The Bwahston Marathwan

Boston Marathon

April 17, 2017

Boston, Massachusetts


Grade, Goal, Achieved?

A+, 2:44:59, no

A, 2:46:57 (10 min PR), yes

B, 2:49:59, yes

C, 2:56:56 (PR), yes



Background


Qualified for Boston with a 2:56:57 at Fargo last May in my first marathon finish. I knew I could have done better; I fueled and paced poorly, I was recovering from a knee injury so my mileage had been low for the month before, and it was way hotter than usual (~60 at the start, pushing 80 by the finish). Planned to get a better time at Dallas in December and was definitely in 2:40ish shape, but I got myself a nasty case of peroneal tendonitis in late November and wound up taking three weeks off prior, so I just ran it for kicks (read that race report here). Took some time off to let my ankle fully heal from that, then right as I was getting back on the horse I got strep, which took me out for ~two weeks. At this point it's February, so I take a few weeks to get something resembling a base before jumping into Pfitzinger's 12/70 program.


Got rolling pretty well on that, and I was excited to do a tried-and-true program rather than make up my own regiment and ultimately hurt myself. Made a point to take easy days easier than I wanted and make sure hard days happened when they're supposed to. I was definitely out of shape, not quite starting from square one but it wasn't too far off. Workouts included the standard Pfitz stuff (although I confess I missed about half of the VO2 max workouts due to travel, and I didn't do any of the tune-up races/time trials in favor of pushing harder on LRs).


Previous Workouts

Super Week - a week of extra high volume, in my case 103.6 miles - was a big part of my training, including a 22 mile long run at the end of the week where I didn't bonk and managed to finish with a strong 5ish mile progression to below goal pace. Huge confidence builder, made me feel like I'd be ready to go in 2.5 weeks at Boston. Ran a 13 mile "LR" a little over a week out where I tested the first 10k of my race strategy: go out in 6:30ish, stick to 6:20s through 5k, then drop to mid 6:1X. Felt a little tougher than I was hoping, but it made me decide to go out a little slower and play by feel, which saved my butt on race day.


Other workouts included a couple VO2 max workouts (7 mi w/ 3x1200, 11 mi w/ 6x1k, and 8 mi w/5x600) on top of a VO2 test and a ton of MP/LT runs.


Pre-Race


The taper was weird. I don't like tapers. On the one hand it was nice to have basically nothing but short easy runs, on the other hand I felt like I was regressing in fitness. Taper started basically after Super Week and it was admittedly a little too easy, had a 54 mile week (it was a weird week, did my LR on the Monday after so Strava has it as a 37 mile week), then a 30 mile week, then a 23 mile week. Took about two easy runs off each week to nurse some slight aches and pains because I was making it to Boston uninjured, dang it.


I left Friday afternoon after my classes, landed in Boston with my dad and grandpa (a former marathoner who always wanted to compete in/watch the Boston Marathon but never had a chance) around 11 PM local time. Ubered to the hotel, a fancy Marriott Residence Inn in the South End, and promptly passed out.


Saturday we walked around, checked out the USS Constitution, walked a decent chunk of the Freedom Trail, then headed on over to the Expo so I could meet up with my weird internet friends from /r/AdvancedRunning (Dad's words, not mine). The meetup was awesome (albeit my slowest run in recent history), but I got to get to know my goal buddy banstew and my HR was below 140 pretty much the entire time so it was a win.


Went to packet pickup afterwards, perused the expo, bought some sick blue and green Hoka slides (they're totally not Hoka-brand crocs, I don't know what you're talking about) and a Boston backpack. Took the subway to the hotel, then walked to Joe's American Bar and Grill or whatever it is in the North End (not our first choice but it didn't have a wait and we were starving), had some amazing lobster mac and cheese, plus a few bites of the best bread pudding I've ever had. Walked home, went to bed.


Sunday we got Easter brunch at City Tap House. Most expensive buffet I've ever been to but also the most amazing brunch I've ever had (only had like two brunches but it was still seriously good). Took the subway over to Boylston, checked out the shops, I took the subway back after a couple hours because we were walking a little more than I was comfortable with (we were on our feet for probably six hours Saturday, not counting the run, still wound up with about as much walking on Sunday but oh well). Chilled at the hotel for a while, thought about napping because I was wiped out but I figured if I stayed awake until nighttime I'd pass right out. Grabbed dinner from the Italian Cantina or something like that, had an amazing seafood spaghetti dish with so much bread. Got back to the hotel around 9, went to bed, was tossing and turning from 10ish until well after midnight. Could not shut my brain off for some reason. Wasn't nervous, just excited I guess.



Race Day


Getting there


Dad and I managed to sleep through three alarms, Grandpa saved the day by calling our room at 5:15 to ask when we wanted to leave. Had to hurry a little bit but we were out the door by 5:30. Ate a PB&J sandwich, a banana, and two Nature Valley crunch bars plus about a liter of water while we were heading to the Commons. Took the subway to the bus pick up, I wasn't on the first bus but I was sitting down by 6:05. Didn't have anything with me but my race uniform and another banana; no extra layers, no phone, nothing. Didn't want to worry about keeping track of anything but it wound up being a little chilly.


Athlete's Village


This was nuts. So many freaking porta potties and the lines were still massive by the time I walked to the start. Took advantage of the lack of lines since I was among the first ~1000 there and peed, then grabbed a cup of hot cocoa and a cardboard box. Found /u/banstew and /u/ao12, plopped down in the shade. Chilled, chatted, hydrated for a while. 90 minutes and a liter and a half later, it was time to walk to the start line.


Wished good luck to a few people, then parted ways into our respective corrals. At this point it was starting to warm up, and a little quicker than I was okay with. Almost no clouds, and there was a breeze but it wasn't strong enough to really cool you off when you're moving. National anthem was sung (with lots of freedoms taken with regards to the rhythm), F-15s flew over, gun fired.


The Boston Marathon


Start through mile 3


So many people. It was so crazy slow, but it was a really good warmup. First aid station wasn't until well after a mile, but it was still a mess of people trying to get to the tables and I almost tripped about half a dozen times. Split 6:51 for mile one, 6:29 for mile two, 6:28 for mile three. almost painful going that slow with such a steep downhill, but I figured the "bank energy, not time" approach was wise considering how dense the course was and how hot it was shaping up to be - by mile two I was already dripping with sweat, which was scary. Got in the habit of downing my cup of Gatorade then dumping a cup of water on my head at every stop, which saved my bacon in the late stages.


Mile 3 through half


Asked banstew how he was feeling and if he was still down to go through half in 1:22-1:23, he said yeah, so I dropped to 6:18/mi (a second above 2:45 pace, basically what we'd need to get through half in 1:23) and started grinding away. Got a little excited because the crowds were thinning out and the adrenaline of the start was wearing off so people were slowing down, wound up hitting mile four in 6:15. Mile five included a bit of a hill, hit it in 6:20. At this point banstew was back a little ways, maybe 10m, and another guy (Chris) came up by me and asked what I was shooting for. We both wanted 2:45ish, he was planning to hit low 6:2X through 10 miles then go, so he hopped on pace with me for a while. Went 6:19/6:18/6:19 for miles six, seven, and eight.


Checked back with banstew, who was maybe 20m back at that point. Shared one last wave/thumbs up, then got a little excited and hit 6:13 for mile nine. Chris fell back at that point too, but I kept rolling at high 6:1X through the half (6:17/6:18/6:19/6:18 for 10, 11, 12, and 13). Only course landmark of note in those four miles was Wellesley, which was nuts. I don't know what I expected, but it was not hundreds of signs with "Kiss me I'm ____" on them. Didn't stop for a kiss (although I am single as of last Friday) because girls have cooties and I had a race to run.


Half through mile 16


Hit the half in 1:23:47, slower than I wanted but fast enough for me to work with. I knew it'd take something nuts to hit my 2:45 goal, but I honestly felt so good that it wasn't out of the question. I was definitely hot, but my breathing was fine and I was feeling amazing fuel-wise. Newton was still looming ahead though, and I didn't want to get excited and screw myself over for the hills so I started easing down into low 6:1X rather than skipping to mid 6:0X like I wanted/needed to in order to hit 2:45. Hit 6:14 for mile 14, 6:12 for mile 15, then 6:07 on mile 16 thanks to that ridiculous downhill leading into Newton.


Mile 16 through mile 21: The Newton Hills


I knew if I could survive the next five miles, I was golden. Mantra during this section was "don't be a hero." I wanted to blast up the hills, but I knew I'd save myself a lot of pain in the last few miles if I maintained effort rather than pace up the hills. Let myself drop to 6:40s on the uphills, then eased back into race pace as I crested and started the downhills/flats.


First hill wasn't that bad; I honestly wasn't even sure if it was the first one or not. Split 6:21 for mile 17, 6:20 for mile 18, 6:13 for mile 19 (entirely on one of the downhills between climbs, which I didn't realize at the time and got a little worried about). Felt great, was really happy with how good I felt going into mile 20. Third hill was honestly the toughest of them all, and I finally started to feel tired at this point. Considering I was 20 miles into a marathon, however, I couldn't believe how well things were going. Split mile 20 in 6:27.


All I had left was Heartbreak Hill. I spent the ~half mile between the third hill and the base of HBH getting so hyped up, telling myself this is what I've been training for, this is where I find out what I'm made of, this and the five miles after it is where I test my limits. I started the incline, looked down to avoid getting psyched out mentally by constantly watching for the top on what's bound to be a gut-wrenching climb, and prepared for the hurt to start.


And then I was up it. My dad shouted at me about 100m from the top, and snagged a picture when I passed:

When he shouted at me I broke out of my trance (still waiting for HBH to hit) and looked up to see the big "Top of Heartbreak Hill" sign right in front of me, then looked over at him grinning like an idiot because I knew I'd beaten Heartbreak Hill and barely broken stride.


Mile 22 through finish


Felt absolutely incredible after HBH, and with barely over 5 miles to go I let myself really crank down on the pace with dreams of a sub-30 8k to close out the race. Mile 22 was 6:07, 23 was 6:11. The hills finally got to me in mile 24, though not in the way I was expecting; my quads started to get ridiculously fatigued. Like, DOMS-type soreness. With three miles to go I knew I could soldier through it, but it got serious painful seriously fast. Split 6:29 for mile 24, and finally caught my first glimpse of the Citgo sign soon after.


I knew it was still a mile away, but good heavens is that thing massive. It still gave me a much needed mental boost, but I knew it was still too soon to go all in on a kick (especially with my quads in such sorry shape) and I was still a little worried about bonking (although I took my last Gatorade at the aid station after mile 24). Between the sign and passing everyone around me as they were fading pretty hard, I managed to hold on with a 6:23 for mile 25.


Mile 26 was a very painful 6:31. I was borderline grunting with every stride, and all my focus went into keeping my stride length up. I have some recollection of someone shouting my name right after the bridge, but I didn't have the spare energy to break focus and look up to see who it was (wound up being a friend from high school who's at Tufts). Saw the two people ahead of me disappear around a right turn and I knew Hereford was coming up, so I swung around, got ready to dig, and started to accelerate.


Swung out around the left turn onto Boylston and could see the finish line dead ahead. Clock showed 2:44:50, and I knew my 2:45 was out of reach but if I dug deep I could still hit a 10-minute PR. So I dug, and proceeded to run the longest two minutes of my life. It was the longest 0.35 miles of my life; every time I looked up the clock seemed to be moving half as fast as it should (bittersweet) and the finish seemed to be staying just as far away (just bitter). Somehow managed to find sub-6 speed for that last stretched and closed out the final bit at 5:34 pace to finish in 2:46:50.


Post-Race


I managed to stay on my feet much better than most of the people finishing around me. Had to lean on a fence for a minute, but I was mobile again pretty quick. Downed a bottle of water, waited on banstew, talked to him about the race (I won't spoil his race report with results). Consensus between us was it was way hotter than it should have been but the easy start minimized the pain of the second half. We walked down the shoot, took some pictures (watch for us on magazine covers, one photographer made it very clear that she thinks we're gorgeous for having just finished a marathon), then shook hands and parted ways so I could find my family.


They wound up getting lost on the subway, so I was walking around for a solid hour afterwards looking for them. Sucked so bad at the time but it honestly probably helped to keep moving for so long afterwards, and I was actually still surprisingly mobile. Finally found them in the Public Garden by the Washington statue, took the subway to the hotel, showered, packed, and checked out.


As is post-marathon tradition, grabbed some well-deserved high-calorie food from Shake Shack on the way to the transport station: BBQ cheeseburger with BBQ cheese fries and a mint cookies and cream shake. Hopped on the bus to the airport, got stuffed in a plane for three and a half hours, walked five minutes to another plane, was stuffed in that for an hour and a half, drove home, passed tf out. Wound up being a 21 hour day on 4.5 hours of sleep.



Thoughts


I don't think I could have honestly asked for a better time yesterday, given the conditions and the course. The only thing that held me back in the final miles was my legs fading after the hills; not a lack of fuel, not overheating, not dehydration, just my muscle being pushed to their absolute limits. My strategy might have been too conservative for a cooler day, but given how hot it wound up being, I think it was exactly what I needed. I ran the hills with just the right intensity, and kept from pushing the downhills too hard. I didn't run out of fuel but I also didn't feel too weighed down by Gatorade. If I could go back, the only thing I would change to improve my time is not spend as much time on my feet in the days leading up to it, but I still don't regret walking around because I loved getting to see the city with my dad and grandpa.


The crowd was incredible. I don't remember any point in time that I couldn't hear someone cheering us on. It made the race go by so much faster than it would have otherwise; every time I checked my watch another half mile had gone by, and there were stretches of well over a mile when I only looked down to check what split my watch was beeping about.


What next?


My coach has me on the 12k leg of his coed marathon relay team for the OKC Memorial Marathon in 12 days (April 30th), so I'm hoping for a speedy recovery. After that, it's on to XC training with Oklahoma City University. Cannot wait to be part of a team again. Next major goal race is... NAIA XC Nationals, I guess? Barring something catastrophic I should be a scoring member of the team. My major goals now are 26:00 8k/1:54 800m, both of which I think are definitely within my grasp now that I'll have coaches guiding me and a team to train with.


Finally, I just wanted to say thanks to everyone at /r/AdvancedRunning who's helped me train, plan for, and race Boston. If I'm being perfectly honest I probably could have done it without y'all, but it would not have been anywhere near as enjoyable of an experience, and I can guarantee I wouldn't have performed as well as I did. Thanks to /u/banstew for being a great race buddy, as well as to him, /u/ao12, and the other fellow moose lurker whose username I never picked up for hanging out with me in the Athletes' Village. Hope you guys loved Boston as much as I did, and I hope to run with you again sometime!


Photos

It was a hot one

Homeward bound

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