Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Thoughts on The Boston Marathon

I grew up watching, reading, and listening to news about the Boston Marathon; as a runner and a fan of the competitive part of the sport for nearly 35 years, I've always loved following the stories from races for both the top contenders and the back-of-the-packers.  As a current back-of-the-packer myself, I know that every runner has a story, and, especially for big events like marathons, every finish impacts each participant in many different ways.  

The marathon is the apex of the sport for lots of runners, the quintessential goal, the quest of the most dedicated amongst us.  And the Boston Marathon, or "The Boston" or just "Boston," as it is typically called in the athletic world, is the pinnacle of all marathons.  It's the world's oldest ongoing marathon, with this being its 117th year, and it's probably the world's most well-known road-racing event.  Boston is always run on Patriots' Day, the third Monday in April, which, unlike the majority of other marathons in the U.S., means that it's always held on a Monday.  Because of the many hills along the course and the tendency for the temperatures to soar into the 80-degree range during the event, the race is considered to be one of the more challenging marathons in our country.  The Boston Marathon is the only marathon in the U.S. that has a qualifying time requirement for entry, based on the gender and age of each runner, with the general rules stating that a runner must have completed a "qualifying marathon" within an 18 month period prior to Boston.  As a result of the strict qualifying requirements and the difficulty factor, Boston Marathon runners are generally revered by all other runners, or at least by those of us who have been involved in the sport for awhile. 

A masterpiece about Dad's first Boston by my sister, Jennifer
Growing up, I remember hearing my dad talking about Boston as if it were the Holy Grail of running.  Even before he had run it the first time in 1979 at the age of 35, I remember him telling my sisters and me about the course, which runs through eight different towns and finishes on Copley Square in Boston.  In the months leading up to his Boston debut, I remember him worrying aloud about Heartbreak Hill, the most well-known challenge in the race, even after he'd run up and down the levee alongside the Mississippi River literally hundreds of times as part of the 100+ miles per week he ran for months before the race.  I remember my grandfather, my dad's dad, coming to stay with my sisters and me for a few days while my parents went to Boston that April, and I remember my mom calling us after the race to tell us how Dad had done (his finish time was 2:46:04).  I remember standing in the kitchen of our house with my sisters, cheering through the phone line for my dad and then chanting his finish place over and over, so many times that the number was forever lodged in my brain.  In fact, one day, during the time when my dad was sick, we were talking about the many races he had run over the years, and he was surprised when I told him that I still remembered what place he finished in at his first Boston:  1,196th, which put him in the top 15% of finishers that year.

There are around half a million spectators and usually between 20,000 and 25,000 runners at every Boston Marathon.  The Centennial Boston Marathon, held in 1996, which was my dad's second time to run it, set a record for the most entrants, at around 38,000 runners.  

I remember Dad talking excitedly after he'd gotten back from the race the first time about going to the Bill Rogers Running Store and meeting Bill Rodgers, who had won the marathon for the third time that year, setting a course record in the process.  Dad commented that he especially admired the guy, "Boston Billy" as he was called, because of his modesty and his friendliness, which, ironically, were also two of Dad's strongest qualities.  The women's division was won that year by Joan Benoit, then 21 years old, who, with a time of 2:35, bettered the previously set record for women's finish time by 8 minutes. 

Joan, or "Joanie" as she was called, won Boston again in 1983, this time finishing in 2:22, breaking the women's world record by two minutes, and then she followed up by taking the gold medal in the Olympic marathon in L.A. in 1984, the year the women's marathon was established as an Olympic event.  She, incidentally, still holds the record for the American woman with the fastest finish in both the Olympic marathon and in the Chicago Marathon.  Yesterday, Joan ran Boston again to celebrate the 30th anniversary of her most recent Boston win, as did the men's winner from '83, Greg Meyer, who was in fact the last American to have won the race.  Joan, now age 55, was quoted as saying before the race that she planned to "go out fast," aiming to finish within 30 minutes of her winning time from 30 years ago, a goal that my dad would have absolutely loved hearing about - and one that she achieved with a finish time of 2:50.

To Joanie, from my dad and me: you're still a total badass!

Countless people - even those who have never even cared at all about the Boston Marathon before yesterday - watched the replays and read the recounts of the tragedy that unfolded after the bombings, the vast majority of people whom, I would venture to guess, realized that they could not even imagine the chaos and the terror than ensued on the race course and around the city, nor could they really comprehend the emotions  about the losses suffered by the runners and spectators of so many things: life, safety, trust, faith, and even reward for such dedication and effort on the part of the thousands of runners who trained extensively for the race over the course of the last six months or more.  

"To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month,
or even one year - but for a lifetime." ~Bill Rodgers, 1979

My brother Lee has qualified for Boston twice and has run it once; he shares in the family's fascination with the marathon's history and with each year's competitive field.  No one in my family was at the Boston Marathon this year; however, on some level, we can imagine the turmoil experienced by those who were there yesterday because of tragic events that have affected us at other races in years past, which is a different story in its own right.  Like everyone else, my family feels so sad for everyone affected by the bombing; there is no understanding the evil that drives such madness.  The term Heartbreak Hill has a whole new meaning for all of the runners there yesterday and for those of us whose hearts go out to those injured and otherwise affected by the malevolence of those responsible.

In memory of Martin Richard 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Birth Story

There aren't many days in a person's life that one knows will always be one of the best, one of the most memorable, one of the coolest days ever, but I am lucky enough to have had one of those days recently, thanks for my sister Nancy and her husband David, who not only brought the newest member into our family but were gracious enough to include many of us in one of the most awe-inspiring things I've ever been a part of. 

Around 8:00 in the morning on Sunday, March 24, my cell phone rang, and I saw on Caller ID that it was my brother-in-law calling.  Given that Nancy's due date was two days before, I got butterflies in my stomach before I even answered the phone.  "David?" I said, instead of even saying hello; I wanted to hear him say everything was ok before I would let myself be overtaken by joy and excitement.

"She's having contractions, about 9 minutes apart," he said. "It's been going on for a few hours, and they're getting closer together.

"Are y'all ok?" I asked anxiously, still needing that reassurance.

"Yes, we're good, just wanted you to know what's going on," he said.  I could hardly contain myself as I finished talking to him and then dialed my sister Jennifer's phone number to give her the good news.  I talked to her for a couple of minutes and then we hung up so she could call the airline to book the first flight from L.A. to Nashville.  I called our mom, and then I hustled upstairs at my house to get ready to go.  I had gone to Nashville two days earlier to pick up my oldest daughter, who had taken a flight in from college to start her spring break.  We'd spent the night and had driven home the next morning, less than 24 hours before David had called me.  Thinking that Nancy might go into labor while I'd been there then, I'd packed my suitcase as if I were planning to stay for several days instead of just one night; my suitcase, in fact, was still packed, and so I quickly woke up my husband and my daughters to tell them what was going on and then I grabbed my bag and hit the road.

David called again when I was about 30 minutes away from my house to let me know that they were at the hospital and that Nancy was already at 4 cm.  "I'm on my way!" I told him.  I called Jennifer again and got her flight information; her flight was scheduled to arrive in Nashville at 5:45 p.m. that afternoon.  She said she was going to get WiFi on the plane so she could stay up-to-date about what was going on during the four-hour long flight.  "I hope I make it in time to be there when the baby is born!" she said, and I hoped I was right when I told her I thought she would.  As I drove, several group text messages were exchanged by others in the family, all excited and wanting an update as soon as possible.  The weather was stormy, but I made it in decent time to the hospital, parked, and went in through the front door.  I stopped at the Information Desk and got directions to the maternity ward.  I texted David and he met me at the nurses' station, where I was given a Visitor's bracelet so that I would be admitted to the delivery room area.

Nancy looked relaxed and happy when I got there; our mom was there with them and everything seemed to be going smoothly.  About 1:45 p.m., the nurse and the midwife came in and examined Nancy; she was already at 9 cm, but the midwife said it would probably at least a couple more hours before the baby had dropped enough to be delivered.  The midwife told us she would come back in 2-3 hours to see how Nancy was doing.

Lots of text messages amongst the group of Bullard family members were sent back and forth; everyone was so excited and anxious for the baby to be born.  We were all really hoping that Jennifer would make it to the hospital before the baby was born, but with the latest news it seemed possible that she might not be able to.  My mom asked my aunt Ellen to pick up Jennifer from the airport and bring her straight to the hospital; we knew that even if the baby was born before her flight had landed, Jennifer would want to get to the hospital as quickly as possible.  My aunt said she would get Jennifer to us as soon as she could, and I emailed exact directions to her so she would know which entrance to use and how to get to the room once she was inside the hospital.  

As we waited, Mom French-braided Nancy's hair and we chatted excitedly; what was going on almost felt more like a dream than reality.  About 2:15, Nancy was having some problems with itching, a common side effect of an epidural, and so the nurse gave her medicine for that.  Nancy told the nurse that she really hoped our other sister could get there in time, and the nurse said she thought there was still a good chance that would be able to happen.  Nancy said she wanted all of us to stay in the delivery room while the baby was born, and we were thrilled.  As I was finding out, even though I had had two children of my own, it's very different to witness a birth than it is to give birth.

Meanwhile, Jennifer emailed from the plane that her flight was supposed to be landing 20 minutes early.  We passed the new arrival time on to my aunt and crossed our fingers that the extra time would up the odds for Jennifer to be there for the birth.  Nancy's nurse, who was pregnant herself and who like Nancy had opted not to find out her baby's gender ahead of time, seemed to be deliberately taking her time with some things, and when she stepped out of the room we agreed that we thought she was doing everything she could to make Nancy's wish for Jennifer to be there come true.

About 4:15, the midwife did an exam and told us that Nancy was at 10 cm but that the baby still needed to drop a little more, and she added that she thought they should also wait a little longer for the epidural to wear off a little so Nancy would have better control during the delivery.  "Let's think about having you start to push about 5:00," she said.  "Fine with me!" Nancy told her, and we all made yet another silent wish that the baby would be able to wait until Jennifer was there, too.

David's mom Linda got there about that time.  We updated Jennifer, who said she was ready to run to meet our aunt as soon as the plane landed.

At a few minutes after 5:00, the midwife, her assistant, and Nancy's nurse came back in, and the midwife said, "Let's have a baby!"  It took a few minutes for them to get things set up, and then the nurse told Nancy it was time to start pushing.  I had been pacing around a bit prior to that time, full of lots of nervous energy, and at one point the nurse asked me if I wanted something to do.  "Yes!" I said, and she told me to stand at one of Nancy's legs and to count to ten each time she gave me the heads-up that Nancy was having a contractions and should start pushing.  I happily accepted my position, and my mom and David stood on either side of Nancy at the head of the bed while Linda stood to the side.  Every couple of minutes, the nurse instructed Nancy to push, and I counted to ten at what I thought was a medium-speed pace, during which time Nancy pushed.  (As I told Nancy later, I reasoned that if I counted at too fast a pace little to no progress woud be made in the delivery during each contraction - but that too slow of a pace would be unreasonable for Nancy to keep up with.)  We repeated that three times per cycle, and then Nancy got to take a very short break between contractions.  The midwife said she thought the pushing phase would take around an hour, and so I quickly reported that news to Jennifer via email in between contractions.  Jennifer responded that her plane was about the descend; she said she still hoped to make it in time but that of course she just wanted Nancy and the baby to be ok.  Again, I hoped I was right as I told her I thought she would make it in time. 

Nancy continued to push during contractions; I will never forget how awe-inspiring it was when the very top of the baby's head became visible.  "You've got this," I told Nancy at the start of the next contraction, and she looked me in the eye and then we started the cycle again, counting and pushing.  At 5:32, Jennifer texted that she was in Ellen's car and they were 10 minutes away from the hospital.  The two minutes between contractions during which Nancy could take a break from pushing seemed to go by faster and faster; the excitement and the awe in the room was almost palpable.  "Oh my god, this is so awesome," I must have said a dozen times during the next half hour or so; I felt like even that wasn't adequate in describing my emotions.

Jennifer texted to let us know she was one minute from the hospital.  A few minutes later, Linda volunteered to run to the nurses' station to give Jennifer the Visitor's bracelet, but, before she had had a chance to do so, Jennifer burst into the room.  She later told us that, as she rounded the corner to the nurses' station running (literally running - just so you have an accurate picture in your head here.), a nurse yelled, "ARE YOU THE SISTER?" and when she said "YES!!" the entire staff there, all of who had undoubtedly heard that Nancy wanted her to make it in time to deliver the baby, cheered and waved her into the restricted delivery room area, towards the room where we were. 

She was so happy; we all were so happy.  She all but floated over to Nancy to kiss and hug her; there wasn't a dry eye in the room.  A second later the nurse gave us the signal, and the counting and pushing started again.  The nurse told us it wouldn't be long, and the midwife asked if anyone in the room wanted to call out the gender of the baby after the birth.  "I'll do it!" David said excitedly.  By this time, Mom was at one of Nancy's legs and I was at the other, and so Jennifer squeezed in at Nancy's shoulder, opposite David, and we all in complete awe as, at 6:04 p.m., only nine minutes after Jennifer had gotten there, the newest member of our family was born.  

The midwife placed the baby onto Nancy's chest, as we all looked on in wonder, and then David announced, "It's a boy!"  Happy, grateful tears flowed, and Nancy looked down at her son and said, "Well, hello, baby!"  After a few more minutes, she said to him, "Now you need a name!"  After a brief huddle with David, the new daddy announced, "Meet Crosby Bullard Owens."  

As another round of smiles and tears went around the room, it occurred to me that, although it often takes a village to raise a child, sometimes a child can lift the spirits of an entire village.  

Welcome, Crosby; we're so glad you're here.

If the video doesn't automatically load in the box above, CLICK HERE TO WATCH A VIDEO ABOUT HOW CROSBY JOINED OUR FAMILY.