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Hell Comes to Beantown: 2011 Boston Marathon Report

Posted: 2011-04-23 09:17:05

"Nice job, stylishly dressed all in black guy!"

... The East Coast. They'll always let you have it. There's nothing quite like the Boston Marathon.

A couple of quick highlights:

... perhaps I should rewind a bit. ...The Boston Marathon?

When I started running a few years ago, my stated goal was pretty much always to get into Boston. I didn't really think it was possible -- after all, you need a 3:10 if you're under 35. At the time, that seemed really fast.

... and it is. There's no secret path to getting faster -- it took me years of training to get to the point where I could run that fast. I was quite dedicated -- pushing myself hard almost every day of the week. I ran marathons...started running ultras... did an IronMan... just kept getting out on all kinds of interesting adventures.

Somehow, along the way, got fast enough to run a 3:06 in 2009. PF Chang's... it is what it is -- pretty much your classic, flat burn across a pretty predictable city. Of course, I'm nothing if not a chronic procrastinator, so I waited a little while to sign up for Boston and missed my shot in 2010. Luckily, I was able to rally once again at PF Chang's in 2010, running a 3:09 qualifying for Boston again by squeezing just underneath the 3:10:59 cutoff. My friend Dr. Ora reminded me to sign up on the day registration opened and, despite my nature, I did... which was lucky, given that the race sold out in 8 hours.

Just when you think you got out, it sucks you back in. Really, I've been kinda over the whole road marathon thing for awhile. I dig it and I'm glad I occasionally do those races, but they're kinda pricey and just generally a little fussy. Plus, races like that totally beat me up... that pounding kicks my ass. These days, I'm much more of a trail runner.

The flight out was insane. To save money, I'd routed myself all over the place on Southwest, figuring no big deal. However, as we tried a much-delayed landing at BWI, things got super sketchy and we got bounced all around. The girls sitting on each side of me -- neither of whom I'd met before -- actually grabbed my arms. Someone in the back was shrieking... I was just hoping people didn't start puking en masse. We got bumped over to Dulles for awhile, then flew back to BWI, then picked up the people stranded there for like 8 hours and took them on a nice smooth flight to Boston. My arrival was 5 hours later than anticipated...

That said, the Boston Marathon was one of the most fun things I've ever done. The whole thing... totally a class act from start to finish. For me, just getting to that point represented my accomplishment. I was showing up, dressed in a bathrobe, with no real expectations. My only goal was to not get beat by Dr. Ora and / or Nicole. If I could not get passed by Michael Miller, then that would be friggin' awesome... but the depth of competition is ridiculous.

Let me put it this way -- a PF Chang's, I finished in 250th place. At Boston, I was 4181rst. Daaaaamn!!!! Everyone my age is at least as fast as me if not faster...

So, they bus you out to Hopkington super early in the morning. It's quite a scene... at Michael's invitation, we rolled down to a Dunken Donuts near the bus staging area to meet with a bunch of other AZ runners. Kind of a different crowd than the one I normally roll with -- they do, like, track workouts 'n' stuff -- but they were super nice, somewhat familiar, and very welcoming. From there, we headed over to the buses.

You end up waiting quite awhile out there before the race starts. There's food and whatnot, but it's cold. Apparently, the police don't want you to pee in the field. So.... uhhh... don't plan on doing that. Ran into Michael Miller while just chillin', chatting with other runners.

After awhile, you go down to the main start, get into the corrals, strip off your bathrobe (if you have one), and get ready to rumble. The energy in the crowd is electric. "Watch out!" I was consistently warned by people. "It's easy to get sucked into the race in the first 7 miles since it's downhill."

It always takes me awhile to get into the groove... since the race doesn't allow official pacers, my strategy was pretty straightforward -- I found some guys who had run this course a bunch of times and had a gps. For me, running these races while trying to maintain a reasonable pace has become a pretty grim assignment. Let someone else do the hard work of figuring out splits and whatever... I just wanted to tuck in behind somebody and autopilot for a few miles while I tried to figure out how I could slap as many hands as possible.

Weather was perfect... a nice breeze from the back, cool temps, clear blue sky. The long sleeve shirt came off almost immediately and got tied around my waist. Had this been a trail run, I probably would have taken off my shirt. I brought my Ultimate Direction bottle.I I couldn't bring myself to buy road shoes and it seemed a little retarded to try and do the race in the Minimuses, so I did the race in my MT101s.

There's some zany stuff out on the course. I ran for awhile with a clown... at the start, there was a guy in a speedo with his number duct taped to his back. (Brrr!!!) There was no part of the course that didn't have thousands of screaming fans and the energy was just incredible. You could hear the ladies cheering at Wellesley from a long ways away. Other groups of college students were cheering us at other points of the course. The Boston Marathon is run on a Monday -- Patriots Day -- so everyone seemed to have off to drink... and G-d bless them for it. From my perspective squarely in the middle of this race, the Boston Marathon is just a whole giant sea of serious looking runners stretching off into the distance as far as the eye can see...

All in all, I guess the terrain was pretty much what I expected. It's nice back there, just cool running into a city like Boston through all those little towns. The hills... I mean, I bet Heartbreak Hill really sucks if you're trying to break a 2:30 or something, but if you're cruising along at a 3:15 pace and slowly losing steam, it ain't shit.

Looking at my splits...

5k	0:22:48
10k	0:44:54	
15k	1:06:56	
20k	1:29:22	
Half	1:34:20	
25k	1:51:59	
30k	2:15:47	
35k	2:40:22	
40k 	3:05:23
Pace		0:07:29
Time		3:16:15
Place		4181
Gender		3753
Division	2296 				

... you can see I lost a couple mins in the second half. I kinda fell apart towards the end... my calves were cramping up pretty seriously and I had to resort to brief walking breaks near the water stations to try and get it together. I ate just about everything I saw on the course -- that little girl's popsicle, a bunch of oranges, some gu... plus I started drinking gatorade occasionally. I started making deals with myself: run a mile, then I stop and walk for a moment at the next mile's water station... given that I was in pretty bade shape, that worked pretty well to keep me going.

The end of the Boston Marathon is incredible -- you turn a corner and all of a sudden, there it is, about .4 miles away. Theoretically, this is the perfect opportunity for one final death sprint to the end. In my case, it was more about survival than anything, just gettin' her done... I ran it in with style, if only to avoid disappointing the gathered multitudes.

"Are you ok? Do you need a wheelchair?" asked the medical volunteer, right after I crossed the finish line. "Yeah... I just need a minute." The last thing I wanted was to sit down, even though all I really wanted was to sit down. As I stumbled forward, my left calf completely locked up and I almost fell over. I was fighting the urge to puke, choking down one of those Gatorade recovery beverages they thrust into your hands. One of the volunteers -- all of whom were amazing -- wrapped me up in a space blanket and I posed for an official photo. Ouch!

At this point in my marathon career -- such as it is -- I'm having fewer and fewer surprises. My times really do reflect my training, which, while not exactly half-assed, isn't at all targeted at running fast. I'm not sure what was going on there at the end... drank a ton of water, plenty of electrolytes and calories. I think it's just straight up preparation that prevents that super crampy calf feeling around mile 23. Either that or compression socks. (I think we all know I'm much more likely to try the latter.)

Important lesson learned: next time, I'm going to have warm clothes waiting for me at the finish, since it's freezing cold in Boston, at least by AZ standards. I scavenged a discarded space blanket ("Has it really come to this?") and shot the shit with another ultramarathon runner while waiting for Dr. Ora to finish and make her way to the rendezvous. We both had pretty good beards going.

The trip home was incredible... the whole city tells you that you did a good job. We met Ryan Hall's folks at the bus stop. Some drunk guy gave us both a hug.

The Boston Marathon turned out to be really, really fun... who knew? I went in with a total "whatever" attitude and finished thinking, "I've gotta do this every year!" At the time, I thought I'd need a 3:05 to qualify in the future, but it turns out, even with the tightened restrictions, now that I'm 35, I get bumped back into a more mellow qualification standard. I can run a 3:10... if I know I'm gonna get something cool out of it, like re-entry back into Boston. Yay for getting older!

Finally, gotta give special mention again to Sarah and Gor, who were kind enough to let me crash on their floor in Jamaica Plane. Nicest people ever! They even fed me! After the race and a little chillin' around town, we had a Seder and feasted, celebrating our freedom from bondage.

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