Monday, October 6, 2014

April 21, 2014 - This Boston Was Tutu Memorable To Ever Forget

W. K. Munsey
Glance at my photos from the 118th Boston Marathon and you might mistake the smiling runner in the frilly outfit for a crazy old man who slipped on the getup as a last-minute stunt to simply gain publicity. But the deafening cheers I received during my 26.2-mile race from the hallowed grounds of Hopkinton to the finish line on Boylston Street reaffirmed the very personal decision I made to wear a tutu to pay tribute to the joy and spirit of the world’s greatest marathon.

My idea of running the “Super Bowl” of marathons actually was born on April 16, 2012, while watching the 116th Boston Marathon and tracking my friends throughout their journey. I had run four Boston’s prior, with the last being in 2004. Watching the broadcast of the runners and tracking my friends got me thinking about how I would like to go back and experience my favorite marathon again.

The first problem was getting qualified for 2014. I had drifted into Zen running - no watch, no plan, and not much racing other than fun running events with my friends. Looking at the calendar, I picked Columbus because I had run more marathons there than on any other course and my PR time was accomplished there. I bought a GPS watch, learned how to work it, and trained from May to October, logging more than 1,300 miles and grabbed a Boston qualifying time of 3:33:16.

Then came the 117th Boston and once again I was tracking my friends. Watching the broadcast of the race made me even more excited, knowing I was going to be there in about a year. I had one more friend just about getting ready to finish when to my shock and horror, the surreal events of the bombing unfolded before me on my Twitter feed and in news reports from the area.

Suddenly, my relationship with Boston became even more personal. These were my friends in the race I love and they had been attacked by cowards. I spent a frantic couple of hours tracking down all of the Tallman Track Club athletes and making sure they were safe. The help from my friends reaching out to our West Virginia runners was phenomenal, and thankfully all were safe and secure.

The next four months were spent speculating if there was going to be a 118th marathon. When the BAA announced the race was on, then it was a matter of how fast you had to be to get into the 118th Boston. It turned out you had to be pretty speedy and be faster than your BQ mark by 1 minute and 38 seconds. With my time, I had made it into Boston and was humbled when my official acceptance post card arrived on my birthday in November. I’m not going to lie. It was a bit dusty that evening reading those words in my kitchen.

I was going back and forth on whether I was going to run Boston 2014 for another BQ attempt or make it a victory lap celebrating my 30 years of running. Mother Nature and Old Man Winter took care of that decision for me by unleashing a winter to remember in the Kanawha Valley and throughout the state of West Virginia. Footing was at a premium and I don’t run on treadmills, so victory lap it was. I had run a marathon in Virginia Beach in 2013 in a tutu pacing a friend of mine and got a lot of attention from the crowd. Tutus in races are nothing new, but being a 57-year-old bald man in a tutu was different. And my decision to wear one at Boston made perfect sense. What better way to send a message that the act of cowards who caused carnage and heartache could not destroy the tradition, love and joy that is the Boston Marathon?

I have a friend named Laura Casto who offered to make me a tutu especially for Boston. We decided on the Boston Marathon blue and yellow colors, and to work she went, making no doubt about it I would be wearing a tutu to run this marathon. Laura and another friend, John Greenwald, were going to Boston with me to watch the race and enjoy the weekend and be my support crew. However, Laura entered a Twitter contest with Adidas and won an entry into the race. John was left to support two athletes who were running the race.

There were lots of changes to the security of Boston. I thought they were carried out with as little intrusion as possible, and getting through the expo and to the race village went pretty smoothly for us. I was supposed to start in the second wave, but knowing my training was lacking, I decided to move back and start with Laura in the last wave. It was hot by the time we left the starting line at almost noon on race day, fitting since all my previous Boston Marathons had started at that time. We were at the very back of the wave and were some of the last to cross the start line. We had brought the tutu to the village in a wrapped up old yoga mat and waited until the last second to unleash it before the start. To complete my ensemble, I had a Boston Strong T-shirt, a Boston Marathon hat, and special New Balance 890 shoes commemorating Boston in bright neon green. My ensemble drew immediate attention and prompted a lot of good comments and high fives as we made it down to the start.

With my wardrobe assistant and her creation
The first mile or two of the Boston route are kind of unpopulated, and the runners haven’t had a chance to stretch out. We kind of hung out on the left side of the road. As we cruised by, the tutu was noticed and drew a lot of positive comments and laughter – the perfect reaction for which we had hoped. At the first water stop, Laura and I got separated, but that was OK – we hadn’t planned on staying together and it gave me a chance to slow my pace down a little.

Ashland was where I first got the full effect of the crowds shouting at me. I ran and used the “I heart Boston” sign a lot there, and the crowds reacted with wild cheers. Any thought they would be tired of watching the runners parade by went out the window – the crowd was there to support every one of us, and it showed.

The miles and the towns were going by as I made it through Framingham and Natick. I was wondering if my arm would hold up to the finish as I had set a personal record of giving high fives. The crowds were awesome and inspirational. It was really hard to hold back the pace, but common sense won out and I dialed it back a little more.

The mile before the Scream Tunnel is sparsely populated, which allows you to hear the women of Wellesley long before you see them. They did not disappoint in the least. I hung out in the not kissing lane just beside the fence. I have never kissed a coed there. When I was younger, I was trying to run fast and had no time. When I got married, it just didn’t feel right. That didn’t let me escape the notice of the coeds, though, and it was a rolling scream fest as I ran through the half marathon split.

After passing the half marathon point and the town of Wellesley, I was rolling along in the middle of the road to stay away from the camber on either side. Just past Mile 15, I looked up and in the distance could see Laura going up a slight incline. I caught up with her just before the turn by the firehouse. The crowds here were huge and vocal, and the mood amped up considerably. I came to a complete stop and held the “I love Boston” heart over my head. Now the crowds through the Newton Hills were continuous, and it was a rolling wall of sound as I made my way toward Heartbreak Hill.

After topping Heartbreak Hill, I was rolling down toward the Boston through the Boston College crew and they were doing their best to lift runners’ spirits. I was on the left side of the road and giving high fives all along that stretch until crossing the Green Line trolley tracks, where things quieted somewhat.

When the crowds were beside me once again, they were loud and urging on runners who were walking to run, and runners running to run faster. The crowds near Fenway were some of the largest and loudest. A friend of mine, Rich Boehm, somehow found me in that mess and we ran a bit together. As I ran underneath Mass Avenue, I stopped and flashed the crowd my “I love Boston” heart and it sent chills through me as the crowds responded.

The crowd response sent chills through me.
The turn onto Hereford and the final 600 feet to the finish were incredible. As I made my way along Boylston, the experience was awesome – high fives, I heart Boston signs, salutes, and kisses to the crowds got me noticed; and the Boston love given back washed over me like a wave. It was over too soon.

After four and a half hours of moving along the roads and streets from Hopkinton to Boston in what was my own personal scream tunnel, the silence as we got our blankets, medals and water was noticeable. I didn’t realize until the moment they put a medal around my neck how tired I was, and how sore my left arm and hand were from all the high fives! It wasn’t a long walk back to our hotel, and the people I encountered along the way were very supportive and friendly. With my tutu covered by a space blanket, I became just another runner who finished the Boston Marathon. And I was totally OK with that status.

It’s been five months since that day, one of the greatest days in my running career. I still can close my eyes and see certain points along the course. If I pause long enough in my mind, I can hear the screams, too. Thank you Boston, you did not disappoint in staging the 118th edition. Your heart, your resilience and your love shined the whole weekend we were among you. It was a perfect day to celebrate running, recovery and remembering, and honoring the victims of last year. Special thanks to the race officials, the volunteers, the first responders, the security personnel, and especially the spectators of The Boston Marathon. You made it a magical day.

As I write this, I’m getting ready to make another attempt to get in the 120th Boston Marathon by running Houston in January 2015 with my friends, including Laura Casto. No marathon is a given with so many things that can go wrong it’s hard to count them all, but when things go right, it’s a magical feeling. I want to close by thanking my family, my friends and my track club for all the love, support and encouragement you give me. There is no way to let you know how much it means to me and there is no way in the world I could ever pay it back. Thank you all for letting me be a part of this tribe we call running and may you have that perfect day to bask in the glow of a perfect race.

W.K. Munsey
Charleston, West Virginia

Tallman Track Club

For more personal accounts of the 2014 Boston marathon, click here.

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