1st Half Marathon split – 1:27:10
2nd Half Marathon split – 1:34:40
Average pace: 6:56 min/mile
The 113th Boston Marathon is in the books. For me, it was a mixed bag. I had my best time here so far, but missed my goal of breaking 3 hours at Boston by less than 2 minutes.
I seem to have a hard time explaining to people why the Boston Marathon is different than other marathons. It’s not just because it is so well organized or because you have to qualify to get there or because of the incredible crowds or because the Bostonians treat you like an Olympian-for-a-day: all of which is true and all of which matters.
For me, it’s more the history of the race. When I run it, I feel like I’m part of a long line of runners and the race’s heritage. If you want to understand what I’m saying, read Tom Derderian’s book The History of the Boston Marathon. He chronicles every race since 1897. I read it – or portions of it – before the race every year.
This course itself is always seductive and sometimes brutal. It’s point to point, meaning you run from Hopkinton 26.2 miles to the center of Boston. The gentle rollers from Hopkinton through Framingham to Natick lure you into a pace you shouldn’t run, pounding your quadriceps quietly. Your pace often accelerates through the Wellesley College “scream tunnel” and into the long Wellesley descent. Then the climbs start at mile 16 and continue through mile 21, ending in or near Heartbreak Hill. The climbs are not continuous and I think are generally overrated. It’s the downhill that kills. Besides mile 16’s drop, miles 21-22 include steep descents past Boston College and into Cleveland Circle, causing the quads to explode.
The last four miles have always been sheer torture for me, but the crowds are 4-6 people deep on each side cheering wildly. Their will somehow replaces yours, and you keep moving. The final turns are the best. After passing Fenway and Kenmore Square, you turn right up Hereford St., then left onto Boylston to a finish 300 yards away. Bleachers filled with screaming people are on the right side – it is total sensory overload. I’ve never seen anyone walking that final stretch.
I flew up Saturday with my 12-year-old son – we hit the Expo, which was packed. We stayed in Newton this year, close to mile 17, where the course turns right, up Commonwealth Ave to and beyond Heartbreak Hill. A friend of mine offered us a free room for the weekend. We spent Sunday relaxing, watching the Red Sox and hockey on TV and then had an early pre-race dinner with friends in the North End – at one of the Italian restaurants on Hanover Street.
The weather was good on race day, Patriot’s Day, which is always the third Monday in April. Except for a 15-20 mph headwind, it was perfect. About 45 degrees at the start, 50 at the finish, light overcast and dry. My friend drove me out to Hopkinton so, for the first time ever, I didn’t take one of the 500 buses that transport runners from the Boston Common to Hopkinton High School, where we hang out under two huge tents until the 10 a.m. start.
It was a two wave start: 14,000 runners in 14 corrals took off at ten, led by the elite men. Wave 2 went at 10:30. Your bib number is based on your qualifying time, so you’re placed with people in your corral who run close to your pace. Unlike the NYC Marathon, the corrals are rigidly enforced. I was in the second corral this year so I didn’t have to wait long to cross the start after the gun went off.
This was a hard marathon for me this year. My goal was sub 3 and I planned to attempt even splits with a 6:45 pace. The energy and enthusiasm – from the runners and the crowd – is hard to describe if you haven’t been there. The road is narrow at Hopkinton and gradually widens, but fueled by the enthusiasm and perhaps misplaced optimism about a PR, the pace picks up quickly with a downhill start. I went with the flow, altering my planned pace and ran about 6:30 pace for the first ten miles. Partly, I was attempting to draft into the headwind and there never seemed to be anyone going slower than 6:30! Partly, I was hoping it was going to be one of those days where you can run hard forever. It wasn’t.
My nutrition (gels @ 6, 12, 18 and 22) and hydration (4 oz of Gatorade every 2 miles, water with gels) were on, but the 6:30 pace on the rollers did its damage – subtly, at first. By Wellesley at mile 13, I could start to feel the quads complain. By the long downhill near mile 15 after Wellesley, they were starting to affect my stride but I was able to keep at least 6:45 pace. The climbing started at mile 16 over I-495, then a mile or so later we turned right up the series of hills ending in Heartbreak. It was near there –about mile 19 –
that I missed my first split. The quads exploded on the following downhill past Boston College and the last 4-5 miles were sheer brutality.
My 5K splits tell the tale: 20:23, 20:28, 20:40, 21:02, 21:07, 21:51, 22:31 and then 23:03. My pace dropped substantially over the last 4-5 miles – but if I could keep 7:15 min pace, I thought I could pull out sub-3. Even as late as 40K, I thought I could do it. (I must have been math challenged by then). The last 2000 meters took forever – or at least 10 minutes. I watched my Garmin click past 2:59:59 as I turned down Boylston. That was deflating.
I was the 1,518th across the line with about 21,700 to follow. 63rd in the age group of about 1,838. It’s a huge event.
What will I do differently for the 114th Boston Marathon? 1) Stick with the planned race pace – at least until mile 20. I was running a faster pace at Boston than I did at the almost-flat-as-a-pancake BA Trail Marathon; 2) While I did plenty of hills in training this year, I focused on the uphill. Next year: keep the uphill, but add downhill repeats, with fast running; and 3) do more lunges and squats. It’s all about the quads.
I missed my goal, but this year's race gave me confidence that, once I tame the hills and strengthen the quads, I'll go sub 3 at Boston.
Boston hurt me bad this year. I can’t wait to go back.