I Ran the Wonderful 2002 Boston Marathon!
By Christophe Justeau
It is difficult to avoid the marathon when you live in Boston. The Bostonians are very proud of their race, famous for being the oldest road race in the US. The Boston Marathon is run on a special day, the "Patriot's Day", a non-working Monday in mid-April which commemorates the beginning of the American Revolution in 1775.
During the summer 2000, while I had some vacation time in France, I ran once with my brother in law, Guy, who had just started to train. Without adapted shoes and under the sun of August, my first 5 kilometers were painful, however exciting: if I wanted to run the next Boston Marathon in April 2001, it was time start a serious program. I purchased my first pair of running shoes and started to practice.
As soon as you start talking about running a marathon, you immediately discover around you many friends, or new friends, who already survived such an experiment and who are more than happy to provide helpful advice. This autumn 2000, while running between four and eight miles every weekend, I started to get a more precise idea of what this was about by questioning the-ones and the-others.
By the end of December, at a time when my drive should have increased significantly by multiplying the training during the week, I cracked! In Lexington, Massachusetts where I live, it snowed almost every week during the winter 2000-2001; this regularly turned the roads and the pavements of Lexington impracticable. Instead of increasing my mileage, my training spaced. In March when I started to run more regularly; however, it was too late to expect to be ready for the 2001 Boston Marathon, set for April 16th.
Preparation for Boston 2002
In July 2001, during a professional meeting where the comparison with the marathon of Boston had been used to stigmatize the development of our company, I heard for the first time about "Heartbreak Hill" and the girls of the "Wellesley College".
This summer I ran "gently". At the beginning of September, while continuing on the "once a week" training rate, I prepared a more serious program. On the Net, I selected a 16-week preparation program designed for beginners who want to run a first marathon in four hours and more. With the 2002 Boston Marathon taking place on Monday April 15th, I knew that I had to start the serious drive during the week of Christmas.
To better know the race and "prepare my head", I read and read again, always thanks to the Net, the description of the course and details about its main difficulties. I also found testimonies - always enthusiastic - from both expert runners and beginners.
My initial pair of shoes being too small, I purchased new ones, which unfortunately revealed too large at usage and generated blisters on the toes during my long runs!!!
To monitor the rate/rhythm of the drives, I bought a pacer; the gadget became also a factor of motivation because it kept a cumulative record of my run hours, and it rapidly became a great satisfaction to see those grow consistently.
I likely gained the active support of my wife. Benedicte gradually become hooked with the challenge and we started running together. To my greatest astonishment, she revealed from the very start to be in superb physical condition, and she was always able to follow the pace of the runs… and even to increase it.
The Quest for an Official Number
The numbers for the Boston Marathon are only allotted to the runners who have been able to run another marathon beyond a qualifying time; in my case, the qualifying time is 3 hours, 20 minutes... Inaccessible at this stage of my career as a runner! But on the basis of various testimonies, I convinced myself that I could run the marathon as a "bandit runner". The bandits are not official registrants. Rather, they run at the back of the pack; however they get a great support from both the organizers and from the spectators.
I was lucky! The 2001-2002 winter was extremely mild. With very limited accumulations of snow; the roads remained generally free. In addition, I didn't have to travel that much and my program was not disrupted much by flights and jetlag. My training program started on December 26th and found it to be very easy during the first month and a half. I managed to run several times per week (always in the evening, after work as well as on the weekend). I initially entered the detailed program on my Palm Pilot, which helped me a lot! The program got tougher by the end of February, with long runs increasing (up to 20 miles). I ran a good number of times with Benedicte. In February, I trained with Pierre-Henri, a friend who was coming back to running (and who was an inexhaustible source of invaluable training information thanks to the marathon he already ran).
After an easy beginning, the problems began this Sunday, when I ran my first long run of 13 miles. As I was finishing the run just 500 yards from my house, I twisted my ankle as a result of stepping into a hole. From this point up to the race, my mileage buildup became much less pleasant, with recurring pain in the left leg, and close to the marathon, my right leg. I never was able to recover the feeling of ease I had enjoyed during the early stages of my training.
My second true long run (16 miles) was very hard due to the fact that I had chosen a very hilly course. In the last miles, it felt as if I was running with two columns of stones as legs! Surprisingly enough, my third long run (20 miles) was easier, and completely reassured me; if no significant accident, I knew I would run the 26.2 miles of the marathon. My time of 3 hours 22 minutes for the 20-miler was not impressive, translating to a marathon in 4:20 at that pace. Still, I still had a few weeks to improve. My fourth length run (18 miles) was very painful. After only seven miles, I began to experience very strong pain in the left calf that grew even more painful as I continued to run.
Towards the end of my training period, Benedicte was able to leave our six children and joined me for my runs. As a result of my trying to keep up with her, I became faster and faster. Her foot strike small yet she was pace was deceptively fast. My breathing and heart rate were excellent. On the other hand, I began having sharp foot pain due to a terrible tactical error. About three weeks before the race, I bought a new pair of shoes, correct sizing but obviously not designed to meet my biomechanical needs. One week before the D-day, I returned to my previous pair, knowing that if I didn't, I was going to pay for it with blisters.
The Battle for the Numbers
The very good news of Christmas came from our neighbor and landlord, Ed. When he discovered I was training to run the Boston Marathon, he committed to get me a number! After suspense of a few weeks, bingo… By the end of March, I got my number: 17,800!!!
Meanwhile, Guy, my brother in law, started to seriously envisage running this race, and finally made the decision to come to run with me! And thanks to an extremely efficient and well-connected friend, Shailesh, another miracle happened. At the last minute during the evening of April 14th, Guy got his number from a sponsor. I understood later that, if the first 12,000 numbers are allotted according to the qualifying performances, the following numbers are given to those who raise funds for a charitable organization and also to sponsors.
The Last Days Before the Battle
Thursday April 11th, Guy lands in Boston with Aude, his nurse, psychological mentor, and young sister. On Saturday morning, we become familiar with the course by car, driving the route. Benedicte and Pierre-Henri are part of the voyage. Obviously, 26.2 miles in the car looks rather long. Guy is becoming increasingly nervous. Pierre-Henri by now firmly decides to run with us only the last 18 miles instead of the full distance.
On Sunday, we go to Boston to get my number. The Hynes Convention Center is turned into a race show. There are multitudes of booths selling everything you need (and don't need) for the upcoming event including shoes, energy bars, massages, and above all, the official shorts, caps, and sweat shirts.
On Sunday evening, Benedicte, Guy, Aude, Pierre-Henri and I attend the traditional pasta dinner organized downtown for the runners by the Boston Athletic Association. To say the least, Guy and Aude are not impressed with this example of the American cooking!
Monday, the morning of April 15th arrives - Patriots Day. The D-day. Everything starts at 5:30 am. I awake my three young sons (Greg, Gus, and Coco) who want to attend the 6:00 am reenactment of the Battle of Lexington, the first battle of the American Revolution! A light rain falls from dark gray clouds. The impressive crowd is religiously stacked (many hanging from ladders), all around the Lexington Battle Green a large lawn in the center of Lexington. We attend the 207 eme divert of the Minutemen of Captain Parker. At 7:00 am, Greg, who plays clarinet in the band of the middle school, is part of the commemorative procession. The sky is slightly improving when the procession arrives around 8:00 am on the battle green for the raising of the colors.
At 9:00 am, with our numbers fixed at our shirts and our microchips firmly attached to our shoelaces (these microchips are supplied with the numbers and allow a very accurate recording of your race time), Guy and I leave Lexington and head to Hopkinton, the starting line of the marathon, 26.2 miles away from Boston. The town of Hopkinton is closed to any motorized-vehicular traffic. The organization is perfect. We park our car in a designated area and then take one of the yellow school buses used as a shuttle to Hopkinton.
A quiet crowd has invaded the streets of Hopkinton. The local radio and television stations are interviewing famous runners and VIPs. There are tens of portable toilets installed at various strategic points. I discuss with a runner who will today run his 11th Boston Marathon! He will help two visually impaired runners make their way to Boston.
I have my cell phone (and I will keep it during the race to remain in liaison with Benedicte, Aude and the children). We call Benedicte to give her news. We call also Emmanuel, another brother-in-law who is working in his office in Paris. Guy calls his wife Victoire; she is ready to follow the race thanks to the Internet and the web site of the Boston Athletic Association.
The Boston Athletic Association distributes water. The ambiance is much like a fun fair, with small shops selling hot dogs and sodas. In the main street, there are corrals where at 12:00 pm; the 17,000 runners will be packed by groups of 1000. The runners go from the toilets to the buses, which will bring our bags to Boston after the start. As the minutes pass, the crowd grows larger and larger.
There is a group of Korean runners, easily recognizable with their superb tracksuits and their silhouettes in wire. One of them looks with admiration at my number "178" until he realizes that the number is actually the 17,800!
Thirty minutes before the start, the lines in front of the toilets become impressive. Guy and I enter our corral where we will start behind all the official runners. He has decided to start the race with me. In front of us are 17,000 official runners. Behind us is the crowd of the bandits, those who will run without numbers. I fear of being trampled by this enthusiast troop, which seems to be in great shape. In the corral, people chatter. We meet an American runner in her fifties who speaks perfect French and who is going to run her 5th Boston Marathon today.
Fifteen minutes before noon, the loudspeakers announce the wheelchair start of the race. Everyone applauds, even those of us that are at least 500 yards away from the starting line and do not see anything.
Noon, this is it. The start of the race! We hear the loudspeaker greeting the runners when they cross the starting line. Around us, many people drop their sweatshirts along the side of the street. These will be collected, cleaned, and then donated to poor people. Other runners discard large bags that which they used to keep them warm from the wind. We begin to walk slowly, too slowly, towards the starting line. To avoid feeling cold, I take a survival blanket, which I find lying on the ground. The sky is gray and the atmosphere is very wet. After 200 meters, our walk turns into a jog. Fifteen minutes after the starting gun has sounded, our race begins as we finally cross the starting line!
There are large crowds on both sides of the road, howling encouragement. There are many bands along the roadside, some playing jazz tunes. Because of the large pack of runners, it is difficult for me to run at my own pace, as I feel pulled along. Guy and I must pay attention to our pace so that we do not lose the contact. I already start to pass some runners while some bandits pass me like planes in their effort to make up for their lost time at the start of the race. Those who run for a charity, in particular, those who wrote their name on their t-shirts, receive great encouragement from the spectators.
Families are gathered along the course, many enjoying picnics and barbeques. At several places, there are bands of bikers seated on their Harleys with beers in their hands cheering us on.
All along the way, there are children extending their hands to the runners to receive a "big five" with the runners. They also hand us orange slices, which I quickly begin to enjoy. The Boston Athletic Association supplies water and Gatorade every two miles; the road around these places becomes a gigantic and wet field of empty cups. I've made the decision to drink Gatorade rather than water at each aid station. In Natick, a spectator offers a bottle of Jack Daniels… but I resist!
Close to the 10-mile and the 20-mile marks, the Red Cross has set up medical centers to help the wounded. As far as I can see it, most of the ones who stop seem to suffer from problems with their feet. On the side of the road, the Red Cross volunteers offer runners plastic spoons with a thick translucent cream on it. I jump to get a spoon and I eat this "energy cream" which turns out to be petroleum jelly, undoubtedly for those who suffer chafing from the friction of their t-shirts or their shorts! I swore at all… and I think that the guy who handed me this spoon still laughs about it.
During the first third of the race I became hungry and had eaten the two packets of Power Gel that I bought with Guy the day before the race. I was expecting this supply to last for a long time. As we arrive at Newton, Power Gel is offered. There I grab three packets of the chocolate flavor. Bad surprise… It tastes terrible!
The first 8 miles: from Hopkinton to Framingham
Guy and I begin at a pace that is faster than the one we initially planned (9 minutes instead of 9.30 per mile). Nevertheless, we hold this pace without concern, even though Guy doesn't feel great at this time of the race. The first miles look like slalom. Some of the runners are already showing signs of tiredness. On the contrary, others are running twice our pace that looks more like sprint! Behind us are two girls having a conversation a friend. Soon they tell him "we'll see you on the finish line!" and pick up their pace. After just a few minutes, they are already out of sight.
As the road narrows, the procession of the runners is quite impressive. It takes on the appearance of an immense snake undulating without tail or head. Although we've been running for less than an hour, I lose the notion of time. At mile-6, I am disappointed that we are not two miles further along. Rather disappointing to realize that we are running for less than an hour. As we run through Framingham, I "give five" with a small black boy along the roadside. He then shouts to me in French "tu vas gagner!" with a wonderful accent!
Eight Following Miles - From Natick to Newton
For a little while now, I feel that Guy is seeking to increase his pace. Obviously, he starts to feel better. On my side, I do have no desire to run faster. Close to the 8th mile, as planned, we find Pierre-Henri. Or I should rather say, "he finds us" because I would never have seen him in the middle of the crowd of the spectators.
Running with Pierre-Henri awakes me a little as we have conversation. He would be perfect to comment without interruption on soccer or baseball games on the radio! - Meanwhile, Guy continues to pick up his pace and quietly outdistances us. We will not see him again until we reach the finish line! At one point in the race, he will even be more than four minutes ahead of us. A Canadian runner from Calgary hears us speaking French and joins us in conversation for a few minutes. She explains that the previous week, there were still five inches of snow there and that under these conditions, practicing for a marathon is rather complicated.
The crowd of the spectators is always there along the course. After Natick we arrive at Wellesley and soon pass by Wellesley College. Hillary Clinton is a former student. We are now in the exclusive districts. On the roadside, I notice spectators wearing ties! It is a solid tradition that the girls of Wellesley organize what is called the "tunnel of noise". The girls howl the passing the runners whether they are in the lead pack or bringing up the rear. The noise is deafening. Some of them hold up panels such as "Kiss me, so I will get my graduation"! This is fantastic and I must confess that this kilometer was the easiest of the entire race. The day after the marathon must be extremely calm at Wellesley College!
A little further, in the center of Wellesley, we pass the half-marathon mark. There, the crowd is increasingly dense. There is always this fair-like atmosphere and barbecue parties. As we leave Wellesley, an excellent band plays rock'n'roll in a garden. People picnic everywhere. The children continue to hand out slices of oranges, glasses of water, or simply extend their hand for a small slap. The sun makes its appearance and will not leave us. From time to time, I pour a cup of water on my head to keep me refreshed. The pace is quiet. Pierre-Henri is in great shape.
The Last 10 Miles - From "Heartbreak Hill" to Copley Square
After Wellesley, we cross Road 95, the peripheral boulevard of greater Boston, and we enter Newton. At this point, we've been running a little more than two hours and thirty minutes. There are still ten more miles to go, which I estimate will take one hour, forty minutes at the current pace. Things now get serious. In the hills, I pass more and more runners who have turned to walkers. At the 16-mile mark, a nice surprise awaits us. Benedicte is there, ready to run with us. She holds a French flag in her hand and her nickname, Ben, is written in large letters on her t-shirt. Aude, Anne-Victoire, Constance, Gregoire, and Augustin are also there with flags painted on the face. They look rather euphoric. They have seen lots by now… the wheel chair racers (impressive in speed), the elite runners (all who have crossed the finish line a half-hour earlier), along with the pack of the anonymous who have been running at a faster pace ahead of us. Benedicte is in great shape. Once in the race, she starts to receive cheers from the crowd all the way to the finish line at Copley Square. The spectators will not cease shouting her name: "Go, Ben! Go! You look great! Vive France!".
The most difficult part of the Boston Marathon course is in Newton. There lies a series of three rather long hills, fatal to many. One of them is called "Heartbreak Hill". The crowd is increasingly dense there and the cheering gets louder and louder. There are also more and more runners who are now walking. Ben and Pierre-Henri, are running the hills very well, carrying on a discussion as quietly as if they were at the terrace of a restaurant, while extending their lead. I shorten my stride on the coasts and I extend it on the flat places to catch up with them running effortlessly, Bénédicte recognizes an Italian friend who takes a picture of the two of us. The atmosphere here is very similar to that of the 'Tour de France' in the climbing of the 'Tourmalet' or of 'l'Alpe d'Huez'. The temperature is increasingly hot. The road is covered with messages traced with chalk to cheer the runners. As we pass through 20 miles, I look no further than the end of my shoes to make sure I do not see what remains to be climbed. And I slalom between the walkers.
Finally the top! At the horizon, I can see the Boston skyscrapers; the finish line lies at their feet. As we run by Boston College, Benedicte receives lots of cheers from the students. At this point, there are still four to five miles to run. Heartbreak Hill is followed by a long downhill that "breaks" the legs. As we enter the suburbs of Boston, yet another painful hill awaits us. This one is long but not as steep Heartbreak Hill.
With the help of the subway, Aude and the children have been able to precede our arrival. Cheering us on along side the roadway, it is good to see them again. They are cute with their flags and their paintings of war!
The Finish Line
Now that the finish line is getting closer, I speed up. The number of walkers continues to increase. The famous Citgo billboard, a distinctive sign of Boston that rises above the mythical Fenway Park, appears on the horizon, somewhere at the end of a never-ending succession of boulevards skirted by the subway line. As I continue to run, The Citgo sign mysteriously seems to move back as I move forward. The crowd is everywhere, from the suburbs to the noisy crowd of students at Boston University. A woman runs disguised as a tiger! Left, right, left, right. My legs are doing well as I pick up my pace. Without showing any signs of tiredness, Ben and Pierre-Henri run quietly.
Finally we pass the Citgo sign and Fenway Park. There is still one more mile to run before the finish line. The streets become wider as we enter the center of Boston. We turn right and then run 200 yards up a slight incline. As we take a left turn, I can see the gantry which hangs over the finish line just 500 yards away. The ambiance is incredible. There are thousands of people on both sides of the avenue with some sitting in bleachers. I accelerate again and again to catch up with Benedicte. We pass the finish line together. We made it! We finished the race. My real time is: 4hours, 5 minutes and 17 seconds. Ouf!
Guy, who arrived two minutes earlier, is waiting for us a few yards ahead. We are pushed ahead by the flow of runners crossing the line at a continuous rate. The organization is perfect. We get a drink, some food, and a survival blanket. The sky is splendid. Near the finish line, Copley Square, in its quiet effervescence, is filled with various tents. Here, we exchange the chips that we had affixed to our shoes. These chips along with the web enabled those back in France to follow our race in real-time. Guy and I receive a beautiful medal. We are really proud.
While recovering after the race, we look for the children, who unfortunately missed seeing us by a few minutes when we ran passed Fenway. We also search for Brigitte, Pierre-Henri's wife. Everyone finally meets at the Boston Common. Brigitte, a professional photographer, captures the historical moment on film. We cross the Common to get to the subway, to our cars and finally, to a good shower. Mission accomplished! It is decided that next time, Ben will run the whole marathon. And we will atomize the four-hour time limit!
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