by Jake Kobrin
Double the Pleasure, Double the Fun ...
"Happiness [is] only real when shared”
― Last diary entry of Chris McCandless before perishing in the Alaskan tundra. Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
Sometimes life finds a way of getting you where you want to be. For me, that was running the Boston Marathon with my twin brother. Running a marathon, and running in Boston had been a goal for me ever since I started getting somewhat serious about running later in high school. For me running has always been less about the competition, and more about the sheer joy of striding down a forested path or quiet street, taking in the air, and watching the world pass by. Although being faster than the person next to me has rarely excited me, from a young age I loved the idea of setting up little challenges for myself and then trying to complete them, like a Boy Scout trying to collect his next merit badge. There is something addictive about setting off on a great adventure, to do something or see something you have never done before.
As a current physician assistant student at Albany Medical College, I had not been training seriously over the past few years, mostly just squeezing in runs to help me feel strong, invigorated, and ready for the day ahead. Sam, my twin brother, called me last October, and said, “Hey, they just canceled the Marine Corps Marathon, I was just looking for another race to do instead this fall to try and qualify for Boston, and found one in Syracuse. Any chance you want to run with me?” I thought about it. He had been training for months. I had mostly been doing little five mile jaunts, and the marathon was two weeks out. But it was hard to pass up the opportunity. So, I went for it, and called him back. We’re on.
At the Great New York State Marathon, I was honestly just hoping to finish. But as the pack separated, it became clear that if I was going to run with someone during these 26.2 miles, it was going to have to be Sam, pace be damned. So, I stuck, at least to mile 20. I got a cramp and had to collect and reorient myself. I focused on my pace, reset objectives and ground on. Sam was aiming to get a sub-2:50, which he figured would allow him certainty that he would qualify for Boston. As I got to the final miles of that race, I imagined Sam running in Boston without me. What a missed opportunity it would be to not be able to race there with him. With that thought in my mind, I advanced toward the finish, finally completing the race in a respectable 2:49, placing third overall. I was ecstatic. We were going to Boston together!
As fall turned to winter, I decided that for Boston, I actually was going to try and put forward a somewhat concerted effort to train for the race. Largely this consisted of 16-20 mile runs on the weekends, either with friends from the Medical College or with Nark Running Strategies, and speedwork at the Albany Running Exchange Track Tuesdays. The rest of my training would largely be whatever mileage I could fit in, mostly just quick five milers before or after a day of clinical rotations. Luckily I have be blessed with a fantastic aerobic base from the years of high mileage in college, which allowed me to get away with a lot of 40 mile weeks and still see some training benefit. But with so much going in my life trying to improve my ability to practice medicine, this was realistically all the time I was going to be able to put in. Plus, it always felt fun, which for me was always critical. Running is a hobby. To me if it starts to feel like a job, it’s time for me to do some serious evaluation of my priorities.
So, having trained, and successfully avoided getting a respiratory infection from the patients I was seeing, I found myself toeing the line in Hopkinton on Patriots’ Day. Sam and I gave our extra clothes to our parents and got into our respective gates. We were able to find each other before the starting gun went off. After the gun went off, Sam and I went wove our way through the pack, using the downhills as efficiently as possible. Growing up in Williamstown, MA, and living on a hill, all of the runs from our house involved a running a mile downhill at the beginning of the run, and a mile uphill at the end. We love hills and know how to make the most of them. At the same time, we watched our pace. We did not want to go out too hard, the classic mistake of runners doing Boston the first time, just to end up bonking in the Newton Hills later in the race. But as things began to flatten around Framingham, we became more settled and confident in our pace. We were going at peppy 6:00-6:10 pace, but we felt good. Compared to the Great New York State Marathon, the crowds were phenomenal. It felt as though the entire way there were spectators yelling at us, “Go Vassar!” (Sam had a Vassar T-shirt on, our Alma Mater) or kids holding out their hands for a high-five. I took a lot of Gatorade in the first 10 miles, since there were no gel stops prior to mile 11, and I had ed enough glucose to keep my brain and muscles feeling switched on. Sam and I made sure to have fun with it. Going in to Wellesley, we made sure to high-five every one of our screaming Seven Sisters compatriots. At mile 16, soon after Wellesley, we hit our first real inclines. We had heard much about these, but we were ready for it. Our pace slowed closer to 6:20-6:30, but we kept our effort up, focused on staying controlled, and got through the inclines, hill by hill.
Just before Heartbreak Hill, I heard someone yell, “Sam and Jake!” I swiveled my head and locked eyes. It was Ellie! A friend from high school, serendipitously out on the course to watch the race. I was elated. What are the chances? But it was not a time to get distracted. I locked onto Sam as he powered up Heartbreak Hill, the roadside filled with sign holders and people set up will grills on their yards. But Heartbreak was the last hill, and after that we knew the real race began. I took up the lead coming out of Heartbreak at mile 21 and made some quick moves to move up in the pack. At some point into Brookline, I felt that I was on course to burn out, so I tucked in behind Sam, who pressed forward at a strong pace. We ran by our friend Andrew, who now lives and Boston and had done the Midnight Ride of the course the night before. He remarked as we ran by, “You ran here faster than I biked!”. Coming out of Brookline and into Boston, the Citgo sign appeared in sky in front of us. Citgo, mile to go I thought. Sam was looking a little tired. Now was my time. I quickly made three or four moves up to advance through the pack, eventually latching on behind another taller runner who was looking strong. Sam was close behind, but I had made enough of a gap that it was challenging for him to close, and the other runner I was hanging onto was only pushing the pace further. Turning onto Boylston, I began to sprint. Boylston Street felt like it lasted forever. It is a long, long finish. But eventually I ran across the finish. I had just finished in 2:41:32, an eight minute PR. Sam was there fourteen seconds later. We were too tired to even speak or put an arm around each other’s shoulder. We just looked at each other, breathed, and knew. What a race it had been. Drinking water and wrapped in foil blankets, we took in the sunny day, and thought about how we had landed here in the heart of Boston with each other. What a special race. Driving home with out parents, our Grandpa, Papa, called to congratulated us. “So what’s next for you boys?” he asked. Maybe another Major, maybe New York. But for now, we are just happy to take it all in. It was a great day to be a runner.