My Boston Marathon 2011
Marathoning both the training for and running is a solo effort. You run alone, you have lots of time to think, nobody can help you and ultimately it is you against the course. Sure, you get coaching, support and encouragement from those around you but you run your race alone.
So it was fitting that there I was at 5 a.m. alone in the kitchen preparing for my second running of The Marathon. The first try, one year before, ended in bitter disappointment but I am not thinking about that now.
Boston is a point to point course so getting to the starting line is an adventure. After you get there you have to sit around, outside, in the elements for several hours waiting. Depending on the weather that can be a real (bad) adventure. I am a member of the local running club The Merrimack Valley Striders. The Striders run two busses to Hopkinton, one for a team of volunteers who work the start and the second for runners. Not only do you get transported to the start but then you have a place to hang out and wait plus – a bus bathroom. Under normal circumstances a bus bathroom would not be much of a bonus – on a Marathon morning it is a huge plus.
The instructions are very specific, do not be late, the bus leaves at 6 a.m. with you or with out. After having a cup of coffee and a piece of toast with peanut butter and jelly I head for Lawrence to meet the bus. Perfect timing has me pulling into the parking lot at 5:55 however, there is no bus. There are lots of runners and volunteers standing around but no bus. After a stress inducing (although really only mildly so) 45 minute wait the bus turns up and we are off for Hopkinton.
As we approach the 10:20 start I am not nervous, I am ready and I enjoy taking it all in. There is so much to see, so much excitement, so much expectations, so many stories all around me and the energy is of course completely contagious.
I had a plan; 6 miles to the Framingham train stations, then 10 more to the hills, through the hills, and then 5 miles to Boston. Here is how it played out:Miles 1 to 6: Goal: 50 minutes. Result: 49:19 – 41 seconds to fast
When I ran my first Marathon in Chicago I almost cried at the start. The tradition continued as I was close to tears as I crossed the starting line. It took me about 2 minutes after the gun to cross the line and then I ran carefully down the steep first hill and stayed under control in the early race. Although I was a little fast it felt like a very easy pace and I continually reminded myself to hold back. The course was crowded but by staying in the middle of the road I was able to run free and easy without any need to dodge people. I was passed a lot but that only told me that I was using restraint. I loved passing the biker bar, nothing like a line of Kegs to hold the rope that kept the spectators back and it was a noisy fun-loving bunch of spectators. Clearly, the beer taps were working. I also enjoyed listening in on people around me talking about their race or their training. I make it a point not to talk, I need that energy, but love hearing others chatting away.Miles 7 to 16: Goal: 1:23:20 Result: 1:21:40 – 1:40 too fast Overall: Goal: 2:13:20 Result: 2:10:59 – 2:21 too fast
This is a great section of The Course. You can settle in and really find a rhythm. Crowds are good, in some spots pretty intense. There are a whole series of land marks, Natick, Wellesley College, Wellesley Square, and the big fake Eiffel Tower, to keep you entertained. I felt great through this section running easy and with what seemed like little effort. The tail wind was strong so most of the time it felt like there was no wind. You knew how hard it was blowing when the discarded water cups at the aid stations would get blown down the street faster than you could run. I was feeling hot and made it a point to take water frequently. I stayed away from the Gatorade as I am convinced it has something to do with my stomach problems last year. Staying right on my plan I took gue at 10 miles and again at 16. In retrospect it would have been interesting to see how things turned out if I had stayed on plan. Almost two and half minutes ahead of planned pace does not sound like a lot in a 26 mile race but it is. I knew I was a little fast at every mile but it felt easy and I was in a rhythm that just seemed to stick. The pace was actually even a little faster as I stopped, very briefly, to take water (so as to insure that I really got a few ounces down at each stop). As I went down the big hill from Wellesley Hills to Newton Lower Falls I was feeling pretty good. A year ago going down that hill I knew I was in trouble. Not this year.The Hills 17 to 21 Goal: 41:40 Result: 44:20 – 2:40 Slow Overall Goal: 2:55:00 Result: 2:55:19 – 19 seconds to slow
Starting up out of the Charles River valley is the first of the hills, unrecognized as such and unnamed. It takes you over route 128/95 and up past the Hospital thus I call it Hospital Hill. No problem for me on this day. Then a brief trip to the first turn on the course, the hard right at the Firehouse, on to Commonwealth Ave. I love this corner, the crowds go from big to huge and very load, the road immediately turns hard up hill, the Firehouse Hill and the contest is on. My family is waiting in the same spot as last year, on the left just a bit up the hill and I pick them out of the sea of faces easily. This is my moment of truth. Last year as I started up this hill my legs cramped and I begin my death spiral. This year I feel pretty good and power up the hill fairly effectively. Although the hills are testing after each there is a bit of flat or even a little down hill and I am doing OK. By the time I get to the start Heartbreak Hill I have run four ~8:40 miles in the hills. The big one does slow me down and I feel for the first time some of that leg cramping from last year. I have worked hard to get to this point and I know it is easier from here. Now this is where for me, it has to be the mental strength over the call of the body to stop.22 to 26.2 Goal: 43:20 Result: 49:46 – 6:26 Slow Overall Goal: 3:38:00 Result: 3:45:19
I struggled mightily with my legs. Cramps slowed me and caused me to have to walk through the water stops. I mixed, while moving, Gatorade 50/50 with water thinking that the electrolytes might help. This is where I tried my best to keep it going using every mental trick I have in my book. Miles 23-24-25 are tough really tough. As I approach the bridge over the Mass Pike, the edge of Kenmore Square, I realize that I have 1.4 miles to go and only 10 minutes to finish if I want to get my second BQ – 3:45:00.
As I sat alone in the kitchen thinking about the day ahead of me, this moment is what I was thinking about. The run through Kenmore Square, down Commonwealth Avenue, past our old Apartment building, under Mass Ave then that right and left. I visualized what it would be like to be making that run, what it would feel like, what I would see.
Now with 10 minutes to go, I knew I had to run it hard and I did. I gathered myself and pushed for all I was worth, it was not pretty or smooth, but it was as hard as I could run. I knew when I turned on to Boylston Street and could see the finish that it was a long shot, but I never slowed, ran it as hard as I could right to the finish.
When I was having my coffee, if you had told me that my last mile, would have been one of the fastest miles of my whole race, I would have smiled. I would have thought about those winter days running in the snow, or doing hill repeats with Fernando, or those endless 2 mile repeats. I would have known that I worked hard to get to the point where that was possible.