My first experience with the most famous marathon was back in 2007, the year a nasty Nor'easter passed through Boston and almost canceled its 111th running. There were still plenty of people out cheering us along that year, but veteran runners all said the same thing: it just didn't compare to years with nicer weather. After finishing that one I thought I would love to come back and run Boston again in better weather.
Fast forward 9 years; I decided it was time to give Boston another shot. The 120th running of this race also fell 10 years after my first marathon, so there would be no better way to celebrate than by marathoning again in Boston.
Remembering how in 2007 I had to wait around in the nasty weather for the race to start, this year I signed up for Fleet Feet Sports' Boston Marathon training program. Among the many perks included with the adidas-sponsored program was that participants take chartered buses to the starting town of Hopkinton and get to remain in them until they head to the start line. That meant that if the weather was bad (again) I would have a guaranteed spot to stay dry and sit comfortably. It may not seem like much, but it's a huge advantage when you are battling with 30,000 other runners for a dry, comfy sport!
My goal going into this race was to complete the next step in the long process of working my way back to the fitness level that resulted in my personal best of 2:30:02. I hoped to run anywhere in the 2:40's and perhaps better my 2007 time of 2:48. After signing on with the Training program, my schedule was set up with a 2:45 target time (6:18 per mile pace).
Every Saturday starting at the end of January I met with other members of the Training team at vairous parks around St. Louis and we logged many miles together. On Sundays, those of us in the Boston program would meet at Forest Park and for a pace-specific workout designed to prepare us to run strong on tired legs. Fleet Feet hosted group speed workouts on Tuesdays, but due to my work schedule I ended up doing these workouts on my own. The rest of the week was spent putting in easy mileage and getting some rest. Overall, the training leading up to race day went very well for me and my fitness level was much better than it had been in a few years; I was pretty excited to see what I could do.
On race morning we all met up at the buses to head to Hopkinton. After a few group photos, I had roughly two hours before I had to head to the start line, I walked around a little to shake out the legs, hit the easy-to-access porta-potties available only to the chartered buses, and chilled on the bus. When it came time to leave the Athlete's Village, I made sure to take a 20 oz. bottle of water along with my hand-held bottle so I could take small sips of water as I waited; I would have at least 55 minutes of standing time in the sun before we started. After the long walk to the start line I was able to find a spot along the side of my corral and sit and hid in the shade provided by others. Many others sat, as well. Then, after all that waiting, it was time to go and we all stood up!
My original race plan was pretty simple: run a conservative first half and then attempt to put in the effort needed to maintain pace - or even speed up some. Of course, the goal as the finish line neared would be to just hold on! The weather was looking great, but the added warmth did require some adjustments to the race plan. Now, the goal was to stay conservative at least through the hills and don't dig deep until after Heartbreak Hill (mile 21ish), using the downhill on its other side to help.
The first 10 miles of the race went according to plan; I cruised along at 6:30 per mile, feeling comfortable and relaxed. In my left hand I carried my sport drink and in my right hand I carried my "pre-race" bottle with me until I ditched it at about Mile 10. Looking back, I was really glad I decided to carry it with me for a while. It helped me avoid some of the chaos of the water stops. Once I parted ways with that bottle, however, it was nice to free up my hand so I could grab and open the energy gels that I needed for the rest of the race.
At around Mile 11 I started to hear the "scream tunnel", which is the insane cheering section outside Wellesley College. It's awesome! After you start hearing it, you still have roughly a mile to go until you actually get there. And once you're there, you can't hear anything but the screams. The crowd of mostly coeds is lined up against the barriers and they're absolutely going nuts. Passing by here I made sure to move more to the middle of the road so I wouldn't get tangled up in runners high-fiving - or getting a kiss from - the Wellesley girls.
I hit the half marathon mark in 1:25 and change and still felt great about the race. I was thinking I could hold the same effort a few more miles and then might be able to press for something in the high 2:40's. Unfortunately, by mile 17 my plan began to unravel. After 16 miles of mostly downhill, quad-killing running, Mile 17 is where the Boston course heads into the famous Newton hills. After hitting 6:30's or faster for the mostly downhill first 16 miles, I had slowed to high 6:50's for the more uphill miles 17 and 18. In Mile 19 I managed to get back in the 6:40's, but from mile 20 on my pace ranged between 7:00 and 7:40. Trudging along through the hills, my legs just lost the liveliness they had for the first half of the race. The fluid feeling had evaporated. Mentally, I hung tough and refused to stop and walk, especially on the hills. When I saw others around me stop to walk, the crowd was really behind them and encouraged them to keep on running - and it seemed to work every time!
Once we crested Heartbreak Hill, the rest of the course was mostly downhill again. That was good, until at Mile 22 I experienced a sharp pain in my right pinky toe that kept me from enjoying the end of the hills. I'm still not sure what it was, but that pain lasted a good half a mile before it numbed up to the point where it didn't bother me on every step. Strange things happen during a marathon.
My main focus in the final 4 miles was make it to roughly a half mile or so out from the finish where my wife, Liz, and her friends would be waiting to cheer me on. My time goal was out the window so I wanted to make sure that I could try and pick them out of the mob of spectators.
When I reached the marker for 1 mile to the finish, I looked at the clock, tdid the math in my head, and realized that at my current pace I was sitting right on the bubble of a 3 hours finish. That flipped a switch inside me and, after shaking out my arms briefly and setting my sights on several runners far ahead of me, my legs seemed to wake back up. I began to speed back up, passing runners one by one. Who knows where this energy came from who knows, but I started feeling good again and motored along...and just before turning right on to Hereford Street I spotted Liz and her friends, waved, and kept on pushing. Hereford Street provided Boston runners one final uphill before making the famous, final turn onto Boylston Street, which is a great, subtle long downhill roughly a 1/4-mile or so long. The crowds were amazing and I just kept telling myself to "push".
As I crossed the finish line the clock read 2:59:40. I knew my chip time would be a minute or so faster than that since it took me about that long to cross the start, so Mission Accomplished; I made it under 3 hours! My official finish time was 2:58:39, placing my 1,267th out of 26,639 finishers. Best of all, I beat my qualifying rank of 2,538 (as designated by my race number). Not too shabby!
Post race, I made my way back to the race hotel and its adidas VIP Lounge, a perk for members of Fleet Feet's Boston training program. After getting a massage, eating some great food, and taking advantage of the bar, I met back up with Liz and her friends and then set off to Dunkin Donuts for more treats.
I may not have hit my original goal, overall I'm happy with my performance and how things panned out. I'll take a few more days off from running to recharge after a solid, long training season - and then I'll re-focus on some shorter stuff for while. It won't be too long, however, until I continue my pursuit of setting another marathon PR.
Congratulations to all those who ran and especially those in Fleet Feet's Boston training program that made the trip to Boston!