Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Boston Marathon

4/20: Boston Marathon. Patriots Day.

In Boston, they celebrate a little known holiday called Patriots Day by taking the day off and putting on one of the most prestigious marathons in the world. This year, Patriots Day fell on 4/20, a holiday of a different sort, that is traditionally celebrated like this in my part of the world.

This year, I took the road less traveled on 4/20 by being one of 23,211 starters for the 113th Boston Marathon. Running Boston has been a dream of mine since I ran my first marathon. A dream that I thought was a mere pipe dream since my first marathon finish was 3 hours and 55 minutes. Boston's strict standards meant that for my age group, I needed to run 3 hours and 10 minutes to qualify. After using all of my strength to finish in just under 4 hours, shaving 45 minutes off my time seemed impossible. However, once I started training for my first 50 miler, all those extra training miles started to add up. I was doing 70-80 miles a week when I ran my second Chicago marathon in 3 hours and 20 minutes. After that, I thought I had a chance, so I started being more diligent, piling on the miles and adding more speedwork to my regimin. Then, after one 90 degree disastrous attempt in Chicago, I qualified for Boston by running 3 hours and 5 minutes at the ING Miami Marathon.

I debated how I wanted to run the race. Qualifying for Boston was my one big marathon goal, so I thought about treating the race as a giant victory lap. I also felt like I was in the best shape that I have been, so I considered challenging myself for a PR as well. The courses rolling hills make it challenging to PR, but with the cool, 48 degree weather and all the hill training I have been doing in San Francisco, I decided to give it a shot. Looking back, that was probably a mistake.

0-7 miles

The race started with a flyover by a couple of F-16 jets, and then we were off! The race starts off in Hopkington, a small town that is completely taken over by all the runners. The first few miles are mostly rural. It's also mostly downhill at first, so it's easy to keep a good pace. So easy in fact, that my 5k time was 20:35, a 6:37 mile pace. I saw Abby and Eric at the 4k mark. Later, Abby and Eric said that the course was challenging to find places to meet me, but they still met me at 3 places, plus the finish. (thanks guys!)

7-13.1 miles:

Next up was the town of Natick. Quaint little village from what I could tell as I ran by along with thousands of others. After passing through Natick we ran uphill for a while until reaching Wellesley College at the top of the hill at mile 13. Wellesley is an all girls college with a tradition of giving out kisses to marathon runners to speed them on their way. I didn't take advantage of that particular tradition, but was definitely greeted warmly. As I ran up the hill, the first thing I saw was a giant sign that said "brace your ears" (or something to that effect). That was good advice, because when I got to the top of the hill, it reminded me of when the Beatles first played the Ed Sullivan Show. So now I was really feeling like a rock star. I completed the first half in 1:28:23, a new half marathon PR by about a minute. I knew I was going pretty fast, my plan for the rest of the race was to hold this pace as long as possible, and use grit and determination to push through to the end.

13.1-20 miles:

Unfortunately, as long as possible turned out not to be that long. Not long after the halfway point, I started feeling a little light headed. I recognized this as the first indicator that my heart rate was getting too high, and if it was allowed to get too high, I would be in a world of hurt. I slowed to about a 7:15 pace and tried to relax as much as possible. The slowdown seemed to help for a while, but by the time we got to Newton at around mile 17, I could feel my heart rate spike, this time for good. This is the feeling some people call hitting the wall. I was hitting it hard, and way too soon. I knew if I was going to keep running for another 9 miles, it was going to be an extremely painful 9 miles. The next 3 miles I think I did about 8 minute miles, but I was starting to lose track of pace and was mostly just trying to keep it together.

20 miles-finish:

Between mile 20 and 21 is the infamous "heartbreak hill". In actuality, I didn't really notice the hill being all that tough, by this time, every step was tough, uphill or downhill. I couldn't have been going very fast though, perhaps 9 minute miles. I was trying to focus on my form, anything to distract myself from the pain all over and the lightheaded feeling. I considered stopping or walking to allow my heart rate to go back down, but I knew that could take up to a half hour, it would be like giving up completely. I also knew that the rest of the course was downhill, so I was clinging to the hope that I could improve my speed at the end.

Next up, we ran through Brookline and then into downtown Boston. This part of the race was literally a blur as I was having some trouble seeing straight. I remember it hurt. I know I have felt this kind of pain in almost all of my major races in which I have gone all out, but for some reason, it surprises me each time how painful it is. I am writing this on the day after the run, and I can remember it, but just barely. I will probably have forgotten it completely by next weekend. It's amazing how quickly we forget (or at least how quickly I forget). I guess that's what allows us to do this kind of thing over and over.

The final 2 miles took what seemed like forever, but the crowd was fantastic. I found out later that Abby and Eric were on a train that was about ready to head to the finish line when they saw me, yelled to the driver to open the door, and jumped out and started screaming for me before the driver yelled at them to get back in the train.

Finish! The finish was great, although it felt more like relief than triumph at first. I was a bit delirious for a while. The walk to get my gear, meet up with Abby and Eric and get back to the train felt very disconnected. Once I was able to relax and clean up a bit, I felt much better and had time to contemplate the run. I finished in 3:13:51, a 7:24 mile average. I am pleased for the most part with my performance, I know I tried like hell. I did make some mistakes however. Mistakes that I hope I learn from and hopefully those reading might learn from as well.

Next up: It's time to start putting in the big miles preparing for my summer 100 milers. I am going to take out my new New Balance shoes, put them through the ringer and report back next time.