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I Left My Heart Between Newton and Brookline

(Fuzzy) Recollections of Running the Boston Marathon

By Brian Loux

Associate Features Editor

4:48:35.

It’s a number I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life. Unless I ever get a faster time. Last Monday, I ran my first marathon -- my first road race, for that matter -- ever and was exceptionally pleased with the results, although my back and legs have yet to congratulate me. They’ll get over it.

The Adidas billboards around the city promote the seven stages of marathon: ritual, shock, denial, isolation, despair, affirmation, and renewal. These were obviously meant to get a chuckle out of the veteran runners and fool the layperson. Only two of them even imply pain! The stages for the laypeople go more like preparation, overconfidence, pain, pain, pain, painful success, and returning to a fatty food diet in pain.

Will I do it again? I don’t know. It’s really hard to think back upon it when the memories are so dim. Your brain has to go numb at some point, else you won’t be able to get through it. And as pain subsides, there’s little left to help judge whether you can or cannot do it. Which, I would guess, makes each marathon as challenging as the last.

This is not an attempt to trumpet my accomplishments. It is not an attempt to replicate April 21st, nor is it an attempt to encourage people to participate in the marathon next year. This is simply a recollection of my thoughts as I took part in the marathon, and is by no means meant to carry any sort of message. This is only meant to possibly entertain. You may turn to another page if you’d like; I won’t be disappointed. People do that anyway.

Smokey and the Bandits

Preparation began a good six months ago, when I committed myself to running the marathon. My training regimen was hardly strict, and the furthest I had run was 9.7 miles. Still confident, I laid out what I wanted to wear the night before. An MIT lacrosse penny, a Boston Red Sox cap, and a sharpie to write “Yanks Suck”on my leg. I hit the sack around midnight and tried to force myself to sleep.

I arrived at Hopkinton around 11 a.m. with my partner, Amanda K. Sorenson ’04. For about a half mile behind the starting line, there extends a line of corrals for every thousand runners, then behind those is a flood of humanity known as the bandit runners. We were lucky to get pretty close to the last corral by weaseling in. Then came perhaps the longest hour of my life: the waiting. As the energy is finally surging, you’re forced to wait and occupy your time. I spent it looking for other MIT runners and looking for funny shirts.

As we started off 26 minutes and 27 seconds after noon, I tried to soak up the cheers of the crowds. I noticed that our school is not as recognizable as I had hoped. Most of the people in the outskirts of Boston cheered on “Mitt Lacrosse”or “Meat Lacrosse” as I went by. I also realized that I did my first mile in nine minutes, or about two minutes faster than my planned pace. My partner was still quite confident that she could do the rest at such a pace, and I was quite confident I could do three more miles at such a pace.

For the first few miles, there was a good crowd of runners relieving themselves on the sides of the course. They should have taken care of that earlier, I thought. The males had their act together for the most part, accurately judging the distance for decency. But many of the female runners, presumably due to lack of experience, considered a two foot shrub with no foliage as ample cover for their business.

A lesson to the wise, folks: a marathon is not the place to pick up chicks. Women are not going to remember your phone number you wrote on your shirt and they certainly aren’t going to fall for your pick up lines. But I tip my hat to those who tried. There was a runner who dashed in front of two ladies and turned around to run backwards. “You know, you look as good running from the front as you do from the back,” he said. This brought on some humoring giggles. After the man introduced himself and proceeded at a faster pace, the two ladies laughed their heads off.

After seven miles, I probably reached the isolation stage Adidas talked about. That was because my partner blew the doors off me (though I’d eventually learn that I’d passed her somewhere down the line).

I also began to crave a replenishment of energy. The marathon stopped being a race or a test of will and more of a hunt for sustenance. I started measuring things in distances to the next water table and mapped my immediate route by looking for the kids handing out orange slices.

It’s all uphill from here

Eventually, we hit Wellesley college and the “scream tunnel,” where the entire school lines up to egg the runners forward. Now if any of you harbor feelings of resentment towards the school, I ask you to get rid of it now because quite frankly that was the easiest part of the race and got me past the psychologically crucial halfway point.

The euphoria was relatively short lived, however. In about 2 miles, the screaming fans became fewer and further between and gave me plenty of time to listen to the screaming of my legs. Unfortunately, this was also the beginning of Heartbreak Hill, the series of five hills we were supposed to climb. I began to wolf down everything that was thrown at me in hopes that I could regain enough energy to jog the hills. A few feet up hill one and I realized that the effort was in vain. In disgust I threw down the Powerbar Energy Paks we’d been given and briskly walked the rest of the hills and jogged the flats. This was probably when I most considered quitting, as I stopped flat out three times to stretch and consider if I wanted to go on.

What won me over occurred after the last hill. A few hundred yards after the hill, you’re treated to your first sight of the Hancock Tower and Prudential Center looming on the horizon. I felt like a general first laying eyes on his enemy’s capital. Furthering that metaphor, I started babbling to the other runners as if I was telling them to ready the siege. As far as I was concerned, if you can see it, you can go to it. Once again I picked up my feet and headed towards the buildings. My second wind had kicked in.

Bringing it home

The last few miles almost felt like my first. The energy, the crowds, and people that recognized MIT was not “meat” all were there. I even started to see a few of my friends and fellow students. Then, just before the last segment, I passed a Harvard guy who said, “MIT sucks!” In an almost knee-jerk fashion, I flicked him off and kept running. Most of the people around were families and gasped and booed as if I had kicked a small puppy. But you know what? I didn’t care. If you’ve gone 25 or so miles and people still want to bust your balls, they deserve a paintball to the exposed throat.

Rounding the corner, I could see the finish line, and a rather insane smile crossed my face. I slowed down to remove my penny and wear it like a cape behind my back. The chants of “Go MIT Lacrosse!” changed to “Go Superman!” and had just the right effect on me. Deciding to use every last reserve with the line finish line in sight, I decided to dash the last tenth of a mile. I started encouraging/yelling at those who were sputtering to get to the finish line, pointing to the grandstand mere yards in front of us. Time: 5:16:02. I was too busy grunting to subtract the 26:27 start delay until after I grabbed my food and space blanket.

I’m not sure if the realization that I finished ever fully hit me. Even now, when I say, “I ran the marathon,” there’s still a twinge of self-doubt on my voice where I almost feel that I’m lying.

Aftershock

Once I had finished, I was supposed to meet Amanda after the race at the Tortoise and the Hare sculpture, which I thought was at Park Street Church. This is about a good mile and a half away from the finish line, and I had half a mind to roll there instead of walk upright. The sculpture, however, is actually right next to the Prudential Center. The only stones at Park Street Church are in their graveyard. Amanda waited at the sculpture for over an hour thinking that I had collapsed on the course somewhere. She even got sick from the rapidly falling temperatures.

As for me, I took the T (they were letting the runners onto the subway free of charge) back to Kendall. The pain still shot through my body, but it would subside. I left the T and began to walk that long hard road that probably gave me the idea that I could do the marathon in the first place: the walk from Kendall to Next House. When I reached the infinite corridor in my weakened condition, the hallway looked daunting. But not that daunting.