Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Journey from Boston to Buffalo Marathon by Ryan Mills

My journey to the 119th Boston Marathon April 20th, 2015 started in 2013.  I qualified for Boston with my first marathon in North Carolina called, “Peak to Creek” in October 2013.  Peak to Creek was a gut check the last 10k, like any marathon but magnified after the downhill portion of the course, which left my quads shot. Qualifying for the Boston Marathon was an incredible feat for me for two reasons: first, being such a prestigious race, and second, the fact I was able to compete at that level after hip surgery in 2009.
I started training at the end of December for the 2015 Boston Marathon while I was studying abroad in London.  I was in the UK studying their healthcare system (the National Health Service) for my Comparative International Health class at Pfeiffer University.  Every morning before lecture, I would run between 7-12 miles. The highlight of my day was running along the River Thames – where I met some of the friendliest people.  Runners passing by would wave and nod or run with you a few miles just to chat.
After coming home from London, I increased my mileage and dedicated more time to be ready for the Boston Marathon in April.  I switched up my diet to optimize my nutrition, even though eating healthy is the hardest part.  I stayed in on Friday night’s, and stepped up my track and tempo days.
In Boston I felt incredible. My taper couldn’t have gone better, and I was at the goal weight I wanted to be at to compete.  Everything was going perfectly until the night before the race.  The evening of the race I ended up getting gastroenteritis (a stomach virus), which kept me in the bathroom all night.  I should never have run the race, but I had trained so hard.  I just had to give it a shot.  I woke up that morning and found the closest Walgreens by the buses at the Boston Common.  I got a bottle of Imodium and chugged (which probably was not the best decision but I was desperate).  When I got to the starting point of the race at Hopkinton – I tried my best to rehydrate myself, however, it was too late.
When I started the race first, I stayed on pace the first 5-10k but my stomach virus progressed.  If this had been any other race, I would have thrown in the towel but this was Boston.  Boston Marathon is one of the most prestigious marathons in the world and I just couldn’t bare to give up on my dream of running it.  Recently before the race, I watched the movie "Unbroken" directed by Angelina Jolie with my girlfriend.  I had the phrase from Louis Zamperini, “If you can take it, you can make it" replaying over and over in my head, which set up the stage for bad decision-making.  Plus, it’s not every day you get the opportunity to run with 30,000 of the most elite runners in the world with more than a million fans cheering.  I changed strategies, turned off my GPS, and decided to give it all I had.  
My pace fell off target significantly from stopping at multiple porta johns along the way and the feeling of general weakness kicked in. I vividly remember a runner tapping me between my shoulder blades after witnessing me pulling off to the side to puke.  He asked if he could run with me a few miles to help get me through.  I was shocked; it's hard to fathom a stranger sacrificing part of their race to run with you.  However, this was not just a coincidence.  I had two other runners run along beside me for short stretches as well, encouraging me to push through.
During the race, there were brief moments, such as when I passed Wellesley College where women held massive signs that said “Kiss me” and provided deafening cheers, which encouraged me to dig deeper and made me push through it. However, the cold rain, dehydration, and not being able to take any gels without getting sick, caught up to me at mile marker 17. I did my best impression of Roberto Duran when he fought Sugar Ray Leonard, throwing in the towel and yelling, “No Mas." My body was physically unable to continue and I asked for medical help.  At that point, I had hypothermia from the cold rain and I was unable to heat myself up, and had a temperature of 102.6 degrees with a stomach virus. After the medical team assessed me, they decided it was best for the Cataldo Ambulance Service to take me to St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center.  At the hospital I was diagnosed with dehydration and gastroenteritis.  Luckily, my hypothermia was easily reversed and went away by the time I got to the emergency department.
At the hospital, I took a nap and upon awakening I saw the most important thing to me: my family and friends.  I had multiple family members and friends who traveled from out of state to come me run. I always preach that your circumstance is all about perspective, and seeing my family and friends changed my perspective. Everyone has a bad race if you run long enough. My first Boston experience didn’t end up being about my race but was more about the kindness of others.  The camaraderie amongst the runners during the race and my family and friends served as my motivation to continuing training once I returned to Charlotte to requalify for Boston.
Instead of feeling sorry for myself post-Boston (which was easy to do with all the posts on Facebook of other runners with great races or focusing on having a “did not finish (DNF)” on my resume), I decided to jump in the next marathon that worked with my work schedule, which was Buffalo's Marathon. Going into Buffalo I had two goals in mind: to qualify for Boston and redemption.  I was able to do that with a time of 2:52, which was 13 minutes under the Boston Qualifying time.  My Boston experience in 2015 was quite unique.  I was able to experience the compassion of other runners, family and friends, who lifted me up when I was down. I can't express in words how humbled and grateful I am for that experience.  Hopefully, I get the opportunity to pay it forward to another fellow runner who isn’t having a particularly good race. A marathon is like life, with its ups and downs.  The trick is to stay positive and never give up.   

Boston Marathon Report by Christopher Mandelaris

The Boston of Aghhhs
As the saying goes, “Expect the worst, hope for the best”.  Most marathoners know that the race starts at mile 18 but as I would find out, my 2015 Boston Marathon would ‘start’ a bit later and become one of the most memorable and satisfying races I’ve done to date.  

I felt great the days leading into the race and was mentally and physically prepared for Monday morning’s race start.  I was accompanied by some good friends, and race participants, Allen and Laura Strickland and girlfriend Dezi Kabouris.  We all shared lodging together just a short distance from the finish and kept each other in high spirits over the days making each other laugh and taking pictures as we walked around the expo and strolling along the famous Boylston Street finish.   As a new member of the Charlotte Running Club it was great to meet new faces and members as we all posed for a few club photos before disbursing to take on pre-race dinner activities and rituals.
Coming back from a grocery store ‘run’rench bread and ground beef(somebody clearly went to the Adidas store) Dezi: Bag of noodles Allen: Not sure but he has two of them
The morning of the race went flawless; we got on the correct subways transfers and made it to the bus pickup to Hopkinton, the start of the race.  Upon arrival we waited in our bus to before heading out, it was overcast and a bit chilly but nothing a $5 Walmart hoody and bottoms couldn’t handle.  I looked out the window and saw a little bit of drizzle but nothing too terrible.  Since my corral left first I left the bus before the others, stood up from my seat and gave a hug to Dezi and knuckle bump to Allen and high five to Laura.  On the way out Dezi asked if I needed gloves, I looked back and scoffed at the idea and said “No thanks, appreciate it, I’m good”.  Actually my inner monologue was saying “what kind of wuss wears gloves….please”. Dezi is always prepared and had purchased some inexpensive gloves ‘just in case’ – she’s meticulous when it comes to planning and something I should hope to learn from in the near future. 
Fast forward to the start I find my corral ditch the sweats and ready to go.  It’s wet outside but not raining and just a bit of a cool breeze damp streets – “perfect weather for a marathon” I thought to myself, “I’ll be warmed up in a mile to two”.  The first five to six miles went well and the rain began to come down, not terrible but definitely noticeable. I was still on pace at 6:50’s and was gearing in on the halfway mark somewhere around 1:30. 
 As I crossed the timing mat at the halfway mark I looked at my watch and saw 1:29 – Perfect, “feeling good,” I thought to myself.  A few more miles and start the dreaded hills. It was becoming colder throughout the morning and by the time mile 16 had arrived it was raining quite hard and the winds were substantial enough that I was starting to feel uncomfortably colder.  I watched as my paced dropped by twenty to thirty seconds but didn’t think anything of it as I knew my pace would drop along the hills and was expecting to make time up on the descent back in to Boston.  As the race progressed the wind and the rain were seemingly relentless and I could feel my hands and arms becoming numb.  I kept thinking back to when I was in the bus and should have listened to Dezi and wished I had gloves as the arm warmers and thin Adidas singlet were doing nothing but keeping me wet and increasing colder.  At mile twenty I knew this wasn’t going to go my way and my goal time was not in the cards today so I accepted that a respectable finish would be equally satisfying and just to keep moving forward.  At mile twenty three I could feel myself shaking and hands becoming difficult to even make a fist – I made the decision to make a quick stop in a warming tent for just a moment to get some feeling back and that’s when it hit me.  Like a tidal wave crashing in all of a sudden my body began to violently shiver. I was given a cup of warm water to hold and as I tried to grab the cup, my hand had a mind of its own and shook the fluids out of the cup.  I watched in disbelief as I looked down at my hands and arms to see them uncontrollably shake and nothing I could do to stop it.  The volunteer EMTs in the tent noticed and exclaimed I should go into the building behind the tent where medical could assist before anything got worse.  I decided it was probably the best choice as I didn’t want to risk ruining the remainder of my season or health in general, so I was assisted into the medical ‘tent’ which was actually a Catholic Church temporally being used to assist runners. 
As I entered I was immediately offered dry clothes which I happily accepted and while still uncontrollably shivering I noticed two others in the same situation – no one spoke as we were all just trying to get warm.  With a dry sweatshirt provided and hot water bottles placed underneath to help with the warming I laid down on the cot provided and waited to warm back up.  I stared at the ceiling thinking to myself “my race is over, what a waste of money and effort this trip was”.    
It took sometime over an hour to finally stop the shaking and ended up talking to the guy next to me – at this point there are now three individuals in the same boat as I am, each looking equally defeated and ready to take the bus back to the finish line.  The volunteer medical staff  exclaimed “The bus back to the finish will be here shortly so get your things ready if you’re feeling up to it”.   It was then I began to think of all the endurance races I’ve done, all the Ironman races and marathons raced before.  I always told myself that I would always finish unless there was a major medical incident that would not allow me to complete.  I would always try to do whatever I could to get to the finish line.  I looked over and noticed the racer next to me who slowly got up gathering his things crumbling them into a ball. I asked him if he was headed back and he noted he was.  I asked him his name and where he was from and he responded “Miguel, from Boulder”.  He was here with his wife and two children - it was his first Boston.   I personally wasn’t exactly excited about walking three miles solo so proceeded to tell Miguel that I wasn’t quitting and walking it in and that he should too “It’s your first Boston, you can’t DNF (Did Not Finish)”.  He stopped and thought about it for a minute or so and said “You’re right, we can still finish and my wife and children are waiting for me at the finish line…..let’s finish this”.   After taking a bit more time to warm up we got up and started walking towards the door when we heard another voice from behind us say “You guys walking to the finish?”  I turned around I saw two other runners dealing with the same hypothermic symptoms and warming up.  They exclaimed “If you can wait a few more we’d like to join you too”.  I looked at Miguel and we both nodded and took a seat as we waited for the others to join and head out back on the course.

As I waited, memories of countless hours of watching Ironman videos on the bike trainer began running through my head.  The one quote that I just couldn’t let go of was one from Ironman founder John Collins whose famous quote “Do what you’ve set out to do……. finish what you started, maybe not as fast as the person in front of you, but certainly faster than the person that never started. You can quit, no one will care and you’ll always know” stuck with me.  I knew come Tuesday morning I couldn’t deal with the thought of not finishing the three remaining miles.   I may not have the ideal finish time or finishers picture I wanted but I traveled this far, spent the money on flight, hotel, etc and three miles wasn’t going to get between me and the finishers medal even if I had to walk it in.  I had the choice to quit or to suck it up, check my ego, and walk three miles with an old army blanket on watching individuals, one by one of all shapes and sizes, pass me by en route to the finish. 
So there we were, the four of us who were complete strangers three hours before.  Walking the last three miles of the 2015 Boston Marathon, now as friends and sharing a 2015 Boston Finish experience none of us had ever expected or necessarily wanted.  It was our own Wizard of OZ march so to speak, walking side by side old wool army blankets covering us, walking that Boston brick road.  There was Miguel Arias from Boulder, Colorado, Yuki Fushima from Tokyo, Japan, Jimmy Jung from NYC and myself.

As we walked along we got high fives from spectators and even tossed a Pabst Blue Ribbon in a can which Miguel caught, cracked open and drank as the spectators cheered.  We all crossed the finish line, gave each other high fives and then went our separate ways like a slow dissolve at the end of some western movie.  It was one of the most memorable races I’ve done and glad I didn’t quit or have to do it alone.
(Left to Right: The three stubbornly tough people I now know; Jimmy Jung Yuki Fushima , Miguel Arias, myself)

Some of the best and most memorable moments in life come from those times you feel are the worst and don’t necessarily make sense. But in hindsight now I realize a few things; I may not have gotten my personal best marathon, and yes my name was last in the Charlotte Observer paper for Charlotte finishers but what the paper didn’t show were my personal bests - a personal best in character, personal best drive and determination and a personal best in finishing with people with the same spirit of the marathon and importance to finish what they started.  
In the end it was a much better day that showed on the finishing time.  I gained three new friends of whom I’d otherwise never would had met, earned some respect of fellow runners for not throwing in the towel when things got tough and letting go of the ego and just enjoyed the moment and the people surrounding the event – the true spirit of the marathon.  
The Marathon isn’t always just a distance noted as a number, it sometimes means much, much more.  And yes, for the record and to her credit, Dezi waited at the finish line until she  found me – with no cell phones or way to communicate with me she waited searching for me in the pouring cold rain for two hours after her finish to make sure I was alright.  Bruised egos heal fast with someone who cares around.

Tuesday morning I woke up to a smiling Dezi who, without hesitation, said “I’m proud of you for not quitting”. That’s all I needed to hear.  A finishing time only tells a fraction of the story of any participant in a 5k or Marathon – sometimes the best stories are created and told in the back of the pack. 
DFL before DNF was always a cool catchphrase I’d throw around.  One that I never thought would happen to me but on Tuesday afternoon I opened the Charlotte Observer and there I was #145 in black in white.
#1 Billy Shue, Charlotte: 2:36:01
#145 Christopher Mandelaris, Charlotte: 5:33:28  
 ……..and hey, how many of us have had the honor to bookend fellow Charlottean finishers with Bank of America Audit Coworker and Charlotte’s fastest Boston finisher, Billy Shue!

Finally warmed up and getting ready to walk.

Boston Finishers

Charlotte Running Club with new friends

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