Monday, June 2, 2014

Race Recap Part 2: The 2014 Boston Marathon

We left off after my amazing Sunday with DFMC.  I slept soundly, feeling positive energy from my friends and family wishing me well through texts and online messages. The weather forecast was looking a bit warm, but good (a departure from rain predicted earlier in the week!)

I woke up Monday morning, April 21, 2014 bright and early. My gracious host Steve drove me to the Boston Common where buses were lined up by the dozens to load sleepy, nervous runners and be replaced by dozens more empty buses. 

We got on the Mass Pike and drove west. For a while. 

We're going to run back. Whoa.

Once I arrived in Hopkington, MA I didn't go with the masses to the runners' village. Instead my friend Abi and I walked 10 minutes towards the starting line to the Dana-Farber meeting area at a nearby church. 

Inside was a veritable marathon runner's heaven.

There were medical tables with band-aids, vaseline, IB profin, and sunscreen. There was an "arts and crafts" tent outside so you could decorate your race shirt. In the main area, runners buzzed around chatting nervously, taking photos, and drawing temporary tattoos on eachothers' arms. There were quiet rooms if you wanted to relish in silence. There was a TV room if you wanted to watch the pre-race coverage. A fuel table had bagels, donuts, pretzels, candy, water and Gatorade. Bathrooms and port-o-potties abounded. And amazing volunteers staffed it all.

I had been a bit concerned originally because my bus arrived around 8 and I didn't start until 10:30. But once I saw the oasis of amazingness at that church? All my fears completely vanished.

Me and Cassie
Abi and Me

The 25th Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team!

Surrounded by my New York DFMC friends and the amazing positive energy of my teammates, the hours flew by.  And suddenly, it was time for Wave 3 to head to the start.

The 700 Dana-Farber team members were nearly all together in the same starting corral, adding to the excitement. As we marched towards the starting line, the amazing residents of Hopkington and race volunteers cheered D-F as if we were already heroes. It was basically the best parade ever. And we hadn't. Even. Started.

And then...without much fanfare...we were off.

So how was the race? Everyone asks me. Well, to put it simply, it may have been the best 4 hours, 16 minutes, and 53 seconds of my life.

The course. The course is everything a runner who dreams of Boston dreams it will be. It's historic. The bars your read about are out in full force. The terrain is exactly as described, where you're downhill at the beginning and the suddenly after the halfway're not. The Wellesley girls. The BC kids. Cleveland Circle. Kenmore Square. 

Heartbreak Hill. Oh, yes. The hill on it's own is actually not "that" bad (compared to, say, Harlem Hill in Central Park). But that bugger comes after the three prior Newton Hills torture you for miles leading up to it. At mile 20. It is worthy of it's name.

The course is very tough, especially in the bright, sunny day we experience in April. But the challenge is part of its history and its mystique. It's all there and it lives up to the legend. Just has it has done for 117 years before. 

And yet, thumbs up!

The crowds. Energy like I've never felt in my life. And probably will never feel again. Truly, for 26.2 miles -- without hardly a break at any point -- I felt that city completely focused towards us. Towards me. I high-fived dozens of kids with hands outstretched. I took fruit from strangers (only acceptable during a marathon). I smiled at the hundreds of thousands of people who were smiling. Right. At. Me.

They cheered until they lost their voices. They held signs that had me laughing out loud. They held signs that made me cry.

One read: What you're doing here today is IMPORTANT.

They cared. And whenever I reached those points where I felt pain, or I felt like I wanted to stop? Well, they cheered, and I didn't walk. Because I choose to run. And they choose to watch and cheer. And we were all in it together.

My Fans. 
Andrea, Val, Robb, Allison, Dan, Rachel Steve, Amy, Diana, Lindsay, Amy (yes, two Amys), Kim, Diane, Rachel (yes, two Rachels) are all amazing. Your presence was known, and it helped me more than I can say.

Mom and Dad were at the top of Heartbreak Hill. Some background info: My Dad finds my love of Indian cuisine to be amusing. He also knew the in the last couple of weeks before training I had abstained from such delights as to not tempt the gastronomic gods. So he had my mom holding this sign when I reached the top.

And then I took a much-needed quad stretch before it was all downhill -- literally -- to the finish (not as pleasant as it sounds!)

Thank you to all of you who viewed and supported me, in person and online (I know there was a lot of virtual tracking going on!) You were truly there with me every step of of the way.

The other runners. On the course that day were the most elite runners in the world. But I was also blessed to run alongside so many inspirational people. Every race shirt had a story to tell. She survived cancer. He was running for his friend killed in Iraq. She was running for her mother. He was running in honor of a victim of the 2013 bombing.

I'd feel pain and start grimacing. And then a man with no legs would run by me.

You choose to be here. Your pain is completely temporary.

I'd curse my decision to run. And then I'd see a blind woman running alongside her volunteer guide.

What do you have to complain about?

I was tired and overwhelmed. And then I passed Rick and Dick Hoyt, surrounded by team-members, applauded by the crowd and runners alike. 

You are running with heroes.

Photo credit Stephen Goldstein -- mile 23!

Dana-Farber. Boston loves Dana-Farber. I felt so much love from the sidelines and heard countless "thank yous" for having raised money for this organization. My team also had official cheering zones at miles 16 and 25. Those zones were amazing and gave me energy, inspiration, and courage to keep going.

Can you believe this is mile 25? I look DAMN GOOD!

Waving to the Dana-Farber cheering zone at mile 25!

Proudly displaying my Pacesetter badge (Photo Credit: Stephen Goldstein!)

It was a difficult 26.2 miles, but I was prepared. I had trained, I felt great mentally, and I had fueled and hydrated properly (Miami may have been good practice for the heat!) 

It was full of raw emotion, and I had to dig deep at many, many points. (Please keep in mind that I have posted a fraction of the photos taken of me...many are not so...flattering...)

I did my absolute best to soak in every moment and to remember that this was truly one of those experiences in life that you remember forever. This is something you tell your kids about. I knew as it was happening that I would cherish it all: The race of course, but also the fundraising and -- yes -- even the crazy winter training I pushed through. For the rest of my life.

And before I knew it, I saw the Citgo sign. And then I was running through Kenmore Square. And then I was taking a right on Hereford. And a left on Boylston. 

And then I was running on Boylston Street. And the crowd was going crazy. And I was running where it happened last year and I looked towards those spots and my heart burst. And I pushed harder than I've ever pushed before. I felt no pain. I felt no fatigue. I just felt a swell of emotion unlike anything I've ever experienced, and I was smiling through the tears in my eyes, and as I crossed that finish line I laughed and cried at the same time. 

Everyone was crying. And hugging. And laughing. 

Everything with my dad, and with last year and with me, it all came together into this one moment. It was truly beyond words. I was full of gratitude for the amazing people in my life. I felt blessed to have reached that moment. And I felt proud of myself for making it happen.. Ultimately, I guess it was just pure joy.

PRed by several minutes! 4:16:53!

And if I sound crazy or hyperbolic in any way? I assure you I am bit scratching the surface. It really was everything I'm telling you and so much more.


Dana-Farber volunteers collected us from the Finish Area and brought us back to the D-F home-base. There, we were greeted with cheers, food, beverages, changing areas, and volunteer masseuses. Truly a VIP Marathon experience. (Please know that we pay a large fee to participate in DFMC! All money donated went 100% to fund early research, and not to give me a massage! Just want you to know!) DFMC and their glorious volunteers put on a class-act show from beginning to end. As I've said before, it is a pleasure and an honor to run with them!

And after I cleaned up and ate and got a massage and then ate some more, I met up with my cheering squad.

Wearing their DFMC Fan Gear!

So what's next? Well, on the way home we stopped for Chinese Food (as I was craving lo mein with near desperation). And my fortune that night hopefully said it all:

Thank you, Reader, for being part of my journey!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Race Recap: The 2014 Boston Marathon -- Part 1

I can't believe it's been over a month and I've yet to write this recap. So much has happened since, that in some ways The Boston Marathon feels like a distant memory. I traveled to Paris and Brussels for a weeks' vacation. My role changed at work, giving me a whole new set of responsibilities. I've been hanging out with some wonderful new (runner!) friends and trying out new workout experiences in the city. (More on that in a future post...) I ran -- and PRed -- at the Brooklyn Half Marathon.

And, yes, these are excuses for why I haven't written. But more it's because I frankly didn't have the words. The Boston Marathon experience -- and I truly mean the whole experience -- was by far one of the best weekends of my life.

So to describe to someone, or in a blog post, "So how was it?" Well, it's a bit difficult to say without somewhat diminishing the emotional impact the weekend had on me. But with all that as a preface, here we go.

I left you last with a photo essay of sorts from the Saturday before the race: Bib Pick-Up day. Sunday I drove back into the city with my parents to attend the Dana-Farber Pasta Dinner. They would drive back to Plymouth after, while I would be staying over night in Boston with friends before the race.

Two bags with me: One to check with Dana-Farber for post-race and the other with my overnight stuff and race-day attire and paraphernalia. Both filled with lots of pretzels.

We arrived early to the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge (DFMC) headquarters at the Copley Marriot, so we had time to take another gander around the finish line area. 

I hadn't been able to get so close on Saturday, so to stand at the finish line of the Marathon --after everything that had occurred last year -- was a very surreal and emotional moment. I had obviously been upset by the events of 2013. Disgusted. Unnerved. Angry.

But it was only at that moment that it really hit me the magnitude of what had happened and what was happening. We -- as a community of runners, a city and a country -- were moving beyond 2013 and towards a new year. It was powerful to see the insignia for the 118th Boston Marathon rather than the 117th. It felt like we could finally move forward.

My parents were, as always, the freaking cutest. Taking pictures and just being so excited. I'm a lucky girl to have such a dedicated cheering squad.

We then made our way to the dinner. I didn't quite know what to expect, but DFMC friends had recommended the event as not-to-miss. 

Upon arrival, we all got nametags. You'll notice the "Pacesetter" ribbon on mine, signifying that I had hit the $8K+ milestone for fundraising. 

Throughout the weekend, there was so much appreciation for the fundraising efforts from volunteers and staff alongside ensuring our comfort and safety for the run. They never forget that -- first-and-foremost -- we are fundraising for an important cause. And it's important because, that means that I never forgot that either. For every "thank you" or "way to go" I received for my fundraising, I must continue to relay that ten-fold to you, my readers. So many of you provided your financial support and it truly meant something to me and to this organization!!

Walking towards the ballroom for dinner, the hallways were lined with "Tribute Cards" that runners had the opportunity to fill out in honor or memory of those they were running for. My Dad had no idea, but I had made one for him, which I found and pointed out to him.

Quotes zoomed in 

All the tears. All the smiles. This is why I was running. It's not about completing 26.2 in a certain time. It's about me doing something that I could do to give back to the hospital that gave my Dad's life back to me. 

And my Dad and I hugged and he told me how proud he was of me (for the thousandth time). And he said -- to paraphrase -- that my performance at the race was irrelevant. I had, once again, sacrificed and trained. And more importantly, I had raised $11,800 (my final tally!!) towards a cause I truly believe in. I had already won in his eyes.

And he was absolutely right. For my other marathons, at this point the day/evening before I was a nervous wreck. But for Boston, I truly believe what my Dad said. The race was actually already run, and the rest was gravy. I was just so enjoying being with my (healthy!) parents that nervousness really didn't cross my mind.

We walked into the ballroom. And Oh. My. God.

1000 people attended this little shin-dig. Runners, family, friends, supporters. Many of them patients and survivors themselves.

The pasta buffet was -- as any pasta buffet tends to be -- wonderful. And then the program began. During the event, we heard from some amazing speakers. Dave McGilvrey (Boston Marathon Race Director), the CEO of The Dana-Farber and Boston Marathon winner Uta Pippig each gave wonhe derful speeches. We focused less on 2013 (although it certainly came up), and more on the importance of the funds we had raised

There were many poignant moments that stay with me whenever I think back to that weekend. There was an In Memorium for children who had been treated for cancer and lost their battle which was incredibly emotional. One powerful moment came when Darby spoke to us. Darby -- in remission for Breast Cancer-- was to run the 2014 with the DFMC team, but while training she found out that her cancer had not only returned, but severely spread. Darby stoically said to us that she would likely not be here next year. And she reminded us that what we were doing was important and necessary. Because maybe, just maybe, another Darby in the future wouldn't have to stand knowing her fate because there would be a treatment. Or better yet, a cure. There wasn't a dry eye in the house, and I have thought about Darby in my prayers and thoughts every day since.

In honor of this, the 25th year, the founder of the Claudia Barr Adams program -- to which all the DFMC funds are directed -- spoke to us. She had founded the program in honor and namesake of her mother and in partnership with some of the early charity runners for the Boston Marathon. 

Historically, you see, the Boston Marathon was only for "elite" runners who could qualify for the race. To give context, the qualifying time for a woman my age is about 3:35 -- a truly daunting number and one I likely will never come near. For "slow pokes" like me, charity is the only way we may dream to run Boston. And so we raise money and we run. While there is some controversy around this change (which is now multi-decades old), I think it's a wonderful element that allows the race to be bigger than the individual. It still allows for those who quality to attain that amazing personal achievement. But it also allows for more of us to participate and to give back. Soap box over.

What I took away from so many of these speakers is the important of why specifically our money was going to this fun. Early basic research is being cut from so many hospitals because it's not always necessarily profitable. But it's necessary if we want to see scientific progress. So what we are doing is keeping one of these such programs not only alive, but thriving. If we do not assure that money is raised and allocated in this manner, progress will stop. Cures will not be achieved. 

This is critical. And we are doing it.

They gave out awards to those who had run 5 years. 10 years. 15 years. 20 years. And, yes, one gentleman who has run every single of the 25 years. These individuals have raised millions of dollars. It truly blows the mind. It's not about crossing races off a bucket list for them or the times that these individuals complete their marathons. This is about passion and drive. It's truly amazing and inspiring.

25 Years of DFMC and The Boston Marathon!!

The Race Coordinator spoke and reveled that, yes, we had met our team goal of $5.3 million. In fact, we had exceed $7 Million Dollars Raised for early basic cancer research. We did that. We in that room did that. 

Applauding our accomplishment
And if you donated, you were part of that. We made a huge impact, and we should all feel very proud of what a group of 700 people -- and their supporters -- were able to achieve. Some day you or one of your loved ones may very well benefit from a cure or treatment developed from the money raised by DFMC 2014.

With a belly full of carbs and a heart full of every positive emotion in the human language, I was ready to relax and start focusing on having an amazing run. I was dropped off at friends Steve and Amy's in Brookline where I would rest my head before my 5:45 wake-up call.

Welcome sign!

I laid out my clothes. I ate more pretzels (one can never eat too many pretzels). I angsted (just a bit) about the bathroom. And then there was nothing else to do but apply temporary tattoos and get a good night sleep.

To be continued....

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Pre-Marathon Festivities: In Photos!

2 days until we run! So many words, so many little time. I thought as a little teaser, I would share my day in photos so you can see what's been going on. 

Bib pick-up was smooth sailing!


Mom and I found Meghan -- who had just completed the BAA 5k -- and we went to the expo together! I bought all of the things.

At the Sam Adams booth:

Samples of special edition 26.2 brew!

Outside on Boylston:

From the other side of the Finish Line. There was a ton if security today because of all the events (5k, invitational mile, expo, etc). 

Mom and I then headed over to the Marriott Copley to check in with Dana-Farber. Here they had a board showing our team fundraising progress (over $5 million!!!) as well as e names of "Pacesetters" who have hit certain goals.

Here's my name with the $8k pacesetters!

At the Old South Church they were giving out scarves made from all over the country. They were intended to show strength, comfort and support to runners. Mine was made by a child: Lorna from Spokane. Thanks Lorna!!!!

Mom and I met up with my friend Lauren and had a lovely lunch. Deep dish Pizzaria Unos (hold the cheese please) without any guilt? Yes, ma'am!

The day was stunning. Here's a view on Newbury Street.

Cherry blossoms in full bloom:

Once home I started unpacking all my goodies - 2 huge bags from the expo and Dana-Farber! They were filled with the official race shirt, shirts (yes, multiple) I bought, souvenirs, posters to decorate, cowbells and poms-poms for race cheering, and more! Here was one of my favorite items:

I modeled one of my shirts with an official Boston Marathon mug. Because obviously I needed a mug. Duh.

And then Mom decided we should be taking more selfies. Because, again, obviously. Duh.

Just as I was about to lay down and get off of my feet...the best part of my day came through on my phone,

$11,000!!!! Oh my god!!! 

And now, let's cue Les Miserables: One Day More!