Boston Swan Song

By Scott Ludwig

Up until this year, I had run in ten Boston Marathons. My first, in 1987, was like a dream—finally making it to Hopkinton…passing Wellesley College…running a (then) PR of 2:53. After that, I ran every Boston Marathon since 1994 (skipping 1997—a mistake), always referring to Patriot’s Day as ‘Christmas in April.’ I couldn’t imagine doing anything else on the third Monday in April. This was the top of the mountain, and I was proud (and yes, ecstatic) to be there. I didn’t think I would ever lose that feeling.

I was wrong.

Boston has provided some wonderful memories in my running career. My aforementioned first Boston, after an eight year quest to get there…running the 100th anniversary of the marathon in 1996 with 36,000 other ‘guests’…being a part of a top ten masters team in 1998…running the course from finish to start and then start to finish in 2003…making the turn on Boyleston Street in front of my 13 year old son Josh on my way to a 2:58 in 1999. I’ve made the journey to Boston to celebrate the first Boston Marathon for many of my closest training partners: Valerie Reed, Brenda Davis, Paula May, Trish Vlastnik, Kelly Murzynsky, Keith Wright, Eric Huguelet and Prince Whatley to name a few. I’m certain Danielle Goodgion will make it in 2005, and I figured I would be there to see it.

I figured wrong.

For some reason, Boston didn’t feel the same to me this year. I felt that way Sunday afternoon, the day before the marathon, when our group had to take two subway rides followed by one shuttle ride to get to the expo to pick up our race numbers (for the past several years it was only a short three block walk from our hotel). Of course, to return we had to take one shuttle ride and two subway rides back to the hotel, later followed by two subway rides to the pasta dinner and yet two more subway rides back to the hotel. I was already disappointed the entry fee had increased from $75 last year to $95 this year (has your salary ever increased 27% in one year?), and thinking back to the 45 minute wait at the airport luggage carousel only magnified my feelings. I never thought I would NOT want to be a part of the Boston Marathon.

I thought wrong.

I was certain I would wake up race morning and my attitude would change. However, I began my morning by waking up with my first-ever case of vertigo. Every time I moved my head, the room would keep moving in that direction…after my head was still. Then, when I finally had enough balance to get out of bed, I noticed the battery in my chronograph had died during the night. However, once I put on my running attire and shoes I knew things would be brighter when we all headed to the bus that would take us to the starting line in Hopkinton. I was wrong. Again.

We waited two hours and fifteen minutes for a bus. Standing in the shade of the tall buildings in Boston. Freezing our collective a@@es off. Starving…thirsty…joints stiffening. But wait, a volunteer tells us that seven school buses are on the way. We see the buses turn down our street…only to see them drive by as they’re ALREADY FULL OF CHILDREN! Yeah, they were school buses all right! Then the volunteer tells us the buses have been delayed by the parade in Boston commemorating Patriot’s Day. Nice planning, Boston Athletic Association! Paula used her cell phone to call City Hall to tell them there were 500 marathoners stranded at Boston Commons, almost certain to miss the starting gun at noon. City Hall hung up on her. Around 10:30 (90 minutes before the start and still awaiting a 60 minute ride to Hopkinton) a bus finally arrived to pick us up. Things were looking up.

Or not.

Following a ‘rushing the stage at an out-of-hand rock concert’ boarding of the bus (no fatalities to report—that’s the good news), we were greeted on the bus by the alluring smell of…vomit (that’s the bad news)! Yes, we were on the ‘vomit bus.’ I failed to mention earlier that Paula had used a severely ‘soiled’ porta-john at Boston Commons, and as she was ‘tidying up the area’ inside—with her shorts around her ankles—she was ‘greeted’ by another runner as she had forgotten to lock the door behind her. So the smell of vomit was nothing to her. But for the rest of us…open the freakin’ windows!

As we arrived in Hopkinton—a mere 30 minutes before the starting gun and facing a 20 minute walk to the starting line—we realized we hadn’t eaten anything all day, as we were all looking forward to a bagel or two at the Athlete’s Village prior to the start of the race. Of course, by the time we arrived, they were fresh out of bagels. I felt I could ‘rely on the kindness of strangers’ and find something to eat along the course.

Wrong again.

At least there would be some cold water and sports drink along the course to combat the soon-to-be 86 degree heat we would be facing.

Wrong again. At least the temperature didn’t reach the record high…of 87 degrees.

The drinks were ‘room temperature’ at best. Let me be the first to say that warm fluids do NOT refresh you when you’re running 26 miles in 80+ degree heat.

How did I run, you ask? ‘Run’ being the operative word, let’s just say I ‘ran’ the first half of the race in 1:45. How did I finish, you ask? Let’s just say I finished (since all of my running was over) in 1:45, because there was a whole lot of walking the last 13 miles (in fact, for the first time ever, I received a race photo proof of me walking. Thanks a lot, Marathon Foto…and while I’m thinking about it, kiss my a@@). It might have been my imagination, but I think the girls at Wellesley were quieter than normal this year. Wellesley allows a runner a chance to ‘stop and smell the roses,’ so to speak. This year I saw a coed holding a sign that said ‘Kiss me, I’m a Georgia peach.’ Since I was in dire need of a break anyway at the time…

Once I crossed the finish line, it took me another hour or more to get back to my room. I was in such bad shape my shins cramped up (can they even do that?)! I made it a few blocks, and had to sit on the sidewalk and figure out where I was, ‘cuz I was seeing buildings I’d never seen in all my (now) eleven trips to Boston. After asking for directions (twice, as I immediately forgot after the first time I asked), I made it to a subway station and used the restroom (I’m pretty sure I was in the men’s room). I made it to the hotel lobby, got on the elevator and pushed ’17.’ There were other people on the elevator, and after five or six stops, I was close to creating a bus-like odor myself, so when the elevator stopped on the 16th floor, I literally dove out of the elevator, as I feared I was going to vomit. I didn’t, but I sat on the 16th floor for 20 minutes before I had the capacity to catch another elevator to the next floor. When I did, I made it to the door of my room, and laid down—flat on my back—in front of the door as I couldn’t stand up long enough to open it. A young couple ran down the hallway at one point, as they thought I had suffered a heart attack. The hotel doctor was paying a house call to the room next to mine and asked if I was O.K. I said yes. I lied.

I finally got on my knees (my head was spinning…again) and opened the door and literally crawled to my bed. I lay there for almost an hour before Al returned to the room. All I can say is, Al made me look good! Eventually I took a shower, although midway through I had to lie in the tub as I was spinning so fast I could no longer stand up. Besides, I was close (once again) to creating a bus-like odor.

At dinner that night (yes, I made it to dinner at our usual post-Boston restaurant, the California Pizza Kitchen), our group had a lot of interesting things to say. Some of the highlights being:

‘I can’t believe the difference between qualifying times and race times.’

– Todd Davison

‘Today was a day that required walking the uphills. And by ‘uphills,’ I mean the flats, too.’

– Al Barker

‘This one will be remembered as the Boston Death March.’

– Paula May

‘I ran this marathon slower than I did last year…and last year, I ran 28 miles before I even ran the marathon.’

– that one was mine

‘Years from now, people will look back on this race and we’ll be remembered as heroes.’

– Prince Whatley

As I think about it, I think time will prove Prince to be right.

But then, I’ve been wrong before.