Racing the Boston Marathon
Marathons are not an easy task. If you want to run a marathon and run it well, it can take months of preparation. This includes hours of running, strength work, mobility, message, ice baths, and meal prepping. For many people who are not professional athletes, this is being done in addition to a full time job. I started my marathon preparation for Boston in November of 2016. This means I had nearly 5 months of preparation. I am guessing nearly 300 hours, or more, including all of the things mentioned above.
The challenge with marathon training is that there are no guarantees. There is no guarantee that you will not get injured or that the weather will cooperate on race day. Like anything in life there are things you can control and things you can’t control. What can be controlled during a marathon is pace, hydration, and fueling. To some extent you can control your mind (some are better at this than others). Given all of these factors it is easy to see how a person’s race can go extremely well or not well at all.
Sometimes marathon goals have to be adjusted mid-race. This can happen when a person goes into a marathon with a goal and realizes, due to factors out of their control, that goals need to be adjusted. This happened to me at the Boston marathon on Monday. I was set to run a personal record. My training and previous half marathon were proof that I could go under 3 hours. I was even hopeful I could do a 2:55. At about mile 18 I realized I would have to adjust my expectations.
There were nearly 30,000 participants in the race. I did not take into consideration how many runners there were the start until I arrived that morning. I had never experienced a race with that many participants all jammed together on fairly narrow streets. For the first several miles I felt stuck. There were runners in front of me, behind me, and next to me. All of them trying to get into a rhythm of their own pace. Contrary to what I had been told, the pace was not fast. It was slower than my goal pace and it was hard for the first 2-3 miles to go any faster than a 7 minute pace. So I decided I would settle in the best that I could and decided that I could always speed up a little later on. I gave spectators high fives and tried to weave around slower runners by staying off the right. This also meant that I nearly escaped several snot rockets as people pulled off to the side to blow their nose. Overall I just tried to look around and enjoy the spectators and scenery.
After 3-4 miles there was still no significant break in runners. Runners were still packed tightly on the roads and I was starting to feel a little overwhelmed. Now I was beginning to realize why people told me to get a faster qualifying time at sea level. A faster time meant being in an earlier corral. This meant faster runners and a faster pace at the start. I started to get worried that I was not going to hit my goals.
Finally by the 10k mark the pack started to loosen and there was more space to run. I was able to increase my pace. I continued to make sure to grab water or Gatorade at every aid station along the way as it was very warm and sunny. The warmth was enough to feel the loss of sweat and need for additional fluids and electrolytes. As one would expect from a sports dietitian, I was also on schedule for my nutrition.
I hit the half marathon feeling good. My knee and legs were a bit achy, but I tried to keep my mind off of the pain. I kept grabbing fluids at the aid stations. I also started to realize that for a slightly downhill course, it was full of small and subtle rolling hills. Mile 15 and mile 16 rolled by. I started to anticipate the upcoming notorious Newton hills and most famous Heartbreak Hill. I ran past the screaming girls at Wellesley college. It was also around this point that my legs got a little worse. I felt a tightness in them and for a brief time at around mile 17 my stomach was feeling uneasy. This got to my head. I slowed down a little knowing that the big hill was coming and I was hoping to avoid the need to stop at a porter potty. Thankfully the uneasy gut feeling subsided right before Heartbreak.
It was also around this time I had to adjust my goals. I know that it would be nearly impossible to make up the 3-4 minutes that I had lost and getting under 3 hours was no longer going to be a realistic expectation. Now I decided I wanted to accomplish two things. I wanted to do my best to enjoy the last miles of the course and my new time goal was to get under 3:05.
My family was standing just before Heartbreak, somewhere around mile 18 or 19, and luckily I did get to see them cheering right before I started up the hill. It was the worse hill of the race, but it was nothing like the hills I trained on in Colorado. I made sure to slow down a bit so that I could save my legs for the last few miles of the race. After getting to the top of the hill I looked around trying to see if there was a sign that it was over. I remember thinking, “was there more? or maybe that was it.” Once I realized it was over, I started thinking about the next 5 miles.
The most frustrating thing about miles 21-23 is that I felt okay, I mean I was not breathing hard at all, but my legs were not doing as well. I felt as though I might get a leg cramp if I tried to increase my speed. My legs were in pain and I was doing everything I could do hold a 7 minute pace. I tried to distract myself with the spectators and looking around at the sights and other runners. I began to noticed there were a lot of people walking. Some of the runners did not look so good and a few had to be rushed to the medical tent. I kept on going.
I made it to mile 24 and was seriously ready to be done with the race. This is normally when I have to play head games to keep my mind off the pain. Instead I tried to distract myself with the crowds and spectators and the streets of Boston. I made it to mile 25, then 25.5, then I was really ready to be done. I picked up the pace for the last half mile or so and as I turned the corner onto Boylston street I could see the finish. I remembered the 2013 bombing and thought about the victims as I raced down Boylston and towards the finish line. It was an emotional final 200 meters as I crossed the finish line in 3:03:17.
I hobbled along to the place where they handed out the medals and smiled as they took my picture. I grabbed as many clif bars as I could handle and grabbed food and water. I periodically had to stop to avoid a leg cramp. A kind volunteer had to walk with me for a while holding on to me to keep me steady. Then I finally made it to letter G where Dustin was waiting for me. A few of the Runner’s Roost team members were there. I was bummed to learn that their races did not go as they had planned. It was a tough day.
Overall the marathon was a great experience. I am so thankful that I was able to run in Boston. I am thankful for my family support as I had several family members there including Dustin, Dustin’s grandma Dawn and partner Cathy, my mom and her boyfriend Red, my dad Jim and stepmom Erin, my uncle Rick and his partner Terry, and my uncle Digger and aunt Nancy. Most of all I am thankful that I was able to have a good race, despite having to make adjustments to my goal.
If I decide to run Boston again I will have a better concept of how to train for the race and how to run it. I have also learned some valuable information for future races. I was able to keep up with my fuel needs during the race, but I was not able to keep up with electrolytes. This was mainly because I was unable to quantify how much Gatorade I was consuming. I may need to have another source for electrolytes (particularly sodium) during warmer races in the future.
The Boston marathon was two weeks ago and I am just now getting back into training. I will be switching gears completely and gearing up for the Spartan Beast obstacle course race in August and the 50 mile Run Rabbit Run trail race in Steamboat on September 8th.
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