I posted a few months ago that I was training to run the Falmouth Road Race as part of Boston Children’s Hospital Miles for Miracles Team. I wanted to do something to give back to the Boston running and medical community after the attacks at the finish line of this year’s Boston Marathon. Well, folks, today was race day, and here’s how it went:
My husband (who was running to raise money for Alzheimer’s Association) and I left my in-law’s house at 6.30am for the 45-minute drive to Falmouth. This small Cape Cod community is packed on race day, with 13,500 runners and what seems like at least that many spectators as well. We wanted to have plenty of time to park, find the buses to the start, and stake out a place to wait for the 10am start.
We had two hours to wait in the staging area before race time. I was thankful to have my husband there, and sitting in the shade chatting with him for a few hours was a real treat. As 10am neared, we left our shade and made our ways to the starting corrals where we went our separate ways.
It was in the low 70s at race time, but thankfully the humidity was low. I could have done with more clouds and less sun, to be honest, but this Texan can’t complain about running in August in the 70s!
The weather proved not to be much of a factor, as it paled in comparison to the difficulty of running smoothly in the early miles of the race. For at least the first two miles of the race, we runners were so wedged together that I could do little more than shuffle along with the crowd. I have run major races before (notably Boston Marathon & London Marathon) that are run on crowded, narrow streets, but those races are wide-open compared to the early miles of Falmouth. I tried not to burn too much energy getting frustrated being stuck in the crowd, so I looked for good seams to weave in and out of my fellow runners when possible. I looked up long enough to enjoy the sight of thousands of runners in front of me as I climbed the hill and made the turn at Cape Cod’s famous Nobska Lighthouse. I managed to clock decent splits for Miles 1 & 2 regardless, but I was still off my pace just a touch.
The middle miles of the race are along Surf Dr, the fully-exposed road that traces the shoreline of Vineyard Sound. While beautiful from the windswept front seat of a convertible, the pounding sun made this stretch of the race a challenge. I was grateful for all of the spectators lining the course, especially the guy singing “Dirty Water” with so much enthusiasm and all the people who called out to me “Go Children’s!” because of my bright singlet.
My flagging spirits were lifted just after Mile 5, when someone on the sidelines shouted, “Hey, it’s Frank Shorter!” and I saw the guy running about 5 feet in front of me give a little wave. I’m enough of a running nerd (and a child of a first-generation running boomer) to know Frank Shorter even when I see him from the back. (If you don’t know Frank Shorter, he was a gold-medal-winning US Olympian in ’72 and ’76 and a two-time winner of Falmouth Road Race. He was also the head of the US Anti-Doping movement for a while. He’s truly one of the class acts in all of Sports.) I ran over to him, and I told him I had a poster of him on my wall when I was a kid. He laughed and said, “You’re cute!” We chatted for another minute or so before I continued on my way, feeling inspired by the serendipity that allowed me to meet one of my running heroes.
About 1/2 mile later, I saw a big group of people from Boston Children’s Hospital. They gave me a good shout out and a reminder that the race is so much more than just people out running on an August morning. I’m so proud to have raised $1000 (and counting!) for the research and treatment efforts at our country’s leading pediatric hospital.
I realized at the 6 Mile mark that my split for the previous mile was slow. I knew I was going to have to turn in a fast final mile if I wanted to meet my goal. Inspired by Frank Shorter and on behalf of the kids, families, and physicians of Children’s, I put my head down and started to run.
About 1/2 mile from the finish there is A Hill. I knew about the hill, as it’s given me fits before in my running career– in the 1998 Cape Cod Marathon, this hill is where I realized I wasn’t going to make my Boston-qualifying time. I was determined not to let this hill get me again. I slogged my way up, knowing I was decently close to the finish.
At the crest of the hill I could see it: a giant American flag hanging from a crane. The finish!! (Or so I thought.)
I came down the hill as fast as I could, really working hard. I glanced at my watch to see that I had 45 seconds to finish the race in under an hour. I put my head down and ran.
As I got closer to the flag, I saw that the finish line was actually another 20 yards or so beyond….not much in a 7 (actually 7.1) mile race, but it was enough that my best efforts couldn’t get me there. I finished in 60:06.
A few years ago, I would have felt a great sense of disappointment at missing my goal by such a fine margin. But when I think back on today, I realize that my extra 7 seconds….just 1 measly second per mile….were spent while I was chatting with Frank Shorter.
And this is what I love about running and why I felt so personally affected by the Boston Marathon bombings that I wanted to run Falmouth for the benefit of Children’s: above all else running is a democratic sport. What other sport allows regular people like me to compete in the same event on the same day in the same conditions with Olympians like Frank Shorter? It’s pretty darn cool. Just like democracy.