Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Race Report: 2011 Boston Marathon

I had no trouble falling asleep on Sunday night—but I did have trouble staying asleep. Sometime around 2:30 I woke up and never fully went back to sleep again, yet somehow there was no nervousness, no tossing and turning, just calm. Finally at 5:30 my alarm went off and it was time to get ready. I had everything laid out the night before so by 5:55 I was out the door. I hopped the T at Hynes and the station agent was letting all the runners ride for free! Soon I was at the Common to catch a bus. By around 6:15, thanks to the enormous efficiency of race volunteers, I was on my way to Hopkinton.

I rode next a really nice guy from Houston who had also done Boston in 2010 and while I ate my usual bagel with peanut butter we chatted away. It definitely makes it a more fun experience to talk to new people.

A little before 7:30 we arrived at the Athlete's Village. I found the folks from the Boston Forum and sat with them to pass the time away. What a great group and what a difference talking to people made during the long wait. At 9:15 they called my coral so I head towards the baggage buses with a runner friend. He’s run Boston more than 10 times so it was great to pick his brain a bit before I lost him in the final port-o-john line. Since my throwaway clothes include a Packers hoodie, I got plenty of comments on the way to the corrals.

By the time I was in my corral, there were only about 15 minutes until the start…I waited with anticipation as they announce the elite field and before I knew it the gun was off! 

The First Half

As with my past two marathons, I used Greg Maclin's customized pace band for the race. I set 3:03:49 as my goal, a conservative one because I really wanted to have a good time.

My main focus was not to go out too fast—the first mile drops about 130 feet and you will pay for it later if go all out. The crowds kept me honest and clocked Mile 1 at 7:10.  Things stayed crowded, but by Mile 2 they had opened up enough that I clocked 6:52. Mile 3 was nearly the same at 6:53. By this point I think it had finally settled in that I was actually running Boston! Even though I did it the year it doesn’t take away from how amazing this experience really is! Mile 4, with its downhill ended up being my fastest at 6:46. Mile 5 went by in 7:01 and I could tell that my average pace was were I wanted it to be. I’ve heard a lot of people say that when things flatten out around Mile 6 if you’re not feeling fresh, you’re done for. Thankfully, I was feeling good and Mile 6 in 6:51. Mile 7 went by in 6:54 and I took my first gel of the race. Thanks to my race-ready shorts, I hadn’t lost any gels yet. Last year by this point I only had one left!

By this point, my mind had shifted to Wellesley—not just to the screaming girls, but also to the halfway point. With my eyes on the prize I ran Miles 8, 9, and 10 in 6:57, 6:56, and 7:02. Mile 11 is loads of fun because you run through Natick’s town center and there are tons of cheering spectators. It went by in 6:59.

Mile 12 was downhill but pretty uneventful in 6:54. After that, it was on to the famous Wellesley Scream Tunnel! I swear it was a lot louder this year. Needless to say, Mile 13 was not a slow one in 6:57. The race then entered the heart of Wellesley where there were tons of fans. I went through the half in 1:31:04 (one second ahead of what my pace band said), knowing that my A, B, and C time goals were all still very doable.

The Second Half

After the half, my thoughts shifted to the Newton Hills that start at Mile 16. My thought process went something like this: If you can make it to 16 feeling strong, then you can make it through the hills. They will suck, but they will take up 5 miles and by the time you are done you will be in the home stretch. As Mile 14 took me out of “downtown” Wellesley in 6:54 I passed cheering spectators and quaint cafes, almost wishing I had time to stop for a bite!  Mile 15 is mostly gentle uphill so I did it in 7:00. Mile 16 has one of the steepest downhills in the whole race and since it’s followed by the Newton Hills I tried not to kill my quads in 6:51. Finally I entered Newton and part way through Mile 17, the first climb began with the I-95 overpass (probably the least scenic part of the course). At this point, I could feel the heat and had started dumping water on myself at almost every stop. Through the rolling hills of Miles 17, 18, 19, and 20 7:08, 7:17, 7:00, and 7:15. Now it was time for Heartbreak Hill! I’ll be honest, last year I didn’t think Heartbreak Hill was that bad—this year, as I ran Mile 21 in 7:31, I though it may in fact lead to my own heartbreak. Thankfully there were tons of screaming BC students who helped pull me through. Mile 22 is a nice downhill break and I did in 6:48. Now I knew I just had to hold on through the final, relatively flat, miles. I forgot to hit the lap button so Miles 23 and 24 were 13:59 together. I could see the Citgo sign, taunting me! Finally after a short but steep-feeling uphill I past the Citgo sign and ran Mile 25 in 7:22. At this point it was clear that there was no gas left in the tank and the only way I was going to cross the finish line was through sheer willpower. As I passed the 1 Mile to Go sign, I told myself I wasn’t going to stop. I saw a couple other runners start to walk, or alternate between a walk and a shuffle and I knew that no matter what, I was going to keep running (if you can call what I doing running). I dipped under Mass Ave and made the “Right on Hereford” where there were hundreds of screaming onlookers. This was a slight uphill, but since I was staying a block away I knew to expect it. I turned “Left on Boylston” and could see the finish. If I’d had anything left this would have been time for a kick, but I settled for a slower pace down this final downhill stretch. I gave it a little extra umph when I heard people calling my name and crossed the finish in 3:04:37, a new PR by 77 seconds!

What I Learned

I definitely ran a much smarter race in Boston than in New York. I had some fast miles in there, but they were intentional and well thought-out. Ultimately I think it was more the downhills than anything else that got me in the end. Still, I was able to stay roughly on pace through Mile 24, much later than in NYC so I feel like I’m really growing as a runner. Hopefully by Chicago I’ll be ready for my sub-3!!!