Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Boston 2014

I interrupt my usual musings and histrionics for a guest post. The following is Eric's (unedited) account of his Marathon Monday experience in Boston. Kinda makes you want to run a marathon, huh?

Congratulations to all who ran the Boston Marathon this year. #Bostonstrong

Boston was simply an incredible experience.  I was blessed to have family nearby and they treated me like nothing short of royalty the entire weekend and that just added to the event.  The entire city was buzzing with positive energy.  I knew it was going to be a special weekend when the lady at the Delta counter in Atlanta bent over backwards to help get me up there for the race after some mechanical problems delayed things.  The race was getting 24 hours news coverage and the anticipation had been building for a full year.  It was going to be something special.    

My father-in-law dropped me off at the Hopkinton roadblock about a mile from the high school where I enjoyed a gentle razzing from a local constable.  He identified me as a southerner instantly from my six layers of clothing that were ably fending off the 40 degree chill. A short walk later found me at the runners' village surrounded by officers, volunteers, and military-types.  Yes, there were snipers on the roof and metal detectors and no, I didn't mind.  I felt safe but a bit cold.  The runners were all very nervous evidenced by the 20 deep lines for the hundreds of port-a-johns.  Seriously, hundreds of them.  I found a spot in the tent that I declared my own and waited until our wave and corral were signaled to line up.  It had warmed up by the time we started walking to the line and runners were dumping extra gear by and clothes by the thousands.  40,000lbs of clothes were collected and donated!  The walk was more controlled and organized than the loosey-goosey years past.  Formerly, you kind of went to your corral when you wanted despite having specified times.  Now, you marched and went when you were supposed to and you couldn't leave once you started.  They did have another set of 100+ port-a-johns at the start thankfully.  It warmed up considerably and I got rid of my garbage bag wind-breaker, goodwill pants and fleece, and winter hat.  In the corral I dumped my vest and shortly into the race I tossed my second pair of gloves and long sleeve shirt.  Yes, I am a southerner.  The start featured a flyover, the anthem, and the palpable anticipation of thousands of tapered runners.  It was great.  The gun went off and 3:30 later I crossed the line around 5800th or so.  I slapped a lot of hand that first mile or so and quickly learned that I couldn't as it set my heart racing.  It was a blast, but not good for a marathon.  Too much adrenaline early on resulted in no energy at the end.  I sacrificed for selfish needs but it was worth it in the long run.  Those first 5 miles I was probably passed by 1-2000 runners without exaggeration.  They flew down the early downhills with reckless abandon and I don't blame them.  It felt so good to be running at Boston in 2014 in front of these crowds, but it was a recipe for disaster.

The first hand slaps had put a smile on my face though and it stayed there for 24 miles.  Ear to ear my grin stretched seeing the supportive signs, the kids with flags, and the love for this event that brings so many disparate peoples together in a triumphant march against terrorism.  The pride in Boston and the marathon in general was seen at every street corner and you just smiled seeing the joy and life in the people of Boston.  An entire city and state took back their city in the span of a few hours.  Some were not very eloquent (David Ortiz?), but the sentiment was the same:  this is our city, our race, and we will not stop living because of some depraved loonies.  It was incredible.  The crowds were incredible but the race too was amazing.  At mile 8 I crested a hill and could see thousands of runners in front of me.  Not to sound arrogant, but at basically every race in my life I have started at or near the front.  Even at Peachtree I was only a few rows from the front and finished in the top 200 or so.  Last time at Boston I was in the first corral as well.  This time though I could see 5000 runners in front of me and it was breath-taking.  I turned to the guy next to me and said "this is why we run Boston." 
It turns out the guy was a graduate of Woodward Academy (a competing private school in Atlanta for those outside the city) and we spent the next 12 miles together.  He works for Google in San Fran.  We tempered each others enthusiasm that bordered on the unbridled at times and calmly began to work our way through those crowds.  Wellesley was particularly difficult as the noise was deafening. I had to run on the opposite side of the road because my ears were ringing.  By mile 15 we weren't being passed anymore and I was only passed by one guy I think the rest of the race.  We calmly worked toward the hills when in the midst of an uphill I saw my good friends Dave and Marybeth.  Dave went ballistic yelling "Team Heintz!" and MB soon joined the chorus.  It was the highlight of the run.  You get a lot of cheers in a marathon but they are quite anonymous.  Loud, but anonymous.  Seeing a friendly face and hearing your name changes things and that brief moment lifted me up those hills.  My Athletic Director would say it was the angels that carried me and Tom Marier might say it was Hermes, but it was something and it made heartbreak merely another blip on the course elevation profile.  When I reached the top I smiled, said a little prayer, and celebrated.  It was the first time I had conquered the course.  It was figuratively all downhill from here and topographically as well.  My 22nd mile was my fastest as I knew I would be able to finish strong.

Running through Boston now I had some demons to face.  In 2008 I walked much of this part of the course.  For those of you interested, I had trained harder for that marathon than any other and it did not go well.  I had severe stomach cramps that prevented me from eating or drinking and after 20 miles the wheels came off.  I went from 20 miles at 5:59 pace to 6.2m at 9:15 pace.  I walked in a race for the first, second...and eighth times.  It was terrible.  In 2014 I was flying by runners and spectators.  At this part of the marathon you can only do two things to get the attention of spectators: look terrible or look great.  I got a ton of cheers in 2008 but even more in 2014.  My singlet said "machine" on it, a left over from our 2013 cross country mileage awards, and I was greeted with "come on machine!" and "go machine" for the next 4 miles.  By mile 24 my legs were fatiguing but I knew I could make it.  The smile was gone but it was soon replaced by determination.  The crowds were now 8-10 deep in some places and it was like running in a tunnel of love - noisy, screeching, sometimes a little tipsy love from folks that can't say "car" or "yard" the right way.  Right y'all?  I turned on to Boylston street and the finish was in sight.  All the emotion of 26 miles, plenty of long runs, and months of anticipation combined with the spirited crowds celebration.  I was filled with the raw experience and I tried to take it all in until I heard my name.  They announced my name as I neared the finish.  I had passed a chip reader and of the dozens of people finishing every few seconds they picked mine out to announce.  I pumped my skinny arms as I crossed the line.   It was a perfect ending.
For those numerically inclined, I ran negative splits.  My second half was about 3min faster than my first half.  This is not common at Boston.  My slowest mile was my first (7:12) and my fastest three were 22 (6:16), 24 and 26.  I finished 1835th.  This means I passed about 4000 people from my starting position and closer to 5000 or 6000 from my furthest position back (mile 5 or so).

I was picked up by my father-in-law, road the T back to his car, and finished the night at Harry's Diner on route 9 and then with nearly a quart of butter crunch ice cream and a Boston cream pie donut (Lent ended Monday night for me!). 
It was an incredible experience.  I could not have done it without my wife Alison who not only let me do my long runs each weekend but stayed home with our three boys.  She is a saint and an awesome lady.  Love you kiddo!  I also could not have done it without Anne and Bob, my in-laws who housed me and treated me like I was Meb Keflezghi, bro/sis in-laws Seth and Shirley who picked me up from the airport LATE Saturday night, bro/sis in-laws Nich and Tracey who got me to the expo, and my school which so graciously gave me the time off to go run (I know other employers would have balked at this).    It was a truly special experience and I really didn't think that doing something for the third time could have been better but it was from top to bottom.  Thank you guys for supporting me and indulging me by reading this rambling piece of ego-boosting selfishness. 
Always Boston Strong,

*Thank you to my sister-in-law for the iPhone photos. And for being a kick-a$$ sister-in-law. 


  1. Chills. Chills, chills, chills. Eric is amazing. And you are amazing for supporting him to get there, Ali. I wish I had seen your face to yell your name in Natick center. Next year, my friend!

  2. Fantastic race and recap. Way to go, Machine.

  3. Agreed, agreed, agreed. Fantastic!

  4. I was so happy to be able to be a part if it, in a small way. So much fun!