Running for the Finish

Running for the Finish

Posted by Tommy Manning on 16th May 2016

Tommy Manning, US Mountain Running Team and KRF Ambassador reflects on his 2016 Boston Marathon. Sometimes the journey isn't what you think it's going to be...

United Airlines could get me on a flight from Chicago to Boston, but they couldn’t get me to Chicago. They also found a seat from Dallas to Boston, but I couldn’t get to Dallas because Dallas had cancelled all flights to Colorado Springs, meaning there was no plane. The only option I had was a 6:30am flight on Sunday to LAX, then going to Chicago, then to Boston, arriving at 11pm! Yikes – that did not sound like anything I wanted to do. United printed the ticket and sent me home telling me to call back in a few hours in case other passengers changed itineraries and seats opened up.

Three different times on Saturday I spent an hour on the phone with United trying to get a better flight. Finally, they found a flight through Atlanta that got me into Boston at 3pm on Sunday, which was much better than traveling for 15 hours and getting in at 11pm.

Somehow this year – I really don’t know how – I was given MVP status and was invited to stay in the Korean Presbyterian Church before the race. This is the church the professionals walk out of when they make their way to the starting line. I have no idea how I got this special status

So there I was in the gym of the Church with Olympians, World Champions, previous Boston winners, this year’s Boston winners, and…me. I didn’t dare talk to any of them because I didn’t want to interrupt anyone’s pre-race routine. And they all looked so serious. I guess I would too if I actually thought I had a chance of winning the race.

The first few miles of the race were great. I ran in the back of a pack of guys and simply tried to stay comfortable. Our group passed through 4 miles in 22 minutes. That’s 5:30 per mile pace, and after doing the math in my head, I realized that was right at 1:12 pace for half. That scared me as I knew I couldn't run 2:24 and didn’t want to go through half in 1:12. So I slowed down, let that group go, and hooked up with the next group.

There were about five of us who ran well together. I could feel it by mile 9 though. My legs were getting tight, I mean all of my muscles, but especially my left groin, quad, hamstring, and tibialis anterior (the muscle on the front of the shin).

I found myself in the back of my little pack with a guy from Chicago. I told him my day was done because I was getting tight and my legs were hurting (not meaning I wouldn’t finish, but meaning my competitive race or the chance of running sub 2:30, which we were on pace for, was over). He said he was feeling stomach issues coming on and his day was over too. Our little pack had dropped us but we ran through 15k (9.3 miles) just fine even though I was in pain. I slowed by the time I got to mile 10 though as my legs just couldn’t keep up anymore. I did the math in my head again knowing I went through 10 miles in 56 minutes and that last mile was 5:56 minutes, which would put me on pace for 2:32 if I didn’t slow down any more. Each of the next few miles got slower with additional muscle pain though, and I kept doing the math in my head from miles 11-15 to figure out a projected finish time. Finally by mile 15 (7:11) my legs were so bad that I realized my chances of even finishing the marathon were slim.

Going through Wellesley was awesome (as usual) though. The girls were loud and the atmosphere was electric. It was like a rush of adrenaline for half a mile. That was the best part of miles 10-15 and the only time I didn’t feel pain with every single step on the pavement.

I stopped at mile 15.3. This isn’t something I’ve ever done in a marathon. I walked into the medical tent on the side of the road and asked for help. I explained I was in extreme pain and my legs were tightening up. A wonderful volunteer named Erin took me to a cot and started giving me a massage. As I explained what had happened, she worked on my legs and found knot after knot in my muscles. She worked on my muscles for over 20 minutes before sending back onto the course. I hoped I could get back out there and start racing again.

I got back on the course and was cruising at first. My muscles felt loose and ready again. I cruised past dozens, scores, maybe hundreds of people at first. Then all my muscles said nope. It wasn’t long until I was back in pain and feeling awful every single step.

It was in interesting phenomena being in the middle of the pack. I had never run in the middle of the pack and had never seen the streets so congested on the Boston course. I couldn’t speed up because I my legs were killing me every step so I hung out with those around me. It was awesome running with people who were running their hardest. I wasn’t near my race pace but all of these people were. I got to see men, women, older runners, younger runners all racing their best. I saw their determination and dedication to their cause even though they were dog tired or struggling. It was cool to see mid-packers doing their best and inspired me to continue through my leg pain.

By the time I got to mile 21 I had to really tough it out to finish. My legs were hurting with every step and I had only run 5.7 miles since leaving the medical tent and still had 5.2 to go! I honestly didn’t know if I was going to make it or not. Oddly, though, I wasn’t winded or tired at all. My 7:00+ pace was not uncomfortable; I was just in pain.

I finished though. I wondered if it was better to finish a 3+ hour marathon or drop out. To me, and I’m not trying to be arrogant, they were basically the same thing. Nobody wants a DNF (did not finish) on their resume though. The following day I had a major reality check. My friends were congratulating me for my marathon, thought it was a huge accomplishment, etc. At first I was mad. I didn’t want anyone congratulating me for a 3:08 marathon – a time I was not thrilled with. I would never congratulate a pitcher if he went out and got shelled and gave up five home runs. I told my friends it was a bad race, the worst marathon of my career, a time I wasn’t proud of, but I don’t think it mattered to them. They saw a guy who went to Boston and ran the most famous marathon in the world. If I had a friend pitching in the major leagues, I would probably congratulate him just for getting there, even if he got shelled. That’s what my friends were doing for me and I do appreciate their congratulations.