Whoa. I have no idea where that came from. Since Boston, I’ve been called a sandbagger. I know where that came from. But my performance at Boston was totally unexpected by myself and probably anyone near me, and I’m as shocked as anyone else.
Woke up at 5 AM, slightly unsure whether I had slept very well and worried about my stomach, since it had been a bit upset the day before. Had two bananas with some almond butter, an orange, and a bottle of water. Got kitted up and drove over with Macy to the Common. Took the bus over to Hopkinton and was really happy to see that we were getting heating blankets which would help keep us warm and dry. Had some coffee, chatted with some guys from Calgary and Australia, had a PowerGel explode in my shorts (but only on my left cheek so not in a chafe-y area) and headed to the portapotties with ~20 minutes to go until it was time to head down to the start. On the way down I saw the first of many signs that the area is caring and loving: a tent handing out free vasoline, sunscreen, gels, waters, etc. Another group was handing out beer, cigarettes, and donuts (“There are sober kids in Egypt!”).
Met up with John in our corral, and after the anthem, we talked about our race strategy. Because I felt my training had been a bit slack, my idea was to run 7:00s until I could no longer run them, and just get to the finish. John, on the other hand, was shooting for a 2:59. I figured I would run the first mile with him, and then let him go (he planned on going 6:40-6:30 after the first mile). We headed out from the start together (it took 3 minutes to get to the starting line despite being 4,000 people deep). Down through Hopkinton and into Ashland the crowds were deafening and amazing . After mile 3, I knew John wanted to pick the pace up to 6:30s, and having run a 4 mile race where I averaged 6:22 and felt spent with him 2 weeks prior, I wasn’t really sure I could run 6:30s for very long, so I let him go up the road. But my legs felt really good and I soon caught back up with him. I figured I would just sit at whatever I could hold until I couldn’t hold the pace anymore. We then caught up to Greg, and after saying “Hi Greg!”, 10-15 other runners started screaming his name. As we continued on, I told Greg I’d come back to him pretty soon.
I was looking for my parents around mile 7, as I knew they’d be out there with the Dana Farber Marathon Challenge crew . I threw my parents my arm warmers, hat and gloves (despite cool temperatures in the morning, it was clear that things were going to get warm, and by the start I had removed the aforementioned items). I pressed on, knowing that my sisters and niblings were waiting for me in Natick. I caught a brief glimpse of them, blew my nephew a kiss, and kept on going. I was still feeling really good, and I think by this point I had already broken the my personal record for high fives given during a race. At mile 10 I thought: I only need to push really hard to get to mile 16, then I can ease up because the hills will be there and my legs will hurt. I crossed the halfway point and started trying to calculate what would happen if I ran at my normal easy pace of 7:30-7:40. To me, I thought that would put me right around 3:10-3:15 on the day, which was what I was expecting. But mile 14 came and went, and so did mile 15. And then miles 16 and 17, and the Route 128/I-95 overpass, which last year had seemed like such a massive hill that I warned Chris about it pre-race, seemed like just a slight grade. In the back of my mind, I think this was where I realized there was the possibility for something special on the day. Hit the PowerBar aid station, said hi to my teammate Eric Oberg who was manning the station, grabbed a vanilla gel, and kept on cruising. The hills were coming. The hills were coming. And I was coming for them.
The hills always seem like they take longer to appear than would be expected. But they always do appear. I figured here would be where I had to lose my legs. But the first of the Newton hills didn’t break me. I found last year that I was always waiting for Heartbreak. This year was the same. “If you’re going to walk any hill,” I told myself, “Heartbreak is the one you can walk.” First, though, SRR was there with their Elite Water Stop and I picked up my PowerBar Blends and a PowerGel. I decided to take the blend and leave the gel because I didn’t need a water stop to wash it down.
Heartbreak Hill was challenging, but I made my way up to the left side and just got into my hill climbing mindset, imagining cycling up the hill and just keeping a steady rhythm. I just kept my focus on the stoplight at the top. Cresting the hill, I knew that the hardest part was to come. The downhills after Heartbreak are just as hard as any part of the course. My legs were feeling the effort, but I knew there were only 5 miles left, and by my calculations continued 7:30s would get me my qualifying time. I had changed my watch over to cumulative stats (pace, distance, time), so I wasn’t keeping track of my current speed. Coming down past BC, as I did last year, I just stuck my hand out and took more high fives. But what I was looking forward to more than anything was waiting for me at mile 22.
After this, I was ready to be done with the day. I caught glimpses of the Citgo sign, but Beacon Street felt so damn long. I saw my parents again around mile 23, and kept the promise to myself that I had made after Heartbreak: “No walking, no stopping, until my quads stop working.” This was a different promise than I had made in years past, which usually replaced “stop working” with “hurt really badly”. So I pressed on. Through Fenway and onto Comm Ave. I knew that all I had to do was run a 7:45 last mile and I would break 3 hours, which even now seems unfathomable.
The last hill up Hereford sapped me, and I thought that might be it for me, but I turned down Boylston and the finish lines and the roar from the crowd were enough to get me to the finish.
I’m not sure how I went sub-3 on far less consistent training, minimal speed work and lower volume than last year. I definitely wasn’t sandbagging, and I definitely wasn’t expecting it. I think it comes down to a few things.
- Some really difficult hill runs, the last of which I didn’t stop on at all. Doing this workout made me realize that I could run uphill for a while so long as I was conservative and kept a steady rhythm
- A long run with John. I wasn’t feeling good at all that day, but he convinced me to run the whole 20 with minimal stopping for traffic (and no other stops). This gave me some steel with which to work with on Monday
- My family, Macy, SRR, RaceMenu, and the entire Boston running community. I don’t think I could have done this without the hordes lining the course from start to finish; I think every high five was a boost of strength. Just awesome support
- Boston. New Balance had a campaign #LoveBoston. But I think they got it backwards. I think Boston loves more than it gets loved. The people of Boston, the city of Boston, the people from all around Boston have provided incredible support to one another over the past year. It’s not perfect and whether the support should be broader is a heated matter of debate that doesn’t fit here, but Boston loves. Perhaps I am colored by having just seen the Mowgli’s, but I think Boston recovered stronger because it didn’t respond with hate; rather, the community came together with love and kindness.
I’m really grateful that I don’t have to find another marathon to get my BQ at this summer, but I still want to run some crazy ones and get faster so that this wasn’t just a fluke. Any suggestions on races?
- A friend asked me Tuesday if runners were saying that because the media was saying that the crowds were loud, but I hadn’t thought about that. The crowds were just big and loud and jubilant ↩
- We went to the DFMC dinner the night before because my brother Chris was running with them. It was heart-wrenching, inspirational, and moving. Cancer sucks, but Dana Farber and the DFMC are doing good work to help ↩