B.A.A. 5K, 19 April 2014

What: 5K (of epic proportions!)

Where: Boston, Massachusetts (course map)

Who: Just me, with moral support from Drew, Colin, my dad, and Drew’s dad

Time: 33:28

Photos: (click to open larger versions)
Photos taken by Drew, Drew’s dad, my dad, and me

Good morning, Boston! Our view of the city as we walked to the race.

Good morning, Boston! Our view of the city as we walked to the race.

Drew, Colin, me, and Drew's dad before the race

Drew, Colin, me, and Drew’s dad before the race

The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps marching before playing the national anthem at the start of the race

The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps marching before playing the national anthem at the start of the race

Marc Fucarile, a survivor of the marathon bombing, took part in the wheelchair portion of the race.

Marc Fucarile (yellow shirt), a newlywed and survivor of the marathon bombing, took part in the wheelchair portion of the race.

The elites taking off at the start.

The elites taking off at the start.

My vantage point about a minute after the starting gun sounded. The blue banner in the distance (between blue BAA shield on the left and the brick building just to the right of it) was the starting line.

My vantage point about a minute after the starting gun sounded. The blue banner in the distance (between blue BAA shield on the left and the brick building just to the right of it) was the starting line.

Me (waving, white shirt) just after crossing the start line.

Me (waving, white shirt) just after crossing the start line.

Me (behind the guy in the jacket) looking much less happy as I approach the finish line.

Me (behind the guy in the jacket) looking much less happy as I approach the finish line.

After the race we stopped at the newly named Sean A. Collier Square in Cambridge.

After the race we stopped to pay our respects at the newly named Sean A. Collier Square in Cambridge.

Recap: The big day finally arrived! After waiting giddily since early February (and months before that as I waited eagerly to sign up), and after a few weeks of uncertainty as to whether I’d be able to run it at all, I can now say at last that I successfully ran the 2014 B.A.A. 5K. And what a race it was! I am so glad that I was able to run it after all!

The race had been capped at 10,000 runners, so the starting line area was, unsurprisingly, completely mental when we arrived. I grabbed my shirt and basically dithered nervously for 10 minutes before following the sea of runners over to the starting line. There were pace signs up and we were supposed to seed ourselves, so I made my way toward the 11-minute-mile area. The starting carrel was already filled to capacity and a cop was telling those of us arriving to stand on the other side of the barrier. There was so much confusion as people tried to figure out where to go; it seemed like we were in the wrong place with everyone else squeezed between the barriers, and there were no race officials to direct us. People clustered around the tiny gaps in the barrier, figuring that once the crowd started moving we’d be able to squeak in.

I was standing so far back that I couldn’t hear the national anthem being played (which was too bad, since it was performed by a fife and drum band!), and after the starting gun sounded the people in my pace area didn’t move an inch for literally 5 minutes. Once we started making our slow way to the starting line, it took more than 3 minutes to actually cross it (my official time was more than 8 minutes faster than my gun time!). With the thousands of people still behind me, it ended up that the winners crossed the finish line before everyone had even crossed the start!

The first mile was really crowded (well, the whole race was, to be honest!) and I realized that I was running significantly faster than I wanted to be at the start. Once the people in my pace area began moving toward the starting line, the runners who were all between the barriers started pushing the fences aside to run on the less crowded half of the street, where I was. Because of that, I sort of got swept into a mass of faster-moving people than I meant to run with. For the places in the first mile where I could actually run, my pace was getting as fast as 9:05. I kept trying to slow down a bit and pace myself (my average race pace is about 11:20) but I was so caught up in the excitement that my speed kept fluctuating.

My faster speed at the start did make the rest of the race seem more difficult than usual; I was having flashbacks to the Plymouth race that I started at a sprint and had to walk for most of the remaining 2 miles. I was pleased today that I didn’t have to stop to walk once (except for when I slowed down at a water station), and I credit that to the awesome crowd of spectators. Since it’s Marathon Weekend, a ton of people were in the area for all the festivities and so many people were lining the route to cheer us all on. I’ve never had so many people cheering me on at a race!

I think my favorite part of the course was under the Mass Ave overpass, where last year’s Marathon runners were stopped after the bombs went off. I could hear several people around me say things like “This is where I was stopped last year… I stood right there.” Partly because of the location’s ties to last year, and partly because, well, it was fun, everyone whooped and cheered as we went under the bridge, and all our voices echoed. I usually don’t whoop (it’s not very “me” to yell “Woooo!”) but I couldn’t help myself and joined in. But even better than the whooping was the fact that the road narrows right there, so we were running really close to the runners looping back the other way. People were reaching across the jersey barriers to high five runners on the other side…

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The narrow bit circled in blue was the site of all the whooping and high fives.

…and on the return loop I made sure I was on the left side of the road so I could take part in the high-fiving. It was such a great moment… the street was chock-a-block with smiling runners, many wearing Boston Strong shirts, everyone cheering and high-fiving and just loving the moment. I was grinning from ear to ear and I admit my eyes filled up a little, I was just so happy to be a part of it. My hand was stinging as the road widened again, and it was awesome.

I got another big boost just after the whooping overpass, when we were running along part of the Marathon route. We went right on Hereford, left on Boylston, and ran past the bombing sites and over the finish line. The crowd around me got a bit quieter as we approached the first bombing site, and when we ran over the Marathon finish line people either gave a whoop of joy or grew silent and somber. Many people whipped out their phones to take pictures or selfies [for the love of god people, if you’re going to take a selfie please KEEP MOVING and don’t just stop dead in such a crowded race!], but I just put my hand over my heart out of respect. I was also wishing that it was the finish line for our race because, despite the adrenaline from all the emotion tied to that place, my legs were starting to drag after my quick start.

The last mile was a struggle and felt like my slowest part of the race, but according to MapMyRun it was my fastest mile at 10:00. I was reaching the point of the race where I wanted to stop and/or vomit, but the crowds were growing thicker and the cheers were louder, and I didn’t want to let down the message on my shirt (Collier Strong), so I kept pushing myself forward. I was thankful for one guy on the side of the road who was chanting “Run! Run! Run!” because it gave me a mantra to focus on as I struggled. I usually like to sprint to the finish line, but I didn’t have the extra gear in me to sprint. I did manage to finish at a pace below 10:00 though, so that was a pleasant surprise.

Though I appreciate that handing out water right after a finish line can be chaotic, especially with the sheer volume of runners in this race, I was disappointed at how far I had to go to get water after finishing. When I crossed the finish all I wanted was water. I was a little dizzy and the crowd got closer as everyone slowed to a walk, and I had to focus on moving my feet forward so I wouldn’t keel over. A woman handed me my finisher’s medal, and then I had to continue shuffling slowly for probably another tenth of a mile at least until I reached the water tent. That bottle of Poland Spring was glorious though, let me tell you!

I waded back through the sea of runners and spectators to find my people, and then we set off on a slow trek back over the bridge to Cambridge, where we hoped the brunch spots would be a little less crowded. I realized as I walked that I hadn’t eaten a real breakfast; I’d had a banana (thanks Colin!) but that was it. Usually I have a mini bagel with peanut butter, or a Luna bar or something, but I’d been so nervous before the race that I left my Luna bar untouched. I wonder if that’s part of the reason why I struggled so much in the second half of the race… I had no fuel in my body! I refueled (too late) with a giant pancake, coffee, and chocolate milk at The Friendly Toast, and I was grateful for the large stalls in the ladies’ room so I could change out of my cold, sweaty running clothes.

And my ankle… oh, my ankle. I had a few sample packs of BioFreeze gel from previous races, and last night I tried a tiny bit on my ankle to see if it would work and if I’d have any adverse reactions to it. It seemed okay, so this morning I slathered on a thicker layer and, gloriously, my ankle didn’t hurt at all during the race! Once it wore off after brunch though, my lofty dream of the race having magically healed my ankle was shattered and the pain returned as my shoe rubbed against the torn tendon. I iced it as soon as we got home, and I grumpily settled into the knowledge that I now have to take 4-6 weeks off for it to get better. I’m probably going to miss out on 3 races I’d signed up for, which bums me out wicked, but I’m trying to look on the bright side and focus on my goal of running the Worcester Firefighters Memorial 6K with a fully healed ankle.  Please keep your fingers crossed for me, both for my successful return to running by early June, and for me to retain my sanity as I refrain from running!

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