Monday, April 26, 2010

Boston Marathon Race Report

Summary: 3:41:17. 8:27 pace.

Long report:

As you can imagine, I've been excited about the opportunity to compete at Boston since I slid under the qualifying standard back in February 2009. Excited mainly because running at Boston was something that I always assumed I couldn't do. "I'm too slow." "Real marathoners run at Boston." "I'll never run that fast." But as I slowly started to evolve from an overweight 40-something to a decent 50-something racer, it dawned on me that what had seemed impossible was possible, if I devoted my efforts toward the goal.

And now, here I was.

You could sense the energy in the town from the moment I stepped into my hotel lobby. Lots of fit-looking people casually lounged about in their apparel of choice -- the ubiquitous Boston jacket. We were all around town, eying each other unobtrusively on the T, clutching our race packets and Adidas shopping bags like they were our most precious possessions.

Saturday and Sunday were a whirl. Packet pickup, dinner and brunch with acquaintances from my email group. An excellent Italian meal in the North End on Sunday night (thank goodness I made reservations), then back to the hotel for a sleepless night.

Monday dawned bright and clear, cool with a stiff breeze from the North. Really couldn't ask for better. As I stepped off the T at the Boston Common I stopped and did a double-take. Runners everywhere, herded into lines by friendly volunteers, all waiting their turn for a ride on a yellow school bus to Hopkinton. I chatted up my fellow riders on the way out. A few vets, outwardly calm; a lot of first-timers, all nervously repeating "the advice" -- don't go out too fast!

At the Athlete's Village I grabbed a coffee and settled down to wait. I was number 14332, so second wave, first corral for me. The crowd thinned as the first wave departed, then finally it was time to start the hike down the road to the start. The energy in the air was palpable, and I made myself slow down as I walked towards my corral. The start area was like an ants nest that's been kicked over -- runners scurried everywhere, afraid they wouldn't get into their corral on time. No worries for me -- I slipped in with minutes to spare and took lots of deep breaths.

And we're off.

From the start the road was lined with spectators clapping and cheering. I couldn't believe that I was actually there, 26.2 miles from the finish, running down a two-lane road that would lead me through all this history and tradition. I had to reach up and dab my eyes so I could see ahead of me. Wow.

But now it was time to concentrate. They were right about the course -- it WAS a steep downhill. I held it back nicely through the first mile, around 8:45, then let it stretch out a bit for the second and third. Probably just a bit too fast there, with both in the low 8s.

5K -- 25:11. 8:07 pace.

As we passed through Ashland and a rowdy biker bar I eased off the pace a bit. Hold it back until Framingham and then lock in, I told myself. The downhills leveled a bit and we passed over a few easy rollers. I tested my legs a bit on some of the short uphills and felt strong. So far so good.

10K -- 51:09. 8:15 pace.

Framingham now, and we passed the train station. The crowds have never gone away, and now they're growing in size. I've never done a run with so much enthusiasm and energy along the way. You almost feel as if you're being carried along by the crowd's support. The miles started clicking off smoothly now, all right in the range I was looking for. I was into a smooth routine -- hit a water stop about every 16-17 minutes, rotating between Gatorade, water with Endurolytes, and a gel packet. On through Natick and yet bigger crowds.

15K -- 1:16:39. 8:15 pace.

Now a crucial section was coming up. A downhill leading into Wellesley, followed by the half-way mark. I reminded myself not to get suckered into picking up my pace. Relax and enjoy the attention of the young ladies. As I approached Wellesley I realized it was true -- you could hear the girls screaming a half-mile away. My rock star moment approached.

Wellesley was loads of fun--virtually every girl held up a sign saying "Kiss me, I'm...." How could I not oblige? So, my thanks for the kisses from all five of you.

20K -- 1:42:14. 8:15 pace.

It was time to gather myself for the test to come. I passed the 1/2 marathon in 1:47:43, and concentrated on keeping in control, saving myself for the Newton hills. The miles were sliding by in a blur by now, a steady repetition of screaming crowds, waterstops, and repetitive footfalls. My confidence was growing with every stride.

25K -- 2:07:45. 8:15 pace.

Here it was -- the steep downhill I'd seen on the course maps, leading into the first hill. Down we went and then I started up. It was time to put it into my hill gear -- shorten the stride, swing the arms, eyes on the road, not looking up. Emotion got the better of me -- I was at the Newton Hills, ready to run and take it home strong, and I had to brush away tears from my eyes. I started passing runners and fed off the energy. Over the first hill, gather myself, and then over the second, relaxing my stride and regathering on the downhills.

30K -- 2:33:20. 8:15 pace.

Number three was steep but short. The effort was starting to tell on me now, but I felt confident. One more climb, then downhill to Boston. Heartbreak Hill appeared, with all its mad insanity. The BC students were enjoying the day with gusto and cheering us on like a pack of howling wolves. I couldn't help but be caught up in the energy of it, and went over the top of Heartbreak Hill as if I'd won the Superbowl -- high-fives, fist pumps, yelling out loud. YES! I'd done it -- now just hold it together.

The long descent began. I tested my legs. Sore, but not too bad, so I relaxed on the downward slope and gather myself for the final push. I ran conservatively as the road descended into Brookline.

35K -- 2:29:56. 8:17 pace.

I'd lost a little bit of time on the last two hills but as I hit Mile 22 I felt confident I could get back into rhythm and click off 4 miles at around 8:05-8:10 pace. That would get me my ticket for next year, and at that moment I wanted nothing more than to come back and race here again. Mile 23 told me a different story. The legs and body wouldn't respond any more. My pace was slowing. I tried to grab onto every runner who passed me and match pace, but it was no good. Mile 23, Mile 24, Mile 25 -- each hammered home the depressing truth. I was cooked.

40K -- 3:27:45. 8:22 pace.

There's nothing more deflating than watching a goal slip away at the last moment. I kept running for pride if for nothing else. Finally the turn onto Hereford, and the final stretch onto Boyleston. Huge crowds still, cheering like maniacs for the middle of the pack. No sprint to the finish for me, but I held it together for the obligatory two fists in the air victory salute.

26.2 -- 3:41:17. 8:27 pace.

10405/23126 overall (seeded 14332),
964/1894 in M 50-54
7572/13354 overall men

Any disappointment in not punching my ticket for next year or getting a PR was pretty short-lived. I'd gotten to Boston, and I'd given it a good effort. No regrets, only amazing memories.

(What next?)