Early in the morning of April 13th I landed at Boston’s Logan International Airport with my girlfriend Brittney and our trusty sidekick Retina. Little did we know that we were about to experience more than just the 117th Boston Marathon. We were there to experience a day that will never be forgotten in the hearts and minds of the running community.
The days leading up to the Patriot’s Day Classic were no different than any other year and therefore I will depict them just as they to place. After arriving in Boston, we were picked up by the wonderful Cynthia from the Massachusetts Association for the Blind (MAB) and whisked away to the Carroll Center which would be our lodging for the weekend. The Carroll Center is a center helping those that are blind/visually impaired learn mobility and daily living skills. They also have a small dormitory living quarters where we would be residing. From here on out we will call our living quarters “The Blind Spa.”
Shortly after “checking in” at the Blind Spa, we were greeted by my manager and good friend Carie Goldberg, also know to me as “Gollldddberrrggg.” Immediately after Goldberg arrived we headed straight for the infamous Fenway Park. This was my first experience of the historic venue and Green Monster and it didn’t disappoint. Of course I couldn’t see much of the game even with my super power binocular but I knew what was going on. We also watched the game with Brittney’s friend Ashley (who we will call the crazy Southerner) and Goldberg’s cousin. Despite having the marathon on Monday I still decided to take down two Fenway Dogs and some peanuts while the Red Sox beat the Devil Rays in a 10th inning game winner.
From the Red Sox victory, we headed over to the Ivy St. School where there was a dinner for MAB’s Team with a Vision for all those running the BAA 5K on Sunday and marathon on Monday. Josh Warren from M.A.B. did an amazing job in organizing and putting together Team With A Vision. Over 40 blind/visually impaired individuals were part of Team With A Vision this year, an all time record. After the dinner, many people joined CDifferentwithAaron (CDWA) Nation and purchased eye chart shirts and CDWA apparel made by Champion Systems. Thanks to all those that support my mission and wear your gear proudly!
Sunday morning was kicked off with a little play time for Retina in the Blind Spa which was a little difficult because he doesn’t realize that most staying there can’t see. No one was hurt though so everything was good. The agenda for Sunday was packed but I managed to meet up for a brief time with a few of my favorite Spartans, Bogie and Tingwell for coffee before we headed to the MAB Brunch at the Westin Copley Hotel. The documentary “Alongside Team With A Vision” was shown which was a great production and all those that helped raised money for the team were recognized. These people, along with the guides, are those that allow these events to take place. CDWA nation grew even larger after this event which was great to see.
From the brunch, we headed straight to the race expo to meet up with guides Ryan Irwin and Chad Carr and pick up our packet. These two brave souls didn’t get enough of my antics last year in the 90 degree heat so they decided to do it all again. I took my handy dandy Boston Marathon Passport and they allowed us entry into the United Commonwealth of the BAA. They stamped us with the #919 and we were all set for Monday. The guide’s duties were all done for Sunday but they decided to stick around and join Carie and I as we wandered through the enormous expo looking at what new companies and gadgets are out there. One gadget that I found and now love is the iFitness race belt which is amazing for carrying your gels without them bouncing around. Its like there not even there. This is a definite must have for all those long distance junkies.
From the expo, we met back up with Brittney who had been enjoying yet another Boston Red Sox victory with the crazy Southerner. We then headed back to the Blind Spa to pick up RET The Wonder Dog and went out for my Last Supper. Nothing special the night before a race. I do try to away fried chicken even though my Southern girlfriend always try to make me eat it. I also eat a bit earlier to avoid waking up with a heavy load in my gut. Boston can screw with one’s eating routine. The 10am start time you must adjust your AM eating a bit. I tend to need to eat at least 2-3hr before the race to ensure my stomach is settle and then for Boston I just take a PowerBar gel closer to the time of the race.
My alarm sounded at 5am on Patriot’s Day. I had an early interview with the local CBS Morning Show so “Team Scheidies” loaded up in Goldberg’s car to head 26 miles outside Boston to the town of Hopkinton. Patriot’s Day is the one day of the year the Hopkinton is actually on the map. The marathon literally controls the city of Boston on this day. No cars can enter of leave Hopkinton between 7AM and 11AM except B.A.A. authorize buses. Locals have nothing else to do than go outside and set up camp to support the event. It was a bit chilly upon waking up but thank God that us blind folk are well taken care of by Team With A Vision. Just two blocks from the start line is the Hopkinton Vision Center and we are lucky that they open their doors all the blind athletes and their guides. Feeling bad for a few of my other friends doing the race who would be left out in the cold I invited the Crazy Southerner and Bogie to join me at the vision center as I tattooed myself up in preparation for the race.
As we approached the 10 o’clock hour guide Chad Carr and I slithered our way up towards the front using the tether more as a “Free to Go” pass than anything else. At the point Chad started seeing Kenyans we decided it was probably time for us to stay put. After the elite males were announced, the gun sounded to the start. Since I had done this rodeo before I was well versed in the course. The first 10K is literally downhill with the first mile being the greatest drop. I am a great downhill runner but the plan was to let myself fall forward but not push it. The first mile was a lot of bobbing and weaving but with the steep downhill hit the mile at 5:45. At mile 2 we were greeted by the biker gang on the corner bar trying to convince us that drinking would be a better option than running. At mile two we were running 5:50 pace and Chad was just trying to keep the reigns on me. To a big surprise, mile three greeted us with quite possibly the biggest house party I have ever seen or heard. We could even smell this house party coming. The entire yard from the house to the street barricades were packed like a mosh pit. Even the porch and roof were full of screaming intoxicated Bostonians. From mile four to eight the crowds were still strong but nothing like the show at mile three. We kept our pace just at or below 6 minute pace but we couldn’t seem to shake off these two guys wearing pink leotards. I new they were still right behind us because all we could hear from the crowds were things like, “I love you pinky,” or “looking good in pink!” Finally, one must have dropped off and the other surged ahead of us. I wasn’t too happy about a man in a pink leotard going by me but I guess, more power to him.
After you get mile six at Boston, all you start thinking about are the Wellesley College girls that you encounter at mile 12. You start hearing this screaming wall at mile 11 so miles 8-11 are just anticipation miles. I knew if I could mentally get through these miles, the energy from the Wellesley crowds would at least get me through the next four. Chad and I tried to keep it nice and controlled. Chad was like my tour guide telling me everything that was worth while in terms of scenery. We went through the 5K at 17:42, the 10K at 36:23 and the 15K at 55:38 so we were holding pretty consistent at near 6 minute pace. This was no shock to me but it was a shock to me when we came across the halfway point at 1:19:10 just 1:10 off my half marathon PR. Granted, much of the first half at Boston is downhill but I was still very surprised.
Enough of that statistic jargon, back to the Wellesley girls. Like a train in the distance getting louder as it draws near we approached. To give you an idea of what the Wellesley tunnel sounds like just ask Justin Bieber. Its like running through a tunnel of 50,000 screaming teenage girls that are seemingly in love with every runner that goes by. As we made our way closer I motioned to Chad to head over to the barricades so I could begin the longest row of high fives one can give. I hit some of their arms so hard that thoughts of “my shoulder could dislocate on the next good smack” went through my mind. Did I drop my arm down though? Heck no!!! I came out of that half mile stretch with so much energy it took my breath away. Sadly, it was time to send Chad off as his time drew to a close and he passed the leash onto the next victim Ryan Irwin who would guide me the rest of the way home.
It always cracks me up when I have two guides for a marathon because when they switch off and the new guy steps in they are so fresh and excited that they take off like a jack rabbit. Then I reel them in and tell them, “whoa there soldier, calm it down this guy has already run 13 miles.” This typically puts the reigns on them and then they take charge of the daunting task of controlling Aaron Scheidies :) This year Chad had the easy job. I never have trouble with the first half of the marathon. The second half has been where I have fallen apart. Although we came across the half quicker than expected, we held back more than previous marathons. Now it was Ryan’s turn to keep me focused and on pace.
The second half of Boston is by far the tougher of the two halves. Miles 13-16 are gentle rollers. Just as I used the anticipation of Wellesley to fuel me in miles 8-12, I used the anticipation of seeing (and hearing) my two biggest fans Brittney and Carie near mile 17. We got to mile 17 and I still hadn’t heard them. There’s no way we could have missed them. Goldberg is so loud , the animals come out of the woods because they think they are being called. We headed into the Newton Hills and still no Team Scheidies fan fanatics. I couldn’t believe they were going to do this to me. They were going to make me run the Newton Hills without pumping me full of adrenaline? Around mile 18, Ryan reported a spotting of two females wearing eye charts. One very good lucking young one and the other, also good looking but louder than snot. I confirmed to Ryan that’s got to be them. We passed by and a shot of morphine-like anesthetic shot through my body. These hills were like dirt mounds compared to what we run in Seattle. We churned up them nice and steady and then used the “free speed” of the downhill to make up the lost time.
Mile 20 came around and it was time to head passed Boston College (B.C.) where they say “don’t drink the water from B.C.” When you ask for water near B.C. you never know what your going to get so its best to pre-fuel before this area. B.C. is also loud and crazy but since its more of a mix between guys and gals there is less of a high pitched scream than at Wellesley. We passed the 30K at 1:54:30 and 35K at 2:15:14. Considering this was the toughest 5K on the course I was happy with a 20:44 split. From mile 22 on it is flat and sightly downhill all the way to the famous “right on Hereford left on Boylston.” It was noticeable to Ryan that I was beginning to hurt. He continued to encourage me and I continued to think about the smiley faces that were drawn all over my fake tattooed arms. With two to three miles left I asked Ryan our time. I new that Kurt Fiene, another blind/VI runner had run Boston in 2:43 and change and that was the fastest Boston ever run by a blind/VI American. I told myself “you must pick up this pace no matter the discomfort.” At this point my legs were so heavy that I just kept leaning forward with the hopes that they could fall underneath me. I knew once we went down under the overpass we were less than half a mile to go. The crowds began to grow to enormous sizes as the crowds from the Red Sox game transformed into marathon fans. The last little climb from going under the overpass almost did me in but I knew that the Glory Land was within reach. The next right turn was Hereford and then it was a quick left onto Boyleston. The crowds were packed probably 20 deep behind the barricades and they are what enabled me to pick it up on the home stretch. We crossed the line in 2:44:31 with nothing left in the tank. I was only 50second off of the Boston best set by Kurt Fiene but I had smashed my previous marathon PR of 2:48:18 by nearly 4 minutes.
Following the race, I looked for ice to help my ailing legs but surprisingly enough ice was not easy to come by. I settled instead for a nice massage and chiropractic adjustment from a great guy that had actually seen me last year. We finally met up with Team Scheidies fan fanatics Brittney and Carie and got lunch before we planned our trip out of the city. Little did we know that all the joyous screaming at the finish line would quickly turn to screams of terror. Goldberg had to make the drive back to New York and so we departed ways from Ryan Irwin and headed to the parking garage. We were parked in a garage just around the corner from where the second bomb went off. We drove out of the parking garage and began to make our way back to the Blind Spa. As we drove out of the city, lines of firetrucks and ambulances flew by in the opposite direction. At first I thought maybe someone passed out or had a heart attack but they just kept coming and then we knew something bigger had just happened. We immediately turned on the radio and heard the news and we were in shock. We must have been walking to our car in the parking garage when the bombs went off. We immediately began to worry about all those people that we knew that could have been right there. We knew that the Team With A Vision meeting spot was very close to where these went off and we couldn’t get ahold of anyone. All phone calls went straight to voicemail or didn’t connect at all.
When we finally arrived at the Blind Spa I noticed that I had forgotten to grab the key when I left in the morning. It wasn’t life or death that we get into the Blind Spa right away but with phone service pretty much obsolete, it would be a while before we would get in. Instead we sat in Goldberg’s car listening to the radio and contacting as many friends and family as we could via text. One of Carie’s clients Ethan Zohn from survivor was in the race and this of course worried Carie to death. Luckily, Ethan is a social media addict and had his phone with him during the event. He finally responded to a text, saying that he was fine and just having a few drinks with the B.C. kids at mile 20.
From the moment we heard about the bombings until a week after the event it was almost like the actual running part of the marathon didn’t happen. Running a PR and all the great moments of high fives down the Wellesley corridor didn’t matter. Instead, all I could think about was how grateful and blessed I was to have such amazing people in my life. I hugged Brittney and RET a little tighter and as arrived at Logan International Airport that evening, I hugged Goldberg tighter than ever before.
Later, I received the news that all of the athletes from Team With A Vision were safe and accounted for around the city. All of my immediate friends and family were also safe but just like the theory of “6 degrees of Separation,” I knew that I was tied to some of those that were directly injured. My thoughts and prayers go out to all those that were injured and their families. This was a tragic event but we in the running community will continue to run and do what we love. We will get strong, Boston Strong and we will back for the 118th running of the Boston Marathon in 2014 with more vigor and more passion than ever. Stay strong, Boston Strong!!!
C You Next Year Boston!!!