Thursday, April 18, 2019

Race Report: Boston Marathon 2019

The Numbers: 26.2 miles, 4:40:10 (10:42/mile); 22,546 of 26,632 overall, 12,823 of 14,662 men, 333 of 488 Men 65-69. 

Quick Summary:  Running the Boston Marathon on Patriot's Day, April 15, 2019, will be a lifetime memory for me.   The fame of the event, the aura surrounding it, the vibe of being in it, the utter difficulty of the course itself, the splendor of the finish, the welcoming across the entire city of Boston explains why this marathon is like no other.   I didn't run as well as I had hoped, yet the entire experience went beyond my expectations.


The Gory Details:

Getting there

I first pondered running Boston while on the plane to run the Portland Marathon in October 2009.   I wondered aloud, for the first time if I could ever qualify and run.   Six serious attempts at qualifying finally resulted in a BQ time at the Monumental Marathon in November, 2017.  Seventeen months later, it was a go.

In the week or two ahead of my departure, I was astounded at the outpouring of interest and support from friends, family, coworkers and fellow runners.   Even though this would become my 86th marathon finish, this race was clearly different. 

On the Friday before we flew out, my co-workers decorated my office door with 26 point 2 balloons (yes, a point 2 balloon...look at the little tiny blue thing below the yellow balloon in the foreground) and other Boston items plus a goodie bag.   I was so surprised and moved.
























I have some experienced runners with whom I work!
























We flew to Boston early Saturday morning, April 13.  The first order of business was to get to the expo and pick up my bib and go shopping for the obligatory Boston Marathon windbreaker.  Amazingly, lots of other runners had the same idea!   But we got to the convention center and it was a thrill to pick up my bib.
























We then met up with our son David, his wife Susan and their oldest son Nathan who flew in just to be with us and see the race.   We tromped all over downtown Boston on the Freedom Trail on a glorious spring afternoon and soaked in the vibe which was pre-race Boston. 




















On Sunday, I wanted to get off my feet and did so, kind of.   While our kids went to see the Boston Red Sox play, Gretchen and I found a wonderful church with whom to worship on Palm Sunday, then took public transport out to the famous peak of Heartbreak Hill near Boston College.  The trolley trip itself allowed me to preview the final five miles of the course.  Seeing the hills themselves was quite helpful.    We had dinner with our kids after they got back from the ball game and made final plans for how and where we'd meet up during the race.   I got home, checked the weather for race day for the 147th time, made final adjustments and went to bed.   Amazingly, I slept very well.

Race Day:

I awoke and grinned...today was finally the day of the Boston Marathon. 

Since the weather reports had been changing rapidly the previous five days yet still called for rain in the morning, I stuck my head out after waking and saw dry pavement and little wind.  Nice, I think and proceed to get ready.   By 6:50am, I was out the door to walk from our airbnb to the Davis T (subway) stop and got drenched on the way.  A major thunderstorm rolling through...water over my ankles in the streets soaking my shoes and socks.   In that 3/4 mile walk, I got drenched, my disposable poncho no match for the downpour.   My throw-away sweats soaked up the rain.   Not the start I had hoped for.   Yet, others had advised me to wear throwaway shoes and socks too...so, my good shoes and dry socks were safe in a bag.

I was ahead of schedule and the train got me downtown more quickly than I had allotted.   So, I modified my plan and found a bench on which to sit inside the Park Street T station for about 45 minutes collecting my wits and avoiding more water.

Apparently, I looked "safe" and ended up offering directions to lots of fellow runners on navigating Boston's public transport system while I sat there.   Never mind I had less than 48 hours experience on it myself at the time :-) .















The time came to get to the Arlington T stop, where I rigged a better "umbrella" out of an old space blanket I had stuffed in my hoodie and I ventured outside again.   The rain had lessened to a strong drizzle.   I found bag drop and headed for the huge logistics operation to transport 30,000 runners 30 miles west.

What a horde of school buses assembled to move all of us!!   As a logistics guy myself, it was fascinating and beyond me to explain briefly.   They have good practice though and it worked pretty well.

Image result for bus transport Boston marathon


My sheer chance, I ended up with a great seat mate for the 45 minute drive to Hopkinton who was running his 3rd Boston and lived in a condo on Boylston Street..."Yeah, I woke up at 8:30 and just walked to the bus".    We had a lot in common with three sons each and a lot of military connections.   He helped me understand details of geography and the course as well.    I appreciated his companionship.

Every race day has adjustments to make and my first one happened when our bus driver took a wrong turn in Hopkinton and dropped us off in the wrong place, near the start line not at Hopkinton High School's athletic complex.  So, all of us on the bus ended up wandering a bit through a quiet, pleasant New England residential district, trying to find a high school we'd never seen before.  We started hearing sounds, so followed that but, in the end, walked about a mile or so more than we would have needed.   It worked out OK as I had enough time to get through the long portapot line and then change into my dry shoes and socks once my Wave was called and we were out of the muddy outfield grass of the baseball field. 
















We then did the walk BACK to the start line.    And, man, it was great.   Walking down there, thinking, hey, at long last, I'm actually starting the Boston Marathon.   Had to almost pinch myself.  Here's what it looked like, my only video of the day, with commentary.



The actual start was less organized than I expected.   Because of the uncertain weather, the BAA had told us that our Wave 4 would start immediately on the heels of Wave 3 and not in corrals...just to get us on the road more quickly.   And that's what happened.   We just walked up to the start line and started running, corals 1 through 9, all jumbled together.





And so, with little fanfare, we walked up the hill to the start line, crossed the timing mat and I was running the Boston Marathon at long last. 

And the hills started immediately, the first mile a steep downhill.  I focused on holding back and not getting carried away.   Early on, I stopped to take a photo of a house formerly owned by a friend's aunt, where our friend remembered visiting on marathon day, amazed as a girl by people throwing perfectly good t shirts into the bushes.
















After years of marathoning, I have learned to relax at race's start and allow the day's rhythm to display itself during the first 4-6 miles.   How am I feeling?  What is the course like?  How is the temperature?  The wind?  My legs, my lungs?  Thirsty?  Hungry?   Calm? Uncertain?   I almost always have that worked out by  mile 5 and then execute the rhythm for another 20 miles or so. 

Not so this day.   And, ultimately, I would learn, only in the final 5 miles, not the first 5 miles, would I understand the day's running. 




The combination of the awe of the event and its logistics, the choppiness of my start experience, the newness of the course (to me) and variable weather combined into sensory overload.  There was just so much to absorb and process!  In particular, the weather was cloudy and cool at the start but by mile 5 was sunny and getting warm in a hurry, well into the 70s.   I peeled off my arm warmers, took off my cap, stuffed the grey Buff in my waistband and generally tried to get adjusted to running in warm weather after doing all my training in winter cold. 

I was very happy my family had made arrangements to see me the first time around mile 10.  What a thrill to see them waving their Purdue signs and cheering! 



The T shirts they wore were a special treat and a story for another day.   And, yes, we all like Purdue.

Immediately after taking this photo, I peeled off both shirts, handed the stinky black tech shirt, arm warmers and buff to my family and they chose to love me anyway.  I wriggled back into the white singlet with the Purdue logo which was perfect the rest of the way.   For fun, I took young Nathan with me and we ran about 200m of the course together...that was a hoot...I hope he remembers it.

What ultimately proved to be the hardest part of the run soon followed.  This is totally unexpected on most readings I've ever made about the Boston course.  I was surprised  by just how flat portions of the middle section of the course was.  I expected to simply slip into a rhythm and get through these "kind" miles ahead of the Newton Hills.   Yet, that rhythm was elusive and it seemed the harder I tried to find it, the more hidden it became.   I was knocking off the miles but it wasn't smooth. 

Our next family meet up was at mile 17,  just before the start of the infamous Newton Hills.   Wow, that was good to see all of them again.   We paused and chatted and I said goodbye to the kids, as they had to head for the airport from there.  We had a most enjoyable talk and a good goodbye.  I was so grateful for them making the effort to be with me for the event!

At the very base of the hills, a policeman was watching.   I caught his eye, smiled and said "So it begins!"   He got it, smiled back and seemed quite content to stand guard at the base and not run the next five uphill miles.   Yeah.

In contrast to my frustration and weak negotiation of the middle, flatter parts of the course, I was pleased with how I handled the Newton Hills.   I knew it was not one hill, but rather a series of four steep hills, separated by flat sections, as if one is going up four flights of stairs with a walk between each.  I had prepared during training, mentally and physically, and I found I actually enjoyed them.   I felt as if I knew where I was...I ran or power-walked the steepest portions and ran the rest...one, two, three, four hills...arriving at Boston College, mile 21, done with the most challenging part of the course   I felt fine and knew the rest of the course from our Green Line trolley tour the day before.

Related image

My quads felt great coming off Heartbreak Hill, so I hammered the downhills the rest of the way, letting gravity be my friend.   Looking around me at other back of the pack runners, it seemed I was in better shape than many at this point.   The weather, however, had also changed, again...it clouded up, we got a couple of cloudbursts of rain at 22, cooled off and the wind picked up but it was a tailwind for us runners.    I learned later that my family actually saw me at mile 22.5...they had some extra time and came course-side for one more look.  Unfortunately, I didn't know they'd be there and missed them, despite their yelling, such was the overall level of cheering.  That was so nice of them, though.

The crowds were great throughout the entire 26.2 miles but really went over the top during the final three miles.   I could scarcely hear myself think they were so loud.   Many, many shouts of "Go Purdue, Boiler up!" along the way when people saw my shirt and recognized the "P" as the Purdue logo (though one guy said "Go Providence" and another guy said "Go P", to which I replied the portapots were a mile back and I had taken care of that already....).

We came into Boston proper on Commonwealth Avenue and then into the green park portion of that long street.   Less than a mile to go, I felt alert mentally and was soaking in the atmosphere.   Finally, I saw ahead the most famous pair of turns in marathoning.

Right on Hereford, left on Boylston.  It was everything I had hoped it would be. 

















I made the turn onto Boylston and I was excited to be there.   600m to go.



I wasn't in tears but I was deeply moved.   I chose to jog, not race, down Boylston, looking at the crowds, taking it all in.   



In a wonderful, serendipitous moment, as I ran on the left side of Boylston, I noticed and paused for for several moments at the small memorial to the victims of the 2013 bombings...that was a somber but useful reminder that even though we were having a joyous time, life throws difficulties, sometimes deep difficulties, our way.   Remember that, Joe. 

And then I finished the race, crossing the finish line and done.  Wow.





I was grateful that the area just beyond the finish line was largely open by the time I arrived and no one seemed to mind I lingered a bit to soak it all in.   I was grateful to have a guy snap a this photo which I'll always keep.



Boom.   How amazing.   I got the medal which is a small thing yet a link to a big moment.

























Gretchen missed the finish, as she was stuck on a train in gridlock traffic.   But I got hold of her and while she patiently worked her way to the finish area, I chatted up some volunteers, got my drop bag, put on a dry shirt and met her at the Very Crowded Corner of Arlington and Boylston.   How great to see her!!   We headed back to our airbnb, grabbed a couple of carry-out sandwiches at Davis Square along the way and spent the evening recounting our day and talking with relatives on the phone.   There it was...the Boston Marathon.   Done.

Adidas did a cool thing and produced a 58 second video in which every runner featured for a few snippets.   Here's mine:






Post-race Reflections:

In the few days following the race, a few solid reflections have floated to the surface.

Most importantly, I hit all my objectives in terms of enjoying the full event.   I never hit The Wall. I felt strong and fully engaged, mentally, the for the whole race and drank it in. 

I must say I was disappointed in my time of 4:40:10, though.   On reflection, I never found a "groove" until I got passed Heartbreak Hill at mile 21.  On the one hand, it's kind of cool to find a rhythm that late in a marathon.   Yet, I'm still perplexed I could not find it earlier and struggled in the flat, middle portions of the course.   But I'm fine with that, there was simply so much going on and the atmosphere was so stimulating, I'm not sweating it.  Did I really "run the best race conditions allow"??  No, not really.   I could have done better.   I'm smiling and mulling if there is another Boston in my future.   I don't know.   But I am mulling. 

I'll write in a few weeks about my observations on the Hanson's training plan which I used in this race.  I'm pleased and feel I understand it better now. 

My goodness, what an experience.   I've run the Chicago Marathon three times and the crowds there are good but nothing to compare with Boston.   It's the oldest, grandest and best of them all.   The organization of the event is astounding...the sheer number of volunteers is amazing.   Nothing to compare it to.   I've heard so much about this world-class event and now have experienced it myself.   It did not disappoint and I'm so happy to have been able to run it.   Those of you who have done it know exactly what I mean.

If you've read this far, I'm impressed...that makes you a marathoner yourself!  Thanks for your interest and support.   It means far more than you know.

Persevere.


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Sunday, January 27, 2019

Boston Training 2019: Week 7 of 18, Jan 21 - 27, 2019

OK, we're into the middle "trimester" of Boston Training and the heavy lifting is getting started.   Similar pattern to last week in week 7.   Here's the plan, from the Hansons.













We started the week cold...so I moved Monday's 4 easy miles indoors on a treadmill at work.   7 below zero didn't seem like a fun idea.

Tuesday was the first really big mess up of the training cycle.   Due to weather, I put off the scheduled intervals to the evening.   And then I ate dinner.   Then I went out and man, what a joke.   The weather was still cold.   The legs were dead after a long day at work.   The stomach was too loaded.   I did a half mile or so and packed it in.   Bad idea.

So, instead of the off day on Wednesday, I got back on the treadmill for 5 miles.   Not great but I ran.

Thursday's tempo run happened after an overnight snow.   I was out early but managed to find a loop in a nearby neighborhood.   5 solid miles at an 8:56/mile pace, better than the 9:08 target.   Hansons say you are not supposed to beat the pace, rather learn the pace.  So, I'm still learning.

Friday's easy run was back on the treadmill for four.   I got outside on Saturday for 6.3 easy miles in very cold temps of about 12F.

My long run on Sunday was complicated by some family commitments but I got it in around sunset in 8F temps.   Layer up.  And it went well, ten solid miles at 9:33/mile, ahead of the 9:53 target pace. 

But, man, it was cold.   And from the looks of next week, it won't get any warmer. 

Persevere.


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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Boston Training 2019: Week 6 of 18, Jan 14 - 20, 2019

Now, training really starts.

I've known all along Week 6 was the big step up in the Hanson's program.  This is when the specific structure of their program (three hard days, three easy days, each with specifics) kicks in.   The plan looked like this.












I've been wondering since I decided on this in November what intervals, temp work and the paced long run would feel like...not to mention running six days in a row.

And I found out.

Here's how the week went:

Monday's 4 mile easy was OK, even at 8F.   The streets were remarkably clear after the weekend's snow.  10:54/mile pace

How to do Tuesday's intervals on slushy streets?   On my drive home from work on Monday, I scouted a nearby neighborhood and found a loop I could use for the 400m repeats.   On Tuesday, I ran there with a one mile-ish warm up, then used my Garmin to measure the intervals.   And 12 I did.   They were supposed to be at 2:03. 

Specifics:
2:02
2:05
1:58
1:57
2:00
1:58
2:05
2:01
2:01
2:02
2:19
2:20
The last two on very icy streets.   I was pleased, even though it was a tough workout.  I sense I'm going to learn a lot with the progression of Tuesday intervals. 

Thursday's tempo run is a continuous run at my target marathon pace (9:08/mile).   After, again, a one-ish mile warm up, off I went.   This one was tough.   It just took some grit to keep going at a 9:08 pace.   I eventually got it done, with an aggregate average of 9:07/mile.   Again, this sequence of Tuesday/Thursday will prove challenging I'm guessing. 

Friday--- Nice to go to an easy 4 mile run at 10:37.  And it felt easy.

Saturday-- Another monster snow storm hit early Saturday morning with heavy snow and 30mph winds.   I chose to run the required 8 miles on a treadmill at work.   Wasn't easy...I don't like the treadmill at all.   But I got 8 miles in.   Ugh. 

Sunday held the first Hanson's approach to a long run.   In all my previous running schedules, the "long run" is simply that...go run long with little concern about pace.   Not in this program.   It's a focus on a harder pace but not marathon pace.   This is odd for me.   Temps were right around 10F and the streets were icy but I decided to go outside, rather than mess with the treadmill.   The run went OK but I could not keep the specified 9:53 pace.   The aggregate ended up being 10:24/mile.   I did run continuously, not using my usual 7/1 run/walk as I do on the "easy" runs.   So, I'll take it. 


So, off we go...this will be the pattern now until the second week of April.   What a way to spend an Indiana winter, eh??

Persevere.



Sunday, January 13, 2019

Boston Training 2019: Week 5 of 18, Jan 7 - 13, 2019

Week 5's reality illustrated two key potential disruptions of any training plan-- illness and weather.  

Week 5 is the final week in the program of "just running" was laid out like this.













Looked straightforward.   Ha.

On Monday evening, I noticed some drainage in my throat.   I ran early Tuesday but felt worse through the day.   Wednesday and Thursday, I hardly got out of bed, the cold and flu bug was so severe.   Friday, I went back to work and managed an afternoon run.    By the weekend I was close to normal again.

And, then a big snowstorm blew in overnight Friday!   23 consecutive hours of snow, dumping about 8" of heavy, wet snow on us, our first significant snow of the season.   I knew Boston Training would include some snow/cold running but have been lucky so far.   That's done.

So, the actual runs for the week looked like this:

Monday:  Off
Tuesday:  5.3 miles @ 10:47...the head cold was coming on
Wednesday:  scheduled rest day but I was sick anyway
Thursday:  curled up in bed...no training run
Friday:  Rare weekday afternoon run, 5.3 miles @ 10:37
Saturday:  Run on 3" of snow covered paths, 8.1 miles @ 11:19
Sunday:   Run on slick roads, 6.1 miles @ 11:11


I chose to add Thursday's scheduled 4 mile run to Saturday's scheduled 4 mile run and do a single 8 mile run, to get the miles for the week done.   Not sure what the Hansons would say about this but I did it. 

The slower-than-specified paces on Saturday and Sunday ( targeted at 11:00/mile) were due to the sloppy, snowy footing.   I'm not too concerned about this in the days after a snow storm but non-dry pavement will make intervals and tempo runs a lot more difficult next week.   We'll learn as we go here.

Did I mention it was snowing on Saturday??   Here's what the ice looked like on my face after the 8 miles.  



















This was a typical view of Saturday's run...every bit as grey and snowy as this looked.


Next week, the serious training starts.   Intervals, tempo runs, long runs, six days of running.   Hang on.

Persevere.

.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Boston Training 2019: Week 4 of 18, Dec 31 to Jan 6

Moving through the holidays, Week 4 of Hansons Training just dials up the training a little more with one more running day and a tad more distance.   Here's the actual program for distance and pace:


Week 4 Plan












Of course, the Hansons didn't now I violated their protocol already by running The HUFF 50K ( race report ) on December 29, which meant I was ostensibly on "recovery" all this week.   In fact, after a marathon, I normally don't run until Thursday of the following week.    But, hey, it was New Year's week.

So, here's what I actually did this week, with distance and pace:

Monday:  Off
Tuesday:  9:00am, New Year's Day run with our local running club...5.2 at 10:22
                 4:00pm, another NY Day run with local running store...4.2 at 9:52
Wednesday:   Off
Thursday:   Off
Friday:  3.1 early miles at 10:29
Saturday:  5.1 hilly miles  at Happy Hollow Park, at 11:19, then
                 2.7 miles at 11:23 with grandson in training
Sunday:   4.1 miles at 10:31, late in the afternoon

I should add...I'm trying to figure out how to fit in hill work for the prep for Boston.   Absolutely everything I read and every Boston runner I've ever talked to said the hills there will chew you up...the early downhills and the more famous late hills.   I live in the flatlands...how to do hills?   We have a local park with hills and I did 5 miles on Saturday morning there...it really chewed me up and spit me out.   I need to do further serious work there.

Week Five awaits, the final "easy" week in the program.   And no more major interruptions...it'll be straight up training through the end of March. 

Persevere. 

.