2009 Boston Marathon race report

I have an odd history with marathons. I took a fairly large break from running up until a couple years ago and endurance races seem to be lumped into pre and post break categories. All my pre-break marathons fell in a fairly consistent range of 3:06 to 3:17. I think I did over ten races in that time range. The three I’ve done in the past couple years (post-break) have varied wildly, at 3:40, 3:20 and now, Boston, the slowest I’ve ever done at 3:41.

While age and more inconsistent training have a role in these results, I have a somewhat inexplicable habit of cramping or locking leg muscles now. Pre-break, not once do I remember my legs cramping significantly. Last year was also marred by a sticky abdominal injury – likely a sports hernia that I’m getting a consultation for in June. However, it doesn’t impact running any more, with just a slight ‘sensation’ in the area at times.

Prior to my recap of the race, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my wife and kids since Christmas. My training was mixed with pretty demanding time constraints as I did MA coursework and some busy project work at my job. I was a little too fractured and a little short of time and temper sometimes. Back to more manageable running demands now.

Pre-race

The hotel we’re in is a bit cramped and poorly soundproofed, so sleeping has been tenuous at best. It’s been pretty good since the race, but all three nights prior to the race were very poor – likely time zone adjustment and too much stuff in my head for the most part. At best I got 12 hours of disjointed shuteye over that time period. This ended up playing itself out quite a bit during the race, as I could never pick my pace up after the initial few miles out of Hopkinton.

This race really is a marvel of organization, though. Everything from package pickup, to the expo, to busing out on race day, to the athlete’s village near the start is top notch. The expo didn’t really have quite the deals I wanted on athletic gear, so I bought the obligatory race jacket and that was pretty much it. However, the lineups were so long to buy official gear that I actually bought it at a running store near my hotel for the very same price and no lineup.

Since I was in wave 1, I got to Hopkinton nice and early and did my final porta-potty thing before most of the 26,000+ runners arrived. By the time I was heading to the bus to drop off my bag and head to my corral, the lineups had to be 50-60 deep. The only thing I really couldn’t determine before heading out, was how much to wear on my upper body. I opted for a long-sleeved compression shirt and light t-shirt over top. I started with running gloves and cap, too, but those were gone within the first quarter of the race.

The race

Race day started pretty cold. While I was watching the local coverage between 5 and 6am, temperatures in Hopkinton were around freezing, but highs were supposed to be clear and about 50 degrees. Pretty decent running weather. However, a storm was coming in for the evening and headwinds were supposed to start up for the race mid-day. These didn’t materialize until I was walking around trying to connect with my wife after the race. The weather was not a factor and what I chose to wear (once I tossed the cap and gloves) worked out pretty well.

I won’t go into endless details about the course, except to say that I have never experienced that much support over 26.2 miles. I can’t remember more than a few meters at any point in the race with no one lining the route. For the most part, spectators were a few to several deep and really cheering. While I’m normally heads-down and don’t notice spectators that much, as my race got tougher later in the second half, I found the crowds very helpful. The girls of Wellesley and the freshly-beered Red Sox fans, in particular. As you run the last four miles into Boston down Beacon Street, into Back Bay and then turn up toward Boylston for the final 600 meters, it’s pretty amazing.

As I wrote in the intro, this was my slowest marathon time, but I can’t say I’m down about it. Since I knew it would be my last one for at least another year and a half AND since my training went pretty well, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t expected something probably 20 minutes faster, but I’m really not going to worry.

The three poor nights of sleep cannot be disregarded for the effect they likely had on my race. I started at a pace that made sense for my race goal of 7:15 per mile. 7:25 per mile was pretty much all you could do at first in my corral anyway and I figured I’d pick things up slowly in the gently sloping first ten miles and be doing something between 7:10 and 7:15 overall by the time the hills started around mile 16. However, even as things thinned out I just couldn’t move my legs much faster. I think I was doing about a 7:20 overall pace after about eight miles, but it leveled off after that. I was pretty consistent through 20k and just slowing down a bit by halfway.

Even with 1:39 at the half, and allowing for my pace to slow somewhat in the second half, I felt I would still be under 3:30, which was the slow end of my goal range. Unfortunately, I ended up with something of a mirror image of Seattle in 2006, where my muscles just did not behave after about mile 16-17. In both cases, as the hills began I felt some tightening in my calf muscles. Pushing too hard uphill made them start to seize a bit and picking it up in the flats and downhills between tightened the thighs. I was forced into alternating fast walking uphill and easy ‘shuffling’ downhill until I crested heartbreak.

I actually got into a bit of a rhythm heading down from heartbreak for the final four miles into Boston and ran until about mile 24. My overall pace at the crest was somewhere close to 7:45 and I still felt I’d be OK if I could just keep moving the rest of the way. Sub 3:30 was unlikely, but I felt I could still be close. I really began to feel the muscles lock in my legs again by the time I was on Beacon Street and found myself stopping to stretch calves and thighs and shuffling in between the stretches.

As I was in the last half mile, turning up toward Boylston, I sucked it up and shuffled my way down the last 600 meters. Walking down Boylston with spectators 15 deep was not an option.

In closing

I could be upset about my time, but why bother? It’s just a race, and when I factor in the amount of time I took off from distance racing, the up and down times on my past three marathons, the ab injury last year that killed at least one half iron triathlon, road running AND a season of ultimate … well, I’m OK with this. I didn’t get injured during training, I didn’t get injured during the race and I not only qualified for Boston, but I completed it.

I used to take Boston qualifiers for granted, as I missed a qualifier in my very first Vancouver Marathon in 1998 by two minutes, when I needed 3:10. I qualified in probably my next four or five and assumed there was no rush. Since I barely squeaked a qualifier in the California International Marathon in 2007, I thought I’d better use it. I can always qualify again.

Through summer 2010, I won’t be running or training for any endurance events, as I have to focus on completing the MA I am doing, while working a busy job and keeping a family together. I found the balance pretty tough to get all my mileage in during the past four and a half months. In the meantime, I’m going to try to get my times for the half marathon and 10k back under 1:30 and 40 minutes respectively. I’m not sure a PB is possible, but you never know.

If I can get my short and mid-distance running where I want it, and get the MA done, then I’ll probably feel better about pushing myself for a respectable marathon again.

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