Friday, May 30, 2008

Still Here (with iPod selection #31)

It’s been a quiet time here lately. I haven’t felt like I could add much to the canon of Western literature, and haven’t felt like discussing about whether or not I ran today (for example). Anybody out there who has a blog knows every once in a while you hit a dry patch and you’re not into writing about what you did, thought, or felt. You just go out and do something, and you’re not up for discussing it later. Those of you who write, write, write for school or work… well, I don’t know how you do it and still write blog posts.

So I’ll try to keep this brief and not write a book, which would undermine the argument I just made.

As I mentioned in a post last week, I had a 5K, a week ago Tuesday. It was a benefit walk/run for the American Heart Association, and it was held in lower Manhattan around the Wall Street and WTC area. What ticked many of us off (here I go) was that it was oversold; 18,000 participants is a lot of folks for a little 5K in the small, winding streets down there, and to make matters worse, the course was under-measured. So the race was a 3-miler, not 3.1, so those of us, like me, who wanted to possibly PR in a 5K, were presented with a last-minute non-5K. On top of that, it was one of those unseasonably cold, rainy days that we’ve had a lot of in May. I jammed myself into the start and ran a too-fast first mile and struggled for the final two. Like all 5Ks, well, make that 3-milers, it was over before I knew it. My 19:28 finish time meant I really slowed down in the second half and I wouldn’t have had a PR had it been a 5K anyway. They did give us sandwiches when we finished, at least (Subway was a sponsor). Guess I’ll have to find a flat 5K somewhere, someday, and run that one fast enough to almost throw up.

Otherwise, it’s been ‘run a lot, hit the pool, get back on the bike, run some more, hit the pool again; repeat’. The Patriot Half in July is looking unlikely since I can’t swim a half a mile right now, so I’m not feeling like 1.1 miles is going to be achievable. Then again, never say never. As for running, my one and only true love, I’ve been doing two speed and strength runs a week, and that’s leaving my legs tired for the weekend long runs. I have no idea what I’m running long for, but marathon training habits just don’t want to go away.

There was another mugging in Central Park the other night, someone hit a walker over the head with a rock to steal their iPod. Another example that last year’s rise in crime was due to the demand for Apple products. I’m not making that up, the police say iPod theft has made crime ‘cool’ again. That’s great, now I have to be careful when I’m in the park, of all places.

So that’s the not-so-exciting news, I’m still here and running around and such.

Well, I’m partly wrong, there was some excitement this morning. I’m on my way to my gym (Edge) on 91st and 1st Avenue. It may not have made the news where you are, but another construction crane collapsed in New York today, and it was at… 91st and 1st. I’ve been going to this gym for over a year and a half, and I’ve watched a large building demolished, a huge hole dug into the ground, and six floors built on a site a half a block away (and a block from the pool). Every day I walk past the construction workers and a gigantic crane used to build this new, 34-story building on 91st St. It’s gone up fast, and today the crane came crashing down into the street and the apartment building next door. So by the time I got there, the streets were closed and hundreds of firemen and policemen were on the scene, along with the mayor and the governor and every official that could get there. I detoured around the site to my gym, but found the police blocking the street and businesses. They were worried that the rest of the crane would come down on top of us. Good reason to close the streets around there, so since my gym was closed, I hit the still-open pool instead. In light of the tragedy (at least one construction worker was killed), my inconvenience means nothing. But I’m relieved I didn’t head out early for the gym today and end up a statistic. And moreover, it reminds me that something, including your own life, can be taken away from you in an instant. I know that a huge chunk of life sucks a lot of the time, and it’s not all sunshine and rainbows and all that crap, but it can be much, much worse.

And so, with that, that thought made me snap out of my ‘dry patch’.

(new, melancholic tune from Cyndi Lauper:)

Cyndi Lauper – Rain on Me.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Race Report(s): Mother’s Day 4-Miler & 10-Miler; Healthy Kidney 10K

Not much newsworthy from 87th and Fifth, a.k.a. Cranky HQ. No real excitement beyond two speed and strength workouts a week, and regular trips to the pool. Haven’t bought anything bike-related yet. I have to get my act together on that, admittedly.

Well, I did get to watch a race or two on May 11th, a ‘Mother’s Day’ 4-miler, and a women-only 10-miler. So I stood near the start and cheered runners on, and then went to the other side of Central Park and, all alone, cheered on those making the return trip down the other side of the loop. I wore my t-shirt with ‘Cranky’ emblazoned on the front, and received a few amusing shout-outs. I’m starting to get a little bolder when I’m spectating, saying things like ‘pick it up, use the downhill’, ‘I hate this hill, too!’, ‘that was my evil twin on the other side of the park’ and crap like that. You get tired screaming ‘nice job’ all the time. The slower runners laugh at my dumb jokes, which makes me like them even more.

So after a couple of hours of spotting friends and yelling out dumb stuff, I headed home relieved I hadn’t raced that tiresome course again. My last 4-miler was a PR, and I’d already decided I’d let that stand for a few more weeks before I ended the 4-miler winning streak.

Tuesday night I completed a progressive speed workout that left me, guess what, tired, and then followed that on Thursday with a 5K time trial on the Central Park reservoir. Actually, it was about a 5.3K, so my finish time (20:40) was pretty good for me. That night’s running trainer (who happens to be my swimming trainer from a few weeks back) timed several of us, all running at about 90% effort. Want to get faster? Want to kick your own ass? Try a ‘run-as-fast-as-you-can’ trial once in a while just to get used to running at that pace.

And then Saturday was another monster 10K in the park. And my legs had not recuperated from Thursday. Kids, don’t do a hard workout 36 hours before a race.

So my finish time was OK (42:10) but not very near my PR from several weeks ago. No real regrets, though. I knew about 2 miles in that a personal record wasn’t happening. As for the race, we were put into pace corrals that kind of worked and kind of didn’t since slower guys wearing heavy, polyester basketball shorts still try to sneak into the faster corrals so they can impress their friends. But overall, it was evenly paced, if a bit of a slow start. Over 7000 runners were there, and that’s a lot for a two-lane asphalt road. The race, the Healthy Kidney 10K for kidney research, was sponsored by the United Arab Emirates (not your typical sponsor); that meant a little more money put into it than usual, which translated to each runner receiving a technical tee. Oh, and some guy flew here from Nigeria or Kenya to run it in 28 minutes or so, it was his first trip to the U.S. Yeah, it was a fast crowd.

After that race, I was spent, but not enough that I couldn’t run long for a couple of hours with pals Susie and Denise down to and across the Brooklyn Bridge Sunday morning. I am happy to report I took today (Monday) off. Mainly because I have a 5K tomorrow.

If anyone is aware of a 12-step program for runners, let me know.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

R. Rauschenberg. 1925-2008

I didn't like all his stuff, especially the goat with the tire wrapped around it, one of his 'combines'. But this work does a pretty good job of evoking the neighborhood. He'll be missed.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Training for Whatever

The picture above has nothing to do with anything other than it makes me laugh, and it somehow echoes ‘three’, as in ‘tri’. A stretch, I know, but I’ll write anything to justify posting a ridiculous image. By the way, that’s a disco group from the ‘80s (Company B), as if you couldn’t figure that out on your own. Love the uni-wig. And the color scheme that uncannily matches the colors of this blog/window.

So here’s a funny, odd article in last week’s New York Times about triathletes and training and how often it doesn’t quite come together at one time:

For Peak Performance, 3 Is Not Better Than 1

As for my training, it’s been affected by an overall post-race malaise (which you can discern from my lack of posts and blog comments). This usually hits me right after a marathon. Sort of like, ‘well, that’s done with, so now let’s train for another one of these stupid things all over again’. Not that I’ve been sitting around with Ben and Jerry (much), I’ve had a few strength-building workouts over the last week, including a 30-minute swim, one-hour bike and 9-mile run last Thursday. Here’s where I’m at, I’ll try to keep it brief:

Running: Going OK, though my quads usually hurt the next day in the pool (see article, above). There was a 4-miler in the park yesterday, and I’m proud to say I didn’t even consider entering. My last 4-miler was a PR, and I’d like to rest on that a while before I start getting competitive on my own ass again.

Swimming: I do the time, I do the drills, 4 times a week or more, at least, and I’m getting better. But not anywhere near ready for competition, unfortunately. Not that I want or expect to be a competitive swimmer, when I say ‘competitive’ I mean ‘not drop out’. I spend a half hour or more in the pool each trip, and I long ago made a deal with myself: when the moment comes that I’ve gotten halfway down the pool lane and think to myself ‘I really, really despise doing this’, then it’s time to get out of the water. That way, the next day, I’m ready to return to try again.

Biking: After Boston, I returned to the spinning that I’d grown tired of (along with screaming quads, part 2). That’s fine, but I’ve discovered that the bike I’m borrowing is not up to anyone’s standards, and probably a road hazard at that. So I have to buy a bike, and spend money on more bike stuff, and I could say something sarcastic, but I chose this life, so I’ll shut up now. But if somebody creates a new event and calls it The Money Pit Triathlon, I, for one, would get the joke. I believe some of you, would, too.

So now I am at a training crossroads. I’m reasonably sure that I will be doing two speed and strength workouts each week this summer. I will continue hitting the pool in an effort to become a machine in the water, before my pool membership ends months from now. All that said, I am not sure how I can afford a few grand on bike-related purchases, that remains to be seen. With all this taken together, it’s not looking very likely that I will be ready for any sort of triathlon this summer, as in, a few weeks from now. Not to say I won’t be, but I have to be honest with myself. I will try not to internalize all this crap, too, which is difficult for me. Despite being a novice in the water and my dwindling bank account, I’m still a fairly decent runner, I have to hold onto that. And remember to watch the news, because there are several billion people on the planet with problems a thousand times worse than any triathlon training bullshit I can inflict upon myself.

P.S. I’ve been meaning to write about ‘the world of triathletes’, since I joined a triathlon team several months ago and have had a fair amount of exposure to ‘those people’. I’ll write about that sometime soon.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Race Report: Brooklyn Half Marathon

Not much to say, it was another race. Same as last year’s, started at the Coney Island boardwalk, then inland, going up Ocean Parkway to Prospect Park and three hills you’d never want to see at the end of a race. Lots of folks call it a flat, easy course on which to hit a PR, but they’re full of crap. I don’t mind hills, I’d just rather not have all of them pop up in the last three miles of a half marathon.

Facts n’ Stats:

Saturday, May 3rd, 9AM
Brooklyn, NY
48 degrees + overcast = depressingly familiar
5832 runners, grouped into corrals by pace
My finish time: 1:30:33
My 39th half marathon, and third fastest

So I had a pretty good finish time considering it was a post-marathon ‘show up and see how it goes’ race. Four seconds slower than last year’s NYC Half finish time, which was also surprisingly fast for me. So it looks like I may try to actually train for the NYC Half this year, at the end of July. That is, if I get in through the lottery, because I missed qualifying by 29 seconds. Anyway, I see the goal already, shaving 10 seconds per mile off, for a sub-1:29.

Speedwork starts tomorrow.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Boston Marathon ‘08

On a chilly, overcast morning, I get myself out of bed 20 minutes before the alarms went off. It was good to be in a reasonably nice hotel in Cambridge, only four stops away by subway to the buses that would take some of the 25,000 runners to Hopkinton.

So I fuss with the variety of things I’d be bringing (gels, body glide, extra clothing, more extra clothing, extra clothing I might need in case the bus broke down in the woods and we were kidnapped by chainsaw-wielding rednecks, not that there’s anything wrong with that, etc.). I have everything in individual plastic bags, I sure am organized. I stare at myself in the bathroom mirror and chew on a strange protein bar I’d gotten during my afternoon spent as an expo sample whore. Since the race wasn’t starting for another 5 hours, I could take a chance on some plastic protein slab straight out of the DuPont Laboratories.

On the way out of the hotel, I find a free coffee station in the lobby, and thank the almighty for His timely bestowing of the caffeine. I also see running nerds loitering and not looking too concerned about much of anything, and it felt good to be on my way knowing I had given myself plenty of time.

And before long I was in the ‘T’ subway station at Harvard, and soon after that, the train arrives. Along with non-running passengers wearing dumb stares. Like in New York, or DC, or Chicago, or Paris, or any other city I’ve run a marathon in, you always get those early morning commuters with the blank looks that say ‘you people are crazy’, or ‘good luck with all THAT’. And I always think to myself, ‘yes, if I hadn’t sent the entry fee in six months ago, I’d probably be saying the same thing’.

We arrive at the Park Street station, and the sun had just come up. I’d read on that infallible source of information, the internet, that it was a good idea to make a port-a-john pit stop before boarding the buses, so I decide to take that advice, especially since the lines weren’t very long at all. Soon after, I board a typical public school bus, one of about ten in this fleet (because sets of buses were arriving every ten minutes).

And then we take off, and the bus zooms out of the city onto unknown highways. And it goes on, and on, and we’re not going that slowly, it’s more like 50 miles an hour, and after 30 minutes I can’t believe we’re still not in Hopkinton. And the ride goes on and on and on, and we’re still not there. The first sarcastic comments of the day pop into my head as I start saying things like, ‘where’s the starting line, Montana?’ and ‘are you sure this isn’t a 100-miler?’ and other equally creative things. And then the guy (another running nerd) sitting in front of me on the bus decides he’s going to explain ‘how this race works’ to his hapless seatmate, offering advice and commentary on this, the only marathon that matters. And his voice carries really, really well, and I can’t help but hear about every race experience he’s ever had or even thought of having. He’s an expert, and laughs at his own jokes, too, and I want to say something snappy like ‘do I have to tip the waitress too, after the show is over?’ or some other clever-clever comment that would be lost on him and everybody else because we’re going to ‘have a great day out there, YAY!’ as one runner put it. Well, at least I’m not crossing my legs from bladder discomfort like some of those around me, I began to notice a certain marked pained silence as several runners endured the never ending, bumpy ride. ‘Mrs. Partridge, Lori’s gotta go!’ There’s an idea, the David Cassidy 10K.

Relieved (poor choice of words, I know) that runners aren’t usually psychics reading my mind, I discovered the bus pulling into the high school parking lot in Hopkinton. We still had to wait for the buses to unload one at a time, for some inexplicable reason, but we finally made it off. So after nearly an hour of fun on the bus, we made it to the ‘Athletes’ Village’. And a fine staging area it was. Big tents with long stretches of water bottles stacked as far as I could see. Scores of port-a-johns lined in formation, only one or two people in each line. Hundreds of bagels in several flavors, stacked in crisp, clean boxes. The weather was still overcast and chilly and in the upper 40s, but I had packed enough for a run to Alaska and there was enough here for the return trip. Life is good, I thought. At least for now.

The only remaining thing on my pre-race to-do list was to meet up with rock n’ roll legend Speedy Speed Racer and The Wetsuits. So before 8AM I left the Athlete’s Village and made my way to our pre-arranged rendezvous on Hopkinton’s Pleasant Street. I like to think I could make that street name up in a state of artistic license, but in this case, it’s true. I see many a runner walking through to the waiting area, and finally, there she is. Funny, before you run a race like that, you have several ‘must-do’ things that are always a relief when they’re accomplished. And meeting a running comrade is a load off your mind. Happy that we found each other, we head back to the staging area for a little grass-sitting and pre-race jitters. Since Claire (in lounge mode, below) isn’t checking a bag, she’s traveling lightly, which I admire. Though if they run out of food, my overpacked bag means at least I won’t be joining the Donner party at the finish.

So we talk, and I fuss around with my stuff, and we know there’s not a lot of time, and that’s a good thing. So we slowly make our way to my baggage check/bus on the way to the starting line three quarters of a mile away. Sure, there are lots of runners and officials out there, but not as many as I see in the New York City Marathon. And that’s fine with me, smaller is better when you’re getting nervous about running for several hours.

We arrive at the start area and I leave Claire in one of many, many lines for port-a-johns. I find my corral with about a half hour to go. It’s thinly populated, so I wait around and nervously eat last-minute ‘fuel’ and sightsee around the start. The heart of the town is a T-intersection; we arrive from the bottom of the ‘T’ and the start line is on the upper right. My corral is on the other end, and I stand there, barriers around us, ringed with officials checking numbers before we enter our corral.

So I get in and realize immediately there are two types of people in my corral. Older, middle-aged men and young, fresh-faced college girls. And that’s it. Graying hair on the men, and blond ponytails on the women. And everybody looks ready, there’s none of that ‘race for medical research/cure’ crowd or even first-timers (obviously) here. The runners who got in by running for charity are in the second wave at 10:30. Here, are runners who qualified, and you know it.

So we’re ready, we move up, fighter jets fly over, we’re set. I resist the urge to think out loud, which means expressing a request for the fighter jets to bomb the course so we can all go home early. A minute before the starting gun goes off, the sun comes out for the first time. Extra layers come off, and bags of clothing (for charitable donation) become filled up and down the course. And the volunteers are smiling and happy and encouraging and trying not to let on that they’re happy they aren’t us. But we can see it in their eyes.

The gun goes off, and the runners just stand there, the crowd is so packed. And then five minutes later, we start to move forward, and people are jogging and I’m thinking ‘I don’t want to run if I haven’t crossed the start line yet’, but there’s no use. Finally, we cross the start seven minutes after the gun went off.

The start line is at the top of a hill, and the whole crowd takes off and descends down. It’s quite a crowd, and it’s moving fast. Too fast.

At this point in the story, I should probably tell you how I had planned to approach this race. I’ve run marathons slowly, quickly, moderately, as a tourist, and as someone who wanted to collapse and die. So on this day, I decided I would average a moderate pace, because I know that if I run too fast I will pay for it later. Having never run the Boston course, and after having heard more than one horror story about the hills in the second half, I had decided that I would not run the course at a pace that would leave me hating life or throwing up along the way. In other words, not 85% effort… but not 70% either, somewhere in-between. My swim trainer had recommended running the first ten miles at 10-15 seconds slower than my goal marathon pace, the second half at 10-15 seconds faster, and the final stretch at whatever felt right. I wanted to finish between 3:30 and 4 hours, the closer to three and a half, the better. So if the hills were going to try to kick my ass, I was at least going to be prepared by having fresher legs and more energy by running slower in the beginning. So I slow down.

And people are flying. I overhear one runner at the 1 Mile marker tell a friend that the first mile was ‘too fast’ and to cool it. He’s right, but boy, is it hard. I’m raring to go. And by Mile 2, I find a friend from New York, Zander. He’s a marathon machine, he travels the world and runs about one marathon a month. He tells me his next marathon is in Rwanda (though later he would decide to run a trail marathon in New Jersey a week after Boston). His pace is about mine, and it’s steady. He’s wearing his name, and I hear spectators yell out his name as I pull ahead; somehow it’s always comforting to hear the name of someone you know, and it’s good to know they aren’t far. They’re always looking for witnesses on ‘Law and Order’, and this is no different.

By Mile 3, I start to get Nervous Urinary Tract Syndrome, or N.U.T.S. I often get a little N.U.T.S either before or right at the start of a race. Yeah, I’m a card, but it’s no lie to say I had to go. So I see an informally arranged line of gentlemen runners in the woods on the right. I pull over (no jokes, please, I already know ‘em all) and join the festivities. While I’m standing there I realize about 700 runners have passed by, including Zander. But I’m not running 23 miles with N.U.T.S. Well, you know what I mean.

Back in the action, I run at a slower pace, and it’s killing me. People are really passing me, and I’m plotting revenge. But revenge isn’t coming for another hour or so, not soon enough. Gotta keep the slower pace. The hills await, and I refuse to run them and end up hitting a wall.

So relax, I said. And I did. I started taking in the sights, old gas stations, cute towns, local stores, anything. And runners pass me. Even on the rolling hills, though most of the time we’re running flat or downhill. Everyone is running the same pace or faster, and that’s a curse and a blessing. The crowd can sweep you along without you knowing it. And yet you know you’re all running about the same (because we all qualifed at the same pace), and it’s quite a group effort. If you ever want to feel like you’re part of a ‘running community’ in a race, this is it.

The crowds of spectators get larger and larger, and louder and louder. EVERYBODY who lives along the route is out today, cheering and handing out orange slices and water. One retirement home has its elderly residents sitting in a line of chairs along the course, and you just know they’ll be out there all day. And the sun shines, and we’re all feeling good, because it’s still relatively downhill.

Finally, I see the 10 Mile marker up ahead. It’s at the bottom of a small hill, and I’ve had it with runners passing me on all sides. The second I pass the marker, the chip in my head gets activated, and I shave at least 20 seconds off my pace. I pass every single runner that passed me in the last five minutes. The sun is out, the air is cool. It feels good.

Wellesley is up ahead, and as I’d been told by course veterans, you hear the screaming crowds of students from a quarter mile away. And it gets louder, and as we get closer, we see them behind barricades on the right, hundreds of young women screaming their heads off. I was on the left, so after five minutes of hearing the commotion, I headed over to the right to see, not just hear, the screamfest. And I always manage to ham it up a little in situations like this, so I get a very nice ovation. It helps that it’s still flat, and just getting past the halfway point, and I’m still feeling fine. The sun is bright, and here’s another cute-as-hell town in Massachusetts on a nice spring day. The halfway marker comes and goes, and I realize that if I double the 1:44 time I just logged, I can qualify for next year’s Boston in Boston. That would be nice.

And then a couple of miles later… the hills start. And since we’d been running hills off and on all day, they don’t seem so bad. But they’re there, though I have no problems going up any of them. And the story is the same, short hill, flat for a few minutes, another hill, flat or downhill for a few minutes. Screaming crowds, more and more as the miles go on. Not as many as the two million that line the streets of New York City, but what they lack in size they make up for in volume. Just incredible. And I manage a ‘thank you’ or a thumbs up every so often, and I get a response every time.

By the twentieth mile, I’m starting to feel it. And guess what, this is another frickin’ marathon, so what else is new? But I’m still tooling right up the hills, stopping for water and Gatorade, and keeping my faster pace. Just past Mile 20 I find a hill that’s a little harder to go up, but not so bad. Well, it does go on a little longer than the last one, and I notice the crowds of spectators are bigger and louder than they’ve been so far. The hill goes on, but I see the top, and that’s always fine with me; as long as I can see the end, I know I’m going to be OK. And a nice-looking lady standing on the right sees me approaching and cheers, and as I pass I slow down to ask: ‘Is this Heartbreak Hill?’ And she screams ‘YES!’ And I’m already near the top. I’m done with the hills. Next!

And of course, I make a comment to a couple of spectators as I pass them, something like ‘what was that all about?’ I also realize I better roll up the hubris, I have another six miles to go, and they aren’t usually called ‘easy’.

So on I go. And I see students from Boston College, and they must’ve heard the Wellesley women screaming like banshees and decided to top it, ‘cause they’re waking the dead, too. The course is mostly downhill from here despite a couple of wake-up call inclines that pop out of nowhere, but really don’t last longer than a minute or so. But I’m starting to slow down a little, and making more stops for sickening cups of yellow-green Gatorade. I’m OK, but I’m starting to watch, and search for, and expect mile markers to arrive sooner than normal. I begin to think I’ve missed them when I haven’t; those of you who’ve run a marathon know exactly what I’m talking about.

We get closer to Boston, because I can see parts of the skyline a couple of miles ahead. It looks very far away, but not impossible. We dodge railroad tracks, and I still manage to throw out a smile or a cheer or two to the crowds, and they go crazy, again. Meanwhile, one of the runners is wearing her name, it’s Julie, and I hear ‘Julie’ screamed with the word ‘Go’ about 7,000 times.

Finally, we cross the river on one of the bridges into downtown (yes, a hill, but not a killer). And I hear my name, and it’s another running friend from New York, standing on right side of the bridge. I lift up my arms and let out a ‘YAHHHHHHHH!’ that would make Howard Dean proud, and was arguably my best Angry Runner moment of the day. Out of my way, bitches!

I know I’ve been slowing down, and runners are back to passing me. We hit the 40K marker and I begin to understand with all the stops at water stations and my slowing pace, I won’t qualify for… well, this race, next year. My watch is telling me I won’t finish before 3:30. So where is that damn 25 Mile marker anyway? Translation: I got over it. Suck it up, keep the pace, finish strong.

And I did. We rounded through the final left hand turn, and there’s the finish line 700 meters ahead. It looks like 700 miles, but I tell myself it’s not. And runners are FLYING like somebody just set fire to their running shorts and the only way to put out the flames is to run faster. Well, you bitches can call the fire department, ‘cause I ain’t that crazy, I take it home like a machine. I remember to look up and smile for the cameras instead of stare blankly at my watch. If I can remember to do all that multi-tasking, I must be feeling OK. And feeling OK at the end of a marathon is high on my list today. And the 3:32:23 on my watch is OK, too.

Scores of runners are arriving across the finish line. I say to Julie, ‘nice job, JULIE, I heard your name a lot!’ And she says something to the effect, ‘that makes two of us’ which translates to ‘I got sick of hearing it, too’. We laugh, knowing we’ve passed the threshold of mental illness, again.

Unfortunately, I start to get lightheaded as I walk the half a mile to the bus with my checked baggage. Soon I was feeling better, but I’ve noticed lately that I have developed a tendency to lightheadedness after certain races. I chalk it up to over-hydrating, and sugar in my bloodstream flowing right from my legs to my head, etc. I finally get to my bus, stand in the informal line to ask for it, where two Italian men walk up and, well basically cut in line. They’re oblivious, and I’m too weak to complain; anyway, I get my bag after a few minutes. Soon I will begin the slow-motion activity of rummaging for dry, warm clothes and juggling the post-race snacks that I just put in the bag two minutes ago. It’s not a pretty sight, someone sauntering around like the living dead, stopping to get something out of the bag, getting it, going ten feet, stopping again to start the process over. Cheery volunteers ask me if I’m OK, and I answer yes and give them a funny, faraway look, like I’m peering into their souls.

I begin to remember how my cell phone works, and there’s already a voice mail message from old marathon pal Running Bitch. ‘You did it!’ she says, and she’s been tracking my progress all morning. At this point, a picture of a kitten in a bowl of linguini would put me over the edge, and I start to tear up. Yeah, Cranky gets all soft and shit, who would’ve thought. I pull it together, but not before another volunteer asks me if I’m OK. I mumble a ‘yes’, and make it out of the finish area before I get booked on Oprah.

Unfortunately, the meeting area that Claire and I had chosen was not conducive to finding anyone unless you were in a helicopter. I wasn’t sure how far she was behind me (though, as it turns out, not so far at that point, 2PM), but I waited and ate and drank everything I could get my hands on, and that was quite a lot already.

In the end, we sure looked for each other, but missed each other. Through the magic of cell phones, we set up a rendez-vous in Cambridge. She had her post-race provisions and clothing at her office, and so just headed on over. I listened to another congratulatory voice mail, this one from partner-in-crankiness Susie and walked to Boston Commons and the good old Park Street station.

I took the subway, and was not happy to find the cars packed with baseball fans returning from an afternoon game. Nothing against baseball, but with marathon mania news coverage gripping the city, I was surprised to see some of the blank stares I got. Oh, and nobody was giving up their seats for marathoners. I didn’t have to sit, but I was surprised that a whole row of males sat like deaf mutes on the train while an older, female runner had to stand and strap-hang. In the last two years, elderly travelers twice tried to give me their seats on the bus after I ran the New York City Marathon, a nice gesture at least. I guess that doesn’t happen much here in Boston, but maybe I was on the wrong train.

Well, Speed Racer and I met up and walked around and did the food hunter/gatherer thing. And talked about our experiences. We agreed that the hills weren’t ‘all that’, and that the day was good for both of us despite the predictable challenges of the last few miles. Her finish time was faster than ever, and I had a ‘run smart, and not too fast’ kind of day. We began to discuss our next races, so Boston ’08 must not have been such a bad experience after all.

So class, what did I learn in Boston? The course did have hills, but they weren’t as bad as expected. Friends I’ve spoken with since, who ran it at the same time I did, feel the same way. Then again, all the stories of past misery helped to prepare us. Better to be underwhelmed than be overwhelmed.

Pacing yourself slower in the first half can make a big difference in how you feel later, and ultimately, finish. Could I have run faster and finished sooner? Yes. But any increase in pace, or effort in the first half would’ve subtracted from any effort in the second half. I felt ‘good’ in the second half, and that qualification would have decreased had I run those beginning hills as fast as possible.

The expo sucked, but the race organization was top-notch. Water stations, food, volunteers, medical tents were EVERYWHERE.

My fellow runners were fast. That figures, but just sayin’.

And not that we had any say in it, but the weather was perfect, at least it was for me. Based on past Boston Marathons, we were very, very lucky.

Bottom line, and I can’t believe I’m saying this so soon, but… I’d do it again. In the days following the race, I had second thoughts about my race approach, maybe I took it too slowly. But I came away with a positive experience, and believe me (I know you do), they’re not all positive experiences.