~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
FIRST BOSTON: Banking on Sub-3
AS I stepped out of my Surrey condo block at 4:55am on Friday, April 18th, 2008 and wheeled my new Eddie Bauer carry-on to King George Station in the pitch blackness, my outer focus was centred on making the first SkyTrain that morning: the 5:08 service to Waterfront.
Miss that and it would throw my travel schedule out of sync. Inside, though, my thoughts were racing – a heady brew of fear and excitement – as I considered what lay in store for me in a little over three days’ time. On Monday, April 21st, 2008 – Patriot’s Day in the USA – I would be running the 112th Boston Marathon.
Above everything else I wanted to enjoy the experience. After all, how many runners get the chance to race Boston?
That was always going to be tough, given I’d lumbered myself with the added pressure of wanting to break 3 hours – for the first time in a marathon – after numerous misfiring attempts. However, thanks to some stellar training partners and coaching, I’d trained like never before during the winter and spring – and felt like I was in the shape of my life.
Plus, if I needed any good omens or positive coincidences (and I’d always take ’em), my race number was 3509. The significance? I’d turned 35 four days before the race – and it was my 9th marathon. What could possibly stop me?
I arrived at my Boston B&B at 9pm local time, having endured a 13-hour journey, door-to-door. Travelling can be a stressful experience, but the stress level is ramped up 10-fold when you’re on the way to pop your Boston Marathon cherry.
The first part of the trip was tiring – the SkyTrain-bus combo to the airport, negotiation of US Customs and 3.5-hour flight to Chicago. But the second tested my powers of patience and tolerance to the limit.
I drew the short straw of a seat in front of a shrieking toddler, whose intermittent glass-shattering screams cleared the wax from my ears and came perilously close to piercing my drums.
When he/she (it was hard to tell) wasn’t wailing, he/she was bouncing up and down on the back of my seat and soiling his/her (under)pants with gay abandon; aromatherapy it wasn’t.
Thank goodness the flight was only two-and-a-half hours; any longer and I might have requested the loan of a parachute and headed for the nearest emergency exit.
A soothing night’s sleep and replenishing hearty breakfast later, I headed into downtown Boston on Saturday morning to tackle the marathon expo.
I’ve done four Londons and one Chicago, so I knew how these big-race exhibitions worked. After picking up my packet and technical shirt, I headed over to the official merchandise stand.
I usually avoid these like a bad case of the ’flu, but this was different; this was Boston. And I wanted the official jacket. Worn like a badge of honour, this is one case of self-indulgence runners can get away with. I sized up, swiped my credit card and then headed to the Larabar stand to nab some free samples.
Nailing your nutrition, both before & during the race, plays a huge part in marathon success – so I’m told.
Unfortunately, mine hadn’t got off to the best start on Friday.
In preparing for the trip, I wasn’t sure what food I could take through customs, so I kept it simple – cramming 20 granola bars into every spare crevice of my case. Tackling US Customs (after ticking the food box on the declaration form) had gone something like this:
Customs Officer: What food do you have?
Me: Granola bars.
Him: How many?
Him: Do you like granola bars or something?
I was in no mood for small-talk.
Upon touching down in Chicago, I went in search of more thorough fare – but had to make do with some Asian ‘cuisine’ from the Sizzling Wok, in the airport food court. I went for double helpings of fried rice & veg, though I think the latter had been bathed in MSG, as my stomach felt like it had taken a Sizzling Whack later in the day.
Saturday started off better, with a full & nutritious breakfast, but then descended down a Newton hill as my food allergies ruled out most of the café offerings at the expo. I kept my carb levels topped up with copious amounts of wheat-free energy bar samples.
In the afternoon I rested my feet by heading to the lecture theatre and soaking up the Boston Marathon Legends’ inspirational tales of yesteryear, before getting some fuelling advice from sports nutrition guru Nancy Clark.
In-between, I popped out for a quick ‘rest’ and bumped into fellow Brit and wannabe-Vancouverite Ellie Greenwood. Ultra-runner Ellie would go on to make mincemeat of the hills, running 3:07 as a training run – before slicing another 12 minutes off her marathon PB with a 2:55 in Vancouver, 13 days later.
That evening I hooked up with UK friends Andy and Michele and we endured a wild goose chase trying to find a restaurant that didn’t have a 30-min+ wait for a table. Eventually we got in somewhere and I devoured a fancy tuna dish, more rice and ‘sizzling’ mushrooms.
I got back to my B&B at 9:30pm. If yesterday was exhausting, today wasn’t far behind.
Something had to give on Sunday. And I decided that something was the US women’s marathon trials.
I actually woke up early enough to catch some of it – and headed out to the ‘T’ station after breakfast. But, after waiting 15 mins and seeing no sign of a train, I decided it wouldn’t be worth it; by the time I got downtown Deena Kastor would be in her hotel hot-tub sipping champagne and planning her Olympic training schedule.
So I hung around Dorchester and took it easy, before venturing out locally for lunch.
After a series of wide-eyed stares and shoulder shrugs (in response to my allergy story) at several shady-looking eateries, I headed to the nearest Chinese takeaway and ordered a giant portion of steamed rice… and picked up five bananas from Ashmont’s answer to Apu’s Kwik-e-mart.
This became my pre-Boston Marathon meal.
TO BE CONTINUED...