Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The 119th B.A.A. Boston Marathon

If you aren't careful you can easily ramble from one year's race into another. If you are a creature of habit and tradition, as I tend to be. You think of the first time you ran the Boston Marathon when you start thinking about the one you just ran. My mind does that anyway.  Read my previous post, and you'll see how this year's race was very uncertain for me. I didn't think I would make it to the starting line with a reasonable hope of running more than half the distance. In the end I ran a brilliantly executed 2:52:13 (1:28/1:24).  Far from my best, and a decent bit better than my worst.  The truth is, if systems aren't failing and you put forth the best effort you feel that you can at the moment; then you ran a good race.  As a competitive runner, I tend to mark myself against recent or long past results. It is a practice of mental torture we inflict upon ourselves. We want the feeling of knowing we've made a new achievement. Maybe we won't admit that we're all "PR" addicts.  If you aren't a runner...well, whatever, let's just say, "It's a runner thing."

"The Belgian Bullet" Johan on the right, and Me on the Left, before the ride to Hopkinton.

My Employer, TomTom, required my support for the marathon expo, Inevitability was knocking. I'll say this, being at the expo center for several days was a great feeling! I've worked several other big race expos for TomTom by now, but this was my first chance to work at the Boston expo! I had a blast teaming up with my coworkers to help sell our product! But I also had a good time meeting runners from around the world who were there for their first Boston; or their 10th! You really do get to appreciate the dedication it takes for people to qualify or raise money to be at this event.  Also, over the course of the five days I was in Boston, I had a chance to see two games at Fenway Park, I'd never taken the opportunity to do so in the past. I bought the official Boston Mararthon commemorative jacket! Despite this being my fifth, I'd run in 07', 10', 12', and 14'. Many reasons lead to the gaps between years, so I was very excited to make it back to back years for the first time!
 I managed to arrange a very comfortable couch to crash on with last year's host, Dave Moyer. Again, I made my way with Dave and Will Appman to the Boston Commons on the morning of the race. In one of my favorite moments of the day, Dave says to Will and I "We'd better hurry or we're going to miss the train and the next one isn't for another 15mins". Which resulted in the three of us running Tempo pace for roughly .3-.4miles (thankfully downhill), into the station, and I managed to swipe my "Charlie card" for Will just in time to get through the turnstile. We bounded down the stairs and onto the train, doors closing with about 3seconds to spare! We'd told a bunch of friends, also racing the marathon, to meet at a specific time. Ironically, most of them were late anyway. So, our mad dash "warm-up" was largely pointless. But, hey, we got there!
 I met up with my friend and running protege, Johan "The Belgian Bullet" Ghillebert, who had qualified for Boston after numerous attempts across a span of 2yrs, made the "hop across the pond" from the UK. His goal of 2:58-2:59 roughly lined up with what I figured I might be able to run safely, all moderately scientific speculations. But I figured, "30min slower than my PR, 20mins slower, what's the difference?".  Finding myself in the scenario I was in (recent surgery for a sports hernia), I decided: help my friend, offer to run his pace. Johan was very glad when I told him I would run his pace and help guide him to goal. So, a crowd of us, Dave, Will, Johan, and numerous others from NJ dropped our gear at the gear check tents in the Boston Commons, lined up to board a school bus to ride out to Boston. All of us getting simultaneously nervous and excited.
The weather was not favorable, a raw 43-44degrees with 20mph gusts at times and a steady light to moderate rain for more than 90 mins before the race start. This forced us all under cover, an interesting scene. Thousands of runners trying to stay dry and warm.  Sadly for many waiting on a line for a bathroom at the wrong time, they had wet feet long before the race started. As for myself, I was quite on the edge of barely comfortable before we moved from the athlete's village at Hopkinton HS to the starting line. Still the time passed as Johan and I made acquaintance of a couple decent fellows. The one guy, Ethan, followed us all the way to starting line as it turned out he was in the same corral with Johan. We chatted with Ethan and the other guy, finding that we had some connections through other runners, trading stories about our prior marathons and attempts at big goals. The numbers may be different but the experience is usually all about the same. Talking about some of this stuff before a race like this helps me get through the seemingly endless waiting that takes place beforehand.
Ethan, followed Johan, and I up to the start corral. As we marched along, I reminded them both to keep on a throw away layer for as long as they felt comfortable, as got near the start there were a lot of random articles of clothing being tossed aside as per the usual before a marathon. I noted that poor Ethan had just a cotton short sleeve shirt over his race singlet, and I spotted a long sleeve tech tee for him! He agreed it was a better choice and swapped his cotton throwaway for the tech long sleeve.  As we stood at the edge of the entrance to the 4th corral, the national anthem played, Air Force fighter Jets soared overhead, and many runners wished luck with a hearty hand shake to anyone within reach. They announced the start and we were off...kinda. No one really starts to run until they are right at the start mat. So, about 2mins after the gun went off, we were finally started!
Ethan hung with us for about a mile or two, and he settled into his own pace, later I found out from him that he finished in 3:12, "not my best, not my worst.", he told me. Johan, was very locked into his pace, if anything I might have possibly sabotaged his race, and he would remind me several times "we're speeding", I did edge about 3-5 seconds per mile faster at points than he had in mind in a best case.  So, I kept tapping the brakes. At one point, I simply just had to pee, I thought it over for about a mile. There was no point in holding out, I let Johan know I would catch back up. I stopped into some trees alongside the road, did what I had to do, and hopped back into the fray. Trying to catch a friend in a marathon, that has just developed a 30second gap on you is a challenge when running through other evenly paced runners on a race course.
I did catch him after about a mile or so, that was my fastest mile of the race by far, something probably in the 5:40-50 range.
Johan had a moment of doubt around 12 miles and decided he had to hit the Porta-John, I told him, "I will lock up from the cold if I stop and wait, You got this, I'm gonna' roll." And so I did, I started methodically picking off runners constantly throughout the rest of the race.  I was touching 6:10's later in the race, and felt pretty decent doing it. This all was quite a surprise, I kind of figured it would be a bigger struggle after the surgery. As the miles went buy and I realized, I can get 2:56, 2:55, on pace now for 2:54, faster, 53, 52!  It is exciting to exceed your expectations on a race and do it in smooth, commanding fashion. 
Pushing up Heartbreak Hill, on my way to my big negative-split run!
 I knew with 2miles to go that I was going to stay on the pace I'd been running for the past 3-4miles, which is a great feeling compared to the typical fade that I have experienced in most of my marathons. Running down Boylston Street, weaving through some slower runners, I crashed the line like I was racing a Mile!
Will, Dave, Katie, Me, Stephen, and Nick! Runners and Supporters, good times after the race!
So, there you have it. A great time in Bean Town, with friends near and far. I'm motivated to get truly healthy, strong and fit to go back next year to chase the magical 2:29:xx!
More stories about relatively recent things coming soon!
Hope the Summer Training is going well for all!

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