Note written May 5, 2013: the Boston Marathon was nearly three weeks ago. Usually I try to write a race report within hours of finishing. Because of the bombing at the finishing line many of my post marathon thoughts have been about the families impacted by death and injury that afternoon, as well as the medical responders and bystanders that rushed to aid the injured. My thoughts continue to be with those who are suffering and I wish them a rapid return to health.
Getting into the Boston Marathon
The Boston Marathon is the most difficult marathon to obtain entry. A male runner my age needs to run a 3:15 in a “Boston Qualifying” marathon for the opportunity to enter. Achieving the qualification time is not a guarantee of entry. Since my personal record is 3:26 in the 2011 Cellcom Green Bay marathon I did not qualify for Boston.
There are two other routes (that I know of) into the Boston start field – becoming a charity runner or an invitational entry. Hundreds (perhaps thousands) of runners affiliate with a charity for a guaranteed entry into Boston. My understanding is that charity runners raise thousands of dollars for their entry into Boston.
The other route is an invitational entry. I received an invitational entry from a colleague that is part of the race staff. The invite arrived just before Christmas 2012. I returned it the next morning with my entry fee (about double the qualifying runner fee). I received notification in early February that my entry was accepted and then received the same pre-race information and treatment as other runners.
Race Day – to the Buses!
I stayed with a relative in the South End of Boston, about a mile from the Boston Commons. Al was kind enough to drive me to within a block of the commons. I followed the sea of runners carrying checked baggage to the mass of humanity gathered in the commons. With no discernible line or organizing spot I just stood with some other people. We were faced away from the buses and no one actually knew if we were in line or simply standing in place. Fortunately our mass of people eventually started to meander through the common. Sometimes towards the buses – not loading as rapidly or as often as I thought they might – and sometimes away from the buses casting doubt that we were in the right place.
A Porta Potty in the Distance
Far across the Boston Common from our snaking line was a row of about ten porta potties. From my vantage point I couldn’t see a line. At the same time the line to the buses was moving much more rapidly. I stepped towards the porta potties and then retreated back to line. Surely I would be OK.
On the Road to Hopkinton
Dozens of school buses leave the Boston Common for Hopkinton. It only took two bladder jarring potholes in the first block of the ride to make me regret my decision not to use the porta potty. It was going to be a long ride. As I looked up the aisle I wasn’t the only one with jiggly leg and probably not the only one contemplating repurposing my water bottle (if only it had been a wide mouth).
I chatted with the runner next to me on the bus to pass the time. I was sure the whites of my eyes were turning yellow so I kept looking into the distance. Since Hopkinton is 26.2 miles from Boston by foot it is even further by bus. The last couple of miles were a slow crawl through the neighborhoods adjacent to the high school.
Do the Right Thing – Get in Line
Many bus riders sprinted off the bus and into the school forest. I know a runner that was issued a citation for urinating in someone’s yard near the start line several years ago so I resolved to make the walk to the runners village and the awaiting banks of porta potties.
Of course thousands of other runners had that same idea. As we walked into the runners village Wave 1 runners were being called to the start area. Wave 1 had a 10 a.m. start. That made me hopeful that the lines would be shorter. That was not the case.
At this point I was all sorts of contorted misery which was quickly compounded by runners peeking out of porta potties calling for toilet paper. I had been in line nearly 30 minutes (almost two hours since leaving the Boston Common) and now I was facing a row of porta potties that were devoid of toilet paper (as well as breathable air). Thankfully, several hours earlier, Al offered me a paper towel to wrap my English Muffin with peanut butter as we left his apartment and only one side had peanut butter on it. With some creative folding I would be ok.
All was relieved a few minutes later when several gracious runners invited me to jump ahead in line. Thank you!
In Line Again
Given the previous wait and likely need I immediately got back into line. As I waited again the emptying of the runners village became obvious. Wave 2 runners were being called to the start area for their 10:20 start.
Relax and Final Prep
I found a nice discarded sleeping bag to sit on for my final rest and preparation. Since I would be starting at 10:40 I had several considerations that I might not have in a marathon with an earlier start time. For example, the Walt Disney marathon started at 5:30. I was past the half marathon mark before the sun crested the tree tops.
With a 10:40 start and no leaves on the trees I prepped for a day of running in the sun with gobs of sun screen. I imagine I had several gobs not rubbed in well enough that caused others a smile. I also ate a couple of bananas and a cliff bar. I was going to be running into the mid afternoon without my usual lunch meal.
Where did the Time Go
The runners village suddenly felt very empty. Wave 3, corral 1 and 2 runners were called. Since I was in corral 5, I was still idle mentally and physically. I should have gotten into action before Wave 3 was called.
A long row of buses were staged for the bag drop. It took a bit more searching than I hoped to find the bus for my bag. I joined the procession of runners from the high school to downtown Hopkinton. Manfred from Germany was my companion on this walk. He was uninterested when we passed Teddy Bruschi wishing a group of charity marathoners a great race. From the high school it is about 3/4 mile walk to the start area .
One More Time
At the bottom of the hill there was another collection of porta potties – with no lines! I hadn’t turned on my GPS watch and hadn’t paid close attention to the time. I was very focused on being calm during the hours of pre-race as I have found myself very amped in the past. Unfortunately, I was so cool and calm I nearly missed the race.
As I exited the porta potties the starter announced five minutes to the start of Wave 3! Oh Shit!
Wave 3, Corral 5
I was (and continue to be) grateful for receiving an invitation to run Boston. From what I gathered the final corrals (or maybe all of the corrals) in Wave 3 are for invitational and charity runners. Anytime I grumble about the congestion I faced during the marathon I always couch it with the obvious solution – I need to run a qualifying time.
We entered the start area near Corral 9. With about 1,000 runners in each corral I was surrounded by people trying to make it to their corral with just minutes to go. I was allowed through the Corral 5 gate about 30 seconds before the starter’s pistol was fired. My Garmin watch acquired the GPS signal about five seconds before we started. All of Wave 3, corrals 1 through 5 were in front of me. A few minutes later we crossed the start line.
I had a phenomenal winter of training. I finished the Walt Disney World Goofy challenge fit, healthy, and fast. Throughout training I was meeting, often easily, my pace and mileage goals. I felt prepared and ready to run a PR and had set a goal of 3:20 with a plan to run 7:40 minute per mile pace through Mile 21 and then push the pace more if I could in the final five miles.
The one thing nagging at my time goal was the unknown of the congestion on the road between Hopkinton and Boston. Much of the marathon is run on two lane rural highway. I didn’t have a good sense of how this would play out on race day, especially since the start is a significant downhill for many miles.
Mile 1 – Time Goal out the Window – 8:37
Within the first mile I knew my time goal was out the window. The road was shoulder to shoulder runners for as far as I could see. Even with some aggressive passing I wasn’t going to come anywhere close to a 7:40 first mile. That is simply time that can’t be made up.
Weaving through and around other runners is a tricky undertaking in a marathon. Speeding up, slowing down, shuffle stepping, moving side to side is mentally and physically draining. A glimpse of open road can quickly close as other runners move into that same space. Two, three, and even four others running side by side can cause a shift to the opposite side of the road. Weaving also adds distance to the race. Instead of running an optimal line I was moving laterally as I also moved forward.
Start to 5K (3.1 miles) in 25:22
Because the route generally is downhill for the first 5 miles I was careful not to overrun my fitness, not that I could have, given the congestion, but I was sure others were. I continued to move through the field, making lots of passes, but still well above my goal pace. Since I knew my goal time was dropping out of reach I began to consider other options. Should I really ease up and enjoy the day, other runners, and the amazing crowd? Should I keep hammering at my goal pace with hopes of a PR?
5k to 10k (6.2 miles) in 49:45
At the 5 mile marker was the first time I felt like there was some open road for running. I still had not settled into a comfortable and constant stride because of the congestion (see my previous acknowledgement that this is a result of my own pedestrian running in other attempts to qualify for Boston). As we came into towns the road would open a bit and there was more space to run. As we passed out of towns and the road narrowed the congestion returned.
Most portions of the route are packed with spectators. Lawn parties and tailgating provided cheers, offers of water, and kids hoping for a high 5. I really appreciated all of the cheering and encouragement.
10k to 15K (9.3 miles) 1:013:41
5k is 3.1 miles. The route had time splits available every 5k and at the half marathon distance. As you can see this is the point where I began to settle into a pace that I was able to maintain until the Newton Hills. The road was still congested but I had enough space to get into a groove and move on down the road.
Between Miles 7 and 8, I took my first Gu gel pack. Because of the time of day, it had been more than four hours since breakfast, I wanted to make sure to eat early and often. I was regularly taking Gatorade as I felt hot and thirsty.
15k to 20k (12.4 miles) in 1:38:29
In the 12th mile I stopped at a porta potty (I know … again with the porta potty). There is a calculation in the head of every runner. Do I stop and drain my sloshing bladder and relieve myself of this extra weight? Or do I forge onward and not lose time on the clock standing in the porta potty. As I made this calculation I saw my opening – a runner leaving a porta potty. With the draw string already untied and my thumbs in the waistband I was through the door. And back out 45 seconds later. Ahhh!!!
Without leaves on the trees we ran in full sun. Although the temps were only in the mid 50s I felt hot. I was regularly taking Gatorade sips and began during this stretch to splash a bit of water on my head, face, and neck. I was running without a hat. Perhaps a hat would help keep the sun off my head and face and hold some cooling moisture, but it could also trap some heat. I am not convinced one way is better than the other.
Half Marathon Split in 1:43:44
The combination of a slow start and the porta potty break made my half marathon split pretty disappointing. This marked final acceptance that my goal was well out of reach. It was also the moment I realized a PR was probably out of reach as well.
20k to 25K (15.5 miles) in 2:02:25
My spirits were raised when we passed Wellesley College. The all female school student body is famous for standing on the edge of the course, screaming wildly and offering and accepting kisses from runners. I passed on the kissing, but appreciated the well wishes and the signs (Kiss me, I am from Wisconsin! or Kiss me if you like Chocolate!).
I think it was in this stretch that I passed Dick and Rick Hoyt. You have probably seen their photo on a billboard or a feature of them completing the Ironman. Rick has cerebral palsy. His father, Dick, has pushed him to the finish of dozens of marathons and triathalons. It was an incredible honor to see them on the course. The marathon is truly a triumph of the human spirit and there are countless ways to participate in it. Team Hoyt is part of the inspiration for the organization myTEAM TRIUMPH that I am proud to support its mission to help all people, regardless of ability, participate in endurance events while also building lasting relationships.
25k to 30k (18.6 miles) in 2:27:08
I don’t recall much memorable about this stretch. I continued to pass lots and lots of other runners. The downhill start enables to people to run beyond their fitness in the first 10k. The pain from that error usually starts to set in after mile 15. I began to see a lot of suffering.
Oh yeah … something memorable … the start of the Newton Hills.
The most famous hill in marathon running is Heartbreak hill which is the fourth of the Newton Hills. Part of what makes Heartbreak Hill so heartbreaking is its placement in the race – mile 20, but also the carnage that has already unfolded on the three hills before it.
The first of the hills begins after the first turn on the course. A 90 degree turn at the Newton Fire State brings the first hill into view. It is not particularly steep or long of a hill but its placement in the course is tough. I did my best to stay near my goal pace. I was passing lots of runners walking and shuffling up the hills. Also adding to my weaving.
30k to 35 k (21.7 miles) in 2:52:17
Fortunately each hill is followed by a descent. Unfortunately there is another hill.
As I ascended heart break hill I envisioned how at the top I would roar like a caveman and thrust my fists in the air to celebrate my primal accomplishment of man versus nature.
With each step up the hill, a little slower than the previous, and each weave around a walking runner, my caveman energy dissipated. When I finally crested Heart Break hill just before the 21 mile marker all I could muster was a quiet whimper and a three finger twitch.
At the top of Heartbreak Hill I was supposed to pick up the pace. To keep running at or better than goal. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. I was hot, hungry, and tired. The road was packed with runners, many of whom were walking, and I was still weaving through them looking for open road.
There were also lots of bandits and runner friends on the road. I think the density of charity and invite runners in Wave 3 lends itself to friends and family jumping the fence to run a mile or the final miles with their running friend or family member. Although I appreciate the emotion and sincerity of their effort this further crowds the road and increases the number of people running three or four abreast which further complicates passing. Not a fan.
35k to 40K (24.8 miles) in 2:17:20
I wanted to go fast but my legs just weren’t willing. I continued to be nagged by the idea of easing up and enjoying the spectacle of runners and spectators all around me. The thought of jogging in a 9 minute pace had a lot of appeal. I was hot, tired, and hungry, had given up on finding open road to get into a groove, and my right hamstring was beginning to send out warning signals.
I have been plagued by hamstring tightness in the final miles of my marathons. Often one or both will seize and bring me to a stop while I wait for it unbundle itself and the pain is so terrible I want to hurl. I tried to stay at the fastest pace possible without worsening the tightness. I also tried some massage as I ran – probably looked funny and not entirely effective.
40k to the finish (26.2 miles) in 3:28:32
In the eddy behind the mile 25 marker my right hamstring seized. I hopped stiff legged behind the sign and out of the flow of runners. It was a moment of agony. Within 10 steps it had released enough that I could run again, but I never got back to my goal pace. It would be a cautious limp to the finish.
The day before Al had driven me on most of the course, including Commonwealth Avenue. We both decided it was unlikely I would be running down and back up the section of road that drops under a cross street. Ugh! That is exactly what we did before the right turn off of Commonwealth.
Turning onto Boylston Street led to the dual realizations of “I am almost done” and “the finish is a lot further away than I thought.”
The Mile 26 marker was dedicated to the victims killed in Sandyhook elementary school. I ran close to sign as another runner was finishing 26 push-ups in front of the sign. I paid tribute with a wave and thoughts of the children killed. Push-ups … I couldn’t of done one at that point.
I dug deep towards the finish. Not crossing in a blaze of speed that I hoped but happy nonetheless to be done.
My finish placed me:
6367 among male finishers
1220 of 1691 40-44 year old males
The Boston Marathon clearly features lots of fast runners!
I am not sure of the total number of finishers and many runners were unable to finish.
I depressed the lap button on my Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch at each mile marker. Below is my split data.
It was a long, slow, and cold walk from the finish to the buses with my clothes and Al in the family area. I know I was shivering uncontrollably. I must have looked pretty cold and miserable because other runners were trying to help me with my heat blanket and every medical person that met my eyes asked if I was OK. Just cold and hungry.
Drop Bag Pick-Up
My final finish area task was to pick-up my drop bag which I had pre-packed with food, warm clothing, and my phone.
Two Loud Noises
A few minutes before I met Al near the corner of Berkley and Stuart I heard two loud noises. I have previously written about my experiences in the minutes, hours, and days afterwards.
Perspective and Gratitude
Missing a time goal and a PR in the grand scheme of things is pretty minor. Many families had their worlds turn upside down that afternoon. All I did on April 15 was go for a long run on the world’s most famous marathon course.
I am grateful for the experience.
I am grateful for concern of friends and family for my safety.
I am grateful for the medical team, Boston EMS, other healthcare professionals, and bystanders that rushed to aid the bomb blast victims. All of the people alive when first encountered by the medical staff were alive a week later. That is an amazing accomplishment. Thanks!
I appreciate the ongoing support of Road ID and their efforts to make sure any injured endurance athlete can be quickly identified by emergency responders.
Stevens Point, Wisconsin
[Reprinted with the permission of Greg Friese. Follow his Blog Every Day EMT Tips.]