A Humbling Journey Can Be Most Rewarding – Boston Marathon 2012 Recap

In April of 2011 I was ready to rock…had trained like a mad man and was so incredibly excited to run my first Boston Marathon.  My physical fitness was in a great spot, and my mental fitness may have been even better.  Each workout leading up to the race was another step forward toward my goal of a PR…and I rarely struggled to “bring it”.  The results followed….a 3:04:45 performance and another “BQ” (Boston Qualifying time), and a 5 minute and 15 second PR, but still no sub 3 performance…which has been the lifelong running goal.

Shortly thereafter my sister-in-law(s) Lindsay and Stephanie and their excitement, maybe unknowingly, convinced me to run the Marine Corps marathon in October.  More training….more workouts…more focus…more discipline…a professional runner as my coach and personal pacer for the day….another PR (3:02:00) but still no sub-3. By the time 2012 rolled around, and I added in some life changes (mainly an 8 lb. 5 oz addition), I was pretty burnt on this whole marathon thing, and even more so…the training to be prepared.  I’d get through the workouts I had to, but only because I had to.  I’d avoid the track whenever I could, and cut a mile off the warm-up here, a mile off the cool down there….anything I could do to just get it done.  Needless to say it wasn’t exactly the most conducive training plan to a blistering marathon pace.  And worse yet, I had lost my passion for running….and had forgotten why I got so hooked on the distance events in the first place.

In the weeks leading up to this past Monday, the 116th running of the Boston Marathon, I found myself almost wishing it was behind me….and then last Thursday it finally started to hit me…..it was as if my conscience swooped out of my head and gave me a much needed slap across the face….”Get over yourself, you idiot!….This is the freaking Boston Marathon we’re talking about…this is an honor and a privilege!” I quickly came to the realization that I was being a selfish, whiny, baby….I mean seriously….people train their entire life to get a chance to run in this race…and here I am doing it for my second year in a row.  And after a great discussion with my brother Mike on Friday night, that wasn’t intended to be a pep talk but resulted in one for me…an inspirational “tweet” from my sister Amy….and countless emails, texts, facebook comments, etc. from my endurance club members, family and friends….I started to remember that I didn’t get into this marathon thing just for personal records and self accomplishment…but to embrace and model a lifestyle that represents health, fitness, discipline, and perseverance…..a lifestyle that embraces challenge as an opportunity for accomplishment….and maybe most importantly of all….a lifestyle that facilitates community and kinship with others via time shared together on the “road less traveled”….literally!

By the time I was on the bus to “Athlete’s Village” (the staging area where 26,000 marathoners hang out for 2 hours prior to the gun), I finally had my head in the right place.  While Saucony has their athletes promoting a brilliant advertising campaign and “Finding Their Strong”….I was determined to instead, “Find My Fun”….something I had lost sometime between this year and last.

Now, knowing my training wasn’t what it’s been in the past, and my fitness had followed suit…my plan was to simply enjoy myself, control my heart rate so as to not get wrapped up in the adrenaline rush (who me? Imagine that!), and stay at a comfortable pace….my estimation was that this would be at heart rate of 165 and a pace somewhere in the low 7’s.  But when developing this strategy and figuring these calculations I had failed to factor in one very important thing…..the weather forecast in Boston this past Monday was calling for record highs of 89 degrees throughout the race….yikes!  Now I’ve run a marathon in decent temperature before…in the 70’s at West Palm Beach Marathon in 2010….but nothing like this.  I knew the sun would take it’s toll, but wasn’t exactly sure just how much….so I promised myself that I’d keep my heart rate at 170 or less…knowing that this was probably a bit too high to run the whole race, but was still safe.

I guess I should have given the sun and heat more credit than I did since I was getting emails the day prior to Monday from the Boston Athletic Association encouraging participants to either defer to another year, or cut their pace by 2 minutes.  Holy cow…would I really have to run a 9 minute pace…no way!…Or would I?  We shall see…..

As I, and roughly 1,000 other runners, squeezed into corral #4 at the starting line at 10am, race officials were announcing it had already eclipsed 80 degrees…and you could feel it climbing quickly…and within a few minutes, we were off.  Now, one of the draw backs of starting in a corral based on a time you ran at your peak fitness is that the people in there are likely going to run about the same pace and are targeting a 3 hr marathon (6:52 / mile pace).  And while this group went cautiously slower out of the gates (by their standards) we were still running 7:15’s on the slight downhill out of Hopkinton without a ton of effort.  I was actually feeling pretty good….but almost instantly (actually at .79 miles) my heart rate was at 173 beats.  I cautiously continued on…..after all, had I slowed, I would have likely been trampled.

The first few miles flew by as they normally do in marathons….but this year, in the spirit of the “Find My Fun” I made sure to keep the headphones out of my ears so I could hear the crowds…. slap hands with each of the small children cheering on the sides, and look around at all the spectators.  My pace slowly started to creep from 7:15’s to 7:25’s between the 5k and 10k (mile 6.2) marks, and by mile 8, I was really starting to feel the heat, and the heart rate continued between 170-176.  Now keep in mind, when I go all out on a flat 5k course at a 5:30 pace, my typically heart rate peaks at 182…so clearly the heat was a major factor.  Thankfully race officials had ensured water / gatorade at every mile marker, and the incredible support from the spectators who filled the sidewalks the entire way, handing out extra water, spraying us with hoses, etc. gave us a little reprieve as we trekked on.

By the half marathon mark my pace continued to slow to a 7:33 average, and the heart rate maintaining around 173…at this point, I was in search of ice….it was hot… I was enjoying the spectators, looking forward to seeing my wife Amy and friend Wes (at mile 16), but my main focus was on finding shade (fail) and finding ice.  By the Grace of God (as my Dad would say), a little boy was handing out ice bags from a cooler…and I gave him the biggest smile I could muster.  It was like finding a freaking pot of gold…I couldn’t believe how thankful I was…and for the next couple of miles, I carried the ice in the palms of my hands (a trick I learned from my “Ironman” brother who completed Ironman St. George last year in 90-100 degree heat!).

Now as I was running, and keeping a close eye on things…both the external environment and what was going on in my internal world….I decided that as soon as I saw Amy and Wes, I was going to take a break….drink some gatorade, give Amy a sweaty hug and kiss, and hang a little…letting my heart rate come down substantially before tackling the dreaded hills in Newton Mass..that culminates with Heartbreak Hill.  Unfortunately the damn Red Sox and all their fans (there is always a home game on Boston Marathon day) crowded the T-train so much that Amy and Wes couldn’t even get out to mile 16.  It was a slight heart break prior to the hill…..and so at mile 17.5, just after the first of the three hills in Newton….I took a good long walk….4 minutes and 27 seconds to be exact (aren’t Garmin watches great!)…and my body thanked me….heart rate down to 129!  It gave me a chance to think about all the people back home rooting for me, probably wondering why my pace had dropped so much, worrying about me in the heat, and hoping for the best.  And then, as you might expect, I got a little prideful, and promised myself that no matter how many times I’d have to walk from then on…one thing was for sure, I’d be running each of the hills in Netwon including Heartbreak hill at Boston College as a tribute to those rooting from home.

But before I got to that…and while I was enjoying my little stroll…smiling and joking with spectators

on the way….I have to admit to something that’s not easy for me to say (little inside family joke here, but I think you’ll get it)….at about mile 19, I became the 2nd Eisenhart male to get “Pink Tu-Tu’ed!  Yup, that’s right…the man you see to the right passed me on the hill just before Heartbreak.  I smiled and chuckled to myself, thinking of my brother Mike and his kids who heckled him for allowing this guy to pass him.  But take nothing away from Mike or this guy for that matter….although he may look a little…..ah confused…..he’s a great runner, and incredibly consistent.
Soon after being “tu-tu’ed”, I was upon Boston College and Heartbreak hill…my younger brother Greg’s alma matter.  I vividly remember my time there in 2011…a spot where I quickly saw my family and heard the “rebel yell” my Dad had made famous in his sons’ wrestling days throughout the state of NJ.  I remember pumping my fist to them last year, and getting choked up seeing them.   But this year, BC and Heartbreak hill brought some of the most fun in the 2012 Boston Marathon for me.  You see, like my younger brother Greg, who bleeds maroon and gold, the BC students are amazingly passionate.  They holler and scream…they jump up and down (likely after many morning beverages), and they get you going….and I have no doubt that for the years he was there (except the year he decided to walk on the Boston Marathon and run it with limited training…psycho…just sayin’) Greg was right in the mix.  So when passing BC, I thought of Greg…and it pumped me up….and before I knew it…I was literally running and screaming “Yeah BC, Yeah BC, Yeah BC” as I smacked hands along the way….and the place erupted!  It was like there they were…desperately trying to cheer on the exhausted runners who had just crested Heartbreak hill….and the runners couldn’t give them anything back…..but me…..I had found my fun again…and I was ready to share!  10k to go.
The last 6 miles were pretty brutal…..no shade….had already been out there for 2 hours and 45 minutes and the estimated temperature was 87 plus…and I started thinking it might make sense to walk the water stops, or at least every other….my heart rate remained in the low 170’s but now each step started feeling like someone was taking a ball peen hammer to my quads…..and then, something pretty special happened.  At the time, I didn’t think anything of it……I saw another runner in a pretty bad spot so I thought I’d extend a hand and see if I could help him out.  I asked him his name, and heard a mumbled “Frank”, and told him “Ok Frank, let’s finish this together” as I helped him off the curb.  He wasn’t looking great…and my initial thought was just fatigue….but after a few first very swurvy steps…I realized Frank was in a much worse spot then I had originally thought….and we

quickly sat back down.  Almost immediately Frank started moaning in pain, complaining that he thought he would vomit and I ordered a spectator to run back to the mile marker (about .5 miles back) for help, and I’d wait with him.  My best guess is that Frank was suffering from heat exhaustion or possibly hyponatremia (low blood sodium levels) and we got a little gatorade in him while waiting for the med techs.  And about 8 minutes later…they arrived (turns out Frank had recently been in the med tech tent and had left) and after a quick phone call to Amy to let her know I was fine, but had stopped to help someone…I was on my way.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time…after thinking about the situation with Frank for the last few days, it is a prime example of what’s so great about long distance endurance sports….while it seems every man for themselves (and probably still is at the elite level)…for those of us that are the “every man”….it’s “every man for every man”.  It’s a community….and we don’t just do it for ourselves…but are here for each other.  I got the opportunity to help this day, but I have no doubt that had I been sitting on the curb, and Frank was in my shoes…he (or someone like him) would have stopped at my side as well.
And then….onto the finish!  The last mile of the Boston Marathon is unlike any race or athletic experience I’ve witnessed.  There are literally tens of thousands of spectators smashed onto the sidewalks cheering on amateurs like me…people that are unpaid…un-sponsored or endorsed…just your average every day Joe’s and Jane’s doing extraordinary things.  Last year I ran the last mile ( in a time that felt) so fast and was in so much pain I couldn’t even tell you what it looked like…I just wanted it over.
This year….I took it all in.  Waiving my hands and pumping my fists….blowing Amy a kiss and sending a thumbs up to Wes… raising my hands up offering thanks and honor to God for keeping me safe and allowing me the opportunity to partake in such an amazing event….and then in the last 100 yards….coming in for a perfect landing.

It was a bit humbling to run 40 minutes slower than my previous PR in the marathon distance…heat or no heat…but I’m confident that there was much more to this race then the finish time at the 26.2 mile destination…there was a much bigger reason for me to slow down and focus on fun.  The journey allowed me to regain some passion for distance running,  live it up at BC, and help a friend in need. I’m not sure when my next marathon will be (hopefully the 2013 Boston Marathon), and I’m not sure if I’ll go at it hard and try to go sub 3….or if I’ll just have some fun again…but one thing is for sure – I’ll be sure not to forget that the journey IS THE REWARD!
Thank you friends and family for your support, thoughts, prayers, and love that…as always…helped carry me through.
(credit to marathonfoto.com for the photo proofs)
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9 thoughts on “A Humbling Journey Can Be Most Rewarding – Boston Marathon 2012 Recap

  1. Pingback: Wisdom, Empathy, and Thankfullness « Fit 2 Be (a)LIVE

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  3. Kip

    Great piece, Eric. (I’m a little sporadic at catching up with e-mail.) I forwarded it to Sarah as I thought it might speak to her. Your goals are laudable. And I’m in awe of your ability to rein in those competitive juices and rediscover what you used to love about running and about racing. Keep it up, kid and keep sharing the insights. Kip

  4. Pingback: Finding Inspiration in Others… « Fit 2 Be (a)LIVE

  5. Patti Doscher

    Speechless! Congratulations!

  6. Linda Sielken

    Wow, Eric! This is beautiful and heartfelt. The last picture is the the embodiment of all you have said here. We love you!

  7. Well done, Eric. It is way easy to get caught up in the race and forget about having fun and running the experience. Very nice of you to help Frank when he needed.

  8. deb salvo

    So impressive Eric! You are a role model for us all. Love your determination! Thanks for the inspiration to continue on….

  9. Mark Cawley

    Great job Eric – and a great reminder that running thing we do is supposed to be FUN!

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