Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Because Boston

          Graves' Disease eats your muscles, those of the shoulders, upper arms, and thighs. You need thigh muscles to run.
          But this story is not about Graves' Disease. And it never will be. Damn Graves' Disease. This story is about the 2014 Boston Marathon, the 118th running of the historic race, the race just one year after the murderous bombing. Damn Graves' Disease.
          I'm incredibly lucky. I've had complimentary entry at Boston for the last three years, having finished on the podium three years in a row, finishing last year just twenty minutes before the blast. I'm lucky.
          In January of this year, when I began to crank up my training for the race, I realized something was terribly wrong. My speed had vanished and I was losing strength in the weight room, too. That brought blood tests in February. Then in March an endocrinologist told me I had Graves' Disease. You can look it up. It brings picturesque grotesquerie, though the specialist said he only sees that aspect in smokers. He also said I had heart disease. Graves' can cause that, too.
          The heart doctor gave me a threadmill stress test and two days later put in a stent. It was the first day of spring. Seven days later the heart surgeon gave me a max-out stress test and told me to do anything I wanted to. He's a marathoner. He knew what I was going to do.
          Heart problem was over; Graves' raged on. I had three and a half weeks - after having not run in a long time. And Graves' still raged on, a long-term struggle within my diminished body.
          Boston is special. This year it would be special in a new way. I could not be cavalier about my chance to run it, a race so many would like to run but can't. I had to respect the race, honor last year's fallen, and support the community of runners. In three and a half weeks I'd do what I could.
          I knew I'd be unable to compete. I changed my goal: report the race from inside it. Live tweet a picture or comment every mile or so. Create a narrative. I knew what that would do to my time, but I didn't care. It was a worthwhile service and the best strategy I had for a meaningful run. Runners at home could see the race through my eyes, and in the moment as I experienced it.
          There were problems: I don't normally carry a phone on my runs; typing on the touch screen in bright sunlight is hard. And would I even be capable of finishing the race at any speed? Could I stay on my feet that long? I did trial runs with the phone and worked out the problems. I'd have to jump out of the stream of runners to make a picture or be trampled, I realized. Then I'd have to find a shady place to do the typing, clock ticking all the while. So be it. My trials showed a mile pace would be thirteen minutes. I could come in under the time limit, if I could keep that pace.
          I had my plan. Let her rip. Before I headed to Boston, I connected my Twitter and Facebook accounts so runners could follow my journey on either.
          A postscript: On race day nearly half of my tweets failed to go through; they disappeared into the ether. There were 36,000 runners registered and a million fans present, many sending texts. The tremendous data load simply overwhelmed the cell phone system. I'd anticipated that but could do nothing about it. Some tweets went to drafts, and so I could have another chance to send them. But most vanished. So, much was lost. But much was gained.
          The experiment was a partial success: Tina Turner said, We never ever do anything nice and easy; we always do it...rough!  My record is rough, too, and raw, as was my experience. And raw it will stay. See the tweets and pictures below, only slightly edited.

Boarding the bus. Tremont Street, Boston Common

Athlete Village, Hopkinton

Vanishing point

Helicopters and airplanes towing banners fill the sky


Where's Waldo?

Imagine the pile of clothes thrown away by 36,000 runners

Corral 2

M.1 Leaving Hopkinton

State troopers line the road in Brookline [sic, Ashland], facing outward

M4 Four Mile Island. I failed to get a picture of Three-Mile Island

We drink

Thanks. Don't mind if I do

M10 Home girl! @sallaboutme Thx Kelly
(Kelly had traveled from Nashville to see the race. She'd sent me a message that she'd be waiting at Mile 10. I looked forward to the meeting. Sure enough, there she was.)

M12 Bitchery and abomination. this traitor of a phone failed to send some tweets!

M12.5 Because if you tweet anything you tweet Wellesley women. 

The famous "Tunnel of Sound." The shrieks all merge into one and rise up out of the earth itself, like 17-year locusts

M15 + Dull boredom, that's about it. Not complaining, just saying

M 20.5 Walkingheartbreak

M21 BC, Doug Flutie, write a sentence 
(Flutie went to Boston College. I later heard that he'd run the race, finishing even after me)

M24+ A marathon is an adventure beyond ordinary experience, James Shapiro wrote. Sounds about right

M24+ Running is a survival activity. I see it in Darwinian terms, not like the sentimental sayings on the back of tees

M25 I've seen lives changed by running it's true, whether in purring sweetness or tooth and claw

M25.2 Under the CITGO sign. 
One mile to go. Fans at Kenmore Square. A shave-headed fan who'd been drinking beer laughingly berates me for stopping at the fence to text. Then he opens arms wide and gives me a big hug.

M26 Once again down Boylston Street
Maybe the most storied and treasured stretch of road a marathoner can ever run

Finish Line!

I am so through


  1. Dallas, it was wonderful to get to see you on the race course!

  2. Kelly, I was thinking about "I gotta see Kelly" from the beginning, which thought sustained me for 10 miles. I even moved to the left side of the road early so I'd not miss you. Thanks for reaching out. Thanks for the hug!

  3. Dallas, I'm very proud of you for what you have done! Not just the your outstanding times from the past, but 'getting it done' this year under less-than-best circumstances. You have been, and continue to be, an inspiration for so many of us. @BostonStrong @DallasStrong!

  4. Dallas, It was a pleasure to meet you briefly with Kelly on Monday. You have such a tremendous soul and a spirit that will not be crushed! I hope your health gets better and we will see you out there again next year!

  5. Dallas -- you're a phenomenal runner and person. I was following your every step/tweet (way less creepier than it sounds), and am so happy you got to get back to Boston, slower run than normal or not. You're a survivor, and one who preservers. Well done, sir!

  6. And I hope you got some baked beans while there at some point! I've still never been to Boston (and have zero chance of ever going there to run, but I suppose I could be sent there because of my work at some point).