2009 Boston Marathon. April 20, 2009. 2:56:20 finish time. Great overall experience, memorable trip with my wife, loved Boston, fun time with Gazelles, marathon best by 2 minutes … a rather disappointing race.
My mind is a jumble of thoughts about the race so I’ll just lay them out here and see if they make sense.
I’m having a hard time writing a race report for two reasons. First, I really don’t remember much of the actual race. It seemed to go by in a blur and I was either totally focused or completely distracted (or both) by the extraneous minutia of the other runners, the tangents, the water stops, my clothing, etc. Extreme ambivalence is the other reason I’m having a hard time with the report. I just don’t know what to think and I’m still processing the experience and the aftermath. This was only my second marathon, so I do know that I learned quite a bit.
I averaged about 60 miles per week for the 18 weeks prior to the marathon, with a high of 85, a 5K race at 17:22, a 10K race at 36:20 and a half-marathon at 1:18:42. It was less mileage that I wanted or thought I was doing at the time. I never really felt good through training, the miles didn’t come easy, the legs were tired most of the time. Not enough rest? Scrap the doubles? More strength training? All things to consider. The Gazelles training group through the winter was superb. Kevin, Pat, Mike, Russ, Dan, Farshid … everyone made it a really enjoyable training block from a personal perspective. Thanks to them all.
Travel on Saturday from Austin to Boston was a high blood-pressure event with delayed flights, switched airlines, almost lost luggage, missed hotel shuttles. Sunday was a typical out-of-town marathon day-before-the-race expo and rest kind of day. I did the super carb-loading thing in the parking lot of a Target with five homeless guys cheering me on. I felt ill after cramming down my 400th carbohydrate on my way to 700. The bus ride out to Hopkinton was perfect. No potty, food, or clothing issues. A cool fighter jet flyover. Ducked into the middle of the second corral right before the gun.
The first miles were very crowded and seemed too slow. I wanted to stay in the middle of the road and not be one of those guys who is racing on the outside trying to pass people, but I kept tripping over feet in front of me so I moved to the left side of the road. Temperature seemed a little warm for my long sleeves, long socks, gloves and headband. I noticed a lot of 3 and 4 thousand numbered bibs around me, which I took as a good sign that I was under control. My big concern was that my legs felt dead. Calves and quads weren’t sore, but they weren’t lively. I should have shaken it off but I kept thinking about my legs. Thoughts like, “this doesn’t feel easy”, “if they’re dead now, wait til the hills, so you better save yourself.”
I hit 5K and 10K roughly on pace but I was concerned and had my first “uh oh, another 20 miles to go” thought. I wasn’t breathing hard and my heart rate seemed under control so I should have just fought through it, but around 15K I started mentally checking out of the race with thoughts like “2:54 would be ok, right?” The next day when I mentioned to a 15-time marathoner that I didn’t feel great the first half he said, “oh you should have fought through it. Those are the days I run my best, when I don’t feel good the first half.” Lesson learned.
Throughout the race I weaved back and forth from the middle of the road to the left side. It was much more crowded than even the Capitol 10K and I wasn’t used to that. I couldn’t find my groove. It seemed like the race line and the tangents were on the right side of the road so I was a little peeved to be in the middle and on the left side. I missed a couple water stops along the way because I couldn’t get over to the tables with other runners in the way. Had the usual issues with Gatorade in the eyes, Gu up the nose, sticy hands and empty cups.
I wore Mizuno Wave Ronin 2 shoes. 7.6 ounces, bright orange, felt great on my feet. But my feet were growing numb by mile 10 which I expected since the same thing had happened the only two previous times I wore them on a couple long runs. I’m not sure I will wear them in a long race or run again.
The spectators over the first half were healthy but not overwhelming. I high-fived as many kids as I could. I got a few “go Gazelles” and “great socks!” Jessica pointed out that I should have worn my red socks in Boston rather than black socks. Don’t know why I didn’t think of that. The Wellesley girls lived up to their billing; you could hear the roar from 1/2 mile away. Everyone says Boston College was even louder but I don’t even remember where that was. I did notice that over the last half of the race the spectators were 3 and 4 people deep. Rogue coach Steve Sisson yelled for me around mile 21, I saw a couple of Gazelle fans around 23, and Jessica at mile 24, all very much appreciated.
I didn’t wear a pace band but in retrospect I should have. I spent a lot of time trying to calculate paces and looking for other runners to pace off. I noticed the amputee and blind runners and was humbled. I was running with a female when someone in the crowd yelled that she was in 17th place (I assume that didn’t count the elites who had an early start). I ran with a Navy team from Annapolis and they got a lot of cheers. It was here that I really noticed the wind. Lots of runners were trying to tuck in behind the Navy guys and a couple even joked about them forming a flying wedge to shield us. In the end I just found it too crowded and moved out and around them, finally leaving them. Since the start I had noticed a guy running while holding an American flag and finally passed him somewhere in the hills. I ran for a bit behind what looked like a 50 year old woman who I think ended up beating me by about 15 seconds. A guy ran by and asked if I was from Austin and said “me too! Let’s go!” I didn’t go.
I don’t really remember specific miles. Around 16 a gust of wind with swirling leaves and dust hit me and knocked me sideways and blinded me for a second. I heard later it was gusting to 17 mph, and a local coach told me the next day it probably cost a 3 hour guy about 3 minutes, but I don’t think it was too terrible. At mile 18 a college aged runner asked me if this was Heartbreak Hill and I felt bad telling him that it wasn’t. When I did get to Heartbreak it seemed long and noticeable but not too steep. I tried to charge up it but about halfway I guess I petered out. Even though my pace was slowing on the back half I passed a lot of runners, especially the last five miles. My legs were teetering on the edge and I felt like if I pushed too hard I might go over the edge and have to hobble home, but we’ll never know. I did see a lot of runners in just that position, hobbling or walking or stretching. Even at this late point I was having to elbow my way through groups of runners. People told me not to use the Citgo sign as a landmark because it was deceptive, but when I saw it I was relieved not deceived.
Like in Dallas, the “One Mile to Go” sign seemed like a cruel joke. 2:55 was still a remote possibility, so that prospect and the screaming spectators kept me from jogging it in. Finally on to Boylston and I’ve never seen a longer 186 yard stretch of road. Like a tunnel into another dimension, the finish line seemed so far away for such a long time. I kicked as best I could, my watch clicked to 2:56, I realized I was behind some guy which would mess up my finishing picture, so I moved to the side, gave a half-hearted arm raise, and I was done.
As bib number 2458 I was the 904th finisher. After the elites the bib numbers started at 1030 so I think there were about 1300 runners “seeded” in front of me, meaning I guess I finished better than my bib number would suggest.
Post-race was very cold and windy. I wasn’t hungry or thirsty. I kept moving because you had to. Saw friends, found Jessica, and that was that. Months of build-up, hours of fretting, 2:56:20 of mental gymnastics and rote physical work, and poof it is over. I should have enjoyed it more, thought about it less — that includes the training and the racing.
The next day I walked around Boston, toured the city, had fun in the rain. After Dallas I couldn’t even walk for 3 days so I was either in better shape this time or didn’t push myself as hard.
Around mile 10, still a long way from the finish, I had thought, “this sucks, I’m through with marathons.” The next day, even farther from the finish, I silently perked up: “I know I’ve got a faster marathon in me. Houston or San Antonio?” Don’t tell my wife.
Miscellaneous thoughts and lessons learned:
** Trust your training.
This means believe it when the training is good, but also believe it when the training is not so good. I raced how my training told me I was going to race, not how I wanted to believe I could race. My legs never felt good the whole training block, I would struggle at the end of long runs and workouts, and I didn’t have the passion I had before Dallas. My race experience mirrors this training experience exactly. No legs, limited strength, missing passion. I kept wanting to believe everything would come around, that I would get my legs back, that I would find the passion, but I just never did. I should have known when the Capitol 10K was a microcosm of my training, and thus would be for the marathon too. It told me the truth.
** Run your own race.
Probably the number one lesson learned. The amount of advice I received regarding the Boston Marathon was overwhelming and I think it paralyzed me. Paralysis through analysis. Do this, don’t do this, run this way, look over here, on this hill do that, water stops at X, look at other runners, don’t look at other runners, ride this bus, follow this line, wear these clothes, go to the expo on this day, pace yourself this way, look for this marker, don’t look for that marker, don’t start too fast, be afraid of the hills, crash and burn, Boston shuffle, etc etc. Some of it was helpful, but I think I became too focused on the details, got psyched out from the horror stories, and lost site of the actual race. I didn’t make my own plan and stick to it, and I didn’t focus on my own race. I was looking at other bib numbers, weaving over the course, trying to remember bits of advice at certain points, staying conservative when I felt good, surging when I wanted to be steady … all instead of just running. Case in point: I started the race with gloves but took them off about 3 miles in. I didn’t throw them away though because I was told I would really want them the last 5 miles. Well, I held on to those gloves for another 13 miles, tried to tuck them in my waistband, switched hands constantly, put them back on, took them off. Finally at mile 15 I threw them away and felt so much better. But the next day my right shoulder and forearm were extremely sore (still are 4 days later) from holding the gloves. I wasted so much freaking eneregy worrying about those damn gloves and I didn’t need them at the end. What a contrast from Dallas, where ignorance was bliss. I was too naive to realize what I should and shouldn’t do and just ran my heart out.
** Run scared, but don’t be afraid.
Looking at my splits and how I slowed, this point is debatable, but I think I was so afraid of crashing and burning that I was too conservative. At Dallas I had something to prove, this time I just didn’t want to crater, so I never pushed myself. Especially once I realized 2:50 wasn’t happening, then 2:52, I kind of “settled.” Even though my legs never felt good, the rest of me felt fine and I think I could have pushed harder. Again, except for my legs pretty much the whole race felt like a hard jog. I don’t wear a HRM but I bet it never went very high. I never got a stich, never got out of breath. After Dallas I knew I couldn’t have run one bit faster, and I couldn’t walk for a week. This time I’m sore but not debilitated, and I feel like I left at least a couple minutes out on the course. When people ask me about running sub-3 I like to say “6:50 on the first half needs to feel easy”. Well this race I kept telling myself, “it needs to feel easy” and it wasn’t until late in the second half that I snapped out of that mental state. Don’t be afraid if it is hard.
I think all the advice and warnings and build-up psyched me out, but maybe it was for the best? If instead I had gone in naive I might have crashed and burned hard. But I also might have run my heart out. That’s what gets me – I didn’t run my hardest. I ran a boring, tactical, conservative, no risk race, or at least that’s what it feels like, and it doesn’t feel rewarding. But maybe it feels better than a slow death at mile 23.
Great experience, mediocre race, learned a lot, love my family.
Official Finish time: 2:56:20 (6:43.5 pace) Half-marathon splits (avg pace): 1:26:40 (6:37) 0-13.1 mi. 1:29:40 (6:50) 13.1-26.2 mi. 5K splits (avg pace): 20:33 (6:37) 0-5k 20:21 (6:33) 5-10k 20:28 (6:35) 10-15k 20:47 (6:41) 15-20k 20:51 (6:43) 20-25k 21:18 (6:51) 25-30k 21:30 (6:55) 30-35k 21:10 (6:49) 35-40k 9:12 (6:45) 40-42.195k Garmin info: 2:56:25 running time 26.43 mi total distance 6:40/mi pace Mile splits: 1 - 6:50 2 - 6:31 3 - 6:22 4 - 6:20 5 - 6:39 6 - 6:28 7 - 6:31 8 - 6:37 9 - 6:30 10 - 6:40 (10 miles, 65:28, 6:33 pace) 11 - 6:41 12 - 6:36 13 - 6:38 14 - 6:42 15 - 6:45 16 - 6:31 17 - 6:55 18 - 6:48 19 - 6:45 20 - 6:55 21 - 7:09 22 - 6:40 23 - 6:41 24 - 6:49 25 - 6:46 26 - 6:51 26.43 - 2:46 (.43 mi, 6:26 pace)