An amalgam of weak excuses and rationalizations

I always did some sort of write-up -- be it a sarcastic diatribe after a disappointing race or self-indulgent effluvia after a rewarding one -- after every marathon. This page includes accounts all of my 26.2-mile races except for the 2005 Walt Disnet Marathon, which was my last serious effort and actually went OK, and the 2008 Sarasota Marathon, in which I paced a friend.
1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
ATLANTA MARATHON: 11/24/94

Having spent most of 1994 in Atlanta - where I'd returned to serious training in the spring after a couple of years away from racing - I decided to make the Atlanta Marathon, held on Thanksgiving Day, my initial shot at the distance. In the preceding months I'd roamed into the 100-plus-miles-a-week range for the first time, had done a half-dozen 20- to 22-milers, had played around with the new-ish invention known as the "tempo run" a bit, and had run a 5K PR of 15:25 on Labor Day, so I figured I had most of the bases covered. It was my first race longer than 20K (a miserable 1:12 on the brand-new, rock-ass-hard Ronald Reagan Parkway a month earlier, good for a four-minute win and itself 10K longer than I'd raced previously).

In a move I would quickly abandon for future purposes, I elected to wear training flats - my beloved and soon-to-be-defunct Asics Gel Exult ES. The course, similar to but not exactly the same as the route that would be used in the 1996 Olympics, was fairly hilly and I wanted to be sure I didn't run into biomechanical problems.

Race day dawned chilly - close to 30 degrees - and windy. I drove to the start/finish line at Fulton County Stadium with my friend Mike Kim, a surgical resident, weightlifter, and martial-arts extraordinaire who, while not precisely a training partner, had provided me with a steady presence throughout the fall. Mike was hoping for a finish close to 3:30 in his own 26.2-mile debut. He'd been experiencing some knee problems, so he demonstrated how and where to give him a Marcaine injection in the lateral aspect of the joint ("listen for the pop - that means you're inside the synovial space") in my van minutes before the start; had anyone had glanced in I don't know what he or she would have thought.

The marathon started at soon-to-be-doomed Fulton County Stadium, from there heading north past Piedmont Park and through the heart of the whore-and-tittie-bar district near Cheshire Bridge, past Oglethorpe University to the turnaround on Peachtree Street near Chamblee Dunwoody Road, back south along the bulk of the Peachtree 10K course, through downtown Atlanta near the Martin Luther King homestead, and back to the stadium. The course is rolling but fair. Having set a 5K PR of 15:25 on Labor Day and logging a ten-miler on the track in around 56 minutes ten days before the marathon, I was hoping to approach 2:30 (good enough for a win in most years), though in truth I knew I' be satisfied with 6:00 pace (2:37:19).

The race started at 7:30 under sunny skies. After a summer of hot-weather training I embraced the cold, breezy conditions. At the gun a group of ten or so runners from the field of about 800 took off and I let them go - I couldn't tell if they were running fast or if I merely felt sluggish. For a major-city marathon the streets were eerily dead, which, given the fact that the race is held on Thanksgiving, came as little surprise. I reached the mile in 6:08, at least 100 yards behind the leaders, who appeared to be running at my proposed clip; nevertheless I was satisfied with beginning conservatively. I eased under 6:00 pace over the next several miles as I passed the Ansley Mall and Pheidippides, my workplace for much of the year, and held it over the hills that offered gorgeous views of Hooters, the Cheetah Club, and a loosely festering collection of oft-robbed liquor stores. I had moved into the top ten by the 12K mark at the Peachtree-Piedmont crossing, where the steady silence persisting for the first quarter of my maiden marathon was summarily shattered by the thousands of people, members of the accompanying and much larger half-marathon, passing in the opposite direction.

I passed ten miles in 59:30, feeling good if not swift. I'd spent several miles making up ground on an extremely short guy with apelike arms, not the sort of runner one feels comfortable trailing. I left him at a water stop, where he came to a dead halt and I choked down a cup or two of water on the shuffle. Soon enough, I saw the leaders returning - they must have had a half-mile on me, as the turnaround was a good 400 meters up the road. Exactly one hour and eighteen minutes after setting forth I eased around a traffic cone to the strains of a group I do not recall, and headed back from whence I'd come. Now I was treated to the sight of trailing runners, always a grim source of inspiration. I saw Mike when I was about 15 miles in, and he went fairly apeshat, although he later related that he expected to see me in the lead.

By seventeen miles I had the sensation of getting "close" - this milepost would, I suppose, forever serve as my benchmark for defining the term "well into a marathon." I'd passed one more guy, leaving me somewhere in the top ten (I didn't really care) and as I passed the Lenox and Phipps shopping centers in Buckhead I felt chipper enough to deny that the incipient numbness in my feet and lower legs would amount to anything detrimental. Miles 19 and 20, steadily downhill, were my fastest of the race - close to 5:30 each - and brought me to 20M in 1:57:30. I was going to neg-split and run low 2:30's after all!

Alas, the typical vicissitudes of physiology and the marathon would soon (borrowing from the immortal words of Hope Machedon) waggle their smelly behinds in my face. The last 10K of the Atlanta Marathon is slightly uphill and by 22 miles everything had gone to Hell in a handbucket. I passed a guy who was running about as fast as the parking meters lining the street and stopped keeping splits after I recorded a 6:30something. Diminutive Simian Man passed me, arms akimbo (he would beat me by almost four minutes), but once I cleared the last significant hill near Macy's I knew I would eventually find the finish line. I passed the State House and banged a clumsy left onto MLK Boulevard, and damn if I couldn't see the stadium. There was a de facto cheering section gathered at the finish line owing to the half-marathoners who'd already sailed in, and I drew on this energy to lurch across the line in seventh place with a time of 2:39:37. Mike would finish in a satisfactory 3:38 and change.

All in all I was pleased if a bit nonplused - I'd gone out conservatively and still hit the wall. In retrospect, wearing brand-new trainers was a dumb move and probably a chief source of the foot and lower-leg numbness I experienced in the late stages of the race. Nevertheless I was confident of getting into the 2:20's "someday." I was 24 and figured my best years were at least a half-dozen years and many thousands of training miles away.

BAYSTATE MARATHON: 10/15/95

Back in New England, I selected a marathon known for producing fast times in the hope of improving my existing 2:39:37 seed time for the 1996 Boston Marathon, which I planned to run in 1996 not because of the overblown celebration surrounding the 100th running, but because a fragile right third metatarsal had taken me out of the BAA equation in '95. After being knocked out by a stress fracture for eight weeks that spring, I was cleared to run just in time to spend my summer in the sweltering armpit Texans call San Antonio, where OBC kept me in the 50- to 60-miles-per-week range. I managed a 15:43 5K in Ontario in August and after returning to New Hampshire I ran a 32:28 PR for 10K, so I was in good enough shape to take another pop at a marathon.

In the two months leading up to Baystate, I had averaged fewer weekly miles than I had when training for Atlanta, topping out at 80 or 90 a week. I had put in four or five runs of 19 or more and had embraced the habit of doing the last 9 or 10 at 5:40 pace for a few of these. I hoped to set a PR, of course, given how flat Baystate's course was; the only question was by how much.

On race morning it poured like Morton's salt, but by the time the start (scheduled for 8:00. but delayed, in what I'd later discover to be an annual tradition, by the benighted entrants still strolling casually up the street munching on donuts and swilling coffee at 8:10) rolled around the skies were clear. The accompanying half-marathon started concurrently with the marathon and ran one loop of the two we full-marathon freaks would enjoy; this pushed the overall field size up to about 3,000. I lined up with the supposed 6:00- to 6:30-per-mile crowd, which was dumb, since it was obvious that the pleasantly overnourished, knee-brace-shackled cretins claiming space in front of me were flaunting honesty in a manner deserving of beatings about the head and face with the grossly swollen phalluses of America's leading porn stars. The upshot of this was not all bad: I refused to waste energy weaving around members of the cretin crew (preferring instead to brush them spitefully if subtly with wayward elbows) and hit the mile in 6:20, much slower than I wanted to go but guaranteeing I'd be within my capabilities in the early going.

In spite of the slow start, I felt like sauteed ass of goat for the first four miles, but after that my legs loosened up nicely. Soon enough I was running 5:50's and had caught a small group of fellows that, owing to snippets of conversation inspired by my Dartmouth hat, was revealed to include two others with Big Green connections: Josh Hanna, a '94 grad hoping to pull a "2:30/2:30 double" (he'd run 2:28 or so for the 1,000 meters) and Chris Carter, a late-eighties grad and Charlestown resident who would later move to my hometown of Concord. A wise-cracking Lowell resident and GLRR athlete, Jim McGaugh, kept everyone in high spirits. We ran in lock step right through halfway (1:17:03). The road was lonelier after the halfway point, as a good two-thirds of event entrants were of the halfathon ilk, but the members of our little group took solace in one another's company. In fact, as the pitifully genial tone of this narrative implies, it was easy to forget I was in a race.

However, just past seventeen miles, the pack broke up as suddenly as if a bomb had exploded in someone's French brief, and I found myself running alone in front of the others. Thus commenced the best marathon finish (relative to my overall time) I have enjoyed to this day - I passed 20 miles in 1:57:30 (5:52.5 pace) and ran the final 10,008 meters in 35:38 (just under 5:44 pace). In recording a 2:33:08, I had negative-split my way to a six-and-a-half-minute PR, although losing perhaps 20 seconds at the start to the cretin crowd played a role in this, which remained my only negative-split marathon effort through the fall of 2002.

I wound up eighth overall. The chaps I'd been running with wound up finishing in times ranging from 2:35 to 2:49. The day was marred by the suicide of a friend back in Hanover, but I enjoyed spending the following week jogging, decompressing from final exams, and eating loads of ice cream while watching all 29 episodes of Twin Peaks.

100TH BOSTON ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION MARATHON : 4/15/96

Having grown up suckling at the broadcasting teat of Boston TV stations, I was, long before becoming a runner, aware that the Boston Marathon was a major sporting phenomenon and that a geeky-looking dude named Bill Rodgers was typically at the center of the robust attention afforded this fool's errand. Even after becoming a runner I wasn't aware of the average marathoner's hunger to participate in this event until spending time away from New England and listening to runners wax orgasmic over the prospect of competing over the same route as Clarence DeMar, Tarzan Brown, various Johnny Kelleys, Jerome Drayton, Toshihiko Seko, Cosmas Ndeti, and of course Boston Billy. When I decided almost grudgingly to run the damn thing myself - if for no other reason, I thought, than to shut up the shmoes constantly asking me if I'd run the most famous footrace in the universe - it had nothing to do with the fact that my maiden voyage from Hopkinton to The Hub would coincide with race organizers' bloating the field to four times its normal size in 1996 to "celebrate" the 100th running (itself a transparent and understandable gambit by the BAA to see just how large a cash cow the marathon could ultimately become).

I approached this contest, hyped into the stratosphere in the weeks and months beforehand, as I would any other. My goal was to break 2:30 and hopefully average 5:40's (2:28:34). My preparation over the winter included weeks of up to 115 miles and a marathon-pace run of 25K in 1:26:30. Two weeks beforehand I did a 40K run on the track (don't ask me why) at 6:08 pace. Nine days before I ran a 5K in 15:47 with relative ease. I was ready.

I wore either bib number 1233 or 1236; I can't remember which, but neither bore superstitious content and at any rate my bib placed me in the first corral. I spent the night before the race in the Hopkinton Masonic Lodge, only a hundred yards from the starting line; fortuituously, a grad-school classmate's uncle was one of the poobahs there and I'd secured sleeping space using this connection. The brothers stayed up most of the night drinking and dropping the hammer on people trying to sneak their cars into coveted lodge parking spots - slots that would sell for decent cash the next morning. I watched and listened to aging, drunken frat boys attempt to imitate Mel Gibson's lines from Braveheart (which was shown in the lodge that evening) as I alternately studied dermatology and tried to grab some winks on the carpeted floor next to my roommate Matt, whom I'd dragged away from a pediatrics rotation and along for support; for some reason this sticks tightly in my mind as I recall what had, by running standards, been transformed with great efficiency into a legitimate freak show.

I didn't get a lot of sleep, but I never do and was unfazed. The day dawned bright and on the warm side for mid-April. At around seven o'clock, a reporter from the Concord Monitor assigned to follow the progress of one of the town's restless natives had managed to discover my whereabouts and over the next several hours became a steady fixture, along with Matt and a woman named Elaine from the Massachusetts D.A.'s office who'd managed to obtain a number in or around the 38,000's. I've never been a fan of early-morning races, but waiting for this noon marathon to get the hell underway grew tiresome.

At quarter to twelve, there was nothing else to do but head for my corral. Guys were peeing smartly into empty Gatorade bottles and passing them to the side, each relay member announcing "PISS!" just in case some thirsty ingenue got the wrong idea. I watched the elites warm up forty yards in front of the rope keeping us mortals from their midst and, gazing at the sky, wondered if this event was always this much of a production or if the 100th-running celebration was primarily responsible for the pomp. I didn't care much; I was here to race.

When the cannon set us - the largest field in marathon history - in our east-northeasterly path toward the largest metro area in the Western hemisphere north of New York, I waited until crossing the brightly painted starting line before starting my watch. As I'd been told, the early going was downhill, almost distractingly so. When I reached the mile in 5:48 by the clock, a glance at my watch told me I'd lost eight seconds to my starting position in the corrals. Since I was hoping to break 2:30:00 (5:43 pace), I was either just behind or just ahead of schedule. The as-yet untested device introduced by Digital Electronic Corp. dubbed "the Chip" would duly keep track of the difference, although in its mass maiden voyage there would be problems.

I moved up steadily through the field, running my 5:40's. I sneaked past a college teammate with whom I'd shared many bawdy and besotted moments and who had shocked us all by running 2:28 at New York in 1991, but I did not take the opportunity to become re-acquianted at this time. The course had flattened out, but the noise alongside it had not. (It would be a few years before I realized that the 1996 crowd was immense even by BAA Marathon standards and that having members of the National Guard stationed along the route was also not the norm.) I went through ten miles in 56:40-ish, feeling "okay" and wondering how likely it was that I would be able to stay on pace over the fabled hills.

At the halfway point (1:14-low), I caught fellow New Hampshirite Keith Kelly, who had beaten me by a second in a 5K the week before and who shared my sub-2:30:00 goal. He said he felt waterlogged but otherwise decent. I was passing quite a few people and only occasionally being passed. When I reached the steep downhill at 25K I still felt reasonably strong, but when I got to the bottom (where I passed Rick and Dick Hoyt) it was as if a switch had been thrown: I was in serious trouble.

From this point on I slowly deteriorated until flattening out at around 6:30 pace. At 20 miles (1:56-low), I briefly felt better as I climbed Heartbreak and my legs received a respite from the pounding, but I figured I would be lucky to run a 40-minute final 10K, assuming I even finished at all. I had never been in physical pain while trying to run hard. The taxation of pure effort was one thing, but this - jolts of agony freewheeling wickedly throughout my joints with every step - plain sucked. I probably would have quit had it not been for the boisterous crowds in the last few miles, whose sole calamitous mission was to goad and screech at everyone who happened by without a sorry thought to how frigging hard it was just to keep stumbling along. To hell with them, I thought, and thank God they were there.

In spite of a final 6.2 miles that did in fact pass in very close to 40 minutes, I didn't lose a whole lot of places and wound up crossing the line in 2:36:11, 212th overall and 199th among men. Wobbling through the endless chute on the sides of my feet to stave off discomfort as best I could, I reflected that the course was all it was cracked up to be, and that a sorry downhill runner like me would never thrive here. I had done all I could manage and come up far short of my goal. I'd be back at the starting line of a marathon eventually, but never, I knew, at one in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

BAYSTATE MARATHON: 10/19/97

A year and a half away from the marathon had seen me fade into lackadaisical shape over the winter of 1996-1997 and begin a re-building process that picked up momentum the following summer. After a 26:40 8K in mid-July, I decided once again that I didn't want to suck and into 85- to 100-mile weeks incorporated workouts marked by heretofore unparalleled ambition: brutal hill repeats, searing road intervals, track tempos up to 15K in length. I didn't know how effective this would be in terms of another crack at 2:30:00, but I did run a couple of sub-15:30 5K's and a PR of 32:02 in 10K during the training that targeted my first "return voyage" over a 26.2-mile course.

The 1997 Baystate Half-Marathon was the USATF-NE Grand Prix Championship at this distance, so at the start of a race held in perfect weather I quickly fell back into a surging pack. After a 5:43 mile - right on pace - I began slowly reeling in people who'd gone out too fast in the half (and in the full, for all I knew) and eased down below 5:40 pace. I reached ten miles in 56-something and went through the half in 1:13:26 behind what appeared to be an army of half-marathoners. As a result, even when the modest crowd gave a hearty yell upon seeing someone not turn into the driveway of the Lowell Voc-Tech High School after one loop around the Merrimack River, I had no idea that I might be leading. My first solid clue was the ESPN motorcycle that pulled onto the course in front of me as I continued, suddenly quite alone, toward Lowell proper again. Perhaps owing to anxiety I picked up the pace, running miles 14 and 15 under 11:00, and finally asked a guy hanging around the 16-mile mark who appeared to be a street bum who was leading (as if he was likely to produce a name, let alone a cogent response). He said, "Well, I believe YOU are," and he was right.

At this point a guy on a bike pulled alongside, checked his watch, and then turned around and headed back toward the pack. He would repeat this a few more times and once I figured out he was the second-place guy's lackey I was tempted to jab a Power Bar through his spokes, but because he was kind enough to tell me how far ahead I was each time (the gap was always in the range of 45-55 seconds) I just kept running instead. At 20 miles my time was 1:52-low, which meant I needed to run only 6:05's or thereabouts to bag a sub-2:30:00. I didn't know what it would take to keep the mystery pursuer (or pursuers) where I felt they belonged.

Over the next two miles I slowed, but not a lot; I think was 2:03-mid at 22 miles, where my friend Jim Graham appeared on a bike of his own. I told him I was feeling well, but shortly after we exchanged pleasantries the bottom fell out of my race in unprecedented fashion. In contrast to the mechanical distress I had experienced in Beantown a year and a half earlier, I was obviously plumb out of fuel, and the transition from steady 5:40's to whatever the hell I was managing now was as shocking as it was distressing. Jim told me I had a 45-second lead and I told him in the nicest way I could to perform an anatomically unlikely act. He apologized, then told me my lead was fading quickly. To my recollection, I told him as I stared gamely ahead over the Tyngsboro Bridge that for what it was worth, I could not be bothered to offer any sort of fornicatory act in the face of this development. At this he withheld comment.

Somewhere around 24 miles (which I reached in 2:16-something; I had already given up on my splits) a runner darted by on the other side of the road. Although I expected to be caught, I assumed that this guy - shirtless and wearing a bright yellow Walkman that matched his obscenely short shorts - was either out for a training run or warming down after the half; since I didn't think I was running much faster than 8:00 pace this scenario seemed entirely plausible. But Alex Tilson was in fact in the race and when he became the new leader the ESPN fellows suddenly lost interest in my progress, with the motorcycle driver rapidly pulling off into the distance along with marathon rookie Tilson. Well, I thought, I tried.

Even in the throes of glycogen depletion I figured I would set a personal best and this I did, managing to straggle home in 2:30:52. I had run 90% of a stellar race and chalked up the remaining 10% to stupidity - passing up fluids between 18 and 20 miles because I simply didn't feel like drinking them. I resolved that if I learned nothing else from what was, on the whole, a satisfying effort, I would not make the same dumb mistake; I would make other dumb ones.

I did not officially close the book on this one until watching the tape of the race on ESPN the following month. The network dedicated about ten seconds to me running in the lead at around 25K and twice that to my getting shagged by Tilson with a little over two miles to go. It is amazing (and, I admit, amusing as well) to see someone looking for all the world like he's moving backward in spite of an ostensibly normal attempt at running form; Michael Jackson could have used this clip for inspiration had he not already invented the Moonwalk fifteen years earlier.

FRED'S MARATHON: 4/19/98

This was supposed to be my one and only "not serious" marathon - I was planning to run Vermont City in six weeks and wanted to use this double-out-and-back, flat event as a hard long run if not a marathon-pace run. In short, I won by seven minutes and split 1:18/1:15:30 or so, with a last 10K of around 35:30. The most interesting things were 1) experimenting with fat-free coffee creamer as a mid-race carbohydrate replacement beverage (960 calories per pint and I didn't puke!), and 2) finding myself in the middle of some sort of protest directed at the local (Fitchburg, Mass.) sheriff - registration was held in the same building where the protesters were gathering upstairs after their breakfast or whatever. I wrote a detailed article about this for the CMS newsletter right after the race, but in the ensuing years it has disappeared from the Web and I have forgotten some of the salient points.

Here's the funny thing. Closing out a 100-mile week, I ran exactly eight seconds slower (2:33:34) than in a "target" marathon I found myself running in October and I wound up DNF-ing Vermont City at 18 miles on a hot day. But Fred's '98 remains my one and only marathon win.

GREATER HARTFORD MARATHON: 10/10/98

My training leading into my sixth marathon was a lot more "typical" than it should have been: a decent number of long runs at standard distance-run pace, a handful of shorter races, and a few high-mileage weeks thrown in to establish the fact that I was in fact training for a long race. The most hopeful sign was a 25:26 PR for five miles at the Ro-Jacks 5M six days before Hartford.

Once again, I wanted to break 2:30:00, and once again, I found a way to come up between 400m and 800m short. It was chilly and rainy in downtown Hartford, not especially evil marathon conditions. The presence of an accompanying half-marathon gave me some hope of having company for a while - given the smattering of African faces at the starting line, I didn't expect to be anywhere near the lead pack.

I'm trying to come up with an interesting angle here, but in truth this was a cookie-cutter race that came on the heels of cookie-cutter training, so all I can offer is a cookie-cutter recap. My first couple of miles were in the mid-5:40's and I was right around 1:14:30 at halfway, alone and somewhat morose in the dreary conditions. I caught a few stragglers on the way back into town from the pretty suburb of East Windsor and reached 20M in 1:54 flat, still on pace for 2:29 and change, but started to unravel not long after that. I slowed quite a bit as I sloshed through prodigious puddles on a muddy path along the Connecticut River (orgaziners wisely scrapped this picturesque but non-weather-resistant section of the course the next year) and by 22 miles was running for place rather than time. I gained quite a bit of ground on the guy in front of me by charging through a final 5K of about 20:00, but wound up about 80 meters behind him and placed sixth with a 2:33:26, eight whole seconds (about 1/10 of 1%) faster than my "training run" at Fred's Marathon six months earlier. I won a bit of pocket change in the process, but left feeling jaded by my apparent lack of progress and the seeming lack of evidence that I would ever close in on 2:22:00.

BAYSTATE MARATHON: 10/17/99

After my running inexplicably bottomed out with a 16:35 5K in mid-August (well, I suppose there's always an explanation for such things, but I have no idea what it was in this case), I took ten days off altogether, ate abominably bad foods, focused my energies on other pursuits, and resolved not to keep track of my weekly mileage for the remainder of the year. And waited patiently for the running bug to bite again.

One thing that did revitalize my running in a roundabout way was coaching high school cross-country for the first time: I found myself worrying more about the kids' races than mine while I was on training runs, but at the same time I couldn't very well squawk at them for slacking if I wasn't putting my feet to the grindstone myself. I found that I had eight weeks to get in shape for the Baystate Marathon and did the best I could, running 30K on the track in 1:44:10 20 days before the race capping off my training with a 1:11:01 half-marathon eight days before Baystate. Going into my seventh marathon in six years of doing them (and my third shot at Baystate), I thought I was ready to erase my PR of 2:30:52 from two years ago.

The course is a very flat double loop through the largely working-class towns of Tyngsboro, Lowell, and Chelmsford. The accompanying half-marathon starts concurrently with the marathon - this was a big advantage for me in 1997 when the half was the USATF-NE championship (I went through 13.1 in 1:13:30 behind 35 half-marathoners) and I was hoping for plenty of first-half company again. Byrne Decker was in the race, "fresh" off a big negative-split (1:16/1:12) 2:28 CR at the Portland (Maine) Marathon just two weeks ago. He was hoping to have recovered enough to run a similarly paced 2:25 or faster. There was also a crew of 6-8 "CMS-East" runners, athletes coached by Bob Sevene who compete primarily on the track. One or more of them evidently hoped to run sub-2:22 and jump onto the Olympic Trials bandwagon.

So from the outset I wasn't thinking win. And anyway, in a marathon, who I "beat" or fail to beat is, in the end, quite incidental, because my race is (if I'm doing things right) run entirely from within. With that in mind, I figured I'd stick near Byrne in the early miles, but resolved to abandon his companionship if he didn't adhere to his usual conservative-start plan. I didn't see a lot of other guys in my general range, but one interesting factor at Baystate is the lack of distinction between the race numbers of half-a-thoners and those of marathoners - anyone can "bail" en route and choose to switch to the half if the full isn't looking like a good proposition. Talk about temptation.

Anyway, the gun went off, the yellow singlets of the track guys shot off into the distance, and I settled in at the head of a small pack with Byrne. "This is gonna be fun," he said, referring to the corpses of fallen marathoners he hoped and expected to pick his way over in the later miles. They were certainly setting an ambitious pace, and I guessed that a lot of them were running to pace a select few through a 1:10-1:11 half. I went through the mile in 5:46 - a perfect warm-up for proposed 5:40-5:43 pace. But the next one skipped by in 5:30 (11:16), setting a pattern that would not relent for...a while.

"Who's the woman?" Byrne asked, and for the first time I noticed that one of the smooth-striding figures in front of us belonged to a female. This was Kristen Beaney of CMS, and she wasn't messing around - she would wind up with a 1:13+ for one of the fastest US half-marathon times of the year! Byrne and I edged away from the pack and then suddenly began gobbling up bodies at a faster pace. I had felt strong and smooth through splits of 16:59 at 3 miles, 22:34 at 4, and 28:12 at 5. But mile 6 - when it seemed the people in front of us were suddenly fading - went by in 5:22 (33:34 total). Oops! It was nice to have a quick 18 seconds added to the cushion on 5:40s, but at what eventual cost?

At 7 miles I let Byrne, who seemed to have slipped comfortably into his best gear, go ahead and focused on relaxing so that I would not fritter away my only marathon shot of the year. 7 in 39:12, 8 in 44:38 (finally catch Beaney here), 9 in 50:11,10 in 55:37...the 5:30s kept coming, Byrne had pulled 100-125 meters ahead, and I was somewhere in the top ten overall but unsure of who was in the half and who was in for the long haul.

The halfway point of this marathon provides a transition that is almost palpable: The crowd is yelling for the finishing half-marathoners, the leaders gain a sense of exactly where in the field they stand, that subtle "just-over-the-hump" feeling takes hold...and the road suddenly becomes a lot lonelier. The second loop is identical to the first, but by the time the last 10K rears its head, tunnel vision usually erodes any recollection of having been there just an hour or so earlier.

I hit halfway in 1:12:50, in fourth place, and now there was really no backing off; either I'd pay a potentially tremendous price or I was having a great day. I will stress that at no point did a lack of confidence impact my race. I heard some fast splits, but simply chalked them up to feeling good and that was that. This, I think, is the mental value of MP runs - an effect that becomes almost as powerful (but not quite) as the physiological training toward the end.

I reached the 14-mile mark in 1:17:47. (I never record splits on my watch, but through some combination of memory and logical interpolation, I am usually able to remember most of them - if I want to.) Two years ago I blasted through miles 12-16 at sub-5:30s - way too fast for my conditioning then, and it cost me dearly in the later miles; today I merely maintained the effort of the previous miles to glide through this stretch at a similar pace.

I started looking for J.R. Stockwell, my N.H. buddy who would be serving me up 20-ounce bottles of fruit punch at either end of the bridge over the Merrimack River that links the 15- and 20-mile marks. I spotted him just before 15 (1:22:20), grabbed the bottle and start gulping away. Yow! Way damn sweet! But remembering the DeathMarch' of 1997, I forced myself to down all of it within 200 meters or so. A minute of discomfort, then I was okay.

I hit 16 miles in 1:29 even, and now I was far enough into the race to start playing mind games, such as, "I can basically run 6:00 pace from here on in and still break 2:30." The sun had come out and the effect was bound to be unpleasant. I suddenly saw the 3rd-place guy, a Kenyan, coming back hard. When I got within 30 yards he abruptly came to a standstill and lay down. Gotta love the marathon. So now it was some unknown guy some unknown distance ahead, Byrne (now at least 45-60 seconds ahead), me, and no one within a quarter mile or so in my wake.

17 miles in 1:34:34. 18 in 1:40:12. The sub-5:40s were still happening and I wasn't going to complain. My legs were getting that annoying slow-to-respond thing going, but I wasn't in trouble, and 18 miles is my usual "can-almost-start-to-think-about-someday-sniffing-the-finish-line" point of a 'thon. Byrne was no longer pulling away and appeared to be coming back. The sun was out in full force and I started favoring shade over running tangents. Then more mind games - "Come to think of it, I haven't done a whole lot of long runs recently, now, have I?" But I squelched them, remembering my 30K time trial at 5:35 pace instead. 19 miles passed in 1:45:45, and not long after that comes J.R. again, bottle in hand. Bless his soul, but darn it too - hadn't I just seen him and tossed back a load of that sweet-and-sour citrus crap? But I knew that taking my medicine meant surviving a while longer, and so I did. This time I burped and spat and mumbled and drooled and just about puked, but there was no real discomfort involved. A small uphill, then another, then the all-important and dignified 20-mile mark of the marathon. 1:51:28. That's a PR. In fact, every step since the misguided 1:12:50 half had been a PR. But I was more worried about the one lurking up the street.

21 miles passed in 1:57:04, and Byrne was obviously in trouble now. A half mile later I passed him by, but every step of my own required some degree of concentration. But I would not bend. I may be bent by forces beyond my reckoning but I would not bend to the whims of my straining will, which told me to "ease in with Byrne." I passed him instead, and he offered a thumbs-up, a few words of encouragement, and the admission that he was "shutting it down." 22 miles in 2:02:48. I started to think, hey, this kind of feels just like a regular old long run. Only 25 minutes or so of running left. How hard could that be? I realized I could fold like a napkin and run 2:30, but I also knew that I have disproved a few of my own "no-way-I-won't-run-such-and-such" mid-marathon theories in the past, so I was loath to re-evaluate my goals on the fly.

Plus it was getting harder to think.

23 miles in 2:08 and some number of seconds that escape me. I started getting conflicting accounts from spectators and volunteers (one of whom managed to jump out of a car and RIGHT into my path, getting a very profane earful as a result) - some said I was in second place, some say I'm third, and in truth I didn't give a hoot one way or the other at this point. Over the Tyngsboro Bridge and head-on into a chorus of cheers from the teenage girls managing the final aid station. 24 in 2:14:28. I took my final swigs of fluid (Gatorade? Water? Who could tell?) and plowed on.

I'd gone to my arms by then, bound by the somehow grim realization that unless tragedy struck, I would absolutely crush my PR. And it was warm - 77 degrees by early afternoon, according to accuweather.com.

Dave Dunham and Rich Bolt - Byrne's erstwhile support crew - whizzed by on bikes. "First place is two minutes up on ya! But he's got his head down!" one of them trumpeted. "You can break 2:27!" The other one brayed. They had the best of intentions, but in my harried state they seemed like fitter versions of Stadler and Waldorf from the Muppet Show. Break 2:20-what?

Here I started passing by loads of half-marathoners - and marathoners! How can anyone drive themselves through five hours of running?! I used that question to my advantage when I got to 25 miles (2:20:03) and realized that I only needed to run for seven more minutes myself. I yelled just as loud for the struggling runners cheering me on as they did for me, and mentally fed off these exchanges. I even considered counting off the remaining seconds: Less than 400, not so bad! Pump the arms...no, count breaths instead of seconds. And those breaths were loud now, grunts borne of some combination of effort, angst, determination, and dawning triumph. Yup, this was a great day indeed, and it still hurt.

The marathon is physiological chaos - how could I have forgotten? I can't run this fast, I found myself arguing inwardly. Shut up and get those knees up, came the sharp voice of PR reason. I decided to break the remaining distance into quadrants - 90 seconds at a time...look at the pretty trees! Nice try at a diversion there, but man I was in the last stretch of a marathon...and a sick, sick part of me didn't want it to end quite yet, because in spite of the stiletto heels merrily kicking away at my quads, this was a rare feeling, one no amount of riches could ever avail me of.

As it turned out, CMS veteran Rusty Snow, who races well over a great range of distances, finished first in 2:25:41. But it didn't matter - as I entered the last quarter-mile, I could hear the crowd cheering for the winner, but those cheers meant just one thing to me: there was a finish line just ahead. And as the noise grew louder, I started to kick. I thrashed along in giddy defiance of past failures, of the jerks at the Concord Monitor who kept botching my kids' meet results, of the idea that no one really races a marathon. And I'm not ashamed at the snot flying from my nose or the grimace signaling the very real pains (how did I miss those?) shooting into my quads as I turn into the Lowell Tech High School driveway and skip over the speed bumps, the finish clock is in sight and wait what's that - a 6 or a 7? - that's a 6 and here it is the line the people the chute I am crossing the finish line in 2:26:51 and I can stop now. A PR by exactly four minutes.

What happened? Well, seven weeks of training and a mini-taper included the classic elements of "my" plan - a 20K run at 5:33 pace embedded in a 20-miler; a 30K run at 5:35 pace embedded in a 22-miler; and - more to Tegla Laroupe's style than my own recommendations - a 13.1 mile submaximal effort (but PR) at 5:25 pace just 8 days before the biggie. No races, but some solid "tempo runs," including a pair of 5-milers.

Also very important - crucial, I am sure - was choking down 800+ calories worth of fluids, plus another 250 just before the start. It was also important to urinate profusely on the tranquil - and well-occupied - fairway of a very exclusive county club.

And this, as they say, was one way to do it.

105TH BOSTON ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION MARATHON: 4/16/01

Got a revolution behind my eyes
We got to get up and organize
Got a revolution behind my eyes
We got to get up and organize

My experience at the 2001 Boston Athletic Association Marathon cannot, in fact, be aptly summed up by the lyrics of the Lo-Fidelity All-Stars club anthem "Battle Flag," but since I like the song I will impose its besmirched couplets upon my race nonetheless.

My race began, of course, months, not weeks or days or hours or minutes, before high noon in Hopkinton, Mass., a nondescript if pleasant enough burg annually transformed into a freak show by the descent of fifteen thousand curious souls - aspirants with dreams too offbeat to fill their leisure time with the mundane corruptions of workaday society. But for purposes of this account, the story's obligatory beginning is at the unfurling of my rendition of that dream - as I wandered blandly out of the Korean Church of Hopkinton, the temporary operating base of the two-hundred-plus seeded runners, slapping a modicum of restraint on the pulses of adrenalin that needed to be harnessed until a more opportune moment than this instant of contrived hype.

I said hallelujah to the sixteen loyal fans
You'll get down on your muthaf*ckin' knees
And it's time for your sickness again

Under the direction of race marshals (who, much to my satisfaction, made sure I was wearing a seeded number beneath my BRADY/POSITIVE POWER T-shirt) I followed teammate Dan Verrington to the front of the first corral, the noisome belly of which I had narrowly eluded thanks to a 2:26:52 qualifying time in my last marathon in October 1999. The day was sunny and the easterly breezes ripe for bipedal showmanship. I remarked unaffectedly that I felt like an impostor among the Tanuis and Aberas and Nderebas and DeHavens traipsing along nearby. Dan, a 2:21 marathoner, gave amused assent. The thought was devoid of timidity; a half-accomplished runner knows his position far better than the wags who would lump him in the "elite" category for the sake of convenience, ignorance, and hyperbole. As if on cue, a public address speaker announced that every one of the runners streaming onto Route 135 between untold numbers of raucous observers and press corps members was capable of covering 26 point 2 miles at under five-minute pace. I smiled. The day was in order.

Given my position I was able to warm up in front of the starting line, and with a hundred introspectively light-footed others I ambled to and fro a few times more for the sake of nervous dissolution than to prime myself physically for the impending task. The trick here was not to undermine my chance of success in the first downhill miles. It is not an easy trick. The ghosts of a score of legends, realizing their mistakes too late even with the foreknowledge of what might happen on this unique stretch of asphalt, pepper the landscape between Wellesley and Boston, where luxurious debts are repaid to the fullest misery of the starry-eyed borrower.

Twin F-14 fighter jets soared by overhead toward the east, two minutes ahead of schedule.

I manipulate to recreate
This air to ground saga
Gotta launder my karma

We got two more minutes and
We gonna cut to what you need

Finally, as the final seconds were counted down, it was just like any other race. We were stuffed onto a very ordinary two-lane road, sweaty and anxious to escape the jitters and body odor. I can only imagine what the people crammed into the corrals must have felt.

The officials lowered and removed the rope stretched across the street. A simple pistol shot (or was it a cannon?) launched the 105th crazy parade toward the appallingly disorganized infrastructure of the most provincial city in America.

Hey Mr. Policeman
Is it time for getting away
Is it time for driving down the muthaf*ckin' road
And running from your ass today

My plan was to run the first half of the race evenly, meaning I would run the first four or five miles with restraint and effectively pick up the pace as I traveled over the flats. (Actually, my plan was to run the whole damn thing evenly, but even I wasn't buying that one.) Of course, I wouldn't really know until I got to the flats whether I'd in fact held back before reaching them, would I? Oh, the cognitive gymnastics. I eased into what felt like something between mile and 50K race pace and listened to the fans yammering away behind the guardrails on either side.

Shortly I was joined by Eric Beauchesne, a Massachusetts runner who, until the Eastern States 20, had probably beaten me about a thousand times in a row. He had started somewhere in the first corral. "It's a clusterf*ck back there," he announced. I didn't doubt it. Meanwhile, a huge lead pack was forming up ahead. I was guessing the leaders were running "slowly," but still felt that giving them any less than a half-minute in the first mile was probably imprudent. My time (note that in this account I am giving split times from my watch, and eight-second cushion on my official time) at the mile was 5:26, which told me nothing, really. Shortly thereafter I edged past the women's leaders - a surprising development. (Later, at around seven miles, Beauchesne would remark, "I' m surprised the women went out so slow." I replied by telling him I'd remind him of that comment when said women went zooming by somewhere within sight of skyscrapers.)

The next several miles were a continuation of an experiment - did I really feel good enough to hold on to this pace for two and a half hours?

Passing through splits of 10:52, 16:17 (16:51 at 5K), 21:39, 27:11, 32:40 (33:48 at 10K) and 38:05, I had no conscious bouts of either self-doubt or extravagance that I can recall. I was moving along as I had trained myself to do, which I suppose was the point.

Just beyond eight miles (43:30), I left a small group of runners, including Beauchesne, behind. The bodies ahead were already scattered into groups of three or two or one, and I was sure I would be largely if not entirely alone the rest of the way.

That was okay. Contrary to common belief, solitude can be a marathon racer's ally so long as the occasional passing of a comrade-in-legs occurs, subserving the need for confidence-boosting.

I took a bottle of fluid from Bob Hodge, 3rd-place finisher in this race in 1979 and my gracious host for the weekend, just beyond nine miles (48:56) and noticed for the first time how warm it seemed to be getting. I felt fresh, no worse for the wear than I would be on a long training run. Concentration is a funny thing; ask me to run nine miles cold at faster than 5:30 pace on some stretch of road somewhere and I doubt I could do it without extremes of effort.

As I passed ten miles (54:27), I realized I was flirting with the Olympic Trials "B" standard pace; this meant nothing here, in April 2001, and even less in the face of the 16 miles remaining. But every benchmark helps and I was on a roll. I covered the next two miles in 5:19 and 5:18, my fastest two of the day. Passing Wellesley College - where the noise was so fearsome I edged grimly toward the center of the road but broke into a reluctant smile in spite of myself - I urged myself to ease up, one of running's peculiar oxymoronic demands, and reached thirteen miles in 1:10:30 and halfway in 1:11:06. Another benchmark. Verrington, who had been at least 200 meters ahead, was slowly coming back. It was almost time to begin playing mental games: "How much can I slow down and still run..." but I managed to keep most of these idiotic mental maneuvers at bay.

It was here that I realized the low-grade gnawing need to unload biological ballast from at least two orifices was not subsiding, as I had assumed it would with the persistent effort. Perhaps my display back in the church basement, where I' d served as the equivalent of the town drunk by bellying up to the coffee bar far more often that my fellows, was leading me down a crueler path than this habit of mine had managed to do in the past. Other than this distraction, I was feeling fine, and continued to reel in runners I didn't recognize. At first these runners had worn bibs with three and four digits, but a few of the guys I was now catching wore bibs with only two. Benchmarks.

I passed fourteen miles in 1:15:55 and fifteen in 1:21:2X (I rely on memory for splits and here is where mine begins to fail), and noticed as I began the long descent toward Newton how subjectively different this race was from the 1996 version, my only prior bout with this particular fool's errand. Not only was a running half a minute per mile slower, but the nuances of the course - in this case the downhill that had begun the rapid unraveling of my quest for a sub-2:30 in the 100th Boston - seemed kinder. That sort of thing is always as important as the numbers on the clock with each passing mile. When I reached the bottom of that hill still feeling fresh (sixteen miles: 1:26:48), I was confident this was going to be a fine day. I passed Dan somewhere on that hill and set my sights on the next singlet. The heat seemed to have cast itself aside.

My seventeen-mile split was in the 1:32-twenties. I would be climbing for the next four miles, and my general distaste for downgrades notwithstanding, I could still find myself in trouble in short order. But the rumbling in my guts was becoming a truly unmanageable problem. I reluctantly began scanning the sidelines for portable toilets. When I finally found one (having never looked for them in a race, I was surprised and distraught at how few of them were actually available in such a large race), I startled the people nominally gathered around it by veering toward then with a cry of "anyone in there?" "Yes," a woman told me (guiltily - not that it helped) and with a cry of "FORK!" I skedaddled back onto the road. Strike one.

Eighteen miles passed in just under 1:37:5X. My mental mathematician, aroused briefly from her slumber and divorced from the equally busy gastrointestinal disaster-management engineers below, busily informed me I still had over a one-minute cushion on 5:30 pace. That translated into a sub-2:23:00. If...so many ifs.

I trundled by 30K in 1:41:25 and was told by an official I was in 39th place. I knew that if I simply held form and passed only a few runners, I would likely move into the top 30 through Boston's unique disbursement of attrition. My legs were still quite willing, the mind equally so. Nineteen in 1:43-thirtyish. I guessed that three of the supposed four hills encompassed by the Heartbreak stretch were behind me. I was noticing lots of cries of "Alright Kevin!" and "Go New Hampshire!" but was clueless as to their sources. I made yet another foiled attempt at a port-a-john entrance. Strike two. Not yet truly desperate (yet obviously desperate enough to do the unthinkable and stop in a race), I graced everyone nearby with another cry of "FORK!" and sullied on.

Twenty miles went by in under 1:49:00. That benchmark was very real - it meant I was somehow clinging to 5:30's even in this revered stretch, known, if perhaps hyperbolically, for dissembling the races of legends. I then began climbing Heartbreak Hill proper. Six tenths of a mile of altitude gain which, compared to the roads I had carved my life's initials on all winter, was a piddling hump. As I threw myself up the hill, passing a Brazilian masters runner, a South African runner and New Jersey's own Joseph Aloysius McVeigh (a former top American at this race and one of its biggest proponents), I smiled inwardly at my dismissal of Heartbreak Hill. A little well-placed arrogance, properly applied, can never hurt.

Come on and tell me what you need
Tell me what is making you bleed

At twenty-one miles (about 1:54:30), CMS team manager Gary Bridgman appeared, bearing, as promised, a drink similar to the one Bob had supplied. I waved him off and gave him the thumbs-up at the same time. I had been taking Gatorade at most of the aid stations and, feeling as strong as I did, felt no need to torment my innards with any further sugary insults. I started the long descent into the belly of Boston.

35K in 1:58:40. The crowds grew thicker and more flamboyant; the personally directed shouts from the sidewalks flew toward me as before. Twenty-two miles in a shade over two hours even and I had reached Cleveland Circle. Whether by playful fate or playful coincidence, I knew as I spotted the lone portable toilet to my right as I rounded the turn onto Beacon Street that I could no longer defer relieving myself, and that I would be forced to do so with several hundred people more or less watching. As I shot into the port-a-john, I swear the cheers doubled in volume. Great.

I won't delve into the unnecessary details of my communion with the port-a-john, but I believe I was in and out in about forty-five seconds. I recall no toilet paper, but had there been any, I would have flown out of that foul little edifice trailing it behind me in place of the Superman cape the gathered throng (whose cheers had now surely trebled in volume) evidently expected me to have donned.

Your construction
Smells of corruption

I plunged back into the linear ring of combat. My legs seemed no worse for the wear, and I was eager to leave this particular group of onlookers in my odiferous wake. As I result, I fairly flew by McVeigh and the South African again (if they were confused by my apparent lapping of them, they didn't show it) and, given that I reached twenty-three miles in close to 2:06 flat, actually covered the twenty-third mile at close to 5:15 pace. This may have been my biggest mistake of the race, but it didn't wind up costing me that much. I knew a sub-2:23 was clearly out of the question now, but a sub-2:24 was not.

Twenty-four miles in 2:11:30-ish. Another 5:30-ish split. I was feeling nicks and quivers in my stride now, but nothing tragic. I focused on the long lane in front of me, an unbending stretch of asphalt that would be my proving ground for the next ten-plus minutes and forever all at once. I now rallied behind the humming, belching noise of the most scholarly and enthusiastic marathon crowd anywhere, white noise I had fought to ignore until this, the proper time. Gamely, I edged by another runner, a Japanese. He wore bib number 6. Benchmarks.

So one of six so tell me
One do you want to live
And one of seven tell me
Is it time for your muthaf*ckin' ass to give

The "pain" of a marathon, to a well-trained and focused athlete, is not unbearable by any means. Those who speak of The Wall in hushed tones and with overstated reverence have either never trained properly or have executed a marathon race foolishly, their well-intentioned ambitions toppling them beyond the crest of their physical and emotional means. No, it is not the pain of non-responsive limbs and that plunges marathoners over the brink into a purgatory of utter helplessness that can only end with a shambling, hacking wobble across the finish line or to the sidelines; it is the frustration, the apocalyptic frustration of a racer's cardinal sin: Slowing down when the mind says go, go, we MUST cover this mile in five thirty and change...

And just like that, at twenty-four and a half miles, the realization was complete. There would be no more surges or bright-eyed gambits or pleasant surprises. I was hanging on, fighting to keep the house of sub-5:30 cards I had assembled over the past two hours from being blown all over the city of Boston. For the next ten minutes - and hopefully no more than that - my life effectively depended on it. I had a mile and a half left to run - to race.

I'm blown to the maxim
Two hemispheres battlin'
I'm blown to the maxim
Two hemispheres battlin'
Suckin' up, one last breath
Take a drag off of death

40K in 2:16:21. That meant nothing too me. Still, I noticed the big Citgo sign near Fenway Park and the small teaser of a hill at Kenmore Square, right at twenty-five miles (about 2:17:12). I had no memory of these things in 1996. At least my brain was still functioning. Functioning and skittish; a quartet of motorcycles zipped by me with just under a mile to go, causing me to flip my head to one side far faster than I could have moved my legs. The policeman astride one of them grinned and said something. I glanced around. Sure enough, I wasn't entitled to my own personal motorcade: Catherine Ndereba was coming, coming strong, and was about to roll me like a wet log. A mental comedian took center stage and joked that in my first national television appearance, I might well be splattered with the sort of unsavory matter on learns to dispose of properly by the age of three. But it didn't last long; Ndereba was gone as quickly as she appeared and I was alone again.

Fighting to maintain the one pace I was now seemingly capable of running, whatever it was, I dragged myself up the street. I decided swinging my arms really, really hard was a good idea, because any good coach knows the legs have to follow. Or something.

A minute passed; two. The vehicles ahead darted to the right. There, I saw a blessed, blessed sign:

HEREFORD STREET

and as the South African drew alongside, another, this one on the left:

BOYLSTON STREET

I could see the finish line.

Now tell me if do you agree
Or tell me if I'm makin' you bleed
I got a few more minutes and
I'm gonna cut to what you need

It wasn't as close as I thought.

Is it time for your muthaf*ckin' ass to give
Tell me is it time to get down on your muthaf*ckin' knees
Tell me is it time to get down...

But two hours, twenty-four minutes and seventeen seconds after some forgotten point in time, it came. It came with a little lurch and a righting of my miraculously intact body and it was in the books - a personal best by about a half-mile, here, on the course I knew I couldn't run, on a day when I couldn't, for once, run the whole way. I had covered the last mile in about 5:48, a yeoman effort lost in the shazam of Ndereba's five-flat, a time I would bet fewer than a half-dozen men bettered.

Come on baby tell me
Yes we aim to please

The immediate aftermath was a bit perplexing. The announcers noted my name and hometown, and though under ordinary circumstances Bostonians might be loath to embrace New Hampshirites as true locals, their polite cheers suggested otherwise (I was, after all, the first New England finisher, the 7th American, and the 28th male; Ndereba's 26th-place finish was the highest ever by a woman at Boston). After being checked briefly by a BAA official, I was fairly accosted by two guys bearing microphones. One was Andy Schachat, covering the event for New England Runner. The other was Charlie Sherman of WMUR-9 out of Manchester. I gave desultory interviews to both and have a strange but very real recollection of one of them dropping a loud F-Bomb either to the other or to the BAA official who was telling them to get the hell out of the chute. I gave a brief interview to a Manchester Union Leader reporter and eased into the seeded runners' tent. I eventually found my way back to Hopkinton, to Concord, and, of course, to my keyboard.

At some point, the sunglasses came off. But the brightness remains, and no matter where my running takes me in the future, this day's glow will never fade.

Got a revolution behind my eyes
We got to get up and organize
You want a revolution behind your eyes
We got to get up and organize

Here, as an epilogue, is something I posted to a running forum as I reflected on my Boston experience and the training that preceded it:

"Naturally I wonder where I might have wound up yesterday had my training consisted of 90-mile weeks with "more quality." My feeling, which coalesced even as I urged my greasy-assed carcass past a bevy of late-race stragglers on Beacon Street yesterday, is that the high-mileage weeks do a lot more than train the circulatory and cardiovascular systems - the crux from which constructs like the MERV calculator fundamentally spring.

"There is no underestimating the adaptation to pure mechanical stresses on the legs and tendons and other gristle. While progressive tolerance to such stresses cannot be neatly codified into data such as target heart zones and VO2 Max, they are just as real, and critical on a quad-buster of a course like Boston's. During my 515-mile March I noticed, more than anything else, an increasing ability to rebound from long runs and hard runs and races and everything else - a lightness of being that I had never experienced in training, even when theoretically in 'better shape.' Even on recovery days I was able to ease from an eight-minute-per-mile shuffle down to sub-sevens and even sub-sixes, depending on the day. Strangely, I was never worse for the wear.

"Could it have gone the other way, down avenues of powdery metatarsals and frayed tendons and intractable malaise? Yes, it could have. But it didn't, and I was able to find out only by trying. The final answer came when a notoriously crappy downhill runner was able to hold pace on the fearsome stretch after the 21-mile mark, Ndereba's frenzied passage at mile 25 notwithstanding. I was able to hold on for a 5:48 final agonizing mile owing to my legs' simple comprehension of what was happening to them. I don't think my heart and lungs could have cared less - I wasn't really breathing that hard even in extremis, when the real pain comes not from the physical sensations per se, but from marshaling every available resource to keep the chronological house of cards built over 24 miles from collapsing; to a marathoner, the pain of slowing down is always worse than the pain of holding firm at that stage.

"That's my firm belief, inasmuch as anyone can ever know anything for certain in an 'uncontrolled experiment.' Then again, you really do find out a lot of things when you spend two hours a day shagging ass up and down snow-covered hills."

106TH BOSTON ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION MARATHON : 4/15/02

By the numbers:

5k17:0117:01
10k34:0717:06
15k51:1717:10
20k1:08:2617:09
Half1:12:12-
25k1:25:5617:30
30k1:44:0418:08
35k2:02:1418:10
40k2:20:3518:21
Final2:28:27-

There was an eight-second difference between my chip time and my official time, not five as reported in the official results. I have witnesses.

With the exception of the 3rd and 4th 5K segments, I believe I see a definite pattern there.

None of this was easy. I regarded the whole affair as a series of nested anticlimaxes (or anticlimaces, if you prefer). Last year at this time, I had popped good races at 3K, 5K, 15K, 13.1M, 30K and 20M during my Boston build-up, was coaching a bunch of upstart and motivated kids, and, as is usually the case when I'm running well, had a general sense of positivity; after I ran 2:24 and wrote a long-winded race report replete wiith song lyrics and other pointless minutiae, I figured 2002 would be the year to break through. However, my path to the starting line in Hopkinton in 2002 was not what I had envisioned. After abandoning running for three months last fall, I poured myself into heavy-duty training, but I alternately skipped, dropped out of, or ran abysmally in my races, was coaching only a dog, and - as recent race reports hint at subtly - had fostered a healthy sense of competitive nihilism.

In spite of mounting evidence I believed I had scrambled myself into a semblance of racing fitness in the past few weeks, more by what I didn't do than what I did. Having run myself ragged with the best of intentions, I was rather like a man who had packed diligently for a trip several weeks in advance, only to discover five minutes before his flight that he could only bring only two of his four suitcases. I had dropped my mileage, finessed myself through a few low-key workouts, bitched, and rationalized for the better part of a month and assumed that if I just got myself to the line, I wouldn't back down this time. I knew a fast time was probably out of the question and really had nothing on the line but pride.

Anyway, I was ready to run hard for a couple of hours and didn't expect it to be anything but a pisser, and it's a good thing I hadn't deluded myself about this. I started cautiously but sluggishly and had a hard time finding a rhythm, owing, I'm sure, to a dearth of fast training. My legs felt the wallop of the downhills early, in marked contrast to 2001. I prodded myself through the field between 10K and the halfway point in a stubborn quest to hold 5:30 pace, but at 14 miles I was wavering on the edge of the sort of discomfort that doesn't abate and was more or less screwed by 17, after the downhill in Newton Lower Falls.

When Byrne Decker, my partner for the first quarter of the race, passed me near 30K, I was actually heartened and kept him in sight for a while as he gobbled up perambulating zombies. In the last 10K I knew I could ease under 2:30:00 by running 6:00 pace; happily, even though I was slowing (above) in virtually every sequential 5K stretch, I flattened out between 5:50's and 5:55's.

It was, to not coin a phrase, a Good Effort. I ran as close to the edge as I dared for the first half, and anything faster might have ultimately sent me into the gutters of Beacon Street and into the claws of a DNF I could not have easily lived with. Just as in 1996, I felt much, much better on the uphills, and as was the case six years ago I moved up in the last eight miles after finding a "low-bottom" pace my battered legs allowed me to sustain.

In reality, there was probably little chance of holding a pace I have not endeavored to hold for more than 5K at a stretch in over four months, but it was worth finding out. I certainly suck now as compared to last spring, but ran a tougher race than last year, and I'm in the frame of mind where I will happily claim Pyrrhic moral victories.

The great (or at least redeeming) thing about the treacherous bent of this course is that no matter how slowly you're running in the last 10K, as long as you're moving in a straight line, you're apt to pass two people for every one that passes you. I moved up from 63rd to 50th after 30K mostly by staying conscious and not getting lost or stopping to defecate raucously at roadside.

This was my ninth completed marathon in ten starts, and there were far more good-looking college girls along the course than in any of the others (the fact that I even noticed this speaks to my incomplete concentration and my impending status as a dirty old man, but for once I really did need the crowds for help). The last three were my fastest (10/99 - 2:26:52; 04/01 - 2:24:17; 04/02 - 2:28:27).

5:40 pace was nothing to perform drunken cartwheels over, but it beat running slower than that for a flat half-marathon four weeks earlier.

Compared to 2001, when conditions were similar, I slipped from 7th to 16th American, 28th male to 45th, 29th overall to 50th. I shouldn't even be counting that high. I do think I beat the first blind mule.

A final wry note. Oleg Shpyrko and Cindy Gates were at the eight- and seventeen-mile marks, respectively, with Hawaiian Punch (Ruby Red) and Blue Baboon (supermarket brand beverage), also respectively. I reported this generosity to the Manchester Union Leader, which proceeded to print that I "had friends from Massachusetts stationed with bottles of wine and punch at miles 8 and 17." Unfortunately, people who know me will probably believe this, especially those who saw me skidding ungracefully down the far side of Heartbreak Hill on ruined quads.

KEYBANK VERMONT CITY MARATHON: 5/26/02

Although during my active career I competed in many, many races, I remain, for the most part, an idiot on the race course. Here's what I discovered for the first time during my bloated and windswept journey around the greatest little city in the world (Burlington, Vermont):

1. Sadly, it is possible in contemporary America for an aimless and uninspired ninth-rate marathon runner to virtually guarantee himself a payday in excess of $10 per kilometer.

2. Even more sadly, a slide past the dark side of 2:30:00 and into tenth-rate territory is still good enough to cement said payday.

3. With conventional sources of inspiration exhausted, it is indeed possible to limp through the final few glycogen-free miles of a marathon because - and only because - someone is willing to hand you a paycheck for simply making it to the finish area.

4. Often, confidence in one's fitness is a liability. In this case, setting and stubbornly following 5:25 pace on a day fraught with persistent 25-MPH winds (most of these being direct headwinds and tailwinds) is not a good idea. The inefficiency inherent in such a race seems to lend itself to distressing substrate failure in the late stages, amplifying an already laughable death-march (my 6M split was 32:00; my 20M split was still just over 1:51:00; my last 10K, almost national-class for a seniors woman).

5. Dropping a five-mile split of 26:10 (including three in a row in 5:20, 5:10, and 4:57) early in the race is - at my futile level - also not a good idea.

6. Even as I continue to write for a running magazine and advise various distance runners about their training and racing, I am becoming more and more of a potential liability in this sport, projecting increasing amounts of my own rancor, scorn, and disgust onto others' endeavors. To wit: Rather than encourage or empathize with those who sloppily and unelegantly crash and burn their way through ineptly paced marathons, I quietly regard them as pathetic, lost souls, and can only hope that they, too, discover within themselves the courage to quit so they can turn their corrupt and benighted lives around.

6a. In relinquishing the suspension of disbelief required to invest excessive energy in something as worthless as running, I realize just how insufferable a human being I have been over the years, yabbering on about running-related matters to small but unfortunate audiences as if such subjects were any more meaningful than a Mideast peace treaty or the articles in the Weekly World News. Fortunately, I don't waste words, paper, or bandwidth on such stuff anymore.

7. Anyone who doesn't have the slightest hope of making an Olympic or World Championship team, winning outright, or earning a modicum of cash should just sleep in on race day. Personal bests are merely standards by which to assess future failures and sort them by degree.

8. Once you quit, you should, on pleasant weekend days, still jog around on college campuses like UVM's, because you will see college girls there, and college girls (especially those from families of means) are cool.

HUNTSVILLE TIMES ROCKET CITY MARATHON: 12/14/02

A pointed report about an undertaking widely regarded as pointless.

BULLET POINTS

In the several months preceding my third marathon of 2002, I logged a bunch of consistent, persistent, but relatively soft-core training and as I result expected a consistent, persistent, and relatively unremarkable effort in my first (but perhaps not my last) marathon-centered visit to Alabama. My chief motivation for entering Rocket City - at which CMS reigned supreme throughout most of the 1990's in the now-defunct team division - was the chance to spend time with my club-mates Dave Dunham and Byrne Decker, whom I hadn't seen since the spring. I thought I could turn in my best race of the year; considering how sparingly and poorly I'd competed over the past eighteen months, this would not require the metaphorical translocation of large, rocky landforms.

1992 RMS winner Dave, on comeback trail #268 after missing all of August with a vague piriformiliokneestring injury but returning to win the Nifty Fifty 50K three weeks earlier, was hoping to dip into the prize money while expending as little effort as possible (the winner would receive $2,000, the runner-up $1,000, the 3rd-place finisher $500, and the next nine finishers $250 apiece); past results suggested he'd have to run about 2:37:00. Byrne, on the other hand, was the fittest he'd ever been and was ready for a concerted shot at 2:22:00 after innumerable times in the 2:25:00 - 2:28:00 range. I figured to finish smack in between them but allowed inwardly that I might crack the top three with a well-executed race.

BESIDE THE POINT

After spending a week kicking back with friends in New Hampshire and hitting the frigid streets for some mellow runs with Komen, I arrived at the Huntsville Hilton on Thursday afternoon. I ran an easy five miles, trying to tour the first few miles of the race route but getting lost several times in spite of carrying two maps. After Byrne and Dave arrived that evening we laid waste to two pizzas, exchanged numerous witless insults, and crashed early. We ran an easy half-hour before the onset of rains predicted to last right up until the start of the race, then embarked on a typical marathon-eve day of focused lassitude: Watching (and bemoaning) weather reports, swilling variously colored fluids, commenting on one another's dietary foibles, calling friends back North, emotionally abusing ourselves and each other at the invited runners' 'chat panel,' napping, and complaining about the weather as well as the televised reports regarding it. We went to Kroger, where I patiently taught an addled Byrne how to use the U-Scan checkout system.

Dave, whose goals were more low-key than Byrne's and mine, added a second run and would reach 100 for the week. We sandwiched two movies - Goldmember ('Hellishly stupid!' - Kevin Beck; 'Good for a few laughs, though!' - Dave Dunham) and The Bourne Identity ('Shut up so I can watch!' - Byrne Decker) - around the pasta feed and were practically asleep by the time featured speaker John (The Penguin) Bingham presumably took the dais downstairs at 7:30.

NOT POINT-TO-POINT

The start and finish lines of this mixed out-and-back and loop course featuring 52 turns are both within two hundred yards of the Hilton, an invaluable advantage. Race morning dawned partly cloudy with temperatures in the high thirties and winds (which, according to the Weather Channel, always blow in convenient 5-mile-an-hour increments) of 15 to 25 MPH. I opted for a short-sleeved Coolmax shirt under my singlet and beat-up gardening gloves to in lieu of the pair I'd lost somewhere in a hotel room which, under the influence of three constantly snacking, frequently changing, coffee-slurping and preoccupied men, had rapidly become a bona fide stankhole.

Heading downstairs, I was surprised to see people wearing race bibs wolfing down scrambled eggs and hash browns from the hotel restaurant's buffet just forty-five minutes before the marathon start, and wondered non-judgmentally if this sketchy behavior was related to whatever words of wisdom I'd missed at the previous evening's pep talk.

A half-hour before the start, I warmed up for about eight minutes around a nice little in-town pond, terrorizing a gaggle of relatively tame city ducks as a means of getting in some quasi-striders, then ran for another five or six minutes right before, and during, the National Anthem (who among even the most ardent patriots would look askance at a runner trying to keep warm at a critical moment?). Wearing bib #4 based on a gracelessly aging PR, I lined up next to #'s 5 (Byrne) and 12 (Dave). We were loose and ready.

GETTING TO THE POINT

The early miles of the race wind through downtown Huntsville, a city of about 150,000. The first two miles constitute a climb by RCM standards - about 50'. Ohio's Nate Norris, who ran 2:23:43 here in 2001, immediately assumed the lead, while Byrne and I settled into a pack with at least a dozen others. I had failed to start my watch at the gun, but according to the clock on the lead vehicle we reached the mile in 5:35, which did not deter the volunteer standing there from calling out '4:50!' (many of the early splits would be fast by the same 45 seconds). 5:35 was encouraging - it felt more like a 5:50 and was a pace I had experienced less frequently since July than I cared to admit - but early splits don't mean diddlyjack. As I sensed a bunch of Trials hopefuls in our pack pick it up in an effort to make up ten lost seconds all at once, I tried to ease off and failed, hitting the second mile in 5:23 for a total time of 10:58. Lanky and soft-spoken Russ Sears, a newly minted master from Indiana with a 2:18 PR, scampered ahead to join Norris, while Byrne bided his time, fronting our pack of eight or nine (okay, I didn't count bodies but sensed their numbers dwindling).

It was just around the two-mile mark that I, by my detailed if approximate reckoning, topped 5,000 miles for the calendar year.

That second mile for me set in motion a pattern of consistent splits within a few ticks either way of 5:25, which meant I was running faster than I felt I should be, margin unknown. (I would record yearly road bests at every distance from 8K on up this morning, but then I hadn't recorded any times between 5K and 26.2M in 2002 except for two rancid half-marathons.) Nevertheless, I preferred running in a group and actually felt better after cresting a token rise at seven miles than I had at the outset. (A sure sign of the impending apocalypse: A bespectacled, grinning woman standing at the seven-mile mark hollered out 'DONNYBROOK!' as I trundled past.)

By nine miles, Sears had fallen back and prohibitive favorite Dennis Simonaitis, another Massachusetts native wandering half-naked around Huntsville in December, had moved easily past me to join the leaders. He was followed in the act by Isaac Kariuki, an African (something tells me) and last-minute entrant who showed no audible signs of breathing as he loped ahead of our group and made the vanguard, now 100m-150m ahead, a foursome along with Byrne and Norris. The 6' 3' Simonaitis, who at age 40 had recently run 29 and change for 10K, nearly whacked his head while entering an annoying, low-clearance foot-tunnel near 12K. My own pack had also been whittled by the hill and the ambitious (for most of us) pace down to four - me, Bill Baldwin of North Carolina (47:00 and change in the last two Gate City River Run 15K's), Donn Craig of Ohio (2:28 PR), and Louis-Phillipe Garnier of Montreal (obviously), who had run 2:27 five weeks earlier in Richmond, Va. but today had looked like hell warmed over right from the get-go, burping and flapping along in the ostentatious fashion of Quebecois.

Just before ten miles we turned onto Bailey Cove Road, a four-lane, exquisitely flat stretch that would last nearly five miles and offered about a kilometer in forward visibility at any point. It felt as though we were running into a slight headwind, which pleased me greatly since I felt quite relaxed at PR pace and the last fifteen miles would be run in the opposite direction. I should have known better. I should have spat.

My splits for miles three through thirteen and the total time at each point were, as best as I can remember, 5:24, 5:21, 5:26, 5:24, 5:26, 5:25, 5:24, 5:31, 5:27, 5:31 and 5:34 (16:22, 21:43, 27:09, 32:33, 37:59, 43:25, 48:49, 54:20, 59:47, 1:05:18, and 1:10:52; 1:11:28 at halfway). When Baldwin surged slightly ahead near eleven miles, the gastrically garrulous Garnier fomented moderation and teamwork, which, in view of the whimsically egalitarian prize-money structure and out present collective position in the pack, really did make sense. By 14 miles (1:16:22) Baldwin was history and no one else was within a minute of us. Byrne, Simonaitis, Norris, and Kariuki had gone through halfway in around 1:10:50.

THE TURNING POINT

At a right turn just before fifteen miles, the entire raced changed with an almost audible snap. What I had somehow perceived as a mild headwind had really been a crosswind and partial tailwind, and now we were running dead into a brisk headwind. My 15th mile was 5:31, but 85% of that mile had been before the turn and my 16th - mostly up a slight grade - was barely under 6:00. I immediately stopped thinking about time in order to enhance my chances of surviving what had busily and quickly become a race of exaggerated attrition - the lead foursome still looked good (from a growing distance) but odds were at least one of them would go to pieces. I kept my head down and traded places with Garnier and Craig, meaning I floated between 5th and 7th place as I drew past eighteen miles (1:39:11).

Denied the usual opportunity to have race minions place my personal drink bottles along the course, I'd been taking Gatorade at the aid stations spaced two miles apart and had managed to recruit someone to bring a pint of Hawaiian Punch to somewhere near 30K, so remained pretty well fueled up throughout the race, but with a quarter of the marathon remaining my right calf was becoming a concern. I had one bitter moment right before nineteen miles when a cop inexplicably let me miss a turn and run about 30 meters off the course (fortunately, a sporting Garnier, who had been paying attention to the marks on the road and had noticed my error from a position about 20 meters ahead, bellowed at me in clipped, belchy English for Craig and me to follow him).

My time at nineteen miles was 1:44:57, so I'd somehow split a 5:46. Visibility was now limited to a maximum of several blocks because we were back in town proper and turning corners at, ah, every turn, but I could see that both Norris and Kariuki had fallen off the pace and that Byrne and Simonaitis were, together or separately, now way the hell ahead of everyone else. After I ran 5:48 for the 20th mile for a total time of 1:50:45, it occurred to me for the first time all day that I really had no business running close to 5:30's for even this long, given what training-log forensic specialists would deem my decidedly nonspecific preparation. But it was too late for that hokum. If I can run 5:45's the rest of the way, I thought, I will finish third. I was right.

Just after twenty miles came the usual swell of competitive shifts. The African pulled to the side of the road and called it a day just after seeing someone looking and running like me leave him in arrears. I caught Norris, now suffering from hamstring woes, at around twenty-one miles (1:56:44). Craig seemed to be faltering - I'd gapped him by five or ten seconds - but Garnier was on the verge of breaking contact. I thought clinically: This is just like Hartford circa 1998. I'm not going to blow up; I'm just going to smolder, slowing down bit by bit. This sucks, but I'll live with it.

Soon Garnier was 100 meters ahead and although he didn't look any better than I felt, he never had in the first place. It was now almost certain that I would wind up 4th and thus, in a sense, the first loser, finishing ten minutes ahead of slackers like Dave and earning not a penny more, yet unable to muster up whatever effort it would take to gain 30 seconds and an additional $250. But having not come all the way to Alabama to piddle around, I fought as hard as I could, and realized at twenty-three miles (2:08:39) that if I could remain in my just-under-six-minutes-a-mile rut I could beat my Boston time from April (2:28:30). The wind was still in my face, but by now I was used to its banal effect on my stride, rhythm, and splits.

THE WHOLE POINT

At twenty-four miles (2:14:38) I made one last pseudo-move to catch Garnier, figuring there was no way I would cede 4th place even if I imploded further as a result. This 'move' consisted of lifting my feet a few inches off the pavement for about fifty meters, but in spite of its ineffectiveness it didn't ruin me. I hit twenty-five miles in 2:20:31 and the one-mile-to-go mark in 2:21:50 and decided 2:28:00 was likely with a bit of work. The second half of the final mile was on a slight downgrade, so I wound up finishing 4th in 2:27:31, my third fastest marathon of the eleven I've finished.

Drama had beaten me to the line. Simonaitis, in an eerie reprise of Chad Worthen's 2:22:03 Trials near-miss at Cal International the week before, got even closer without plucking a cigar with a 2:22:02 after taking the lead in the last 5K. But Byrne, in his 25th or 26th marathon and past his 35th birthday, had orchestrated a yeoman effort, leading and generally controlling the race from 10K on and forcing the pace into the wind, no cup of joy for a 5' 7', 125-pound law firm partner with four young kids. His 2:22:48 was a PR by 2:12 and a convincer to all of us, even him, that he could run 2:22:00 and more likely 2:20:00 on a pancake or slightly aided course. Dave moved up from 25th at halfway to 10th at the finish, running 2:36:22 and not straying from his plan despite the early bombast of a cast of hundreds.

PRESSURE POINTS

After we reconnoitered in the hotel lobby, Dave suggested we take advantage of the free post-race massage, something I'd never done. When he and I walked into a room full of tables to find two of them free, Dave made a beeline for the table staffed by a veritable blonde bombshell, leaving me in the hands of a guy who looked and spoke exactly like Todd, the teacher from Beavis and Butthead. Once again, Dave, a veteran of 400 road races, proved that experience always provides an edge.

BALL POINTS

After the awards ceremony, the three of us went to T.G.I. Friday's and methodically plowed our way through several thousand starchy, greasy calories apiece. I suspected Byrne was feeling unwell when he failed to finish a tall Sam Adams in short order, and on the way back to the hotel, seated silently in the back, he threw open the car door when we stopped at a red light and horked up what had been a damned fine meal onto one of Huntsville's busiest thoroughfares. It was a fitting display of guts from a fellow who'd already dumped a big heap of them scattered on the pavement of the Rocket City that morning.

BONUS POINTS

The day before the race, I met a gentleman from Rochester, N.Y. named Norm Frank. Fortuitously, we shared a flight out of town on Sunday morning and discussed possibilities I might keep in mind for a fast spring marathon. Norm, 71, should know. RCM 2002 was his 800th marathon since he started running them half a lifetime ago. No North American has run more.

In response to an inevitable question, he has an interesting anecdote. Some years ago, he asked one of his granddaughters what she planned to do when she grew up. The girl, five or six years old, explained that one day she'd be a dance instructor. Norm told her, 'Well, I can't wait to see that!' Replied the girl: 'Aw, you'll be dead by then!'

'That,' says Norm, 'is why I run so many marathons.'

Funny. I myself seem to die every time I run one of the damned things and I am 789 races behind Norm Frank. But how quickly we all forget this part'although Norm, who at a recent rate of two marathons every three weeks barely has time to shower between expos, might be forgiven for not forgetting as much as some of us.

But who would really want to forget?

And what would be the point, anyway?

107TH BOSTON ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION MARATHON : 4/21/03

Thanks to advancements in Internet espionage, virtually everyone interested enough in my running to load this page knew almost as soon as I did on Monday that I'd dropped out. Therefore, there's not much to add and not a lot of pleasant ways to spin it.

Anyway, three basic facts:

1. My only goal in running at this point is to log a marathon in a time that, for me, requires an optimal effort on an optimal day.

2. Slogging through a slow race would prove absolutely nothing and would be a major physical setback in the event I prove dumb enough to gamble away more of my time, money and energy on another "shot."

3. It was a sunny 70 degrees at the start of the 107th Boston Marathon, and there was a headwind.

On the line, I decided to aim high and hope that a break in the weather somewhere east of Hopkinton and the happenstance event of an "on day" would pleasantly conspire to give me a chance. So I was less than conservative at the gun, reaching the mile in 5:08. Subtracting the seven seconds it has taken me to reach the starting line in all four Bostons I've entered, that was actually a 5:01. Even given the downhill start, this would not have been a good idea even on an ideal day. I collected my 2K (6:21) and 3K (9:42) splits from my watch, which reflect my net time rather than my gun time. Two miles in 10:24, so I've backed off a little and still don't know how I'll feel on the flats in another ten minutes or so. I was running in a loose group with locals Ken Pliska, Dave Hinga, and the peripatetic Eric Beauchesne, and I can't help but think they knew as well as I did that we'd already cleanly shot whatever wad we might have held in store that afternoon. Mike O'Brien steadily maintained the same 40m gap on me he'd had at the start as an "E" masters elite (I was a "1" sub-elite).

Consigned to that odd Boston curse that defies runners' best intentions to back off even when they know they'll be road-jelly if they don't, I went through 4K in 13:01, 3M in 15:38, 5K in 16:10 and 6K in 19:28. Still downhill, still mindlessly banking time and awaiting whatever sensations would visit my legs when the course flattened out. Dave was edging away, the others were a bit behind. 4M in 20:51 and the flat road that greeted me felt like an uphill. It usually does at this point, but in contrast to previous years there was no quick adjustment. 7K in 22:48. I'm feeling hot and out of form already. 8K in 26:10, 5M in 26:20 (only someone on the outs would bother with both of these, not to mention the rest of the irrelevant metric splits). I'm annoyed at the same little kids looking for high-fives that I am normally able to ignore. My all-important 9K split was 29:32. Maybe it's my imagination but everyone around me, which isn't a whole lot of people, looks like hell. O'Brien appears to be struggling. So does Dan Feldman, but then Dan always appears to be struggling even when he's en route to a 2:23 here, as he was in 2002. 6M in 31:45, 10K in 32:52 and I'm pretty much ready for bed. I'm not going to last out sub-5:30's today, not by damn sight. I run the seventh mile in 5:28 (overall time 37:13) and a minute later pull off to the side of the road in front of a group of young Puerto Rican Framinghamians. That was that.

As I indictated this race report would (or should) be short. It's already longer than it should be by hundereds of words but the rest of the afternoon was an odyssey of finding my way to the finish to claim my bag and then back to the 24-mile mark to meet my ride home, not to mention a novel running experience overall.

About a minute after I stopped, the lead women were heading past, so I made sure I was safely tucked away behind a building so as not to be spotted spectating by anyone watching on TV. With the press truck and ego concerns out of the way, I sat and watched for about half an hour while my new young friends fed me questions in Spanish and water in household cups. I watched a bunch of folks I knew traipse by and although I may have been projecting a little, they uniformly looked like hell. About 70:00 into the race I started picking my way along the sidewalk toward some undetermined stopping point - I knew I could use my VIP bib sticker (which hadn't deterred an enthusiastic idiot masquerading as one of the fine BAA volunteers from trying moments before the start to horde me into the first corral on the basis of my four-digit number) to hitch a ride in the official sag wagon, but I wasn't sure where to find it as I hadn't looked into this grim possibility beforehand. After I finally realized the crowded sidewalks were not the optimal route of transit, I hopped back into the street and began loping along with a huge mass of people traveling at about 9:30 pace, give or take. I held my singlet in my hand so as to forestall a farmer's tan - better to go for the uniform burn.

Here I saw many novelties. There was a guy who must have been about 6' 9" wearing a T-shirt that said "TALL TOWER 2003" slamming up the road and attracting due attention from the crowd as well as from others in the race. I saw a young woman in a charity singlet with a polaroid of her father taped to her back, the words scribbled beneath it indicating he had passed away recently. I saw cancer runners, MS runners, liver runners, and Children's Hospital runners in orange singlets that looked like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups wrappers. I saw several people urinating shamelessly mere feet from the road and one young lady who was apparently too tired to either squat properly or drop her shorts standing at roadside with her hands on her knees and her head bowed, tinkling into the crotch of her shorts. I assume this sort of thing happens routinely in mass marathons, but the weather couldn't have helped. Some of these people were plumb exhausted and their races were only a third over. I felt worse for them than for me. I hope that those who were first-timers did not leave Boston believing that every marathon had to be this full of abject misery.

After carefully dodging the chip mats at 15K, 20K and the halfway point, which I reached in about 2:15, I finally tracked down an official at the 14-mile Red Cross station. He called for the sag wagon and soon enough I was on my way along with F15, a Russian whose name I did not bother looking up and whose basic fate was as clear as mine. When we reached the VIP tent on Boylston Street, I gathered my stuff and headed for the nearby MBTA station so I could meet my ride back on Beacon Street. I had received a finisher's medal in exchange for turning in my chip and hadn't bothered to hide it as I sat on the subway. One woman offered a congratulations and the comment that I didn't look as if I'd run a whole marathon. I mumbled something to the effect that I'd been through worse, although I'm not exactly sure this was true.

When I discovered later how miserably on the whole almost everyone in the field had run, I wasn't surprised, but it eased my spirits some. Under no circumstances could I have come anywhere near my time goal here. I suppose that running poorly on a day when almost everyone else had done well would have been a more bitter tonic to quaff, but in the end I was still left with the question, "What's next?"