Boston Revisited

Amid the rich history, iconic landmarks and throne atop the sporting world Bostonians exude a boundless passion; in addition, they are the true definition on friendly town folk (okay, the wicked awesome accent probably helps). This passion is accentuated even more so on Patriots Day. Needless to say, with Good Will Hunting being my favorite movie, the hype was more than real. If more than real is a thing.

While the marathon was my ticket there, the weekend was much bigger than that. It was an opportunity to explore a wonderful city that I’ve never seen. Even better, I had family & friends there to revel in the experience. Shoutout to Paul, Jacque, Cody, Mina, Luke & Haley.

We strolled around Fuenial hall, saw Bunker Hill, perused the the Boston Commons (even saw Bill Simmons eating Pizza), walked through the Cheers Bar, stood amid the cobblestone paths of Cambridge, stood atop the Green Monster, and devoured food in Irish and Italian neighborhoods. Having heard how fickle an East Coast spring can be, the flawless weather was an added bonus when we attended an outdoor Easter service! This was already a weekend for the books.

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Fast forward to Patriots Day where the weekend mood got amped up a few notches.

If you want the summary of  a short & sweet summary of the day

Nervous Energy / Hype / Bathroom / This is actually real-excitement / Relaxed / More Nerves / Bathroom…again / Full-on enthusiasm / Ready, Set, Go, Chaos / Avoid tripping  / high-fives / Pandemonium / Deafening cheers / Hills / More Hills / More high-fives / More People / More People / More People / Okay, is the whole city here? / Finish / Just Wow. Surreal.

 

The alarm rings. It’s go time. I grabbed the necessities, hopped on the shuttle, and carried antsy conversation with other excited runners. We loaded onto school busses like school children – a little bit of nostalgia to give some perspective. We were hauled 26-ish miles away from the finish line to the starting line at Hopkinton School. As we cruised the outskirts of Boston, I’ll never forget the image of rowers gliding along the Charles River at sunrise. It was a beautiful sunrise, one that I wouldn’t have seen had I not had a window seat.

45 minutes later, we arrived.

Upon exiting the bus at Hopkinton School, I started to feel the magnitude of the Boston Marathon. We cruised through the small town of Hopkinton. It was vintage classic-Americana houses spread in front of a forest. At the top of a hill, there was a quaint country school. We’re talking quintessential small-town New Northeast – very Rockwellian… That thought was brief as I descended down to a field filled with a whole lot of neon & pent-up energy waiting. Around 30,000 people to be exact.

We had tents to provide shade & all sorts of food. Having skipped breakfast, I needed to eat. Fortunately, bagels were provided. Unfortunately, there was nothing to add to the bagels. Note to those running Boston in the future: Bring a packet of some form of nut butter or something to add b/c a bagel, by itself is sad.

 

After lounging for a couple of hours, I saw my buddy Matt’s Dad – Al – & we discussed the usual pre-race stuff, except this wasn’t his first rodeo. Reading the newspaper, he was cool, calm and collected. This, I believe, was his 3rd Boston. Stud. He also informed me of the heightened security. I thought I was attentive, but he immediately pointed to snipers on top of the school. I couldn’t believe it. Crazy! It’s unfortunate that tragic circumstances led to this; however, there was a sense of re-assurance that this city won’t allow allow 2013 to happen again.

Finally, the bell tolled. Go time. 30,000 others & I walked this rural road between Civil War-era houses towards the starting line. It was eerily quiet, but you could feel the excitement. That lasted shortly when we arrived at a last-minute port-potty stop before the race. It was absolute chaos, lines zigged & zagged everywhere. When the porta-lines were too long, lines started developing behind bushes.

10 minutes to start. The starting gun went off. So, too did the elites and the other corrals ahead of me. Itching to get going, those in my corral had to wait for another 3-4 minutes until we officially crossed the starting line. Finally, we did. No more hype. No more waiting. No more nerves. No more anticipation. Game on.

Literally, the first 4-6 miles, everybody is jockeying for a position. The roads were packed with crowds. It was incomparable to anything I’d ever seen, and this was only the start. We’re talking about 10-20 people deep. I remember passing the first bar. Yes, it was opened and, yes, it was crawling with people. On Patriot’s Day in Boston, it is treated like a legit holiday. Hailing from California, I had never heard of it before. From what it looked like, most of these people seemed to be cheering along the course. I couldn’t believe how dense it was & I was only 1/6 of the way through it.

A little bit beyond the bar & I could hear “Sweet Caroline” blasting on loud speakers. The chorus was cranking & so were a couple hundred people (spectators & runners), belting out “so good, so good, so good” in unison! I am getting goosebumps just thinking about it.

Amidst the fanfare, I did my best to stay attuned to my breathing, hydration, pace and legs. Sure, I had a goal that was aimed at a specific time, but I really, really, really wanted to immerse myself in this experience. Most of the race, I would run right next to the crowds to feed off of the infectious energy. There were also plenty of high-fives exchanged throughout. Stoke, adrenaline, mojo, endorphins, positive energy… Call it what you want. It was raw. It was intense. It was everywhere. So dope.

I kept cruising, still trying to avoid running into people. Then we hit the halfway point and the crowds intensified, both in numbers and in enthusiasm. Yes, it is hard to believe. A little bit past the halfway point (maybe mile 14 ish) there was this mass scream that was undoubtedly louder than anything I had heard thus far. Oh yes, this noise was like a half-mile away. And no, I am not exaggerating. It (the noise) was comprised of students from the all-girls school – Wellesley College. As we neared, the screams were deafening. At this point, I had my headphones on, but clicked pause to see what this was all about. For what felt like a mile, I kept my arm extended for high-fives. Girls were screaming at all of the runners “Kiss Me, Kiss me” and sure enough, there were dudes around me that fulfilled those requests. Some of them were probably old enough to be fathers of these girls. I understand that social norms get thrown to the wayside during running races (public urination, loud self-deprecating expletives, and other forms of bizarre behavior that become “normal”), but this was strange.

Moving on, the rest of this race was a blur. Bars were packed. People cheered en masse. I took probably a dozen orange slices from strangers. I grabbed vasoline-on-a-stick and thought it was salt. Fortunately, when I grabbed it, I asked. The person shouted it wasn’t what I thought it was just as I was about to devour it. Whewwwwww! Glad that didn’t happen, things would have gotten weird.

At mile 18, I saw the November Project crew going bananas. This rad conglomerate of eccentrics brought the noise all day long. It was a much needed pick-me up, as I started to notice that I was starting to fade. I was entering the mode where you just hold on and see what’s left.

We went over some hills and the climbed the iconic Heartbreak Hill. I kept my rhythm, but it was a grind.

A couple miles later (mile 21.5), I was due for the inevitable bathroom break. I had about 4.5 miles and a little more than a half an hour remaining to achieve the goal (sub-3). I used this 45-second respite to have a quick conversation in a porta-potty, with myself. Again, that whole thing about social norms being thrown to the wayside… Don’t worry, this isn’t a “new normal” for me; it was just a moment to recalibrate. I knew the next bit was going to be intense, but I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I held pace. But I noticed my legs were moving slower. And then bam! Mile 23 – the wall. It slapped me across the face, reminding me of how grueling a marathon can be. The distance is 26.2 miles for a reason. For the next 3 miles, it was going to be a battle of mental/physical fatigue vs. the clock.

I saw others walking. More and more followed. When this happens, I do my best to stay in my own headspace and put my head down, otherwise it becomes alluring. And that allure doesn’t dissipate until crossing the Finish Line.

I held on, but was moving slower and slower. My energy was sapped. The crowds were now sweltering. I faded into the final corner. All I wanted to do was finish. No more steps please. Despite the agony, I admired the pageantry, tradition, and surreality of running down Boylston. I looked for my Family and didn’t see them, despite jogging by them at a mere 10-15 feet away. I crossed the finish line with 100% relief.

 

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I crossed the finish line and sat repeatedly every five steps until I received one of those stylish foil jackets. Then, they put the medal around my neck and I gingerly turned the corner to find my parents. We hugged, talked and then went back to the hotel for a much-needed shower, pizza, and an IPA.

The three of us sat in the hotel restaurant overlooking the water for a couple of hours simply enjoying each other’s company. The day wasn’t quite done. We were treated by a memorable scene that was one of the most visually stunning sunsets I have ever seen. The Man upstairs often provides some unique reminders of who really is in charge. From walking the hallowed ground of our forefathers to enjoying a stellar Easter service to Mile 23 to seeing a wounded veteran complete the marathon while carrying the flag and, to cap it off, a tranquil sunset that illuminated the water. There were so many it’s-not-about-you-moments that slow time down and I’m grateful for that. It was all made better because it was weekend shared with family. To me, it doesn’t get better than that!

 

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NORTH FACE 50: A strong dose of Vitamin Stoke.

4:00 AM. The coffee is hot. The boys are ready to rock. We’re zig-zagging our way through empty streets comprised of those holding on to whatever bit of euphoria remains from a night on the town. The euphoria we’re seeking is miles away. Miles away.

For some of us – Hudson (Huddy), Dave and Rob (Slooter) – the North Face 50 marks their first exploration into the ultramarathon world. For Matt, Josh (Hickey) and myself, this is another opportunity for progression at the 50-mile distance. Hickey is like our sensei. Hickey – our good vibe guru – carries with him invaluable experience, constant encouragement, and a relentless smile. Our drivers – Brit (my brother) and brother Nick – embraced the selfless duties of making sure that we were ready to rock come 5 AM. They squared away logistics between start and finish and were stoked to do so.

Amidst the starting area were bright colors, excited spirits and propane heaters. Oh yeah, porta potties too! We all bee-lined towards a mandatory bathroom stop with ten minutes until start time. Runners were lining up near the start. The music was pumping. It’s go time!

On the first climb, there’s boundless energy and chatter while everybody tries to find a groove. During our first ascension, I was talking to this dude named Jonas and he told me to look back. What I saw was absolutely incredible; it was a stream of speckled light (headlamps) down below. Way cool.

From that point onward, I just remember desperately wanting that California sun to share its beautiful rays with us. When the sun finally did rise, it was extraordinary. The birthing light emanated from behind the mountain silhouettes and, to compound the stoke, the Golden Gate Bridge was visible. To top it off, I could hear the waves crashing into the rocks. Are you kidding me? That was a polysensory experience that I won’t forget anytime soon.

Anyways we rolled along from Aid Station to Aid station, the warm sun made a December day feel like summertime. After heading towards the Mckennan Gulch Out-and-back, it was inspiring to see some of the Elites hammering down. It’s a whole another level.

After turning around, we had some sweet decline entering Stinson Beach (mile 29.4). I was dogging it pretty badly and needed a quick fix to snap out of it. Salt should do the trick. They didn’t have salt tabs. What to do next? I saw a bowl filled with salt and went for it. I threw a handful in my mouth and washed it down with Mountain Dew. Well, that was a first. It wasn’t until after the race that my squad informed me of the proper salt-intake procedure. Ha! Apparently, there were baby potatoes next to the salt. The idea is to grab a potato, roll it in the salt and then consume. This is a novel concept, and, a far more appetizing one. I’ll be sure to remember that for next time!

After a while, I entered into one of the most spectacular parts of the race. It was through the John Muir Forest. With the tunes blasting, I weaved through pine-softened trail splitting between massive Redwoods. This was the rhythmic trance I had long been waiting for.

That all changed when I arrived at Muir Beach (mile 41). It was time to go full grind mode. All of sudden I heard my name. It was my buddy Matt. I looked at him and had made the assumption that he was already done.

He said “No, No. I’m still in it.” I was stunned. This dude is high-caliber. He went out with the big dogs and it didn’t pan out. That happened with like 30 miles to go. Rather than throwing in the towel, he decided to stay the course. I love it. It shouldn’t be viewed as a failure, but instead that idea of “going all in” needs to be celebrated. Matt could have played it safe. But he didn’t. He chose to let it rip.

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Aid Station Treats

As I am writing about that moment, it fires me up!

We power-hiked the next climb. And kept hiking. And kept hiking. Finally we arrived at the top and saw the next aid station below.

When we rolled into it (Tennessee Valley – mi. 43.8), I immediately heard voices. “YAHHHHH BOYS” It was my cousin Hayes, Erin, Lindsey and my Tante Wimpie and Uncle Rob.

Then my brother Brit rolled up to us. “You guys good? I’m pacing you until the end”.

We trudged forth together. I was dragging hard, but miles were slowly clicking off. It was the last bit of uphill and before I knew it we arrived at the final aid station (Alta 46.7) with only 3 miles left! My initial goal was to finish this race was to go sub-9 hours. Brit said screw that, let’s go sub 8:40!

It was all downhill from there. We kept at it. We then passed some more family with less than a mile to go. It was my sisters – Willemina, Amber, and cousin Erica. At that point we knew the hay was in the barn.

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As we approached the last turn, I could hear the music blasting and the noise of the cowbells. We trotted a little faster. People were screaming. That feeling of euphoria when nearing the end is hard to match. We crossed the finish in 8:39:51. I laughed. Sub-8:40 by 10 second; thank you bro!

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As we were adorned our finishers medals, I saw my parents. That was really special. We exchanged high-fives and all kinds of positive conversation. Now it was time for a much needed beverage!

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Shooting the proverbial with Brit and Pops!

We then waited for Slooter, Hickey, Huddy and Dave to finish. When they did, it was incredible! We saw Slooter hammer his finish.

When Slooter crossed, we yelled and gave hugs. It was awesome! He did it! He crushed it. I was so amped to see him finish.

After that, like only ten minutes later, Hickey clicked his feet at the finish line. Despite a jacked up lung and multiple warnings to not participate in the race, Hickey finished it. Not only that, but he did so with a beaming smile on his face.

After that, we hung around the beer garden and waited for Huddy and Dave to bring it home. As the sun settled, we cozied up next to a fire. Every ten minutes, somebody would go check to see if they checked in at the last aid station. We wanted to be there for them at the finish.

We remained huddled and all of a sudden “Hudson Hanlon coming through the Finish” blared on the loud speaker. Without hestiation, our table sprinted through the finishing gate. Hugs around the house, they freaking did it! Huddy and Dave stuck together for the majority of the day and gritted it out. It was deeply inspiring to see them stick with it and get it done.

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The boys! (Minus Matt)

After that spectacular moment, we loaded into our vehicles and headed back to San Fran. for pizza and beer. What a way to spend a Saturday!

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Sharing stories. This is what it’s all about!

Lessons Learned:

It’s not about the time you get, rather the time you had. No matter if I met my goal, everything about December 3rd was spectacular. It was an arduous day, but I loved it! These journeys always tend to cover the emotional spectrum. They strengthen the soul, harden the body and fortify the mind. Deep down, the suffering we experience strips us of comfort and we become the rawest version of ourselves. The ego no longer exists and humility is the only option. Following these intensely visceral moments, is a very powerful, feeling. It’s hard to quantify in either a written or verbal manner. Really, it’s indescribable.

Reasons this race was surreal

  1. Familial support. Hands down the reason why the weekend was so incredible. I can’t express enough gratitude for them.
  2. Thanks to Brit for pacing me and Matt for hanging with me until the finish (I wouldn’t have gotten my time without them).
  3. Seeing Friends/Family testing their limits at the 50-mile distance for the first time. It was super inspiring.
  4. The scenery. Stunning.
  5. The volunteers were outstanding. They opt to put up with a ton of characters. And they do it on their own time.
  6. A sunny 60 degrees in December is hard to beat.
  7. The post-race vibes were flawless.
  8. Pizza and beer
  9. That feeling of adrenaline and fatigue that stayed with me for a couple of days after was 100% worth it.
  10. I can’t wait to go back next year!
  11. Last but not least, this juicy jam kept me dialed when I need it most

SUMMER SOUNDZZZZ

School is out. Ice cream, cloggers, mexican beers, road trips, beaches, mountains and long days that allow more play time!

First things first, a couple little bangers to get the adventure juices flowing. AYYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Magic City Hippies – “Bull Ride”

Sticky Fingers – “Headlock”

Machineheart – “Circles”

Dagny – “Backbeat”

 

50 miles of smiles, discomfort and everything in between

This past weekend was the iconic American River 50 mile trail run. Brit, Matt Mo and I were Folsom-bound Friday afternoon. After a quick bib pick-up and pasta throw down, we went to the hotel.

Fast forward to the cell-phone-alarm-symphony that brought the thunder at 3:05 AM .No this wasn’t by choice. Actually, it was b/c it’s “what we signed up for”. In order to make to to the starting line by 6, the roads shut were shut at 5, so that left us needing to catch a bus at 4. Oh yeah! Treats.

We arrived at the starting line at 5:45 ish. We tried napping on the 40 minute bus ride, but apparently 4 am isn’t too early for people to discuss the entirety of the race course.  Yes -every single freaking aid station – in full detail, at a louder than desirable decibel level. We arrived to the starting line. Pitch black. Cold. We followed the masses because that’s what you do at running events, even though nobody really has a clue what’s going on. That led us to the porta potties. With temps. being in the 40s and standing around as the only thing to do for an hour, Brit decided to find shelter in the bus. Well, the busses were leaving. Bummer dude.

We “chilled” for an hour until, we could finally start moving towards the starting line. After moving towards the starting line, all we had to worry about was moving towards the finish line. Let the adventure begin.

It felt great to get moving. The sun came out and it stayed out. The first half of the course just rolled along. Then, after about mile 30, there were mountain bikers. Lots of them. Come to find out, they had an event as well. I’m all for sharing the trail, just not when it’s after 30 miles, you’re trying to groove uphill and these hellions are ripping around blind corners right at us. Super sketch to say the least. Fortunately, after an hour or so, that passed.

After that, aid stations came and went. The sunshine didn’t though. It felt great, but running along a beautiful river made the temptation of jumping in all too real. That temptation stayed for the entirety of the race. You gotta love type-2 fun.

I finally got into a groove at mile 41. It was like something came over me. I felt like a possessed mongrel. The ever elusive and much needed “runner’s high” came in full-force. The iron was hot! The time to strike was right now. Those moments are fleeting. I think it’s a disservice when we bow out and shy away from them.

Well, that euphoria faded quickly. Classic. The mile 44 aid station brought was clutch. They even had wine, but offered me none. I have no idea why, but it sounded good at the time.

From mile 47-50, the hill known as “The Last Gasp” was the only thing between the runners and the finish line. There was a guy with a pacer who was ahead of me from 45-47. I was tired of being stuck behind them and was ready to pass. It’s like when you’re on the highway and the car in front of you is going at a good speed, but you’re sick of being behind them, so you make the pass. Same exact feeling. I had faded a bit behind them, but saw the opening and decided to sneak up on em’.

Well, I saw my window of opportunity. I got right behind them. Foaming at the mouth, I started charging. One step later and I slammed to the ground! My water bottles spilled out and dust was all over me. I felt like a complete kook. Cover blown, they turned around and asked me if i was okay. Yep. Fueled by frustration, I bolted. That is until I turned the corner. The climb was gnarly.

I power hiked the rest of it out. Finally, the finish line was in sight! I crossed it and took a quick shower from my gallon of water in the car. After changing clothes, Matt convinced me to get a complementary leg massage. In all honesty, it might have hurt more than the race.

Matt crushed it and finished an hour before me. We hung out, tried to nap, but the adrenaline kept us awake. We waited for Brit to bring it home. Eventually, he rolled up. We were hollering at the top of our lungs. With about 50 yards to go, Brit threw his water bottles on the ground, threw his hat backwards and sprinted toward the finish! The crowd and commentator went bananas! It was the classic Brit move: all or nothing. Watching this scene unfold, Matt and I laughed hysterically.

We hobbled to the finish line and chatted Brit up. We got to the car and went straight for coffee and pizza. That’s right. An unorthodox combo, but the challenge ahead was the 3.5 hour drive home.

As the sun set in the east, we quietly made our way back home, satisfied with an adventure-filled day. These adventures always bring out everything our senses have to offer. The physical and mental agony of suffering coupled with the euphoric, emotional high of surviving is a raw display of vigor. That vigor is best encapsulated when folks near the finish. It’s an electrifying scene that charges the atmosphere and those in it. I am just stoked that the boys and I got to be a part of it.

 

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