I am extremely grateful I had the opportunity to take part in the Boston Marathon for the second straight year. In 2015, I posted a 3:44:27 at less than 100 percent. Fortunately, I still had a qualifying time to get me in for this year. Despite breaking my foot in August, I patiently worked my way back to at least close to my best shape yet. I had a big confidence booster in February with a half marathon PR, and I was able to get lots of training on rolling terrain due to traveling to Nashville a lot for work. I went into this year’s Boston Marathon gunning for a 3:15, and felt like I had a good plan of attack in place to accomplish that.
It was nice to have a day and a half in Boston prior to the race in order to take in a few tourist things, and also spend plenty of time at the race expo including picking up that all-important race bib. After walking over eleven miles the day before the marathon last year, I made sure to not be on my feet as much this time around. It was also great to hang out with some friends I don’t see often enough and eat at some great local restaurants.
One of the biggest highlights was going to a special service on Sunday morning at Old South Church which has been around since the mid 1600s and is located right at the finish line of the race. They honored all of us running the race and had special music with the Chariots of Fire theme on the pipe organ and even a bag piper. I highly recommend visiting this church the day before the race to anyone who earns that coveted BQ. I also logged a nice shakeout run along the Charles River after church.
Finally, race day rolled around and with it a 70-degree starting temperature. Yikes! As someone who runs most of his miles predawn and definitely not in that kind of heat so far this year except when on a treadmill, the temperature and bright sun were definitely real concerns. However, I didn’t adjust my plan other than to try to grab drinks at as many fluid stations as possible on the course.
I rode the bus to Athletes’ Village with my running partner, Cindy Warner. It was great to pass the time with her instead of being alone in the midst of thousands of strangers. We spent all of our time waiting to start by standing in line for port-a-potties. We were smart, though, and picked lines that kept us in the shade under one of the large tents. We were also well lathered up in 100 SPF sunscreen. Well, except neither one of us thought to put it on our legs, and we both ended up with toasty red calves. In the midst of all the people waiting, we did see our friend, Dan Bosch, and were able to wish him good luck as he headed to the starting line with his wave.
It was finally time to head to the starting line, and after I made one last bathroom stop we were on our way with 26.2 miles to cover between Hopkinton and Boston. I stuck with Cindy for the first quarter of a mile and started to settle into my pace. I finished the first mile in 7:45 and was really happy with that, as I didn’t want to start too fast. Over the next nine miles, I tried to stay steady, with splits of 7:24, 7:28, 7:26, 7:36, 7:26, 7:29, 7:34, 7:23, and 7:23 to get through Mile 10. I slowed a little during the next mile with a 7:38, but I quickly got back on task with a 7:30 and a 7:25 to cross the halfway point in 1:38:50, right on track! Wellesley and the girls of the scream tunnel had lots of energy as always, but unlike last year I stayed in the middle of the road this time and tried not to get caught up in the distractions, as I knew I would need all of my energy and focus to try to meet my goal.
Miles 14, 15 and 16 went by with splits of 7:33, 7:44 and 7:33, as I stayed on track and started into the challenging Newton Hills. Then, during Mile 17, I nearly came to a screeching halt when I dry-heaved and started to realize the heat was affecting me more than I realized. I had been drinking regularly, alternating between water and Gatorade and I had also taken a Clif fuel pouch at Miles 5, 10 and 16, as well as pouring water over my head to try to stay cool. I struggled through Miles 17, 18 and 19, feeling nauseous with splits of 8:01, 8:28 and 8:05, as if the hills weren’t already tough enough without feeling like I was going to throw up.
Finally, between Mile 19 and Mile 20, I did come to a screeching halt. I walked to the side of the road and lost everything I had left in my stomach. Or so I thought because 30 seconds later it happened again. I felt bad for the poor spectators who were standing a few feet from me on the side of the road and I noticed mothers shielding their young kids’ eyes. I sheepishly apologized for what had happened, but for the first time in my nearly six-year running career I had tossed my cookies. Twice. And I still had seven miles to go to earn my Boston Marathon finisher medal.
I rinsed my mouth out with the water I was carrying, took a deep breath and decided to see if I could get the legs to turn over again as I set out to attack the hill that awaited. I knew that walking to the finish line would take me another two hours and I really wanted to avoid that if at all possible. Then, I spotted it: just the fuel that I needed. I ran to the opposite side of the road and grabbed a green freezer pop from a generous spectator. The cold, sweet icy goodness refreshed me and I picked up the pace and started passing people. My Garmin shows I stopped for one minute and 48 seconds when I got sick, but I still ended up finishing Mile 20 in 9:48 and then attacked Heartbreak Hill and finished that mile in 8:05, followed by an 8:07, an 8:19, and an 8:26 to get through Mile 25.
The wind had picked up and I was fighting to push through it to get to the finish line that still seemed so far away. Then, I started to get very light-headed over the final mile, plus as I was seeing black spots. I’m sure this was because I was scared to eat any more of my planned fuel over the final nine miles after the initial dry-heaving incident and was just trying to make it to the finish line. Mile 26 was a 9:35 and then the turn on Boylston Street saw me pick up the pace to an 8:40 to get to the finish line where I crossed with my arms raised in 3:28:48 to finish 7,362nd out of 26,639 finishers overall, and beat my bib number which was 8172. (Boston bib numbers are seeded so the lower the number the faster you are compared to the rest of the field.) It was great to have made it to the finish line, even if I didn’t get the time I was shooting for. I knew I had given my all and that’s all that mattered. Plus, I was 16 minutes faster than last year. 848 people who started didn’t finish and after 48% of the field re-qualified at last year’s Boston, only 16% did this year, due primarily to the heat. I was also 5,830th out of 14,471 men overall and 1,077th out of 1,994 men in the 40-44 age group.
Within about 90 seconds of crossing the finish line, I found myself in a wheelchair as things started spinning and I nearly blacked out. I fought hard to pay attention to what was going on around me because the medical person told me if I sat in the wheelchair for ten minutes, I had to go to the medical tent. I told her to let me know when I was at 9:30 and then I made myself get up because I was supposed to meet Cindy at the finish line and I knew she didn’t have her phone and wouldn’t be able to find me if I wasn’t at the predetermined spot. It took everything I had to get out of the wheelchair, but I did and then hung on tight to a railing while I waited for her to finish. I got another volunteer to give me a bag of potato chips and the salt started to perk me up enough that I spotted her as she was heading my way after setting a nearly two-minute Boston Marathon PR in the tough conditions in her third time running the prestigious race. What a welcomed sight! We had both made it!!!
While my time may not have been what I was originally hoping for, I am so proud of my effort and determination in this one. Sure, it would have been great if the temperature would have been 20 degrees cooler and the sky would have been cloudy. But, just like in life, things rarely go perfectly and the true test is adapting to the situation and doing the best you can. I can say I did that on this day! I’m also proud of all my friends in addition to Cindy who battled the elements. I will not be going for a Boston three-peat in 2017, but I’m totally okay with that. It’s a truly special event and it should be earned every time.
A huge thank you to the BAA and the city of Boston for putting on a great event and the truly amazing spectators who simply won’t let you not finish the race. There were lots of great signs along the course, lots of high fives to give, and yes, the dude around Mile 14 who had a $1 bill firmly in his hand got a good laugh when I tried to grab it. He turned to his buddy and said “got another one!” Ha ha! Such a great experience and I can’t wait to see what the next adventure will bring.
Mount Vernon, Ohio
Age – 44
Bib # 8172
[Follow Dave Parsons on his blog DP on the Go!.]