The Double Boston
Things always start with a phone call or over a beer. This time it was a phone call.
"Hi Steve -- Hey Terry, It’s Steve Anderson."
"Tell him NO, then hang up the phone!"
"Now, mother, this might not even involve me. -- So Steve, what's up?"
"I'm going to do the Double Boston."
"How can I help?"
Thus began the odyssey.
So far as I know, no one ever attempted the Double Boston since one Boston Marathon can tear you apart enough. Just ask Alberto Salazar. He set what was a course record at the time and never did well at a marathon again. From Hopkinton to Boston, the course starts at about 500 feet above sea level and it’s a constant downhill to about mile 16 where, at 50 feet above sea level, we encounter the Newton-Wellesley Hills that go up about 250 feet for about three miles culminating at Heartbreak Hill, the Gettysburg of this war they call the Boston Marathon. If you survive Heartbreak, you usually finish the race. So, if you talk about doing this marathon twice, you've got to understand that, for the first marathon from Boston to Hopkinton, the first 16 miles are gradual downhills and the last six miles are uphill! Ultramarathons were still in their infancy around here and Google didn't exist yet, so there wasn't much literature available for training methods, etc. Steve was unsure how to train but neither of us ever believed that trashing ourselves week after week training was ever worthwhile. We always maintained a 60 percent training base that we could rely on, so a couple months before an extreme event, we could always kick it up a notch or two. You always wanted to be at peak condition a day or so before the event. There was nothing worse than arriving at a starting line on the downside of peak.
I don't recall a lot about Steve's attempt. All I remember is being very proud of him for finishing and what a mess he was at the end of the race. His body was covered with a crust of salt and blood was coming out of one ear. We directed him off the race course across the street from the Pru (the run ended at the Prudential Building in downtown Boston). This was before John Hancock Insurance took over as marathon sponsor and insisted that the race end at their building further down the street.
We were standing - Terry, Julianne, Josh, and me - in the doorway of a drugstore when Steve's legs cramped up. He couldn't move. He was blocking the door and people were trying to get in and out. We finally got him out of the way and headed home. Steve was young, in his mid twenties I think. He hurt a lot for awhile but recovered fully. We spent the next couple months discussing his exploits and, in one conversation, I wondered aloud if the double Boston could be done with a minimum of destruction to the body, given the right conditions. By the way, for those unfamiliar with the course, the total distance for the Double Boston is 52.4 miles. When you consider that the glycogen in the leg muscles can become depleted at 20 to 25 miles, then one can begin to appreciate the enormity of it all.
I thought there were several factors involved which included proper training to maintain baseline fitness, then spending two to three months before the race reaching peak endurance level. Then there was the problem of how to keep the leg muscles from running out of fuel and hitting the proverbial wall. I concocted the idea of having a solution of water and invert sugar (a product I used in beer making). Unlike regular sugar, invert sugar gets absorbed into the system twice as quick and thence into the muscles. I coupled that with taking an aspirin before starting the race and every couple hours after that to keep the blood thinned out and help reduce inflammation.
Why these discussions? The following February, I was going to turn 40. What a way to crash into that decade!
Another consideration is morale. On the 24 hour bike races I did, the night was an enemy. I kept the enemy at bay with uplifting music on tape that played all night long. Music like the theme to "Rocky" and "Chariots of Fire". For the daytime though, I thought having people at the right place, especially during the second marathon, would be inspiring. Adrenaline alone would carry me for the first marathon so, I enlisted many of the friends I had made with the Boston Beer Striders, the most notorious running (sic) club in New England to help my morale during the second Boston. I've talked about them at length in other stories, so I won't bore you by repeating it again. Suffice to say, I asked Jerry Caruso and his troops for help. Jerry volunteered to run with me for the first sixteen miles out of Hopkinton. The rest of the crew would be around the corner from the fire station at the beginning of the Newton-Wellesley Hills. Rich O’Day said he would hang around after he finished his marathon and wait with my wife until I got to the finish line in downtown Boston.
I maintained fitness base throughout the summer and winter by swimming, cycling, and running. The goal was to stay fit but injury free in anticipation of the three months of endurance training I'd need before the Double Boston. Training at this level is like walking on a razor where one slip would end the dream.
Once I made the commitment, I started telling anyone who would listen. That way, I wouldn't (couldn't) change my mind.
Telling Terry about the Double Boston, however, required, shall we say - delicacy. First, I discussed with her how Steve Anderson had approached the race and suggested it could probably be done without the problems he encountered. Later, I mentioned that I was toying with the idea myself. Then by degrees over the next few weeks, I let her know I fully intended to do it.
"You’re so transparent." Said Terry
"What do you mean?" Said I looking as innocent as a newborn.
"When Steve crossed the finish line at the Pru, I saw that look in your eyes. I resigned myself than that you'd try it next."
"Am I that obvious?"
"No, that predictable."
There was an added benefit that winter in the form of snow. I was able to do a lot of cross-country skiing with Paul Hennessey. I finished January in kick ass shape. But, fitness, as I mentioned, was like walking on that razor.
I never ran over 30 miles a week until February when I added a 20 mile run every Saturday. In March, the Saturday run went to 30 miles. From our house on Essex Street to Kitty’s Restaurant in North Reading was about 15 miles. I’d do an out and back. Luckily again, spring was mild that year. I could run in shorts, T-shirt, and a backpack containing a jacket in case it rained or got cold, and food like trail-mix. I also planned to carry a backpack during the Double Boston with a complete change of clothes and shoes, and a bath towel (more about this later) for when I finished the first marathon in Hopkinton.
Anyhow, the 30 mile training course started on Essex Street, Lynn, to Chestnut Street to Goodwin Circle past Perly Burrills gas station (their slogan "just off the pike, where the lights shine bright.") probably the oldest, continuous running gas station in the country. Hard to understand since their gas prices were so damned high and they didn't do repair work. Old man Burrill and his two sons ran the station. They were big, burly, and, the father and one of the sons, cantankerous. The youngest brother, however, was quite affable to the point of talking your head off. Next, I had to crossover Route 1, always an adventure as I was probably the first pedestrian ever to venture there. Then down Summer Street to Lynnfield Center. A sharp right onto Main Street for about three-quarter mile and left onto Lowell Street all the way to North Reading. Across the street from Kitty’s Restaurant on Route 125 was a Dunkin' Donuts. I always stopped there and wolfed down a coffee. Then back home again using the same route.
One Saturday about ten miles from home on the return trip, I developed flu-like symptoms. Luckily, about three miles from home, Neil Carpenter in his wife noticed me reeling and staggering. They picked me up and drove me home. Strangest of all, I didn't know Neil at the time. He recognized me from some of the races. Neil was an avid cyclist. We were around the same age and became friends.
I was sick for four days. Time to scale back training!
I was up at 6:00 AM - another oath having been broken that I'd never get up for any race before 10:00 AM. I shaved, ritual ablutions, dressed, toast, tea, grabbed backpack, and out the door. It was Patriots Day. Patriots Day is a local Boston holiday so there was little traffic at that hour. A few hours later and downtown Boston streets would be jammed with people to watch the marathon and traffic would be insane especially around 1:00 PM or 2:00 PM when the 11:00 AM Red Sox ballgame finished.
I parked on a side street off Boylston without worrying about the parking meter since parking was free on holidays. I jogged to the finish line, looked at my watch, one minute of 8:00, threw the watch in my knapsack, took a couple of deep breaths, and started down Boylston, right onto Hereford, left onto Commonwealth Ave. toward Brookline. The sky was overcast with a light mist; perfect conditions for a heavyweight (182 pounds) runner like myself. My major fear was the weather. Because of some stupid stunts I’d pulled in the past, I was highly susceptible to hyperthermia. If it was a hot, sunny day (anything over 85 degrees), I’d have to bail out. So, imagine my feelings when the night before, the local weatherman gave the sad forecast of cool, cloudy, and light rain all day. I was ecstatic!!!
The adrenaline kicked in. I was higher than a kite, and at about the two or three mile point, I inadvertently wandered off course.I never thought of bringing a map since I'd been over the course many times; but never in this direction. I ran for 15 minutes before the elation ended and panic set in. Shit! Only a few miles in and I may have to bail out. Suddenly, I stumbled upon a familiar sight -- Boston College. And further on, irony set in. I was running down Heartbreak Hill. The next three miles would be downhill. The danger here was running too fast which would have been fatal because the last six miles into Hopkinton, the start of the real Boston marathon, would be all uphill and I’d run the danger of bonking (inside term meaning to run out of energy). At mile 9 I reach the Newton fire station at the end of the hills and the road flattened out for awhile. I passed the crew from Channel 2 (a PBS station) when one of the technicians said jokingly,
"Hey, you're running the wrong way!"
"Actually I'm running from Boston to Hopkinton then back with a crowd."
The rest of the run to Hopkinton was uneventful until I reached Framingham around mile 22. This is where most hit the wall as glycogen stores are beginning to deplete. I'd been snacking on trail mix, sipped the water I carried to keep myself hydrated, took one baby aspirin every hour are half or so to thin out the blood, and teaspoonfuls of invert sugar solution every hour or so for energy.
I was running parallel to the railroad tracks in downtown Framingham when I passed an old Dodge van. Inside was a man in his 40s about my age. The thing that stuck out was that there were yellow ‘Post-It’ notes over every square inch of the interior of the van. There was writing on each piece but I went by too quickly to make out any of the writing. The guy was wearing a polo shirt, denim jeans, and leather work boots. He was bald on top with long hair on the sides and back. I caught a glimpse of his face and he had that faraway look. His face was gaunt with a Roman nose. I ran past the van and had gone about 20 yards when I heard the van’s door open and shut. Then,
"Hey, where’re you running to?"
Without turning around, I said "To Hopkinton, to the marathon."
By then, we were separated by about 50 yards as I tried to put space between us. Then I heard from a distance.
"I think I'll go to."
This had a couple effects on me. He gave me the creeps. Here he is trying to run five miles or so to Hopkinton in those heavy leather work boots. However, it did take my mind off of my fatigue as I jogged, climbing steadily from Ashland to Hopkinton. I lost sight of him after about a mile.
I got into Hopkinton around 11:30 AM. There must have been 30,000 people -- runners, vendors, spectators, media, and one crazy religious man who was haranguing the multitude from the porch of what I think was his home. I was in no mood or condition to be saved today so I wended my way through the crowd to meet my friends from the Boston Beer Striders in the parking lot of the Masonic Hall on West Main Street. This was a couple hundred yards or so from the marathon start.
"Hey, you made it!" Said Dan Bowse from the group of Beer Striders. Dan was the only serious runner in the club. Fred Latour said Dan gave us respectability. Dan, however wasn’t running this year.
"A bit tired, but none the worse for wear." I responded.
"OK, here's the plan." Jerry Caruso, always the organizer.
"I'm running with Tom the first 17 miles to the Newton fire station. The rest of the club will be on the grass median strip around the corner. Tom, that's the start of the Wellesley hills and you’ll be on your own from there."
"I'd like to get started as soon as I change to avoid the madness of the start." I said.
With that, the guys and girls held a large beach towel around me as I changed into clean, dry running shorts, a singlet, and Goretex pullover. Oh yes, and also my good luck Yoplait yellow bike cap.
Jerry and I headed off down Route 135. I wanted to do the first five miles, then pull over to the side of the road, run in place, and stretch to avoid freezing up, while the race went by. So off we went for marathon number two. It felt strange running down the road. The people who lived on both sides of the street were mostly residents, their relatives, and friends. We got a lot of questioning stares as we ran down the road. Some looked at their watches as if to say ‘did I miss something here?’ Others cheered. Some raised their cans of Bud.
About two miles down the road, there he was.
"Holy mackerel, that's him, the guy I told you about."
"The weirdo who followed you from Framingham?"
He ran by toward Hopkinton without looking at us. He had a glazed but determined look in his eyes. He looked like he was meeting his demons. I silently wished him good luck.
The five miles to Framingham is all gradual downhill. About a 250 foot drop toward sea level from Hopkinton to Framingham. The trick, of course, is not running to fast. If you do you may pay for it by ‘hitting the wall’ around mile 20.
The weather was still cool but the dampness was starting to wear off and the sun tried a couple times to poke through the clouds. I hoped the sun would stay in because any rise in temperature would jeopardize this run for me. I can go hyperthermic just looking at the sky on a sunny day. The water stops were almost all set up so we started taking water as much as possible. Now I could dump what was left over of the two water bottles I had used for the first marathon.
"Tom, here's the five mile sign, let's stop here."
"Sounds good, I've got to eat and take an aspirin."
I got into my pack, munched on some trail mix.
"I can't find the bottle of aspirin in my backpack; it must have fallen out back in Hopkinton."
"Not to worry. There’s a drugstore here in town. What do you need?"
"Small container of St. Joseph's aspirin or its generic equivalent. It’s low dosage and doesn't screw up my stomach."
"OK, why don’t you move out and I’ll catch up."
We had watched as first the wheelchairs, then the elite runners, and finally the main pack ran by. I picked my spot toward the back and jumped in. Jerry caught up almost a mile out of Framingham. I popped an aspirin and continued.
While I think of it, going through downtown Framingham there are a couple of marathon highlights I forgot to mention. On the right hand side of the main street is, I think, a furniture store with five or six large front windows. In all seven Boston Marathon’s I've run, there was always a big sign in the first window that read:
RUNNERS – CHECK YOURSELVES OUT HERE!
The windows were like the mirrors you see in any gym, and, sure enough, as we ran by, we’d suck in our guts, stand a little straighter, and admire the results. It always gave me a lift going by there.
This was followed by a ragtime band that played from the roof of another store.
And always, the ubiquitous crowd of spectators cheering you on.
Jerry set a smooth, slow, consistent pace as we had agreed beforehand. I wanted to do the second marathon in under 5 1/2 hours. I had no self-delusion about speed. After all, I was 5’ 11", 182 pounds.
"Is that what I think it is?"
"We’re between a quarter to a half mile from Wellesley College, so yeah, I guess it is." Replied Jerry.
It started as a din and accelerated and crescendoed to a feverish alto and soprano pitch. We were about to enter the gauntlet at Wellesley College. There were a couple thousand coeds lining both sides of the street. They closed ranks so that there was only room for 2 or 3 runners abreast (note the incredible word choice). As we ran through, there was so much loud piercing cheering that you couldn’t hear yourself think. The girls reached out and patted your back, shoulders, and anything else exposed and within reach -- what an adrenaline rush!!! At this point, I was ready to run a thousand miles. And I thought my hormones could rage; it was nothing compared with these female undergraduates. I'm not sure whether they worked in shifts by I’m informed they stay out there for three or four hours. Mercy!!!
"I'm going back again." I told Jerry.
"Are you nuts?"
"Is that a rhetorical question? It's something I’ve always wanted to do since my first Boston. I’m going through again."
With that, we pulled off the street, onto the sidewalk, and jogged a few hundred yards back. We jumped back into the race and went through the gauntlet a second time. WOW!!! -- If this is like heaven, I want to pass on now. I'm getting excited just writing about this!
This kept us going until we reached the Newton fire station where the course takes a sharp right and you begin the ascent into the Newton-Wellesley hills which culminates around mile 20 1/2 at Heartbreak Hill, so named because if you’re going to bonk and hit the wall, you’re going to do it here. And, if you got sucked into running too fast down the hills from Hopkinton to Ashland, you'll pay dearly at Heartbreak.
Anyhow, many members of the Beer Striders used the grass on the center median on Commonwealth Avenue at the beginning of the hills. This is where Jerry jumped out having paced me to this point. I watched him flip the top of a Bud hidden in an insulated wrap. They all raised their cans and toasted my effort as I turned and started the Hills. My plan was to do the three miles of gradual hills at a slow jog. My aim was to do no walking as I didn't want to end up doing the survival shuffle with over nine miles still to go.
Well, it worked. I was actually passing people, especially on
Heartbreak itself. When I reached the top, there was a crane set up on the side of the road. A sign at the top of the crane read:
YOU’VE JUST MADE IT OVER HEARTBREAK HILL.
With six miles to go, I knew I’d finish but would I make the 5 1/2 hours as planned?
When I got to Boston College, it was party central; the grills were smoking and the suds were flying. There were very few runners left on the course at this time. I gratefully accepted an ice cold beer from one of the students. The beer was finished by the time I reached Cleveland Circle. Cars were now rushing by as all barricades had been removed. It was a pain in the rump trying to cross the square. I'm really tired now, beyond bonking, telling myself to keep the pace.
And then, here it was -- Hereford Street, a bow to the Elliot Lounge, left onto Boylston Street, and the final few hundred yards to the Pru.
I could see the finish clock still running but couldn’t make out the time. There were no runners ahead of me. I looked back and saw one lonely straggler shuffling along. He'd make it too. The crowds had gone home and workmen were dismantling the scaffolding at the finish line.
The clock read 5:25:00 as I crossed the finish line. Total time nine hours and 25 minutes, 52.4 miles or so given a few hundred yards added at Wellesley College.
I was met at the finish line by Rich O’Day and my wife Terry. I was drained but accepted gratefully Terry's kiss and Rich’s beer.
We got back home and had the traditional post race pizza. I must have had a half a dozen beers but didn't feel a thing. My body just soaked up the carbs. Dr. Spartos (Tony) called and wanted to examine me the next day -- turned out to have no appreciable problems. Rich Fahey call from the Daily Item and I garnered a lot of ink in several papers the next day.
Steve Anderson called:
"Well, did you make it?"
"Now there are two people who've done the Double Boston. And I hope it ends here."