Boston

Boston.  My city.  I miss it.  I’ve been getting insanely homesick and want to get back, visit my friends, and go out and have a good time.  Let’s just say life here in Farmington is, well, different and it’s definitely taking me some time to adjust.  I mean, I love my classmates, but still some of my best friends are back in Boston and I miss them.  And I miss the nights where CH and I would “have a drink on the Esplanade” and then wind up at Eastern Standard at 2:00am on a Monday (or Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday) night for $3 shift beers and some late night treats.  Hell, I miss just wasting away an entire Saturday bumming around downtown with CH.  I miss relaxing with the old roomies out on the porch as the sky turned that purple-orange-pink of a summer sunset.  I miss raging to the 80s cover band Fast Times with all my BC friends down by the Garden as the memories of the night began to blur together.  And I miss the city.  Sure, there are the “fun” parts like the T shutting down early, crazy Red Sox traffic, and stupid, cracked-out BU hipsters, but all in all I love Boston.  Over the six years that I spent there during school years, the summers in between, and my couple of years of employment after graduation, the city became my home.

I first left my hometown of Byram, NJ to go to college at BC.  I remember visiting the campus for the first time after I was accepted and I was instantly obsessed.  Coming from a small high school I hit a point where I wanted to (and needed to) reinvent myself, which is why I moved out of the state and wanted to go to a school where I didn’t know anybody.  I wanted a fresh start.  I literally wanted to leave everything (but not everyone) behind.  In fact, the song “Boston” by Augustana was like my personal anthem, particularly with lyrics like, “I think I’ll go to Boston / I think I’ll start a new life / I think I’ll start it over, where no one knows my name.”  I just needed to get out, I needed to challenge myself, and I needed room to grow and to figure out who I was (as cheesy as that sounds).  And together BC and Boston allowed me the freedom to become the person I am today.

I remember the moment when I fell head over heels in love with Boston.  It was sometime when I was at crew practice and I was out for some reason, so I was put in charge of filming the rest of the guys to check out their rowing technique.  But it was early, probably sometime around 6:00am when we reached the basin of the Charles River.  The sun was rising above the Prudential and Hancock buildings, and it was absolutely gorgeous.  The sun was so bright it was blinding through my sunglasses, and the shimmering yellow-gold-white reflection off the water was breathtaking.  Absolutely breathtaking.  At that moment I was in love.  The Boston skyline was so beautiful right at that moment, how could anyone not love it?

I already have plans to make it back for the weekend of the Head of the Charles to reunite with my old crew buddies and enjoy a weekend of freedom after my first exam.  And honestly I can’t wait.  It’s the light at the end of my seemingly long-ass tunnel.  I’m almost even contemplating going back the weekend before HOCR just to do everything non-crew related and actually be able to go out and visit everyone that I can.  But that’s still up in the air, because who knows what sort of celebratory festivities may be occurring that weekend after our first exam down here in CT.  But regardless, I’ll be back soon enough.

Oh Boston, how I miss you.

(And Flickr’s being stupid, so here’s the full-size picture of the sunrise I was talking about.)

GMR – Sunday

After a quick celebration of SW’s birthday, we jumped into our van and drove off to the next exchange.  I tried to sleep before my next leg, but that was a huge fail.  Prednisone gives me insomnia anyway, so taking a little bit extra Saturday night wasn’t helping with the whole sleep situation.  At least I could lay down in the horizontal to give my legs a break and rest my eyes for a few minutes.  Laying down in the van, I could feel the rush of cool night air come in anytime the door was opened (which was often with all our transitions).  The temperatures had dropped from the low- to mid-80s all the way down to the low-50s.  It was chilly.  It was almost hard to believe that only several hours before we were running shirtless and begging for water halfway through our legs, and now we were shivering prior the start of our legs, sporting hoodies, and cranking the heat in the van.

Next thing I knew it was 2:11am, and JP had taken off on his fourth leg.  The volunteer working at the exchange informed us that he may have gone the wrong way, so we bolted out and went after him.  We found him, running back in the correct direction, but he was flipping out (typical for JP, but expected for being so exhausted).  We calmed him down, told him to breathe easy, and sent him off in the right direction.  Even with all things considered, he crushed that leg.  As I prepped for my own fourth leg, I seriously started question what I had gotten myself into.  My teammates had already completed their hard legs and were moving on to easy and moderate legs, and mine were only getting harder.  I was legitimately scared and worried my body was going to break down preventing me (and my team) from completing the race.  But I refused, sucked it up, and decked myself out in my reflective vest and headlamp ready to take on the night road.

I set off on my fourth leg, and it was just as dark and cold as before.  I went uphill for 0.5-miles, down for (a very, very steep) 2.0, around the corner and off for another 1.8.  It was dark, very dark.  I was exhausted and hadn’t slept a wink.  I chugged along, knees screaming in pain, and in my peripheral vision spotted two eyes of a large animal staring at me through the trees.  It wasn’t a bear or a deer, but something bigger than a house cat.  My guess would be a mountain lion or coyote.  Being all alone with no one around, my thoughts for the next five minutes consisted of how I would fight off such a large mammal.  Fun thoughts to ponder around 3:30am alone in the wilderness of Vermont.

I finished my leg, and we had covered 140.8 miles.  I was nervous, as I still had to complete two more legs with both being over 5.0 miles each, and both containing a 2.0-mile section of incline.  I pounded a couple of Tylenol to the face to help me (and my knees) get through the rest of the race, but I wasn’t sure it was going to help.  I just wanted sleep so bad.  That’s all I wanted to do.  I felt fine while resting between legs, but running just made my knees scream for mercy.  I needed to try to rest up, although I only had about two hours or so before I started my fifth leg.

I remember somewhere around this time as the sky started to lighten up a bit, that I (being rather cranky) was becoming seriously annoyed with people who were racing on teams of twelve runners.  It was nothing against the runners themselves, but it was because I was seriously exhausted (did I mention I was cranky?).  They were running fast, smiling, and catching some z’s, something I was craving and yet unable to accomplish.  I could remember thinking to myself, “Shut up, this is NOT fun.”  I was also having some digestive issues from the stress of all of the running, so I popped an Imodium and two more Tylenol for my knees.  Yes, I know this isn’t a great idea but I needed it to get through my next two legs.  I also broke out my Zensa calf sleeves and CW-X shorts again (which were finally dry again from the previous morning’s monsoon) because I literally needed any help I could get.

The fifth leg.  JP tapped me in, and off I went on zero sleep and having already covered about twenty miles.  I was exhausted in every sense of the word.  I had long hills of about 2.0 miles in length at 6:00am.  I thought to myself yet again, “How is this fun?”  But regardless I headed off.  I had to do this for the team.  It was insanely challenging, physically and mentally, but I chugged along at sub-9:00 miles and finished our fifth set of legs.  Now I just had one more set.  That was it.  One and done.

I guzzled down a cereal bar, a roll with peanut butter, my morning meds, a Java Monster energy drink, a Gatorade, another Imodium, and one more Tylenol.  I was scrounging for anything that could help me get through my next (and final) 5.2 miles, especially with the first 2.0 miles being straight uphill.  I knew I had to just get to the top of that hill and then I could cruise down the next 3.2 to the finish line.  I tried to sleep (yet again) but failed (yet again).  So I pounded a Jet Blackberry GU (2x the normal caffeine) and next thing I knew it was my turn to run, and it was my job to finish the race.

After seeing all the guys beast through their last legs and finish strong, I decided to do the same.  A team of twelve was about a minute ahead of us, but I was hungry to catch them.  As I climbed the hill, I spotted the runner in the distance, and I knew after a few minutes that I was gaining on them.  Up and up I climbed, checking my Garmin Forerunner 405 (great running tool) and cringing at the 9:15 pace at which I was crawling along.  But at the same time, I was racking up the mileage and I knew that in just one more mile that I was going to be at the top of that hill and closer to the finish (and sleep).  My teammates greeted me right over the top of the hill with blasting music, cheers, and a Gatorade, and they told me that the runner ahead of us was just 45 seconds up and totally within our reach.  It was hunting season, and I was going to track them down.  2.0 miles down, 3.2 to go.  Game on.

After crossing that final hill I knew I was going to finish the GMR with the rest of my teammates.  That wasn’t even a question.  I would have crawled across that finish line if I had to because I would never let them down.  But I was moving, and moving fast.  My pace was dropping from 9:15 going up the hill, to 8:45, then 8:30 and dropping.  I was hauling, and quickly approaching the runner ahead of us.  A 45-second lead soon became a 20-second lead, and on a small hill I finally passed them.  My team was just up ahead of me and they all cheered.  My 8:30 pace soon became 8:15, and next thing I knew I was down to sub-8:00.  I was just over a mile away from the finish, and a side stitch had set in.  I pushed through the pain and finally I passed into the school parking lot where I had only 0.2 miles to the finish.  My teammates were all there cheering as I crossed the finish line.  Our Hearts Will Go On finished the Green Mountain Relay 1st in our division of 6×6 Men’s Ultra Team (6 runners instead of 12), 2nd Ultra Team, and 5th overall at 25:10:16. Not too shabby.

I made sure to cheer on the runner I had passed on that final leg and congratulated him on a great run (which it really was) after he had finished.  We grabbed a bite to eat and picked up our finisher’s medals.  Then we cleaned out our van and packed it up again before heading back to Boston.  The ride back was quiet and I (finally) caught some much-welcomed and much-needed sleep.  We were proud of what we had accomplished.  Not too many people will ever do what we just did.  The experience was amazing, and I honestly wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.  Of course I’d like to thank to all the GMR organizers and volunteers (especially the ones at the exchanges at the early hours of the morning), and congratulate all the GMR finishers.

But most of all, I’d like to congratulate (and thank) SW, SM, WW, SK, and JP (and CR for being sucked into driving our asses around everywhere) for dominating out there.  Job well done, boys.

GMR – Saturday

I woke up on Saturday morning to the sound of chirping birds and the tires of passing cars on wet pavement.  I took a quick shower (because I wouldn’t be taking one for over a day), brushed my teeth, got dressed, and loaded up the van before heading to the start of the Green Mountain Relay.  We had a start time of 10:00am, so we were going to be one of the last teams to start the race.  This also meant that the pressure was on because we were expected to be one of the faster teams competing.  Not really sure how that happened, but awesome.

We got to the start with plenty of time to spare, and we prepped our van with our high-tech “Caution: Runner on Road” sign I made from cardboard and a sharpie.  A few teams took off at 9:30am, and so it was only a matter of time before it would be our turn to start the GMR.  My teammates and I were growing anxious, partly because we wanted to simply start the race and partly because we were nervous about what we were really getting ourselves into.  200 miles between six people over the course of a day.  The reality of it all was starting to set in.

As our team name was “Our Legs Will Go On” in honor of Celine Dion’s “Our Hearts Will Go On” (don’t ask), SM convinced the GMR volunteer announcing the start to put on Celine’s “Taking Chances” as SW started the race (thanks to the volunteer for the hook-up!).  There was a countdown from 10, and next thing we knew SW took off into the distance.  The rest of us hopped into the van and drove off to the first exchange, then it was SW to SM, SM to WW.  By now it was starting to get hotter out.  Really hot, and really humid.  Thankfully we packed multiple cases of water and Gatorade for this thing because we were really going to need them today.

After the first couple of legs we realized we were off to a great start, and as we talked about our times we began thinking we could possibly catch up to several teams that were ahead of us by exchange eight or so.  Knowing my buddies and myself, we were going to seriously push ourselves to accomplish this (we’re very competitive people at heart).  Eventually it came time for my first leg, and as it was around 80 degrees out and sunny I decided to run this leg sans shirt (sun’s out, guns out).  I also busted out my CW-X shorts to help prevent my legs from becoming fatigued over the course of the next twenty-four hours (kinda dorky looking but they work and are worth every penny).  JP handed off our baton (a Livestrong bracelet) to me and I was off.  Down the street, around the corner, up the hill, down the path, and through the field.  I noticed it suddenly got darker out in a matter of minutes, and then I heard the crack of thunder and felt the first few drops hit my head.  Great, just what we all needed.  As I approached the exchange to hand it off to SW, it poured.  And I mean poured.  SW told me to give the guys a special message, and that message was, “@#$% YOU!”  I jogged over to our van and jumped in, soaking wet of course, as it poured and poured.  We drove (slowly) with our windshield wipers on fast-as-all-hell, and then it started hailing.  Don’t believe me?  Check out a little video here.  SW must have been so pissed.  But at least we were done with our first set of legs, and our first 37.0 miles.

Despite the rain, our second set of legs was off to a great start.  We started seeing a lot of unfamiliar faces at the exchanges, which meant we were catching up to the teams that started before us (holler).  With the sun once again blazing in the midday sky, it was getting extremely hot and, now that the storm had cleared, it was getting extremely humid.  But we pushed on.  Once again JP tapped out as I tapped in.  This time instead of worrying about the rain and lightning I was able to take in the beautiful scenery that Vermont had to offer.  I passed waterfalls and a gorgeous farm with grazing cows and horses (don’t ask why but I love cows).  Even in the distance I could hear sheep baa-ing.  I finished the leg and passed it off to SW yet again.  Second set of legs: complete.  We were a third of the way done.  Since I carbo-loaded really well, I knew I needed just a little bit of carbs in the form of a Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal bar and a bagel with peanut butter to stay energized and a small whey protein shake to help keep up with muscle recovery.  I also decided to take a little extra prednisone to help control my Crohn’s because I knew the toll running (and eating) like this would take on my gut.

As we started the third set of legs dusk began to set in, and so we broke out the reflective vests, headlamps, and blinking red lights.  Running in the complete darkness was beginning to become a reality, although since we had all done crew while at BC, we had run in the pitch black of early morning (and complete exhaustion) down to practice countless times.  However, I also knew that this was going to be particularly challenging for me because as most of the other guys’ legs were getting shorter and easier in terms of overall difficulty, mine were only getting more challenging as the relay progressed (easy, moderate, moderate, hard, hard, hard).  This also meant that my rest time between legs was getting shorter.  Awesome.

I started my third leg sometime around 10:00pm, and into the darkness I went.  About a quarter-mile in and all I could think was, “This is wild.”  The stars were shining brilliantly against the night sky, and the only light in the area was from the moon.  But it was just wild being out in the middle of nowhere, alone, in silence where the only light guiding you was from your headlamp.  Wild doesn’t even begin to describe the experience of running through Vermont at night, but I know I’ll never forget it.  I finished my leg and we had completed the first three legs of the relay covering 106.8 miles.  We were all pleased we had gotten this far, although our bodies were starting to feel the effects of repeatedly running several miles and then sitting in a van immediately after.  The leg I had just completed had a steep downhill, which sounds easy but it just beat the crap out of my knees.  I (and everyone else) was starting to hurt, but that didn’t matter because we sucked it up and pressed on.

When SW came in after finishing his fourth leg, we greeted him for his twenty-fifth birthday with a surprise cookie cake and song.  Everyone else at the exchange joined in with us.  This is one reason why I love the running community.  Everyone is out there, doing their own thing, pushing their own limits, and everyone respects that.  Even though we were teams competing against each other, we were all out there to prove to ourselves that we could do something crazy like the GMR.  And that’s all that mattered.

We were all getting tired, and I decided to lay down for a bit and try to grab some sleep (although I wouldn’t catch a minute of sleep all night) and rest my legs.  Luckily my next leg was short at 4.3 miles, although again it had a lengthy severely steep downhill so it was going to be hard on my body.  Then after that it would just be two more “hard” legs, each with a 2-mile section of incline.

Just.

And be sure to hit up my Flickr for full-sized pictures seen here and others from the GMR.

Running

Some of us don’t run at all, and that’s just fine.  Some of us run a 2-mile loop around the neighborhood once a week on Saturday morning to earn permission to binge on a large dose of pancakes, bacon, and mimosas at brunch.  Some of us run to stay in shape and go out quite regularly to burn some calories in preparation of beach season.  And then there’s nut-jobs like myself who think it’s fun to complete long runs upwards of eighteen or twenty miles on Sundays under the title of “training.”  I’m talking of course about training for marathons, where one’s physical and mental boundaries are seriously pushed to the limit.

I’ll always remember the wee and dark hours the morning of my very first marathon when my elite running buddy JP told me, “There’s nothing you can do to prepare yourself for the last six miles.  Nothing.  You just have to do it.”  He was right.  I hit mile eighteen and my body started to break down.  The pain in my knees and shins had dissipated because, well, I couldn’t feel anything in my legs anymore.  They had gone numb.  I was moving purely through the will power of my brain sending electronic impulses to my legs to signal simple steps forward, one at a time.  I crept along at a slow pace, mile after mile, with each one seemingly longer than the last.  And it was during those last few miles as I mentally started to black out that I really started to question life itself and my existence as a human being.  (Why does that always happen?)

During the two marathons that I’ve completed I’ve always ended up crying a bit as the finish line was approaching with just a handful of miles to go.  Why?  I can’t really tell you.  I think it’s from the summation of the pain, the fact that I’m ignoring the pain, all the emotions from the struggles of living with and battling my Crohn’s (last year was particularly rough), pushing myself to finish a marathon despite relapsing several times during training, and knowing that completing those next few miles was something so small yet so meaningful to me.  Plus I had already been running for well over three solid hours.  But finishing earned me more than just a new medal to hang on my wall and a new t-shirt.  It proved to myself once again that I really could accomplish anything I set my mind to and really push my physical and mental boundaries to their very limit.

So, you’re wondering what’s next?  Well, this weekend I’ll be running the Green Mountain Relay with some former crew teammates of mine at BC (JP, SK, SM, SW, and WW with CR who got sucked in to be our driver).  The GMR is a ~200-mile relay race through the state of Vermont and takes somewhere around twenty-four hours to complete.  That’s right folks, twenty-four hours.  A full day of running between the team.  And the best part?  Instead of doing a team of twelve we decided to enter as an ultra team of just six runners.  (Yeah, because that made sense.)  That means we’ll all be running about thirty miles a pop (with JP taking on 40 miles) over the course of six separate legs.  While I don’t expect this race to necessarily push my mental limits so much (due to the distance being broken up into several legs), I know for a fact it’ll push my physical limits.  It’s going to be intense to say the least.  Expect plenty of GMR-related posts right here, and follow me on Twitter for updates throughout the race to stay in touch with how things are going.

All I have to say is the t-shirt better be worth it.

Launch

Alright I gotta be real for a second.  I’ve got a lot of friends who have blogs, and to be honest some of them are pretty dang good and I enjoy reading them on a regular basis.  So I’ve decided to join the masses and start my own.  I’m not going to have a theme because I feel like it’s too restrictive, and there’s more interesting stuff to life than focusing purely on one particular topic.  I want be able to write about things that I find interesting to write about.  Seems pretty blatantly obvious, but that’s exactly why I want to have an open, honest blog.

So basically here’s the deal.  I’m a 24-year-old living and working in Boston for one last final summer before heading off to pursue my dream of getting my MD/PhD at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine (that’s what’s up).  As a graduate from Boston College in 2009, I’ve sort of fallen in love with everything about Boston, from the crazy drivers who essentially ignore all traffic laws, the reliability of the Green Line (yes that’s a joke, you can laugh), the way the Citgo sign lights up Kenmore at night, eating canolis from Mike’s Pastry down by the waterfront, to just chilling out on the Esplanade along the Charles River.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate and cherish my roots of growing up in good ol’ Byram (NOT Sparta), New Jersey, where no, there aren’t sewage plants and run-down industrial buildings next door.  Rather, home for me is on a beautiful small lake where the waves of passing boats lap in rhythm against the dock and bulkhead, where the swans and ducks bob for food with their butts in the air, an occasional fish breaks the surface to snag a dragonfly, and where Mom still greets me with something freshly baked right out of the oven.  It’s a rough life, I know.

But I don’t really like to let anything define me.  There’s not one part about me that’s “who I am,” so to speak.  There’s more to me than just science nerd, marathon runner, BC alum, Crohn’s patient, hockey fanatic, or professional badass (just kidding on that last one).  Sure, they contribute to my life, but picking out a single one of them doesn’t really define who I am.  That’s why this blog is going to be whatever I want to write about at any given time, of course with contributions from some of the bigger things going on in my life.  Just as my life changed when I moved to Boston to go to BC for undergrad and I knew absolutely no one up here, I’m doing the same thing again in a few months when I move to Connecticut (for the next seven to eight years of my life OMG).  I’m 24.  I’m young(ish).  I’m fortunate to have some fun experiences with friends while still pursuing my professional dreams.  So it’ll be fun to share stories and experiences from my life on things that I find interesting to write about.  Enjoy.