Monday, April 24, 2017

2017 Boston Marathon: Race Report

Quick stats:

14th marathon
2nd Boston
Qualifying time: 3:01:06 (current PR)
Half split:1:47:54
Final time: 3:50:55

And here's the long version:

I woke up at about 5am and showered (which I normally do before a half or full marathon so I can wake up and loosen up a little).  Warm weather was predicted for the race, so I decided to go with my Who's Up? singlet.

I had already set out all of my clothes, as well as my bag for athletes' village, so it didn't take me long to get ready.  Around 5:40am I left the apartment and walked the few blocks to Boston Common to get on the bus.  I was in wave 1 corral 5, and the bus loading time for wave 1 was from 6 - 6:40.  I wanted to get there right at 6 to avoid waiting in line.

When I arrived at the Common, there were already hundreds of runners streaming in from every direction.  There was a security checkpoint to check my bag and my bib, and no wait at all to get into one of the dozens of yellow school buses.  The ride took about 45 minutes out to Hopkinton.

What a difference two years make.  Two years ago it was a miserable, cold, wet New England spring morning.  Thousands of runners were trying to avoid the rain and wet grass by piling under the two large circus tents they had set up.  I didn't bring enough throwaway clothes and spent two hours shivering sitting on a plastic bag.

This year the weather was gorgeous (already about 60 degrees at 7am and sunny), so there was plenty of room to spread out in the village.  The BAA lays out a lot of amenities, including Gatorade, bagels, bananas, coffee and tea, apples, and Clif energy blocks.  I made myself a tea and wandered around for a bit to take it all in.  I saw a line forming  to get pictures in front of the "It all starts here" sign, which I missed last time, so I jumped in line for that before it got too crazy.

I talked to a lot of runners, one of which, from Texas, was glad to hear I shared his goal of simply finishing, rather than coming anywhere close to my qualifying time.  I also talked to a woman while in line for the porta potties who was from Vancouver and qualified in her first ever marathon.  I was jealous.

I went to the medical tent where they had sunblock, and I slathered it all over me.  At about 9:15, the announcer started calling those in wave one to head out to the starting line, which was almost a mile away.  The whole thing was incredibly organized, with volunteers at every step of the way to make sure we were all where we needed to be.  On the way out to the starting line, people were outside of their houses already cheering us on and offering people last minute things such as vaseline on sticks and more sunblock.

I visited the porta potty one last time, then headed to my corral just in time for a fighter jet flyover and the national anthem.

Here I was in a corral with people who had run a qualifying marathon back in 2015 or 2016 somewhere in the vicinity of 3 hours.  I wondered which of them were still in 3 hour shape and which, like me, were just here for the spectacle.  As soon as the gun went off I moved over to the right side of the course to hopefully stay out of people's way.

It was a little disheartening to see how many people were passing me in the first few miles of the race, but I knew that my less than stellar training cycle, along with the expected temperatures in the 70's, necessitated a slower pace.  I ran my first mile in 8:27, which I considered a sustainable pace for the full marathon.  Spoiler alert: it wasn't.

The first half of the race, particularly the first 10k, was absolutely brilliant.  I high fived as many kids as possible.  I jumped and air fived a kid sitting on his dad's shoulders ("I'd like to see you do that on Boylston," said a passing runner).  I sang along to the music.  I smiled from ear to ear and fist pumped the air.  I've rarely been happier in my life than I was right there on the streets of Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick and Wellesley.

I almost collided with a teenage girl trying to cross the street around the 10k mark, and I heard a volunteer chewing her out behind me as I ran on.

At mile 12 we headed into the Wellesley College Scream Tunnel.  I had seen something on Twitter a few weeks ago soliciting ideas for signs.  All you had to do was fill out a Google form and the girls of Wellesley would make it for you.  I asked them to make a sign for me in German, figuring my students might get a kick out of it, and they e-mailed me a picture of it a few days later.  I looked for the specific sign as I passed, but didn't see it.  Oh, and for those keeping score at home, I ended up kissing 4 women this year.

The halfway point is just past the Scream Tunnel on the main street of Wellesley, and was probably my favorite part of the whole race.  I wanted to stop to hug and kiss every last spectator and scream "ISN'T THIS FUCKING INCREDIBLE!?!?!"  I was absolutely as high as a kite and never ever wanted to let go of that feeling.

But what comes up must come down.  It was a warm day (now in the seventies).  Not the warmest in Boston history, but up there.  There was no cloud cover and only the occasional breeze from behind.  I was taking water and Gatorade at every single aid station but still could not slake my thirst.  I stopped sweating.  I had trouble stomaching my last Gu, fearing it might come right back up.  The upshot is that in the second half, the race became pure drudgery.

I walked up the first Newton Hill.  Jogged the second.  Walked the third.  I started to wonder if I might run slower than four hours for the first time in ten years.    At mile 20, my quads seized up in debilitating cramps.  I could barely walk, let alone run another 6.2 miles.  A National Guard member came over to check on me and he suggested using my elbows to dig into my quads, which I did.  I had to stop and do this every ten minutes or so for the rest of the race.

People had been passing me for the entire race, but just past the halfway point was when the white corral caught up with me.  For reference, I had started in the first corral (red), and the white corral started a half hour later.

While running, a lot of spectators misread my singlet.  "YEAH! WHAT'S UP MAN?!"  I just chuckled and kept running.  I walked a lot down Beacon Street and spectators were able to get a better look due to my slower pace.  "WHO'S UP?  YOU'RE UP MAN!!!!!!!!"  I appreciated their exuberance, even if I wanted them to stop yelling at me and leave me alone in my misery.

Any time I tell myself before a race that I only care about finishing, I always end up setting some sort of loose time goal for myself anyway.  I probably would have been disappointed to finish in slower than four hours, so I spent the last few miles of the race doing late race mental math and hoping I could make it.  I didn't want to have to hustle down Boylston like last time.  I really wanted to be able to take in those last few blocks.

With less than a mile to go, while going under the Bowker Overpass, one of the few places on the course with no spectators, a man running next to me yelled "I FUCKING LOVE EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU!!"  To say this was an emotional moment would be an understatement.

Right on Hereford.

Left on Boylston.

And there opened up in front of me one of the grandest moments in sports.  Four blocks of screaming, joyful humanity, pushing the runners around me towards our nirvana.  I tried to turn around and run backwards for a step to take it all in, but the change in gait sent me down with a calf cramp like I had been shot.  A police officer came over on a bike to check on me.  I grimaced, dug my elbows into all areas of my legs, then hobbled on.

I crossed the finish line in a daze, and slowly moved my way forward to collect my medal and other things.  Not sure why they were giving out mylar blankets, but I took one anyway.  A bottle of water.  A banana.  A bag of food.  Some sort of chocolate protein drink.  I had to stop to sit on the curb a few times to collect myself.  Volunteers kept asking me if I was ok but I really wasn't sure.  After twenty minutes in the finishers' area, I finally felt ok to leave.  Because my Airbnb was so close to the finish line, I hadn't checked a gear bag, so I just walked back to my place to shower and relax for a little bit.

And so ends my 2nd Boston, my 14th marathon, and one tough race.  But we're not done here yet, folks.  Stay tuned for my next post when I get into the post race celebration.  Spoiler alert: there was a fair bit of alcohol involved.

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