I apologize in advance that this is a little lengthier than usual. The actual race report doesn’t start until The Race heading below.
Monday, the 3rd Monday in April, was my first Boston Marathon. It was also my first time ever visiting Boston, and my 4th marathon. After watching last years race on TV, and hearing about running Boston from runners who had been I was excited to have a crack at it. I knew I didn’t have the run fitness I had in the Fall in Chicago thanks to tri-training, and a big bike focus, but my plan was to give it a go with whatever I had on the day.
Arriving in Boston
Lisa and I flew into Boston Friday evening. The airport was filled with runners wearing Boston jackets from previous years, and as we took the subway to our hotel there were New Balance running ads everywhere. It was impossible not to get excited about the race.
Saturday morning was the BAA 5k. I’d decided this was something I wanted to do before the race, it would be my last run before the marathon, and I figured it could be a fun event. Race numbers were sent in the mail, and both t-shirt pickup and the bag drop were really well organized, so pre-race was easy. My plan for the 5k was to enjoy it, and while I had no intentions of pushing the pace, I also wasn’t out for a jingle-jog. I ended up running 18:55, about 3:47 pace. My legs felt good and it was nice to run some of the same streets where the marathon would finish Monday.
Bib pickup and Expo
After the 5k we headed to the marathon bib pickup and expo. It was still relatively early in the mornings so we beat the crowds that form later in the day. Like the 5k, the bib pickup was really well organized and it took no time to get through.
Next we checked out the expo. I had high hopes for the expo because of what I’d heard from others people, and the expo they had in Chicago, but I was underwhelmed. The booths all seemed squeezed in together, which made it difficult to navigate the isles, and there wasn’t anything in particular that caught my eye.
The Sunday before the race I took it easy. Lisa and I got up around 7:00AM, had breakfast, and then headed out to check out Harvard and MIT. We strolled around the campuses and then were back at our hotel for lunch. The previous day we had picked up take-out pasta for lunch and dinner. We spent most of the afternoon and evening in the hotel lounging around and mostly staying off our feet. We were in bed around 9:00PM.
Monday, race morning, we were up at 4:00AM. It was a bagel with almond butter and honey, as well as some water. We were out the door around 5:30AM and took the green line to Boston Common to bag drop and to get on our bus to the start. Lisa was adamant that we catch the first buses to the start, and I’m glad she was. After 40min or so on the bus we arrived in Hopkinton. We went to the food area to get some cardboard to sit on and then claimed a spot under the tent. This proved to be a good move. It rained off an on in the 3 hours or so prior to the start. The tent kept us dry and the cardboard helped insulate us from the cold ground. As we waited for the start I had a couple of cups of Gatorade and 3 granola bars. I didn’t manage to sleep in this time, but was able to lay down and rest.
At 9:15 my corral was called to begin to make our way to the start. Dan, a seasoned runner from Durham, had decided to drop back from his position in the first corral to start with me. We walked to the start area together. I did a quick warmup, and took a gel 15min before the start.
At 9:58, 2 min before the start I discarded my sweats that I was wearing to keep me warm. I didn’t have the nerves or anxiety I’d had before my previous 2 marathons (Hamilton and Chicago). I expect it was because I wasn’t chasing an ambitious goal time, in fact I didn’t really have a specific goal time at all. This worried me some because there’s no avoiding the hurt in the final 10k of any marathon, and without a specific goal to chase down it becomes a lot easier to let yourself off the hook and throw in the towel.
At 10AM the gun went off. I didn’t start moving right away, as there were about 2200 runners in front of me, but after about a minute we started walking towards the line, and as we got closer to the line that walk turned into a jog. My plan was to run the first 5k very conservative and then see how things went from there. As we began running Dan and I were together. The course was very congested. As I began running I focused on keeping my breathing calm and paying attention to where I was running; I didn’t want to clip someones foot. The race starts off with some considerable downhill, and there were a number of runners weaving through the crowd to run faster.
First 5k 21:01, 4:12/km.
At 5k I began to pick it up. I started running km’s close to 4:00 and I was feeling good. I knew to time qualify for the NYC Marathon I needed to beat 2:53, so I had that time floating around in my head as a soft goal. It was around this time that it started to rain. Slowly at first, but then it really teemed down. It caused a slight chill, but I don’t think it had much impact on my running. Around 12k I was feeling great. 30k to go and the idea that I only needed about 3:58s to run a 2:48 marathon briefly popped into my head. I thought maybe I could do something special, but then I came back to reality and remembered my splits were being gravity assisted (downhill) and that I’d be paying for all that downhill later on in the race in my quads.
5k – 15k 40:16, 4:02/km (Overall 1:01:17, 4:05/km)
Just past 15k my stomach began turning. A concern of mine before the race was the timing. A 10:00AM start meant that I ate breakfast at 4:30AM before I left the hotel, but then snacked on granola bars leading up to the start. I’m not sure what aspect of nutrition was my problem, but my stomach wasn’t feeling 100%. Fortunately I had no problem continuing to take in Gatorade at aid stations, and I took a gel around the 16k mark. This leads me to believe my problem had something to do with digesting my pre-race food. I decided I’d continue to keep running until my stomach slowed me significantly. As I kept running towards the halfway mark I heard shrieking, I must be getting close to Wellesley College. Wellesley College is an all-girls school, and one of the most famous stretches of the course. Hundreds, maybe thousands of Wellesley girls line the course screaming with Kiss Me signs. I passed on the kisses, but some of the signs I was able to read did make me laugh. The smile on my face quickly disappeared when I was past all the screaming and realized that I’d need to make a port-a-jon stop for my stomach.
15k – 21.1k 24:56, 4:06 (Overall 1:26:13, 4:05/km)
I made a quick pit stop at the first port-a-jon past half way. I was in and out as quick as I could be, and picked up the pace for the rest of the kilometer to keep my foot speed high. I managed to sneak in just under 5:00/km for that one with my stop. My stomach was a little more settled, but I realized that I likely had a long 20k left to the finish.
I knew the famed Newton Hills began somewhere around 16mi (28k). As I approached them my pace began to slow. I could feel my quads and I wasn’t able to push off as strong with each stride. Running through Newton was a great pick-me-up. Spectators spirits were running high and it was a good shot of adrenalin just before the hills started. I ran by some people on the side of the road holding popsicle sticks with something on the end. At the last moment I noticed it was vaseline on them and grabbed one. My sides up near my armpits had been chaffing pretty bad so I rubbed some vaseline in that area as I ran and it didn’t bother me again until after the race when I took a shower.
Hills are tough. Hills 28k into a marathon are really tough. But I didn’t find them to be as bad as I expected. Between the relief on my quads that I wasn’t going downhill, the rowdy crowds, and passing other runners in worse shape than I was it was a nice change of pace to be able to focus on just climbing to the top of each of the hills. Somewhere before Heartbreak Hill I saw Leanne cheering. She was the first, and only, spectator I knew along the course, and that too pushed me to keep going. Unfortunately, around 30k my stomach quickly turned sour in a hurry and I made another port-a-jon stop. I wasn’t able to get in and out as quick this time, clocking a 5:03 km. This would be my only km in the 5:00’s. As I got back onto the road Dan caught back up to me. He let me know there was another hill, and Heartbreak, and then mostly downhill to the finish. Dan’s pace was far too rich for me to hold on and he sped ahead as I continued to plod along.
Running up Heartbreak Hill was as fun as a hill with 10k to go in a marathon could be. It was loud, there were all sorts of funny signs, twice I was offered beer by spectators, and one spectator even held out a box of cannoli’s from Mikes Pastry’s. I decided I’d stick to gels and Gatorade.
I had about 9k left and I was hurting. My lower quads were screaming with every step but I was determined to run under 3:00. To do that I needed to run about 4:20s for the remainder of the race. I told myself that I planned to run 4:29s in an Ironman marathon this summer, so if I have any hope of doing that I could do this. And I was supposed to hurt, it’s a marathon! Painful kilometer after kilometer ticked off. I kept telling myself 30minutes of running left, and then 25minutes of running left, counting down the time at each kilometer. I don’t know if it was a problem with my watch, or if I was just really poor at running tangents but the km’s on my watch were going off earlier and earlier before the km markers. Not by a significant amount, but 10m this km, 20m the next. I knew I’d be cutting it close to 2:59:59 so seconds counted.
With 2mi to go the famous Citgo sign came into sight. I stopped looking at my watch and just ran as hard as my legs would let me. When I reached mile 25 I was on familiar roads from the 5k. I knew it was under an overpass, right onto Hereford, left onto Boylston. As I ran out from under the overpass I ran by a runner who had an amputated leg. She was receiving tremendous applause. As I ran by I looked at her, and the hurt on her face was evident, she’d pushed through a lot more today than I had. In the late stages of big races I tend to reflect on what went into getting to the start line. As I turned onto Hereford I thought about how lucky I was to have the opportunities I’ve had, as well as how hard I’d worked to get to where I was. Less than 3 years ago I struggled to a 4:47 marathon. In the 3 years since I’ve met a lot of great people and push my limits further than I could have imagined after that first marathon. I was going to finish slower than I’d hoped, but as I made the left onto Boylston I emptied the tank and ran with everything I had for the line. I crossed the line in 2:59:41.
21.1k – 42.2k 1:33:28, 4:26/km pace (Overall 2:59:41, 4:15/km)
After I crossed the finish line I was pleased I’d held on to run under 3:00, but I was mostly happy just to be done. I told myself that I wouldn’t run another marathon ill-prepared to tackle the distance; the hurt in the final 10k is just too much. Very quickly I realized I was very cold. I was soaked from all of the rain and the temp felt like it was around 0. I was handed a bottle of water, but what I was looking for as I shuffled along was something warm. They keep the runners moving once they cross the finish line, so with stiff legs I kept walking. I eventually came across the solar blankets they had out at races. Unfortunately the sun was hidden behind rain clouds so they provided minimal warmth. About a km up the road was bag check, where I had sweat pants and a light jacket waiting for me. As I made the walk I was shivering and I couldn’t control my teeth from chattering. All I could think about was getting to my bag. I shuffled past a couple of other runners who didn’t look in great shape, curled up in a ball on a park bench. But I wasn’t doing great either so there was nothing I could do for them beside alert a volunteer when I saw one. I don’t know what the BAA could have done better, but on that walk was about as cold as I can ever remember being. It was so miserable it just about put the closing km’s of the marathon to shame!
I’d hoped that I’d run faster than I did, somewhere in the 2:52-2:55 range, but I was happy with my efforts. I just didn’t have that kind of fitness, and the time I got was the time I deserved.
That night Lisa and I thought about going out somewhere fancy to eat, but settled on take-out pizza and beer in the warm, dry confines of our hotel. We were both very stiff and getting in and out of chairs wasn’t the most fun.