Don’t Race like This!

As Boston approaches, I keep thinking of my first marathon.

I did almost everything wrong.

I was living in Boston in early ’92, had been living there for three years and was about to move to Santa Barbara. A friend of mine, Carl, decided to run the Boston Marathon. He hadn’t qualified or anything, he just decided to run it. He had a personal trainer come out to his house daily to run with him, the trainer was going to run the marathon too, also without qualifying. Every now and then Carl would suggest that I join him.

Finally, about a week or two before the marathon, I thought “Why not? I’m leaving Boston, I won’t have a chance like this again, and it will be interesting to see if I can do it.

I didn’t know you had to register. So I didn’t. I did know there was a qualifying time, but since Carl hadn’t qualified I assumed it didn’t matter much.

I hadn’t trained either.

Oh, I hadn’t been sedentary. During the winter I often couldn’t ride my bike (what with snow and ice and all) so I would frequently run one way to work (~8miles) and take the car the other way (leaving the car at work overnight sometimes). But I hadn’t really trained. I hadn’t raced since high-school — and even then the longest I’d done was ~3mile road race that we called “cross-country”. I was a little worried.

So, on the Saturday, 9 days before the race, I went out for a thirty mile run. I managed it, so now I was confident that I could run the distance. A week later, 2 days before the race, I did another 30 mile run.

I didn’t know you were supposed to taper.

I’d never heard of carbo-loading.

Monday, 20 April, dawned, and it was cold. So I put on some long corduroy pants and a button down shirt. Carl picked me up and we drove out to Hopkinton. Carl was in running shorts. I thought he’d get cold. I didn’t have any running gear in those days, I ran in my street clothes. I also had done the training runs in long pants — and a down jacket. (I’m amused to see that Bill Rodgers also ran the Boston course in street clothes).

We got to the start and went to stand in line. I went to the back, Carl and his trainer put themselves further up (after all, they had been training).

It was cold, even in long pants.

The gun went off.

Nothing happened.

For a long time, nothing continued to happen.

Finally we started walking — slowly.

We were still walking when we got to the start line. There were no chips in those days, but I did start my own watch. We were a mile out before I was able to start running. Rusty recommends using the first mile as a warm up, but I think a walking pace is a bit extreme.

After a bit I was entranced by the sound. I was in the middle of a huge throng of people, tightly packed and I heard — footfalls. I felt I had a purpose that I shared with all those around me, and the sound our feet made affirmed that.

There were no gel-packs then, I remember the joy I felt at about mile 20 where someone passed out orange quarters. But it really never occurred to me that it might be wise to eat on the course. I’d never eaten when I raced the mile in high-school, why should I expect to eat in a longer race?

When I could see the finish line I started running faster, and passed quite a few people in the last quarter mile or so. I went through the chute and stopped my watch 3:29:06. The woman who was there to help the runners took one look at me and said “You didn’t run this, get out of here.” Being too bewildered and exhausted to contradict her, I got.

I assume not many people race in street clothes, and as I didn’t have a bib I was obviously not a real runner.

Now was the hard part. I had to find Carl, since he was my ride home. It was cold, I didn’t have any money to buy food. Carl hadn’t finished yet. I waited. An hour. More. Finally he showed up. His wife drove us home and I soaked in a hot bath for a long time.

The next day, I got on a plane for LA and then SB. I was amused that everyone else on the plane seemed to be hobbling too.

Mistakes not to make again:

  • Qualify
  • Register
  • Train
  • Taper
  • Don’t run 30 miles two days before a marathon
  • Don’t wear street clothes
  • Now-a-days, take some gel packs with you and do some form of carbo-loading.
  • Don’t cross the finish-line looking like someone who could not possibly have raced, or you’ll get kicked out of the finish area without food and without a mylar blanket.
  • Don’t wait for someone who is an hour and a half slower than you if it’s cold and you are hungry.

I feel that I made it up to Boston in 2006. I qualified in 2005, and registered for the 2006 Boston marathon, but got injured and could not run it. So I have qualified, have registered, have trained, and have run it. I just qualified after I ran it.

The Boston website says the qualifying times must be run after a certain date — but it doesn’t explicitly say it must be before the race:-)

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3 Responses to “Don’t Race like This!”

  1. nirmal Says:

    And you still finished faster than time, dammit!!

  2. Nirmal Says:

    Sorry, I meant, “And you still finished faster than my best time, dammit!!”

  3. georgeruns Says:

    Hmm. Well, perhaps some of those techniques weren’t so bad after all. Maybe running 30 miles two days before a race actually works… Feel free to try it… I don’t think I shall though.

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