Winds continued to blow hard on the sides of the medical tent but we remained dry; the medic and I. After he bandaged my feet and I put my them back into wet shoes I began to write my note. Using crimson ink the pen marked the simple, but oh so important words, on the note card. I put the card in an unmarked envelope, wrote the name of the intended, and placed it in a plastic sandwich bag. It was secured to me in my red pouch.
Now, I was ready to start.
The Boston Marathon and it's point-to-point course was the creation of John Grahm, coach of the Harvard Track and Field Team and his friend Herbert Holton, a Boston financial agent. They attended the first modern Olympic Games in Athens, Greece in 1896. There they witnessed an event that tested the will and physical limits of the athletes. A 24 mile running race from Marathon to Athens. It was called the marathon. The course retraced the legendary route of the Athenian running soldier, Pheidippes, as he delivered the message of victory in 490 B.C.
Grahm and Holton returned to Boston determined to have an American version of the race in their city. They mapped a course to honor their messenger hero, Paul Revere, and his ride of 1775. They rode bicycles alongside the trolley and train tracks westward out of Boston using a pair of cyclometers to measure the distance. They came to the Metcalf's Mill in Ashland, some 24 miles (give or take some yards) and marked the spot with a couple of rocks.
Ashland hosted the race from its inaugural year until 1923 when the start was moved to Hopkington to conform to the standard Olympic distance of 26 miles, 385 yards. Thanks to the sedentary King of England, and the 1908 Olympic Games held in London, the marathon was increased in length to accommodate him so the race would begin at Buckingham Palace and end in front of the royal box at the Olympic Stadium. With a royal proclamation he made it so and forever changed the distance of the race.
On this windy and cold April morning I walked out of the Athlete's (Soup) Village, message secured in my running shorts, and joined the 22,000 runners near the starting line. With train tracks on my left and Boston and the Atlantic Ocean in front of me I joined the solidarity of runners gathered presently and over a century before me to pay homage to two ancient messengers. One had a message of victory, the other had a message of battle, and now me, with a message of hope.
The start of the marathon was like nothing I've ever seen. The official line is at the top of a hill a few hundred yards up from the runners' corrals. Thousands of people, all bunched together on a two-lane small town road, walked up to the starting point. The crowd grew greater and louder as we moved up the road. Large scaffolding held banners, photographers and sound equipment arched over the athletes as they crossed the official line. Electricity filled the street like waiting the start of a rock concert. I could see when the athletes crossed the actual line when hundred of heads and shoulders bounced. They moved like a pot of multi-colored boiling water as they switched from walking to running. The crowd noise became deafening as I made it to the line.
The rain continued to wet the course but not as hard as an hour ago. So I ditched my rain trousers and sweat pants on the side of the road. By mile one I also peeled off my rain coat.
The pace seemed quick but easy. My plan was a simple one. Do not allow myself to run faster than 9:30 minute miles until mile 14, do not allow myself to run slower than 10 minute miles in the hills, and do not allow myself to run slower than 9 minute miles for the last 5k. This seemed reasonable since I hadn't trained to run the marathon. (I was only given five weeks notice of being invited to the race. Long story, I know. Perhaps I'll write about it another time.)
At mile two I recorded the first of several stories for the "Right Here Right Now" report for the Get You Geek On! podcast. Again, things felt easy as the course continued it's gentle downhill slope.
At mile six the easy as it goes feeling was fading and my stomach began to turn. Fortunately, here was a water station and a port-a-pottie a couple of hundred yards away. I barfed. That marked the beginning of the end of my good times on the course. From that moment on the race became a battle of me against the falling temperatures and my stomach.
There's not much to report about the following six miles to Wellesley. Well, except I tossed cookies two more times.
A quarter mile before reaching Wellesely College I could hear them screaming. Young women, hundreds of them, maybe a thousand or more, were lining both sides of the road climbing over barricades to win the attention of the runners. Most held out their hands for a fiver and occasionally a woman had a "Kiss Me" sign waving over her head. They became louder as I approached the college grounds. A girl with a megaphone started to chant, "TriB-oooo-mer... TriB-oooo-mer... TriB-oooo-mer," as I entered the gauntlet. Yeah, I was stoked.
My time-per-mile-plan had been kicked to the curb long before the fun in Wellesley. I had slowed to an 11 per minute pace and it was an effort to keep from going slower. Despite my pain of a race on the ropes, their enthusiasm was infectious and I indulged in the fun with a bunch of high-fives and one kiss on the cheek. It was fun and for a couple of minutes I forgot the rumbles below my belt.
After the first of the three hills in Newton I reached the water station at the 30k mark. Like I had done at every rest stop on the course I jumped into the little blue hut. My head was swimming and the toilet began to spin. I rested until things came to a stop.
Once back outside I put my foot on the curb and bent over to adjust my shoe lace. I stood up and the lights went out. Luckily, I fell to my side and onto the grass beside a line of runners waiting to use the port-a-johns. I was out for only a few seconds. A couple of runners saw me fall and they sat me up against a telephone pole and held me there until the paramedic arrived. He examined me and helped me to my feet. We spoke for a few minutes and he insisted that I pull out of the race and I just as forcefully insisted I would continue to run. I did agree to wait on the curb for a little while later and eat a banana and drink a cup of water.
I thanked the medic for his assistance and headed towards Heartbreak Hill. What had my attention wasn't the hill but how cold I felt. My hands began to shake and my chest began to shiver. The elements were taking their toll and even though I was jogging I couldn't generate any lasting heat.
Heartbreak Hill handed me the chills but nothing like the chill I would feel in the Common Gardens.... over an hour away. Delivering my message, on my own terms, was in jeopardy.