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Saturday, 22 December 2012

#57: Boston Revisited — Part Three

Just past Mile 21, a small tornado of cramp gusted into my right calf and was quickly joined by flashes of lightning in my right groin and quad.

I tried to run it off and was STILL on course (by seconds) to break 3 after running a decent 6:41 for Mile 24. It was going to be dramatic, but I was welling up inside at the thought of such an achievement.

Suddenly the spasm in my right quad became more regular. My pace was slowing again and suddenly the outlook seemed bleaker. I continued forth, determined to shake it off. I passed the 40k mark in 2:50:58 (the exact time Lance Armstrong finished with… swine). I could still do it.

Then, as I passed the 25-mile mark… ZAP; my right quad completely seized up.

I'd only ever had twinges of cramp during my previous eight marathons – never a full-blown locking-up of one of the muscles.

I pulled over to the side of the road and frantically shook my leg, trying to release the ‘offender’. It wouldn't budge. It was stuck and there was seemingly nothing I could do to shift it.

And, in that moment, as the vociferous spectators cried out: "Keep going, you've only got a mile to go!", my Sub-3-hour Boston Marathon dream evaporated.

Of course I knew, deep down, this could happen. In the marathon, during those final few miles, anything can. Which helped me, in the moment, put it in perspective – and refocus.

Now my biggest concern was, could I finish? After enduring all the hard training, preparation and marathon weekend hullabaloo, it would be devastating to have to drop out with just 1.2 miles to go.

I decided to try and run with the cramp. Amazingly, I could. I’d hit the wall big-time, but was able to locate a few loose bricks and punch out a hole big enough to crawl through.

As I took off again, the same cluster of spectators who "oooohed" and "aaaahed" when I stopped, now cheered and applauded my return to action. To them we were all heroes – particularly at this stage of the race – and it was inspiring.

My pace was now down to about a 9-min/mile shuffle and I was almost in a daze, roared on by the crowds which lined the streets of downtown Boston to the finish, but almost numb to the noise.

It's fair to say I was slightly delirious at this point – and I have no recollection of the famous CITGO sign (just past the Mile 25 mark) which looms large as a backdrop and is supposedly impossible to miss. I was too busy looking at my watch – and to the heavens, praying for some divine inspiration/assistance (I guess he/she/it was overloaded with requests on the day – and mine was at too short notice).

I shuffled on regardless, just wanting to get it over with now.

I turned the final corner, onto Boylston Street, and glanced at my watch: it read 2:59:10. I could see the finish, but now needed to run 385 yards in 49 seconds to break 3 hours. I'd struggle to do that on fresh, full-strength legs. As I soldiered on, I couldn't help but steal fleeting glances at my watch – and remember the moment the hour digit flicked over to 3, with the finish line still 300 yards away. My heart sank.

When I eventually stumbled across the line my head was bowed in disappointment; after all the build-up it was a crushing blow. My final time was 3:01:41 – good enough to place me 1,377th out of 21,963 finishers. But I'd run the final 385 yards in 2 mins 31... and missed breaking 3 hours by 102 seconds. Arrrrgggggghhhhhhh!!!

There's no doubt I should be capable of running Sub-3. In fact, Sub-2:50 given the 10k and half-marathon times I've posted (*36:06 and 1:20:53 at the time of writing).

The marathon's a different ball game, of course – perhaps the most challenging of all distances to get right. Running 2 hours something for 26.2 miles just may not be part of my destiny…

…but that won’t stop me trying.

The whole Boston experience was immense. Stressful and somewhat overwhelming at times; thrilling at others.

But, supping a pint of Guinness at the post-race party, my attention was drawn to the two giant TV screens which hung intimidatingly above the dance floor – replaying the men’s and women’s elite races from earlier in the day.

While a Wyclef-Jean look-a-like orchestrated an energetic swaying-of-arms-in-time-to-the-music session (flanked by a brace of professional backing swayers), I was mesmerized watching the Duel in the Sun Mark II finish to the women’s race and Kenyan Robert Cheruiyot powering to his fourth – and third successive – Boston Marathon victory in the men’s.

And all I could think was: How many days ’til I have the chance to do this all again?


** P.S. 114 days 'til I have the chance to do this all again... and counting! **

*** P.P.S. I did finally break 3 hours at the Royal Victoria Marathon in October, 2008... by 20 seconds! (2:59:40). And I've since broken 3 another four times; current best is 2:56:33 (clocked in the 2010 Vancouver Marathon)... :o) ***

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