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Burned in Boston -
A Mostly True Story of the 2011 Boston Marathon
Monday, May 2, 2011
by Mike Pelletier and Linda Desjardins

Jump to Linda's Version

Mike's Version:

Preamble

As the blogger, Marathonmama said, "Now I know a little of what it must feel like when they hand you the big cardboard check after you win the lottery. Qualifying for Boston was my win. Running Boston was the check."

The more I thought about her comment, the more I agreed. Qualifying for Boston is like winning the lottery; actually running Boston is the ceremony where you publicly receive the check. So if you win the lottery, why wouldn't you go to the ceremony to pick up your check and celebrate your good fortune?

How Not to Train

It was a great winter for skiing, lots of snow, never a thaw. Anne and I took full advantage: training with a coach on Mondays, downhill racing with Team Waterville on Tuesdays, and skiing NASTAR races on Wednesdays. Skiing without an ACL, but wearing the official knee brace of the US Ski team, Anne was back to ski racing at the gold medal level while I was happily stuck at bronze.

Suddenly it was March and time to think about April 18th and my other favorite sport. Quickly I signed up for the New Bedford Half Marathon scheduled for four weeks before Boston. Finishing New Bedford on my feet gave me renewed hope for Boston. A week later I tried to run 18 miles but had to call George Geis on my cell phone to come pick me up when I had to stop at 16 miles. Annajean ran an extra 4 miles for a total of 20 while I rode with George.

On April 2, Annajean and I managed another 16 mile run and I thought I might be able to run from Hopkinton to Newton Lower Falls on April 18th and then tack on another 10 miles to get from Newton to Boston.

The Last Week of Preparation

On Monday, April 11, George, Annajean, and I ran an easy 7 miles. But at 2 am, I woke up in pain with my right knee swollen. Surely, this was a sign that I couldn't and shouldn't run Boston.

By Thursday evening, I had rested for 72 hours and went to the Peabody H.S. track for an easy 4 miles. In the middle of the workout, I suddenly found myself limping along with a sore left knee. Anne's summary: "Let's see, right knee on Tuesday, left knee on Thursday. Don't be stupid. Take your cell phone and call me from Ashland for a ride."

I decided to be smart: extend my streak to three years: qualify for, register for, and then not start Boston.

On Friday, I awoke to the special marathon section of the Boston Globe. After reading every word, I thought maybe I should start in Hopkinton and see how far I could run before I needed a Red Cross ride to the finish. On Friday afternoon I went to Massage Therapist John Gillis. After a massage, a pep-talk, and Kinesio Tape, I thought I might manage 6 or 7 miles before I had to call for the Red Cross.

On Saturday, I went to the expo with Kevin Counihan and Annajean and picked up my number. As soon as I got home I set about reading the 30-page Welcome Booklet that Boston gives its entrants and gratefully learned that there were lots of first aid stations along the course, each ready to bus injured runners to the medical tent at the finish. This sounded very promising.

April 18, 2011

By Monday as four of us walked to the baggage buses to stow our warm-ups for their trip to Boston, Linda Desjardins had agreed to set the pace from Hopkinton and Marisol Ficaro had agreed to help her. I agreed to run until I found an aid station and a ride back to Boston. Annajean greeted our plan with lots of eye-rolling and headed for the 2nd corral of the Third Wave from where she could reasonably attempt a 4-hour marathon.

I started off running drug-free which worked fine for about 7 miles. By 8 miles I was looking around for a first-aid station without any success. By 10 miles, I pulled 3 ibuprofen tablets from my pocket and, passing on the Gatorade, washed them down with some water. Like a miracle, by the time we reached our Strider teammates at the 12-mile water stop, my knees weren't bothering me any more.

The positive energy from the Striders at the water stop was quickly amped up by the screams from the Wellesley College students. By 13 miles, Linda was in the lead and Marisol and I were bringing up the rear with Marisol refusing to let me drop too far back.

Over the next four miles, Linda slowly pulled away. Marisol and I ran together until the 17-mile water stop where Marisol dropped off the pace after a leg cramp got her when she was crossing Route 128.

I thought that if I walked on the Newton Hills, I might find a first aid station but no such luck. What I did find was that if I walked uphill, I could make up most of the lost time by running faster on the flats and the downhills than all of the people who had tried to run up the hill.

When I started to walk up Heartbreak Hill, I spotted Linda just up ahead, still clipping off 10 minute miles. By the time I got to the top of Heartbreak Hill, I couldn't see Linda anymore. In fact, it would take until Mile 22 to catch up with her again. Going into Coolidge Corner before Mile 24, I walked up two different inclines and lost ground when Linda kept running. Just before Mile 24, I caught up to Kevin Counihan and his perseverance inspired me to try to catch Linda again. I finally succeeded at Mile 25 and we ran together to the finish.

Coming down Boylston Street to thunderous applause from all of those spectators was priceless. I wasn't even aware of my very wooden legs, until I watched a video of myself approaching the finish line.

Epilog

It was my slowest marathon ever, but one of the most satisfying, because I've never been this old before or trained so little or had more help. Linda Desjardins also ran her slowest marathon ever, sacrificing her race to be my pace-setter. In contrast, Marisol's pace-setting for 17 miles proved a prelude to a marathon PR by 11 minutes.

Annajean turned out to be the star of our little group and, un-aided by pace-setters, went on to run 4:04:33 at Boston, some 2 ½ minutes faster than she ran at the Baystate Marathon last fall. It is always a great accomplishment to run Boston faster than your qualifier because Boston is so much more difficult and we all know the delights of training through the New England winter.

Linda's Version:

Preamble

Oh I had the motivation Mike initially lacked. I trained and trained and did my homework and probably OVERTRAINED. But I wasn’t going to have a repeat of last year’s disappointing 4:34, my slowest marathon ever, when I felt ready for a 4:15. I planned, I ran, I did speed work, I did long runs. No way was I going to embarrass myself this year. Plus I set a goal at the banquet of requalifying for Boston AT Boston.

Life Happens

What’s that old saw? The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray? Well, the malevolent Gods ordained that I needed some obstacles in the way to play with my head and my training, four weeks before Boston. I had run a 23 miler on March 14 and the only thing that made me stop was not wanting to run my marathon as a training run. I felt wonderful and maintained a 10:10 pace easily. But part of that was for mental balance as I’d experienced two deaths, then two days later my Dad passed on. The morning after his wake I had to fly to Florida to give a presentation and the heat and the nausea I was experiencing made my longest run there a struggle to get through 9 miles. The nausea persisted for another week when I got home. A long run? Running three miles became a struggle. But the nausea started to let up and I was able to run the “Little Feet” 5K in a respectable (for me) time considering what I’d been through, and did another 5K race on Sunday. My confidence was returning; but could I go long? Mike had asked if we could run together. With the thought of him running beside me, I had new hope!

The Last Week of Preparation

I was a wreck. Could I run? Then in emailing back and forth with Mike, I learned of his injured knee and he said he was “day to day.” I read the same Globe articles about Boston and decided, HELL, I’m going to just go out there and do my best! I was inspired by the Runner’s Expo and being with a friend who’s not run for six months – she had her newborn with her and was just aching to get back out on the roads, I knew I’d run. Really…this is BOSTON. I reminded myself of all the training I had in the bank. On Sunday, Mike affirmed he’d give it a shot. I was psyched. Plus Anne would pick us up at the finish line and I knew whatever happened, I’d have a sympathetic audience.

April 18, 2011

Fast forward to that same walk to drop off our bags (OK mine didn’t have clothes in it – it had toilet paper. Ask Mike about that.) Annajean, Marisol, Mike and I were walking to the corrals, just as Mike said. Here’s where the two roads in the woods diverged. I thought Mike was pacing Marisol and me. I sure as hell wasn’t leading any charge. But we were running as a team for the first half marathon. I kept asking Mike how he was (amazed that he was just running as normally as if he’d trained all year and was pain free), and Marisol, running at a pace she didn’t expect to, was also validating that she felt fine. It was working well. Seeing Striders at Mile 12, especially getting a big hug from Vicky, gave me energy to pick up the pace a little when Mike darted to the right to see a man about a horse and Marisol cramped a bit, so I kept on, looking back, trying to run through my guilt. Was this wrong? Should I wait? No…Mike wasn’t sure he’d even finish and I couldn’t see Marisol, so I kept on. Solo time. Well not quite. I was running for awhile alongside a man named Harland. He was having a hell of a time, whooping it up and saying really corny things like, when offered a tissue, shouting “Kiss you? I don’t even KNOW you.” He made me laugh. Because I wrote my name on masking tape and affixed it to my shirt, people were shouting Go Linda. Go Linda. Felt so fine. But Harland also wrote on his shirt: NADS. All the people shouted at him then burst into laughter, making me laugh, too. I saw my sister and brother-in-law and stopped for hugs, right before the hills. Harland was gone. I was on my own. Then, like a knight in shining armor, MIKE! Yes, we were running together. He was drinking that funny kool aid if he’s remembering the pace the way he did. Let’s face it: he’d WALK up the hills and catch me. Doesn’t say much for my pace now, does it? Then around 21-22 miles into it, though I’d taken water and/or Gatorade at 23 of 25 stops, the dreaded affliction that ruined me last year recurred: calves cramping into bowling ball hard masses. I had to run flat footed just to keep them stretched out. I wanted to walk. Mike had a rope tied to me and dragged me along. I knew more family would be at either Coolidge Corner or Cleveland Circle. When we passed the latter, I knew it’d be awhile before I saw them, and I didn’t want them to see Aunt Linda walking. So I trudged on, more and more slowly. And trudged. And Mike pulled me along. I didn’t stop for the hugs at Coolidge Corner – just a feeble wave. An enthusiastic woman veered into the street and screamed in my ear GO LINDA! She put her arm up for a high five and I tried to extend my flaccid left arm. She slapped it and nearly dislocated my shoulder. I could hear the cheers of how great we looked and I wanted to believe them but all I could think of was Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston. Mike was right there, talking me through it. I snapped at him on Boylston: Where the blank is the blanking finish line? He calmly assured me it was that blue banner up ahead. And we crossed it. As he said, slowest marathon ever; but I was proud of myself for finishing and I knew that for that day, 4:39 was my absolute best. I thank MIKE for slowing HIS pace to bring ME in. It’s incredible that he ran the whole thing, too. WOW.

Epilog

Of course I swore “never again.” That lasted about a day. Fortunately, I already have a qualifier for next year so I’ll be back on the bus, toeing the line, and asking myself if wisdom really does accompany aging.

And as a postscript…did anyone see my car key somewhere on the road between Hopkinton and Boston?

Bless Anne and Mike: they drove me to Hampton, NH, absolutely complaint-free, to get a key then drove me to get my car back in Beverly. On that ride home, I convinced Anne that when I say I can’t eat after I run, not even a banana, I know what I’m talking about. :)

In my illustrated dictionary there are several pictures of Mike: one under the word humility, one under the expression “self-effacing humor,” and one linked to the phrase “One hell of a great guy.”

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