It was quite a day!
I was up at 5; ate oatmeal and an apple, got my stuff together and was out the door before 6. It wasn't nearly as cold as I had feared and I was warm in the layers I'd put on. Catching the T into town was really easy and I met up with a few nice people, including Yacov from Chicago and Marty from Albuquerque. Once in Copley Square, we got on one of the hundreds of school buses and began the ride out to Hopkinton. There was a fair amount of traffic and the trip took over an hour. But I talked with Yacov and Marty and tried to relax.
Once we arrived in Hopkinton, I walked around the Athlete's Village for a few minutes waiting to meet up with John. I think it was in the 40's and mostly cloudy, with a little wind. I was happy with my layers and comfortably cool. As long as the wind didn't pick up too much it would be great weather for the race. A little after 8, I met up with John and his father-in-law, George, who was also running. We sat under the tent and tried to keep warm while we waited for the call to head over to the start. A lot of people brought blankets or sleeping bags or blow-up mattresses to rest on during the wait. At first I was envious, but I was warm enough and had too much nervous energy to lie down, let alone close my eyes. Sometime after nine, they announced that it was time for Wave One runners to head over to the start. I changed into race clothing and wrapped myself in a trashbag poncho and skirt (another very valuable lesson from Assaf) and John and I walked the .7 miles through Hopkinton to the race start. The corrals are very well organized and I didn't feel any rush to push to the front. People were anxiously relaxed while we waited for the gun to go off.
Someone sang the Star Spangled Banner and a couple military jets passed overhead, but the actual start was uneventful. I think there was more energy at the NY start - with the music playing and people screaming and fireboats in the river under the bridge. Once the race started it took me about three minutes to cross the starting line. The road in Hopkinton where the race starts is a two-lane country road. It amazes me that they're able to get 12,000 runners through the start for each wave (there are two waves) as smoothly as they do. The race starts with a long downhill. It was a little crowded for the first mile or so; not crowded like walking or bumping into people, just the type of crowded where you have to watch your feet and be ready to skip to the side to pass. I eased into what I felt like was a comfortable pace, checking my heart rate to make sure it was under control. In addition to the three gels I'd packed in my shorts, I was carrying a bottle of Infinit. I had planned on drinking the Infinit before the race, but instead had a Clif Bar and some Gatorade. I knew I wouldn't have any problem carrying the bottle and Infinit has always treated me well.
My plan was to try to run within myself for the first half and get as close to an even split as possible. That could have meant miles in the low 7:30's for the entire race. Unfortunately, that plan never really worked out. (Does it ever?) The field at Boston is very competitive - at the start, I was surrounded by people who qualified with times below 3:15. Presumably, most of those people ran that time more recently than November 2006, when I qualified. The point isn't that I was outclassed, the point is that many people around me were running for a sub-3:15 and were also going out faster than they wanted. Just to stay in the flow meant running faster than I planned. Of course, I didn't have to stay in the flow, but that's much easier said than done. And, I was feeling really good. It's mostly downhill for the first five miles. The miles were passing easily and my heart rate was under control (mid/high 140's at this point; a little less than 80% of max), even though I knew I couldn't hope to keep up 7:0x miles for 26.2.
The course is mostly on country roads in small town Massachusetts - Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick. People line the course pretty much the whole way, but it's in the center of these towns where the crowds are really thick. The course is mostly flat from miles 5-10, with some little bumps here and there. I settled into a good pace (7:20 give or take a few) and my heart rate stayed steadily around 154 beats per minute. (My heart rate stayed at around 154 or 155 for the remainder of the race, with a few spikes here and there. That's a great sign for my heart strength and general fitness.) Near the end of this stretch my legs started feeling a little heavy, which is way to early for that to have happened. I kept asking myself if it was time to start walking the water stations. I still had my Infinit, so there was no real reason to stop for water or Gatorade and I decided to keep running through at least the half.
Running through Wellesley College at about mile 12.5 is probably the most famous part of the course. Story is that you can hear the "Wellesley girls" screaming long before you can see them. And it's true. It sounds like a train in the distance. And when you get there, it's an amazing scene - I'm guessing this something like what it feels like to be the Jonas Brothers. It's a fairly long stretch (a couple hundred yards, I would guess) of screaming young women, wagging their hands for high fives and holding signs like "Kiss A Freshman" or "A Lesbian for Women to Kiss" or "One more kiss for this Senior". And people, a fair amount, stop to give kisses. One guy I was running near must have kissed ten of them! And barely slowed down at all. It was easy to feel great running through Wellesley with that in your ear.
I passed the half at 1:36, which would have been great if I thought there was any chance I could even come close to an even split. A 1:39:59 second half would have put me at 3:15:59 and re-qualified me for next year. But I knew that was unlikely and I began calculating what I needed to break 3:20. It still seemed doable. At 14, I had my first gel and decided I would walk the water station for 20 seconds. I was relieved to be walking a little, but worried about how much it was slowing me down. At the track, I was able to keep up a fast pace, even with the short walk. Obviously, it's a lot different during a six-mile workout on a flat track, but I had still hoped to be faster. So, I skipped the walk at 15 and decided to walk only at the even miles.
Between mile 17 and 21, it's all hills. There are three pretty big climbs, the last of which is Heartbreak Hill, which starts soon after the 20 mile mark. As Hal said on the tour on Sunday, the hills aren't steeper or longer than what I ran in training, but coming that late in the race is just killer. I ran up each hill at an achingly slow pace. I wanted to keep my miles around 8:00 pace, but it just wasn't happening. My heart was fine, but my legs were so heavy and my feet were killing me. By the time I got to Heartbreak Hill, I was simply resigned to the dragging legs that it actually didn't seem as awful as I expected. At 8:22 and 8:40, miles 20 and 21 were by far the my slowest miles of the race. I had hoped the hard hills I've been running in LA would help me more with the hills during the race. After Heartbreak, it's a long downhill through Boston College (man those kids were drunk!) and Brookline where it flattens out on Beacon Street and finally heads into Boston. I wasn't delirious like I was during the end at NYC and I don't think I ever hit the "wall". I wasn't having any trouble continuing to run, but I couldn't convince my legs to move any faster.
At the end, you turn from Commonwealth Avenue onto Hereford Street and quickly make a left turn onto Boylston Street. At this point you can see the finish line. It's probably a half-mile away. I tried to sprint it in. I couldn't tell if 3:20 was still possible, but even if it was, my legs just weren't having it. The finish line didn't seem to be getting any closer at all. But finally it was there. I think I raised my arms and head to look at the official cameras.
After a long, cold (at this point the wind had really picked up) walk to collect my medal and baggage, I met up with John for a celebratory beer. Then it was back to Jim's for a quick shower and to Logan for my long flight home.
I'm tired today and awfully dehydrated, but not nearly as sore as I expected. My knee is a little achy, but not really "painful". If I remember correctly, it took a couple days for the pain to set in after Lake Placid. We'll see, but so far so good. I went for a bike ride today, my first outdoor ride since, well, maybe since SOS. (Is that possible?) I wanted to stretch out my legs. It felt good to be out on the bike.
Now some reflections:
- I know I did not reach my potential. I have a sub-3:10 in me. And for the beginning of the race yesterday, I felt sorta like that runner. I wanted to PR and wanted to re-qualify. But, thinking back on where I was just a few months ago, I am very proud that I ran the 3:21. It wasn't that long ago that I wasn't sure I would even be able to run at all. Assaf left me a congratulatory voicemail yesterday, one of the things he said was how great my result was, especially considering my recent history. He said: "I don't know if you remember, but [just a couple months ago] you weren't doing much." I'll admit that it's hard to remember that and not just think about past race success and where I think I should be. But if I choose, there will be other races.
- Boston is a really tough course. And Heartbreak Hill isn't the worst of it. So much of the course is rolling, with some really tough descents, that by the time that last hill comes around, it seems somewhat normal to do another climb. It's also not all that interesting of a course. The spectators are great. But the scenery doesn't really change until you get right towards the end. If you're hurting, there's not a lot to take your mind off the suffering.
- I needed about another month of good training to get me where I wanted to be. Whatever else I write in here or say to you, the difference between 3:21 and 3:12 (or better) is all the miles I had under my belt. I have great base from the last few years and my heart is in great shape, but those things don't compensate for the lack of medium length runs and the few truly long runs I did. I also didn't do any speedwork. My legs just weren't capable of carrying me that fast for that long. My even heartrate is evidence of that - I would have expected that my heart would have had to work harder as my legs pushed in the last 1/3 of the race. But, my legs didn't force my heart to do the extra work. I think that another three or four weeks would have strengthened my legs and enabled them could have carried me farther, faster and harder. Again, though, I played the hand I was dealt; and I think I played it fairly well. I had a late start due to the injuries and couldn't ramp up any faster without risking another injury. I did enough to get me through the race. Those extra seconds per mile weren't happening.
- Some of it was mental. I didn't or couldn't push through the weariness and will myself to move faster. I was tired and let myself believe that it was OK to be tired. For example, the fact that I walked my 20-30 seconds at miles 24 and 25 was ridiculous. I should have pushed through there. It wouldn't have saved me that much time, but maybe I would have hit 3:20. I finished feeling a little too good and should have been hurting more.
- I never found anyone to really run with or to latch onto. It would have been a tremendous help to have some company. It also would have kept me motivated and maybe stopped some of the mental drain.
- I ran as if I didn't have a plan. Truth be told, I didn't have much of one. And it definitely wasn't tested in training. But I did know that running 7:0x was way too fast and I could have slowed this down early. Coach John asked me last night if I thought that would have made a big difference. Honestly I don't know. I would have lost some time early on, but would I have made it up later? Or would I still have lost my legs after the half? Part of me is happy I went out hard. What if I had taken it easy and finished at 3:19 but felt like I didn't push it? That would have been worse.
- Boston is great. The tradition behind it and the fact that you have to qualify made it a must-do for me. If I re-qualified I would have a difficult time not going back. But do I need to go back? I'm not so sure. It's a long trip from here and if I were so inclined, there are plenty of other amazing marathons all over the world I could do. That's not a decision I have to make - or even have the option to make - right now. It's recovery time, and I have other decisions to think about (coming soon...)
1, 7:32, traffic
2, 7:11, downhill and going with the crowd around me
3, 7:09, more downhill, uh oh too fast
4, 7:04, double uh oh
5, 7:45, had to stop to tie my shoelace
6, 7:09, so much for my race plan
7, 7:15, trying to slow it down
8, 7:21, nice and flat, comfortable pace
9, 7:20, still feeling strong, good pace
10, 7:22, consistent
11, 7:27, some long climbs
12, 7:18, long downhills
13, 7:24, beginning to really feel it, but bump from the Wellesley girls
14, 7:30, 20 second walk
15, 7:49, uh oh legs are getting heavy
16, 7:26, 20 second walk, but rolled down long steep downhill
17, 8:06, realizing that my legs aren't having it
18, 7:55, 20 second walk
19, 8:08, hurting badly and losing time
20, 8:22, 30 second walk and the big hills begin
21, 8:40, 30 second walk, Heartbreak Hill
22, 8:00, 20 second walk, trying to keep it around 8:00
23, 8:10, 30 second walk, struggling, but keeping at new pace
24, 8:03, 30 second walk, downhill through Coolidge Corner
25, 8:07, short walk, just get me there
26.2, 9:42 - translates to about a 8:08 pace for the last mile and change
Overall place: 4,950 (out of 22,849)
Gender place: 4,415 (out of 13,547)
Age group (18-39) place: 2,626 (out of 4,981)
Final time: 3:21:17
Official marathon splits:
overall average pace: 7:41/mile
Boston Marathon - April 20
Average heart rate: 154
Conditions: high-40's, cloudy, breezy
Bike - April 21
Distance: 14 miles
Time: 55 minutes
Average heart rate: 125
Course: West Hollywood, Hollywood
Conditions: Hot (high 80's) and sunny