Every few years I enjoy celebrating Patriot’s Day (3rd Monday in April in the New England Region) by running the Boston Marathon. This was my fourth time running Boston and my first since 2006. I planned to run the race in 2011, but registration closed in an astonishing 8 hours! I was quite annoyed since at the 7.5 hour mark, I actually hopped on the web to register and saw that the event was still open. So in my brilliance, I decided to go out for a run first instead. By the time I returned home and took out my credit card to bang in those already overused digits, to my horror the race had already hit capacity!! In my next stroke of genius, I carelessly signed up for a Tough Mudder event scheduled for that same April 2011 with about 15 friends as a substitute race for Boston. Let me tell you…the Tough Mudder is No Boston Marathon!! And the Tough Mudder tries to electric shock you as well! If I had half a working brain cell, I probably would have actually read the Tough Mudder website for details about the race before registering for it (or at least before I was standing on the starting line and hearing their instructions about skipping the electric shock obstacle if you have a pace maker or heart problems).
I registered for the 2012 Boston Marathon, simply because I got locked out of it in 2011 (which was why I included the preamble above). And also, because I Love the Boston Marathon! It’s my favorite marathon because of its rich history, the 500,000 spectators who are knowledge marathon fans, and the thousands of kids lining the course ready to high-five you and give you orange slices and water. I suppose running past Wellseley College and the high-pitched cheering throngs of female collegians holding up signs reading “Kiss Me” doesn’t hurt either.
My first goal for the Boston Marathon was to get in a hard training run without beating myself up or injuring myself so that I could roll back into tri training without requiring a lot of recovery time. My second goal was to help pace my friend, Dave, to his first sub-3 marathon. He had a 3:01 PR so it was feasible, but ambitious since Boston is a tough course despite its net elevation drop of 442 feet. Originally, Mark Yost planned to run with us, but he decided to run more conservative in light of the expected warm temperatures. Since I was not treating this as an A-race, I trained through it and ran my last long run (21 miles) the weekend before the event. However, I took the two days prior to the race fairly easy (still ran a flat 6-miler the day before with a hard 15-minute interval). I also took liberty to play tourist on those two days and walked around much of Boston to sight see, take in a Red Sox game, and practice my “Baahston” accent.
The main topic of discussion and concern in Boston was the expected heat on race day. Temperatures were forecasted to reach into the upper 80F’s and for once meteorologist were correct. Race management sent out daily e-mails to all participants to warn them of the heat, to properly hydrate, par back expectations and your pace, and even created the opportunity to defer your entry until next year.
On race morning, I met Dave on the Bus from Boston to Hopkinton, which is where the event starts. We located Mark in the Athletes Village and relaxed for a couple hours. The temperature at the 10AM start of the race was about 70F, but the mercury would climb up to 85F by the time the first male runner crossed the finish line and rise as high as 89F before the event was done. I checked again with Dave before the start if he still wanted to go for a sub-3 in the heat and he was still game. Dave had 5K goal splits written on a wrist band to track our progress. The splits were determined by an algorithm specifically developed for the Boston course to account for the hills. The first 16 miles of the course is generally downhill, but the next 5-mile stretch through the Newton Hills is all uphill (capped off by the infamous Heartbreak Hill). I always forget how challenging this 5-mile stretch is until I’m running it! The last 5 miles is a gentle downhill to the finish on Boylston Street in Downtown Boston. The first half is definitely faster than the second half, since gravity is your friend.
As is the case with any major marathon, the start of a marathon is a little unsettling since it’s difficult to get into a rhythm with the crowded course and zig-zagging around slower runners to find a little patch of asphalt that has some daylight. I was focused on finding a good path to run so Dave could follow and to keep us on target pace. After the first 5K we were 30-seconds slow, which wasn’t too surprising considering the crowds we were navigating through. At the 10K mark, we made up some time and were only 15-seconds behind pace. And by the 15K, we were right on pace. We were maintaining goal pace all the way through 30K where we were 1-second ahead of schedule. We covered the first half of the course in 1:29:27.
During the first half, I tried to get Dave to slow down a bit and to run the tangents of the course. At 7-minute pace (420 seconds), running as little as 0.01 mile longer equates to losing 4.2 seconds. I consider running tangents as “free” speed compared with running a less directed course. However, due to the heat, occasionally we may have relaxed the “tangent” rule to take advantage of a little shade or a mister. Also, as we passed through water stations I tried to move us through them rather quickly to avoid the congestion and to keep Dave from slowing down. However, I made sure we were both drinking fluids and also pouring water on our heads to cool us down. Throughout the course, I used 3 gels (miles 16, 20, and 23) and used 2 salt tablets (miles 15 and 21). It may have been nice if I thought to carry one more salt tablet, but I got by without it.
Although Dave was a little slower on the uphills, he was an animal on the downhills. His mentality was to make up as much time as possible on the downhills. Although I would lead him up nearly every hill, he would surge by me once we reached the top and I’d try to chase him down to catch back up. However, in the Newton Hills, I could tell that he was starting to slow more on the uphills. On Heartbreak Hill leading up to mile 21, I opened up a gap on Dave and lost him. However at the same time, my bowels were signaling me that it was time to “drop the kids off” so I started to look for a porta potty. The first 2 porta potties I saw had people waiting in line, but the third one I saw was open. I lost about a minute or so taking care of business.
During my pit stop, Dave passed me and it took me 2 miles (about mile 23) to catch back up to him. By this time, however, my legs were pretty fatigued and I needed to run my pace (6:45-6:55) so that my legs wouldn’t tie up. The final stretch along Boylston Street with the wide road and thousands of people cheering is absolutely amazing! I crossed the line in 3:00:56, which means I ran the second half of the course in 1:31:29 (which includes the pit stop). Due to the heat I had to work a little harder than expected, but still ran controlled. My friend Dave finished in 3:02:27. Although it wasn’t sub-3, this was an exceptional performance by him in the heat with only being 1-minute off his marathon PR and earning a 10-minute Boston PR! It was a huge gutsy performance by him as he surged on every downhill to make up time when he knew he was losing precious seconds on the uphills. I’m sure sub-3 is just around the corner for him.
I generally like the heat, so although it was warm out on the course, it was bearable since it was fairly dry. I think growing up in a hot, dry climate helped me handle the conditions. If there would have been high humidity then that would have changed everything. I ran in the 2007 Chicago Marathon which was cancelled at the 3 hour, 30-minute mark due to similar temperatures, but high humidity. At that event, the results were lethal. In Boston, I only heard runners yelling for “medic” once and only heard emergency sirens once. In Chicago, that was the norm throughout the course and especially at the finish line, which had the feel of a natural catastrophe.
All in all, the race went according to plan, except we didn’t quite mange to sneak Dave under 3-hours. Thank you to Coach Mike Matney of Fitness Concepts for developing my workouts and working with me to run Boston. My marathon running is the strongest it has been in the past decade and it has been with much more moderate running mileage than I used to do. I’m looking forward to the opening up my triathlon season in a few weeks to gauge my tri fitness level.