Here’s a little story I’ve got to tell… ~ The Beastie Boys
2011 Boston Marathon: 3:06:16 PR
Boston has long been considered a marquee marathon event and I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of this year’s event. Though I did qualify at the 2010 Denver marathon, I missed out on the very quick registration window and had to call in a favor from my coach, Mark Plaatjes, to secure a special invite to the race. So glad he was able to pull some strings to get me into the event as it was certainly an experience I will never forget.
From the moment I stepped off the plane, Boston proved to be a welcoming and friendly town. I jumped on a water taxi with several locals who were gearing up for the night’s play-off hockey game between the Bruins and Canadiens and had a duffel bag full of beer with their names on it to properly lubricate the evening. They introduced themselves and their friend who was the taxi boat pilot then inquired about my visit. Once I informed them I was running the marathon on Patriots’ Day, they promptly handed me a beer and congratulated me on my upcoming run. They then joined in cheering me once we reached my destination and I departed the taxi with a big grin on my face. Great way to kick off the weekend and big event.
After checking into my hotel, I headed out to find some food and was able to navigate the mass transit system, the T, with ease. I found a Whole Foods, grabbed some provisions and a salad for dinner, then jammed back to my room to eat and relax after the long flight.
Prep and expo
Sunday morning, brought better weather than when I landed and I met up with the Gijima team to get in a quick, warm-up run and visit the expo to pick up our numbers and race gear. To put it mildly, the expo was a total cluster with thousands of people milling around and generally going apeshit for race paraphernalia and swag. Not really my scene but I made a donation to the retail juju and bought a couple of hats to commemorate my participation in the event and then headed back to the hotel to rest a bit prior to dinner.
Mike, one of my teammates and a former Bostonian, wanted to head to dinner a bit early to do some shopping and I took this as a perfect opportunity to get a guided tour of part of the city. We headed to the North End via the T and about a mile walk and made our way to Quincy Market which I dubbed “Ye Olde Historic Food Court”. This was a market in the 1700s which has been tuned into a mall complete with a gigantic Food Court and is a big enough draw from both an historic and retail perspective that it is among the top-four most-visited tourist sites in the nation. At least that is their claim…
From Quincy, we headed a few blocks away for a quick detour to see Paul Revere’s house then jammed around the corner for dinner at Artu. Decent food but our party was way too big to provide any opportunity for efficient service. We grabbed a van back to the hotel and I hit the sack.
Ready to rock
I was up before my alarm and quickly put on my gear and got everything ready to roll. Loraine hired a van to take us to the start in Hopkinton and everyone seemed excited for the race though some of us slept better than others. The start is southwest of Boston and requires about an hour drive but traffic is unpredictable so we left the hotel at 7:00 to ensure that we would have plenty of time for our commute. We arrived shourtly before 8:00, checked out the Athlete’s Village, and found a spot to lie down in what proved to be chilly, windy weather conditions prior to the start. I was very glad I brought a couple of trash bags to keep the wind at bay and donned all my layers to hunker down and wait for the call to head to the start.
I hit the john one last time before walking/jogging the half mile or so to the start. I found a good spot to do a few surges then found my corral in Wave One and got ready to start the event. For those interested in running the race in years to come, I would recommend keeping your layers on as long as you feel necessary as they collect discarded clothing right at the start. There are also decent opportunities to warm up near the start line so my insider’s recommendation for Wave One runners would be to head down that way early if possible (and allowed). Other suggestions include bringing trash bags and cardboard to lie upon before the event so that you can stay warm. The lines for the Porta Potties also tend to be shorter in the Athletes’ Village early on vs. jumping in line at those located immediately adjacent to where the busses drop you off. There are also a number of johns at the start for last-minute needs.
It was finally time to get my run on and after cramming into the proper corral, we were off! Since I queued up in corral 6 it took a while to reach the actual start line and traffic was a lot heavier and spastic than expected. One of the drawbacks to running a big race, I suppose. I had anticipated really needing to hold myself bak at the start but found it all I could do to spin a 7:20 first mile. This put me about 30 seconds off pace from the onset and was a little frustrating to say the least. I took things in stride, however and worked over the next few miles to try to gradually make up time.
The first mile of the course is very downhill and then the course trends downhill for the majority of the first half of the race. I was coached by pretty much everyone to not go out too fast and did my best to just stay mellow and even. I rolled a couple of semi-quick splits during this time as I was trying to make back the time lost in the first few miles (and during a quick pit stop) but really tried to just be very chill. We spun by some wooded areas in the outskirts of Hopkinton and other Boston suburbs, ran by a biker bar with a bunch of leather-clad Harley riders who cheered enthusiastically and generally were treated with a steady stream of cheering race fans all along the course. As with any race, there were places more populated than others but this was definitely the best race I have done where crowd numbers and volume are concerned and it was greatly appreciated.
Miles basically ticked off and though I didn’t feel spectacular, I was doing well and was cruising along at my target pace. By the half, I had made up most of my deficit and was now within a few seconds of my target time. I knew I would need to run a solid second half but everything was going to plan. By mile 17, however, I was starting to feel the effort and knew I would be well-challenged to meet my target goals for the day. I met Mike at mile 18, ditched my glasses and picked up some more gels, then headed up the Newton Hills.
The hills at Boston are a bit deceptive. The first of the four Newton Hills is the most daunting and each has a bit of a flat/downhill section immediately following which allows one to coast and reset for the next effort. These three miles were difficult and I struggled to maintain my pace. I think that my electrolytes were all out of whack by this point (more on that later) so that certainly didn’t help. My plan was to feel pretty strong at the top of Heartbreak Hill then punch the last 10K. Unfortunately, this was not my day and by the top of HBH, I was feeling anything but “punchy”. I crested HBH amid drunken shouts of encouragement from spectators (they do get more and more raucous as the day progresses) and then tried to put in a good effort in that final 6.2 miles.
Honestly, the final 10K is a bit of a blur. I wasn’t feeling sharp at all and struggled as I lost time in almost every mile. I did calculations throughout to see if there was any opportunity to meet my sub-3-hour goal for the race and could have pulled it off as late as mile 21 or 22 but just had no more go. I lost time in all but 1 of the final 6 miles and put in as big of an effort as possible to ensure that I scored a PR at the finish. Definitely an area on which I need to work and I predict a lot of long runs with the last hour at race pace in my immediate future. The crowds were supportive through the finish and I came through the tape at 3:06:16. A new personal best.
Immediately after crossing the line, I knew I was in for a rough ride. I had a similar experience (though less pronounced) at last year’s Denver Marathon and shortly after stopping, I felt really woozy and my vision began to degrade. I stopped to rest my head on the barriers after grabbing some water and shortly thereafter decided that standing was not a good idea. I wanted my head a bit closer to the ground in the event that I was unable to maintain a standing position and sat down on the curb. Volunteers came over to see how I was doing, and though I felt pretty terrible, I knew I needed to get back up else my legs would seize. The volunteers helped me up, I walked a bit farther down the finish corral then my vision continued to degrade and I decided sitting was again in order. I plopped down in a wheelchair and the volunteer asked if I thought a trip to the medical tent would be prudent. “Let’s do that,” I responded and he whisked me off to the tent to ensure that nothing terrible was going on.
Once in the shade of the tent and lying on a cot, I started to feel better. My blood pressure was taken (a very low 80/50), my feet were raised, Gatorade and chips were administered and I continued to improve. Within minutes my vision returned to normal and after some light PT-aided stretching, my leg cramps subsided as well and I was ready to get back up. I thanked the staff for their assistance and made my way back out into the throng to collect my gear bag, some additional food and make my way to the T for the return trip to the hotel.
The T was jammed but very easy to navigate and the public transport gods were on my side. I didn’t have to wait at a single stop to make my connections and i was quickly back to the hotel where I had a massage scheduled. The massage felt great. Not sure how therapeutic it actually was but it was nice to get some attention to my aching legs and shoulders. I then headed back to my room, soaked, ate and watched a movie before heading down to the bar to meet up with the team. I triple fisted drinks (beer, coke, water) and generally felt good. The legs were a bit sore and I was fatigued for sure but my recovery seemed to be happening quickly, which was nice. We grabbed dinner close to the hotel and I was in bed by 11.
Tuesday morning featured heavy skies (and legs) but I was determined to get out and see some of Boston’s famous sites. I considered doing a Duck Tour (amphibious bus tour of the major landmarks) but really felt that a walking tour would be good for me and would allow me to take in the city at my own pace. I traveled to the start of the Freedom Trail, purchased a $3 umbrella to stave off the dripping skies, and got my tourist on. Walked the vast majority of the trail (skipped one short leg to Monument Hill as lunch beckoned) and even toured Old Ironsides, which was entertaining. I then jammed up to Harvard on the T to check out Harvard Square and then made my way back to the hotel in time to pick up my bags and make my flight back to Denver.
Just a fantastic experience overall. Not sure if I will be back next year or not (it is a bit of a logistical nightmare even when incredibly well-prepared and supported) but I would highly encourage anyone who qualifies to get to Boston to run this thing at least once. The conditions were pretty perfect for this year’s event and World and U.S. records were set by the elites. All in all, a fantastic race and great town.
Next up… San Francisco in July.