I ran Boston for the first time in 2011, and I didn’t have a strong desire to ever run it again. I had wanted to do it once in my life, and I was very grateful and satisfied to have had that experience. I just didn’t feel I needed to come back and do it again. But after watching the events unfold in 2013 while I was glued to my work computer, my emotions ran from horror, to anger, and then – like the majority of runners across the country – to defiance. “I will run Boston in 2014.”
In 2011, I ran Boston like a tourist. I carried my camera and took a ton of photos, I high-fived a thousand people, and I tried let the entire experience soak through me. This time, I wanted to give the famous course my best shot. And I had a 2:55 PR from 2010 that needed lowering.
Training was as good as I’ve had for a road race. I trained faster than usual and saw a few short-distance PRs fall along the way. I set my sights on not just lowering my PR, but also giving it a good whipping.
A Goal — sub-2:50
B Goal — lower my PR (2:55:23)
Going into the race, I was fairly confident in the A Goal. I thought as long as the weather wasn’t horrible, then I had a good chance at it. I felt the B goal was pretty soft. I was much fitter than I was in 2010, so a PR was almost an afterthought.
My qualifying time was 2:57, so I was placed in a corral that was very packed and a bit slower than my goal pace. This was good and bad: good because it was so packed it was impossible to go out too fast on the big downhill out of Hopkinton; bad because it was so packed it took four or five miles of bobbing and weaving through slightly slower runners before the crowd thinned enough to run my own race.
I planned to be through the halfway mark at around 1:24. I knew I’d probably be a little slower on the second half of the race. The first half has a bunch of downhills, and the second half has the infamous Newton (up)Hills. I hit the halfway mark at 1:23:40, which was right where I wanted to be. I was still feeling very good at this point, and I was confident as the Newton Hills approached.
Temps were rising to 60 degrees (much warmer than anything I’ve been training in), and I was starting to douse myself with full cups of cold water. But I was still on target as I cautiously approached the hills.
Heartbreak Hill is the last and most infamous of the Newton Hills. It crests near Mile 21, but after that, it’s a fast downhill course for nearly three miles before two pancake flat miles to the finish line. I lost a few seconds per mile overall as I climbed the hill, but I was still on target at the top of Heartbreak — just as I planned.
The elite men’s write-up said the race is won on the hills, “if not on the hills themselves, then by virtue of the damage they inflict.” As I was descending the backside of Heartbreak Hill, I see now I had fallen into the category of “I lost the race because of the damage the hills inflicted on me.” I wasn’t toast, but I was not-so-slowly heading in that direction.
By Mile 24, my pace had slowed almost a minute per mile and it was clear right then 2:50 was out of reach. I was overheating by now, and the wobble in my legs had become a wobble in my head. I wanted to walk (for fear of passing out, and because I was now officially toast), but the roar of the unbelievable crowd kept me running. You really do feel like a rock star the entire 26.2 miles along the Boston Marathon course.
So I kept running, and now I was starting to get a little worried about my B goal. But my meltdown wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t soak in the unrivaled feeling of turning left onto Boylston Street with the finish line in sight. It truly is one of the greatest scenes in all of sport.
I shuffled through the finish line, beaten yet victorious. It’s quite the feeling to cross that finish line; it was my second Boston finish, and it felt no less amazing than my first time there.
And I’m the owner of a new PR: 2:54:33.
The “Boston Strong” spirit was amazing all weekend. I don’t have a strong emotional connection to the City of Boston itself, but it felt good to be a very small part of helping the city heal.
I do have a very strong emotional connection to runners all around the world, so nearly all of the goosebumps I got throughout the race and race weekend were reserved for other runners I saw on the course. I believe in running, and it filled my heart with so much joy to see the smiles and struggles and tears and whoops-of-joy from runners of varying shapes and colors.
The Boston Marathon is special. It’s a lofty goal for many runners, but it’s a worthy goal. The idea of the Boston Marathon is almost as powerful as the race itself. I feel truly blessed to be lucky enough to have run it twice now. I hope I’ll never take moments like these for granted.
[Ultra marathoner Scott McMurtrey writes a blog “I Keep Running.” The story of his 2011 Boston can be found there.