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Woody's Personal Reflections on Boston

Photo at 22 Miles ( just 4 and a bit to go )

Going to Boston is more than running the race. It is the whole journey of qualifying and training, and my journey certainly wasn't without its bumps in the road. In just under 2 years, I have run a distance equivalent to the distance between Toronto and Vancouver (by road). This has taken me approximately 312 hours. During that time, I managed to also do the following:

* Run 3 marathons (including Boston), 2 Around the Bay Races (30kms), 2 Chilly Half Marathons, and several other shorter fun runs

* Do about 10 adventure races or adventure type events

* Vacation in Mexico, Columbia, Port Elgin, British Colombia and Atlanta

* Dislocate my shoulder six times

* Have shoulder surgery

* Suffer through mononucleosis and be hospitalized for another undiagnosed viral infection

* Play hockey in 2 different leagues (summer and winter)

* Have Isabelle

I've also worked through almost 4 pairs of $200 running shoes, bought 2 mountain bikes (one for Shelly), and spent thousands of other dollars on hockey, adventure racing and all the other stupid things that I do. Suffice it to say, lining up in the 2nd corral on April 17, and watching 2 F14 fighter jets fly over the field of athletes was kind of a neat moment, giving me some sense of the reality of the whole process that I went through to get to that point. I was happy in the morning that Shel and Isabelle walked with me to catch the buses to the start line at Boston Common. However, in the back of my mind, I was a little concerned on how I would do. I was battling a cold, and did not really sleep the night before due to constant coughing. To boot, Isabelle had a bad night which saw all of us staring up at the ceiling wide awake for most of the night.


 After a brief sidebar at the bronze ducks in Boston Common, and a kiss good luck, I was on my own on the bus, moving toward Hopkinton. When you arrive in Hopkinton, you're staged in the athlete's village. It was here that I really wished that I had some other people I knew to hang out with. There were approx. 10,000 people in my athlete's village (1 of 2). Every one was just lying around on any small piece of ground you could claim. I lined up for a 1/2 hour at the port-o-john, and then staked a claim and waited. At about 11:10, people started moving toward the start, so I followed suit. They shuffle you into your starting corrals, which are assigned to you based on your qualifying time, and corresponds to your bib number. I was in the 2nd corral, with the elite runners, and 1235 other faster qualifiers in front of me. For the next 30 minutes, you wait patiently, and try to avoid the rivers of urine coursing through the start area... Then the gun (actually a horn I think)!


Everything you read about Boston is true. The start is a steep downhill, and there are people everywhere. You need to be careful here because you don't want to get twisted up with other runners. As usual, I bombed out of the gates probably running a little faster than I should (I was trying to make up the 30 seconds it took to get across the start line). It took about 5kms before the field started to spread out, but even then, it was still pack running due to the sheer volume of runners. Water stations were tricky to navigate without cutting off other runners. You also had to be mindful of the sea of empty cups and slick road conditions due to spillage. The course winds it way through Hopkinton, Natick, Framingham, Wellesley, Brookline and then Boston. During the whole time, there are pretty much spectators on every inch of the course.  It was unbelievable to see all of the support. In retrospect, I wish that I had written my name on my arms or legs with a marker because people who did got a lot of support.  Instead, I was being called "Running Free" due to my sponsor's shirt. 

In Wellesley there is the women's college, and the halfway point. This was a fun area because the women are screaming at the tops of their lungs (1000's of them). They are all begging for kisses, and hold their hands out to touch you. I cracked a quick smile, slapped about 1000 hands, and then started to focus on the task at hand. The first half was pretty fast (under 1:26), but I knew the 2nd half would be a battle. I was anxiously looking forward to seeing my cheering squad at mile 17. Hitting 17 was a boost (because of seeing all of you guys), but it was also gut check time because that is where you make a right to start ascending a series of hills which culminates in Heartbreak Hill. This was what I had read about a thousand times over. I was wishing that I had taken the course tour, so I knew what to expect. Based on everything I read, these hills were super tough, and would take their toll, but truth be told, they weren't that bad. In between the ascents, there is a lot of flat and downhill sections. I didn't realize until I was at the top, that I was actually cresting Heartbreak. This is where I passed a fellow Burlington runner and team Hoyt. I figured that I would take about a half kilometer to recover from the hills, and then pick up the pace to press on. However, after picking up the pace, my quads started to let me know they existed. Apparently the downhill quad busting sections actually did affect me.

At about 5km to go, I knew that I was battling, but I had all of my goals in the back of my mind, so I pressed on. The crowds were also really starting to pick up (like 10 deep both sides of the road), and they were loud. The finish is a foggy blur... The last kms always seem to be a battle of wills (mind versus legs). I remember making the left hand turn onto Boylston and seeing the finish line. What they don't tell you is that that last stretch is pretty close to a km long, but because the finish banner is so big, you don't realize it. Every stride becomes a massive effort, and all I ever do is count steps, or calculate pace... anything to try and stay sane. Then, you step over the line and its over.

The next 15 minutes is spent hobbling to a volunteer to get your chip removed, and then picking up a mylar blanket, banana, goody bag, water and Gatorade. Then you move onto the baggage claim area where you pick up the stuff that you checked at the start of the race. Then, off to the family meeting area to meet up with everyone else.

I guess if I had to summarize the whole thing, I would say that it is quite an experience, not only for me, but for those who took an interest in following my progress through the past 2 years. I found out after, just how many people I know were tracking my progress throughout the day. I felt the need to produce a good result so as not to disappoint, but at the same time I had a good time. It will be interesting to return as a Boston veteran next year. The first one is an experience that can never be repeated, but I did learn some things that I will take with me for future races and training.

I want to thank everyone who came out and watched or took an interest in my "Drive For Boston". A special thanks to my 3 biggest supporters in Larry, Shelly and Isabelle. Without Larry planting the seed in my mind and Shelly's coaching early on, none of this probably would have happened. Everyone sees the sacrifice at the athlete level, but what commonly goes unnoticed is that behind every athlete there is a family of support. There have been many miles and hours on the road, endured by both me and Shelly, and for her patience and support, I want to thank her. I was just the legs, but she shaped my vision.

As far as what is next, I'm not sure. I am pretty sure that I will keep on marathoning, but I am going to keep an eye out for a triathlon bike, and consider hitting the pool. The outside goal is to be in Kona, Hawaii for the Ironman World Championships in 2008 or 2009. Its kind of ambitious, but I think it is doable (assuming that I can find a bike and learn how to swim better)! Thanks again for the support and for those of you that do... Train hard.