Boston Marathon #2 is officially in the books. I finished the race in 3:11:11 and placed 3063 out of 26639 finishers. Not bad. I missed my goal of a sub-3 hour marathon, but my time should qualify me for the 2017 Boston Marathon, so I can give it another go.
Overall, it was a great weekend in Boston. I’ll write another article about the rest of the weekend’s activities. For now, I’ll focus on race day.
I set my alarm for 4:30 AM since the buses start boarding in Boston Common at 6:00 AM. This gave me time to shower, grab a little something to eat, dress and get out the door without feeling rushed. We stayed at our friend Sharon’s apartment, which is just a short walk from Boston Common.
Heading out that morning, I was mentally ready for the race. I felt 100% confident in my training and guidance from my coach (www.kylekranz.com). I had hit all of my goals and milestones throughout the winter months leading up to the big day. Kyle and I went through a race day checklist prior to the race – travel plans, clothing, food, hydration, etc. – and we had everything checked off and ready to go. I knew what to expect from the course. It would take a real curveball to knock me off my game.
The bus ride to Hopkinton was cramped as usual. School buses are just not comfy! Especially when the ride is about an hour. Our driver took a different route than last year and it seemed like it took longer. It was hot on the bus as well. But we got there and unloaded at Athlete’s Village. Athlete’s Village consists of several large tents that provide water, coffee, bananas, bagels, and various other pre-race necessities, as well as a shelter from the elements. Last year, everyone was crammed in the tents to get out of the rain. This year, they provided some shade from the sun, which was getting hotter by the minute. The “village” is walled in by rows of port-a-pots. As more and more buses arrived, those bathroom lines got longer and longer. My strategy for keeping myself occupied until they called my wave and corral to the start was to get in line at one side of the village, go to the bathroom, then get in line on the other side. By the time it would be my turn, I would have to pee again. Nerves.
During my trips across the village, I kept an eye out for my friend, Benjay, who I had finished the 2015 Shamrock Marathon and 2015 Boston Marathon with. He was late arriving last year, so I wasn’t sure I’d find him before the race, or at all. It took until mile 25 until we found each other the previous year. As they started to move the Wave 1 starters into line, he spotted me. Now I had a friend to run with. Benjay and I headed to the start line.
Once in our starting corral – Wave 1, Corral 6 – we listened as the National Anthem was sung. We heard the elites being announced. We heard the gun go off. We waited to move. That’s the thing with a marathon this big. There were so many people in front of us that it took nearly 3 minutes to get to the actual start line. And once we crossed it, hitting “go” on our GPS watches, it was not fast paced running. It was a traffic jam. We were lucky to get a 7 minute mile pace for the first few miles. The goal pace was 6:40 – 6:45 miles. We weaved in and out, but didn’t push too hard. We didn’t want to waste energy early in the race. Eventually we got into a steady pace of 6:45 and managed to keep that going up through the halfway point. But heat was beginning to play a role in how the day would go. Would the heat be the curveball?
I carried a water bottle like I did last year. It lasted me about 16 miles last year. This year, I tossed the empty bottle at mile 9. I wasn’t used to this heat. I only had a few warmer-than-usual runs prior to the race and my body was not enjoying this otherwise beautiful day. The sun was baking us all. I focused more on racing instead of taking in the whole Boston Marathon experience. I think I high-fived three or four kids this year. Last year, the numbers were in the hundreds. I had a goal, and I was focused on it. At mile 13.1, we were just a bit over 1:30, putting us in striking distance of the sub-3 hour time.
We went through Wellesley where the college girls were going absolutely bonkers. They were great! They always go all out with “Kiss me” signs and screaming at the tops of their lungs. After Wellesley, there is a nice downhill stretch where we banked a little bit of time by letting gravity assist our pace. Then came Newton.
The Newton hills are infamous for being the make-or-break point in the race. They are a series of hills, with Heartbreak Hill being the last one before the descent into Boston.
Heartbreak Hill is an ascent over 0.4-mile between the 20 and 21-mile marks, near Boston College. It is the last of four “Newton hills”, which begin at the 16-mile mark and challenge contestants with late (if modest) climbs after the course’s general downhill trend to that point. Though Heartbreak Hill itself rises only 88 feet vertically (from an elevation of 148 to 236 feet, it comes in the portion of a marathon distance where muscle glycogen stores are most likely to be depleted—a phenomenon referred to by marathoners as “hitting the wall.”
It was on this hill that, in 1936, defending champion John A. “Johnny” Kelley overtook Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, giving him a consolatory pat on the shoulder as he passed. This gesture renewed the competitive drive in Brown, who rallied, pulled ahead of Kelley, and went on to win—thereby, it was said, breaking Kelley’s heart.
I made it through the first couple hills with Benjay, but by mile 19, I was starting to fade. He pulled ahead and I never saw him again. My pace dropped down to almost an 8 minute mile. I wasn’t hurting, but I was losing steam. I saw a lot of runners struggling at this point. I made sure I stopped at every water station for a drink and dumped water over my head to cool off.
When I finally crested Heartbreak hill at mile 21, I knew my 3 hour goal was an impossibility unless I could bang out a few 6 minute or faster miles. Not happening. My calves were starting to get that twinge that they could lock up at any time. I had a choice to make. Push and try and come in close to my time last year (3:02), or back off the pace and shoot for a time faster than 3:15, which is my qualifying time for the 2017 Boston Marathon. I backed off the pace and rode out the last 5 miles without hitting the wall and losing a ton of time to the dreaded death march.
To be honest, once I made the decision to back off the pace, the race became a lot more enjoyable. There is no feeling in the world like coming around that last right hand turn onto Hereford Street followed by the left onto Boylston. It is special. It is loud. It is downhill. You can see the finish line. It seems like it is a million miles away. But you are so close to being done, that you get swept up in the moment and sprint for that blue and yellow finish line.
I completed the 120th running of the Boston Marathon, my second Boston finish. I still felt good and happily went along with the crowd to collect my medal, space blanket and bag of goodies. Instead of meeting Jen and Sharon at the family reunion area, I headed to Boston Common to find them under the George Washington statue. Sore? Yes. Tired? Yes. Disappointed? Only slightly. I didn’t have a bad race. The curveball was the heat, but I didn’t strikeout. I ran well enough to earn another coveted spot in the 121st Boston Marathon.
I’ll be back.
Thank you to all who tracked me during the race. Your support was greatly appreciated. Special thanks to my wife and family for putting up with my training schedule. Thank you, Coach Kyle, for keeping me moving forward in a positive direction and helping me get better every day. Thank you, Sharon, for your hospitality in Boston. And thank you, city of Boston, for welcoming in thousands and thousands of crazy runners, every year, with open arms.