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Are you ready? How are you feeling? Are you excited?

April 25, 2010

It is not everyday that a Harpooner runs the Boston Marathon. In fact, it can happen at most only once a year. This year, Harpoon Regional Sales Manager Chris Bonacci ran his first Boston Marathon and I asked him if he would write a blog entry about it. Little did I know the story that Chris would have to tell. Here it is…..

Are you ready? How are you feeling? Are you excited?

Sometimes, even the most benevolent comments become unbearable. Such is the case with the above questions for anyone approaching a marathon. As race day approaches, so does the inevitability – rain, snow, flu, cold, any of the five symptoms treated by Pepto, whatever nature may bring, you’re running. As much as you’d like to be in the best shape of your life (and chances are you won’t be), you will go out and run 26.2 miles when the day comes. So, even though it’s all you can think about, it doesn’t really matter how you feel – or whether you’re ready. Even though half of your friends are lining up for eye-openers around Fenway, when race day (Marathon Monday 2010 here in Boston, in my case) comes, you’re lacing up and heading out. And even though this was my second marathon (Chicago 2009 was my first), the cycle of training and nerves was as vicious as ever; this time around, however, it was a little different.

Unbeknownst to me, my father had been diagnosed with prostate cancer a little over a week before I ran Chicago. Not wanting to impact my run, he kept the developments secret until I returned to Boston, choosing instead to make the trip out and cheer me on. So when I thought about running Boston, doing so as part of a larger fundraising effort with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute seemed the only option. My respect for the elite athletes who train their whole lives is immense, and, when I woke at 4:35 on Monday morning, I did so with the hope that an American might win Boston for the first time in many years (despite record times, they didn’t). But it wasn’t the podium folks that brought me to tears.

Harpooner and Boston Marathon finisher Chris Bonacci. Yes this is a picture of him with the Celtics' 17th NBA Championship Trophy, which made a visit to the brewery. He forgot to get a picture of himself running the marathon so this was the best we could do.

The adrenaline (some would call it nerves) ran much too high for it to sink in during the hours leading up to the race. And despite my best efforts, the only thing I could really focus on in the final minutes before the race was whether or not I could get out of my corral for one last trip to the bathroom (I didn’t). I ran in wave two, and in the eight minutes between ten thirty and the time I crossed the start line, I just hoped that my legs would feel great when I began my run.

They didn’t. In fact, they felt asleep. I was struck by a wave of worry (some would call it nausea) as I contemplated running 26 miles on what I would fondly (now that the race is safely behind me) call dead legs. And then, somewhere around mile two, I threw out the cheat sheet that broke my goal 3:40 race into mile splits and decided that I was going to just enjoy the day. And as I made it through Ashland and into Framingham, I did. Not only did I feel better, I found perspective.

I thought back to the pasta dinner the night before, and to the children who were in treatment at Dana-Farber – the people who faced real challenges, day in and day out. I thought of my Dad (who, thanks to early detection and surgery, is doing well and who was waiting for me to cheer me on – again – at the top of Heartbreak Hill and who, when I mentioned I wasn’t feeling great leading up to a long run, said – without sarcasm or cruelty, but very matter-of-factly –  ‘You might as well run. You might have the sniffles on race day.’) I thought of my Mom, who was at his side throughout his battle. I thought of my uncle, who had been treated at Dana-Farber, and who had been fighting cancer (successfully, and tirelessly) for years. I thought of his family. I watched servicemen carry heavy packs on their back as they made their way through the Newton hills. Heading up a slight hill before heading into Cleveland Circle, as I wanted to stop and walk, I came up behind Team Hoyt. I saw a blind runner making her way through Wellesley with the help of two guides. And as I crested the hill (that felt like a mountain) on Hereford heading onto Boylston, I saw a disabled runner, in tears, making his way through the last mile with the help of two course guides. But more importantly, I saw, and heard, the crowd that spurred him on.

I thought a lot about Marathon Monday since the day I applied to run with Dana-Farber. I thought about it when I discovered that the shoes I had worn in Chicago had left me with Iliotibial Band Syndrome, and when I woke up early on cold winter mornings to get a run in. I worried about driving the people I cared about crazy as I spent hours of time away from them, training, and I worried about letting all the people who had donated down if, for some reason, I couldn’t finish. And I thought about what I would do when I was done. What I would eat (pizza), what I would drink (chocolate milk – a great recovery drink – and then my first Single Hop ESB – I do work at Harpoon after all, and I had some dry days leading up to the race!). I thought a lot about me. And don’t get me wrong, the beer tasted great (thank you Charlie Cummings!), as did the pizza (thank you Pat’s!). But these aren’t the things that ill keep in my memory. I won’t remember it as ‘my day’ – I’ll remember being humbled. In all honestly, wonderfully humbled, by the people who take on the real challenges, and who do so with a quiet conviction that belies true strength.

People ask how the race was, and I tell them a little bit about my run. I tell them I ran with Valerie Bertinelli (who also raised money for Dana-Farber). Maybe I mention the smells on the course (there were plenty!) or the salt-covered Fig Newton I accidentally ate with my energy Gu at mile 15. I could talk forever about how great it is to run Boston. And it is – just not for the reasons I expected.

If you would like to learn more about the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute or contribute to my fundraising efforts, please see the link below:

Amazing! Thanks for your efforts, Chris, in fundraising for Dana-Farber and congratulations for training then running the 2010 Boston Marathon in under 4 hours!

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