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Race Result

Racer: Aaron Schwartzbard
Race: Boston Marathon
Date: Monday, April 16, 2001
Location: Boston, MA
Race Type: Run - Marathon
Age Group: Male 20 - 24
Time: 3:19:36
Overall Place: 2909 / 13395
Comment: 26.2 miles is a long way to limp...

Race Report:


First of all, I should offer a warning. This is not just a report about the race. It includes details of the days leading up to the race. And as most people who might be reading this know, I'm rather long winded. Thus, 70% (or possibly 100%) of this "race report" may fall into your more-information-than-I-wanted category. In that case, you may just want to skip to the section about the marathon itself. And even then, you may just want to skim. Consider yourself warned.

Second, I don't normally give my race reports titles. They just get the name of the race. However, this race stands among the handful of races that I believe I will always remember. For that reason, I feel like this report deserves a title. Two possibilities come to mind. I cannot decide which one conveys a greater sense of what I experienced during the race, so I will present both, and let you, gentle reader, choose for yourself the moniker by which you will refer to that which is presented below. So, without further delay, I present:

Boston Marathon 2001: The Little Knee That Couldn't

or, alternatively

Boston Marathon 2001: 26.2 Miles Is A Long Way To Limp


I'm fairly new to marathoning. Marine Corps Marathon, 2000, was my first marathon. I made several major mistakes that resulted in a precipitous drop in pace during the last eight miles, and quite a bit of walking during the last four miles. But still, I was able to qualify for Boston quite handily. I attempted my second marathon that same year. I say "attempted" because it was in that race that I received my first (and only, knock on wood) DNF. Due to some overzealous hill training in the weeks prior to that race, I injured the IT band in my left leg. I knew it was bad before the race began, but I started anyway. By mile 14 I couldn't move anymore, and thus, I had to drop out. So I come to this, perhaps the world's most prestigious marathon outside of the Olympics, carrying the baggage of a race gone horribly wrong in the last couple miles, and a race that didn't even have a last couple miles.


Marathon Day Minus 12:

It's a little more than a week before the marathon. I head out for a little run. Upon returning, I notice the slightest little twinge in my right knee, right where my IT band should go. It doesn't hurt, but when it comes to IT bands, I tend to be a little paranoid these days.

Marathon Day Minus 11:

Just a teeny tiny little brick today. By the time I'm finished, I notice a distinct pain in my knee. It's not terrible, but it's enough that I have no doubt as to what it is. What it is, is Not Good. With Boston just eleven days away, no chance can be taken. For the next week, it's ice at least four times a day, stretching, and aqua-jogging, with a bit of ibuprofen thrown in for good measure. I do all of this with a fervor that borders on religious.

Marathon Day Minus 10-4:

10 Ice
20 Ibuprofen
30 Stretch
40 Aqua-jog
50 goto 10

Marathon Day Minus 3:

It's Friday, and I'm departing for Boston tomorrow. My knee has been feeling pretty good. I want to take her for a spin around the block to hear how she purrs. I head out feeling great. After about a mile and a half... Could it be? Is that really what I think it is? No, it must just be my paranoid imagination. Several minutes later, there's no doubt in my mind. I stop running, and walk home. ARRRRGGGGG! I was feeling so good! I was doing all the right things! But I'm still having "issues". It hurts a little for a while after the run as well. Eventually, night arrives, and I put my little head to my little pillow. While waiting to fall into the depths of slumber, I admit to myself what I've known to be true since my run earlier in the day --- it's unlikely that I'll be able to finish a marathon on this knee.

I lie in bed for a little while, turning this over in my mind. I want very badly to do well in this race. I've been looking forward to it for quite a while. I start to consider the idea that on race day, my knee might miraculously heal itself! Yes, perhaps the long down hills during the first half of the race will stretch it out, and by the second half it will be so warm that everything does exactly as it should without any inflammation or pain... But I realize that these are the thoughts of a desperate man. I understand what is wrong with my knee, and I know that as much as I wish for it, there will be no miraculous healing. No quantity of ibuprofen, no burnt offerings on a mount, no laying on of hands, no promising to eat all my vegetables for the next year will heal this knee in the next three days. So I push all such thoughts out of my mind, and drift to sleep.

Marathon Day Minus 2:

Coming out of Boston's Logan airport on the T, I start to see billboards prominently announcing, "Boston Marathon, It's Here." Okay, now I'm really starting to get excited. This is a race that the entire city comes out to see. The Boston Athletic Association is running shuttle buses between a T stop and the marathon expo every ten minutes. I find the buses, and board one. Seeing the billboards was pretty cool, but what I see next beats the pants off of that. We start to move and I hear sirens. I look up to see police motorcycles in front of us. It takes a moment to understand what's going on, but eventually it sinks in: the buses get police escorts! It's only about a mile to the expo, but in the course of that mile, the police stop traffic so we can zip right through intersections, red lights be damned! Okay, now I'm REALLY getting an idea of just how big this thing is.

I spend a bit of time wandering around the expo. I buy some stuff --- shorts, a singlet, a CoolMax tee shirt, some tights --- and grab any free samples that are being distributed by various vendors. Eventually, I come across the jackets. I've seen people wearing Boston Marathon jackets at various running events back home. In Boston, it seems like every third person is wearing one. I want one. I want to be able to wear a jacket that prominently announces that I ran in the Boston Marathon, 2001. But it's not enough for me to have run in the marathon. I would never feel comfortable in such a garment if I didn't actually finish the race. And now, I'm brought back down to earth, as I remind myself that I'm probably not going to finish. And $85 is a lot of money to spend on a jacket that I'd never wear. In the back of the marathon guide, there's an order form for official marathon schwag. If, on an off chance, I actually make it through 26 miles, 385 yards, I'll order one later. For now, I resign myself to simply coveting the jacket.

I make my way across the expo, and at an appointed time, I meet some friendly folks from the Ironman USA comments page. We chat for a while, then leave the expo and have a most pleasant lunch. Afterward, I make my way across town to The Eli And Brian Home For Wayward Boys. Brian and Eli are friends who have kindly agreed to allow me to mooch off of them for the weekend.

Marathon Day Minus 1:

I usually like to do a short run the day before a race. I debate whether I should follow this practice, and risk further aggravation of my knee. I decide that even if I do further aggravate it, that extra aggravation might make a difference of all of a half mile in the distance I run before I collapse on the side of the road in pain, only to have medical personnel rush to my side and immediately determine that the only safe course of action would be amputation above the knee. So I decide to run.

But I have an idea! Maybe if I run really slowly, it will be easy enough on my body that my IT band won't tighten up. So I go out VERY easily. I keep the pace nice and light. It's going fine... then I start to feel it. Just like always, it starts with a slight twinge, then the pain gets bad. It took 10 minutes of running before it was a full-out hurt. And moreover, I start to feel a new pain --- this one is a much more pronounced pain on the other side of my knee. Just to keep all of this straight, I should probably distinguish between my various aches and pains. So henceforth, the IT band pain shall be known as Pain #1, and the new thing shall be known as Pain #2. Pain #2 is disturbing because I don't know what it is. What's causing it? How should I treat it? Will I damage something if I run on it? Hmm, not good. So I spend the next couple minutes running in pain. I try various changes in my stride in the hope that I'll figure out a way to run without pain. After several minutes, I realize that once again, I'm thinking thoughts of a desperate man. There is no magic stride that makes pain disappear. This realization brings me such sadness, as I must finally accept that I will not be running the race that I had been preparing to run.

The plan was to shoot for three hours. Straight for three. My training paces have been geared toward a marathon in the low two fifties. I figure that if I were to run a perfect race, I could do that. But marathons are as much about experience as they are about fitness. I don't have the experience to run a perfect race. So I wanted to run a consistent race. A three hour marathon was well within my reach... Was. But there would be no three hour marathon for me tomorrow. No, there wouldn't even be a marathon for me tomorrow. There would be a run, followed by a long slow ride in the sag wagon. So I do what any self-respecting runner would do: I head back to home base, watch a little TV, then take a nap.

I wake up a bit later, and Eli and I arrive at the idea of driving part of the course. I'm very interested in seeing the second half of the course, since that's where things are supposed to get nasty, and that's the part that I don't expect to see tomorrow. We head out to the firehouse, which is just before mile 17, and drive back into town. At this point, I'm all tapered up, and it's a beautiful day. Oh, and did I mention that I love running hills? No, really, I do. Just powering up a big lung burner, finishing it off, and trying to catch a breath before the next one --- what could be better? Seeing this part of the course, feeling as fit as I'm feeling, on a day like this, I very nearly jump out of the moving car so I can have an opportunity to run along this road, knee pain notwithstanding. But I don't. I study the road, hoping against hope that I'll be able to see this part of the course once again before returning home.

That evening, I consider my constraints, and decide what I will do. If this were any other race, I wouldn't even start. But this isn't any other race; this is one of the two major races of my season. I've already dedicated so much to this race, that I would rather take a well calculated gamble than call it quits here. I'll run a half marathon. I figure, no matter how bad things are, I should be able to make it through a half. If I can run hard, great, if not, well, so be it. But if I can make it to 13.1, I'll be able to consider the experience something other than a total disappointment. A half marathon, that ain't so bad. Even on a bum knee. After I get there, I'll reevaluate. If I can make any more forward motion, I'll do that. After all, I have six hours to do it. If not, well, to the sag wagon with me. But either way, I expect April 16, 2001 to be an exercise in pain management.

Marathon Day, The Morning:

Upon waking up, I start to familiarize myself with the congenial cast of the weather channel. Could it be? Is it possible? Will this actually be a (dare I say it) nice day? Why, you'll have to excuse my presumptuousness, but I'm starting to get the idea that it will be. I put on very light tights, but soon realize that this will be a shorts day. And even if it's on the hairy edge of a tights day, I'd rather be a little bit on the cold side to encourage me to keep moving. (Yeah, I know, keeping my legs (particularly my IT band) warm might be the way to go. But I've already accepted the fact that things are going to get ugly.) The only shorts I have with me are the ones I bought at the expo. So I break a cardinal rule of marathon running, and don my new shorts (moments after cutting off the tags, no less) with the intention of racing in them.

The buses to Hopkinton leave from Boston Commons. I arrive there in style, as Eli and his girlfriend, Kim, are kind enough to give me an early morning ride to the buses. I board a bus, and we head to Hopkinton. Riding to the beginning of a point-to-point race is always an amusing experience --- if you're into that sort of sado-masochist humor. It always seems SO LONG on the ride (of course, it seems long on the run, too, but we're not there yet). What's more, we have a bus full of hyper-hydrated marathon runners. A forty minute bus ride is a lot to ask of a hyper-hydrated marathon runner. And while following the procession of buses, our driver gets confused, and starts following a completely incidental, non-marathon-related bus, thereby adding 15 minutes to the trip. This is more than at least one person can take. Appeals are made, and someone's empty coffee cup is offered. Mr. Fullbladder, who is sitting two seats in front of me, switches places with the woman unfortunate enough to be seated next to him. Once he has the "privacy" of the window seat and the empty coffee cup, he demonstrates why it's good to be a guy.

At the end of the ride is the athletes' village. Really, it's a high school sports field that now happens to be covered with temporary event shelters, 15,000 runners, and an astounding number of port-o-johns. I wander around the throbbing mass of humanity, and eventually settle on a soft spot in the sun. I sit, and eventually lie down. How pleasant this is. (The best quote of the day is overheard by yours truly at this point. Says one clearly-turned-on fellow to his trusty companion, "This is awesome! Just look around: there are all these hot chicks... And EVERY ONE of them runs marathons!") In what seems like an instant, it's time for a final trip to the port-o-john. I then organize my gear bag, and realize that it's too warm for the long sleeve shirt I'm wearing. I brought a short sleeved shirt, but it's the one I bought at the expo. Well, chafing is the least of my worries today. So not only will I be wearing brand new shorts, but I'll also be wearing a brand new shirt. Only one thing to do: apply copious amounts of Body Glide. Once everything is sorted out and lubed up, I start the journey over to the starting corrals.

On the way from the athletes' village to the starting corrals is the Gulf gas station where some of the folks from the Ironman USA comments page are going to meet before the race. I do a couple passes by the gas station looking for the friendly peeps, but they are nowhere to be found. However, I do see something that does stick out in my mind. No, not the line of guys "watering" the foliage --- that's far too common here to be noteworthy. What sticks out in my mind is the guy putting on the tee shirt with the statement that, "Pain Is Temporary," scrawled across the front in magic marker. Yeah, I think to myself. I gotta keep that in mind. Even phenomenally excruciating and agonizing pain is temporary. Sometimes. I like the shirt because it encourages me to run even though I know what I'm in for. But it does make me think. I think, "How far am I willing to take this?" It's one thing to hurt for a couple hours. It's another thing to destroy a knee for a single race. Am I willing to suffer for a couple hours? Yes. Am I willing to aggravate an injury to the point where I won't be able to run for a month? Well, yes --- but only for THIS race. Am I willing to take myself out for the rest of the season or longer? No. There's a fine line that I must not cross. I mustn't get so wrapped up in this race that I let things go too far. But still, as long as I keep the big picture in mind, I can let it ring through my head: Pain Is Temporary.

Marathon Day, The Race (FINALLY!!!):

I find the third starting corral, show the volunteers my number, and they let me in. The sky is blue, the temperature is in the mid 50s, I'm wearing shorts, a short sleeved shirt, sunglasses, no gloves, no headband. In short, it's about as perfect a day for running as one could ever hope to have. Everyone is ready to run. I've been stretching and warming up very lightly. I think maybe if I do lots and lots of stretching before the start, maybe my knee won't bother me. But once again, I realize that my thoughts are based more in desperation than reality. There's no time for that, because it's noon, and that means it's time to GO!

Even in big races, I usually seed myself way up front. It's rare that the right place for me is more than a couple rows of runners behind the start line. But here, well, this was a different experience. I was behind quite a few people. So I got to experience a really slow start. But no worries, a couple minutes at the beginning aren't going to have much effect on my overall day. That first half a mile is magical. It's how running is supposed to be. For the life of me, I can't think of a single thing that could be changed to make it any better.

After about a half a mile of running, I start to feel the twinge of Pain #1. I thought I'd get a good 10 minutes of running before that happened. Oh well. I hit the first mile mark in 6:58 (by my watch), and by that point, the twinge has turned into pain. Further, Pain #2 is starting to rear its ugly head. Both pains continue to grow worse. When I'm somewhere around mile 1.5, I plant my right foot, and Pain #2 picks up the nearest sledge hammer, and taps my knee with all the subtlety of Jesse Ventura in a feather boa. My knee drops out from under me, and in my best imitation of a pinball, I bounce off of several runners. The pack is still too thick for me to stop moving, so I somehow continue to move, hopping on my left leg, trying to get off the course. After body-checking more people than I care to admit, I finally get off the course. I can't put any weight on my right leg.

So that's it. It's over. A mile and a half, and I'm done. I stand there for about 20 seconds just watching runners go by, thinking how much I'd like to be among them. Even just a half marathon would be okay at this point. But a mile and a half? Blah. I try to pull a bit of brightness out of my defeat. All I can think of is that it's a good thing I didn't spend $85 on a jacket I'd never wear. There's nothing for me to do here. Maybe there are volunteers up the course who could tell me how to find alternative transportation to Boston. So lightly, I put a little weight on my right leg. It hurts, but as long as I don't bend my knee, it's bearable. I start limping along. But I wonder, could I limp any faster? I try. Okay, yeah, I can. How far can you go without bending your right knee?

I continue to do my limp thing until I'm confident that it's a motion that I can sustain for more than a minute or two. Eventually, I realize that I'm not going so very much more slowly than the runners on the road. I pick up a little speed, and I hop off of the grassy curb back onto the road. This is ridiculous. Everyone is running along smoothly and gracefully --- except for the one guy with the funny limping stride. The stride itself deserves a little description, since I'm not sure everyone can imagine how one would run more than a few steps with such a pronounced limp. Well, almost all forward motion comes from the left foot. PUSH HARD WITH THE LEFT FOOT. Then, because the right knee doesn't bend, land on the ball of your right foot. Of course, to do that, you need to hop way up in the air (more work for the left leg). Once you're on your right foot, fall forward, and catch yourself with your left foot. The result is a really long stride going from your left foot to your right foot, and only about eight to 10 inches of stride going from your right foot to your left foot. Not the most efficient way to do things, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

The second mile took 7:26 (that includes the time I was standing on the side of the road trying to figure out how to get back to Boston). Not bad for a partially-limped mile. Mile three, 7:10. Not bad at all for a completely limped mile. I hit the five kilometer mark, and I'm quite happy that anyone who might be watching my splits on the marathon web site will see that I actually showed up to run. Mile four was 7:20, mile five was 7:22. Mile five! That's five miles! Now, I just need to do that four more times, and a little more for good luck, and I could actually finish this thing! But what will I do to my body? I've heard of people trying to run through injuries, and really messing themselves up. A change in stride has cascading effects, and totally new problems develop. I need to be really careful with this. It hurts quite a bit, and I'm using muscles that aren't trained for what I'm doing. I'll probably lose all my toenails on my right foot because of the heavy forefoot landings, and I'll probably not be able to walk on my left foot due to the stress of doing almost all the work during the run. But as long as my knee doesn't get any worse, and as long as no NEW pains come up, I'm going to continue to move.

I must be feeling good, since miles six, seven, and eight are all 7:04. How's that for consistency? When I hit the mile nine mark (7:19), I realize that I'm over a third of the way there. At the same time, I realize that the first third of a marathon is not like the last third of a marathon. And by now, both hips are screaming, my left hamstring is getting tired, as is my right calf. The thought of actually finishing this race is nice. But for now, I really just need to focus on my half marathon. Can I make it another four miles? Maybe. Once I get to the half-way point, I'll take a walking break (or perhaps a standing break, or maybe even a lying prone on the side of the road break) to rest, and to decide what I want to do then. I play around with my stride. I find another way of running in which I don't have to bend my right knee. It's more of a gliding motion, it's quite a bit of work for my right hip, and it only works on the flats and up hills. However, it's a welcome relief to use some different muscles. So I press on, alternating between my two limpy strides.

Mile 10 goes by in 7:27, mile 11 is 7:32, mile 12 is 7:18. One more mile, and I get to rest. Almost there. And we pass Wellesley. For the entire length of the school, the right side of the road is lined three and four rows deep with young ladies SCREAMING like banshees. I think they may have done permanent damage to my right ear. But it was so amusing, and encouraging, that it made me feel better than I had felt since that first mile! Then, with almost no warning, I pass mile 13 (7:26) which is immediately followed by the half-way point. Cripes! I'm feeling far to good to stop now! I'll save it for mile 19, when I really need it. Mile 14 (7:28), mile 15 (7:26), and then a guy pulls up along side of me.
"How's that working out for you?" he asks, motioning toward my limpy gait.
"It hurts quite a bit."
"What's wrong?"
"Oh," I reply, "the old IT band is acting up. I've been doing this limp thing since mile one and a half."
"Yeah," says he, "I saw you pull off the course."
He saw me pull off? He saw me pull off! I've been running along, feeling like everyone has been passing me, like I'm slipping to the back of the pack, and here he comes along, telling me that he was there at mile 1.5, which means, of course, that we've been matching paces. Maybe I'm not doing so poorly after all! We exchange a few more words, and then we continue on our merry ways --- him, running, me, limping. (For at least the next four miles, I continue to see him. He passes me on the long climbs since I have a really rough time getting up hills, and I limp by him on the flats and down hills.)

I'm feeling okay now, and I pass mile 16 in 7:04. That means there are just 10 more miles to go. I can do 10 miles! For the first time in a couple days, I start to think that there's a real possibility that I can finish this race. Ten miles, 10 miles, 10 miles... It's the beginning of a countdown. Now I just need to knock them off, one by one.

Mile 17 is 7:57, mile 18 is 8:02. I'm in the roughest part of the course now. This is where it goes up up up. Fortunately, because I couldn't really run all those downhills in the first half of the course, my quads are feeling fine. Of course, that may not really be completely true since my legs are pretty much numb from using all these new muscles. But here I am, on the part of the course I saw yesterday from a car. There are only eight more miles, and I know how they all look. If those eight miles were terra incognita, I might not be so sure of myself. As it is, I know that there's nothing left on the course that I cannot do.

Mile 19 is 8:03, and I hear someone from the side of the road call out, "Pain Is Temporary!!!" I look up the course, and sure enough, 10 meters ahead of me is a runner wearing a tee shirt with magic marker writing on it. It's the same guy I saw at the Gulf station in Hopkinton, only now, instead of seeing the "Pain Is Temporary" on the front of his shirt, I see the back of his shirt. In large letters, it reads, "Pride Is Forever."

Mile 20 is 8:14, then I hit Heartbreak Hill. That definitely slows me down, but just like the rest of the race, I take it one step at a time. Put it in the books, I make it to mile 21 in 8:47. Then to mile 22, in 7:50. Four point two miles left. The shortest run I ever do in training is 4.4 miles. Anything less than that hardly makes tying my shoes worthwhile. Mile 23 is 8:02, and then I start to feel it --- my left hamstring. It has been working overtime. Now, with just three miles left, it's starting to tighten up. A moment later, I see a runner sitting on the side of the road, clutching his hamstring. That could be me in another mile. It doesn't hurt now, but every step makes it a little tighter, and I know I don't have much left. Clearly, I don't mind limping, but I need at least one good leg. It's not a race against other runners, it's not a race against the clock. Right now, it's a race against my hamstring. If that cramps, I'm done. I never took that walk break at mile 13, or mile 19... maybe I'll take it now. NO! Bad idea! As soon as I start to walk, everything will tighten up, and I'll won't be able to run anymore. No, I have to run all the way to the finish line now.

I get to mile 24 in 7:58, and shortly thereafter, I see Eli and Kim on the side of the road. I'm excited to see some friendly faces after all I've endured. I wave rather enthusiastically. It's then that I realize that although my legs hurt, I've been running much slower than I normally run, so really, I'm feeling quite good.

Mile 25 was 8:08. Despite my legs, I'm on top of the world. The sky could open up and rain fire and blood on the city, and I'd still finish this race. There's no stopping me now. I turn the last turn, and I see the finish line in the distance. Well, I assume it's the finish line --- there are balloons and grandstands and television cameras and... well, you get the idea. It's getting closer and closer. I keep thinking to myself, "there's probably another mile left after that." The thought isn't based in reason. The thought is based in the mindset of the past several days that I wouldn't get to cross that line. Now it's right there in front of me, and I have a hard time believing it's for real. But now, I'm passing under balloons, and over timing mats. It's 9:56 after I passed the mile 25 mark, three hours and 19 minutes after I crossed the start line, and three hours and 21 minutes after someone shot a starter pistol in Hopkinton. Now, for the first time since mile 1.5, I allow myself to stop. And it feels good.


After finishing, I made my way to pick up my gear bag, grab some food, and wander aimlessly for several moments. After the initial five minutes of wobblyness, I felt pretty good. Really, aside from the intense pain in my knee, I felt much better than I did after my first marathon. There was some soreness over the next couple days, but that was mostly in those muscles that I had to recruit to help me limp along.

I have no doubt that it'll be at least a month before I'll be able to run on the ground again (I see much aqua-jogging in my future). It'll probably be longer. But I knew that would be the case when I decided to limp through my pain. I'm writing this a couple days after the marathon, and it seems that I didn't damage anything that was working well before the race. Perhaps some people would criticize me for continuing to run when perhaps I should have stopped. But I made a well informed decision, and took a calculated risk. Now, even as I face the aftermath, I don't regret it for a moment.

When I knew that I was going to have to limp the race, I figured that although it would be better than a DNF, it would be a race that I'd rather forget. But looking back on it, that isn't the case at all. Although my finishing time certainly doesn't reflect what I could do on a good day, I'm so happy to have finished, that I hope I never forget this race. Some people might have a hard time understanding why I continued to race while in such pain. To those people, all I can say is this: that we were so fortunate to have the perfect day... that I am free to run... that I possess the fitness to push myself for hours at a time... that I was given the opportunity to be part of this incredible event... that I am healthy, and have a body that, for the most part, works as it should... I take none of this for granted. I believe there are many people in the world who would like to have what I have, and believe that many of them would be willing to endure a couple hours of discomfort to run (or even limp) a 3:21 marathon on a beautiful day. If it still doesn't make sense, then don't bother telling me, because I'll never be able to explain it better than that.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go order a jacket.

Official Time: 3:20:58
Chip Time: 3:19:36
Average Pace: 7:40

Place, Age Group (Male 18-35): 1726/3940
Place, Gender (Male): 2696/8586
Place, Overall: 2909/13395

Number Of Black Toenails: 0
Amount Of Chafing Due To Wearing New Clothes: None
Feeling Upon Completion: Very, Very Good