Unrequited Love

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Guest Blog by Michael Wade

Have you ever been in a relationship where all you do is give, give, give and get nothing in return? You pour your heart out on a regular basis, and receive little more than a cold shoulder for your troubles? Well, that’s the way it is between me and Boston. I love the Boston Marathon. But it does not love me.

I’ve participated in more than a few 5k’s, 10k’s and half marathons over the years, but the primary focus of my running career has always been marathoning. More specifically, Boston Marathon-ing. Like many other runners who grew up in New England, Boston has always represented the Holy Grail of running goals. Not just an average everyday goal, but an all-out, full-blown obsession!

I suppose it started back in High School when my best friends decided it would be a neat idea to do Boston. I wasn’t a very good runner back then. Saddled with the deadly combination of athletically challenged genes, ill-timed growing pains, and adolescent lethargy, I chose to cheer rather than run. So, when I picked up the sport again as an adult, the idea of doing Boston pushed its way to the front of my mind and became my ultimate goal.

When I officially started “training” for Boston I didn’t know anything about the science of marathoning. All I knew was that in one year’s time, I needed to find a way to run 26.2 miles, and that I should probably trade in my Nike “high-top” basketball sneakers for some real running shoes! Eventually, after building up my mileage slowly over the course of the year, I got my long runs to 16 miles and proclaimed myself “ready” for the 1999 Boston Marathon.

On race day, I started at the back of the pack, with the rest of the unqualified bandits, and began what turned out to be an arduous, 26.2 mile slog from Hopkinton. More than 4 and a half hours later, I crossed the finish line on Boylston Street a bruised and bloody mess. I staggered to the curb, crumpled to the ground and exclaimed to no one in particular, “Never Again!”

Since then, I have run the Boston course (aka - the one way street from Hell) no less than 16 times (9 while training and 7 while racing) and it has yet to satisfy my needs. During that period, I’ve raced 13 other marathons in an average finishing time of 3:17. My average finishing time for those 7 Bostons? A soul crushing 3:41.

Remember the 2004 Boston? The hottest race since 1976 (86 degrees at the finish) causing a record number of heat-related illnesses? I was there. And it resulted in my first ever race DNF. How about 2005 when we trained through a record cold winter only to be greeted by “unseasonably warm” 70 degree temps at the start? I was there. And who could forget 2012, when there was a brain baking high of 89 degrees in Framingham (10K mark) by mid-day? Yup. I was there for that one too!

In fact, the only time I’ve ever run Boston under reasonable weather conditions was in 2008 when it was 53 degrees and we had a slight tailwind. That year I was in sub-3 shape but only managed to run a 3:12. I ran 6:50 pace until Mile 16 and then the wheels came off (as they always do) and could only manage 8’s the rest of the way. One year, I even biked it instead of running and STILL couldn’t keep up with the leaders on Heartbreak!

So, “What’s the big deal?” you might say. “Just fall in love with another marathon, and leave Boston behind.” Well, that’s the problem. As much pain and suffering as I’ve endured over the years, I just can’t find a way to quit her. I’ve tried many times to turn my back on Boston, but it’s an abusive relationship that I just keep coming back to again, and again, and again. All those miles, misery and (yes) heartbreak. Yet, for some reason, I still want more.

Which brings us to this year. For the first time since the “scorched earth” year of 2012 (when I stumbled home in 4:09) I decided to run the course with some friends to celebrate New Year’s Day. This time, in a rather ironic twist of fate, it was a mere 10 degrees at the start with a biting wind chill that took it down below zero. Despite just having had one of the warmest Decembers on record!

Of course, I should have known from mile one that it was not going to be “my day” when the stomach jostling from the early steep downs had me off to the side of the road – dry heaving. I guess I hadn’t fully digested my breakfast by the 6am start time. I restarted again and, a few miles later, I felt that “all too familiar” feeling in my lower abdomen. Uh, Oh! I needed to find a bathroom. Quick! Luckily there was a Dunkin Donuts not too far away and I was able to take care of business.

Another mile later, same deal. This time, it took me a little longer to find the next Dunk’s. Agony the entire time. Two more miles, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Well, it was like that the whole way. I’d leave one “pit stop” and almost immediately I was looking for another one. The list of “depositories” read like this: 3 Dunkin Donuts, 2 Starbucks, a Hospital, the woods, and some bushes in front of a dentist’s office. It was like “Poop-a-palooza” out there!

Eventually, even the toughest runner needs to know when it’s time to throw in the towel and that moment came for me right when it usually does – at Mile 16. I walked (with sweat freezing on my already exhausted body) to the Green Line T-Station at Woodland (Mile 17) where I took the “ride of shame” back into town and my car. Beaten down by Boston once again!

Which leaves me with this one final question: Have I had enough? After all these years of abuse, am I finally ready to move on from Boston? And the answer is: I’m not sure. See the thing is, with all that I’ve been through, I still love this course and everything about her. Sure she may not be the prettiest one around (see Framingham, Speen Street and the Haunted Mile) but I love her all the same. Hopkinton Green, the Nursery, the Biker Bar, the Train Tracks, Lake Cochituate, Wellesley College, the Fire House, Boston College, Cleveland Circle, Citgo, Kenmore, right on Hereford and left on Boylston. I love it. All of it!

And maybe someday, if I catch her in the right mood, she’ll feel the same about me.

Check out Michael’s blog Rock n Runner for ultra/marathon training & racing fun.

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One Response to Unrequited Love

  1. George Woodward says:

    I too am obsessed with Boston. I’ve run 13 Marathons but I keep coming back for more in Boston. In 2010 I finished but it nearly killed me. I was so despondent for weeks afterwards that I seriously consider professional help. What would I have said to the therapist, “She beats me to a pulp but I keep coming back for more.”
    I did, once have a good run, time wise. But then she got me anyway as I managed to throw up, repeatedly, at the post marathon party.
    No worries, I’m running it again this year. Why – I’m obsessed.

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