Thursday, April 19, 2012

I Ain't Dead Yet, or my 2012 Boston Marathon Race Report

I had more fun on this visit to Boston than I've had on any previous visit, though I also also experienced my toughest race yet. How is that possible? Read on and find out.

No matter how calm I like to pretend I am, I usually spend the week before any marathon freaking out about the weather. This time around, though, the race organizers did the worrying for me. Before I had even begun packing, I received the first of several emails from the BAA warning of "higher than normal temperatures on the course." I quickly realized that I would not be treating Monday like a goal race. Once I accepted this fact, my pre-race nerves virtually disappeared (though thankfully my excitement did not!). This meant I was able to enjoy Saturday and Sunday, exploring Boston without worrying about tiring my legs. I saw much more of the city than on previous visits which was a huge plus.

The night before the race, while we were enjoying a delicious homemade pasta dinner at Restaurant Dante in Cambridge, I decided on my goals for the race. They were simple: (1) finish and (2) don't walk. I promised myself that I would not "race" Boston, but would just try to enjoy myself.

Now that we've got some background, on to race day...

On race morning, I woke up at 5:05 feeling ready to go. I had plenty of time to fix my usual pre-race bagel with peanut butter and gather my things before making my way to Boston Common to meet with several other Dashing Whippets members. Once everyone arrived, we huddled for a quick pep-talk from one of the members, Simon, who was volunteering with the BAA at the finish."No heroics," he told us--excellent advice for the day!

On the long bus ride to Hopkinton I alternated between gabbing with other runners and listening to my pre-race energy mix. It took almost an hour to get to the Athlete's Village, but time flew by thanks to all the excitement on the bus. 

Once we arrived we staked out a spot underneath the giant tent so we could stay out of the sun as long as possible. It was only 7 am when we got there which meant we had plenty of time to kill. I used it to (1) apply two coats of sunscreen, (2) visit the port-o-potties roughly 73 times, and (3) write my name on my arm in sharpie. I thought about wearing compression socks, but a quick foray into the sun to use the bathroom convinced me that 80 was too warm for black knee-high socks. Eventually, it was time for wave 1 runners to start making their way to the corrals. Five of us in corals 3 and 4 heading to the start together. 

A few minutes before the start they lowered the rope separating corals and those of us in coral 4 managed to weasel our way up to where the coral 3 runners were. I knew the others were planning on running for specific times--faster times than I wanted (in my head I was thinking 3:30 would be a respectable finish and the slowest anyone else seemed willing to accept was 3:10) but I figured I would start with my teammates. 

The race begins after the jump.

When the gun went off it took about two minutes to reach the start but once we did several teammates disappeared ahead. I was running with my teammate Mwangi who was aiming to re-BQ with a 3:05. That was faster than I wanted but since he said he was going to take the first miles slow I stuck with him. We ran mile 1 in 7:05 and I knew I was asking for trouble. The first mile is a steep downhill, but it should be one of the slower miles. Around mile two (which was still too fast at 7:14) I saw a couple other running friends, Chad and Beth. They seemed to be running a touch slower so I decided to let Mwangi go ahead.

We started chatting and they both said they were taking it easy with no time goal. After a mile or so together Chad pealed off to make a pit stop and Beth and I kept going. We were running miles in the 7:20s (7:20, 7:26, 7:33, 7:27 for miles 3, 4, 5, and 6) which felt okay, but I was pretty sure I would have to slow down eventually. As we made our way through Framingham we reached the spot where I had begun my run several weeks ago when the weather was in the 50s. That day I had averaged 7:33 for the final 20 miles of the course.

Even in these early miles the crowd support was great with tons of folks lining the course with extra water, ice, oranges, etc. Beth and I agreed that the crowds made us glad we had decided to run (most runners I know never seriously considered deferring). The crowds and talking made the miles pass easily with mile 7 in 7:23 and mile 8 in 7:28. It was definitely hot, though. Starting at mile 2, every time we passed a water stop I took Gatorade to drink and dumped water on my head. Every so often we felt a slight breeze only to have it quickly disappear.

As we passed Fisk Pond at mile 9 (7:26) I saw a boater out on the water enjoying the sunny skies--at least the heat was good for someone. The crowds up ahead in downtown Natick were awesome with tons of folks packed the area by the common. Up ahead we could see that many runners were diverting to the left before returning to the course. Although we couldn't see what they were leaving the course for, we agreed to follow their lead. It was a good decision. Right in front of the fire house, the fire department had set up a misting tent and running through it felt wonderful. The whole thing distracted me so I had forgotten to hit lap at mile 10. 

Beth soon pealed off to use the bathroom and told me she hoped not to see me again during the race (that's a good thing, for all you non-runners). I still felt pretty strong too, and figured I'd just see how things went. After an uneventful miles 11 (forgot to hit lap again!) and 12 (finally hit it, average of 7:28 for the past three), I neared Wellesley college and the famous scream tunnel. It's lined with coeds, most of whom hold signs that beg for kisses. Normally I consider them to be like the sirens of Greek mythology--either their energy forces you to run too fast, wrecking your pacing strategy, or you succumb to their offers of a moment of guiltless pleasure, losing precious seconds. This year, however, with no time goal to keep in check, I made sure to get some kisses, setting a "PR" with 4 (Kiss me I'm from Oregon, Kiss me I'm from Paris, STOP and Kiss me, Never been kissed (by you)). Maybe that's why mile 13 was 7:36. I reached the half in 1:37:38.

The miles through Wellesley were great. It's a beautiful little town and there were plenty of folks out to cheer us on. The course is also relatively flat and I was still feeling fresh. I clocked 7:29 and 7:38 for miles 14 and 15. I knew the hills were coming up but I had hopes of maintaining a similar pace despite the increasing heat and mile 16, which takes you into Newton, went by in 7:19. The next mile includes the I-95 overpass hill which signals the start of things to come. I slowed down a bit and grabbed a gel from the aid station just past the Newton-Wellesley Hospital. I clocked mile 17 at 7:43.

Mile 20 - Ugh.
As I approached the Newton Fire House and the turn onto Comm Ave, I hugged the right to run the tangent, but my only pretense at speed. I knew it was time to slow down a little if I didn't want to walk later. Mile 18 has the second Newton hill which I took slowly in 7:47. I could really feel my legs now, though the hills are never easy. Thankfully mile 19 is pretty much all downhill giving me a chance to regroup and to grab cold sponges from people on the sidelines. At one point I also got a piece of ice which I just held in my mouth. Mile 19 passed in 7:33 but it was time for Newton hill number 3 and a 7:53 mile 20.

This is where I seriously began thinking about walking. I walk between a 14:45 and 15 minute mile (yes, I know my walking pace--I'm a little crazy) so I did the math an realized I could finish in around 4 hours if I walked the final six miles. I told myself, make up Heartbreak Hill and then reevaluate--you ARE NOT WALKING the hill.

I made it over Heartbreak Hill and through mile 21 in 8:13. Here you're greeted by hundreds of Boston College students waiving "Mile 21" towels. Seeing them and knowing I had some downhill ahead kept me from walking but I really felt like I was struggling. Make it to mile 22, I told myself, and then reassess. I made it to 22 but forgot to hit lap--not that I cared about time at this point. Near the Chestnut Hill Reservoir is also where you catch your first taunting glimpse of the Citgo sign, only to have it quickly disappear as you make your way onto Beacon Street.

The Beacon Street crowds in Brookline were great, but I felt like I was on a death march. Every time I thought about walking I let myself reduce my pace a little instead. I looked longingly at the Green line cars on my left but knew that there could be no greater admission of defeat than riding the T, wearing a bib, into Boston. Mile 24 crept by in 7:56 as we entered Coolidge Corner the crowds were growing thicker and I could see the Citgo sign for real. Still, I had no energy and every step required a conscience decision. I let the sign pull me in but still longed to begin walking. The thoughts of dropping out I had back in Newton were gone though--I was going to finish even if I had to crawl.

The little hill over the Mass Pike seemed like a mountain and helped make mile 25 my slowest at 8:14. As the course turned back onto Comm Ave all my thoughts shifted to my Aunt and brother who I knew would be waiting near mile 26. I also got a nice surprise when I some teammates spotted me and cheered. My thoughts now were on running every tangent because I wanted to be done! I made the turn onto Hereford and began scouting for my family but somehow missed them. I had done mile 26 in 8:07 but that final stretch down Boylston seemed like the longest part of the whole course. I had no kick and it was all I could do keep moving forward. Finally I crossed the line in 3:20:27. I've never been happier with a finish in my life!  

After the race though, I was wiped. I slowly made my way to my bag, ignoring the offers of medical assistance. Turns out, that was a mistake. Over the next two hours I drank more than 7L of fluid (mostly Gatorade). It took several hours for my pulse to return to normal levels and even longer for me to stop shaking. Still, it was a wonderful experience and I plan to run Boston as long as I can continue to qualify.

Later in the evening, after meeting up with my teammates for a debrief at a bar (where I had water, water, and more water), my aunt, brother, and I went to Fenway Park for their post-marathon open house. I think the picture to the right really says it all. Now if you'll excuse, I have to go take another ice bath.


  1. David, that is an extremely impressive time under normal conditions and you should be proud to have toughed out the race and stuck to your goal of not walking! I can't believe what your "slow" mile pace is. Such a hammer!!!

  2. Your awesome and nuts! Congratulations - what a great RR!

  3. um, you kicked a$$ considering how hot it was! i love that you know your walking pace!

    i couldn't believe how many people sat in the sun in the athletes' village. crazy.

    i had so much sunscreen on that the orange check bag rubbed off on me.

  4. Great RR!!! Mac walked ... he walked a lot - lol!