I hit the “Submit” button and sent my credit card number swirling off into cyberspace. This was January 31st, 2012. And so began my nearly 9 month journey to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I was registering for the Baystate Marathon, which was to be run on October 21st, 2012 in Lowell, MA. I choose this marathon from a handful of other possibilities because of its relative proximity to home, its reputation for producing Boston qualifying times and my friend Jim lived nearby and had volunteered to put me up and show me around. All that was left to do now was get to work.
The training cycle progressed very well, gradually increasing my mileage to just over 80 miles per week for the two biggest weeks. During this 9 month stretch I ran a handful of races, setting a PR at 6 different distances ranging from 400m to the Half Marathon. I also was hit with a case of Lyme disease which triggered Bell’s palsy. The Lyme is gone, but I’m still dealing with the effects of the Bell’s palsy. Gratefully, I was able to continue to train during the treatment cycle. I got to the starting line feeling fit and healthy. That, to me, is more than half the battle.
I arrived at Jim’s house on the Friday before the Sunday race. I wanted to have plenty of time to settle in before having to compete. We did a little sightseeing on Friday and Saturday, keeping it really low key. One of the trips was to Lowell, MA to pick up my packet. We met another friend, Caito, there and the three of us enjoyed a nice lunch and some ice cream before parting ways with plans to meet up on race day morning.
The alarm went off at 4:30 AM Sunday morning. I had a little oatmeal for breakfast, took care of business and we were on the road to Lowell by 5:30. It took a little under an hour to get there. We were parked and sitting in the Lowell High School gym with nearly an hour and a half before the gun. Caito showed up a few minutes later. We discussed the important things like, “do we wear arm warmers or not”. We both decided that it wasn’t going to be necessary. The temperature was forecast to be in the mid to high 40s and sunny by the time the race started, weather tailor-made for fast marathons. I left about 50 minutes before the start to get in my last rest stop. This was the only area in which the race was lacking. The lines for the porta-johns were ridiculously long. I waited over 30 minutes to get my turn. When I was done, I had less than 10 minutes to get back to home base, drop my warm-ups and get to the starting line. I was supposed to meet another friend, Steve, to run the marathon with but I couldn’t locate him in the time I had left, even though he is about 8 feet tall. I wormed my way through the crowd at the starting line and I was able to squeeze forward to the 8:00 pace area before I just couldn’t go any further. This would have to be good enough. I put on my shades and waited for the gun.
The race started right on schedule. There was the typical shuffle a few steps and stop process at first. It wasn’t until a few yards beyond the timing mat that I was able to get into a run. For a small race, the start was pretty crowded, due in part to the half marathon which started at the same time. The congestion was a good thing here though as I didn’t want to get caught up in the excitement of the start and go out too fast. I had driven the course with Jim the day before, so I knew what to expect. Baystate is a partial double loop course. You might think of it as an uppercase “A” with the upper half of the “A” being run twice. The first section was over some rough street surfaces that were in various states of repair and disrepair. I paid close attention to my footing here, especially as we crossed the old railroad tracks. I did my best to settle into my starting goal pace of 7:40 per mile. I was pretty consistently passing groups of people in the first couple of miles, mostly because of where I lined up to start. I was to hold that pace for the first two miles before dropping to my goal pace of 7:27 per mile. I did okay on the first mile, but was at goal pace by the second mile. I settled in very nicely. The first loop around the river was very uneventful. I talked to a guy from Connecticut for a few minutes before he shuffled off ahead of me at a water stop. I didn’t really talk to anyone else. I just tried to really enjoy how effortless it felt to be running at that pace. The weather was wonderful. There were little gusts of wind from time to time. I tucked in behind larger runners (which, at my size, is pretty much everyone) to break the wind when I needed to. We crossed the bridge at 8 the first time around. This would be mile 18 on the second loop and I was hoping it would also be “Go!” time on the second circuit. Heading back toward Lowell now, I was looking forward to Jim joining me for a stretch somewhere around mile 13.
We crossed the second bridge and Jim spots me and jumps in as I’m making the turn back north to start the second loop. He asks me how I’m feeling, to which I answered “I feel fantastic!” I slap him 5 and keep on motoring along. Jim stays with me until mile 14, when he turns and heads for another point on the loop, somewhere around mile 21 where he will meet up with me again. Miles 2 through 14 were very consistent, never going faster than 7:24, or slower than 7:29. My overall pace was right around 7:27 at this point, right where I wanted it to be. After Jim dropped off, I picked it up for just a little bit, covering mile 15 in 7:19. I realized it was still a little earlier than the plan, so I backed it back down to 7:28 for mile 16. Now, things were about to change.
The plan called for me to run that 7:27 pace through 16 miles. If I felt really good, I could start to gradually pick up the pace. I felt good, so pick up the pace I did. I knew that it was only a couple miles until the bridge turn and then it was time for the home stretch. I dialed things down and notch coming into and over the bridge. I am starting to pick off runners a bit at a time now. Heading back toward Lowell for the second time, I’m starting to feel that “Eye of the Tiger” feeling. I think I have quite a bit left in the tank. As mile 19 is approaching, I see the tall, thin outline of a familiar runner up ahead. A spectator yells to him “Go Steve!” As I approach, I yell to him “I’ve been chasing your ass for 19 miles!” I was supposed to meet up with Steve at the start and run with him, but because of the bathroom fiasco, I never found him. We exchange pleasantries, and I’m off. At this point I am probably passing 10 to 15 people every mile. I am feeling fantastic. I’m looking forward to seeing Jim a bit later. We had planned to meet up again around mile 21 or 22. I’m close to mile 22 and Jim sees me and has a look of shock on his face. “Carson!” Apparently I arrived a little earlier than he had expected. Jim runs out to join me. I hand him my Spibelt and ask him to take it for me. He does and runs back to stash it with his warm-up shirt. I’m ahead of schedule because I’ve run miles 17 through 22 at an average pace of 7:15. I continue on, knowing it’s only 4 miles to the finish. I’m really starting to dial the pace down now. I can’t wait to talk to Jim to let him know how I feel. I expect him alongside at any minute. It’s not till nearly mile 23 before he is able to catch up. He slaps me a high five, tells me how much ass I am hauling and then begs to drop so he can meet me at the finish. I bid him good bye and continue to bear down. Mile 23 falls in 6:56. Approximately 5K to go. I am passing runners now like they are standing still. I go by the guy from Connecticut. He shouts “Go Baltimore!” as I fly by. Mile 24 gone in 6:49. A little dip and a rise along the river by the University. Really bringing it on home. Mile 25. Done. 6:52. The course turns toward the city center. Just a bridge crossing and a couple zig zags to get lined up for the finish chute. Jim’s up ahead again. He yells encouragement as I bear down around the corner. Less than a half mile to go. Up ahead I see another runner. A barefoot runner. Totally barefoot. I think to myself “There is NO WAY I am getting beat by some barefoot mother effer!” I reel him in and go past right at the 26 mile marker. 6:51. Two tenths to go. I bring a full on kick to the finish line, knowing that I have shattered my PR, beat my reach goal and qualified for Boston. What a rush!
Now, for some numbers.
134th out of 1192
30th out of 242 in 40-49 AG
14 minute PR
BQ by 12 minutes (for 2014)