In December of 2012, CFDC gained access to what was supposed to be a very short-term temporary home at Our Lady, Queen of the America’s Church. However, after a month of endless KB work, and still awaiting completion of the new gym, we decided to add barbells to the mix. We also happened to add an awesome new member. Dave was an overt endurance athlete, and was looking for a strength and conditioning program to supplement his running. More specifically, Dave was looking for a program to help him redeem himself on the streets of Bean Town during the 2013 Boston Marathon, a race which now holds a macabre place-marker in all our memories. Personally, I could think of no one better to kick off CFDC’s articles postings, and below is Dave’s journey to, and through, the 2013 Boston Marathon, in his own words. Enjoy.
Runners refer to this fabled marathon in one word – Boston. For years, I dreamed of toeing the start line at Hopkinton, tackling Heartbreak Hill, and racing the final 600 yards along Boylston Street to the finish line. In pursuit of that goal, I had shed weight, endured endless runs and track routines, and charted every mile on a spreadsheet.
This was it. April 2011. I keep a quick pace through the early miles, hitting the halfway mark at Wellesley in under 1:30. Holy crap, I’m killing this. But at Mile 16, my quads begin to burn. The hills arrive, I’m slowing down, and my right calf muscle stiffens. Heartbreak Hill brings intense leg pain and spasms. Everything is now a blur. I’m lurching my body forward with my hips, with tears streaming down my face. When I cross the finish line at 3:42, my legs buckle, and I hit the pavement. A volunteer helps me up and puts a finisher’s medal around my neck, but this was little solace. Boston destroyed me.
My second attempt in 2012 also ends in disappointment. Temperatures climb into the 90s. By Mile 12, I’m suffering heat exhaustion and an asthma attack. Medical volunteers pull me from the course. I crouch in the sweep bus, with my head between my legs, wondering if I will ever conquer this race.
A new year arrives and I wander into CFDC. Tom and Chris introduce themselves and I tell them about my running goals. “We may not make you faster,” Chris responded, “but you’ll notice significant improvements in your endurance and your recovery times.” I then attempt my first class – a skill set of snatches and overhead squats. This was a rough introduction. I had trouble balancing an unweighted bar above my head while, at the same time, lowering my butt to the floor. The class then proceeded to a rapid-fire workout of burpees and squats. At the end of ten minutes, I was on the floor, in a pool of my own sweat and insecurities.
Frustration dominated my first month at CFDC. In nearly each class, Chris would run over, strip my bar of the plates, and patiently re-explain each step of the exercise. Coach Steph stood behind me during every squat routine: “Dave, chest up,” “Don’t let the elbows drop,” “Your knees are caving.” I was a mess, but on my way out the door, someone would always blurt, “see you tomorrow.” So I kept coming.
At some point in February, I reached a threshold of minimum competence. I am using heavier bars, grabbing larger kettlebells, and registering more sit-ups. And I begin to understand the ethos of this community. One Saturday routine called for a murderous sequence of thrusters and bar-facing burpees. In the last heat, as the clock ticked down, a half-dozen CFDCers screamed at me: “hands on the bar Dave,” “lock those elbows,” “one more round.” These folks – all stronger and more experienced – didn’t care about the weight on my bar, only that I was giving the workout everything I had. The buzzer sounded, I hit the mat, and I’m greeted with a stream of sweaty high-fives and back-slaps.
Fast forward to April. I am attending five classes a week, I am seven pounds heavier, and Chris keeps listing squat routines on his white board (“Dave, whatever your problem is, the answer is more squats.”). But the running had suffered. My weekly mileage never surpassed 40, and I registered only three track workouts. CFDC buzzes as Boston approaches, but I’m secretly terrified. What if I fail again? The thought of canceling this third attempt crosses my mind.
But I went. The race-day weather is perfect – mid-40s and broken clouds. An old friend and I ride the bus to Hopkinton, eat breakfast, and amble to the start. The announcer introduces the elite runners, the Star Spangled Banner plays, and the gun sounds. Plenty of people pass me, but I am racing against myself, not them. I work cautiously through the early miles, reaching the medical volunteers at Mile 12 where I had failed a year before. My confidence grows. Halfway – my watch says 1:30, same as two years ago.
The hills arrive and Chris’s predictions prove true: my legs are much stronger. I keep a steady clip up the first three climbs, passing a mock “Paul Ryan Finish Line” around Mile 19 in good spirits. At the base of Heartbreak Hill, a small boy runs onto the course, yelling “faster” at me as I pass fellow runners. Mile 23 – fatigue finally starts to set in. I spot an old running partner, who tosses me a gel and tells me to press on. I am now racing down Commonwealth Avenue, where thousands of Bostonians line the street. The race has sapped my energy, but the crowd’s energy crests like a wave, pushing me and the other runners into the city. I pass Fenway and make the turn onto Boylston. The roar is deafening and the finish line is in sight. The runners around me take off. I follow. We feed off each other for the final stretch.
3:02! This was the finish I had worked so hard to obtain. This was the finish that so many others had helped me achieve. The guy next to me slaps his right arm around my shoulder, “unbelievable race.” A volunteer wraps me in a blanket and offers a hug. A second volunteer insists on snapping a picture, which I send to my mom.
A short time later, two explosions rocked the finish line, killing three people and injuring 200 more. I huddle with other runners around a newspaper stand television, watching the first bloody pictures of Copley Square emerge. The victims look to be spectators who had woken up early that day and reserved spots along Boylston to witness a loved one race that last mile. The frantic text messages then arrive – my family, my girlfriend, my boss, my running buddies, my CFDC friends. I report that I am safe, distraught, and making my way home.
A week later, I am struggling to balance my accomplishment next to this unspeakable tragedy. One takeaway emerges: The race was, in every sense, a team effort. My running friends pushed me as hard as possible on my limited schedule, my CFDC community guided me through my most daunting physical milestones to date, and thousands of Bostonians willed me to the finish line. This is why Boston is so revered among marathoners, and this is why the attacks sting so much.
My plan for the next twelve months is simple: Lace up my shoes, log more miles, squat heavier weights, and, if time permits, perfect a muscle-up. Training for the 2014 Boston Marathon starts now.