This past weekend I was fortunate enough to run the Boston Marathon, the crown jewel of the marathon circuit. I had qualified for the race way back in January of 2015 at Disney, which now seemed like an eternity ago, but the time was finally here.
I have been training for my first Ironman this year so my marathon training has been different than in years past, but I am working with a great coach and I trust her training. I had a great race two weeks ago at Around the Bay in Hamilton and had every reason to believe I was on track for a great result in Boston as well. My main goal going into the race was to enjoy the experience more than anything…I really didn't want to focus on a time goal, but seeing how well my training had been in the last couple of months I was expecting to have a real shot at a sub-3 hour run.
Michelle and I got into Boston on Sunday morning and quickly checked into our hotel before heading down to bib pick-up at the expo. The expo was pretty cool with all the major vendors represented, but there were just too many people for me and I wanted to get out of there. I bought the obligatory Adidas jacket and Michelle picked up a shirt from Saucony and we took off in search of lunch. We ended up finding a cool little joint called 'Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe' that was full of history and had some great food too.
After taking an afternoon break back at the hotel we headed off for dinner at City Hall where the official pre-race pasta dinner was being held. Runners received a complimentary ticket and guests were $25 so we figured it was probably cheaper than anywhere else we would find in downtown Boston. The location wasn't great for us from our hotel, it was a hotel shuttle ride plus a decent hike after we were dropped off. The food itself was okay but certainly nothing special, and it was buffet style filling up styrofoam boxes. We then ate at cafeteria tables. I would have rather just gone to Olive Garden to be honest…we'd skip this dinner if we ever come back. We headed back to the shuttle pick up location but it was nowhere to be seen, so we just walked the rest of the way back to the hotel, nearly a 5K walk in total. Lots of walking the day before a marathon, probably not the best strategy.
I ended up having a great sleep which isn't always the case the night before a big race and when the alarm went off at 4:30 I was ready to go. I got dressed and Michelle and I went downstairs to grab breakfast…with the race start not until 10:00 I was able to get a pretty decent meal in. The hotel we stayed at had a great breakfast and they opened it up early on Marathon Monday for the runners. Breakfast started at 3:30 and when we walked in shortly before 5am the staff cheered for me…I was their first customer of the day :) I had some pancakes and greek yogurt to fill up on and then it was off to catch the hotel shuttle to the bus loading area before heading off to the Athlete's Village in Hopkinton. I caught the shuttle with a young guy named Kevin who was also running his first Boston and we stuck together up until it was time to head into our corals. The weather was cool when we arrived in Hopkinton but the sun was shining and we knew the temperature was on the rise. I ditched my throwaway sweatshirt and headed off to my corral, ready to run.
The corrals were packed tight and there wasn't much room to move let alone get any warmup in. A couple minutes before the starting gun went off I looked to my left and saw my buddy Laura only a couple people over…I snaked through the crowd and said hi. It was nice to catch up a bit and wish each other well before we set off. She's a rockstar running her third straight Boston!
10:00 rolled around and the elites took off…I was in the first wave as well, back in corral 4, so I had to wait a couple minutes to get across the start line. It was pretty incredible to see the river of people heading down the hill at the start, all bobbing in unison like a giant tidal wave rolling towards Boston. The running was congested, just as I had expected, and plenty of people were taking off at a pace I knew I didn't want to run at. I was planning to run around 4:20-4:30/km for the first 5K as the descent is around 70m and you can really trick your legs into running fast out of the gate if you aren't careful.
I stuck to my pacing and came through 5K at 21:50…the course levels out a bit at this point as we head into Ashland and Framingham and at this point I was looking to build a bit of speed. I dropped my pace to run 4:10-4:15 and I managed to stay here all the way through to 15K. My split at 10K was 43:12 and things were looking good. There were a couple of developing issues though, the first being that my armpits had started to chafe almost right away, I'm talking about a kilometre in or so. This despite bathing in Body Glide :( It was the first run I had worn a singlet for this year and my pits were not happy. The heat was rising and the sun was beating down…no shade on this course. I knew the heat would be a factor so I was taking in water at every aid station and when I hit 15K I had to make a quick pit stop…I wasn't willing to pee my pants with two-thirds of the race still to go.
After my quick port-a-potty stop I felt much better and continued clipping along at a good steady 4:10-4:15ish pace, right where I wanted to be. I passed Kevin along the way and cheered him on and I caught up with Laura again as well. I pulled in beside her to see how she was doing and she was making the smart decision that it was not going to be her day. She let off the pace a bit (but honestly, not too much…she still finished with a great time) and let herself enjoy the race. I wished her well again and took off through Natick and on to Wellesley and the famous kissing girls of Wellesley College. Wow what a rush that was! So much energy as you are subjected to the scream tunnel…it was a blast and you couldn't help but laugh at the signs the girls were holding up in hopes of getting a smooch. Boosted by their energy, I cruised through the halfway point at 1:31:15…pace was still looking really good and not fluctuating at all.
I kept pushing hard through the next couple kilometres, making sure to keep drinking at the water stations and keeping my fluids up, but coming up on 25K I was starting to get some mild cramping in my side and my stomach was fighting some GI issues. I knew I could fight through it and watch my pace drop or I could jump in to the next port-a-potty I saw and just deal with the issue as quick as I could and hope my pace would stay strong. I opted for the latter and it cost me a little over a minute but I felt a lot better…I actually had my fastest split of the day after taking care of business. At this point I was now closing in on 30K as I entered the dreaded Newton Hills. I had trained for the hills for months and felt like I was ready for them…my pace dipped a bit but that was to be expected. I made the turn at the Fire Station and was still feeling decent. I was passing people as I climbed the hills but felt good…there was no walking these hills for me. I held my pace around 4:30 for the first couple hills and then on the big ones through to Heartbreak Hill I kept it close to 5:00 (8:00/mile). I was through the toughest part of the race and it was a nice downhill run into Boston from here over the final 8K. Only problem, I was toast.
I wanted to push but I couldn't. I was boiling hot but had goosebumps…never a good sign. Dehydration and heat exhaustion were setting in and I just hard to work as hard as I could to push on to the finish. I knew that there was no way sub-3 was going to happen…I knew that after bathroom stop number 2…and now I knew that I was likely going to miss out on getting under 3:10 to get another BQ. My new goal became "don't walk". I made a special effort to take in the sights around me and enjoy the crowd…and what an amazing crowd they were. People lined the entire length of the course urging you on every step of the way. It is a crowd that can't be described, only experienced. I saw the Citgo sign I knew I was close. I passed by Fenway and then shortly after 40K I heard "Go Michael! Woo Hoo!!!" and looked over to see Michelle cheering me on…if there was any moisture left in my body I might have been able to produce a tear.
I gave her a smile and thumbs up and pushed on to the finish. It gave me the boost I needed and I was able to pick up my pace to the finish.
I crossed the line with a time of 3:12:16, which actually works out to be my second fastest marathon. I was pleased with my effort, knowing that I gave it everything I had on a tough day on a tough course. It would have been easy for me to throw in the towel once the going got tough and my goals had slipped away, but I adjusted and thought back to my original, most important goal…enjoy the experience because you never know if you'll be here again. That goal was a success!
I met Michelle afterwards in the family reunion area and we hopped a cab back to the hotel to rest…I was knackered. Eventually we got up and got moving again and headed off to watch the last runners cross the finish line hours after the race had officially come to a close. People were still out cheering runners on and we were proud to be a part of it. Shortly after we found a little pizza joint called 'Woody's' that served some pretty delicious wood-oven pizza as well as equally delicious Guinness. I may have had a pint or two ;)
We polished off our dinner and went over to the afterparty at Fenway Park…I've always wanted to go and didn't want to pass up the opportunity to get on the field.
We wrapped up the day with a nice long walk back to our hotel and I collapsed in bed for a well-deserved good night's sleep.
I have to say that in the days after the race I was really overwhelmed by all of the support I received from people…people in my personal life, at work, from up at the cottage, on Strava, Facebook, the DIS Boards…everyone was so supportive! There are too many of you to thank but please know every one of you that I am humbled and truly appreciate your cheers and well wishes. THANK YOU!