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Fast Guy Problems: 2016 Boston Marathon

Failure noun 1. an act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful; lack of success:

His effort ended in failure. The campaign was a failure.
2. nonperformance of something due, required, or expected:
a failure to do what one has promised; a failure to appear.
3. a subnormal quantity or quality; an insufficiency:
the failure of reaching your goal time.
4. deterioration or decay, especially of vigor, strength, etc.:
The failure of his health made retirement from the race necessary.
7. a person or thing that proves unsuccessful:
He is a failure in his career. The race is a failure.
The marathon is a culmination of training that results in a 26.2 mile test of strength and will. As I passed the 24th mile marker, calves cramping and fighting spasms in my thighs, I was fighting my feelings too. I felt dejected, unworthy and beaten. I had spent months gearing up for this, planning, visualizing, and sharing my optimistic goals with my friends and family. As I made that last left turn onto Boylston, hobbling, a shambling shadow of my normal form, I was determined to cross that line in spite of how I had felt my body had betrayed me, and I had betrayed those that believed in me.

 It all started innocently enough, in the town of Hopkinton. Milling around the athletes village, chatting with people while staying hydrated and snacking. I felt little tension or nerves, in contrast to the days leading up to the run. Everything physically felt ok, and I had eaten and rested an average amount for me. It was definitely a little warmer than many had hoped, but not oppressively so. The warmth of the day became apparent as we left the athletes village at the school and began the walk into the town towards the starting line. The corral got a little crowded, but I stayed towards the back where people were more spaced apart which allowed more room for some dynamic stretches to stay loose.
 The most interesting aspect of the start were the military helicopters that flew over and the announcement of the names of those who would be contending for the win. After that it was a short wait for the gun and the ensuing surge to cross the line. The seeding and corrals were definitely needed, as it was crowded for the first 6 miles. Not overly so, but I did spend a decent amount of time on the edge of the road when I found it necessary to pass people. The overall downhill wasn’t really noticeable as I kept the pace easy, and the small hills in the beginning did not take much effort to climb.
The country area we started in was pretty, but not nearly as green as Oregon. There were a handful of spectators there, but as we got into the first town we started to get a taste of the crowds that were to come. The other nice aspect of going through the towns was the increase in space due to the road widening. At this point I was running about 6:30 pace, a little slower than planned but definitely preferable than going out too fast. It was fun to venture off to the side and high five spectators, many of which held their hands out as they were cheering loudly.
It was right around the 5 or 6 mile mark that I noticed something was not right. This is about the time that I ‘switch gears’ and start passing people while getting into a more efficient stride. While I had done a couple short surges around a few people, the accelerated pace was just not happening. Up until mile 9, all I knew was I felt slightly off for some reason and was just enjoying the run as we traversed the roads leading to Boston. At the clock marking the 15K, I noticed I was well behind goal pace for the first time. I was  a little frustrated, but not overly so. Shortly after that, I felt the first of many twinges in my right calf. This was the same calf I had pulled in the half marathon back in January and I immediately worried about a repeat experience. I stopped to stretch it and walk a little and from then on made it a point to drink Gatorade along with water at the aid stations to stave off a potential race ending injury.
The next few miles were a mix of running and walking as my right calf kept spasming. At some point my left calf decided to join the fun, albeit less regularly. I concentrated on maintaining momentum and giving high fives to spectators as I enjoyed the various snacks many offered. I know at some point I consumed almost a whole orange in slices from various people, a red whip, and a few popsicles. At the pace I was going, a side ache or irritated stomach was not going to be an issue. The cheers and support were unlike any other race I have experienced as many residents had even set up their own little aid stations, offering various kinds of foods and supplies to the marathoners.
I passed the half marathon point at just under 90 minutes and even then I knew a sub 3 hour performance was not likely. I was not happy, but took the day as it was and even slowed down at Wellesley to get a trademark kiss in the scream tunnel. In an attempt to appease my calves and force a faster pace I accelerated a few times but my body was just not interested in holding the pace. Due to the change in stride, my thighs started cramping as well.
I know the crowd support was a huge element in helping me stay motivated. At one point another runner caught me walking and encouraged me so I started to run with him until he had to walk. Similar situations were happening all around me as I stayed to the side and just watched the other participants just flow past me. Spectators would catch me walking and call me out by bib number with encouragement. If I responded by running, a great cheer would rise up.
Being a proud hill runner, and having taken note of the history behind Heartbreak Hill, my goal the entire time was to conquer it. Even in this state, I told myself I would run the whole thing to at least carry that distinction. I succeeded, but shortly after, disaster struck. Right after mile 22 I experience the worst spasms yet and was forced to stop. At this point I was starting to feel wiped out and was not thinking straight. I stopped next to some train tracks and didn’t hear the train coming. It had to slow as a fellow runner guided me away from the tracks and a medical personnel came from the aid tent to check on me. He asked me a few questions about how I felt and I let him know I just needed to stretch. He may have been acting like he was going to let me be but then definitively led me across the road and into the medical tent.
I didn’t want to be in there. It was definitely a first for me and I had spent miles just telling myself to keep moving forward and stay out of the med tent. I had the mindset of ‘I’m not supposed to be here’ as I knew runners were passing by while I was getting my blood pressure taken and calf massaged. I was fine once I sat down, but even standing up and walking out in a straight line was a difficult task after they finished with me. We walked out and I was asked if I would be taking the bus or getting back on the course. Regardless of how long it took and how bad it hurt, I was not going to concede defeat, internally vowing to cross that line crawling if I had to. I knew what I wanted and how many people were rooting for me so I made my way back to the course with the determination to traverse those last 4 miles in any way my body let me.
I knew I was going to cry at Boston, but I thought it was going to be on the home stretch or when finally crossing that fabled line. Instead, I cried with humiliation and frustration, seething at my body for betraying me as I ran, walked and hobbled in what felt like the longest four miles of my life. The pain was bad, my emotions were worse. I felt like a failure, an egotist for making my goals and hopes so public and then get crushed so decisively. It hurt to run, it hurt to walk, but I did not want to give in. I pushed with all I had and punished my legs by trying to rouse some shadow of my lost speed in the last half mile.

Three hours, thirty two minutes and a handful of seconds after I left Hopkinton, I crossed the historical finish line, about an hour off my goal time. It was not anywhere near the time I wanted, but it was an experience I will never forget. I don’t know exactly what it was that caused all my issues, due to the large number of variables involved in this trip. I thought I had been prepared for a disappointment due to this potential outcome, but not on this scale. I had a hard time with it towards the end, and was berating myself as I walked to the hotel. As soon as I checked my phone and saw the love, concern, and support from my family and friends and had a talk with Michael, I learned to set aside that disappointment and instead revel in the achievement of being able to qualify in the first place and honored with the experience. I want to return. The people of Boston do an amazing job of supporting strangers from all over the world.  Honestly, given my training, I know I can run a marathon in the 2:30s. So I will try to do so in Eugene next year, with the hopes of returning to Boston, not to pr but to truly enjoy the experience.

For those of you that made this trip possible, I can’t thank you enough. This seemed like an impossible dream last year. For the handful that knew me well enough to send me the messages that really reached me and helped keep this from being what I would forever feel as a blemish on my running career, I truly appreciate it. My competitive mindset would have torn me apart without your insight.

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8 Comments on Fast Guy Problems: 2016 Boston Marathon

  1. Dude, that was no failure. Getting out of the medical tent and finishing the race is its own definition of success.

    • Brian Bernier // April 24, 2016 at 8:06 AM // Reply

      I know the act of finishing, especially considering the circumstances, was an achievement. But it was hard, from my perspective as a competitive runner to accept that I had fallen so far from my goal.

  2. I know what you see as a failure (you failed your own goal) is still an achievement in others’ books. So to still give you encouragement to and to make sure you still carry on, I say great job! You finished, even through the pain and the problems, which is not easy. And it gives you something to beat next time…

    • Brian Bernier // April 24, 2016 at 8:04 AM // Reply

      Thank you. A lot of people had the same message for me, and it took a little for me to see it in that fashion.

  3. What do you think caused the calf spasms? Sounds like it was just bad luck on the day, nothing different you could have done so I would say don’t see that as a failure. You’ll come back stronger in the next one.

    • Brian Bernier // April 24, 2016 at 8:03 AM // Reply

      I’m not sure. Possibly a magnesium deficiency. I am looking into it, but on a side note, i did not have that issue on any of my training runs.

  4. Tough day. You’ll bounce back. You did amazing at Shamrock despite getting injured in January. Thanks for sharing journey. There’s no doubt you’ll be back faster than ever.

    • Brian Bernier // April 30, 2016 at 6:02 AM // Reply

      Thank you. I’m content with the journey and still taking it easy until the knot in my calf subsides. Definitely looking forward to training hard again, as soon as I am able.

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