Tuesday, April 21, 2015

RACE REPORT: The 2015 Boston Marathon

After 4 marathon attempts, I qualified for the Boston Marathon, and made the cutoff into the 2015 race by 16 seconds.  With this dream-come-true, I wanted to make sure above all, that I didn’t destroy the chance to actually run it by getting injured.  With work, I ended up not really doing much in the way of quality workouts.  I got my [low] target mileage in, I completed my long runs, and in general, I’d be happy to get in any sort of run, especially during business trips.  I had some good training runs, and in the past year or two, I’ve felt like my body has naturally gained some endurance as I’ve been a runner for more years, with all of the accumulated mileage.  I hoped that this steady buildup would help to unintentionally bring out PR performances.  It didn’t quite turn out that way, but we’ll get to that later.

Travel into Boston:
I had been excited about packing for Boston for a long time, putting together lists and pulling out my luggage and gear weeks in advance.  My family was going to meet me there.  I was flying in on Friday morning, which gave me about 3 days to visit the expo, do some sightseeing, and take in the Boston Marathon experience, and hopefully a bit of rest, too.  I started seeing some people Boston gear at Logan airport.  

I met my parents at the airport, and we drove into downtown to pick up my sister.  Driving in Boston is pretty crazy at times.  The roads are in patterns that I’m not at all used to, and the drivers make moves that I’m not used to.  Next time, MBTA all the way.  We ended up getting a 7-day all-you-can-ride pass, and it paid for itself multiple times over. 

Friday – Sam Adams Brew Tour & Expo:
I was able to get tickets for one of the private tours for marathon runners and their families/friends.  The tour was short, a bit less enthusiastic/humorous than some of the others that I’ve been to, but the tasting portion was special.  We were in a room where the guide walked us through how to taste craft beer.  We tried the Boston Lager, the 26.2 Brew Gose, and an experimental  beer called Juicy IPA.  I loved Westbrook Brewery’s sour Gose, so I couldn’t wait to try one named after the marathon.  It ended up being not sour at all – light, sweet, honey-like, not much ABV or detectable hops.  Enjoyable, though, and something you’d want after a run.  Runners got free pint glasses, too.

After that, we rode out to the Expo.  I picked up my number, my yellow shirt (they supposedly alternate between yellow and blue each year), and my Adidas poster with all of the runners' names.  

The first vendor is Adidas, and I tried on the Boston shoes and did a test run on their giant hamster wheel.  Pretty cool.

After that, we spent maybe an hour and a half wandering around the 2 decent-sized rooms, getting samples and seeing the vendors.  Runner's World had a fun booth where you could take a picture that made it look like you were on the cover.

After that, we went to the finish line for photos, but at this point, all we could see was the scaffolding, and not the line on the ground.  We went to Chinatown afterwards, for dinner.

Saturday - Expo In-and-out, RunBase, Finish, Beacon Hill, Public Garden, Ferry:
Yesterday, I had asked for an XS shirt, and they gave me a S, but it looked ok, so I went with it.  When I tried it on, though, it was far too big, so we went back to the expo on Saturday to exchange it.  The lines were much longer on Saturday.  We visited the Run Base, which just opened a couple days prior.  It has a cool model of the race terrain, and I like the concept of this Boston-centric, runner-friendly place so close to the finish line.

We went to the finish line again, and this time, it was open!  The street was closed off to traffic, and people were free to take pictures.

Next, we walked around the Old Granary Burying Ground where the Boston Massacre victims, Sam Adams, and other famous people are buried.  The tombstones were so old and thin and wafer-like.  

We went by the State House, then wandered around the beautiful houses of Beacon Hill.

Next, we sat around the Public Garden for a while, before heading back to Chinatown for an early dinner.  Public Garden has a plain name, but it's pristine and idyllic.  Even the "Here Come the Ducks" statue there was decked out for the running weekend.

After that, we went to the inner harbor to take a ferry ride (included in the 7-day MBTA ticket) to get a nice view of the habor, before going to Chinatown again for dinner (my dad likes being able to get authentic food from Taiwan). 

Sunday - Drop-off, Pasta Party:
My sister had to go back on Monday night, so on Sunday afternoon, we dropped off her luggage at her friend's place.  Afterwards, we went over to City Hall for the Pre-Race Pasta Dinner.  It's the first time that I've been to a Pre-Race Pasta Dinner for a race, since typically, it costs an extra $20 or so to attend.  With Boston, each runner automatically gets a ticket, which is nice.  Even if we do all pay for it somehow in the price of entry, it's nice that it's thrown in there so you don't have to feel like missing it to save the money.  And man, they set the bar high.  It exceeded my expectations by a ton.  They decorated the place really nicely, it was well-organized, and the volunteers were very cheerful, as they've been all weekend.  There was beer, too.  Sam Adams is all over the place.

After that, chilling out in the hotel.

The Race:
I took the MBTA into Boston Common, to take the buses into Hopkington.  Again, smooth organization.  During the ride, I chatted with someone named Vanessa, a first-timer, as we drove through intermittent sprinkling towards the Start.  The drive felt long, and I couldn't imagine running all the way back into town.  Because of the no-bags policy, there was no gear check at the start, so all of your extra clothes would be donated.

I had always imagined being at the Village for hours, based on reviews that I've read, but I was probably only there for 30-40 minutes, which was a perfect amount of time for using the restroom, and doing final prep like taking in pre-race nutrition.  The tents kept the wind from getting to us, and I wasn't there long enough to really get cold.  There was lots of food and drink available to support anyone who was hanging out there for longer, though.

Prior to the race, in the weeks and months leading up, I had debated about whether I wanted to bring a phone or a GoPro Hero camera.  With the nice, cold temps, though, I felt like I had a chance at a PR, and I didn't want to jeopardize my chances.  I would've otherwise liked to capture the whole morning experience, though.

When it was time to head out to the corrals, we made the perhaps 0.5 mi walk over to the start... it was a pretty decent walk, past some cute houses in Hopkington.  Locals were out, or they had decorations up to support the runners.  Again, fantastic organization.  They made sure that all runners were properly seeded, and they gave perfect amounts of time for everything.... not too long, not too short.  They had lots of clear plastic bags along the way to collect clothes for donation.

Just a few minutes before the start, it started sprinkling.  I went ahead and took off my extra clothes, leaving just the Sports Bra and my throwaway gloves.  For me, it's usually "the colder the better".

Soon, we were off.  The first 5 miles were surprisingly crowded.  On the bright side, with the seeding, everyone around you is about at your pace, but when it's crowded, even that only helps to some extent, because inevitably, there will some weaving and dodging.  The road is narrow.  It's downhill, but you don't want to take advantage of it because it's so early in the race and you need to save your legs, but more than that, there are too many people around to stretch out.

The first few miles are relatively quiet, with some groups of supporters here and there.  Hopkington, then Ashland.  Framingham then Natick were next.  The route was suprisingly hilly, too.  I wouldn't have necessarily guessed that it was net downhill, since there were frequent and moderately steep uphills, too.

Because of the crowds, I was slower than my target time for the first few miles.  When I got to mile 6, I remember thinking that I was too tired to have only gotten through 6 miles thus far.  I had taken 2 gels at that point.

It started pouring rain.  I like to wear my visor to keep the rain out of my eyes.  Just buckling down and getting through the miles.

Splits through mile 13> 8:54, 8:18, 8:13, 8:07, 8:18, 8:11, 8:10, 8:21, 8:17, 8:08, 12, 06.

At about mile 12, you could hear a high-pitched droning up ahead... the Wellesley Scream Tunnel.  Supposedly, the crowd was half of its usual force due to the rain.  Typically, you can't even hear yourself think, it's so loud.  I was too focused on chugging along to pay too close attention, and it felt relatively short, and the crowds weren't so deep.  The ones who were out were enthusiastic, though.  Kudos to all of the spectators, who braved the cold and rain.  Running the race was misery at times, so I can't imagine standing out there without the benefit of running to keep oneself warm.  Many signs say "Kiss me, I'm ____" and some ethnicity or adjective or something.  The most memorable one was a big cardboard sign held by a girl who had no visible clothes on her arms or legs, and the sign said "Kiss Me and I'll Drop this Sign".  She had to be cold.

Along the way, other memorable spectators were the Hulk, who I fist-bumped, Santa Clause, a Clown, lots of kids wanting high-5s, and a sign with a red spot that said "Touch Here for Power", which I did.

From about mile 13, the hills started, and the main chunk of them wouldn't finish until mile 21, though in reality, we'd keep seeing some decent-sized hills all the way until mile 26.  During those hills, it was all about power-walking up, then recovering and picking it up a bit on the down.  Chugging along.  At least at this point, I felt more in my groove than I did in the first 6 miles.  My family had planned on watching me on the course at mile 16.8, but I didn't see them, since they arrived a bit late and went on to the finish to watch.  Rain was still going.  During this time, the main thing that was driving me was not the desire for food, but the thought of being able to get warm once I reached the finish.  There were strong headwinds on race day, and I was exhaling through my teeth forcefully to bear the cold, and resisting the urge to shiver.

After cresting heartbreak hill, I knew it was time to make up what time I could, from the time lost on the hills.  Would I have enough real estate left to make up the big deficit?

Splits through mile 21> 8:09, 8:08, 8:16, 7:17, 17:32 for 2 (8:46 ave), 8:15, 8:24, 8:59, 8:00.

I noticed that I was passing a fair number of people on the downhills.  The rain had stopped, but the ground was still wet, and with peoples' feet splashing in the puddles, my shoes were getting progressively wetter, too.  We encountered periodic hills, even though this was a severe net downhill.  Just after HeartBreak Hill's crest, we went through Boston College, and those students gave Wellesley a run for their money!  They were enthusiastic, and I high-fived a big group, although that probably slowed my momentum a wee bit.

I kept plugging along, only to find periodic hills that ate up the time that I had to make up my pace deficit.  At 2 miles left, my calves started cramping, and I had to use much more effort to keep reasonable form and to keep my legs working properly. 

At about a mile left, I saw that I'd have to go 2 minutes below my target pace, which was nearly impossible.  Saw the giant Citgo sign which signalled 1 mile to go.  Still going relatively strong, just tired, and fighting the leg cramps.  I somehow missed passing Fenway Park, with all the mental effort that was going on.

At last, the right onto Hereford (which was a steep but short hill) and the left onto Boylston, those iconic turns.  Then, the long run to the finish.  The crowds weren't as loud as I had heard in the stories.  Maybe the rain.  Maybe they had already been cheering for hours for the first few waves.  It was still a good feeling to get to the line, though.

Once I crossed, I clutched my head in the cold and pain and staggered over to get food and the medal and the heat blanket.  I finished in 3:36:08 and was disappointed to not re-qualify, but it was good to finish.  I first saw my sister's friends, who had courageously braved the rain and cold with all of the other spectators.  Then, I very, very slowly made my way over to the family meeting area to find my family.

I really wanted to stay and watch and cheer on other runners, but the crowds at the finish were so thick, and I could barely walk, so my parents convinced me to go back to the hotel to take a hot shower, before heading back out to the Post-Race Party.

The Party was held at Fenway Park, which was cool, since the tour book had recommended it.  There was more free beer, photo ops, and a chance to hang out with other runners.  I met Bob from Canada, who was really nice and fun to share stories with.  They introduced the mens and womens winners, and people danced, too.

Tuesday - Fanueil Hall and Quincy Market, Charles River:
After some serious packing in the morning to squeeze everything from the weekend into my carry-on, we went downtown, to do a last bit of sightseeing.  We got in a bit of culture/history at Fanueil Hall, followed by some Commercialization and Foodie Culture at Quincy Market eating Lobster, followed by some natural beauty at the Charles River.

Could I have run faster if I had stayed off my feet more?  Probably, by a bit.  I would've needed to not only make up the 1:08 for the qualifier, but also buffer for the additional cutoff that we've had to make in recent years.  I had to weigh being 100% race-focused this weekend, vs. experiencing the Boston Marathon Experience to the fullest.  I had no idea if this would be my one-and-only chance.  If I had done nothing all weekend, even then, I may not have qualified.  Therefore, I feel good about my decision.  I am so pumped up about re-qualifying, though.  Yes, it is a marathon, and there are many other great ones out there.  But this one is historic, so well-executed, and privileged to have such a special place in the hearts of marathoners and marathoning lore.  The city gets out there, too, and it's just as much a big event for them as it is for the runners.  It was fun to see all the fellow runners out and about all weekend in our jackets.  The runners were everywhere.  It's an awesome feeling to be part of it, and I can't wait to make my way back again.

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