It’s practically a rhetorical question. This year’s Boston Marathon was my first – but I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t get any better than this for the amateur runner. I ran on the same course on the same day, at the same time (and in the same “wave”!) as the world’s best marathoners. I wore bib 8362, which meant that roughly 100 elite males and females, as well as bibs 100-8361 were all in front of me. Despite the fact that 8000 runners had already gone by before me, I was still treated to the same cheering crowds that urged on Meb, Ryan, Rita, and Shalane. Scores of people – race volunteers, spectators, and people about town personally thanked me for coming to the marathon. Patriots’ Day is a holiday in Massachusetts, commemorating the first battles of the Revolutionary War. It’s also Marathon Monday in Boston and the surrounding communities. Some estimates predicted that a million people would line the race course for this year’s race. I wouldn’t disagree. Boston loves this race. Boston loves the people who run it. You feel it! The best way I can describe it was a purely physical response I had three times during the race. I found myself getting so excited and pumped up by the crowd that I realized I was about to hyperventilate. It wasn’t my pace – I was just forgetting to breathe properly. All I had to do was move over into the middle of the road and take some deep breaths to recover.
I felt great the whole race. I can’t ever remember finishing so strong and feeling so good. You can see it:
The RHSW accompanied me to Boston. It was great having her there. I can get a bit wiggy before a race, and far beyond her bib-pinning skills she is a calming influence. We decided to leave our kids behind with Grandma and Grandpa, rather than trying to keep track of all four of them in the crowds. My neighbor and friend, John, brought his family along. He had a very personal reason for doing so, as he, his wife, 2 children, and his in-laws were all gathered in the Forum Restaurant last year post-race when the second bomb went off right in front, blowing out the glass windows in the restaurant, and wreaking havoc on the innocent crowd gathered along the route.
We arrived in Boston late Friday night. We had already picked up a few marathoners on the flight from Kansas City – a couple from Topeka running together. Since I was wearing my fluorescent orange Boston jacket, I got my first of many “good lucks” from a Bostonian within moments of getting off the plane.
The RHSW and I slept in a Saturday, then went on a nice shakedown run together along the Harborwalk. That afternoon, we walked down to Boston Common, the finish line, and various other marathon-related sights with John as our tour guide. I wore my Blue Camo Skora Forms around town – the color scheme was perfect this year – blue and orange. They got lots of admiration and questions, which I happily answered. That evening, we feasted at Mooo with my childhood friend Dan and his girlfriend. I didn’t have the chicken.
Sunday was a pretty busy day. I do the Western Australian carb load method, so I did my speed workout early, then started in on the sugar. I do allow myself eggs and yogurt, but no fiber. Breakfast with John & his entourage, followed by a worship service with a wonderful group that met downtown in a nearby hotel. After that, we headed over the race expo. I’ve never been impressed by a race expo. This one was bigger, but no more impressive. I did see Bart Yasso.
After that it was on to the Red Sox game. Much to my dismay, my friend Dan informed me as we arrived just in time for the first pitch that there had been a moving tribute to the marathon victims, with on-field appearances prior to the game. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t turn on the television for a few days. We hung around for about 5 innings, before the cold and my need to get in bed drove us out. Fortunately, everyone else was more than happy to oblige. Mandatory Green Monster shot:
Finally, Marathon Monday was here! I got up at 5:30 for the 10:00 start. I had a simple omelette, more carbs, and dressed for the walk to Boston Common. Just outside my hotel, I made fast friends with Max, an entrepreneur from London. We walked together and rode the bus to Hopkinton. I might have convinced him to give my Skora FITs a try. As it turns out, we were about the same age and had qualified with roughly the same time (ok, he was 2 minutes faster). He injured his Achilles over the winter doing speedwork for a sub 3:00 attempt. As a result, I passed him on the race course – and amazingly I spotted him and encouraged him. We exchanged emails after the race and I’m happy to report he finished quite well under the circumstances.
After you get off the bus in Hopkinton, you’re herded into Athlete’s Village (did somebody say “athlete”?) where a cornucopia of carbs, caffeine and plenty of porta-potties await. I had several Gatorade carb energy drinks – 100+ calories each, minimal fluid; plus some coffee. The morning started off chilly, so it’s a good idea to bring some sweats to wear until you’re called to load into the corrals. Here’s my ensemble:
My orange Illinois sweatpants fit the year’s colors, but were simply too awful to display publicly. Also, high-waters. You have to show your bib to the photog if you want to see the pic later. My Cub Scout sweatshirt with “Olathe, KS” on it got me noticed by a guy who had emigrated to the East Coast from Olathe. His adult children were going to be there to cheer him on in the race. We also talked about my Skora FITs – he had on the Mizuno Wave Evo Cursoris – a shoe I liked quite a bit as a trainer before discovering Skoras. They are discontinued – and also a bit too much shoe for a race, in my opinion.
There was a moment of silence for the victims of last year’s bombing while we were in the village. About 9:15, they called us out of the village and into the parking lot where we were sorted into our corrals for the first wave. I made another friend in Bob, a runner from the U.P. of Michigan. When you’re in your corral, everybody’s compatible pace-wise, so we decided to run together at the beginning for a while. Once in order, we walked up to the start line (well, the 1/4 mile behind the start line). You’re practically bursting at this point. It’s like horses in the starting gate. Before the gun, there was the National Anthem, introduction of the elites, and a fly-over by 4 air ambulance helicopters that assisted in the emergency response.
My friend John (who has a much faster PR than I) was running on a charity bib, so he decided to linger at the very end of the last wave before beginning his race. A photojournalist (Stephan Savoia/AP) documented this moment, as he knelt to kiss the start line at his return to this great race:
What a great picture! Better than any of mine!
Once the gun goes off, first you stand, then you walk, then you shuffle, and finally a couple hundred feet from the start line you break into a full run. Actually quite a nice warmup, although when you’re doing it you’re thinking “I hope I don’t need those hundred feet back at the end….” Because you’re all so well-sorted by qualifying pace, there’s not a lot a weaving in and out at first, since in theory everyone in front of you is faster. Of course, since you could have qualified as much as 18 months before, a lot can happen in that time – injury, a lower level of conditioning, etc. Bob and I warmed up for the first couple of miles on the long downhill – everyone says don’t waste energy going out too fast. I think I hit it about right – about 10-15 seconds above my goal pace. Then I started cranking it up and ran the next several miles through mile 13 mostly below goal pace (7:15). I lost Bob to a porta-potty, and after seeing Max fairly early on, the rest of the race was on my own – just a few familiar strangers passing me back and forth. I passed more people than I was passed by during the race – my overall finish of 5577 (lower than my bib number of 8362) bears this out. Even in the early miles, the crowd support is still better than anything I have seen in my previous 6 marathons. There was a very enthusiastic pocket at Ashland, and larger crowds at Framingham and Natick. Every once in a while you’ve got to head over to the side of the road and gently high-five one of the little kids that are out there cheering for you.
Wellesley lives up to its reputation. Around mile 13 or so, first comes a tunnel of evergreens, followed by a tunnel of screaming college girls. It’s deafening. Seriously. I moved to the middle of the road – although I heard one guy around me remark that he could go for another 13 miles of that.
The Newton Hills begin just before mile 16. My pace had slowed a bit in mile 14, but I was still within 10s of goal pace miles 14-16. Miles 16-21 are most certainly the 4-5 (depending on who’s counting) Newton Hills. I ran these strong, about 30s under goal pace. I love hills! There were a lot of walkers. By this point in the race it was getting pretty close to noon – a 10:00 start is something I knew would be difficult – and the temperature was really starting to rise. Not a cloud in the sky, and I’m sure it was upper 60s by my race end.
The second of the Newton Hills is marked by the Newton Fire Station at the bottom. For some reason I look a bit pensive here:
The final Newton Hill has a name, as you probably realize. Heartbreak Hill. Ain’t so bad. A few walkers around me as I wave to the crowd – not the camera (there was a camera?):
Once you get to the top (and there is a false top) soon after is a downhill followed by another unnamed hill. I can’t remember if that’s before BC, but here’s St. Ignatius on campus:
I am clearly in the middle of one of several emotional moments here. Right around this point in the race, I saw Juli Windsor, the dwarf featured in last month’s Runner’s World. She was stopped by the bombs last year in her bid to finish Boston (although not her first marathon). She was looking strong – I’m sure she must have finished.
Mile 23 was one of my favorites. Thanks to a long downhill before a left turn, I cranked it back up to 7:23. I felt like I was flying downhill. I had to move to the far left to overtake, and there was a huge crowd along the barriers here. One guy saw me, made eye contact, pointed right at me and let out a huge yell followed by a high-five. It was exhilarating.
After that, some tough work began. I fell off my pace again – although I didn’t run a single mile out of the 7’s. The last “hill” is a man-made one; the Mass Pike overpass:
I’m chuggin’ – but I’m not walkin’.
There was a lot of attrition in those final miles. I saw several collapsed runners – which is kind of new to me, although probably because most of the races I have been in are so small compared to Boston. As you can see from these pictures, there is ALWAYS someone around you. You never have a clear path. The only thing I can compare it to are some 5Ks where I didn’t get up close enough to the start line and had to pick my way through.
Mile 26 was the toughest of course. My partial split from the last 0.4 miles (you always run a little bit farther than 26.2 – it’s harder to take the perfect race line at Boston than anywhere else) was my fastest of the day though: 7:08. I could smell it. Here I am on Boylston, working for the finish:
At the finish line, it’s all sunshine and bunnies. I’m pretty sure the broader photo-op line is before the actual finish line – otherwise who would keep running at this point:
That last one’s my favorite. Unless I’m mistaken, the “real” finish line is the last race pic:
After that, it’s on to the finish chute – which is so long it feels like a marathon in itself. First: the medal. I’m not sure what possessed me to see if it was gold or not. It wasn’t:
You can see the evaporated salts on my shirt. After that, it’s water, a space blanket, Gatorade, protein shakes, bananas and a bag of assorted other foodstuffs. Yes, please. I think I put down at least 50 oz. of fluids in the 5-10 minutes post race – and that’s with trying to take a couple gulps of the Gatorade Endurance formula they had at each aid station every mile (I did skip the first few as I was VERY topped off pre-race).
Here’s my final stats from the BAA:
|In Gender||4902/17575 (Male)|
|In Division||966/2628 (M40-44 Age Group)|
And my splits from my Garmin:
I want to explicitly thank Skora for the pre-release FITs they provided me with. See my full review in a previous post. I don’t rave about shoes I don’t love because they’re free. I rave about great shoes. Despite warmer than ideal conditions and a punishing net downhill course I once again had zero shoe/foot issues during the race. The FITs just stayed out of the way and let me run joyfully. I paired the FITs with some Icebreaker Run Ultra Light Micro socks and a light coating of Alba Unpetroleum jelly. No blisters or hot spots.
Here I am relaxing in Boston Common before meeting up with the RHSW et al.:
I relaxed (briefly) at a restaurant one street off Boylston before heading to the curb to watch John finish:
RHSW to my right, John’s entourage including his adorable kids fill out the frame.
Here’s John and me after meeting up with him at Boston Common:
And a celebratory kiss with the RHSW:
Not only did I feel great after the race in the FIT, I decided to sign up for my hometown marathon that Saturday: the “Garmin Marathon in the Land of OZ, Olathe, KS.” (Kind of a mouthful). I ran it just under 2:00 slower than Boston. A less comprehensive race report on that one, coming soon! Spoiler alert – love those FITs – couldn’t have done 2 in 6 days without them. Spoiler alert #2: flying monkeys.