Boston Marathon - RunMarathon

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Boston, Massachusetts
United States
Boston Athletic Association
60F / 16C
Total Time = 3h 15m 16s
Overall Rank = 3306/22375
Age Group = Mens Open 18-39
Age Group Rank = 1951/9592
Pre-race routine:

We stayed at the Red Roof Inn, Southborough, about five minutes down the road from the start. This enabled me to think about sleeping a few minutes extra – though it didn’t prevent me from waking up a half hour before the alarm. But if I was staying downtown, I would’ve sat bolt upright unable to shut my eyes again for fear of missing the bus to Hopkinton.

Contrary to the previous mornings, there was no sun when I woke up at 5:30am. Rolled out of bed and found my meditation cushion – sat shamatha for about a half hour zen-style, facing the wall in the dark. I think it took me most of the half hour to really wake up and I don’t remember much about the session. Televisions broadcasting the weather forecast through thin walls. The birds singing loudly outside, another and another added to the din every thirty seconds. Faucets throughout the building being turned on and off, water running through pipes in our wall. Thoughts about standing up a minute or two early to go get coffee. Bethany is still sleeping. Impatience. Legs wanting to get moving.

When the alarm went off, I slipped outside for a brief walk. It was chilly, overcast, with low clouds coursing lightly overhead. Scuffed down the hill to the front desk where another racer and I loitered in the lobby waiting for the weather forecast – the local news program already had reporters on the start and finish lines talking about things like the Olympic Trials, the crowds and the millions of dollars that runners spent over the weekend in Boston. I punched the button on the complimentary coffee machine, pulled the cup out when it was half full, and walked back up the hill. “Overcast,” I heard over my shoulder, “becoming partly cloudy.”

Back up in the room my wife was up and at the door as I opened it, worried I’d flown the coop. The night before I had laid everything out: bib pinned to my singlet, gels pinned to my shorts, body glide, etc. This part of the morning went exactly according to plan: post-race knapsack already packed; bag to be checked all set with spare everythings, a journal, and a book; a tall bottle of homemade pedialyte. Munched a protein Cliff bar and ate an apple, lubed my feet up with body glide, and laced up.

Overall, the pre-race routine was flawless. Had that half-cup of coffee to clear the system: the only impulse change I made, which was fine.

Cruised down the hill and picked up the folks, and drove straight past the runner drop-off point into downtown Hopkinton, right past the start line because they hadn’t even closed the roads yet. Mom and dad snapped a few candids by the “Athletes’ Village” sign, said a quick goodbye, and walked to the camp.

Event warmup:

It remained chilly and overcast through the entire warm-up period, and the first thing I realized was that being under the tent actually made a difference in how warm I could stay. Sat on a towel on the ground, but I snagged some cardboard eventually which insulated better. Envied those who brought their own blow-up pool floats to snooze on. Nearly went mad with anticipation, pacing, trying to write, reading a bit of “Taming the Mind” to no avail, etc. Finally, it was time to head down to the corrals – I ditched all my warm-up clothes into the bus and began a light jog the half mile to the start.

Took a right turn down one of the side roads and found myself in the elite runners’ camp just ahead of the start line, where I was thankfully able to make a last minute bathroom stop in one of umpteen line-less loo’s.

Short stroll to the most well-organized start line I’ve ever seen – mostly because I took the back route to the corrals and walked toward mine from the women’s start. Found corral number four and slipped in along with some serious looking runners.

  • 3h 15m 16s
  • 26.2 miles
  • 07m 27s  min/mile

What follows is a slightly self-indulgent and highly subjective description of the experience of running Boston. May it provide some help for those who need it, and possibly inspire those who want to run it to get out, achieve that qualifying time or register through a charity. While not my best running performance, and aside from my first marathon (amazing because of the sheer newness of the experience), this was the single most satisfying and enjoyable three hours of running in my life.

Miles 1 – 6
Mile 0: 7:16
Mile 1: 7:29 (Urination stop)
Mile 2: 7:13
Mile 3: 7:45 (Shoelace)
Mile 4: 7:24
Mile 5: 7:16

As the national anthem ended, the low clouds overhead broke and all of the runners felt what was at first an imperceptible change. Then it seemed to dawn on everyone – the temperature had instantly risen what seemed like ten degrees. There’s a big difference between 50 degrees and 60 degrees. The guy next to me looked up and said “You’re kidding me. Anyone got any sunscreen?” The sun had burst out, and above those low clouds there wasn’t a shred of white to protect us from the heat of it. Frankly, that, and not the hills, was probably the most significant limiter for the runners that had prepared well.

The start was quite comfortable – too comfortable even. I had decided the night before that my goal was 3:10 and to requalify for Boston to give sub-3 a shot next year, when hopefully I wouldn’t catch the flu and then be dumb enough to give blood three weeks before the race. My body obviously couldn’t hold a sub-7 minute pace, so I set off at what felt like a trot.

All of my preparations went according to plan, but their impact on the race was unexpected. I ran the first mile in an unexpected 7:16, certainly ahead of my pace plan – yet it felt effortless because of the adrenaline. Purposefully slowed down after that, and ran a few splits in the 7:20’s – dropping about 10-15 seconds behind my pace each mile thinking that I could make it up later. That was the plan I had arrived at race morning, after reading dozens of articles decrying the fates of those who had gone out too fast and melted into the banked pavement of Heartbreak Hill. I wanted to enjoy the race at a comfortable pace.

Cruising through Ashland, Hopkinton, and Framingham over the first six miles I couldn’t find a regular pace, but still felt comfortable. It seemed like everyone in the first wave was passing by me through those long downhill stretches, and it took a great amount of mindfulness to remain on pace. I waved hello to the families out front of their houses, listened to the conversations of groups running together, checked out all their cool gear and tried to take it all in. I could characterize those first six miles as “fairly distracted,” not only because of the terrain and course Vs. my self perception of pace and RPE, but because I:

1) … had drank that friggin’ cup off coffee, and another half at the race camp. That brief departure for the sake of a moment of warmth and confirmed intestinal regularity cost me a minute as I had to veer off the course in mile four to take an unseemly long piss. Where was all of this liquid coming from? Was I going to dehydrate before the halfway point. This had me worried.

2) . . . had to stop to loosen the laces of my shoes, which I triple knotted for the sake of keeping Boston’s unique “tie-in” timing chip secure. These were a new pair of shoes, a new model, and a new brand. More on that later. It took me 80 seconds to untie, loosen, and retie to the extent that I wouldn’t worry about tripping over them later.

I reasoned that both of these stops, and the lighter pace in miles 1-6 would serve me well later, giving me enough juice to skip up the four hills. While I do believe all of those things helped me to save energy, the nervousness was a distraction and I figure all of that mental work cost me at least three minutes. Solution for next time: stick to the pre-race plan, stick to the right shoes, stick to the pace sheet.

Miles 6 – 9.5

Mile 6: 7:19
Mile 7: 7:27
Mile 8: 7:20
Mile 9: 7:28

During this stretch I began to feel a bit more confidence. While the sun was beating down pretty hard by now, but I hadn’t yet hit my stride. My splits were inconsistent over the flat ground; but my footstrikes felt light, I felt energetic, and still felt as if I had a full tank of gas. The crowds were great and I slapped a few more kids hands and enjoyed the ride. I was being carried along by a stream of experienced runners. What could go wrong? (I wasn’t really paying attention to my splits)

Miles 9.5 – 14

Mile 10: 7:29
Mile 11: 7:18
Mile 12: 7:18
Mile 13: 7:17

Because it felt so effortless, and because the plan was working so well during the previous segment, I spent the significant time while running the crowdless stretches between towns making up things to worry about. Namely, I had no idea from where all my friends and family would be watching. You see, because the Boston course is linear and because the towns fairly old with narrow winding roads, access to the route by car is difficult. Over the first sixteen miles, there’s no subway access either as you’re still too far out in the ‘burbs. So, if your family wants to access the route, they have to risk driving into these towns and not get trapped trying to leave to cheer you on later in the course, or take the irregularly scheduled commuter rail nearby. I spent significant time trying to figure out the likelihood of their being in each town – and making it over to the right side of the course, where I told them I’d be running.

In addition, I realized with panic that while I had a fueling plan for gels, I didn’t have any conception of how hydration stops worked at Boston. I knew they were every 1-2 miles, but I was uncertain of their length, where the Gatorade was to be located, etc. In addition, I had never really trained with a hydration plan in mind. Often, I ran to exhaustion without taking in many fluids. However, because the sun was beating down and the course so difficult, I convinced myself I needed a cup at every station, the possibility of hyponatria notwithstanding.

Though the stations were long enough, trying to reach in and get water was not easy. It seemed like runners didn’t duck in and duck out, but grabbed water and slowed down within the boundaries of the station, sometimes to the point of walking.

But this was all distraction, and, looking back on things, all par for the course. I’ve noticed that this is how my mind tends to work early in the race: my exuberance and energy seems to need a point of focus and because the pace of my legs takes awhile to bring the pace of my mind into synchronicity, the mind tends to wander the wide pasture between elation and depression, hope and fear of all kinds. There is openness for periods of time, and then fixation. When one runs, there is little stable reference point: the everchanging route, sensory perceptions, and stimuli are in second-by-second flux, as are footfalls, breath, and mental conceptions. One can attempt to grasp onto one of these to steady the mind, but because of the constantly shifting nature of experience, the mind is inevitably drawn toward something else. Open, closed. Stability in space, stability in fixation – then change.

The wonderful thing about this stretch was watching all of this happen, and being comfortable in the midst of it all. Over the course of these 6 or so miles, my mind settled down even further and I was able to hit that place of zone-like stability. It came as a result of the flatness of the course, the slowly dispersing field, and the gradual increase in the density and frequency of the crowds. By mile 10 in Natick and mile 12 in Wellesley, I felt stronger than ever – and as a result really able to enjoy the sights and sounds without feeling taken away by them. My pace remained consistent, and I had a smile on my face the whole way.

The crowds in Natick? Amazing. Best town I’ve ever run through.
The crowds in Wellesley? I felt like Odysseus tied to the mast of pace, listening to the sparkling promises of ariose voices.

What a wonderful section of the race.

Miles 14 – 15.5
Mile 14-15: 14:47 (7:23 average, but the second was probably much faster because of the downhill.)

“Alright: nice crowds. Fun time. Enjoying myself. Woo hoo! WHERE THE HELL ARE THOSE HILLS?”

And . . . this is where I realized that my new shoes were giving me blisters. The first time I had ever had blisters in a marathon. Three spots on each foot: end of second toe, outside of big toe, outside of foot pad.

Miles 15.5 –17
Mile 16: 7:43

Rounded a bend and started a long, sloping and steep downhill where I convinced myself it was time to pick up the pace. I figured I was three minutes down in pacing, maybe four, and that if I took a forty five seconds or so off my time in each of the four remaining major downhill sections I could make it close to 3:10 by the finish. (This is reflected in the times for the previous mile) Picked it up and felt great over the grade preceding Hill #1, smiling the whole way, savoring the ease in the face of what I knew was going to be torture. That mile was a lot of fun – everyone picked it up a bit on the downhill. The field was totally silent, almost as if we were bracing for the onslaught enmasse.

Hill #1 felt long and difficult, but by shortening my stride, keeping low, and lowering my gaze, I barely felt a change in breath. I slowed down a little bit and tried to conserve energy: runners to the left and right seemed to be “working” the hill, pumping a bit harder, and a few began to walk. It felt like a challenge, but I knew it was just an appetizer.

“One down, three to go.”

As I came around the corner after the first hill, I saw my wife and parents holding enormous signs for me, cheering and yelling. My dad was screaming something and pointed at the ground, where I looked, nearly tripping over my shoes. I didn’t find this out until later, but they had bought chalk from someone selling it there and wrote my name in twelve-foot long/high letters in the middle of the street right in front of them. Didn’t see it. Kept running. When we drove over that spot after the race, it had been worn away by the feet of 23,000 runners.

Miles 17 – 21
Mile 17: 7:36
Mile 18: 7:34
Mile 19: 7:52
Mile 20: 7:53 (Heartbreak)

After this first hill, I started looking around a bit. I had trained for this part, so I wasn’t overly concerned. I noticed the lines of troops marching the course in full dress with 100-pound packs, to bring awareness to the issue of the war and remind us of people who had given their lives. Now, I’m not a supporter of the war by any stretch of the imagination – I’ll leave my opinions out for the day. When I saw these guys, though, these YOUNG guys, marching alongside, I had to say “thank you.” Not out of patriotism or some amorphous allegiance to duty or purpose or “spreading democracy” – but because these were individuals who were also committed to something. Who were committed to something for the well-being of others. That’s when my thoughts in this race began to shift.

At the Newton firehouse on the corner at the turn onto Commonwealth, and in the face of Hill #2, I began to think a bit more about all the other runners who had trained for this, all the people who were there fundraising, and all of the different sacrifices people make for others. Honestly, the suffering we feel running hills is a drop in a bucket. I was thankful for the people who reminded me that running the Boston Marathon, while a big deal, wasn’t really a big deal. Just 26.2 miles.

As if coming out of a fog, I hit the hill and began to shorten my stride again. I saw runners variously attacking the hill and slowing down over it, and tried to remain at an even pace. I don’t remember much about that one. Short and steep. Fewer crowds up here. Up and over without too much trouble – but where the hell was the next one? I had forgotten how much space there was between each of them. It was like a waiting game. I just wanted to get them over with and cruise downhill to glory.

Hill #3: it was getting hot, and I began to feel it. I slowed my pace a bit more, but noticed that there were a lot more people walking. I felt the temptation, but knew it would be ten times harder to begin again. I muscled through this one, while I had glided through the first two, and reached the top expecting to find Newton right there.

But it wasn’t. I kept forgetting that even though Boston is all about the hills, it’s about space as well. There are seemingly tremendous stretches of space between towns, between all the points we read about; and if your mind begins anticipating what comes next, the space in between each of the stages can seem unendurable. I held back, knowing the last five miles would be the toughest.

Finally I reached Newton, but couldn’t see the landmark intersection or buildings around it because of the density of the crowds. The cheering was deafening at that point, but I must have tuned it out because once I began the upslope it was all gone. It’s hard to say much about this part of the race. It was Heartbreak Hill, significant only in that it was the fourth big one in a row and that it has a sort of “false” top, with a bit more of uphill pitch beyond the first peak. I was tired and had to push a bit to get up it, to put in some extra effort, but at that point people were screaming “You Did It!” waving signs like “You Conquered Heartbreak!” With some determination I got up over it with a bit of effort, and smiled as I lengthened my stride down toward Boston College, the most raucous stretch of the race.

Miles 21 – 24
Mile 21: 7:16
Mile 22: 7:35 (Calf cramps)
Mile 23: 7:18
Mile 24: 7:23

Cruised downhill. I fed off the elation of being done the hills and completed a couple of my fastest miles, which bookended the most worrying moment. Just after passing by the raucous crowds at Boston College, possibly because I began to kick a bit harder, my calves nearly seized up. Both were tight balls on the verge of stopping me dead. For the next half mile I held up, breathed into them, extended my legs a bit further before the footstrike to stretch them in stride – somehow, they loosened enough to allow me to keep going. For the rest of the race, however, every time there was a change in grade, they threatened to complete ball up and slow me to a walk.

By the time I was in mile 24, I was suffering. Shouts of support became screams of pain in my mind. Men on the sidewalk were holding penguins in outstretched hands. I think I saw a pirate eating a moose, daubing his hand between courses in a fingerbowl at a well-set Victorian table. I apparently passed by my wife and parents during the second-to-last mile. After the race, my wife said that’s when she really began to worry. I had obviously lost it, my jaw hanging slack and my eyes glazed over. I had abandoned all pretense of composure and was huffing and puffing, probably leaning into my stride and swinging my arms for momentum. My feet were on fire from the blisters and I thought back to the downhills, which judging the state of my arthritic-feeling knees had probably been my undoing.

I knew it all going in – all of it. I had read up on the towns, the crowds, the hills, the cold and the heat, how the course tore bodies apart and crushed hope in the final miles. I had studied it and even traveled to Boston to run the course. But reading it and experiencing it were worlds apart.

I experienced everything I had read – and everything I had read could not prepare me for the experience. (It had also been a year since my last marathon, and, quite honestly, I think I was mentally out of shape.)

Mile 25 and 26
Mile 25: 7:22
Mile 26: 1:26 (7min/mile pace)

Tough uphill toward the end, and nearly cramped up again. Felt as if I were hobbling, but when I came down onto the breadth of Boyleston, it all kind of floated away. I began striding, thinking I could at least break 3:15. When I hit mile 26, though, I held up a bit. I savored a moment, and then began thinking about my friends and family. Instead of focusing on my body, which I felt was totally breaking down, I shifted focus to the euphoria surrounding me – all the crowds, the runners giving their last push, the whole city outdoors and cheering for people they don’t know and never will. Instead of pushing hard, I simply thought about wanting to share this perspective with other people – how deeply moving preparation, accomplishment, comraderie, and mutual support can be. As I crossed the finish I only felt gratitude, and a deep desire to share the experience of the journey with others. Beyond that, to encourage others to begin the journey, whatever journey it may be, for themselves.

What would you do differently?:

Training: Do more than 2 runs over 20 miles. Don’t get the flu. Train through the flu and don’t miss two straight weeks of running. Don’t give blood three weeks before the race. Stick to the training plan rather than eyeballing workouts. More speedwork, and do a couple of mile repeats after tempo runs.

Preparation: Don’t give in to the temptation of coffee, no matter how cold or bound up I feel. Get new shoes 4 weeks before the race, not one, and don’t switch brands and models. Forget studying the course, aside from knowing about major grade changes. Come in knowing only what is necessary. Indicate on the pace band the times at which I should be taking in calories.

Race: Stick to the pace band, stick to the plan. I ran conservative this time, which didn’t serve me as well as it could have. All marathons before this I ran negative splits. Because it wasn’t in the cards for Boston, I should have banked a couple minutes in miles 5-10. Don’t take in water every stop, and consider a fluid belt for next time.

Post race
Warm down:

Shuffled toward the silver blankets and water bottles with 200 of my closest friends and started thinking about doing it again next year.

Looked toward the massage line. Took five minutes to collect my belongings and thoughts, rested in a bit of accomplishment, called my wife, and met up with the folks.

Took the “T” back out to the car, and headed back to Albany.

What limited your ability to perform faster:

Heat, new shoes, under 8 pints of blood, lack of long runs, lack of speedwork.

Event comments:

The crowds were the best I've ever raced in front of, and that includes the NYC marathon. Natick, Newton, Wellesley, Boston College, and the downtown area of Boston were all some of the most uplifting towns I've ever run through.

While the run is loud throught he towns, there are areas of quiet -- and there wasn't much music along the route. A drum corps on one of the hills, a guy singing country kareoke in leather chaps from the back of his pick-up, some people blasting music from houses. The crowds, though, were so warm and sweet. Particularly the girls of Wellesley.

The athlete village is phenomenally organized, though has less of a carnival atmosphere than NYC. Bag drop-off and pick-up is a huge strength. It took me less than a minute to drop off and then pick up my bag at either end.

I heard the organization after the finish lacked a bit in comparison with previous years. True, NYC was better organized for family meet-up and then the inevitable waddle toward mass transit. We wandered around for 20 minutes trying to find our way to the "T".

That was the only downside to the entire day and race, though. Great event. Great city. See you next year.

Last updated: 2008-01-05 12:00 AM
03:15:16 | 26.2 miles | 07m 27s  min/mile
Age Group: 1951/9592
Overall: 3306/22375
Performance: Average
Splits: 5K-0:23:16 10k-0:46:01 15k-1:08:57 20k-1:32:02 Half-1:36:56 25k-1:54:55 30k-2:18:28 35k-2:42:17 40k-3:05:21
Course: Narrow start, downhill along what felt like a wooded path. Progression of suburbs, steadily increasing size, enroute to the halfway point. Crowds dense in the towns, light in between. Natick and Wellesley represented very well. Progression of four hills in as many miles, though there’s enough time between them to lapse into a false sense of confidence or a foreboding sense of despair – depending on the state of your body and mind that day. Downhill after Heartbreak Hill, and then a very long five miles to the finish.
Keeping cool Average Drinking Too much
Post race
Weight change: %
Overall: Average
Mental exertion [1-5] 4
Physical exertion [1-5] 4
Good race? Ok
Course challenge Just right
Organized? Yes
Events on-time? Yes
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks? Yes
Post race activities: Good
Race evaluation [1-5] 5