Theraflu & Whiskey: Overcoming a Fever to PR at Boston

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Jason Ayr developed and overcame a last minute fever before the 2013 Boston Marathon and still ran himself a race

By Jason Ayr

I hate tapers.  Tapers are an execution of self-control to save up for something later. They require forethought and responsibility and other antonyms of fun.  As someone who is very addicted to The Shindig (which, in my 26 years of life, I have come to know The Shindig to mean endorphins) The Taper is a scary dark hole that prevents me from getting my fix.

Before the 2013 Boston Marathon I followed the rules and I tapered.  In hindsight, I probably tapered too much because if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it in excess.  Days before the race, on Friday night, I found myself running a fever.  When the reality of being sick hit me I was crushed. For once in my life I thought I had executed a training plan more focused on purpose and less focused on The Shindig and I was frustrated.  Simply put; I was feeling sorry for myself.

Saturday was spent drinking a Theraflu and whiskey combination, recommended by a teammate, while chugging water in between naps. The reading of 102.7 on the thermometer brought with it a stretch where I had to change my shirt every time my eyes opened. I tried to remain focused on the marathon, but the thought of it served more as a stressor than a motivator. My body aches were not jiving with the “above the neck” symptoms I was reading about in my countless Google searches for “racing with fever”.

As I rolled awake on Sunday morning my symptoms had vastly improved.  I kept getting out of bed to move my legs around as if I was standing on a starting line and then would quickly slide back under the covers, treating my recovery like a slowly charging cellphone battery that I only wanted to see improvement in, but not expend. I was congested, but my fever was down and my back aches were gone. Later in the day I trotted a four mile loop of Stanley Park (The Holy Land of running) before getting picked up by my mom and racing to the Expo by its 6:00PM close.

One complete scan of the Hynes Convention Center and I was pumping with adrenaline from head to toe. Eating Zicam like skittles and drinking water until my pipes hurt, I was now excited to race and checking the extra baggage that was my fever excuse at the door.

Jason with his ‘race buddy’ Brandon Newbould, courtesy of Scott Mason Photo.

The morning of the Boston Marathon, sitting in the Athlete Village, allows no room for hesitation.  The magnitude of the event is something to get swept up in and it just isn’t possible to maintain negative thoughts in such an environment.  Here I was, in a field with thousands of other Shindig Addicts waiting to take on the same challenge.  If there is ever a thought you need to drag you through a New England winter long-run, try and grab a piece of this experience and tuck it in your mind until next winter.

I was out on goal pace, settling into a solid group with Brandon Newbould and some other, non-New England folk.  As the miles pass you develop trust for your “race buddies” when not fortunate enough to have a teammates on the line with you.  This group proved crucial in holding the race together as I admittedly let “my excuse” dance in and out of focus throughout the first half of the race.

A wise man, by the name of David Johnson, once told me that, “if you’re fine through half, you’re not being held up by sickness and it’d just be a crutch after that”.  Those words were important and effective in the second half of the race.  As I found myself slipping off pace through Newton I hit the 21st mile much like my 21st birthday; a little over served and a little underprepared.  The remaining miles were a race only for the mind and the body races best when the mind isn’t racing, so I just tried to shut off my thoughts and grind.

I finished and hobbled my sore body through the shoots and towards baggage pick-up. I hopped a T back towards my family at Washington Square via Arlington Station. My time of 2:27:30 was barely a PR and several minutes off my goal, but I was legitimately happy with myself for the effort.  I believe I left it out on the course; I had at least left more than I ever had before, and no ridiculous self-stat analysis would change what happened.  The best part of the marathon is it leaves you too drained to engage in such an active reflection.

And then the tragedy…

At about three o’clock my mother called from a nearby apartment, urging us to get off the street and hurry inside. There was still celebration at mile 23 and leaving this party was not what I wanted to do, but her voice was serious and nervous when it rang, “Two bombs have gone off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon”. It took me the length of the walk back for the news to settle in.

Everything that I wrote above now looks so selfish and meaningless, but I had to write it. If we weren’t faced with this tragedy that is what I would have written on the experience, so that is my experience as of 3:00PM Monday. By 5:00PM it was as if the racing never happened.  Earlier this weekend I had felt sorry for myself in my narrow minded focus on such an insignificant thing – that I would possibly be too sick to run as fast as I would like too.  Perspective.

I sat and stared at the TV watching the replay of the bombs with my family and friends who had come to cheer. Twenty-seven thousand runners had spent months – years – trying to reach this finish line. Now they were running away from it. It was a place that I had so recently experienced emotions of pure joy. Now it was a place of fear and destruction.

The next morning I drove around the Hill Towns of Western Mass, sipping on my large Dunkin’ and reflecting on the previous day.  It all just felt weird; there was a sort of fuzziness to the whole day, like Monday morning happened ten years before Monday afternoon.  I can’t say I was out trying to find an answer or some sort of reason for the whole thing because I’m not really sure any of us are equipped to handle such a tragedy, but I needed a way to react.

I pulled into my house and got right to work on a group run.  That was a perfect response to this; keep on running.

Good luck to Jason, who has bib #144 this year and will be running with a whole lot of his Western Mass Distance Project teammates. Sending good vibes his way so that he makes it the line healthy this time!

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