1st Half Marathon – 1:37:05
2nd Half Marathon – 1:38:47
Net finish time – 3:15:52
Average pace: 7:29 min/mile
I love this race. Actually, I’m obsessed by it. The course fascinates me, the race is well organized and steeped in history, and Boston opens its heart for the marathon and the marathoners, whether we finish the race in two hours or five.
The course may not qualify as a world record course, but I find it to be a very challenging. We run 26.2 miles east from Hopkinton to Boston. The first sixteen miles seduce you into to running faster than you should with gentle net downhill rollers. The last ten miles then pound you and what’s left of your quads into submission, starting with a series of alternating descents and climbs from Wellesley, through Newton, finally dropping into the steep descent into Cleveland Circle.
I went into Boston severely undertrained this year due to a January injury causing me to lose over 400 training miles. Thanks to my coach, who talked me off the ledge (again), Dr. John Park and a pair of physical therapists, I recovered well enough so that I couldn’t use my back or glute pain as an excuse for poor performance. On race day, the pain was completely insignificant. But I only had time to build up to one 20 mile run between March 1st, when I stated to run again, and April 4th, when my taper started. Due to my lack of training mileage, I knew I’d have to taper smart and run controlled, or I’d face my own personal Boston Massacre.
Except for the reduced mileage, I generally followed my standard taper plan. With the compressed training window, I did my 20 mile run two weeks out (rather than three). A week out, I ran 8 miles, then continued reducing the volume but increasing the intensity until the Thursday before the race. I don’t run for three days before a marathon, which always seems to ensure fresh, rested legs. I maximized my sleep in the last two weeks, trying for 8-9 hours as often as possible and even skipping a few masters swims in the evenings so I could sleep more. I also attempted to eat more protein than usual to facilitate healing, but switched to carbo loading 3-4 days before the race.
I flew up Saturday morning, checked into the Residence Inn at Kendall Square in Cambridge and hit packet pick-up at the Convention Center in the mid-afternoon. The Boston expo is always packed, but well organized. I met Sadj and Bob Bartolo at the MS Marathon Team dinner at the Sheraton, joined later by Deb Saltz and Matt Mace, where we listened to Karen Smyers, among other speakers, provide last minute advice and motivation. This was the key sleep night, so I was in bed early and got ten hours of sleep. I’ve found this to be the most critical sleep night before a race.
I slept late on Sunday, then had a spectacular brunch at the Friendly Toast in Cambridge with a former shipmate, now a Boston cop, from my Coast Guard days in Gloucester, Massachusetts. After suffering through the Caps loss on TV to the Rangers, Sunday afternoon, I joined Wade Gaasch, Bob and Sadj, Deb Saltz and Matt Mace for an excellent pasta dinner in Boston’s Italian section, the North End.
To bed by 10 p.m. Sunday night and up by 3:30 a.m. the next day to start the race day nutrition process: 20 oz accelarade, coffee, a chocolate croissant (diverting from the standard bagel), a Harvest bar and a banana. I caught the train at Kendall Square/MIT, and took it two stops to Beacon Hill and the Boston Commons where we board the bus.
The weather was spectacular on race day, Patriot’s Day, which is always the third Monday in April. The skies were clear, the temps were cool (high 40s to start, mid 50s to finish), sunny with a 20-25 knot tailwind blowing from the west-southwest. At 6:15 a.m., I boarded the bus taking us to Hopkinton High School, where we hang out under three huge tents until the 10 a.m. start. My seatmate on the bus was a 25-year-old Boston Marathon rookie from Minnesota, but he had a 2:45 qualifying time and a 15:38 5K PR. This race is also humbling – the winner of my age group ran a 2:34 while I finished 218th in the age group.
I camped out in the tent with a new friend, Rich Catalan from Chicago, a Boston rookie looking for advice. Rich and I were in corral 7 and we started in the first of three waves. Our wave went off at 10:00 a.m., followed by the white and blue waves at 10:20 and 10:40.
My goal for the marathon this year evolved. Before I was injured, I was planning on another run at a sub 3 hour time. Immediately after the injury, it was doubtful whether I could run it at all. I had to scratch my tune-up race at the BA Half Marathon. Later, as I slowly recovered, I planned on making Boston a nicely catered training run. Finally, with Coach Karen’s support and advice, I settled on my Ironman marathon goal pace of 7:30 min/mile, with a faint hope for 3:10 finish. The most important goal was to stick to the race plan of a controlled even race no slower than 7:30 pace, but no faster than 7:15 min/mile. I can be impulsive at the start and go out too fast; Karen encouraged me to be patient in the early miles. The questions were not only whether I could be patient early but also what would happen when I hit the hills of Newton. Unlike 2009 and 2010 when I was well trained, this year I’d done no downhill repeats and only two runs with any hills.
This year, amazingly, the race went like clockwork. Rich and I ran easily for ten miles, as I took him on the tour from Hopkinton through Ashland, Framingham and Natick. By Wellesley, and the scream tunnel, we were working harder but still relaxed. We parted company by mutual agreement at about mile 16, just before the climb up Hell’s Alley, when he started to fall off the pace.
My quads started to cramp again – just before mile 17 at the Newton fire station, like they did in 2010 when I bonked likely due to subpar nutrition stemming from GI issues (now believed to have been an appendix flare-up). Although the quads were cramping this year, and the hip flexors tightened over the last 7 miles, I was generally able to hold the goal pace. I think this was because the cramping this year was likely due to gait issues from the back injury and insufficient training miles; but the cramping was manageable because I had excellent nutrition during the taper and stuck to my nutrition plan during the race (gels at miles 6, 12, 18 and 22; salt tabs at 13 and 20; 3-4 oz of sportsdrink at every mile between miles 3 and 24).
I slowed a little in the ascent up the three Newton hills, ending in Heartbreak Hill, but not much. The uphill is overrated and the downhill after Heartbreak is totally underrated. That downhill always hurts and this year was no different, except that I seemed to be holding my goal pace better. I think because of the easy first 13 miles, I found it easy to concentrate when I needed to – mile 17 on.
The last six miles of any marathon are tough, but Boston seems particularly brutal due to the steep descent past Boston College. The crowds take you home and there is nothing better (except maybe the finish at Kona) when you make the turn from Hereford Street onto Boylston Street. This year, the crowd really pulled me in. I requalified for 2012, but I had to kick hard down Boylston Street to make the magic 20 minutes under my qualifying time in order to take advantage of the new registration procedures allowing me to sign up early. I made it with seven seconds to spare.
My 5K splits were remarkably consistent this year, unlike in years past: 23:17, 22:57, 22:50, 23:02, 23:08, 23:07, 23:49, and 23:36.
This year, my half marathon splits were also fairly even at 1:37:05 and 1:38:47. The second half marathon wasn’t easy, but a conservative first half must have saved valuable glycogen. I was able to keep the pace despite the cramping and the painful downhills, which surprised me (pleasantly) in the final miles.
It’s taken me seven tries, an injury, and a good coach’s advice, but the race this year gave me a better understanding about how to run the Boston course. If you go for broke, it will break you. More than any other marathon, you have to be patient for 16 miles, then aggressive on the uphills but light-footed on the downhills. The last six miles are no different than any other race – it’s all about guts.
Every year I can’t wait to run Boston again. 2012 will be no different. Except the finishing time.