155 of 206 starters, 164 finishers. 8th of 8 in men 60-64, 92nd of 96 all males
Summary: The goal was to qualify for Boston in this race, meaning a 3:55 or better finish. Didn't happen, not even close. Temps in the low 70s and very, very high humidity made it a tough go for me and everyone else. By mile 10, it was evident BQ was not going to happen, so I idled back, shifted to a run/walk and simply enjoyed finishing marathon #66. And, ultimately, enjoyable it was.
The Last Chance BQ2 Grand Rapids is an annual event conducted just ahead of registration opening for the Boston Marathon for the following spring. Since qualifying for Boston was my 2016 running goal, this was, indeed, my last chance. It was my 3rd attempt to BQ, having come up short at Carmel and Wisconsin marathons last spring, I registered for this event and trained for it through the summer. And I hoped for helpful weather.
Summer training this year was so-so. I ran all the miles on Hal Higdon's Intermediate II plan, which has served me well. Yet, the speed work I did this summer was tough to get in. It's been so hot and relentlessly humid, I wasn't sure if it was enough.
I drove to Grand Rapids after work on Friday, got my bib and met several other runners.
With daylight still allowing it, I then drove to the start/finish area which proved helpful in finding my way around on race morning.
Up at 4:40am on race morning, I was heading to the site by 5:15am and was sad to see the pre-dawn temperature on my car thermometer at 72F. The air was heavy with no stars in the sky. I scored a good parking spot and had a good chance to relax before the gun.
By the 7am start, we were all assembled. The first three digits on each runner's bib was his/her qualifying time for Boston. The names on the bib made for a bit more personal approach as well. This made it easy to see who to try to hang with and who to salute and wish well. The grid for the 3:55 section was made of men, 60-64 and women 45-49. Perhaps predictably, the women immediately began exchanging information and finding friends, while the men stood silent, alone in their thoughts. Fascinating bit of human behavior to observe.
While 330 people had registered for this race, only 206 runners started. The gun went off on schedule, though with the cloud cover, it was still quite dark, hard with my age-advanced eyesight to see my watches. But they got started and off we went. Over the first couple of miles, as we were all bunched together, the sheer number of beeps and buzzes I heard from everyone's various electronic devices as amazing. This illustrated the unique nature of this race: the only folks there were experienced runners AND had a clear goal with a plan to achieve it.
The course was, at its core, a 4+ mile, football shaped oval, with a half mile spur to one "point" of the football, followed by six laps and then a run back to the start/finish. Several of us in the 3:55 group soon fell in with each other. Little conversation took place, much less than in a normal race, given each of us was focused.
I finished the first lap, about 5 miles into the race, on pace for the 3:55. Yet, I was already drenched with sweat and breathing more heavily than I'd have liked at that stage. Around mile 7, I glanced at the race time on my normal watch and saw a blank screen. Yep, my regular watch conked out on me. I had my Garmin GPS watch on my right wrist, however, set to keep track of each full mile's time and the pace in each individual mile. That would be the only timing I had. I stuck with the plan I had in place, choosing to focus on simply executing each mile, one at a time, and working the plan.
Somewhere during mile 8, however, the pace fell off. Miles 8 and 9 each clicked through at 10 minutes flat, far from the 8:55 pace I needed. So, during mile 10, I settled the now-obvious fact that this day would not be the day. The weather conditions (and, secondarily, my base of training through the summer) just were not conducive to a hard run this day. So, I pivoted to my familiar run/walk plan and the objective shifted to simply enjoying a marathon, finishing without injury and staying well for the future.
The race went well from there on. With my regular watch kaput, I jerry rigged my plan for run walk, using distance splits on my Garmin. From miles 11 through 18, I took a short (like 30 seconds) walk break on the mile and half mile distance. At 18, that felt a bit much, so I split each mile into thirds for a short walk break and carried that to the end. It all worked.
I managed a 8:55 pace over the final half mile run back to the start/finish line and felt good at the end, always a measure of how well a race goes. I talked with a few folks and made a bee-line for my car to get the cold milk/protein/banana/oatmeal smoothie from the cooler.
In chatting with folks after the race and in reviewing official race statistics, it was clear I was hardly alone regarding the difficulty of the day. Very few people qualified for Boston...only 3 of the 8 in my age group and fewer than that in other age groups. Congratulations to those to made it...that was quite something on that day.
So, this was marathon #66 and I'm grateful for being able to run. Will I BQ? I truly don't know. And if I never run Boston, I'll still die a happy man. I do enjoy running and we'll see when or if the BQ happens.
Thanks for reading. Persevere.