The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Friday, April 24, 2009

boston marathon

Finished the Boston Marathon on Monday. Although I trained hard for it, harder than I've ever trained for a marathon, I failed to achieve my goal time, which itself may have been overly ambitious. I'm not a particularly experienced distance runner, and I was trying to break three hours. But I did manage to set a "PR," or a personal record, for the distance, and of course to better my time from the last marathon I ran (Scranton this fall).

I'm still trying to figure out exactly what happened. I was going great for about the first half, and was almost exactly on pace to achieve my goal time. Warned not to go too fast at first and burn my legs out, I avoided doing that. But at about mile 16 or 17 my quadriceps began to tighten up severely. I've never had cramps in my legs, but it felt like that was coming on. I struggled on for several miles, even taking an occasional walk break (ten or twenty seconds) and stretching out my legs, and by the time I hit Heartbreak Hill I was moving relatively well again, although with great pain. Finally, once I entered Boston and passed Boston College with all of its cheering undergrads I was able to draw some energy from the crowd and from the nearness of the finish line, and ran at a good pace for the last two miles.

Boston was different than I thought it would be. I've done two huge big-city marathons before, including New York, and I kind of thought Boston would be like those. Oddly enough, even though Boston is similarly large and prestigious, it felt much more cobbled-together and homey. The New York marathon is an amazing feat of planning and with almost no exceptions the crowds are huge all the way along the course. It is a one-hundred-percent professional product. Boston, on the other hand, is equally well-planned but has a different feel to it. I've been thinking about it and I think the difference is that Boston seems well-loved: by the runners, by the organizers, by the small towns through which its course passes, and particularly by the city of Boston. NYC's was an enormous spectacle but there was a bit of that feel of "love" lacking. I thought for a minute that it might have been because NYC was so massively sponsored and corporatized, but Boston is equally so. I might also be mistaking "loved" for "product of New England thriftiness and mistrust of spectacle."

I'm making some decisions now. I've now done what many recreational runners strive for and never reach: running a marathon, and qualifying for Boston. I've also logged a very respectable time in a marathon, one that put me in the top ten percent of finishers at the most important marathon in the world (the Olympics excepted). So now, do I give it up? Do I try again to break three hours, this time on a less challenging course like Chicago? Do I take a few years off? Or do I charge back into it? I'd like to run marathons in all of the cities in which I've lived, which still leaves me three, and I think I probably will run Pittsburgh if it happens again next year, even if I don't actually train hard for it. I don't know. Frankly, I'm still feeling the aftereffects of this marathon, which was harder on my body--my thighs in particular--than any race I've ever run.


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