatted and compared race strategies. I had only run one 18 mile long run since my last race in Tampa and my main goal was to requalify for next year’s Boston Marathon by finishing in a time under 3:45, which I felt that I could do.
After the National Athem and F16 fly over, the gun was fired at 10:00. The runners and the crowd roared and we were off. Well, not immediately, since Mark and I were in Corral 12 (of 25). After we finally inched up to the starting line about 10 minutes later, we dashed off in a thick crowd on a bucolic two lane road. It was a gorgeous spring morning in New England.
The first four miles have a lot of down hill stretches and we ran quickly, spurred on by the electric atmosphere. Over 500,000 fans lined the roads screaming at the top of their lungs, banging drums, and playing loud music. “Run!” “You’re looking great!” Many carried signs and handed out food. It was like being in the middle of a rock concert, except we were the performers up on the stage.
The miles flew by. People helped me on by screaming out “Go Bill” and “Go Texas” in response to a sign on my shirt and my UT cap. Mark and I continued to click off almost even 8:00 mile splits. I high fived (and low fived) kids, flashed the hook ’em horns sign, and was having a great time.
We got to the half in 1:44:09, a minute faster than Mark’s aggressive goal pace, and faster than I had planned. So far, so good. But I knew that the hardest part of the race loomed and that there were some tough hills ahead of us.
After I helped some attractive young women at the famous Wellesley College graduate (the rumor is has it that have to kiss a runner first!), Mark unfortunately started to get cramps in his chest. I slowed down to make sure that he was okay and was not having a heart attack. Mark said he was okay and told me to go on without him.
At mile 17 and continuing through 21, I trudged up and flew down the legendary Heartbreak Hill and three others. But the hills didn’t seem as hard as I remembered from my last trip in 2005 since I had trained a few times on the hills around TCU and Hulen to prepare. And the (already drunk) Boston College students were screaming for us, which helped propel me forward.
At mile 25, I passed Fenway Park where the Red Sox were playing. I forced myself up another hill which seemed to last forever. I kept pushing as hard as I could. One more hill up Hereford and I took the famous left turn onto the home stretch on Boylston. The noise from the crowd was deafening. “Go!” “You’re almost there!” I could see the finish line about a quarter mile away, but I could have stopped at that spot and been very happy.
I crossed the line in 3:31:30, somehow faster than my last two races in Tampa and Phoenix that were were virtually flat. Later I saw that, although I was one of the oldest runners in the race, I finished 7,556th of 23,126 people. And I finished 185th of the 1,147 in my age group (in the top 16%) in the most competitive field any where.
This was my favorite race of the 20 I have run. My ears are still ringing from the chanting of the awesome crowds and I enjoyed competing against the top runners in the U.S. and other countries. It was fun visiting with family and friends. I can’t wait for next year.
Before then, I’ve picked out some wonderful destinations to take my wife and maybe even my daughter to.
My next marathon is on June 6th on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula west of Seattle, much of which is on the ocean overlooking Victoria, British Columbia.
Then I’ll run a marathon in Anchorage, Alaska in August, in the mountains of Utah in September, in the gorgeous Acadia National Park, Maine in October, historic Philadelphia in November, and in Charlotte in December only a few hours from my brother in Durham (he went to Duke and still lives in there).
It is my goal to run a marathon in all 50 states and achieve my goal of “50 by 60.” I’m 55 1/2 now so this won’t be particularly easy, especially with my late start. But hey, I’ve got 18 states down so there are only 32 to go!
I also would like to run London and Berlin and go “5 for 5” in the world’s major marathons.