Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How I ran in my first Boston Marathon, but didn’t

Some higher power really, really didn’t want me to run Boston this year. First an Achilles injury struck me down, so my last long run was an insufficient 2 hours 45 minutes completed eight weeks before the race. I hadn’t run at all in seven weeks. But my doctor told me he thought I wouldn’t rupture my Achilles if I did run Boston, I’d just set back my healing. That's all I  needed to hear. I prepared for pain.
At the Expo
T-1 week until race day. I go for a 2-hour bike ride and feel off. Sluggish. No energy. Two days later I have a fever and can’t move or eat anything except soup made of 98% water, 2% noodles.

T-3 days until race day. I go to the doctor because I'm not sure I'll be able to get on the plane to Boston the next day. The doctor puts on a facemask before entering the room, then does all he can to examine me without touching me too much, paranoid I have a late case of the flu. I do have a fever. It’s 101. I don’t, thank goodness, have the flu. I get a Z-pack and an inhaler.

T-2 days until race day. I pray the three Z-pack pills I’ve already taken will destroy every evil thing in my body, and, as an unintended but miraculous side effect, repair my Achilles to their pre-Birkebeiner form. I still have a fever. I want to run.

At LAX, the Boston marathoners form a little circle in front of our gate. You can tell who they are because they’re all wearing Boston jackets, mostly from last year, but one guy had the balls to buy the new Halloween themed 2012 jacket before running the race. Also, they're all talking about Boston.

The runners are surprised to find out I’m participating. When I breathe it sounds either like someone’s popping corn in my throat or slowly opening a rusty door. What’s left of my voice is a gender-neutral smoker’s rasp. Now would be a good time to prank call someone to say, “I’m watching you.”

Karen, a best friend from college, picks coachubby and me up from the airport in Boston. We are crashing at her place. When we walk 10 minutes to get ice cream that night, I realize I can’t walk and breathe at the same time. Unless I’m eating ice cream. I contemplate how I’m going to supply myself with ice cream throughout all 26.2 miles of what promises to be the hottest Boston Marathon ever.

T-1 day until race day. To discourage people like me who really, really don’t want to have to qualify again and are therefore willing to destroy themselves to complete their one Boston Marathon, the BAA has decided to allow deferrals to next year. Perfectly rational, healthy racers might need medical attention on the course. People like me who are undertrained and overheating without moving should not be hogging the hot EMTs. 

I thank 88-degrees for both being my favorite temperature, and, apparently, hot enough to scare race organizers into letting me run next year without having to qualify again. Clearly, none of them were raised in Phoenix.

Race day. Karen and I drop coachubby off at the busses in Boston Common. I return to Karen’s place and pass out. When I get up just in time to watch the race start on T.V., I put on exactly what I would’ve worn to run: hot pink compression socks, rainbow colored tiny shorts, and a blue tank top. Sparkly nails complete the ensemble. If I can’t run and must feel like crap, at least I will look like I can run and feel awesome. I take two puffs of Albuterol but still have a hard time walking the two miles to Mile 23.
We set up camp alongside the T. We cheer for wheelchair racers, for the pro women, for the pro men. For that guy in the checkered spandex. We get text message alerts of coachubby’s whereabouts so we’ll be ready to cheer when he runs by. 

He never runs by. I get a text from his cousin: Jimmy bonk? I don’t know, I write back. I haven’t seen him. Maybe he’s fighting an EMT who’s trying to give him an IV for heatstroke. He has a history of doing that.

I get a call. It’s coachubby. He’s at mile 24, where am I? I’m at mile 23, I say. I clearly suck at spectating. Oh, I wanted to see you guys, he says. I’m moving really slowly. You can probably catch me.

And so I run in my first Boston Marathon.

I take off down the course, cell phone in hand. People applaud my pace, held for all of approximately 10 seconds. Cops don’t even flinch when I run by. It’s exhilarating! I’m in the Boston Marathon! It’s the first time I’ve run in seven weeks and I feel…awful. I duck under a rope and back onto a sidewalk after about 20 seconds. I walk toward mile 24, sucking air. Then the coughing attack starts. Tears jump out of my eye sockets, snot dumps out of my nose. I can barely breathe. I spot a half-drunk water bottle in a windowsill. I grab it without breaking stride and down it. I’m still coughing. I sit on a curb next to two teenage boys guarding their family’s coolers. One of them hands me a water. Then they whisper to each other. I tell them I wasn’t running—that I was supposed to but couldn’t because of this, and made a motion to my snot and tear-covered face.

I find coachubby by the family waiting area. He’s done. He did it. He ran the hottest Boston Marathon in history, earning permanent marathon rockstar status. He survived my fever and the sympathy non-training he did when I couldn’t run. He gives me a hug and lets me eat half of the Hawaiian sweet rolls out of his post-race goody bag.

Ouch, he says. Yeah, I think. That pretty much sums it up. The last two months. The last week. This day: Ouch.

We begin plotting my debut at the 117th Boston Marathon, where I plan on running for more than 20 seconds. It will be glorious.