Second try at the 112th Boston Marathon
I wouldn't understand what Bill meant until racing the Boston Marathon myself. In my second Boston try I came to race and discovered the emotions involved. I got going -- perhaps a little too fast -- and endured a slight blowup. The cheers from the immense Boston crowds helped move me along and hang on for a good time.
To sum up the story in one fell swoop seems an impossible task. The entire weekend was a celebration of runners and running. Combining 25,000 enthusiastic competitors, their supporting friends and families, the U.S. Women's Olympic Trials, great weather and the famed marathon course was a recipe for a wonderful weekend. I shared my time in Boston with friends from my local running club as well as my companion Andrea, a first-time Boston Marathon participant.
Part of the challenge of training for Boston is facing NE Ohio's winter and the early April date. Though I enjoy running outside in the elements, training was a little light during this cycle. The frigid Cleveland winter hampered a few key workouts in the months of February and March. Starting on New Year's Day, I followed a self-styled 15 week plan loosely based on Jack Daniels Running Formula with progressive phases and one weekly quality workout and long run, averaging 48 miles per week for the 12 weeks preceding a 10 day taper. Different from last fall's training season, was the absence of cycling or swimming. I did neither this winter, diminishing my aerobic base. With running in snow and frigid weather I managed to hit the quality workouts as scheduled, culminating with a solid phase of threshold pace workouts in the 6:20-6:25 pace range. I missed the one longer tune-up race (15k) on my schedule, so I had only two 5k races as indicators of my fitness. A 5k PR of 18:30, nine days prior to Boston, provided a bit of needed confidence since I was clueless of what this race could bring.
Though I have a bit of marathon racing experience under my belt (21 total: 11 raced, 6 as pace leader, and 4 as training runs), I've discovered that each race has it's own set of challenges in execution. In Boston, my challenge was getting to the start, the huge field, and the dramatically hilly course. I'm not used to either as my best marathons have come from within a small field race and with less elevation change.
My work schedule didn't allow much time for me to think about the race in the weeks leading up to the race, but as soon as I arrived in Boston I was able to recall my 2006 Boston experience. I had then read the book "26 Miles to Boston" and many of the details of the course immediately came back to me. In my first Boston, I heeded the advice of others to take it easy and avoid the pitfall of going out to fast. I ran conservatively, scoring a 3:16, but left Boston knowing that I wanted another shot at a faster time. Since then, I've further improved my marathon PR twice in 2007 with a 3:08 (Flying Pig) and 3:04 (Grand Rapids), so I had an idea that I could finish Boston somewhere in the 3:05-3:10 range. Scoring a PR was my stretch goal.
I arrived in Hopkinton a little later than I wanted to because our hotel shuttle could not get all the way to the Athlete's Village. After fighting race-day traffic, our shuttle dropped us off at 8:45am and we hoofed it nearly a mile to the village. I didn't bother going in. Rather, I found a bench in front of the school to change my shoes, apply anti-chafe lubricant, and use the massage stick one last time before starting the procession to the corrals with about 25 minutes to gun.
Pre-race in Hopkinton is a sight to behold. Thousands of runners of all shapes, sizes, and outfits fill the narrow street where the race starts. I walked by a fella wearing a full Yankee pinstripes uniform and imagined that he would have no dull moments during his race. I crammed my way into corral #3 with five minutes to spare and immediately found Rob. We chatted for the remaining minutes and parted ways soon after gun.
Nutrition-wise, I followed the basic plan that has worked for me in past marathons: Water at every chance, a Succeed capsule (electrolytes) at 0:30, 1:30, and 2:30 into race, a gel at 75 minutes and every 35-40 minutes thereafter, and allowing myself gatorade in the final 30 minutes of the race. Also, I carry a 16 ounce water bottle at the start in order to avoid traffic in the first few water stations. Out of the norm, I found myself a little hungry as I headed to the start. I learned recently, but had never tried, that it's okay to take a gel in the window 0-15 minutes before the race. I decided to eat a gel with 10 minutes to go. It seemed to do the trick to curb my hunger with no adverse effect.
The weather forecast called for partly cloudy and high 50s throughout, but minutes before gun the skies parted and the sun shined brightly. Compared to recent years, complaining about the weather is nitpicking, but the temperature was a bit warm for my liking and we experienced a slight headwind throughout that grated on my nerves. All-in-all the weather was not bad, but not completely ideal either.
The race started and it took about 70 seconds to cross the starting line. My goal for the day was around 7:00/mile pace. The corral seeding system seemed to work as I only dodged traffic through M1 (7:15) before finding adequate space to run.
Knowing the first few miles go downhill, I didn't panic when M2 (6:48 ) and M3 (6:47) came a little faster than expected. The effort felt easy like marathon-pace should in the early miles. When M4 (6:44) arrived, I finally forced myself to back off. I sipped water from my bottle and finally emptied and dropped it as I approached a better paced M5 (7:03).
The prevailing wind throughout the race was from the the SE and just as much crosswind as headwind. I did my best to draft throughout, finding myself wanting to sit off the left shoulder of any runner ahead running my pace.
My pace leveled out through Ashland and Framingham as M6 (6:50), M7 (6:51), M8 (6:54), M9 (6:52), M10 (6:58 ) all came smoothly. I knew I was banking time, arriving ten miles in 69-flat. I began to believe that today was my day to do something great, but in the back of my mind I wonder if I was falling into the trap of the famed course. I remember the tips from PacerChris to run the first half by effort rather than by pace and used that thought to comfort my evolving situation. Eventually I would have to confront the hills.
Gel #1 consumed and a slight uphill slowed down M11 (7:01) but I was surprised to see M12 (6:40) before reaching the scream tunnel of Wellesley. Although tempting, I was chicken to get too close to the right side, running straight down the middle of the road and away from runners stopping to collect a kiss. I admit it looked fun over there.
As advertised, the rush of Wellesley resulted in a pace surge, arriving into a town full of screaming spectators in M13 (6:46) and the Half (1:30:10) a full 80 seconds ahead of plan. Never did I think about sub-3 hours on this day, but I began to believe that a PR could fall. How cool would that be to PR at Boston. Newton lurked and I pressed on.
M14 (6:50) and M15 (6:59) were the calm before the storm. I was certain that my legs began to feel heavier, but what is one to do at this point? I took gel #2 on the decent into Newton Lower Falls M16 (6:50), maintaining the mental thought of "even effort" in the climb to the I-95 overpass and towards crowds of Woodland and M17 (7:19).
Making the right-hand turn near the fire station onto Comm Ave, the carnival atmosphere was merely in my periphery as the next hill loomed ahead. All of a sudden I found myself working harder than desired and begging for the next mile marker. Thoughts of survival continued with me each and every mile to the finish.
The crowds in Newton did not disappoint. I passed the two hour mark M18 (7:19) and the team of Dick and Rick Hoyt a little earlier than I did in '06. I got close enough to offer a personal "way to go, Team Hoyt," as I passed by.
With evenly paced 5k splits through 25k in the 21:20-21:30 range, Newton came to collect it's toll on my slowing pace M19 (7:07). In my mind, I'm just trying to survive each mile arriving M20 (7:29) in 2:19:19 and still with hope of a 3:03-3:04 result. The boisterous crowds at BC pull me up Heartbreak Hill M21 (7:55). Somewhere in Newton remember finally catching and passing the Japanese man dressed as Minnie Mouse.
This year I remember not to charge down the backside of Heartbreak, although I couldn't if I tried. I was tiring, accepted that there was to be no final kick and settled for survival mode. Coming through the haunted mile (the quiet stretch between the cemetery and the T tracks) M22 (7:22) I did the calculation of finishing in 8 minute miles and rationalized the slower pace. With a toasted mind and big goals slipping away, I held on to the hope of beating 3:08.
The course continues on a downhill pitch into Cleveland Circle M23 (7:32) and like in '06, I feel a cramping twinge in one hamstring. Not again, I thought, but I ran gingerly and grabbed the next Gatorade I could to provide the last bit of electrolytes and carbs to carry me to the finish.
I couldn't find friends spectating and/or volunteering at the 23.5 mile water station in Coolidge Corners because by this point it was so loud and thick with crazy cheering fans. Their presence kept me on track when all I wished for was the next mile. Our hotel was on Beacon St. near M24 (7:49) and running the final 2 miles Saturday afternoon helped ease my mind I knew the finish was near. Passing Kenmore and seeing the game still in progress at Fenway Park, I survive Citgo hill near M25 (7:53) and all that was left was to post the final time. Reaching the "one mile to go" marker with 7:35 to break 3:07 gave me the motivation to finish strong.
While watching the Olympic Trials, I met for the first time two of my virtual training buddies from Kickrunners.com. One is an up-and-coming runner from Nebraska named Tonya. The other is the high mileage phenom, Mike from Wisconsin. Approaching the Mass Ave underpass, I hear screams of "Go Nebraska" and was wondered if Tonya had caught me. I kept looking over my shoulder expecting see her but it was another Nebraskan. In the final two turns onto Hereford and Boyleston streets, I'm amazed at how many runners surrounded me. I charge down Boyleston aiming for the 3:06-something and arrive M26 (7:34) & Last 0.2 (1:30) and under the arches of the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
It wasn't a pretty, but I survive to post my second best marathon result of all time. I stood under the arches for the next 15 minutes looking for friends to finish nearby - a difficult task with the hundreds of finishers in each minute. I had no clue that Mike, Tonya, and I finished within one minute of each other. How cool would that have been to share the finish line moment of the Boston Marathon with training buddies?
To me, part of the thrill of racing comes from how to deal with the variances of race execution. In the marathon endeavor, I continue to discover that each race provides different opportunities. In Boston this year, I did not plan to press on the gas like I did in the first half. Could I have run faster had I run a slower first half? Maybe, maybe not. I won't ever know, but I walk away from this race satisfied with the effort.
We capped off this wonderful Boston weekend with a visit to Bill Rodgers Running Company on Tuesday afternoon. I asked Mr. Rodgers about the strategy for racing Boston. He mentioned a pressed pace and enduring the hills. He also recommended a lot of downhill running in training. Airing on the TV in the store was the replay of the elite race, with the women nearing Cleveland Circle and Cheriuyot cresting Heartbreak Hill. We grabbed a seat on the bench and like true running geeks we hung out and watched the incredible finishes of the women running stride-for-stride and Cheriuyot dominating in his record fourth win.
What a place for running.
Thanks for reading.