NPR

8 runners take on the 2014 Boston Marathon

matthew conlon

This Is Our City

Yesterday, I finished the 2014 Boston Marathon in 3:48. This was almost half-an-hour over what I had been planning to hit, but it was still a major accomplishment.

The first half of the race went almost exactly as planned. I went through the half-marathon split in just over an hour and a half. However, the heat gradually got to me and really slowed me down over the second half.  I ended up walking through the water stops at every mile and trudging along at a slower pace. It was tough to watch my goals slip away, but I knew there was no way in hell that I was going to stop. 

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Here I am receiving my medal from my mother, who began volunteering at the finish line when I first ran the race in 2012.

More importantly, this was the day that Bostonians reclaimed their city from the events that struck the race a year ago. There were more people there than I’ve ever seen before There were plenty of times when I couldn’t hear my music over the roar of the crowd. Yesterday, Boston showed that it was not afraid and that it was going to celebrate what is the most storied long distance road race in the world.

Only adding to the celebration was the fact that American Meb Keflezighi brought home a Boston Marathon win for the United States for the first time since 1985. In the year where Boston needed it most, Keflezighi’s front-running performance both shocked and delighted all who were watching the race. In an interview afterwards, he revealed that his mantra for the race was to try and win as a gesture of respect and remembrance for those who were lost in the bombing last year. I’m sure that this was a common theme for all the runners; I know that it helped me through those last miles.

There were many people who were screaming “Go UMass!” or “Go for Krystle!” as I ran by them. The support from the huge crowds definitely helped me finish stronger than I would have otherwise.

I don’t know where my running career will take me from here. I want to run a better marathon time and I know I have it in me. This training season was tough. But I know that I can take it and improve upon it next time. The combination of an illness a few weeks ago and the heat probably didn’t help. But I will still celebrate my victory and my city’s victory because this race means so much more to Boston than how fast we finished it.

— Matthew Conlon

Alive

It would be impossible to describe the emotions that I will feel when I step over the starting line in Hopkinton next Monday.  I will feel confident that I can perform as well I want to. I will feel sadness for those who were injured and lost last year. I will feel deep gratitude for those who protected us then and continue to protect us now. As much as I prepare for the marathon as if it were any normal race day, I know it will be anything but.

Throughout the long and cold winter, I have pushed through lots of miles and numerous aches and pains. Even with the minor setbacks, I am confident that I’m in the best shape of my life and that I can run a strong race. Running is an interesting sport in that, for most people, the results are directly associated with the work they put in. From a personal standpoint, it’s always rewarding to see the effort pay off with a good performance.

Although I’m trying to approach Monday as a normal race day, this year’s Boston Marathon is different. As much as I want to do the best that I can, I frequently remind myself why I’m doing it. Without the events of last year’s race, I wouldn’t be preparing for this one. In my case, if things had turned out differently and April 15th had happened without incident, I wouldn’t be running and Krystle Campbell would still be alive.  Others would still have their limbs and many more would not be frightened of attending the race again.

Sometimes I feel as if I don’t deserve this opportunity and that I shouldn’t feel happy no matter how well I do. It’s a dark feeling and it does bother me, since I sometimes feel that I am capitalizing off of the anguish of others.

I sincerely believe that come race day, the love of the runners, volunteers and spectators will overpower any notions of doubt and sadness. As we have already seen many times over the past year, Boston is a strong and resilient community. The stories of first responders and average citizens going above and beyond to help those in need are heartwarming and show that, together, we really care for those who need us. It’s been incredibly inspiring to read about how the people of our city did everything from saving lives to offering shelter to lending cellphones and giving away clothing to those who needed it. When I hear the phrase Boston Strong, this is what comes to mind.

When I step over the starting line in Hopkinton next Monday, I will be on both a physical and an emotional journey. I know what to expect for a three-hour run. But I don’t know how I’m going to feel. I haven’t been able to find a word in our language that describes the combination of being happy, sad, inspired and a little angry all at once. The best adjective that I have found so far: Alive.  I am going to feel alive as I pass a million onlookers as one of 36,000 runners. Alone and yet together, far away and yet close to one another all at once, a mass of humanity that is alive and moving towards recovery.

— Matthew Conlon

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In memory of Krystle Campbell

I really need to learn to stop running like a fool when I have a big race coming up. I fell off a sidewalk yesterday afternoon while trying to avoid some pedestrians and took a bit of a gnarly tumble between a few parked cars. I smashed my left knee off of the curbstone but I emerged relatively intact otherwise. When I got home it was swollen and tight, so it’s definitely time for a day off and lots of icing!
— Matthew Conlon

I really need to learn to stop running like a fool when I have a big race coming up. I fell off a sidewalk yesterday afternoon while trying to avoid some pedestrians and took a bit of a gnarly tumble between a few parked cars. I smashed my left knee off of the curbstone but I emerged relatively intact otherwise. When I got home it was swollen and tight, so it’s definitely time for a day off and lots of icing!

— Matthew Conlon

So Close You Can See It On The Weather Forecast!

Today is a day I have been looking forward to for a few weeks. Since we are only 10 days from race day, I can now start obsessing over the long-range forecast for the weather!

I vividly remember checking constantly in the days leading up to the race in 2012. That day was marked by heat reaching up to the low 90s. When the forecast first came out 10 days ahead of the 2012 race, it was looking like it was going to be a beautiful sunny day in the high 60s/low 70s. Well that certainly changed!

When I checked this morning, the outlook seemed a bit better, although that wouldn’t be hard compared to what I ran in two years ago! Right now, we’re looking at temperatures in the mid-to-high 50s with a good chance of some rain. I know a lot of people don’t care for the rain (especially in such a long race), but it is a welcome sight to me after melting in the sun in 2012.

Since we are getting so close to race day, I decided to do one final run on the course yesterday afternoon. My girlfriend and I rode the MBTA’s Green Line out to the Woodland station, which is located directly underneath Massachusetts Route 16, about a half-mile before the course turns on to Commonwealth Avenue by the Newton Firehouse. We ran the famed Newton Hills, down past Boston College, through Cleveland Circle and on into Brookline before catching the train home. We ended up covering about six miles.

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It was nice to be out there one final time, seeing the friendly faces of other runners and neighbors. You can tell that people in Boston are really starting to get excited for the race, which is sure to be a special and emotional day for everyone involved.

— Matthew Conlon

Streaking!

In the running sense, of course!  To those of you expecting something else, April Fools!

Although I’m coming down what is sure to be a nasty head cold (something I had managed to escape during this miserable winter), I ran three miles this morning.  It was the 46th consecutive day of lacing up and heading outside, making it the longest “streak” I have completed.  Some people go years or decades without taking a day to relax and recover.  What’s the longest running streak that you have achieved?

-Matthew Conlon 

Stepping Closer: Thoughts On A Final Long Run

There is nothing quite like the rush of finishing the longest pre-marathon training run knowing that you hit the time you were aiming for.  Yesterday morning, I did exactly that as I covered the 22.4 miles between the starting ling in Hopkinton and Cleveland  Circle in Boston.  Everything about this day was perfect, from the weather (high 40s/low 50s with a light headwind) to the support from my fellow running club members.  It would be hard not to feel the contagious energy of the course on a day like yesterday, as there were thousands of other runners and hundreds of volunteers out on the course to coax the runners through their last long workout.

Even though yesterday was not the actual race, there were still small crowds of spectators who came out from surrounding houses to cheer us on.  Little kids were ecstatically yelling “keep it up!” and “good job!” to all the runners passing by their front yard.  Yesterday was also the day that the military personnel who typically march the course on Patriot’s Day decided to complete the 26.2 miles, since there is a new restriction against carrying backpacks on race day.  It was inspiring to see many veterans and active servicemen and women come out to continue a tradition of the marathon even if they can’t participate on the day of the race.  I ran past many of them in the town of Natick, and it definitely gave me a boost to continue on.  It’s hard not to look forward to race when I know that this encouragement  will exist almost non-stop for the entire length of the course in a few  weeks.

I also got to hang out with this primate while waiting to cross a busy road 20 miles in! 

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Driving out in a cramped school bus with fifty other runners, I reflected not only on what I wanted to do today, but also why I do this in general. The topical reasons are pretty evident, as I want to challenge myself while simultaneously honoring a life that was prematurely extinguished on Boylston Street, last year. During the past few months I have trained harder than I ever have before in the hopes that I will run a strong time, but also bearing in mind that as a charity runner, I am to make an impression about why I’m running. Raising money for a charity in a race is doubly rewarding in this aspect because while I get to challenge myself, I also get to be involved in a effort to raise awareness of a great cause.

However, running these distances means more to me than that. I run for many reasons, among them to stay fit, to relieve stress and to escape (at least temporarily) from the many other responsibilities that dictate my time. As a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Boston, I always have my plate full with class work, research and grading papers as a teaching assistant. The comparative freedom on the weekend to churn out a couple-hour long run is very relaxing, providing me with a great way to wind down from the fast-paced weekdays at school. Even getting just a thirty or forty minute run in between school, homework, band practice and life in general is beneficial, because it allows me to relax on focus on nothing more than the road in front of me for a little while.

Now that I’ve completed my final long run, the next three weeks will involve the dreaded tapering.  The goal of tapering is to start running less and less until race day so I have time to recover from all the training that I subjected myself to in the past few months.  I will go from 65-70 mile weeks down to about 30 during the last week before the race.  I find this to be one of the toughest parts of training because it can feel like you’re losing all of the hard work that you have put into getting ready for the race.  However, it will allow me to focus more on fun running, such as hill workouts with this energetic five year old!

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—Matthew Conlon