On the 2013 Boston Marathon

I ran this weekend in Costa Rica.  It was a tough race, one that I want to share with the world.  But in the wake of yesterday’s incident at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, I feel petty and trivial writing about it.  I will upload it eventually, but I feel much deflated at the moment, as if I just learned that a relative or close friend were in the hospital with a terminal illness.

Yesterday was disorienting.  I was thrilled that Shalane Flanagan had earned a 4th place finish in the women’s race, and ecstatic that Jason Hartmann once again proved that tall guys could finish near the front.  I checked results to see friends and fellow bloggers crossing the finish line, adding the prestigious and historic race to their running scrapbook, memories of a tough effort forever engraved in their running logs.  And then it all went to hell.

It was a despicable, cowardly act committed by despicable, cowardly people.  No matter how much I try to warp my perspective, I can’t seem to glean what indecipherably dark and baseless sentiment would lead someone to do this.  Even in our cynical, post 9-11 world, I can’t drag myself to such a disgusting level.  To those responsible: I don’t care what your vendetta is or with whom you take grave issue in this world, but you have absolutely no problems with innocent people universally supporting the struggles, pains and triumphs of their brothers and sisters from all over the world. 

Targeting people watching or running a marathon is no better or worse than targeting civilians walking to work.  But marathons can be the most inspirational events to witness – to see the world come together for a common purpose, raising millions for charitable causes and bringing families together.  Runners come from all walks of life, from every background and every country.  You did not just insult the people of Boston, but citizens of the world trying to do something great.

If your motives were to break our spirit, as runners and as people, you certainly failed.  Immediately after the event we read many stories about the courage and selflessness of first responders running toward the blast, medical personnel instantly treating the wounded, even marathoners who after running for almost four hours donated blood without hesitation.  All over the internet, runners and non-runners alike came together in solidarity for those affected by this tragic event.  The spirit of the marathon, that spirit of unconditional support and courage, was alive yesterday despite the harrowing pain.

As for me, my heart goes out to the victims of this detestable, craven act; to all of those who finished and had their moment of celebration soiled; to those who felt their dreams stopped short because of someone’s revolting scheme; and to those who watched in horror, knowing they had friends or loved ones on the course, waiting in shock and disbelief for news of their safety.

I went for a quick jog yesterday to try and get my mind off the news.  I couldn’t, but I kept one foot in front of the other, moving onwards.  Because that’s what we ultimately must do – continue doing what we do.  If we live in fear of events like this, then we give in.  Whoever did this wanted to scare and scar us and we can’t let that control how we live our lives.  I for one will continue running, continue my journey, as I hope so many millions will do once all the debris is cleared from Boylston Street.  But for the next few days, I will sit meditatively and think with slow breaths on those who cannot.

Onwards,

Dan

The crime tips hotline in Boston can be reached at 1-800-494-TIPS (8477).

Additional thoughts and perspectives from friends:

See Glenn Run
The Run Factory (2013 Boston Finisher)
T-Rex Runner
Blisters, Cramps & Heaves
Fluency’s Folly (2013 Boston Finisher)
Adventure Foot
Medal Slut
Masher Runs
Bad Angels
Numberz Runner
The Fartlek
Racing the States
Lavender Running (2013 Boston Finisher)
Too Tall Fritz
Devil’s Chasing Me
We Wander and Ponder (2013 Boston Finisher)

The Marathon Bucket List

When you set out on a journey to run a (half) marathon in all fifty states, you inevitably end up knowing about far too many races.  Be it through chatter in a running group, seeing t-shirts from other events or after a frenetic series of Google searches, you realize that there are just too many out there.  This is not altogether a bad thing, but the panoply of races can be overwhelming, leaving you feeling a bit spoiled for choice.  With so many options out there, it’s impossible to run them all.  So I’ve decided to compile a short list of ten races that I want to run before I lose interest in the sport.  Since none of these get me any closer to my ultimate goal, I will be running them purely for the experience they provide (also known as “fun”).  Were I to suddenly become wealthy beyond my wildest dreams, I would sign up for all of these in one calendar year.  In the absence of a giant, golden vault full of bullion minted with my name, I’ll have to settle for the distant gaze of “someday” …

United States

1. Miami Marathon Completed (2/3/2014)

imagesI’ve run the more popular half marathon distance in sunny Miami three times and each time it’s been an extremely fun run, despite some years pairing the 13,000 runners with crushing humidity.  In recent years, as I’ve gotten better at running in adversarial conditions, I’ve begun flirting with the idea of returning to Miami for the full marathon.  It wouldn’t be easy, but I want to run it to prove that I can.  When I dragged myself across the finish line in 2010 I was wondering out loud, in between stifled gasps, how anyone could run twice this distance under such conditions.  One day I will see how it’s not only possible, but hopefully fun.  If I’m lucky, I wouldn’t have to deal with terrible heat, allowing me to enjoy the glitzy beachfront properties, the seemingly endless rows of palm trees and the opulent turquoise condos that jut from the shoreline as if made of coral.

2. Colorado Marathon

colorad-marathonI have had a love affair with the Centennial State that has lasted decades.  It seems that every time I go, I have an amazing time without fail.  When I started running, the idea of going out west to tackle the miles at altitude seemed too daunting to consider.  But after churning out the Horsetooth Half Marathon, a challenging race in Fort Collins, I knew I would someday return for the full beast.  Although the largest marathon in Colorado is the Rock ‘n Roll Denver race, I have always been drawn to the state’s eponymous marathon, run along the Poudre river in Fort Collins.  When I think of Colorado, I think of the outdoors, rising slabs of earth, dirt and trees.  Though I’m sure there are far more rugged marathons in the state, this one has been calling my name for a while.  The fact that the entire race is downhill certainly helps.

3. Boston Marathon

baa-logoNo serious marathoner’s medal display or trophy mantle is complete without the blue and yellow unicorn.  The Boston Athletic Association’s flagship race is a rite of passage for anyone who has put in more than their share of pain and sweat into training, running their fastest possible, grinding their teeth and sapping their lungs.  And that’s just to qualify.  Just being in Hopkington waiting for the race to start, surrounded by twenty thousand other runners who pushed themselves to similar limits, would be reward enough.  But then you’d actually run the race, with Boylston Street 26.2 miles away, and the coveted title of “Boston Finisher” pulling you all the way.  I am several marathon seasons away from even considering a BQ, but with enough diligence and the perfect day, it can happen.

4. Big Sur International Marathon

imagesThe previous three races all involved cities that I have frequently visited.  I was drawn to them because they took place in cities that I hold dear for one reason or another.  Big Sur is the opposite.  I have never been to Monterey County or the Bay Area but have been drawn to it for quite some time now.  In addition, I read somewhere that this is “the race you have to run before you die” which is the literal definition of a bucket list race.  Every story about this race has been inspiring and the breathtaking descriptions of scenery make the decision to someday run it easy.  Even stories where the entire day was covered in fog haven’t lessened my interest in making the trip.  In fact, I’ve been meaning to fly out to California to run a marathon for years now but the surfeit of races is intimidating.  But even as I discover new, exciting courses to conquer, Big Sur has remained at the very top of that list.

International

5. Paris Marathon

logo_newParis, the city of love, high culture and delicious food.  In my head, I find it impossible to separate thoughts of Paris and that playful yet seductive accordion music that you hear in movies like Amèlie or in the closing credits of Ratatouille.  And that’s while not on the course.  What better way to get to know one of the most iconic and renowned cities in the world than by running on the historic Champs-Élysées, around le Place de la Concorde, past Notre-Dame and finishing just shy of L’Arc de Triomphe?  I can’t think of any other race (or city) that would inspire more nostalgia in me than Paris.  After all, it’s the closest major city to Fontainebleau, where I was born.  So now you know that.

6. London Marathon

vlm-logo-baseLondon comes in a close second to Paris’ nostalgia and sheer weight of history.  As a World Marathon Major, it is known for superb organization, a star-studded international field, and a fast course.  On paper alone, it is enough to get me to sign up (or add my name to the lottery and cross my fingers, as I’ve done the last two years).  But it’s more than that.  I lived in London for a little over two months as a child, which was more than enough time to develop an intense liking for castles and all things medieval.  The chance to run past the Tower of London, Westminster Palace, the Tower Bridge and various other structures of the highest regality is enough to make me and my inner child salivate.  That said, if there were a relay race in the United Kingdom whose legs connected castles to each other, then I would sign up in a heartbeat.

7. Berlin Marathon Completed (9/27/2015)

logo-2013-header-enThe chance to run the world’s fastest marathon is another no-brainer.  Sure, there are downhill marathons like Wineglass, Colorado and Tucson, but those events don’t have a torrential river of humanity 40,000 strong pushing you along the way.  This is the city where the great Emperor himself Haile Gebrselassie became the first person ever to run a marathon under 2 hours and 4 minutes, a feat broken in 2011 by Kenyan Patrick Makau.  Though Berlin is also a city with a very complex and fascinating history, it doesn’t have the same resonant, personal associations as the previous two European cities have had (despite living in Bonn for 3 months before college).  Running the Berlin Marathon would certainly help my ties to the city grow stronger, especially if it allows me to earn a new PR on its perfectly flat course.

8. Midnight Sun Marathon

LogoMSM_122x64All of the previous races have been in large cities with sprawling, international airports.  This one breaks that mold.  The Midnight Sun Marathon takes place in Tromsø, Norway, an island in the northernmost part of the Scandinavian Peninsula, and it starts at 8:30 PM in summer, when the sun shines all night long.  I would race this exclusively for the celestial novelty, but it doesn’t hurt that the course rarely leaves the coast and is hosted by a city surrounded by the Nordic wild.  It would be an adventure just getting there and not knowing the language will add to the experience … but I have no doubt that it would be worth the effort.  Marathons push you far beyond your comfort zone, so why not make the trip do the same?

9. Niagara Falls International Marathon

imagesThough technically an international race, it would require a domestic flight shorter than two hours from Chicago.  I have wanted to run this for two years now, but it seems like every weekend in October has ten different marathons, all of which I want to run including Chicago.  Since Canada isn’t part of my 50-states goal, the Niagara Falls Marathon keeps getting pushed to next year as I decide to knock out another domestic race.  But one day I’ll make the trek to Buffalo, New York, cross into Canada and finish to the sound of thundering cascades of foaming water.  It’s also the only marathon, perhaps even race, in the world that starts in one country and ends in another, requiring a valid passport at packet pick-up and check-in.

10. Two Oceans Ultramarathon

logoDespite my love of travel and discovering new places, I readily admit that I have very little desire to visit the African continent.  I used to find Egypt intriguing but the recent political situation there keeps me from taking any steps in that direction.  However, I have several friends who have lived in Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania, and they all have, in one way or another, tried to convince me that I should run an African race.  They certainly know me well because that is the most surefire way to lure me.  Though a race in Kenya or Ethiopia would be fitting given the sport, I’ve settled on the Two Oceans Ultramarathon in Capetown, South Africa.  There’s a half marathon option but if I’m going to make that excruciatingly long series of flights, I’d do myself a disservice by running anything less than the full distance of 56 kilometers (34.8 miles).  Adding to the intrigue is its non-exclusive billing as “the world’s most beautiful marathon.”

So there it is, my official bucket list.  Though I’m always finding new races and occasionally removing some, I am confident that these ten will remain stalwart ambitions on my radar.  It will be many, many years before I will have completed these, which is fine by me.  Despite gung-ho carpe diem attitudes towards life, not everything should be done all at once.  There’s something to be said about having long-term plans and knowing that you can tackle them at your own pace.  Besides, I have yet to become perilously wealthy, so all of these adventures will take careful planning and too many hours of daydreaming.

But surely I must have missed something.  Please let me know.  Have I forgotten any iconic races?  Do you have a race bucket list?  Are these races all “so annoyingly popular” that they betray my knowledge of the running world?  More importantly, should I replace Paris with Medoc?  Big Sur with Avenue of the Giants?

State 5: Massachusetts (2010 Boston’s Run to Remember)

It was probably the summer after my sophomore year where I realized that most American college students (or maybe just my particular circle of friends) solidify their lifelong friends at the university level and slowly lose touch with their high-school compatriots. Why friendships forged in the Ivory Tower trump previous connections makes sense on a logistical level: you no longer see your friends from high-school every day, nor was it likely that you were ever forced to live with them.

I, however, did not follow this pattern. I awaited every summer with giddy anticipation and to this day, the summers of 2003 and 2004 easily make the top ten lists for pretty much anything. Eight and a half years later, I still keep in touch with them and very frequently travel with them, namely Javier Matamoros and Gabriel Golcher. Javier ended up staying in Boston after graduating from MIT and Gabriel’s neverending quest for higher learning brought him to Pittsburgh from Indiana and now currently works out of Austin several weeks out of the year.

Beginning in September 2007, we began visiting each other, every four months or so rotating who plays host. This year, my running addiction sync’ed perfectly with a Memorial Day Weekend trip to Boston, so I signed up for the sixth annual Boston’s Run to Remember. Through other conveniently-timed events and a bit of badgering, we brought Elena Jiménez and Laura “Lali” Becerra along on our adventures. Cramming everyone into Javier’s apartment on Beacon Hill wasn’t as difficult as we had originally thought – though there was one night in which Gabriel and Lali had to share a sofa. It was adorable.

The weekend was full of many classic running blunders. We did a lot of walking the day before, taking scenic strolls up the cobblestone sidewalks of Beacon Hill and through the Boston Common to stare at ducklings. Friday evening was spent at Bukowski’s, spinning an enormous wheel to decide which beer to drink. Contrary to what people will tell you, drinking beer does not count as carbo-loading. Saturday’s meals consisted of creamy soups and heavy sandwiches – all signs pointed to race day disaster and that wasn’t even counting the slowly rising temperatures.

But I didn’t care — I was having a great time, which explains how I managed to exorcise all pre-race trepidation. I slept very soundly that night, which rarely happens before a race. I was up at 5:30 AM the next morning, ready to run. We were surprised to feel a reassuringly cool breeze wisp by us as we stepped onto Charles Street. The sun was out, make no mistake, but it didn’t feel at all like when I walked out to the balcony in Miami. Thirty minutes later, I was in the 8-minute start corral, eagerly anticipating the start of my fifth half marathon of 2010. I started the race at a conservative pace, knowing that the temperature was in the low 70’s and that the cloud coverage was scant. The course shoots straight into Boston, along Faneuil Hall and City Hall, then over the Charles River onto Memorial Drive for a 3-mile out-and-back. It took a long time for the field to thin out and the first two miles were a bit crowded. Although the course lacked in water stations (only six) it made up for it in shade and where it was deficient in crowd support it made up in scenery.

My usual bullheadedness kicked in early and I found myself clocking 7:30’s and 7:40’s in the first five miles even as sweat covered my eyes. But I was feeling great. I kept the strong pace going after the 10k turnaround, where I decided that I felt strong enough to try and run for a PR, weather be damned. The 10-mile marker was at the top of the Charles/MGH Bridge, where the course turns south towards the city. I had not expected it to run right on Charles Street, where Javier’s apartment is. The race literally ran in front of his apartment, on the street with which we had become very familiar over the last three days. A small part of me was hoping to find Gabriel and Elena on the street, cheering for me. Instead, I fervently yelled to the second floor “Ticos, despertate!”, an exclamation whose grammatical error I will attribute to runner’s delirium.

Once past Javier’s apartment I began losing steam. By this point, the race was approaching the Common and the final 2-mile kick. In previous runs, “losing steam” would mean clocking 8:40 splits or slower. This time, it just meant that I had to work harder to keep the pace strong. At this point, I had accepted that a PR was not in the cards for me. I’ve noticed in my running log that if I haven’t secured a record pace by the beginning of mile 12, then I can kiss a PR goodbye. But there’s always hope that a fantastic final split can secure one at the last minute …

… unless there’s a hilly bridge rounding out the thirteenth mile. I struggled to make it over the top without losing too much time. I heard Javier yell at me at the bottom, which energized me into a sprint until I noticed that the finish line was not 0.1 mile away like it should have been. In the excitement of the moment, I also didn’t see or hear Steph, Tía Ilse or Lali who were in the crowds watching me finish with my second best time, 1:41:13. For the first time ever, a race funneled finishers into its own Expo. I got my medal, bottle of water and went outside.

Javier ran the 5-miler while his girlfriend Erin ran the half marathon. Upon finishing, she mentioned that she thought there would be more suffering. This can only mean one thing: she’s going for another half within the year. I’m very confident that it will be the next of many.

Erin, Franklin, Me

Although it was a great, scenic race, it wasn’t at all the best part of the weekend. Those honors go to the consistently great times I share with my hometown friends. A long time ago, we came up with the idea of writing a book of all our jokes in hopes of never forgetting them. But if our late-night conversations are any indication, we don’t need a book to laugh raucously ad infinitum. It’s a comforting thought, knowing that time and distance haven’t had a corroding effect on our friendships and that we can look forward with the same fondness with which we remember.