I awoke early on Monday morning April 19, 1999 in a hotel room in Cambridge, MA. I ate quietly in the living room of our one bedroom suite as my wife and then 10 month-old daughter (she’s nearly 16 now) slept in the bedroom. I was tingling with excitement as I dressed and looked down at my shirt and saw a bib with the Citgo logo on it and knew that in a few short hours I would be running my first (and to date only) Boston Marathon. I became a marathoner in Chicago in October 1997. On that day, my goal and focus had been to run three hours ten minutes (3:10) and qualify for Boston. It didn’t happen. My debut fell short by four minutes. A small amount of time when you are late to meet a friend for lunch, but an absolute eternity stretched over a 26.2 mile marathon course. A year later, October 1998, I ran 3:09 and I set my date with Boston.
The training over the winter didn’t go as planned.
I decided to let that sentence have its own paragraph because I can imagine any number of stories I could write that could include that sentence. So there it is. In this case it meant a lot of cycling for a (then) non-cyclist and a long run, that is, solely one long run of 17 miles. I don’t recommend this, but that was what I had.
The Boston Marathon, in those days, required all runners to show up in downtown Boston and board a bus to Hopkinton. There was an athletes’ village where runners hung out from around 9:00 AM or so until the noon start of the race. Thoughts are on the event as the bus rolls toward Hopkinton. The excitement of being there coupled with the nervousness of running Boston. So much has been written about running Boston, the only marathon with a such a rigorous qualifying time, that there is little need to write a thing about it here beyond this mention. But those thoughts filled my head.
If you follow the link above, you will read about the warmth of the day. It was a classic day for the spectators. Warm and sunny. Maybe it hit 65 or 70. I need to double check this. The heat wasn’t my issue that day.
With just over two hours to go before the start, I sought out a port-a-potty to take a natural break. As I rose to my feet (oh, you say, that natural break, my back seized up on me into an eye watering spasm. I clung to the cable that doubled as a door hinge and cried out in pain. I could barely finish pulling up my shorts and warm-up clothes because of the pain. I tried to breathe slowly as thoughts raced through my head of what my day would be. As I left the port-a-potty my entire body was listing to the right. My head was filled with rain clouds, dark awful thoughts about “now what?” I flashed to the agony of defeat footage in the old ABC Wide World of Sports intro.
The next fifteen minutes were excruciating. I painfully walked, limped actually, around the infield of the school. I think I was looking for a friendly face, but I didn’t find one. I tried lying on the ground with my feet in the air thinking that might relieve the pressure in my back, but it failed miserably. I rose, slowly, and felt pain course through my body. I wanted to scream, it was fight or flight, I really couldn’t imagine what I would do. And all around me, runners sat in the grass, enjoying the sun, imbibing in Gatorade and readying themselves. No one spoke to me and I couldn’t imagine how the day would unfold.
Suddenly, it occurred to me that my wife had no idea that I wouldn’t be where I said I would be when I said I would be there. In 1999, few people carried a phone, I sure didn’t. How to contact my wife? I walked around a bit and saw a line of people queuing for a pay phone. I knew I needed to join that line. I did and the wait for the phone was 45 minutes. For forty-five minutes I stood in a line, clutching my lower back and inching forward, just waiting to deliver bad news to my wife. I was aching and nearly crying as I wondered what I would say. Finally, it was my turn to use the phone. I called the hotel — she wasn’t there. I called 411 and got the number for Debbie’s friend who lived in Boston. She was there. When she first came to the phone, I was greeted by “what’s wrong? What happened?” I told her what happened and how much pain I was in. I said I didn’t know if I could run, or walk or where I would be. I said I might just get on the bus — the broom wagon — and ride into Boston. I told her to meet me in the runner reunite area, but I didn’t really know when I would be there, or how I would get there.
I hung up the phone and resolved to at least start the race.
In Part 2, the Race.