Boston fragments

I found this post in my Drafts box. I never quite got round to finishing it and then it wasnt quite the right time to post it, so here it is unfinished

Friday was a solemn day.

Runners made their way to Boylston Street.

With a few days until race day it was the runners from 2013 who came first, proudly displaying 2013 on the blue and yellow jackets.   There was little noise as they sought out first the finish line and then both of the small memorials which marked the sites of the bombs. Fading strands of blue and yellow tied to a tree.  A 2013 finishers medal tied to a piece of wire.  Little bunches of flowers. The following day they were joined by a pair of running shoes. These were not formal grand gestures but very personal tokens placed by individuals.

IMG_0460The finish line of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street is flanked by temporary grandstands.  To make your way to the race Expo you need to walk through a  passage behind them which is almost like walking through a church. The silence under the stands amplified the raw emotion on the street.  Waves of emotion were causing me to swallow hard and was relieved to see I was not alone as I glanced to see tears streaming down Helen’s face.

Quietly we walked to the Forum restaurant where Helen had stood for 6 hours until just before the bomb exploded there last year.

We were back.

We had made a promise to come back to Boston to play a part in standing up for the small sweaty corner of humanity that is the running community, and now we were standing on Boylston Street.
We had lunch in the Forum and chatted to a couple seated next to us who were not runners. They had been in the Forum last year when the bomb exploded and blew the windows in. They had come back from Kansas City to be in the same place and intended to watch the race from the Forum.

Throughout Friday the runners returned and as they returned there were many tears on Boylston Street but there was a real sense or determination to return and put things right.  It was important not just to the runners but to the city.  People welcomed the runners back with a sense of relief almost as if they were worried they might not come. Not just the city as an institution but the ordinary people: the airport security guard who looked you up and down, saw the 2013 and nodded and winked. The taxi driver who was eager to tell us that we can’t let them win.

And then there were the daffodils. Wrapped in Boston blue ribbons, bright yellow daffodils lined the street.wpid-img_40652194179078.jpeg

Outside the church by the finish line, volunteers were handing out Boston scarves. Hand-knitted in their thousands throughout the USA  I received one made by Susan from the tiny town of Mt Desert in Maine.

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Race day arrived, the yellow school buses headed for Hopkinton. As we arrived through the back streets of this most American town with its wooden houses and white picket fences, two old ladies, sat on a white painted porch, held up a banner saying  “Welcome Back”.  A little girl wrapped in her dressing gown, stood at the end of her driveway and waved a Stars and Stripes at the returning runners. It was only 7am.

Finally, high on emotion, a race was run.  Crowds cheered as never before in a heady mix of support and defiance.  Cheers, tears, kisses and fist pumps punctuated 26.2 miles of the very best in the human spirit. Boston was Strong, the runners came back.  Those with unfinished business turned Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston and finished the race.

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A few days later, and 4000 miles to the west,  I was boarding the ferry to Alcatraz, proudly sporting my Boston Finsher’s shirt,  when I was approached by an older lady who shook my hand and in a broad Boston drawl said “Thank You”

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Quit while you are ahead

The second half of last year saw me injured with an achilles injury which took nearly 6 months to get better.  Since January my achilles has been behaving, though it still niggles,  but I have also been struck down with plantar fasciatis, a sore ankle caused by bruised cartilege, a long running sinus infection, and a really busy work schedule.

Foremost in my mind has been my appointment in Hopkinton on Monday April 21st and the need to get there in one piece.

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Boston ’13 eyeing up the finish line

Now normally when I train, I am  of the blood,  sweat and snotters school of training.  No finesse but lots of effort.

This year, with so many ailments I have had to adopt a painfully cautious approach to training.  I have tried to follow the 10% rule, upping my mileage slowly. I have been disciplined in my long runs, turning back early in some of the long group runs on the West Highland Way when it would have been easier just to slog them out with my chums who were all running longer. Turning back when you are competitive is really hard. I even dropped out of the D33 race at 25 miles because my foot just wasn’t right. My first ever DNF  and those who know me will appreciate how painful that is.

I have done next to no speed work. My usual set of Yasso 800’s has slipped off my plan. Even tempo runs have been done at about 80%.  I started training without a base and whereas last year I was running 200-250 miles per month this year I have been in the region of 175-190.  This time last year I raced a pretty speedy half marathon and got a new PB. This year I haven’t raced at all.  Not even a parkrun.

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Boston ’14 training miles

 

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Boston ’13 training miles

 

I am  undertrained. I have no speed.  I feel like I am about 4-6 weeks away from full fitness, so having been cautious all year, I am going to have to keep the caution going and run the race with my head and not with my heart which is what usually gets me into trouble anyway.

My mantra throughout this whole training programme has been to quit while I’m ahead.

So where does that leave me?

First off it means that barring accidents I am uninjured and ready to go run Boston. Success!

My goal for race day? To run safely and sensibly for 20 miles and get over heartbreak hill with 6 miles to go and be feeling strong.  If I can do that then I should be in with a chance of beating last year’s time. The trick will be to resist the temptation to push on and to remember where I am now, not where I used to be and tailor my ambitions accordingly.

Despite being tedious at times, I have plodded through the last 16 weeks doing what had to be done, to be safe rather than sorry. It has been frustrating and it hasn’t been enjoyable, but it has been successful and I will be on the start line with a semblance of fitnes

It is now taper time, and I will be getting wrapped in cotton wool because at the moment I am just about ahead, so definitely time to quit until race day.

 

 

Going back to Boston

Be Fearless. Apt words from Kathrine Switzer
Be Fearless. Apt words from Kathrine Switzer

I am going back to Boston.

I shall say it again just to make sure you heard me:

I am going back to Boston.

I feel a wee bit of a fraud because I qualified with a time of 3:27:47 which is slower than my previous Boston qualifier time, but as I move up an age group to the dreaded 50+ group it is still a qualifier.  I scraped in by all of 35 seconds!

Regardless, I am proud to be able to call myself a two-time Boston qualifier.

Going back to Boston means so much more than personal gratification.

When I passed through Logan airport last year I spoke with an airport security guard who had spent the week watching shocked runners depart the city. He asked if I would return.  I assured him I would. This story is recounted on the last page of Hal Higdon’s book 4:09:43. I didn’t quite get the last word in the book because that was given over to the President of the United States but I can live with that.

For me, it is important to go back.  It is important to go back and run to honour those hurt by the bombings on April 15th 2013. It is important to go back because I said I would be back and it is important to honour commitments you make.

The race would still run without me.  John Munro is a nobody, one of the little guys.  Sometimes however, the little guys have to stand up and be counted.

In a world where we are constantly manipulated by governments and media alike, and terrorised by those who are mad, bad, marginalised, misguided or misunderstood there comes a time for each and every one of us to stand up and say I will not be intimidated.

There is something peculiarly belligerent about the Scots. We take pride in not backing down.  Whether it is small nation syndrome from living with an oppressive large neighbour; several hundred years of being imbued with a depressing Calvinist work ethic; or simply the resillience honed through generations of exposure to miserable weather, we are generally up for a fight.  History suggests we are glorious losers but that in itself is not such a bad thing.  Mixed with an inherent sense of fairness and decency, from Bruce to the Black Watch to Braveheart the reality and myth of the fighting Scotsman has perpetuated.  The Scottish Regiments take the old motto “Nemo me Impune Lacessit” or as Billy Connelly translates it for the modern era “Oh you bloody think so!”  I am proud to be Scottish, and I am proud of the reputation that we as a nation carry, and when I travel overseas to run, I proudly wear the Saltire on my vest.

I can’t fight battles or do anything heroic, but I can go and stand on the start line in Hopkinton, shoulder to shoulder with 30,000 other runners on 21st April 2014. Has it crossed my mind that someone might target next years race? Of course it has.  I can wear my Saltire to show that I come from Scotland and show the world that even if I am afraid, I will not be deterred by bombers and I will not back down.

I shall be on the start line and when the gun goes, I shall remember Kathrine Switzer pressing a charm into my hand and telling me to Be Fearless.  I shall run with all of my heart, I shall rejoice in screams which are joyous at Wellesley, I shall rage up Heartbreak Hill and I shall use up every last drop of breath as I run along Boylston watching for the love of my life with her Saltire draped over the barriers not far from the spot where the bombs went off last year.

I will cross the finish line and I will be counted.

I am going back to Boston.

Boston Marathon 2013
Boston Marathon 2013

Boston Revisited

Boston Marathon 2013
Boston Marathon 2013

A few months ago I took part in the 117th Boston Marathon. As everyone knows, the race was bombed. Helen and I  were unharmed but a bit too close for comfort.  After the race I wrote up my race report which was picked up by the icon of the running community that is Hal Higdon, who emailed me asking if he could use parts of my story in a book he wanted to write about the bombings.

I have used Hal’s marathon training programmes to get me through many of my 25+ marathons and once had the please of meeting him at the Expo of the Chicago marathon.

Ever so slightly star struck because of Hal’s legendary status I agreed, even though I had some reservations having had some issues with the way the press behaved after Boston which included stealing pictures of me from Facebook and publishing them in the national and local newspapers.

We exchanged emails a few times to check the facts and for Hal to ask permission for some copy editing and artistic license. It is slightly disconcerting to read someone else’s version of your story, especially when sometimes you think your own words are actually better, but hey, it is his book and I am happy that even if it isn’t great literature, it will be done with respect.

4:09:43 by Hal Higdon
4:09:43 by Hal Higdon

After that I pretty much forgot about it until I got an email telling me that the book was being published on Kindle.

This brought things back quite starkly.

I had promised after Boston that I would do everything in my power to go back next year. The whole point of Boston is of course that you need to qualify. While I have a qualifying time for Boston, I had planned to tackle the Moray marathon at the beginning of September to make sure that I got a better qualifiying time because the race is sure to be oversubscribed with runners wishing to show solidarity with the victims and the city of Boston.

As occasional readers of my blog will know, I am currently sidelined with an achilles injury and will not be able to take part as planned in the Moray marathon and so will need to rely on my qualifying time from Toronto last year. This only gives me a 2 minute cushion inside the required qualifying time which I suspect may not be enough to get a place in Boston next year and the prospect of not being able to fulfil my commitment hurts even more than my sore achilles.

Hal Higdons book 4:09:43: The Boston Marathon Bombings is available on kindle from Amazon

Don’t Panic!!!!

The plan had been to run the Boston marathon, do well, come home energised and then straight back into training for the West Highland Way race by doing the 53 mile Highland Fling race. Things didnt quite work out like that.  My race didnt go to plan, the bombs went off, and I picked up a nasty cough which has kept me from running for two weeks.

Boston, as the whole world knows, was overshadowed by the bombings, I have written about it on here already, and have been quite overwhelmed by the response I have had to my account of events.  I even had the excitement of the legend that is Hal Higdon, sharing my blog on his Facebook site. Helen also gives a good account of things here.

The investigation will go on, but it seems that it is now old news. Outside of Boston, the media hs packed up, gone home and moved on to the next story.  My own unwanted five minutes of fame arising from the newspapers picking up on something I had written on Facebook is thankfully over.  Runners are running. The city is healing. President Obama visited Boston and found the words to lead and console.  As he said so movingly “The crowds will gather and watch a parade go down Boylston Street. And this time next year on the third Monday in April, the world will return to this great American city to run harder than ever and to cheer even louder for the 118th Boston Marathon.

Bet on it.

Moving On

A race was run
A race was run

For me, I still have a few loose ends to tie up. Despite all of the bad things which happened, a race was still run.

I didn’t manage to run the race I felt I was trained for.  We went for a short run the day after we arrived and I was flying.  Yet, I missed my goal by around 15 minutes and I really struggled through the second half with cramps and vomitting.

So what went wrong? First my energy levels were just a bit off at the start. Something wasnt quite right. On a couple of occasions before the race started I tensed my legs and my quads went into cramp. My heart rate was high. I wore my HR strap precisely because I wanted to curtail my excitement and force myself to run a conservative effort for the first half.

It took me many days before I even uploaded the data from my Garmin. It confirmed what I had already guessed,  my Heart Rate shot up after 1K to about 5K effort zone and crept higher until by mile 18 it was hitting Max HR and was spiking to levels I didnt know was possible.  On average in the first half of the race, my heart rate was 15-20 beats per minute higher  than it would normally be for the pace I was running.

There are maybe three different reasons I can think of and it is quite possible that it was a combination of all three which floored me:

1. Boston. The whole thing of flying, visting expos, sleeping in a different bed, getting up early for buses, waiting around at the start. All of those things take a little out of you. My legs were a little crampy even pre race and I wonder if it was related to flying or eating different food.

2. The Heat. The sun came out, and by halfway I certainly felt I was overheating. While the temperature wasn’t desperately high, it was much hotter than the 6-10C which had been forecast, and having trained in cold, miserable grey weather all winter, the bright red sunburn I had when I finished the race was testament to the effect it had on my body.

3. The Bug. It is entirely possible I was incubating a virus. The day after the race I started coughing and by the time we made it home to Scotland I was feeling awful. I was feeling so bad that not only did I have to withdraw from the Fling race, I didn’t even run at all for two weeks.

The Boston course is one of those courses which you need to run more than once.  It is very different from any other marathon I have raced. I underestimated just how much Downhill there was and more importantly how steep and prolonged those downhills were. I climbed the Newton hills pretty well, but for the next trip I will definitely include much more down hill running in my training.

Panic

don’t panic

My first source of panic has been in trying to find a race at which to try to qualify for next year’s Boston. Under normal circumstances I would have found something in May and just used my current fiitness to run. Unfortunately my current fitness involves coughing and spluttering so that is a non-starter.  I have settled on the Moray marathon on 1st September. This is cutting it fine as Boston is likely to open for registration in early September, but it is the first one I can find that works. It just means that I will need to get back into training two weeks after the WHW.

Second source of panic is of course the fact that I havent been able to train because of this bug which has laid me low and it is only 8 weeks until the West Highland Way race..  Did I mention that since Boston I have put on 10 pounds in weight!  I have had to miss out on the Fling which was hard. It was fun watching everyone race and it did help me find my mojo again, but the overwhelming feeling while watching everyone run through the finish line was one of being inadequate. I am scheduled to run the 67 mile Kintyre Way Ultra in 10 days time so I will need to make a decision about that soon.

Deep down I know that it is too early to start panicking. I have heaps of miles in my legs and all I need to do is be patient, come back slowly so that I don’t end up with any post-viral issues and get a couple of good back to back weekends done. That is what my sensible head knows.  Unfortunately patience is not my strong suit. Bull in a China Shop is my strong suit.  As Corporal Jones has been known to say Don’t Panic! Don’t Panic!

Boston Marathon 15th April 2013

547495_10151607861934131_2072290622_nIt is difficult to know where to begin to describe this year’s Boston marathon. I have tried to start writing this post several times and never quite managed to find the words.

It has been a week of powerful, powerful emotions. Arriving in Boston to run the marathon and getting caught up in the excitement which grips the City; meeting some truly inspirational people; running the race itself and realising you are part of the greatest race on earth; not performing as well as I wanted to and dealing with the depths of personal disappointment; crossing the line and getting that Boston medal round my neck; the bombings and all the fear, hurt, anger, sorrow they brought; the aftermath and the strong sense of dignity and community which followed.
With all of the sadness and confusion associated with the bombing it is easy to forget all of their good things which happened.

Marathon runners are sometimes thought of as selfish. It is an individual sport. It involves long hours of solitary activity. Yet marathon runners are part of something bigger. To be a marathon runner, you need the other competitors, you need the volunteers, the organisers and the spectators to share it with.  Running 26.2 miles doesn’t make you a marathon runner. You become a marathon runner when you stand on the start line with the intention of covering the distance in the very best time you can manage, and by doing so give the spectators someone to cheer for, your fellow competitors someone to race and share the road with, and having laid yourself bare you give that volunteer at the end a feeling of joy when they put that medal round your neck because they know you have earned it and they know that their hours of standing in the cold was worth it because you, the runner, gave them something to reward.

As many have said before, the marathon is almost the perfect distance. You cannot race a marathon on training or ability alone. Those two attributes get you through the first twenty miles. For the last six, you need heart.  In a marathon, you see heart. lots of it. A massive sweating, seething stream of heart. Running a marathon starts with a common desire for every single runner, the single idea that you can be better than you are. It is from this single idea that the spirit of the marathon flows. It is this spirit which the people of Boston recognise and which they have celebrated for 117 years.  It is the same spirit which makes Boston Strong. Boston doesn’t mess about.  Whether it is transporting 27000 runners to a start line 26 miles away by closing down all the roads and giving the phalanx of yellow school buses, the biggest, most heart pumping police escort you will see, or shutting down an entire city without hesitation to hunt for those who through their heinous crimes have offered insult and injury to their own. Boston does it right.

The Boston marathon is everything you imagine it will be and more.  From the famous start at Hopkinton, through the towns along the route, through Heartbreak Hill, the Citgo sign, Fenway Park, Boston College and the Wellesley Girls, the crowds grew and grew. It wasn’t just the number of people along the whole length of the course. These weren’t spectators, these were supporters. Supporters who screamed their heads off, waved funny placards which said stuff like “that isn’t sweat – it is awesome leaking out”. These were supporters who cheered as much for John Munro, age 49, still overweight and turning into a lobster through sunburn, as they did for the famous ultrarunner Dean Karnazes with his white teeth, Californian tan and 0% body fat who ran beside or near me for a large portion of the race. Those were the supporters who screamed so loudly at Wellesley College that you could hear them half a mile before you saw them and who yelled and waved each runner up Heartbreak Hill and celebrated like lottery winners every runner who kept going  and made it over the top without stopping.

I didnt have the run I hoped for. I got cramp a few times, I threw up, I was over heating and couldnt keep my heart rate low.  I crossed the line, close to tears from frustration and pain, in 3:30:22, 15 minutes slower than my target, despite the best training of my life and having had no alcohol for nine weeks. I ran so hard, but it just wasn’t happening, yet over the second half of the course as my race fell apart, I had to keep trying because the crowds just grew and grew and kept urging me on. After collecting my medal I ended up in the medical tent. Nothing serious, just pushed a wee bit too hard. I was still in the medical tent when the bombs went off.

Two loud bangs. No echo or reverberation.  Bang . Silence. Bang. Silence. In the windowless environs of the large white tent there was no idea initially what had happened.  Word filtered through of an explosion, and even then the initial assumption was of an accident.  Then came the call to free up the beds.  I was well enough to walk so got myself discharged and then made the long cold slow difficult  walk against the flow of confused disoriented runners and spectators until I finally met up with Helen. It wasn’t until much later that we found out just how close we had both been to the explosions. There were a number of chance circumstances which kept us from fulfilling our plans that afternoon or we would have been much closer still.

What happened in the medical tent is someone else’s story, but I have no doubt, having seen the setup first hand that the way the medical facilities were set up probably saved many lives. It is ironic, but if you are going to be a bomb victim, then near the finish of a marathon with all of its stewards, police, military, paramedics, doctors and nurses is probably just about the best place for it to happen. Near the finish line of a marathon in a City with some of the best surgical hospitals in the world improves your chances further. The response by individuals was extraordinary. The response by the City and its Citizens was immense. It was quiet, determined, resolute and dignified.

Many thousands of people had a great Boston experience on Monday.  They ran the race of their lives cheerd on by massive support. The bombs visited terrible tragedies on families and individuals. Yet even in the aftermath of the tragedies,  the people of Boston paid great kindnesses to the runners, taking them into their homes, feeding them, keeping them warm.  As the day wore on, the runners re-emerged onto the streets. Not the usual raucous post race celebration, but just quietly, confused, tentatively. Slowly more and more Blue and Yellow appeared. In the bars and restaurants the runners wore their medals, not in triumph, but in tribute. Quiet nods, handshakes, hugs, gently enquiring “did you finish?”.  And the locals joined in, in spite of everything still offering congratulations and heartfelt apologies that this should have happened to the runners in their city.

I still have a sense of disbelief and outrage that this should have happened. As a runner, I am even more dismayed that the bombers targeted the supporters.  In some ways, there might be some sense to targeting those actually running the race, those selfish runners, but not the supporters who stand and scream and cheer complete strangers and loved ones alike, just because they want to celebrate the fulfilment of that dream to be better than we are. They are the innocent, generous, giving participants in the marathon.

It finally struck me this morning as I gazed out the plane window onto the snow covered peaks of the Scottish Highlands why this upset me so much. Because I finished only a short time before the bombs went off, there is a high probability that all of those people who ended up in hospital had cheered and clapped for me as I ran down Boylston Street to the famous blue and yellow finish line.

While leaving Boston airport last night I had a touching conversation with an airport security guard. An older man with sad eyes. We spoke quietly and he asked if I would come back. I said that I would be back. Good, he said. Lots of runners are saying that.

Be Fearless. Apt words from Kathrine Switzer
Be Fearless. Apt words from Kathrine Switzer

I didn’t run the race I wanted, which means that I didnt re-qualify for Boston. And I am glad, because I want to have to requalify and I want to do it the hard way, to have to earn the right. I will sweat blood to make sure I get another qualifying time and get back to Boston, and when I do, and I charge over the top of Heartbreak Hill and race all the way to Boylston, I will Be Fearless  and by God am I going to give those supporters something to cheer about, because they deserve that much.

Thank you Boston.

Did I mention I am going to Boston?

5362_10151550280434131_408831883_nThe Boston Marathon is the blue riband of marathon events for runners. It is the oldest, most prestigious race and it is the only one for which there are qualifying standards. On April 15th I shall be on the start line in the town of Hopkinton and for me that will mark the end of a journey which started way back in 2006.

January 2006 and Helen decided she wanted to learn to run, so one winter’s evening we went for a jog/walk to the Red Phone Box in Glenochil exactly a mile away. It was something of a shock to the system. In my head I was the same slim, super fit person I had been at University when I was Captain of the Rowing club. Unfortunately my lungs and legs had long since forgotten how to do this and my waistline had grown to accomodate my liking for good food and malt whisky. But at least in my head I was still young and fit, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

The pre-running "slim" me
The pre-running “slim” me

Never one to be put off by my lack of ability, I entered a half marathon in Edinburgh. I trained hard and in my mind I was running like a gazelle whereas the rest of the world probably saw an old fat bloke puffing round the streets snorting and sweating like a distressed warthog. I can remember the first time I did a really long run (7 miles!) and it seemed so far and hilly that Helen came with me on the bike to make sure I was ok! Those were the days when Sundays were spent on the couch because after the “long” run. I was so wiped that is all I could do!

Eventually race day arrived, and I turned up in a panic at Ocean Terminal in Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Half Marathon. Not having a clue, I ended up rushing around before the start, struggling to find somewhere to go the toilet. Having relieved myself somewhere entirely inappropriate, I duly got stuck into the race. Totally pumped up, I set off too fast, by 7 miles I was dying, and struggled round in just under 2 hours. After the race I was completely destroyed. I couldn’t walk, I was shivering, and I remember sitting in a cafe afterwards struggling to lift a soup spoon to my mouth. It took me a full week to recover from that race.

Remember I said I was undaunted by my lack of ability? At the race, I had picked up a flyer for the Toronto Waterfront marathon.  Monday lunchtime the conversation goes like this:

Me – Do you think you could run a half marathon?

Helen – No. 

Me – Its in Toronto.

Helen – OK then!

So we signed up there and then, Helen for the half and me for the full.

I couldn’t have picked a better race for my first marathon. It has a good website which was updated regularly to feed my growing excitement. They enlisted Coach Jenny to provide training programs and online advice, and the regular newsletters kept me enthused right through the summer.

While waiting for the bus at Pearson International Airport we spotted some others who had come off our plane, all of whom were wearing giveaway running shoes.  Bill, Adrian and Fiona were to become good friends and for a while we would meet up but never in Scotland – only overseas.

One of the features of many big city marathons is the International Breakfast/Friendship run. Usually held the day before it is a chance for overseas runners to get together for an informal loosener and to run through the city for a few kilometers usually dressed in national costume and carrying flags. Toronto was our first experience of these events. At the run from the Running Room we were befriended by a group of local runners who took us under their wing. Again this was the start of many long friendships and the people we met that morning, we have subsequently run with in marathons on both sides of the Atlantic.

My first marathon itself was a disaster. I had a target in my head of running 4 hours.  I struggled with my asthma, had to stop and stand in a queue to use the portaloo after 5 miles and it took until halfway before I began to get any sort of rhythm at all. By 20 miles I was broken and I remember trudging bleakly back towards the city. A piper spotted me in my saltire vest and started playing Scot’s Wha Hae and I could have kissed him. Eventually I plodded back to the finish in just over 4:45.  A harsh reality check.

Chicago 2007 first run with our new Canadian buddies
Chicago 2007 first run with our new Canadian buddies

We had arranged to meet up with our new Canadian friends afterwards in a pub called the Jersey Giant, somewhere we have returned to many times over the years.  As alcohol flowed someone had the bright idea of running  Chicago marathon the following year and in the spirit of fools rush in, I said me too! That was the start of a running odyssey which has taken me to many races, many countries and through which our circle of friends has met up for races all over the world. That, as they say, is a whole other story.

The other thing which happened in the Jersey Giant is that I was chatting to this complete stranger who was himself an accomplished runner.  I declared that I wanted to run Boston.  Bearing in mind that I had just run 4:45 and the qualifying time for me was 3:30 this was quite a claim. Not only did he not laugh,  he was totally supportive and encouraging. Fabio Fernandes did me a kindness that day which is an example to us all and which I shall never forget.

This was the start of the quest for Boston.  My times started coming down but never quite got to the qualifying standard. Finally two years ago I started to get closer. 3:33 in Rotterdam, 3:32 in Geneva, 3:31 in Lochaber, but still not close enough. Then of course the BAA changed to qualifying standards and moved my age group to 3:25. Disaster!

Never daunted, I kept at it. I may not be talented, but I am persistent.  In 2012 I signed up for the Highland Fling 53 mile race.  A change of diet and some personal training saw me get stronger and finally lose some weight.

I was using the Lochaber marathon as a last long run before the Fling and I ended up running a 9 minute PB to get 3:22 my Boston qualifying time. It had taken me 5 and a half years and an improvement of 1 hour 25 minutes, but I had done it.

The journey to Boston has been a long one, and in some respects the journey itself has been more important than the destination.  The miles have hurt, there have been many disappointments, but there have also been great times shared in great cities with great friends.

The race will take care of itself and I shall give it my best shot. I have my goals and have worked hard this year to make the improvements needed to achieve them an dwear the Unicorn Jacket with pride. Regardless of the result it will be doubly special because of the people there running with me: James who we met through one of our Chicago trips; Larry and Emmy who were part of the crew who looked after us, that first Saturday morning in Toronto; Helen who is of course my chief supporter and co-conspirator and who I have no doubt will get her own Boston qualifier one day soon; and finally Fabio, who listened to the dreams of an old fat bloke many years ago and believed in him.