The Road to Boston – Part 5

Hi Friends!

I am getting SO FREAKIN’ PUMPED UP because tomorrow night Matt and I are getting on a plane (not so jazzed about that part – I’m a horrendous flyer and often cry/yell/bother strangers around me to ask if that noise I just heard the engine make is normal) to fly to Boston for the Boston Marathon!!! I can’t believe it’s upon us already, where does the time go?

Today I wanted to share with you the fifth instalment of the Road to Boston mini-series. This was the part of Matt’s journey where I came into the picture…yay!


In the last section, we talked about Matt learning how to race on his University track team, how to hurt and how to never give up. Matt thought that his days on the track team had taught him how to be tough but he had no idea what was in store for him in the next chapter of his life.

After a couple years of trying different schools and programs, Matt decided that he needed a change of pace and in the summer of 2008 he joined the army. After a crazy 9 months of training with postings all over the country, he was posted semi-permanently to Edmonton. Side note: once he settled in Edmonton, we got together when he was back in Waterloo visiting his brother Neil and we happened to cross paths….oh the fates 🙂 🙂


Every Fall, there is an army race that they call Mountain Man. The race consists of running 32km with 35lbs on your back in a backpack, then picking up a canoe and carrying it on your head for 3.2km (total weight being carried equal to about 105lbs), then put the canoe in the water and paddle it for 10km. After all of that you run the final 5km to the finish with your 35lbs on your back once again.

Matt decided to sign up for the race. Does this surprise you at all at this point in the series? It sure didn’t surprise me. The battalion essentially put together a team of anyone who was tough enough (and maybe stupid enough) to survive the training.

The training was 5 days a week before work began. Monday was a 10-12km race. Tuesday was stair training and not just any stairs, I’m talking about a mountainous, “6-7 minutes straight vertical” worth of stairs. Matt took me to the stairs when I was visiting him in Edmonton one weekend and I nearly effing died just walking up them in my flip flops (and I like to think I’m a reasonably fit person?!). The thought of running up and down them was enough to make me want to hurl. Wednesday was sprints and lunges. Thursday was hills and or carrying the canoe practice/paddling. Lastly Friday was the long run which the coaches set up to simulate an actual race. The boys had the weekend to recover, before they would smash through it all over again the next week.

The problem with the Army is it has the “suck it up buttercup” attitude. Let’s just go on record right now and say that no one should ever really be training 5 hard days in a row with zero recovery. You’re just asking for trouble. The problem with 5 hard days is that your body will give up at some point. We are just humans, we’re not made of titanium and screws, and the nature of muscles and tendons and joints are that they damage with over-use. You saw that as the training went on people got hurt and had to quit. Matt held on.

Matt had never done stairs before, but he figured hey, how tough could it be? He threw up everywhere on his second set. He threw up again on his fourth set, and barely finished the workout. This happened for the first 3 stair work outs that he did, but then the magic started to happen. Matt started to get into shape. On the long runs, he started moving up in the pack, from the middle, to the front. Then he was alone at the front, running with hsi roommate. Matt and I would talk on the phone for hours every night about how he had chased down his roommate, and then the sneaky guy had caught up to him, and vice versa. The two of them had some wild battles out there. Matt would push the pace and make him work hard up hills and then make up the ground on the down. This was Matt’s way of trying to tire him out. And in their last long run Matt held on till the last 5km’s of the 41km run. Matt finished that run in 3:01. If that long run had been a marathon, he probably would have qualified for Boston right then and there.

As the training went on his knees and feet began to hurt. Week by week it got worse. It got to the point that Matt was starting every workout with his body aching. His body needed to rest, it needed recovery. But the taper before the race didn’t help. It was too little too late.

He stood on the start line of the race with 35lbs on his back, with sharp pain in both knees. Matt was on the front line at the start standing beside his Colonel, the two of them shook hands and Matt wished him luck. And just like that, BANG they are off!

Matt got hiimself into 6th place of 271. The first part of the course was on a trail and in the dark all you could see were glow sticks that had been placed here and there to show them where to go. Matt got to the turn around marker still in 6th place. As he ran past all the guys from his battalion he shouted encouragement to them. It pumped him up and he picked up the pace. He got to the canoe zone in 6th the buddies watching couldn’t believe he was so far up there. The canoe carrying section was his biggest weakness and he knew it. Some guys were jogging with it, Matt could not. He was carrying just over 75% of his body weight. People started passing him, too many to count, but in his mind, all he had to do was get that thing to the water and he was golden. He had to set the canoe down 5 or 6 times on the march to complete the section. At one point, he set down the canoe, but when he went to pick it back up his legs just couldn’t seem to lift it back over his head. It was as if they had just quit on him. He tried again… nothing again… just nothing. Was this it was he going to have to quit? At that moment he saw his colonel run by. That amped him up. With some manly grunts he got it back on his shoulders and the race was back on.

He passed a couple guys who had thrown down their canoes and were sitting on them not looking like they were going anywhere soon. Just passed half way of the canoe carry he found a sign that was tall enough to rest the canoe on while still standing. He told himself no more resting until he got that thing in the water! With a few more manly grunts he made it to the water in 45mins better than his training run. And he was paddling away. 2 more people passed him in the water, but he caught someone so he felt it was a net loss of 1.

When he went to put the backpack with the 35lbs back on his back he realized that his whole back was chaffed till it bled and it hurt to put it back on. The next problem his legs didn’t want to move they had gotten stiff, so he had to walk up the hill for the water before he could start running again. It was a slow pace to start, but then slowly he started to realize that he was okay, and it was time to hunt some guys down. He started catching guys and he ended up passing a couple more before the finish. He was the 51st to cross the line of 271. A result that he was very happy with.

His battalion ended up winning the whole race in the team event. It was a pretty amazing day. The toughest race that Matt has ever been a part of. He stayed at the finish line for hours to see every single last one of his teammates come in. After everyone had come in he went home and found that I had ordered a bunch of gourmet cupcakes to be delievered to the house!His roommates were pretty pumped about that as well. Matt (with some cupcakes in him) slept till the next day just before lunch. He then went to the Pizza Hut buffet lunch to celebrate.

Matt felt he was in excellence shape, and with that 41km run in a time of 3:01 he thought there was a shot that he could qualify for the Boston Marathon. A couple weeks later Matt’s brother Scott flew into Edmonton and the 2 of them went on a road trip to Kelowna, BC. Scott was running the half marathon and Matt ran the full with the goal to qualify, once again.

The course was flat and the city was beautiful. The boys had a great weekend and the night before the race, after Matt had hounded Scott for his goal time, Scott asked him what Matt’s full marathon goal time was, and whatever it was, he would make a goal to run half of it. A pretty gutsy goal considering he hadn’t done nearly as much training as Matt had over the past several months! Scott tends to have a way of getting things done though, he’s really quite amazing. Scott helped Matt stretch out, as he was still nursing a very sore knee from the Mountain Man Race only a couple weeks earlier.

Matt stood the start line, for the second time, with sharp knee pain. This was his best attempt to date fitness wise and a sore knee couldn’t slow him down so he took pain killers before the race in hopes that it at least for a small section of the race he wouldn’t have to think about the pain. SIDE NOTE: I don’t recommend that for all those reading.

Anyway the course was 2 laps of a half marathon course. Matt felt great in the first half and had banked 2 minutes ahead of qualifying pace. Between 24km and 29km the marker signs for the kilometers were knocked over, hidden or Matt just plain didn’t see them. When he finally saw a marker he realized that he had inadvertently slowed down and had given back the time he had banked. He dug deep and stayed on pace till about 35km where there was a 180 turn on the course where he slowed down to head back the way he came and that’s when the knee pain got to be out of control. He slowly started slipping from pace. People began to pass him, and he would try to stay with them all the while saying in his head “if you want to go to Boston you can not leave these guys”. And then they’d drop him. By 38km he realized he wasn’t going to make qualifying. And just after 40km the time ticked over and boston qualifying was over. That weighing on his mind made the last kiloemeters torture, he didn’t even feel his knee anymore. He crossed the line at 3:16, a personal best by 4 minutes. It was the toughest race because he ran a personal best and he should have been happy, but he was 6 minutes too slow.

After the race he found Scott and limped back to the car to head back to the hotel for a nap. The story of the day ended up being Scott who ran bang on the 1:35 that he said he would. I told you, that kid just has a way of getting things done 🙂

Matt and Scott

Matt decided never again would he race and not qualify he would train and be prepared and that would be that.

That brings us to the very last part of the series before the race happens on Monday. Stay tuned the next post is coming up fast and furious.

Good night all!

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