Monday, August 19, 2013

The Day of Why - Boston 2013 Part IV

 I will only know this Boston. I will never know that Boston.

The spectators along the Boston course are legendary, yet until experienced it cannot be believed. Every adjective fails. They, however, are beyond failure. They are the best. THE BEST. And today they will prove this to be true.


As we start I see several runners sprint ahead. For me, a too-fast pace will be a disaster and something I must avoid. Adrenaline can make those first few miles seem like a walk in the park and then reality sets the concrete in the shoes. I remain mystified why I am so calm; my only explanation is that I am in disbelief of where I am and what I am doing and this keeps me from coming out of my skin.

All I want today is to run the entire race and not be reduced to walking because of fatigue. I did not have time to prepare for the pace I wanted to run, but I did feel ready to go the distance. And on this perfect running day, I did not want to waste the gift that was given to us. My race would be far slower than what I had hoped to run, but I knew if I attempted my original pace, even having an otherwise extraordinary day, that I would blow up not too many miles into the race. Run smart, watch the quarter mile splits early, DO NOT GO OUT TOO FAST.

How does it feel to run the Boston Marathon, to be one of the leaders in the race even if given an early start and knowing most of the field will catch and pass you over the next few hours? It is beyond words, beyond reality. I could use surreal but that does not do the day justice either.

For me, it is a miracle.

It is emotional overload so as to numb the senses to the point of disbelief. It seems like an ordinary training run except you know what you are doing, what you have dreamed about, sweated, froze and cried about; done what it took and more than should have been asked to get here. But I did it. I did not question the why. I did it. Here I was running the Boston Marathon. This runner, all of his life, now without his right foot, I was running the Boston Marathon. How can this be?

In many ways it felt like that ordinary training run, today with my friends Mike and Randy. My pace is slow enough to talk comfortably; we chat and they keep watch for the wheelchair athletes that will be the first to overtake us at the fastest speeds of any elite athletes on this day.

It would seem like any day's run. My heart rate was not elevated, I was not anxious, and I had the best of company. I told the guys several times that it seemed so strange...running The Boston Marathon and we were nearly alone.

Nearly. The one thing that makes me realize this was no training run, no sweet dream I'd awaken from, was the crowds, the most incredible spectators of any race I have experienced in my life. Randy had a shirt made for the race, honoring his brother Jason Pisano and having the words "Go Richard" printed on the front. As we ran the crowds would scream, and I mean SCREAM GO RICHARD!!! GO RICHARD GO!!!

The cheers...I kept wondering who they were for.

Often I would hear their voices and wonder who was coming up behind us. There was no one, these cheers were for us, oh my god this has to be a dream, I cannot believe this, who am I to be here, for people to deafen us with shouts of joy and celebration on this day like no other?

My plan had to be run "quietly," to concentrate on my running and not be distracted as to elevate my heart rate and unnecessarily waste precious energy. Uh huh.

As we ran I found it impossible not to acknowledge these amazing spectators, it was difficult not to constantly wave a hand or give nod or touch hands or even speak a word as we ran by. Even now I think the energy they infused in us was far more than any I spent responding to their support of my band of brothers.


My right hip is feeling sore. It works harder having to lift the dead weight of the prosthesis and was a source of prerace concern. This has happened on training runs and often simply goes away. As my body temp rises I remove my black gloves and tuck them over the front of my hydration belt. I noticed they flap as I run and I think the blackbird has come to be me.


Just before the 9 mile mark we catch up to Shariff, The Singapore Blade Runner. Shariff, Kelly and I became FB friends a couple of years ago as we were planning on running the 2012 race. Now here we were running together; we are at Fisk Pond and this is one of the few places there are sparse spectators.

We grasp hands for a moment. Here we are, runners a world apart, South Carolina, USA, and Singapore, finding in our physical adversity a common ground we all can believe in. This is how we live. There is no other way.


A bit later the elite women zoom past us. It looks to be a tactical race to me, none seem to be in distress in the lead group. As the still very fast women begin to pass, more and more say words of acknowledgement to us. I find this a bit hard to believe, these women are running extremely hard but find the breath to encourage us. As I wrote this I shook my head, thinking back to being there that day...

Grit and Jodi: TeamPisano Supporters Extraordinaire! 
This turned out to only be the beginning of the support not only the crowds but the runners themselves offered us. It would go on and on and on. All three of us were somewhat in disbelief of the camaraderie. These runners have all worked very hard to get here, qualifying to run this greatest of marathons.

And today we run as one.


My left leg feels a little odd. Overall I feel strong, but I am getting a sensation something isn't quite right, that my leg is a bit lame.

As we run toward Wellesley I am on pace for what I felt I could run this day. My own prediction that I told Jennifer was 4:42 so they would know when to expect me at Mile 21. I am thinking of the legendary noise we are destined to hear firsthand, and I wonder if it will live up to the years of hype.

Oh yes, yes it does.

The only thing I recall hearing this loud outside of a couple of rock concerts were jet fighters winding up their engines. My god my right eardrum is quivering. It is hard to believe human beings can create such a ruckus, but there no denying this wall of sound emanating from these college women.

As we move on toward mile 14 my left hamstring is making it known in a way I know from years of running that it is going to revolt. The inevitable, utterly futile bartering begins, oh please go away not today, not today.

Yes. Today. NOW.

The muscle clenches in a tight knot and stops me in my tracks. I lean against Randy while Mike massages the leg. This is an industrial-strength-gotcha-sucka cramp that means business. I know in these few seconds there will be no good finishing time today, and we haven't even hit the Newton Hills yet.

"Impossible is Nothing" Randy tells me. Jay's words. The Greatest. I clench my jaw and screw my eyes shut willing away the pain. It finally eases.

We walk on. I run a little. The hamstring quivers. I walk. I am walking in the Boston Marathon.

TeamPisano member Kelly Watts joins us for a while; I am in the slow grip of disappointment as we move on. We are constantly shouted words of encouragement and we still comment just how often they come. Yet I feel a sadness that on this most perfect day at the greatest marathon on the planet that I do not belong here, among these best of the best. What am I doing here in this dream, walking. I should wake up and go to work and remember this dream I had where I was leading the Boston Marathon only to have to be reduced to an old man's shuffle....


Boston volunteer PT tries to help with cramping
We are now in the midst of the bulk of the runners. I generally keep to the left side of the road more out of habit than anything else. We have to stop numerous times as I feel the twinge that precedes a cramp. The flock of runners glide by in bright colors befitting the celebration of this day.  Run a little, maybe 100m, then walk until I can go again. I stop often.

So many words of encouragement from the truth I am unhappy I have been reduced to long walks and short jogs, the feeling I do not belong here. They tell us otherwise. Today we are all Boston marathoners. Every one of us. Yet the pang of disappointment remains though pushed aside.

My residual now serves notice it is uncomfortable. Not a specific pressure point, but something akin to friction or positive pressure. So both of my legs are taking the stage of revolution and we are only around mile 18. I fleetingly wonder if I will literally be reduced to crawling. Mike tells me about Deanna Babcock, a fellow Getting2Tri athlete, who he had once encouraged to remove her prosthesis to "reset" her leg. I hear him but in this runner's mindset find I do not want to stop for one second more than I am forced to even given the large chunks of time I am losing from walking.

The sensation grows in my socket and I am wondering if sweat is building within. I see I have vacuum so it should be pumping the moisture out. What is going on, I have never felt anything like this. A shroud of despondency grows over me, more that I am wasting such a perfect day to run and beginning to doubt I can finish this race upright. My leg feels like it is going to explode. Is it swelling?

Finally with insistence from Mike we pull over to remove the prosthesis and I am shocked at what we find.


There is no sweat, no skin abrasion, completely opposite of what I expected. My skin is bone dry; all of the lotion I apply to provide the interface with the liner is gone. Mike is able to track down some vaseline for me as the small tube of ointment I had has fallen out of my hydration pack. He is also able to get us some pretzels for the salt content. A volunteer comments I am not sweating, I explain my pace is slow and the temperature is cool so I am not working hard enough to bring those tears to the cooling glands.

Suddenly BethAnn, Kelly's guide, appears and asks what is going on, am I hurt or what? She says Kelly wanted to come over but she insisted that Kelly kept running while she checked on us. This is how a great guide does their job....

We quickly explain it is not an injury, just a reset and for them to keep on running. Appeased, BethAnn heads back out to Kelly who is having a very good day on the course.


Donning the prosthesis, the sensation has disappeared and my leg feels completely normal. No burning, no pressure, in fact it feels better than when I started the race. The left leg also feels better; although it twinges often it does not fully cramp again.

Yesterday I was 7

In my mind I see the picture of the day I was running as a child...and I did run whenever I could get away with it. Over 50 years separate the boy running around The Battery to the man running The Boston Marathon. Well, running some, walking more now.

The thought comes now to get to Mile 21, to see my family who have been waiting a long time. To see Jennifer and John Ryan and Kristen and Jack and to see our Ashley, who has come all this way to support me as I run to raise funds for the IFOPA. This is what keeps me moving, this thought, to see my family. I need to get there.


I am barely aware we are heading up Heartbreak Hill. You will hear various stories of this famed rise. Some trail runners like to point out how it is not so steep compared to the mountains they run - and walk - in. Others understand the historic significance of this place, where it comes on the course and how its name came about. It is a little steeper than I expected and I walk a little more. Up. Up. Up.

I keep thinking soon I will see my family and then nothing else matters, each step is closer to them and whatever happens afterward...happens. I will get there. I will.

I start scanning the crowd. Walk. Walk. Run. Walk. Where are they? Walk. Run. Walk.

Location of my family
I don't remember if it was Randy or Mike, but someone points them out to me. There they are not far over the crest, all decked out in the bright green shirts that depict my blade with "RUN RICHARD RUN" or "RUN KINGPOP RUN" emblazoned on the front.

My race pace would have had me here much earlier so they have waited a long, long time. I stop and lose it, emotion overtakes then overwhelms me. I take time to speak to everyone, trade hugs, and refill my heart with their love. I tell Ashley "we will get to that finish line" not really meaning the one on Boylston, but the one where we find the cure for FOP.

A final hug and words of encourage from my Jennifer and we are off. I am refreshed, my left leg feels stronger, and I can now run more before the twinge warnings. My next mini-goal is to see and then run by the Citgo sign at mile 25.

It is a place I have long thought about because of a photo of Jay Pisano climbing that bridge incline with the sign over his right shoulder. I want to run over the bridge and into Boston. I want to honor this day, running to the finish line, not walking, my head up, my dream embraced on this day like no other.

We run on.

My family
A quick hug with Jack


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