Boston 2012 was a mixed bag for me. Due to the Kona-like heat this year, I shelved my goal of running sub-3 on the tough Boston course. However, it was a delightful day (almost) for a nicely catered, well-attended Kona-like training run. It was nice to run with no pressure and minimal expectations, except a morbid curiosity about how my body would respond to August in April. The best news for me: my stomach held strong: no nausea or worse.
My time of 3:20:01 was the second slowest in my eight Boston marathons since 2005, but interestingly enough, it was the second highest I’ve placed in the age group. The heat took its toll. Although 96 percent of us finished, 5000 didn’t even start and the average finishing times were 28 minutes slower than 2010. (2011 doesn't count apparently because the course was too fast with the westerly winds and cool temps). In 2012, 2600 people sought medical care, over 100 were hospitalized, about 15 were put in the ICU and I heard of one death due to a heart attack (but never saw any details).
You can’t control the weather. On race day, the only thing you can control is your pace, your nutrition and your hydration. So, I reluctantly did what I tell people to do all the time: accept the conditions and adjust your pace, even if it means turning an A race into a training run.
This year was particularly frustrating for me. Not counting the 2:59 at the Chevron Houston Marathon in January (easy course, perfect weather), I haven’t had a solid run since a 1:22:17 at the Suntrust National Half Marathon in March 2010. The last two years have been plagued with stomach issues, an appendicitis, a fractured sacrum and herniated disc, and, most recently, parasites that probably “joined my team” in Beijing last September at the ITU Worlds.
But by January of this year, I was finally healthy, with the minor exception of microscopic colitis (a fading remnant of those ungrateful parasites with whom I shared so very many meals).
I decided to focus on running over the winter and make another run at sub-3 at Boston, after a near miss with a 3:01:50 in 2009. Boston is one of my A races, and this would be the year. Or so I planned.
And, I did what I think I needed to do in training for a sub 3 hour run at Boston. I logged over 1,000 miles since December; I went long regularly building up to a 27 mile long run a month out; I did my speedwork including 10 Yasso 800s at 6:00 minute pace or under; I did both downhill and uphill hill repeats; and I did my tempo work, including a long, hilly and relatively fast 16 miler three weeks out. I built my weekly mileage up to 75. I ran a 2:59 tune-up on the easy Houston course in January with perfect weather.
I had a 3 week taper, gradually reducing volume while I increased the intensity of my runs. I slept as much as work, kids’ hockey and my workouts allowed, often getting 8-9 hours of sleep per night consistently throughout the training period. My body didn’t quite adapt as well as it has in the past, probably due to the lingering microscopic colitis, but my workouts weren’t affected and I felt totally ready for Boston.
But I wasn’t ready for 85+ degree weather in April. I’ve run three marathons in these temperatures, two of which were at Kona. By the time Kona rolls around, I’ve had plenty of time to acclimate. The only pure marathon I’ve had in 85+ degree heat was my very first in 2004. It ended badly with a collapse at mile 25, a 107 degree core temperature, and a trip to the ER. I was a rookie then and simply didn’t know enough to moderate my pace. I knew marathons were supposed to hurt, so I just kept running. Until my body said otherwise.
So, when the long range forecast for Boston came in predicting temps in the 80s this year, and it got worse as the race got closer, I listened to my coach and my better judgment: make this one a training run. My wife Gail put things in perspective: “You probably aren’t going to win, and you’re the only one who cares about your time.”
More importantly, my 10 year old son, Matt, was going with me to Boston and we planned on having a New England vacation in the days following the marathon. The medical tent, or worse the ER, would be a bad way to start. Sub 3 would have to wait until next year, when I’ll be in the 55-59 age group.
Matt and I went up to Boston on Saturday, two days before the race. After eight years, I finally found the perfect hotel at a perfect price: the Club Quarters, 161 Devonshire Ave, about three blocks from where the buses would pick us up on Tremont Street at the Boston Commons. The Club Quarters is about two blocks from the State Street T-stop, and it’s near several convenience stores and two T-stops from a Whole Foods. We booked a suite with a full kitchen for less than $100 a night through hotelfinder.com. The walk to the buses was short, and the walk home from the finish line was reasonable and good for recovery. The hotel was quiet, and the hotel staff was friendly and accommodating. I’m going back there for 2013.
On Saturday night, I went to bed early and slept late. For me, two nights out is the critical sleep night for marathons and Ironman distance races. Matt and I had brunch at Quincy Market (three blocks away) with an old Boston friend, then I relaxed at the hotel until an early pasta dinner in the North End. Matt stayed with my mother Sunday night so I could catch the 6 a.m. bus from the Commons to the high school at Hopkinton on Monday morning.
When I awoke Monday morning, it already felt steamy. Upon arrival at the high school, I staked out some territory in the massive tent. As soon as the sun came up, we started to bake. The temperature was at least 10 degrees cooler under the tent. I was soon joined by Shawn Young, his friend Dave, and Wade Gaasch. What a difference from previous years, where we usually shiver for 2-3 hours while waiting for the 10 a.m. start. And what a contrast from 2007, when we were all searching for a dry spot in the sleet, snow and rain blowing sideways in a cruel Nor’easter. On balance, I’ll take the cold any day I’m running 26.2. The sun beat down so fiercely, I delayed entering the corral until 9:50 and instead sought shelter in the shade of some trees. It wasn’t even 75 yet, but the sun made it feel much hotter. When we went through Wellesley, a bank clock read 85 degrees. I later read that the high temp that day was 89.6 in Framingham shortly after noon.
Even in the heat, the Boston Marathon is the Egg McMuffin of marathons. The organization is spectacular, the course is challenging, the energy is impossible to adequately describe, and it’s got the history. Every year I read excerpts from Tom Derderian’s BOSTON MARATHON before the race. He chronicles all of the races between 1897 and 1996 (the 100th anniversary). This year I read about 1976: The Run for the Hoses, when the temperatures hit a high of 100 degrees. It made 85 sound almost balmy. However, in 1976, the front passed during the race and the temps dropped to 60 by the finish. (At least according to Derderian, who ran it that year).
The course is dangerous though. It seduces you into running faster than you should in the early miles due to a rolling net downhill and the infectious enthusiasm of runners all around you (who qualified at or near your pace). The rolling downhill subtly pounds your quads into hamburger, but you don’t notice right away because of the cheering crowds, often 3-4 people deep, including the screaming women of Wellesley at about mile 14. It’s not until the long Wellesley downhill at mile 15 or the first climb over 128 at mile 16 before the Newton Firehouse that you usually start to hear your quads talking back. Just in time to climb up to Heartbreak. For 3 miles.
The uphills are overrated, but it leaves you wounded. And when you try to recover on the descent past Boston College and into Cleveland Circle, the badly underrated steep downhills swoop into to stab what’s left of those wounded quads. The last 3-4 miles are brutal, only because of what came before, but the crowds keep you moving forward to the Citgo sign, then the right turn up Hereford Street and finally the left onto Boylston Street to the finish line which seems to get further and further away every year.
My original goal pace was to run evenly paced 6:45 minute miles, with a 1:28 first half and expecting a slightly positive split for the second half marathon. On Saturday night, I came to terms with doing a training run and switched to my Ironman marathon goal pace of 7:30.
When the gun sounded, it took me about a minute to get across the line and I spent the next 13 miles pulling back. It was so easy to run sub 7, too easy, and I knew it meant trouble unless I pulled back. I hugged the right side of the road to take advantage of whatever shade it offered, forsaking the tangents. Shawn and Dave came by at about mile 3, and I ever-so-briefly considered running with them at their pace just under 7 minutes per mile. I reluctantly listened to my better judgment and let them go, opting to run with a small group targeting 7:30 pace.
Except for the pin on my Garmin coming loose when I was “high fiving” some kids, the first half marathon was pleasantly uneventful. My Garmin flopped for the next 22-23 miles. We came through the half marathon about a minute under pace and I continued to feel strong.
I’d started taking salt at mile 4 and every four miles (about every 30 minutes thereafter). I was taking gels at 6, 12, 18 and 22, with an extra PowerGel thrown in from the waterstop at about mile 16. I carried antacids, Pepto Bismol tablets and Immodium (and never needed any of it!) I took fluids, always Gatorade and sometimes water too, at every water stop. For the last eight miles I had an unquenchable thirst, which in 2004 I learned was a signal that heat exhaustion, then heat stroke if you can’t contain it, was lurking just around the corner.
My group started to break apart about Wellesley when I think some of the guys stopped to kiss the women. Two of us pushed on, but my new best friend was picking up the pace closer to 7 min pace and I soon let him go too. Just after the climb over 128, I came across a poor soul whose legs had melted down with cramps due to the heat. I had an extra salt tab and offered it to him. His response “Will it help?” told me that with 10 miles left to go, he was cooked. I was alone (sort of) by mile 16 at noon and still a little under 7:30 pace. It didn’t last.
The last 12K, which included Heartbreak and the downhill past Boston College, were rugged. I slowed to average about 8 minute pace, ending up with a race average of 7:38. Perhaps part of the slowing was mental, but most of it was, I think, due to dehydration. I walked through the last water stop drinking and probably should have walked through more. As bad as I felt, and as slow as I ran, people were coming back to me. The carnage looked a lot like the Hawaii Ironman marathon.
Almost every year (except 2009) it seems that my splits tell the tale of consistent splits through 30K and then the agonizing final 7 miles:
The Boston finish is very sweet. But it wasn’t so sweet immediately thereafter for me. It caught up with me at the finish. My abductors started to cramp and I wanted so badly to puke, but no luck. It took 5-6 bottles of fluids over the next hour before I came even close to quenching the thirst. Heat exhaustion was around the corner, but heat stroke was nowhere near me. Most importantly, with no ER issues, Matt would get his trip to Plymouth, to Gloucester and to Portland, Maine.
What would I do differently next year? Very little, if anything at all. I’ll skip the parasite adventure to the extent I can control it. I might add more long progressive runs to beef up my mental tenacity for those final miles, but I think my training was on target, I followed my hydration and nutrition plan, and I didn’t stray far from my training goal pace.
I won’t high five all those kids next year to protect my Garmin. And to the extent I pray, it’ll be for cooler weather.
Boston 2012? It is cool (so to speak) to have been a part of it. I’m so proud of Shawn Young, who ran an average of sub 7 pace for 26.2 brutal miles. Oh, to be Young and run swiftly.
For me? Boston 2012 left me plenty hungry. I’m going back in 2013, and I’m going sub 3 as a 55 year old.