Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Memories of Boston

The 116th running of the Boston Marathon is this coming Monday, April 16th.

I ran the race in 2010, and it was truly an amazing experience - and not just the race. The 'buzz' in the hotel, around town and even on the airplane from Denver. At the time, people asked if I would race it again. My response at the time was that I can't imagine doing that since my experience was so perfect that I couldn't surpass it.

But now as it approaches again, I find myself wanting another shot at that gnarly course - and all the excitement and hoopla that goes with it! I have a decent qualifying time in the bank such that I'd get to register during early registration and thus probably can get a slot for 2013.

But that's a decision I can put off until later this summer. For right now I just wanted to share my experience participating in the 2010 event through something I wrote up right after the race. And if you are toeing up on Patriots Day in Hopkinton, then my jealous heart wishes you a spectacular day and race!!

My Memories of The Boston Marathon 2010

Preparation:
So the 2 hour nap I took with Luke (while Paige was out running) the day before was key. Totally took the stress out of getting to sleep on Sunday night – and Luke was pretty wound up. I figured 4-5 hours and everything would be fine, and I got about that.

Woke at about 5:20am and just kind of lay there until 5:40am. I had laid out all of my stuff the night before in the bathroom so I was able to get changed up and out the door in about 15 minutes. Blueberry Monster juice drink and a bagel / cream cheese and banana for the rest of the morning to hold me off until the 10am start.

The organization of this thing is truly amazing. They have this down to a science. You just show up where and when they tell you, and they guide you from bus pick-up to the starting line, with little room for error.
I got to the bus loading area at Boston Commons by 6:10am or so. Think of this – transporting nearly 27,000 runners from the finish area to the start is no small feat. There was a whole line of maybe 20 yellow school buses. When those filled up, the whole line headed off and a line of 20 more pulled up. You just stood in line and next thing you knew, you were on your way to Hopkington.

An hour later we arrived at the Athlete village. Another amazing step in the process. Basically a couple of football fields (or more) big with three major tents and a couple smaller medical tents. Many folks better prepared than me with inflatable mattresses and sleeping bags (to stay off the wet grass and snooze for the 2 ½ hour wait until the start. Great music and constant directions being read over the amplifier. I did find an empty box and a trash bag to lay down on. And although it was chilly, the sky was perfectly blue and sunny (temps were in the high 40s to upper 50s predicted for the day). I had no problem just relaxing and waiting.

Away We Go:
At about 9:10 they started calling number ranges to head down to the start line. At about 9:20 I headed out of athlete village and made the ¾ mile walk to the start line. When I got there, I showed my number and was directed to the right corral. There are two waves (10am and 10:30am), and runners are seeded by qualifying time in each wave, and then further segmented into 1000 runner corrals. It’s pretty impossible to end up in the wrong place – again, these guys just have this down.

Right before 10am, a pair (or three?) F-15s flew over at just over tree level. It was good that they told us before where to look for them, because you didn’t hear them until they were on top of you. That was pretty cool to see.

Then the race started. At least we heard it started, but it took another 8 minutes before my group headed across the start line.

Once across the start line, it really wasn’t that hard to settle into a pace, since most of the folks around you and in front of you are about your speed, or faster. I was happy to look around and realize that after 8 miles I was running with the 8000’s (I had started with the 10’s).

Sights and Sounds:
This course is absolutely beautiful. Tree lined streets and crowds as you pass through all the towns on the way to Boston. At no time did I feel ‘lonely’ because there were spectators everywhere, and you always had runners around you. And yes, the Wellesley College girls are as loud as they say. My ears were ringing for about ½ mile after we passed them.

It’s also a very technical course from a running perspective. I had heard this, but it really hit home during the run. People talk about Heartbreak Hill, or that it’s a downhill course, but that really is a very simplistic view of the course.

Instead, there are tons of rolling hills throughout. You always feel like you are either going up or down. They aren’t long, but you have to keep thinking about your stride, pace, technique, etc. to make sure you are matching yourself to the course. As a result, by the end of the race , I felt like every muscle group in my legs had gotten a workout almost evenly.

I averaged a 7:20 pace until the Newton Hills. I knew I would slow down there and towards the end a bit, and my plan had been to average a 7:10 early on, but 7:20 felt right given the course. I felt strong, but felt going faster would have been a bad idea for later on. Based on how I felt at the finish, I’ll say I called it spot on for me.

Now the Newton Hills get all this press, and they are definitely the toughest hills. This is based on where they happen (late teens to 20’ish mile markers) as well as how they hit you one, two three (four if you count the non-trivial climb at 16). That being said, they were just hills and you run up them like all the other hills on the course or ones I’ve focused on in Colorado at the end of my long runs to prepare. I felt really strong headed up all of them. I smiled and ran and mostly passed a lot of people (rather than being passed). You see a few folks walking, but almost everyone slows down. I felt really good running up them – although I was pretty happy to have them behind me.

The miles after that are probably the toughest. In fact, I would say miles 22-25 are the toughest to mentally get through. There are big crowds, but at this point, you’re feeling pretty numb and just want to see the finish line. I kept bridging on the heels of runners that would pass me until I couldn’t hold their pace. Then I would back off a bit and bridge again. It was something to keep my mind off the discomfort in my….. well… everywhere.

At mile 25, I was re-energized the way that you get in a marathon when you have a mile to go (I never think about the extra ‘.2’ – that’s easy to push through at that point.

As you make some of the final turns, the crowds and the noise are just mind-boggling. This other guy and I would put up our hands like, “Where’s the cheering?” – and the crowd responded every time with a deafening roar. You think, “Whoah – there are like thousands of people really participating here. Connected to the runners and supporting them.” – I cannot say enough about how great these Boston Marathon fans are and how much they really make the race so great for the runners!

Then you turn the final corner and enter the final 2/3 of a mile. The street is wide open and you can see the blue finish banner, although it looks further away than you know it is. At this point, I could barely hear the crowd. I was running with everything I had left, right through the finish line. I felt such a sense of elation and was pretty happy to be done.

Past the Finish Line:
Once through the finish line the race organization takes over again and channels you through mylar blanket, medal, food, and towards the exit chutes. As I passed towards the blankets, I felt like my left quad was misfiring a little. A guy with the red medical shirt on looked at me for a bit. Then I think he realized I wasn’t going to fall over and I kept shuffling forward.

I wanted to get a banana, but I actually couldn’t move to the left. My legs wouldn’t go that way – I could only turn right or go straight, with a slight rightward drift.

I ended up in the family meeting area by the ‘S’ letter and 5 minutes later Paige and Luke found me. We walked back the 1 ½ miles to the hotel, stopping at Starbucks for a cookie and Americano. The walk really helped and by the time we got to the hotel  I was feeling like I could walk pretty well again.

Then shower, dinner (with an adult beverage of course) and then back to the hotel – a little worse for the wear.

What an amazing experience.

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