After writing a slightly ranting blog about Logan security, I thought a very brief description of the security at the Shinyanga airport in Tanzania might provide a bit of humor.

The setting: rural Tanzania, a small airport with a single dirt runway.

The flights: once a day except Sundays—if there were enough passengers to merit the plane actually taking off.

The scene: After checking in and being told I’m extremely late for the flight (I arrived more than an hour in advance for a prop-plane flight that only happens once a day and seats about 60 people), I was ushered to “security,” otherwise known as a doorway with a table and one guy who glanced at me and asked, “Any explosives in your checked bag?” “Uh, no,” I replied as I glanced at my bulging red duffel bag. He patted the outside of the bag lightly and gave a nod to the baggage handler who promptly carried the bag five feet to the dirt runway and placed it on a luggage trolley.

“May I look through your carry on?”

“Sure,” I said. And he proceeded to glance through my—in my opinion—sketchy computer bag which was stuffed chock-full with snaking, intertwined and probably knotted wires and cords of various colors and pedigrees. He bypassed the cords and looked quizzically at the other pocket of paperwork. Paperwork that was—in his opinion—much sketchier than my errant cords. He carefully inspected the paperwork and folders.

Next was my purse. Again—in my opinion—sketchily filled with multiple cameras, FlipCams, cords, and medications (Maladrone for malaria and Cipro for those pesky travel stomach bugs). He briefly eyed the technological equipment and zeroed in on a dangerous target: an unopened package of four Duracell AA batteries.

He removed them gingerly. “These are not allowed on the plane. We’ll need to put them in your checked baggage.”

I may have let out a slight “ha!” out from under my breath as I laughed internally. “Sure, no problem,” I said. “May I put them in my bag?”

He said yes and I walked the five feet out onto the dirt tarmac, unzipped my bag piled on top of the three of four other checked bags, placed the perfectly sealed, newly packaged bag of Duracell batteries in my checked bag, zipped it, walked back to the security guy and was given clearance move into the waiting area.

It was hands-down one of the best travel experiences ever.

Oh and I should add, it was only when I walked back onto the dirt runway to board the plane that I noticed there were heavily armed military men everywhere. When taking video of boarding the plane I opted to not include them in the scene :)

“I’m going to be one of those crazy 75 year-old radical grannies going down to DC with picketing signs,” I said to Jon earlier this morning.

“You already are,” he replied.

And while I was smiling, he was not amused. I was trying to make light of the slightly embarrassing scene I had just caused in security at Boston Logan (and get ready, what I’m about to write may flag me for the no-fly list).

Boston recently installed full-body scanners—delightful new security devices that enable security personnel to see everything (and I do mean everything) about you. Although I fly pretty frequently, my first encounter with them did not happen until this week. On Wednesday morning going through security for a flight to DC, I was pulled aside from the metal detector line and asked to go through the full body scan. I looked at the security guard quizzically, “Do I really need to?” I asked out of genuine curiosity. They were not sending everyone through them, rather picking and choosing. I was already wearing a form fitting shirt and skirt and didn’t really see how I could be concealing much (it was work appropriate, just not some big, baggy outfit). 

The security guard said, “You can go through the full body scanner or have a full-body pat down.”

I contemplated the possibilities—hmm, either have someone see literally every inch of my body (and let me tell you it really is every inch) or have someone feel my body. Neither was appealing. And frankly, neither felt warranted.

“Is there any reason why I have to go through either?” I asked nicely.

“It’s standard protocol,” the guard replied.

“I don’t really feel comfortable with either one of those, can I just go through the metal detector?” Not only did I not want someone feeling or seeing everything, the line for the full body scanner was quite long and I was already running late for my flight having waited in the security line for 20 minutes.

“Sure, go ahead,” the guard said and I whizzed through the metal detector and was on my way.

Given the experience on Wednesday, when presented with the same situation at Logan this morning—and an added long line for the full body scan—I once again asked, “can I go through the regular metal detector?” This time the security guard not only didn’t look as friendly, he was in no mood for my question.

“You can go through the full body scanner or you can get a full body pat down,” he said brusquely.

I was confused. As Jon and I had placed our carry-on items on the security belt, there were five people waiting for the full body scanner. It was quite the line. As I asked the question, another guard had taken four people ahead of us out of the long line for the full body scanner and sent them through the regular metal detector. So I thought, makes sense to shorten the line and I don’t like the invasion of privacy…a win/win.

Apparently he did not agree. “Take off your watch and your bracelet and hold them in your hand.”

So I objected again. “I really don’t feel comfortable going through the full body scanner or getting a pat down.” The male security guard kind of looked annoyed and turned his attention to Jon, while a female security guard came toward me from the full body scanner and said in a brusque tone, “you can choose: either the scanner or the pat down, which would you like to do?”

“Well, I don’t really want to do either. Can I go through the metal detector?”

She looked at me sternly. “Scanner or pat down?”

“Fine, I’ll do the scanner.”

So I stepped into the space between two walls of machinery.

“Place your feet on the indicators with your hands above your head.”

Excuse me? The position indicated was the equivalent of a Law and Order criminal frisk. My legs were spread, my hands moved to my head to a vulnerable position. I felt exposed on a multitude of fronts.

“I feel like a f*&%ing criminal,” I said under my breath, albeit a little louder, as I tried to take a deep breath. Stay calm.

Well, the female security guard really didn’t like that. “Do you want a pat down? Stand still!”

Ah, yes because there’s nothing like being ordered around to make one feel comfortable when their private regions are being exposed via live feed to the security guards watching the monitor and standing spread eagle in front of an airport full of people. Awesome.

“I really don’t understand why this is necessary,” I said again, clearly agitated as the security guard moved me from the scanning device to a holding pad where I was told to wait until given the-all clear.

I couldn’t hear and didn’t notice if anyone else was upset by this whole process, all I could think about was the burning in my face and the frustration I felt at our system.

As we grabbed our bags, Jon was visibly annoyed at my reaction. ‘Why did you have to do that,” he asked.

I tried to explain how invaded I felt. How ridiculous it seemed. Given the early morning and my only 5 hours of sleep, I don’t think I was articulating my point very well. But it seems to me that this level of investigation is unnecessary in this age of information and frankly, a level of Big Brother with which I just do not agree.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully support security measures to prevent terrorist attacks and to keep Americans safe. My question is, is the extra level of security that full-body scanning provides really worth forfeiting an American value of personal/private space? And in addition, are there not better ways to prevent terrorist attacks? In an age where we have unparalleled technologies to track movement, compile data and analyze behavior, you are telling me that our security teams don’t already have a pretty good idea of who would be a threat before they even get in the security line? If they don’t, then Houston, we have a problem.

I suffer under no delusion of privacy. I know that American Airlines (the airline I fly the most, but really any airline) and the American government have huge amounts of data on my travel, personal history, and perhaps even this blog. (And this is no conspiracy theory notion—working in online media I can attest to how much information you can gather about someone with a few clicks. And frankly if you’re a business, why wouldn’t you because you want to be able to target a customer so the more information you have on them, the better—and that same information can be passed on for security.) To ensure our security and the American way of life, we have given up a lot of our rights to privacy. So the question becomes, when is it too much? And when should we stand up to it?

Jon said I should just go along with the body scan—everyone else was doing it and they need it to see things that wouldn’t already be detected. Ok, sure. I get that—kind of. I could possibly understand it if someone gave them a reason, or provided cause (Jon said I provided cause by asking to not go through it). However, I am just left rather dumbfounded as to why people with no record and no indication of a threat are subjected to invasive procedures when people who have been identified as threats (ie, the young Nigerian fellow whose own parents had called the US Embassy to warn about) skip through unnoticed.

So I would like to US Government security officials:

  • How much safer are the people on my flight because the security guards at the airport got to see me naked?
  • How much more information do these scans really provide? If someone has a gun hidden somewhere, won’t that set off a metal detector anyway?
  • Is there a way to be smarter, more effective, and more efficient with our security so that we can be safe and at the same time not jeopardize core American values?

I’m curious to know what others think. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I should go along. But as the silent masses piled through security this morning disrobing, de-shoeing, un-buckling, without even an eyebrow raise, my inner radical grannie just couldn’t be silenced. And I think maybe America might be a little better, and a little safer if there were a few more raising their inner grannie voices as well.

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This afternoon I’m jumping on a plane to Tanzania…despite the British Airways strikes. My flights were pre-cancelled last weekend but luckily got rerouted. Not an ideal itinerary but here’s hoping for no travel delays…….

New York in 24 hours on Tuesday/Wednesday followed by an 8:25am flight to San Francisco on Thursday morning makes for a busy week of traveling.

There were signs that this morning might be an issue. It could have been the blazing migraine and incredible dizziness and nausea Wednesday night—hopefully not from the Hotel Pennsylvania—or the fact that I was overwhelmed with all the things I hadn’t done that I was supposed to for this trip and the trip next week to Tanzania…but things were definitely off.

At 7:15 AM, pretty much packed, but not close to exiting the house, I said to Jon ‘Ok, I’m ready when you are!’ He came in and asked if I had any stamps. I did. I handed them to him, ‘Ok, ready to go?’ I asked. He nodded and walked into the other room. At 7:20, I asked again. He said he was ready. At 7:30, we finally left the house—I should say  I was also dithering about.

In the car Jon asked what time my flight was supposed to leave. I said ‘8:24, I’ve got plenty of time.’

Did I? Actually I wasn’t sure what time we left the house and looking at Jon’s car clock didn’t help—it moves faster than time and is generally somewhere in the range of 15-25 minutes ahead of the time.

When we arrived at the terminal, I saw a bizarre sight: a snaking line outside of the First Class/Priority Check-in. That’s usually the area I breeze through utilizing the computer check-in and move through the priority access security line. Both were backed up like I’d never seen at Logan.

I walked up to the computer but was intercepted by a woman keeping track of the line. ‘What’s your flight?’ she asked. ‘San Francisco,’ I replied. She looked at me wide-eyed. ‘What?! You gonna missa your flight! Come with me’ and she indicated I should follow her to the front of the line.

This did not go over well with the other passengers waiting in the line. ‘There’s a line for a reason!’ ‘My flight’s at 8:45 I’m not gonna make it.’ ‘Are we penalized for coming early? Maybe I should show up minutes before and get special treatment too!’

Apparently there was a cancelled flight—shockingly not mine—and it was causing a lot of angst, anger, and rescheduling. And rescheduling takes a lot of the American Airlines desk attendant’s time apparently.

The woman ‘wo-manning’ the line asked for my credit card and bustled off to check me in on the computer. I watched nervously and unsure why she needed to do it and not me. She returned a few minutes later with my boarding pass. I eyed the people talking to the agents—who had been the same for the past 15 minutes. Finally there was a break in the line. I jumped up to check my bag and then sprinted to the security line.

At first it moved like molasses. I checked my watch. 8:05…still time. I made it through. I even made it to the Dunkin Donuts to get a bagel before the flight. Here’s where I made the critical error. Instead of just asking for a bagel, I asked for a bagel, egg and cheese—and paid. I checked the time, 8:10 and no boarding calls. Except, wait, was that my name being called? ‘Passenger Fowler to gate 35 for final boarding. Last call for passenger Fowler.’

I made a scramble to grab the attention of the Dunkin Donuts employee. ‘Excuse me, can I grab my bagel?’

 ‘Which bagel?’

‘The egg and cheese bagel.’

‘We’re out of eggs.’

‘What?’

‘We’re out of eggs.’

Out of eggs between when I ordered two minutes ago and right now?

‘My flight is calling my name, can I just get a bagel?’

‘No eggs. You can get in line?’

Ugggggghhhh. Seriously? How difficult is this?!

‘You can keep my $3 thanks!’

I sprinted down the corridor to Gate 35. Another woman was waiting at the gate telling the gate attendant that her other party members were on their way. Did I have time to go back and claim that bagel? I decided against it. Given my travel karma, it was too much to temptation to be left on the wrong side of the closed plane door.

I handed over my ticket, walked down the gangway, and was the last person to join the exit row, much to the chagrin of my seat mates. There was a smile between to two other seated passengers. I laughed, ‘Hoping I wouldn’t make it? I do that all the time when there are free seats.’ And sat down, appreciating that I would make it on time the best Bachelorette Party ever, but really hungry and craving that bagel, egg and cheese.

During marathon training, I didn’t travel quite as much as I have been over the last few years. It’s tough to negotiate 18 mile runs every Saturday when you’re not on home turf. But now the traveling has begun again.

This week, I had a traveling first on the Acela train down to New York for work. I’d never taken the express train from Boston into ‘The City’ and found it both delightful, and easy. Roomy, cushioned seats, as well as free Wi-fi made the trip breeze by. And the gentle rocking rhythm of the train soothed and made me quite sleepy—which may have impacted my ability to take advantage of the Wi-fi a bit :)

Once in the city, the travel karma kicked it though. A great colleague of mine had booked the hotel—Hotel Pennsylvania to be specific. Located directly across from Penn Station, it seemed the perfect location to jump off the commuter train, take part in the work event, and then jump back on the following morning. However, the website—and its reviews—painted a different picture. TripAdvisor indicated more than 60% of travelers would not recommend the hotel. Not to worry my colleague shared with me, another staffer had given it the thumbs up as ok.

Hotel Pennsylvania

The gloriously large Hotel Pennsylvania

Upon walking into the hotel, I was immediately overwhelmed by the array of people. The lobby was gargantuan, living up to the hotel’s claim to be one of the four largest hotels in New York. The building was constructed around 1919 and, if given the ability to shine, could be a testament to turn of the century architecture and ambiance. Unfortunately, the only thing that was shining were the array of bizarrely large flat screen TVs running atop the check-in counter—or rather atop the heads of the welcome counter hotel staff.

My colleague and I made our way to the front of the line and proceeded to fill out the appropriate paperwork. I inquired about internet. The hotel staffer said, “Oh yes, we have dial-up in the rooms.”

I’m sorry, was my hearing overwhelmed by CNN’s Best Political Team on Television blaring behind you? “Did you say dial-up?” I queried.

“Yes, you unplug the phone-line and put your cord in.”

I’m sorry, I think I was distracted by the declaration of the new British Prime Minister.

“Did you say I unplug the phone and plug a telephone cord into my computer?”

“Yes, or there is wireless in the lobby.” And she pointed to the sign next to her indicating that wireless connectivity in the lobby area was $2 a minute. I glanced around the lobby at the bustling intersection of foreign tourists negotiating with their tour guides in a range of languages, the out-of-towners from the States clutching maps talking over one another about where to go next, and the high school students on a school trip running after one another and giggling…all of their voices, heels clicks, rolling bags, elevator calls, and texting creating a cacophony of sound that resonated around the lobby and engulfed my ears.

Ah, yes, nothing like paying $2 a minute for wireless at the intersection of distraction and unable-to-concentrate.

At that point I should have guessed there might be some merit to that 61% not recommending.

Then I got to the room. Houston, we have a problem.

First though, was the walk of anticipation. On the way to my room I walked through darkened hallways with phone books lying outside rooms in piles. Since when are there phone books left outside of hotel rooms? The room numbers were designated by glowing green signs on the bottom right of the door. Green is my favorite color—and therefore should be a positive sign—but not when one or two are flickering haphazardly with a strange buzzing noise. Then the green takes on an ominous you-might-be-in-a-horror-movie-and-your’re-getting-a-warning feeling.

Hotel Pennsylvania shower

A little cracked tile never hurt anyone...or did it?

When I walked into the room, I briefly entertained the notion of walking out again. The carpet was circa 1919, with various undetermined stains. The bedspread looked like it had either been washed far too many times…or not for the past 30 years…it was hard to tell which one. The bathroom tile was cracking and coming off the shower wall. The light switch in the bathroom—a definite press button installation from the 1980s or early 1980s—was held to wall by one wobbly screw and missing surrounding covering. And the furniture, while not in terrible condition, looked like disjointed relics from a nice Holiday Inn in 1985 that had decided to renovate and thrown them out.

This may sound harsh, but I briefly wondered if I might get bed bugs sleeping in the bed—a fleeting thought that returned later that night when I stood in the bathroom and some kind of flying creature whizzed past my face in the midst of teeth brushing.

We ended up staying—after all, we’d already paid and had an event to get to. I did not get bed bugs—or haven’t as yet. And I did brave the shower after putting down two towels on the shower floor and standing in the running water on my tiptoes for all of two seconds before jumping out. This, from the girl who went weeks without running water staying at a hotel in rural Kenya, which for the record, seemed cleaner.

Hotel Pennsylvania bathroom doorway

Yes the lighting was that bad...both the light and the switch

I may have slightly higher standards for hotels than other travelers, but I’m pretty open to any hotel in any class as long as it meets clean, decent standards. I’m not sure what level Hotel Pennsylvania was supposed to be—whatever it was, it met few of the standards set forth for any residence someone would like to stay (except maybe college students when poor and interning in NYC for the summer—apparently it’s a great place for long-term residence I found out later). No internet, a scary bathroom, a broken in-room phone, a room air unit/fan circa 1956 that apparently only blew heat, a downstairs diner that hadn’t been cleaned since 1972 and charged $18 for an omelet,  and a bed that inspired me to wear layers of work- out clothes to bed to protect myself—oh and did I mention no lock on the room door?—are not the makings of a fine stay…   

To the Hotel Pennsylvania’s credit, I did get a good night’s sleep. Enough so that I didn’t fall asleep on the delayed Acela train back to Boston the following day. However, I will probably be making that 62% of TripAdvisor reviewers who do not recommend the hotel.

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It’s been two weeks and a day…and I still can’t describe my marathon experience. I have been on cloud nine for two weeks. Well, cloud nine tempered with a limp, some blisters, an aching body, and a tired mind. Perhaps there should be a new category: cloud 11? Eleven being my favorite number. If you knock back that perfect feeling, my 11, with a little body pain, you’d make it back to cloud nine.

Why was I on cloud 11? To cover that all would be a very long blog post. A post from the beginnings of my training back in November when I could barely run three miles with J at Thanksgiving to the exhilarating triumph of turning left on Boylston, hearing the crowds roar, and seeing the dazzling finish line ahead. It would be probably five pages of thank you’s and appreciation to all of the incredible people who have supported me along the way. To keep it some-what concise, I’m going to limit this blog to marathon weekend. It may still be a novel. I hope you enjoy.

The kick-off

Marathon celebrating began at Pathfinder. My amazing  coworkers surprised me with an unbelievable array of carb-loading Friday afternoon. Pies, cookies, fruits (with my favorite pineapple!), Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches, and more were spread out in one of our conference rooms. There was a card as well as balloons that even two weeks later still have helium! They were clearly meant to weather 26.2 miles!

Real Texans Arrive

Aunt and Uncle at Lexington and Concord

What Patriot's Day isn't complete without meeting a Patriot? My aunt and uncle visited Lexington and Concord on Sunday with my dad.

That night, my aunt and uncle kicked off marathon weekend with a spectacular Bean-town celebration of all things seafood at the Barking Crab. Life-long Texans, this was their first time to Boston, and they were living it up. When I met them Friday night it was wonderful to hear about their adventures around Boston, learning about the history of the city. It was also equally fantastic to have an injection of home. Their charm, smiles, support, Texan accents, and love made me feel incredibly special and very lucky to have them in my life.

Saturday and the Marathon Expo

Saturday dawned with the beginning hint of nerves. I began running through lists I hadn’t done. Did I have Gu? Would my shoes hold out? When would I go to the Expo? How many Google Maps could I print to show my family what exact location they would be on the course? Jon began to sense my over-planning–my inherent reaction to tension/anticipation is to plan, plan, plan away!

Cafenation crepes, coffee and tea

Cafenation crepes, coffee and tea with the ladies (thanks Cait for the pic!)

Beyond planning, there was also a need for girl-time and crepes. My girls and Cafenation crepes can help spread sunshine on any rainy, or stressful, day. Saturday morning I trekked to Brighton Center on a pilgrimage ala crepe and MicCait. The tea, as always, was stellar, the crepes fantabulous, and the ladies, lovely. (I also love the peeps at Cafenation who generously contributed to my fundraising efforts.)

Later that day, while my aunt and uncle were out on the town seeing the sights, Jon and I ventured downtown to the marathon expo, a wonderland of people, running clothes, free samples, and just about every vendor who has any relation to running–or hopes to have any relation to running. I secured my bib number: 26632 after a bit of wrangling and then started my mission to find cool clothing. No, not cool as in ‘hey, good lookin.’ Cool as in, ‘oh my gosh, it’s-going-to-be-55-degrees-and-I-haven’t-trained-in-anything-above-32-in-four-months-so-how-will-my-body-possibly-respond’ kind of cool. I was a on a mission to find wicking material for my arms and a white, wicking visor for my head. After a few elbows in the crowd, some free sample scouring, and some ‘when are we leaving’ questions from Jon, I had everything I needed and we were off to the next adventure: the Tedy’s Team dinner.

The Tedy’s Team Dinner

Jon and I picked my dad up at Logan on our way to the Tedy’s Team Pasta Dinner. My dad scheduled his flight to arrive just in time for us to pop across the harbor and into downtown Boston. Although sad that my mom could not be at the marathon–since I was running for her afterall–I was thrilled to see my dad. His bear-hug assuaged my rapidly rising fears about Monday’s race and his ready jokes kept my mind off the 26.2 miles ahead.

Tedy's Team Marathon Morning

Tedy's Team Marathon Morning (thanks to Candida Ruscito for the photo!)

At the dinner, Jon, my Dad and I chatted with other Tedy’s Team runners (all of whom have amazingly inspirational stories about why they are running for stroke) and were inspired by Tedy’s Team leader, Tedy Bruschi. Tedy and his wife, Heidi, are among some of the nicest people I have had the pleasure of meeting. Their commitment to raising awareness and funds for stroke is inspiring. And being a part of their efforts makes you feel like you really are making a difference. Particularly when they announced how much the team had raised: more than $300,000!!! With just 45 runners, Tedy’s Team hit a new milestone–the most raised in the past five years of its existence. (And here I should add if you’d still like to give, you can. You can make a secure, online donation here: http://tedysteam2010.kintera.org/boston/fowler)

I can’t quite explain the feeling in the room as the 45 of us prepared for what was to come Monday…or shared stories about what had brought us to the marathon in the first place: stroke survivors and heroes who were parents, partners, children, or even themselves. It was truly one of the most moving nights of my life. I left with energy, excitement, and enthusiasm for what was to come…and a full belly of pasta :)

Sunday, The Countdown Begins

There is one thing that gets me through tough runs. When the mileage starts creeping up and my body starts to resist my mind’s pressures to keep going, a solitary image glimmers at the finish line every Saturday or Sunday morning: pancakes. And not just any pancakes, Deluxe Town Diner chocolate chip pancakes. Many a time have I sat in the diner booth, sweat still seeping through my running layers, eagerly awaiting the perfect pancake. Sunday morning, I arrived with family entourage in tow, sans sweat, but with a hearty appetite ready for carb-loading. We celebrated all things diner with so many plates of food, the waitress was forced to put some of it on the shelf next to us. It was delicious.

The rest of Sunday was a blur of touring the Boston suburbs:

  • a trip to the Pathfinder office to show off my work digs
  • a jaunt down the marathon course (via car)
  • a tour of Babson, my brother’s alma mater, via car for my aunt and uncle
  • and the all important trip to Whole Foods to stock up on pre-marathon dinner supplies

The Last Supper

Sunday night, my aunt, uncle, dad, and Jon helped prepare a sumptuous feast of my favorite pre-run delectables. We downed pasta with tomato sauce and chicken sausage, sautéed summer squash, spinach salad with goat cheese, and yummy Whole Foods bread warmed with butter. I fretted over the details of the race. I may have zoned out during the dinner conversation. I had trouble concentrating on what needed to be where, when. And I obsessively kept checking the bed laid out with all of my marathon gear. But my family was amazing. My aunt, uncle, Jon and dad were a wonder of support. Jon and my aunt lovingly attached my bib number and running accoutrements with safety pins. My mom called in via speakerphone from California to send well-wishes. It was amazing.

Then came the time for sleep…and that wasn’t amazing.

I sat in front of the computer pouring over maps, a blog for work, and other random marathon sites. I rearranged my breakfast supplies on the counter. I set the DVR. I fiddled with my marathon bag, all delaying the onslaught of sleep. With sleep came the reality that the marathon was indeed the next morning–terrifying. But of course once I laid down to sleep, I couldn’t. I tossed, turned, sprawled, harumphed and muddled my way through six or seven hours in bed before jumping up pre-alarm and shouting to Jon at 6am, ‘it’s here! Marathon daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!’

The Boston Marathon

The big day with my stroke heroes sign pinned on

A look from the back in the Tedy's Team staging house (thanks to Candida Ruscito for the photo).

A lot happened that morning…from oatmeal and tea preparation to meeting up with Caitlin (and seeing her lovely parents) and Anna for transport out to the starting line. Anna’s dad graciously drove four nervous runners with a blasting inspirational soundtrack to the Hopkinton State Park. We met the buses and were on our way to the beginning of our 26.2 mile journey.

In Hopkinton I said farewell to my favorite lady runners and headed to meet Tedy’s Team at a house near the start (generously offered by some Tedy’s Team supporters). There, the 45 of us gathered to await the countdown. Tedy was in full support mode–camera ready to take photos while also fielding media coverage of Tedy’s Team (see clips here on WBZ and NESN). We stretched, chatted, put on sunscreen (lesson learned from two years ago!) and quietly took in the moment.

Then it was time.

The announcer called out for runners in the second wave and we headed to the pens. Falling in with a sea of runners–thousands of jitters and anxious deep breaths. I was at the very back of the second wave. So far back I couldn’t even see the starting line. The announcer called the start but I stood rock still, the bodies around me wanting to surge forward, but having nowhere to go. So we waited. Two minutes, three minutes, four minutes. It seemed like an eternity. The marathon had started and all I wanted to go was GO! But where was the starting line? I stood on my tiptoes trying to see above the crowd. I shuffled forward slowly. Finally, nearly fifteen minutes after the gun, I was able to start a slow jog and began to see the beginning ahead of me. I also saw Tedy, Heidi and other Tedy’s Team supporters in the starting line stands. Another TT runner and I waved excitedly. This was IT!

And we were off.

The first few miles were slow. I wanted to find a pace, but the crowds, the varying runner speeds around me and my self-talk to slow down on the beginning downhill slopes kept me feeling like I was wading through glue. I was excited, and thrilled. I felt good, just slow.

Excitement in Wellesley

Excitement in Wellesley upon seeing Linda (thanks to Linda Suttenfield for the photo!)

After the first time station (I think the 5 or 10k) I obsessively texted and called Jon and my dad trying to figure out my time–was I too fast? Was I too slow? What was my pace? No text alert had appeared on their phone–despite signing up for updates–which threw me into a tailspin of self-doubt. Was my chip not registering? Was I going to run this whole thing and not have a valid time?!?!

I made myself breathe. I thought of my mile dedications. I thought of my mom. I relaxed. I smiled. I saw Santa Claus–no really he was on the sidelines. I passed a marathoner who was part of the Century Club (and was also running his 25th straight Boston). I came near tears passing a blind, diabetic runner powering through his race with the assistance of a sighted runner. I found hope in another runner propelling his wheelchair forward, his back to the finish line, with only one leg. I considered kissing a Wellesley girl at the half way point but enjoyed high fives and the cheer wall much better from the center lane. I screamed with excitement when I saw Linda in Wellesley center. I eagerly anticipated seeing my family just past mile 17. I ate GU. I ate more GU. I started to feel blisters. I started to wonder where the finish line was.

Catching me in action

Catching me in action, my dad snaps a camera-phone shot as I run by.

I had been on eager countdown to reach 17.5 miles, the point where I would see my family. It was the beacon of hope and I thought ‘I’m doing great! I’ll have tons of energy left for the last six miles!’ That may have been a slight overstatement. Whereas I had screamed in excitement seeing Linda just a few miles earlier, I was silently huffing when I approached my family. The hills had started to take their toll. I was hungry. I was a little tired (a few hours of running can do that to you) and most of all, I was ready to cross the finish and celebrate! But it was still 8 miles away…que the ‘ra, row’ sound.

I was thrilled to see my aunt, uncle, dad, Jon, Ed (Jon’s dad who arrived that morning after I’d departed for the start) and Jeff. Seeing their smiles, signs and encouragement was great. Jon jumped in to run a bit with me and I was feeling good. But tired. And hungry.

I began to smell the sausage vendors, crave the oranges on offer from the kids lining the route, and feel a deep, disconcerted grumble in my tummy. It was already after 2pm and my last real food had been breakfast around 8am. My muscles started to scream out against moving further and was forced to slow down to a fast walk up Heartbreak Hill. The 20 mile marker, once the point I thought I would celebrate being home-free–became a source of anger. Why were people yelling so loud? Why were there so many drunk people surging so close to the runners I could barely run straight?

I tried to smile but the stage-7 anger began to creep in…where was the f%#*ing finish?!?!?! And why wasn’t closer?!?!?!

Another ray of hope, Nancy, appeared at the mile 22 water stop. She was volunteering and her smile, cup of water, and encouraging words brought me out of my anger. Ok, four miles left. I rounded Coolidge Corner and things began to blur. How far was it again? Where was I on the course? Were there supposed to be people here that I knew? Or at the finish? And where was the finish anyway?

A blurry montage of Boston landmarks seemed to pass like glaciers. Why was it taking so long to get to the end? I grabbed at water stops like Will Ferrell in Old School when he’s been hit with a tranquilizer dart. I saw the Citgo sign indicating I was close, but then why did the Prudential Center seem so far away? How far was the finish line anyway?

I heard screams, chants, and in some cases, taunting, so loud that I couldn’t find my own voice, my own pace. I tried to center. I adjusted my iPod louder. I needed to find a zone and just get into it. Finish it. Power through.

Suddenly I was on Hereford Street, the last turn to the straight-away ahead of me. The agonizing last eight miles faded. I knew the finish line approached. I kicked it up. I wanted to finish. I craved the finish line. And almost as overwhelmingly, craved a burger.

Boston Marathon finish line

Crossing the Boston Marathon finish line!!!!

And then it was there.  No longer a mirage, but reality. The finish line spread out, the crowd cheering. I could see The Lenox Hotel, where Tedy’s Team was holding post-marathon court, and I knew I had done it. A smile broke out. I felt good. I had done it. I ran 26.2 miles. My body and mind survived. I had finished months of training dedicated to raising awareness and funds for stroke. I had raised more than $8,700 for stroke. And I had done a small part to help my family, and others, affected by this debilitating, deadly, attacker.

I crossed the finish line, ecstatic. Simultaneously at a loss for words and overflowing with too many.

And two weeks and one day later I’m still ecstatic. Still in disbelief. Still in awe of everyone who was a part of Tedy’s Team and the marathon. Still overwhelmed by the outpouring of emails, texts, calls, letters, donations, and more showing the unbelievable network of friends, family, coworkers, colleagues, and loved ones I am so fortunate to have. And still hoping I can come up with some words to say thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Interested in donating? You still can! Visit: http://tedysteam2010.kintera.org/boston/fowler

UPDATE: For those interested, forgot to mention that my time was 4:21! :)

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Start of the Boston Marathon

Twenty-six miles is a long way to run. And it’s not just the miles you pound the day of the marathon, but the hundreds of miles you travel in preparation. The thousands of miles I have run preparing for the last few marathons is nothing compared to the medical marathon my mom, Sandra Fowler, has traveled over the years.

A brief overview of my mom’s history:

  • experienced her first migraine at 25
  • suffered her first stroke at 26, when my brother was only months old
  • her rare case of carotid arterial dissection was researched and investigated by top doctors at St. Luke’s Medical center in Houston as well as in San Francisco
  • she was spared experimental (and later what was discovered to be detrimental) procedure
  • suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage secondary to aneurysm in 1991
  • her case was again, so unusual—and so positive—doctors presented a paper on her case
  • not once, but twice, had to relearn how to swallow, walk, talk and speak
  • suffered acute onset hydrocephalus as a result of the hemorrhage and had to have a shunt installed
  • since 1991 has managed chronic pain as a result of life-saving procedures
  • was used a lead case example of pain management by internationally renowned pain doctor
  • in 2009/2010 diagnosed with “sagging brain” as a result of dysfunctional shunt
  • successfully had shunt removed March 10, 2010

Despite all of her medical battles, over the last 30 years she has successfully been an incredible wife, an amazing mom, a great friend, an inspiring aunt, an excited new grandmother and, oh by the way, managed to secure a PhD in neuropsychology and is now a California licensed clinical neuropsychologist!

Tomorrow when I run the Boston Marathon, I run in honor of her, and the support team that has helped her make it through all of this.

I run for my dad, my brother, my grandparents, my aunts, uncles and cousins who have all been supportive. I run for the doctors, nurses, and medical teams who have saved my mom’s life and I run for my colleagues, friends, and other family members who have been affected by stroke. Each mile has a dedication and my mile markers will be:

Mile Markers:

1 My mom—she started it all :)

2 My dad

3 My brother

4 The doctors and medical team including: Jack Alpert, John Burdine, Jerry Marlin, Andrew Cole, Steve Stratton, Greg Albers, Harold Crasilneck, Clay Johnston, Michael McDermott

5 In memory of my grandfather, Leon Fowler

6 In memory of Gloria Diamore Morrison, my colleague, Samantha Morrison’s mother

7 Holly and Ed Kimball

8 My grandmother, Beryl Compton

9 My coaches over the years, especially Mike and Troy

10 My great colleagues at Pathfinder International

11 My grandmother, Nancy Fowler

12 In memory of my grandfather, John Compton

13 My incredible extended family

14 My wonderful nieces Holly and Peyton

15 All of my wonderful friends who have been so supportive

16 Every single person who donated!

17 My uncle, John Weissert, who will be at 17/18 tomorrow!

18 My aunt, Julie Weissert

19 My amazing girlfriends Lauren, Caitlin, Jen, Sara, Ash, Kel, Erica, Maeghan, Nancy, Mic, and more :)

20 Ditto

21 Ditto because these are the toughest miles and you ladies are the best

22 Christine Ryan

23 The millions who are affected by stroke every year

24 Jon, who needs to words :)

25 My dad, who is always there during the difficult moments to help lend a smile

26 My mom, who has overcome everything in her way—watch out finish line!

Tomorrow will be a special day and hopefully at the end, we’ll be a few steps closer to eliminating stroke for good. Till then, I’ll keep on running.

Interested in donating? Visit: http://tedysteam2010.kintera.org/boston/fowler

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