Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Big City Marathon, Small Town Charm - 2010 Boston Marathon

With all due respect to all runners that try so hard year after year to qualify for the Boston Marathon on merit, myself included, I now have to argue the primary reason for running one of the world's most historic marathons is not just for the sake of qualifying. It's to experience 25 miles of New England small town charm and 1.2 miles of big city bang.

The runner in me went to Boston thankful for the opportunity to say that I've run Boston. Read: I ran fast enough to qualify. I also wanted to run a new PR for the sake of it. You only have one shot to run Boston the first time and there's no better way to do it than to run your fastest ever marathon. Did things go according to plan? In a marathon, do they ever? Of course not. My official finish was 3:18:43. Was I dissatisfied? Not in the least.

Although the day actually started with a 5:20 alarm, I had woken up at 1:12 feeling well rested and energized to get going. That's not the first time that's happened before a race. I woke up again at 4:17 because I dreamed I was running the wrong race. That was a first. Finally after about 7 hours of sleep, I was rested enough to jump out of bed, get dressed, kiss my wife bye, and headed to the lobby where many other runners were making their way to the T. Heading out the door, a shuttle pulled up. A runner's mother was so excited about the day she payed for her son and three other runners that happened to be right there, myself included. The gesture was one of many acts of kindness throughout the next couple of days I usually associate with smaller towns.

The shuttle group arrived at the bus transport area just past 6am, enough time for me to pick up a bagle at and a bottle of water at Dunkin Donuts. Incidentally, I discovered that those who miss packet pickup could still get their packets across the street from Dunkin Donuts. Lots of runners already there and as I got in line to board the bus, the first round of buses were just departing. Even as thousands of runners were making their way to the Commons, everything seemed very orderly. Volunteers were all smiles and encouraging. The energy from the runners was also very pleasant and friendly.

I settled into the school bus seat with a fellow runner named Bob, my friend for the next three hours. We discussed mostly our running experiences during the long ride over to Hopkinton. Once at Athlete's Village, we settled by the Hopkinton sign near the middle of the school track field where I met a couple of other Twitter runners, Kristen and Kevin. They both hauled a$$ by the way. Athlete's Village seemed fairly subdued. My guess is that the runners didn't want to expend unnecessary energy. The athletes were also very respectable, making sure to use port-a-johns.

After Kristen and I found Kevin, we made our way to the starting line which was about a 12 minute walk away. On the way to the start, some residents set up a tent handing out free water and drinks. Another couple of residents were cheering on the runners with their two huge great danes, one of which I played with for a few seconds. Even though I was squeezing into my corral just as the gun went off, the course marshals kept everyone organized by making sure people got in to their proper starting locations. No more, no less. And all the runners were so cooperative. I was almost incredulous. My last marathon, runners were trying to jump or tear down fences to get into their corrals. I took in my surroundings as I approached the starting line...the race had begun.

Race Breakdown
The Boston Marathon is not as loud or as crowded as the New York City Marathon, but is nonetheless spirited and exciting for runners and those cheering them on. Hopkinton is a small town of about 13000, and it seemed like every one of them was there cheering on the runners. Even at about half a mile, residents were already handing out oranges and water.

My game plan was to be about two minutes behind time at 5 miles. Since the first mile was pretty much downhill, I tried to go out as easy as I could. Result: 7:31. Even though it felt more like a 9 min pace, I backed off. My 5 mile split was 38:06, right at about my game plan. Body check felt pretty good. Achilles pain was there, but it wasn't going to derail my race, I thought with my fingers crossed. Skies were clear, though perhaps a touch warm at low 50's. My first 5 miles:

1) 7:31
2) 7:37
3) 7:39
4) 7:34
5) 7:45
1-5 total) 38:06 - 7:37/mile
time after 5 miles) 38:06

The next part of the game plan was to move to 1 minute behind goal time at 10 miles. Time start moving, I thought. So I tried. I drew back to my New Jersey Marathon experience of logging some sub 7 miles during this chunk. My problem was that this wasn't NJ. Even though I knew the course was a net downhill to mile 16, I did not feel comfortable enough to push with the all the course undulations and lack of familiarity. Miles 6-10 were as follows:

6) 7:26
7) 7:25
8) 7:30
9) 7:18
10) 7:21
6-10 total) 37:00 - 7:24/mile
time after 10 miles) 1:15:06 - 7:31/mile

Instead of being a minute back of where I wanted, I was now about 3 minutes off. But you know what, I was having a great time just enjoying the new scenery and the tour of the Massachusetts countryside with small town residents cheering us on.

I think the main reason I was reticent on a hard push was the Newton hilliness factor from miles 17-22. Regardless, I knew this was my last 5 mile chunk I had to make up any real time, so I tried. The crowds along the way definitely made it easier.

11) 7:21
12) 7:04 (Wellesley college experience. You can hear the raging estrogen from a mile away!)
13) 7:10
14) 7:09
15) 7:18
11-15 total) 36:02 - 7:12/mile
time after 15 miles) 1:51:08 - 7:24/mile

So I made up some time in this chunk, but not enough. Along the way, my achilles pain disappeared but was replaced by a new pain. Blisters! Crap! At the exact same location every single time. I wiggled my toes and positioned them differently every now and then, but I knew it would be bad since they were coming so early. I wasn't wearing anything new. My right foot just seems to expand more than my left especially in any cold this past season.

Up next was Newton. Four hills starting at mile 16, 17.6, 19.1 and culminating with the notorious heartbreak hill at 20.5. The plan over this area was to keep an even effort. Also

16) 7:07
17) 7:38
18) 7:43
19) 7:23
20) 7:41
16-20 total) 37:32 - 7:30/mile
time after 20 miles) 2:27:40 - 7:22/mile

My pie in the sky goal of running a 3:10 (7:15/mile pace) was pretty much gone at this point, but I was okay by it. I felt like I was running a good race and was enjoying miles of cheers through the country roads. The first three Newton hills weren't too bad, but each did get progressively tougher.

21) 7:59 (Heartbreak Hill. Kept even effort, but wow, 7:59 was slow)
22) 7:22
23) 7:36
24) 7:51
25) 8:03
21-25 total) 38:51 - 7:46/mile
time after 25 miles) 3:06:31 - 7:27/mile

My favorite part of the race was in this chunk of the race - the graveyard mile, the back end of heartbreak. Painfully smacked high-fives, loud, boisterous, and eager crowds spurred on by me cupping my hand to my ear and fist pumping my other hand. They made me forget that I was at mile 22. Felt awesome and was looking to finish strong. Sure, my blister was painful, my legs fatigued, but that was expected after the mileage. I was on the way to a strong finish.

Unfortunately, reality bit back hard somewhere along the next mile. I started cramping. Crap! How could I let that happen? I sipped at every station and carried my own salty water for the first 13 miles. In retrospect, I realize I did not have enough water compared to when I ran the NJ marathon. I needed to drink, not sip. At NJ, I took water and gatorade at the same water stations and didn't do the same here. Cramps effectively place a gradually declining speed limit on the body, which is evident by miles 24-26. Spirit was willing, so I pushed as much as I could so that I wouldn't have to stop.

As I made the left turn to Boylston, I was greeted by the loudest and largest finishing crowd I've experienced in my running life. What an awesome course and event, I thought, as I hobbled the half mile to the finish lined by swarms of screaming heads. I was very grateful to have experienced the Boston Marathon.

26) 8:15
26.35) 2:43
Marathon total: 3:18:43
Pace: 7:35/mile

Final Thoughts
Every runner should aim to do this race once, even if it's for charity. With the history of the New England area and the marathon itself, I felt like I was running on hallowed ground. The route was challenging, but the crowds and small towns made me feel like a welcome visitor as they handed out their self-supplied cups and bottles of water, oranges, brownies, paper towels, beer, and huge doses of screaming support.

Lastly, a big thank you to my wife for continuing to put up with hours of training for my (your adjective here) goals of just trying to be a better athlete.

Random Observations Throughout The Race
- not many ipod runners
- not as many name tag runners either
- running crowd doesn't dissipate after a few miles because most others around you are running the same pace
- some signs at Wellesley College: kiss me, I'm a senior; kiss me, I'm Latina; kiss me, I won't tell your wife. Hilarious. Needless to say, there were more than a few men that took up their offers.
- funniest sign at Wellesley held by a male: kiss me, I'm gay
- halfway up heartbreak, the left side started chanting "RUN! RUN! RUN! RUN!" rhythmically to a runner who started walking and burst into joyful exuberance when the runner resumed his run. Priceless motivation.


Maria said...

Congratulations Allen!!! Sweet finish time and recap, recovery well!

Runnrgrrl said...

what a fabulous run and a great race report. ya...i didn't make my goal either...but who cares. we ran boston, babeee!

Michelle said...

Great Boston Marathon race report Allen. I loved reading this. I think you did sensational out there. I tracked you too!!!

Congrats and I hope to see you soon!!!

MyMarathonGoal said...

Great report Allen and great race. I hit one of my three goals and got enough of a taste to want to go back and improve. My blog post to follow.

Croughwell said...

Great job on running boston! I am hoping to qualify for 2011.

Caitlin said...

AWESOME job! I hope to hit that time someday! Your splits were amazing! Way to go!

Ansky said...

Great race report. I hope to be there one day as well. It sounds like a great race even though it's in Boston :)

Can't wait to talk to you more about it in person.

que? said...

awesome summary!! run run run! that gave me tingles! CONGRATULATIONS, you did it and you're still with us!