My journey to the 117th Boston Marathon started in the Fall of 2011. I completed my first Ironman in Louisville in August of that year. A stand-alone marathon was next on the schedule for December (I don’t handle recovery time well). My recent half-marathon times indicated I was in the ballpark of a Boston qualifying time. The run volume build-up just needed to be consistent. Unfortunately, BQ times tightened by 5mins that year. So, I needed a sub 3:15 to qualify for the 2013 race. With great satisfaction, I ran a few seconds over 3:12 at the Rocket City Marathon to get a slot.
I slept well the night before but had an early wake-up. I wanted to grab one of the first buses to Athletes’ Village in Hopkinton, Mass. Not many people were up early when I got to Tremont St, and we were the first 100-200 to arrive at the start.
It was nice to avoid the long lines grabbing coffee, a bagel, and a place to lie down. Within a hour, we were packed in like sardines. In my Race-Day bag: old mylar blanket (grass is wet in the morning), some thrift store clothing to layer with, a book (read 2 pages), my Ipod, a dry pair of socks, my amphipod belt (gels, race-tabs), and my Dt Mtn Dew (drink after you arrive at Hopkinton or you’ll be dying for a bathroom on the bus). I donated one sweat shirt to charity at the start line after we got in the corrals and checked the rest for post-race.
I settled in the first field which was about half the size of the other field. Both filled up quickly though. Porta-Potty lines were definitely long at the Athletes’ village but there were more at the Baggage check and at the race start. I utilized all…you never know.
Sorry, no race course pics by me. The ones above are borrowed. I contemplated bringing my phone but didn’t want the extra weight. Next time? Maybe a throw-away camera.
Next up! Race start…Yea!!
I broke up the course into four sections. It was my strategy to divide it based on terrain and mileage markers.
Miles 1-6: Holy Downhills, Batman!
The first 10K is primarily downhill. The first mile especially. My plan was to start slow and take the downhills easy over this portion of the race. It was actually difficult to keep the pace down the first few miles. I was short-stepping the downhills. In my mind, thinking this would save my legs.
These were my first 6 mile splits. The first mile included a quick pit stop (too much caffeine, not enough water). More on this later. People were cruising by me over the first few miles. I let them go, running my own pace. I was shooting for a 5k around 23-24mins. The next few miles were still downhill but less severe, so I started kicking off sub 7:20 min miles. Legs felt great but I was trying to temper my enthusiasm. My heart-rate was in the high 130s over these few miles. To explain how easy this felt, I was running at about 72% of my MHR, normally a recovery zone. I planned on averaging about 80-85%MHR.
There were literally spectators along the entire course. Favorite area in this section was around mile 2: TJ’s Food and Spirits. The biker crowd is just awesome!
Overall impression of this first section: Start conservatively but let gravity take the legs. I was consciously running the downhills with shorter strides and higher turnover, but my quads were still thrashed. Lesson learned: Think downhill run training vs uphill run training. Choose long run routes with long rollers or do repeats on long downhills. Careful as this training will require more recovery.
Miles 7-15: Embrace the Flats!
From the 10k mark through mile 15, the course stays fairly flat. A few small rollers, a few downhills again. Right after mile 15 there is another big downhill before you start hitting the Newton hills. This was the 9 miles that I felt the best. I had gained some time towards my sub 3:15 goal pace, going through the 13.1 miles marker in just under 1:37.
I can see why people want to “bank” time over the first half of the marathon. It is downhill to flat. Looking back, I’m not sure if I burned too many matches. The most challenging section was coming up next.
Best spectator area on the second section is Wellesley College and their screaming women. I blew a few kisses but didn’t stop for a kiss this year. Maybe, next time. It is quite an energy boost though. Lesson for next time: Careful on the pacing during this section. Make sure you’re hitting goal pace. I was probably running a little hot for my fitness but you never know. It is also important to remember fueling and hydration to set you up for a strong second half. I give myself a C- on that part as the next 10 miles will show.
Miles 16-21: Enjoy Heartbreak Hill!
The next section runs over 5 miles and encompasses the 4 Newton Hills. They range from just a little rise to the longer Heartbreak Hill. I enjoyed running the hills if truth be told.
I hit Newton hill #1 of 4 still feeling good. Some don’t count this as a Newton hill but to me it was the hardest of the hills. It is a slow climb around mile 16 that crosses over Route 128 and seems to go on forever. I remember that my quads had some sharp pain on the short downhills after that point but it wasn’t severe.
My fuel was on target, but in retrospect I didn’t drink enough water from several days before the race through mile 15 of the marathon. This is a requirement, I just remain amnestic about, over and over again. On long runs in which I am under hydrated, my leg muscles are sore afterward and require longer recovery. This realization clicked into my mind when my left hamstring cramped hard around mile 20. I had to stop then restart running with a very short stride. Because of this, I couldn’t keep the pace up. At every aid station, I just started pounding the water. This stopped the cramping but required me to walk a couple of aid stations.
Heartbreak Hill was fun to run. The street, in fact all the streets of Newton, were lining with screaming spectators. It really does give you a lift as you push up the last 1/2mile+ hill. Lots of chalk graffiti on the road as well.
Overall Newton Hills Impression: My training prepared me well for the hills. I was able to tackle the first two easily but the hamstring cramp and walk breaks slowed me on the last two. This is a section to really enjoy the fan support. Slap some high-fives with the kids lining the streets. It fires you and them up. Lessons: Keep driving up each hill. Accept that you will lose some time. If there is something left in the tank you can make up the time in the last 5 miles (all downhill to flat). Keep fueling up, drinking, and soak in the fan support.
Miles 22-Finish: Bear Down and Pass everyone you can!
As you can see, that’s a nice elevation loss over the last 5 miles. I had a couple of water breaks but by mile 24 I had rebounded. I vividly remember at that point the sharp pain in my hamstrings if the course dipped down. But I could cruise more easily on the flats. My energy was good. I had some leg fatigue, sure, but was pleased to drop the pace back down over the last 2 miles. The damage unfortunately was already done. I didn’t have the confidence in my hamstrings to really turn up the pace. I knew if I kept the pace steady I would finish in sub 3:20. That wasn’t my “A” time but it would give me a Boston qualifying time -5mins.
Last 5+ miles: The course is setup for a fast finish if you behaved yourself in the previous 20miles. Gotta get there with intact legs. Passing by Boston College gives you another chance to forget the pain and feed off the noise. I forget when I spotted the CITGO sign but it was a welcome beacon (well it is on Beacon St, I think). One mile to go. Short climb up Hereford St, then a last left on Boylston St.
I frankly don’t remember much about the last 1/2 mile. Maybe, I had my arms up, or did a fist-pump or two. Likely, I was too focused on this:
I crossed the finish in 3:18:56; 5581 overall
We were funneled through the Finish line to get a blanket, water, food, and our finisher’s medal.
Completing this race will rank as one of my fondest memories. So glad my wife could be there to support me. The spectator support is unlike any other race I’ve witnessed. This city really embraces this marathon. The 117th running of the Boston Marathon will always be special. I crossed through the same area that would be a target of terror a mere hour later. I hope to return next year to celebrate this race, and by doing so, remember all the victims that are forever linked to 4/15/2013.
Thanks for reading,