Posted by: pointlenana | January 19, 2012

11 Seconds: How I came to run for Dana-Farber

I’ve tried to be ambitious in my fundraising goal for Dana-Farber, but less from a lifelong drive to help fight cancer and more from a commitment to do right by Dana-Farber and the Boston Athletic Association.  It’s a fairly long story. 

April 2010

I run the Boston Marathon for the first time.  The first part is downhill.  I run it fast even though the advice is to take it easy.  I high five lots of kids at the start.  I weave through the people in front of me who are running just a little too slow.  At the halfway point I’m on track for my 3:20+ goal.  As I take the first step off the top of Heartbreak Hill towards the last 5 downhill miles, my quads seize up from being abused in the early downhills.  I don’t remember the rest except that it was very painful.  When I finish, my time is 3:29+ which amazingly is good enough to requalify.  When I finish, the medical staff look closely at me.  My friend Will bursts into laughter when I barely make it through a crosswalk during the full length of a long walk signal. 

August 2010

Janet (my wife), who has run 40-50 miles every week for decades but has never once trained for or run an organized race, says “Well, I’m not getting any younger.  If I’m ever going to run a marathon, I should do it soon.”  Up to this point, the idea of her running a marathon has come up exactly 0 times.  I’m a little surprised but we talk about which one.  I’m pretty sure she’s the one who said “let’s run Big Sur”.  The Big Sur Marathon has a Bart Yasso quote on its home page that says “if you are only going to run one marathon, it should be Big Sur”.  Janet tells me this will be her first and last marathon, so Big Sur it is.

October 2010 (I think)

I’m at work one Monday and happen to check my email at about 9:30am.  I read mail that says “Boston registration opens today – I think it might fill up quickly this year.  Last year it only took 2 months”.  I’m not sure I want to run it again and it’s right before Big Sur but think “I might as well sign up and then decide later.”  Amazingly I have a few free minutes and don’t get interrupted, so I spend 5 minutes registering.  The entire registration fills up about 4 hours later and I’m in.  Sorry to all the people who trained really hard and looked forward to it that year but couldn’t/didn’t register in time – I took your spot, just in case.

November 2010

I’m looking at the Big Sur site and they have something called Boston 2 Big Sur.  If you do them both, you get a special t-shirt and some other stuff.  I’ll do just about anything for a special t-shirt, so I sign up and make my plans to go to Boston.  Good thing I registered for Boston – turns out it wasn’t really just in case.  I needed that spot for special t-shirt eligibility. 

Nov 2010-April 2011

Janet, who has never trained before and is not one of those people who reads the instructions closely, closely follows the training instructions and gets in even better shape.  She doesn’t think so, but I notice that I’m having to go faster and faster on her easy runs to keep up with her.  Pretty soon her easy pace seems to be the same as my easy pace. 

March-April 2011

A few weeks before Boston, my left leg seizes/dies/breaks/stops working very well.  My friend David tortures it relentlessly for a couple weeks, and it recovers somewhat, but I’m less than 100% when I fly off to Boston.  On race day, we get perfect conditions and I feel mostly ok, but I’m not quite sure how it will go.  This year I run slowly down the hills at the start, high-five about 3 kids, and silently thank the people in front of me for helping keep me in check.  At the halfway point I’m still feeling ok, and give Janet a kiss when I see her watching (she told me Kara Goucher and Geoffrey Mutai were just ahead of me.)  Somewhere around mile 23 I realize I’m not going to break 3:30 or PR.  I only have to beat 3:35:59 to requalify in my new, more ancient, age group.  So I think to myself “I don’t know if I’ll ever get to run this again – I migth as well slow down a little and enjoy these last few miles, unlike last year.”  Which I did.  The first year, those 600 yards on Boylston seemed endless.  Last year they were way too short.  I finish in 3:33:57, which is good enough to requalify in my new age group.  Although I don’t real care – I’ve run Boston twice, and this time had a great experience.  On to the next thing. 

April-May 2011

My left leg seizes up again and I can barely walk for a few days after Boston.  I do manage to do 6 miles in Central Park the next weekend – the one thing Janet wanted to do with me while we were in NY.  I rest the next week.  About 4 days before Big Sur, Janet – who at one point was hoping to beat 4 hours, which would be great for one’s first and only marathon – tells me very clearly that she is no longer trying for any particular time and just wants to enjoy it.  I am not to push her on the run or harass her with pace information or anything else.  I agree, although secretly I think she’ll still do fine, if not a sub-4 then maybe a 4:15. We travel down to Monterey, me with my gimpy leg and Janet with her non-time-goal goal.  The Big Sur run is special this year because the road washed out – instead of point-to-point from Big Sur to Carmel, it’s an out-and-back from Carmel to the washout, plus a detour through Point Lobos State Park (a magical place).  We drive the course on Saturday and it’s really really hilly.  Plus the road has a lot of camber – to keep 50 mph cars from sliding off in the turns.  Janet reminds me that we’re not going to go fast.  This time I don’t secretly think we’ll go faster than she thinks, and reset my expectations to maybe better than 4:30.  Sunday dawns and the weather is perfect – cool, a slight tailwind as we head south, and then no wind at all when we turn around.  Because we have no time goal, we run along and enjoy what is a spectacular marathon course.  Because we have no time goal, we make a couple porta-potty stops.  Janet keeps feeling pretty good, although we both feel a little desperate turning into Point Lobos and running down down down since we know that we’ll be running back up up up in a few minutes.  Somewhere around the 24 mile mark I casually mention, “hey, you might break 4 hours”.  This is late enough in the run and Janet is confident enough – I survive making the remark.  We finish in 3:57+.  In her first and last marathon, which she isn’t running for time, Janet qualifies for Boston by about 7 minutes. 

August 2011

“I’ll probably never get another chance to run Boston.  Maybe I should do it.”  This comes out of the blue one summer morning.  Um, didn’t you say that you were only going to run one marathon?  “Yeah, but I don’t know, I qualified and it’s getting harder to qualify and this may be my only chance.”  Oooo-kayyy.  I tell her I’ll do it with her if she wants to do it.  She’s happy about that.  We talk a little more about it and kind of decide to do it but we’re still in “just in case” mode. 

September 2011

Boston registration starts.  It’s complicated this year and designed to let the fastest runners in, vs. the fastest computer users.  Basically, the more you qualify by, the earlier you get to register and the more likely you are to get in.  Janet has qualified by 7+ minutes.  I’ve qualified by 1 minute 3 seconds.  Janet gets to register in the 3rd wave, on Fri/Sat.  Janet is out of town and Saturday morning I’m doing some strength training thing when I remember that Boston registration is happening.  I run to the computer swearing at myself, worrying that I blew it.  I register her.  Monday morning she’s told she’s in, and I get to register.  I register in the “5 minutes or less” group, basically everyone who barely qualified.  There is a thread on the Runners World forums with something like 1500 posts as people analyze submission numbers, ferret out data about the number of people accepted in previous years, do statistical analysis and quadratic equations, and basically try to answer the question “will I get in with my time?”  I follow the thread religiously all week.  As best as I can tell, I will get in with my BQ-1:03 as long as the BAA accepts 20300 people or more.  After a very anxious week – I really want to run Boston with Janet – I get the news:  anyone who ran a BQ-1:14 or better gets in.  They’ve accepted 20100 people plus 277 “streakers” (10 years in a row) that we thought we were included in an earlier tally.  My math is just about perfect, and I’ve missed getting in by 11 seconds.  I think back to slowing down at the end of Boston to enjoy it since I may not get to run it again and think “self-fulfilling prophesy”.  I think “I could have run 4 seconds faster per mile for those last three miles”.  I think “I could have run 1/2 second faster per mile for the whole run.”  Things get very dark for a little while. 

October 2011

I still really want to run with Janet.  I apply to Dana-Farber to run for charity and talk to my colleague Steve about running in support of his fight.  Dana-Farber accepts me.  My friend Paul barely misses a 2013 BQ at Chicago, and as we’re walking back after the run I say “hey, you could do Dana-Farber too – your time would have been good enough to qualify and get in for 2012”.  He thinks for a moment and says ok. Dana-Farber accepts him too.  That spot in the marathon -getting to run with Janet after all – is a huge deal to me so I set an ambitious fundraising goal, to ensure that Dana-Farber benefits as much from my participation as I do from being on their team. 

Jan 2012

At this point Paul and I have raised about $70K for Dana-Farber, I will get to run with Janet (and Paul), and with hindsight I feel even better about slowing down and enjoying Boston 2011.  If I had run 11 seconds faster I probably would have gone the easy route and missed a huge opportunity.


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