I wasn’t sure if I should write a race report for the 2013 Boston Marathon. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed as a compassionate human being. My friend Tony said to me at the finish line that no one can take this race away from me. He didn’t know at the time that someone would try. The truth is that this was the best marathon I had ever run. I had finally completed a goal that I started attempting exactly three years earlier at the 2010 Boston Marathon. I had run a personal best by over three minutes. I had broken 3 hours for the first time. And now, it all seems trivial and selfish. Without digressing too much, I realized that this is what the individual that perpetrated the tragedy that took place at the finish would have wanted. That is what terrorism represents. Fear. Confusion. Doubt. I refuse to let the Boston Marathon be mired in such negativity. Luckily, I was not at the finish when the events took place, and Stevi was attending a funeral in Ohio and not in harm’s way. Although my hotel was situated next to the hospital and I could see the chaos from my window, this all seemed like it was happening in another country and not both outside my door and a few blocks away. In order for me to write this report, I need to separate the two events. I will say, however, that my heart goes out to the athletes, their families, and anyone else who was affected in some way by the senseless acts.
Stevi’s grandmother had passed the Thursday before Boston, and we contemplated about what we were going to do. Our travel bookings were mostly non-refundable, and I had dragged myself through training for the past 12 weeks. She decided that she would go to the funeral by herself and that I should go to Boston without her. I felt largely guilty for this, but decided that if I was going to go, I was going to do everything I could to make it worth it.
This had been the oddest training cycle I had ever had. I was worn out before it had even started. I ran a personal best in Philly in November, then ran the Goofy Challenge (half marathon and marathon on consecutive days) in January, and then immediately jumped into Boston training the following week. In the fall, I had run my best cycle ever. I made my own training plan, I was nailing some of the most difficult workouts I had ever run, I was putting in high mileage, and I was recovering quickly. This cycle, however, I was just going through the motions. I didn’t want to think about it. I chose the Pfitzinger 12/85 plan and was just going to run whatever the book said. My first MP workout was on snow/ice and I had to cut it short. Shorter intervals were cut short because of poor food choices the night before. Some (most) mornings, I didn’t even want to run. I found myself running my easy runs too fast because I just wanted to get them over with. I had only run a single race, the Reston 10 miler. I had run this course twice before last year, both times before major PRs in the 10 mile and half marathon distance. The course is difficult and hilly, and both times I had run last year I had run exactly the same splits. This year, I had run the course a minute faster than the previous attempts. Although I could not use the time as an exact gauge of fitness because of the difficulty, I knew I had made some fitness improvements. During the taper I never felt the jumping out of my skin feeling I usually get. I never felt rested. The only good indication I had were a few heart rate runs that had me running from 8:10/mi – 8:03/mi at my recovery heart rate. This was another good indication of improved fitness.
I flew into Boston on Sat night late. I stopped at the store to pick up a case of water and some Gatorade for the hotel room. I had bought a Boston jacket when I ran the first time in 2010 but had never worn it. I decided I was going to wear it around this time. I was stopped on the street and told good luck on the way back to my hotel. This is exactly what I love about Boston.
Sunday morning I woke up around 6am unable to sleep and went out for a short run on the Charles. Boston was chilly and breezy over the weekend which I consider perfect marathon weather. After my run, I got changed and headed over to the expo. Afterwards, I met up with some friends for brunch, had some pancakes (rocket fuel), and traded stories, strategies, and well wishes.
Afterwards I stopped by the finish line to take a photo. In 2010, Stevi tried to take a photo of me there and I hate getting my photo taken so I hemmed and hawed. Now, I wanted her to be there with me to take it.
I had planned to go to dinner with my friends Matthew and Steve, but my legs were already tired from walking around and I needed some downtime to come up with a strategy and get everything ready. I mixed up two 32 oz bottles of Ultra Fuel and put them in the fridge, got my race gear ready, reviewed the course profile and came up with a plan. I also took steps to mitigate issues that arose in my first Boston and other sub 3 attempts. I remembered that I had severe blisters in my first Boston, so I bought socks with two layers and wore the shoes I normally train in instead of flats. I remembered in Philly that I wished I had another gel at mile 22, so I took five gels with me total, one for before and four during. I ordered some pasta from room service around 6pm, ate a small amount, and did some visualization.
My plan for the race was as follows:
Miles 1-5 are largely downhill, but I need to avoid going out too fast. My goal pace for the race was 6:45/mi as my shorter distance races indicated. I would run the first mile close to 7:00/mi, and the next four I would just flow with the crowd but make sure I was never pushing. I excel at downhill running (these giant quads are good for something) so I wanted to take advantage of them but not to the extent where I would do so much damage that I would jeopardize the final miles.
Miles 5-16 are rolling flat. I planned to run these miles at or slightly faster than goal pace. This would put me in a good position to give some time back in the next few miles.
Miles 17-21 are the Newton hills, the last of which is Heartbreak Hill. At this point in 2010 I had already bagged my race because of a pulled hamstring and severe blisters. I honestly totally missed Heartbreak because I was running easy and looking for Stevi around mile 22. I have gotten much better at hilly terrain since I moved to Northern Virginia, but I knew I needed to ease up.
Miles 22-26.2 are rolling downhill. Again, I excel at downhill running and the times where I give up in workouts are on uphill stretches. I never give up during a downhill segment. I spent so much time going back over Philly in my head and where I was mentally at mile 25 at the point where I gave up and let that sub 3 attempt go. I was going to do everything in my power to not let that happen again.
I woke up race morning at 3am unable to sleep. I hate the logistics of Boston because you can’t just walk out the door to the start of the race. You have to load up on buses that leave Boston Common starting at 6am, ride for an hour to Hopkinton, and sit in Athlete’s Village until the race start at 10am. I have been successfully using a liquid only diet on the day of races but it was going to be 7 hours before the race started. This was why I mixed up two containers of Ultra Fuel. I drank the first at 3am, which was about 400 cals and 100g of carbohydrates. I got all my gear together and headed to the T to catch a ride to Boston Common. I started talking to another runner who was heading there also from my hotel. I asked him if it was his first Boston. He replied “It is my 35th”. I wasn’t sure if I had heard him right. He said he was from Columbus, where I lived for awhile and we talked about Ohio for a bit. Turns out this was Russel Gill, and he really was running his 35th. Amazing.
I was planning on meeting a bunch of friends before the race but I mentally just wanted to be alone that morning so I boarded the bus by myself which was largely full of guys who ran cross country in college and were in their 20s. I listened to them talk about the race and share stories and I just sat back and took everything in. We arrived in Athlete’s Village around 7am where I chugged my other bottle of Ultra Fuel, found a comfy spot where the sun was shining, stretched out, and chatted with the folks around me.
The announcement came that it was time for Wave 1 to line up so I started to pack my things up and head out. I have never worn headphones in a race before but had been contemplating trying it for this race. Not really to block things out since I keep the volume low, but I do train with them sometimes. I wasn’t sure if I would even like wearing them, so I took an old iPod shuffle that is on its last leg so I could toss it if it aggravated me too much. Turns out that I had paused it a couple of times during the race when talking to other runners and went for long stretches before realizing it was off in the first place.
I lined up toward the front of corral 4 and went through the usual pre-race stuff and took a gel. The gun went off and it took about a minute or so for us to cross the start. They announced that it was 55 degrees at the start which felt warm, but I knew that the closer you got to Boston the wind would pick up and it would feel cooler.
Mile 1 – 6:55
As I had planned, I started out on the slow side despite the large downhill. People were darting everywhere and that would usually be me. In my first Boston, I had to pull over here to use the restroom and tried to make up the time in the first mile. I now have a system to make sure the tank is empty when the race starts. I will spare you the details.
Mile 2 – 6:42
Mile 3 – 6:36
Mile 4 – 6:35
Mile 5 – 6:44
I had taken the first couple of miles a little fast, but not too far outside of where I wanted to be. My back felt a bit strained from the downhill and I was starting to feel a hot spot on my right foot. I spent a lot of time wiggling my feet around to avoid blisters. The next few miles I wanted to just keep the pace going. Easy effort. I had been alternating water and Gatorade at the water stops. I would take Gatorade every stop until I wanted a gel and would take water usually the stop before and while taking the gel. I took a gel here.
Mile 6 – 6:33
Mile 7 – 6:33
Mile 8 – 6:39
Mile 9 – 6:41
I spent a lot of time giving kids high-fives and checking out signs and taking in the crowd. There were a few times in this stretch where I would consciously back off after tailing someone that was passing me. I believe it was somewhere around here that I happened to run into Tony and we chatted for a bit before I let him go. He was looking great.
Mile 10 – 6:44
Mile 11 – 6:42
The crowds are getting thicker and we are heading towards Wellesley. I turned my headphones off to see how far out I could hear the scream. I ran through giving rows of the Wellesly women high-fives and saw some of the other runners stopping for their kisses. The women looked terrified. As I laughed out loud, I also noticed how positively young they looked and remember doing the math to make sure they couldn’t be young enough to be my kids. I took another gel here.
Mile 12 – 6:34
Mile 13 – 6:45
Halfway point – 1:27:51
This is the fastest first half of any of my marathons, but I am still a good 4+ minutes off my PR so I should be ok. I knew I would optimally positive split the race, so as long as I didn’t lose too much time in the second half I would be fine. I remembered back to my first Boston where I ran into a friend here and he asked me how I was doing. I remember feeling terrible here. Not today.
Mile 14 – 6:43
Mile 15 – 6:50
I did an internal check and everything was still going smoothly. I had a bit of a rough patch in the last mile but it passed quickly. This is where the hard part starts. I was ready to give some time back. Keep moving forward; swing my arms on the uphills and relax on the downhills. I counted down each of the next miles and knew when I got to 21 if I had anything left the race was mine. I remember thinking that I was still feeling really good, which is rare for me at this point. This is the point in my first Boston where the hamstring and blisters took me out. I counted each of the uphills.
Mile 16 – 6:37
Mile 17 – 6:52
Mile 18 – 6:55
I took a gel here. People around me are starting to walk.
Mile 19 – 6:43
Mile 20 – 6:51
Mile 21 – 7:19
In my first Boston, I had so much trouble that I completely missed Heartbreak. This time I felt it. The uphill was long and seemed to go on forever. I was passing people even though I felt like I was crawling. Keep swinging your arms. Keep moving forward. In 2010, I had to stop at a med tent to get my feet taken care of. I saw the med tent and smiled as I started moving downhill again. In Philly, I remember being at this point and wishing I had a gel with me. This time, I did.
Mile 22 – 6:33
Now is where the work starts. Although it is downhill to the finish, it is still rolling. Both my feet hurt. My quads are starting to lock up with every step. This is where I knew I had it. It didn’t matter how much I slowed down, I was going to get it. I just needed to keep moving forward.
Mile 23 – 6:51
Mile 24 – 6:53
I am starting to slow. I feel like stopping, but I won’t. I am flying past everyone around me. Keep moving. Don’t stop. Keep moving. I thought about Stevi, and how I wanted her to be proud of me. I thought about how she couldn’t be here and if I was here without her I needed to make it count.
Mile 25 – 6:54
I am hanging on by a thread. My quads are on the verge of cramping. It is ok to slow down, just don’t stop. You can lose a few seconds. You have time. I can see the Citgo sign forever. I knew once I hit it that it was only a mile to go. I remembered having to stop in Philly when I was this close. Don’t stop.
Mile 26 – 7:01
I turned onto Boylston and gave everything I had left. My vision was blurring. My legs and feet were screaming. My left leg wouldn’t pick up anymore. The finish line just kept getting closer. Keep moving. I could see the clock 2:59:55…2:59:56…2:59:57…how much time did I have? I sprinted the last 100 yards.
Last .2 – 6:46 pace