Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The 2016 Boston Marathon

Scroll down to the bottom for the Readers Digest condensed version

On April 18, 2016 I ran The Boston Marathon.  I qualified for this race on November 17, 2014. Because of the way the Boston Athletic Association does things, it is possible to qualify to run in the marathon with a lot of time to wait.  As it turns out, that was for the best because after my qualifying race I battled an Achilles injury for the entire year before my training started.  When I registered for the race in September, I had serious doubts about if I would actually be healthy enough to run it. Still, I was (and still am) convinced that this was probably going to be my only shot to run in this most famous of marathons so I registered and hoped that my body would heal and my qualifying time would be good enough to get in.

This was my 5th marathon.
The Shamrock Marathon, March 2012 - 4:29:52
Rock n Roll DC, March 2013 - 3:54:51
Marine Corps Marathon, October 2013 - 3:53:18
Potomac River Run Marathon, November 2014 - 3:21:39

Qualifying Standards:
For those that don't know (runner friends can skip this part).  Boston is one of the few races that you can't just register and run.  You have to qualify by running another marathon within a certain amount of time. If you're interested, you can read all about the qualifying standards here. The standards are adjusted by age so old people like me don't have to run as fast as a college kid.  The time I needed to meet was 3:25:00.  In recent years, just beating your BQ (Boston Qualifier) time hasn't been enough.  The increased popularity in marathons has meant more and more people trying to run Boston. Since the race organizers take the fastest runners first, you now need to come under your BQ time by a significant margin to get in.  I ran a 3:21:39 in the Potomac River Run marathon giving me a 3:21 margin. The cutoff this year was BQ - 2:28 so I had made it in by almost a minute.  Of course I didn't know that until about two weeks after I registered and had to wait on pins and needles along with the rest of the "just barely" qualifiers.

My training plan for this race was to loosely follow the Pete Pfitzinger 18 week plan that tops out at a 55 mile week.  Because of lingering pain in my right Achilles, I decided to substitute one or two of the "junk mile" runs with equivalent time on an indoor bike.  That plan worked out well for the most part. It cut down on some of the leg fatigue and my Achilles issue gradually improved over the course of the 18 weeks.  I was even able to hit some tempo runs close to my faster paces that I was running in 2014 when I qualified. As the weeks passed I was gradually riding the bike less and running more and my confidence grew.

Everything really seemed to be coming together well until about 6 weeks before race day I took a hard fall and broke my clavicle.  A week after I injured it, I had surgery to insert a plate and some screws to hold it together.  I was able to resume running a few days after the surgery but I had to take it very easy and be careful not to fall again.

I traveled to Boston with my wife Cindi.  Neither of us had visited Boston before. We didn't have firm plans to see anything particular during our trip.  We thought it would be nice to visit the Samuel Adams brewery and go on the tour and we also wanted to visit the bar that the TV show "Cheers" was loosely based on.  We both knew it would be pretty low key because I wouldn't want to be on my feet too much the day before the race.  We flew in Saturday morning and took a cab to our hotel which is just a few blocks from the finish line.  We checked in and then headed to the expo right away.  Of course the expo was packed but we shuffled through the crowds as best we could. I bought the jacket and a few other things while we were there and then we beat a hasty retreat.

After leaving the expo, we took it easy the rest of the day Saturday. On Sunday we did a few touristy things but not much.  We took a nice walk along the Esplanade and enjoyed the sunshine and some ducks that paid us a visit.
Duck butts
We went to Cheers for lunch and had a beer or two.  While we were there we talked with some other people in town for the race and enjoyed the atmosphere. Although we didn't venture out very far from our hotel and the areas surrounding the race, we liked the city and found the people there to be very welcoming and gracious hosts.  I was given congratulations by several random strangers as we walked around town which was nice. The people of Boston love their race.

You can be jealous now.
Shakeout Run:
Sunday morning I met up with a couple of online running friends for a four mile shake out run along the Esplanade.  During the run we saw some celebrities in the running world. We passed Desi Linden, Bill Rodgers, Bart Yasso (and about 50 of his friends), and finally Joan Benoit Samuelson who is a personal hero of mine.  One of my friends had run Boston three times before so us newbies asked her some questions along the way and gladly accepted her advice about the race itself.  Because we were starting near each other, we agreed to meet up at 7:00 and ride the bus to Hopkinton together.

The Course:
The course is a point-to-point starting in the small town of Hopkinton and ending in Boston.  The first four miles are a steady downhill and then it is mostly flat until mile 16 in the town of Newton.  I had heard a lot about "The Newton Hills" during my training. They are the four moderate hills that start at mile 16 and end at mile 21. From there the course is mostly downhill all the way into downtown Boston.

It was a huge relief and comfort to me to be able to tag along with a race veteran who was such good company.  I met my friend at the planned time and we hopped on one of the many big yellow school buses to ride out to Hopkinton. There was a little traffic along the way but we passed the time chatting and before I knew it we were at the Athlete's Village. We posed for a couple pics, got in line for the port-a-john and then relaxed on the grass to wait until they called our wave.  My friend brought one of those thin sheets that act as a thermal blanket that they hand out at the end of races to sit on so we wouldn't get wet. It's good to have smart friends!  We ran into one of her friends who was also in our wave and we hung out together to pass the time. The three of us chatted for a while until Wave 2 was called and we headed out.

Why is the brim on my hat always crooked?
From the Athlete's Village to the start is about a mile walk. There is another port-a-john stop along the way which we took advantage of then wished each other well as moved into our respective corrals.  I was in Wave 2, Corral 5.  I lined up at the very back of my corral because I planned to run much slower than my qualifying time.  We only waited a few minutes and then we were off!

Race Plan:
My plan was to run as conservatively as possible all the way until Newton. The weather was warmer than what I was used to and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Either one of those can cause me trouble when running.  I had 5 Gu energy gels with me and planned to use one every 5 miles. I have used this fueling strategy in the past with good results.  Because of the higher temps, I also planned to take in water at every aid station on the course. Boston offers water and Gatorade stops every mile starting at mile 2.

Early Miles:
Right after the start I realized that I forgot to turn off the auto-lap feature of my watch.  I wanted to record the splits myself by pressing the lap button at each mile marker because in a big race the mile markers and the GPS are usually a little bit off.  It isn't a big problem for shorter distances but as the race goes on your watch gets more and more out of sync with the actual course.  My watch measured the course at 26.4 miles.

The whole "run as conservatively as possible" thing didn't happen nearly as well as it should have!  I knew I would start faster than my planned 8:25 pace because of the early downhill miles but I couldn't seem to back off enough.  I let a lot of people pass me in the first few miles but I still ended up running too fast.  I didn't get my pace under control until mile 7 but I still felt good.  The heat wasn't bothering me as much as I thought it would and there was a nice breeze.  I stuck with the water plan and took at least a few sips at every mile.  I took in my energy gel with a full cup of water at miles 5, 10 and 15.

One of the highlights of the course it the famous Wellesley Scream Tunnel. No, I didn't kiss any of the women lining the side of the course but running past that much screaming and enthusiasm was a real boost. At one point I looked at my watch and saw that it showed my pace at 7:45. Oops!

Mile 1: 7:58, Mile 2: 8:05, Mile 3: 8:17, Mile 4: 8:09, Mile 5: 8:20, Mile 6: 8:11, Mile 7: 8:24, Mile 8: 8:27, Mile 9: 8:17, Mile 10: 8:33, Mile 11: 8:43, Mile 12: 8:26, Mile 13: 8:27, Mile 14: 8:29, Mile 15: 8:41, Mile 16: 8:35

This looks like one of the Newton hills. Lots of people
I arrived at Newton knowing that I had failed to run conservatively enough and I was going to leave hurting.  The first hill wasn't much but I could feel it drain me. I slowed down a lot and just focused on taking shorter steps and keeping good form. The second hill wasn't much of a hill either but it wore me down more. The third hill was harder and I let myself take a 1 minute walk break.  The fourth hill (Heartbreak Hill) was tough too and again I allowed myself to take a 1 minute break to walk through the aid station while I used my 2nd to last Gu and drank some water.

Mile 17: 8:54, Mile 18: 8:59, Mile 19: 8:48, Mile 20: 9:24, Mile 21: 10:05

Final Miles:
Clearing Heartbreak gave me a nice mental boost because I knew the worst was behind me and I could just cruise from here on out.  I got through mile 22 OK but I didn't have much left in the tank.  I decided I would use my last Gu somewhere after mile 23 and hoped it would give me a bump.  When I got to mile 23, I used the energy gel but my body was telling me to stop. In the past when I have reached this point I have been able to sort of mentally go inside myself and block out everything.  I felt myself going there but decided that it really wasn't worth it.  I might be able to shave off a minute or two but I would miss all the fun of being in The Boston Marathon.  I decided to just have fun and really enjoy the crowds.  I gave high-fives to a bunch of kids, tried my best to get the crowds to yell, took a couple walk breaks and soaked in the atmosphere.  I'm so happy that I decided to do that because I got to enjoy it so much more than I would have otherwise.

Mile 22: 8:36, Mile 23: 8:53, Mile 24: 9:42, Mile 25: 8:59, Mile 26: 9:53

For those that don't know, the finish line for Boston is the most well known finish line in marathon racing.  There aren't a lot of 45 degree turns on the course but there are two at the tail end of the course.  Right turn on Hereford, Left on Boylston.  The left turn on Boylston Street was probably the best feeling in the world.  I was glad that I had rested the last few miles because I was able to pick it up and run hard.  I knew that there were cameras all over the place and planned to pay the (outrageous) fees for my official race pics so I made sure to smile.  That really wasn't a problem though because I was truly elated. As the finish approached I tried my best to give a little kick and then I was done.

Post Race:
I checked my watch and saw that I finished with a 3:49:30.  That was good enough for my 2nd fastest marathon and I didn't feel like death afteward.  Mission accomplished!  I met up with Cindi a few blocks away and she bravely gave me a hug and a kiss.  We talked about the race as I shuffled the few blocks to our hotel.  After a long shower and a short nap we headed out for a victory dinner and drinks.

tl:dr Version:
I ran the 2016 Boston Marathon. It was my first and most likely my last Boston. My goal going into it was to take it easy and have as much fun as possible while running 26.2 miles. I accomplished that goal by allowing myself not to focus on my time and soaking it all in as much as possible.  I finished feeling happy with a big smile on my face in 3:49:30.