15 April 2015

I Bandited the 2014 Boston Marathon

I Bandited the 2014 Boston Marathon

When my son David qualified to run Boston, I was very proud of him.  I never even considered banditing the race.  I never bandited a race in my life.  I have registered and paid for all 195 races I have done over the past 6 years since I have become a runner.  Then I heard about how bandits are a big part of the Boston Marathon and how it’s even encouraged.  I thought it sounded like a great idea.  After all, I was a runner and would be in Boston, so why not run the course while I was there?  I would start at the back of the pack after all the officially registered runners started.  I wouldn’t take anything from the aid stations as I would bring my own CamelBak and nutrition.  Just to get to run that historic course would be a great opportunity.  I was completely prepared to partake in this age-old Boston tradition.  I booked a hotel room for us, bought bus passes to the start line and trained my body to run the distance.  

A couple weeks before the race, I was reading through some news articles regarding the new rules in place for the 2014 Boston Marathon.  Among them were listed:  “No hydration packs” and “Absolutely no bandits.”  I read about how the military members who marched with their 40 pound ruck sacks every year to commemorate their fallen comrades would not even be allowed on the course this year.  Also, one of the groups who has unofficially run the course for the past 40 years, the Red Snakes, would also not be running for the first time ever.  Security would be more than doubled along the course and no one without an official Boston Marathon bib would be allowed on the course, and if they were discovered, they would face immediate “interdiction.”  I had to look that word up.  It simply means “removed from the course.”  It sounds a lot worse than it actually is.
I searched the Internet for any information I could find about Boston bandits and what their plans were for this year’s race.  All I could find was page after page of “no bandits this year” and how people who planned to bandit or bandited in the past would not be participating this year.  I wondered if I should even attempt such a feat.  It sounded totally impossible with this year’s strict security guidelines in place.  I considered alternate courses I could run or thought about even running along the sidewalks of the course.  I mean, I trained for this and already paid for lodging and transportation.  I was going to be in Boston and I was going to run – one way or another.  I just wasn’t sure how or where I would be doing it.

If only I could obtain an official race bib.  That would be my ticket.  Being a graphic artist, I could probably replicate one.  I know -- I could bring my laptop and portable printer/scanner with me to the race and scan my son’s race bib after he picked it up and make a copy.  I started researching what the 2014 race bibs would look like.  I searched for images of previous years’ bibs.  I even found some sample images of this year’s race bibs in a Boston Marathon brochure, but I couldn’t be sure what I created would match until I saw an official race bib in person.  Also, I would need paper like the kind they use for race bibs that is tear-proof and water resistant.  Where could I get that?  Would it work with my inkjet printer?  Well, I found the Tyvek inkjet paper online and in 2 days, Amazon Prime delivered.  After a great deal of research and planning, I created my 2014 Boston Marathon race bibs.  I found unused race numbers by searching the registered racers online and created bibs for waves 1, 2, and 4 with appropriate bib numbers, corral numbers, and working barcodes.  I used an “Olympic Size” race bib template I found online since that seemed to be the size that previous racers were wearing.  I made six bibs.  Two red, two white and two yellow, each with slightly different shading so I would be more likely to have an exact match.  If the ones I created at home did not look right, I would try to make another one with my portable printer/scanner at the hotel.  If it wasn’t perfect looking, I wouldn’t even attempt to enter the race.  After my son picked up his official race bib, I looked at it and was amazed.  It seemed to appear exactly as the ones I created.  I was happy.  The only thing that I noticed was that the text on his red bib was white and mine was black.  I would have to use a different color bib.  I decided on the white because it would be the easiest to match.  I was right.

While picking up his bib at the expo, there was a woman with a camera filming us.  I smiled as David got his packet since I thought we might be on camera.  We then went to the other room to pick up his shirt.  As we were about the exit the large room, the woman who had previously been holding a camera approached us and asked if she could ask David a few questions and said that she was with CBS National News.  Of course, we obliged.  They gave David a microphone that attached inside of his hoody and we waited for the woman and her male counterpart to get the camera set up and ready.  He asked David a few questions about the race and how he felt about last year’s tragedy and how it would impact this year’s race.  David gave them his name and phone number.  We shook their hands and left the expo to go meet up with other Michigan runners at the finish line for some pictures.

We checked into our hotel after a needlessly long route through downtown Boston mapped out by our GPS and got settled in.  I looked in the TV guide to find out what channel CBS was on.  I flipped to channel 74 and golf or something was on, so I found something else to watch while I got unpacked.  A little after 6pm, I thought I should go back to CBS because I thought the Sunday evening news started at 6:00 rather than 6:30.  No sooner than I flipped to channel 74 did I see them talking about the Boston Marathon and 2 seconds later, there is David and I on TV and the interview with David!  We (well, mostly David) were on the national news!!!  That doesn’t happen every day.  Very cool.  If only David would have combed his hair.

Later that evening, we decided to try out the subway and practice how we would be getting to the bus in the morning.  The subway ride was entertaining, to say the least.  We had a nice pre-race dinner at Whiskey’s on Boylston St.  I really wanted a pint of the Sam Adams 26.2 Brew, but they ran out of it about an hour before we got there, so I had to settle for 2 pints of Boston Lager instead.  Still good.  We didn’t get back to the hotel until about 11:00pm and had to get up at 5:30am.  We set all of our things out and set an alarm for an early morning adventure.

5:30 came quickly.  I got right up, washed my face, brushed my teeth, fixed my hair and got dressed for the day.  I wore David’s long sleeve Boston Marathon tech shirt as a warm up shirt.  I would tie it around my waist if/when I got too warm.  We packed up all our things, checked out of our hotel, and headed to the subway via the hotel shuttle bus.  Everything went smoothly as we found our way to the Back Bay Hilton where we waited inside for our ride.  I had our bus ticket, a PowerCrunch Bar, 2 bananas and a RockStar Energy Drink.  I didn’t want anyone we knew to see me getting on the bus and wanted to keep a very low profile.  Fortunately, we made it on the first bus without a hitch.  It was a long ride to Hopkington.  Traffic was terrible on the freeway.  Our 26.2 mile ride took over 45 minutes.  Our bus driver took us on a couple of wrong turns, but eventually we made it to the high school right next to the Athlete’s Village.

David and I got off the bus and headed to the nearest Porta-Potties.  There was no line!  I waited for a while for David to exit.  He went in wearing his Bay City St. Patrick’s Day Race shirt and came out wearing only a t-shirt.  Apparently there was no toilet paper in his Porta-Potty either.  I just used the toilet paper roll since I only had to go number one.  David had to sacrifice a shirt for the cause.

The next obstacle was getting into Athlete’s Village.  We had to go through a security checkpoint where they waved a metal detector over our bodies before we could even venture down the sidewalk to the village.  We made it through that.  Next, as we entered the athlete holding area where we were required to show our bibs to gain entrance.  I lifted up my warm up shirt and displayed my bib.  I was given the green light and entered with ease.  I gave David a high five.  I did it.  Another obstacle hurdled.  We walked into the reserved area just in time for wave 1 to start lining up.  I got a couple of quick photos and said goodbye to David as he left to enter his corral for a 10:00am start time. The 2nd wave, which was the one I was to run in, according to my white bib color, would begin at 10:25am.  I got in the huge long line for the Porta-Potty in the Athlete’s Village since they said there weren’t any others before the start line.  I got to the front of the line by 10:18am and had a 0.7 mile jog to the start line from the holding area.  I removed my overshirt and tied it around my waist.  My bib was examined before I could leave for my corral and I was passed through.  I headed to corral 7 as indicated by the number on my bib.  As we entered the corral area, we passed by a house which had a sign “Beer, Donuts and Cigarettes” and I could see them handing out donuts and Bud Lights as people passed by.  Not many took them.  Had it been 15 miles into the race, I may have grabbed a beer or even a doughnut, but not this early into it.  At 10:36am, I was at the start line and about the run the Boston Marathon.  I made it!

The first mile was mostly downhill and there was no way to run it conservatively.  I just had to go with gravity.  Not soon after came a bunch of rolling hills.  In fact, the whole course was gradual hills.  Not flat, but not really tough either.  The best part? The crowds.  There were people lining the entire 26.2 mile race course.  And not just standing there, they were holding signs, offering refreshments and shouting words of encouragement.  There were bands at various points.  I saw a bagpiper.  I saw Santa Claus and Big Bird.  I gave more high fives in one day than I have in my entire life.  I tried to high five all the children I saw.  Some as young as 2 years old.  So sweet.  It was iconic running this historic course and entering each of the towns:  Hopkington, Ashland, Framingham, Natick (which seemed to go on forever), Wellesley, Newton, Brookline and finally Boston.  The screaming girls with various signs asking for kisses at Wellesley was amazing.  The line of them seemed to go one for about a mile!  I slapped hands with them for a few blocks until my arm got sore.  I even blew a kiss to a couple of them.  The rowdy crowd at Boston College was great too.  I never felt so much like a rock star in my life.  All along the course people shouted out to me (dozens of times at least), “Family Force!” That was my nickname apparently since I was wearing my Family Force 5 tank top.

I stopped to use a Porta-Potty at around mile 8 and ran fairly consistent through mile 16.  After  that, I took walk breaks as needed.  Another highlight was passing by Team Hoyt at around 10 miles.  What an inspiration!  At “Heartbreak Hill” around mile 20-21, I walked up the hills and ran down from there on out.  I sent my husband text messages along the way: I’m at mile 14, 17, 20, 24…Finished!  However, when I was around mile 23, I got a text from David saying that he hyperextended his hip flexor and had to drop out at mile 20 and would be at the medical tent at the finish line.  Oh no!  I texted back, “Be there in about 30 min.”  I had new inspiration to finish now.  I needed to get to David.  I also needed to finish this race for him.  After all, this was his race.  He qualified.  It was because of his efforts that I was able to be here at all.  I texted him again around mile 24, “Did you get a medal?”  No reply.  I found out he was at Boston College and was waiting to be transported to the finish line area and had no idea when he might get there.  I pushed myself to finish the race.  The pinky toenail on my right foot was cutting hard into the fourth toe and it hurt with every step.  The bottom of my feet felt like giant blisters at this point.  But I kept pushing and taking short walk breaks as needed.  Finally I saw the sign “1K to Go.”  I never realized how long 1K was.  After about 3 sharp turns, I finally saw the finish line.  I crossed with my arms raised.  I got a medal.  Not for myself, but for David.  I was not going to claim a medal, but I’m glad I got one because otherwise David would not have received one.  This was “our” medal of achievement.  David qualified and I ran.  It was our medal.  Our race.

After lots of misdirection and a lot of text messages, David and I finally found each other in the family meeting area and found our way back to the subway station.  I was glad he could walk because I was worried about how we would get back to our hotel.  He was very disappointed about not finishing.  Who wouldn’t be?  But I’m still proud of him.  You see, David doesn’t have a “low gear.”  He is a competitive runner and pushes himself.  That’s how he got to Boston in the first place.  That’s also how he got injured at Boston.  Nothing to be ashamed of there.

Our hotel had special rooms reserved for marathoners to shower at after the race.  We took advantage of that and cleaned up before beginning the arduous 12 hour drive back to Michigan.

My experience at Boston was nothing short of amazing.  I was worried and nervous about how I would get into the race.  Every time a policeman or soldier looked at me on the course, I wondered if they knew.  Each time I crossed a timing mat, I sped up so I would cross at the same time as another runner in case they were keeping track of beeps or anything as people crossed the mats.  I avoided pre- and post-race photographers.  I didn’t publicize my experience, didn’t gloat and didn’t steal the thunder of anyone who ran officially.  I totally respect and support those who ran the race legitimately.  This is their time to shine and be recognized.  My achievement is something deeply personal and the memories will be with me for a lifetime.  I ran the Boston Marathon in 4:13:36 (26.64 miles, 9:31 average pace).

As for now, I am even more motivated to qualify for Boston.  I want to run again next year.  Officially.  My next marathon is in a month and I am signed up for another a month after that.  Boston was a great training run and the perfect inspiration to push myself even farther.

[ Written April 25, 2014 ]