I've had quite a few moments in my life on that 26.2 mile stretch of road between Hopkinton, Massachusetts and Boston's downtown. I savour those memories.
In 2011, the second time I ran Boston, I stood in my corral and amidst the chaos of the pre-race start. It was the anthem, runners hurrying to their corrals with moments to spare, a helicopter overhead, and the slowly advancing mass of some of the finest marathoners on this Earth. I remember smiling to myself and thinking that was a lifetime moment. Appreciate this, I told myself back then, you may never be back.
Yesterday I put in the effort and while the result isn't what I wanted, I've got another memory for a lifetime.
I flew into Boston knowing that I had a solid season of training behind me, with little racing to prove much. Last fall's cycle wasn't the greatest for me -- work was busy, and my quality and long training suffered, which I saw in a sub-par half marathon and a disappointing Philly.
By January, I was hungry again for Boston and added back spin to my weekly routine. Each week had me doing four quality workouts, from tempos to longs and I was able to hit plus 100 km weeks often, with four 35 km runs in the bank. Around the Bay as a training run two weeks out was a confidence booster. I was fit, I dropped some pounds to a good racing weight and aside from some niggles, I was feeling good.
The Thursday before Boston, I was not liking the weather forecast. It was calling for 22C of a high for Monday. By the time I was in Boston on Saturday, the weather was cooling somewhat but it looked like not to be ideal.
I took the trip up Hopkinton on race morning with my friend Lee. And an hour later while waiting in the village we knew it would be a warm day.
Facebook Live video walking to the start
I decided to start with the race plan and adjust as I felt the air temperature. With my corral, it was easy to maintain a fluid pace, hitting 4:22s to 4:30s in that first bit with the mostly downhill portions. I was running in shorts and singlet for the first time in six months and though that felt freeing, the sunlight on my bare arms was instantly heating me. I run the best in around the 8C to 13C range -- my best races in fact have been colder than 8C. Hopkinton at 10 am was 18C and quickly warming.
The overall race plan if the weather was ideal was to look at 4:25s to get me to a sub 3:07 finish. Even after a few kilometres, that looked not to be in the plan as even the downhill I held back. I was trying to feel the air temp and try to regulate my effort so I could slowly warm up. I did the first 5K pretty much dead on 4:29km pace which I was 100% fine with at that point
I'll note that the day was amazing for spectating. The crowds were out in full force and it was so great to see the state come out for this race as it does year after year. When you're racing Boston, you don't have as much of a chance to enjoy this as you're working toward your pace. We worked into Ashland and into Framingham. I distinctly remember passing the train station at Framingham reflecting on the amount of effort my pace was taking on me compared with last year's effort. It felt a lot more forced to run at pace and that was not a good sign. I was seeking the very little shade there was on the course on the right, when it was there.
Past Framingham and into Natick, my pace was still right on 4:29 km pace. Around that time, the air temperature for Natick was at 23C. It was at this point where I knew that the 'easy, easy, easy' rule of the first half of the marathon was not coming to light. I was working harder than I should, and I knew it was not going to be a good second half. By then, I knew that after Wellesley and into the Newton hills, I'd have to negotiate them and not redline too early. I'd let the next 5km dictate the second half of the race.
Running into Wellesley marks an important part of the marathon course. You should be finding your cruise pace, a pace you'd have to recall 15K later when you crest Heartbreak Hill. It also marks the Wellesley Scream Tunnel, that ear-piercing line of college students with hilarious signs, a sure-fire way to get your pace going. I hit that portion not mentally there as I have in the past three Bostons. The pace was hard work enough.
I hit the half with an overall pace of 4:31 km. Coach asked me on a warmer day to adjust my pace by 5 seconds and it looked like I was going with that rule. Last year I hit this point in 1:32 on my way to a 3:07 Boston. Nope. Not this year.
I switched to my new pacing plan: Settle down to 4:40s or so for a while and see how I would navigate the Newton hills. In a weird sort of way, settling down the pace felt like I was gearing down big way. My cardio engine wasn't firing as high and I think that's what probably saved me down the stretch from overheating. I averaged those splits down to 4:40s (some faster, some slower) and it looked like a lot of other runners were doing the same around me. At some point, I jammed my left foot against another runner's heels when he slowed down at a water stop. In a kilometre or so, I could feel it throbbing and I knew I just developed a blister. Great.
Oh Newton, how fantastic are you. I'll save all the drama as to say that I ran all of the hills. Not powerfully as I could of. By then, my left calf was showing some tinges and the toe that I struck earlier was forming a blister. I couldn't get a proper toe off. But I took the measure of each hill and just put my head down and did them. Heartbreak really isn't the steepest hill there is -- it's long, though, and at the point of the race where you'd rather not have one.
Cresting Heartbreak is an energy boost as you get to enter Boston College where the spectators are usually loud as hell. You're also treated to a nice downhill. I tried to turn it on but it wasn't happening. The cooler headwind wasn't working its magic. By then, I figured my goal was down the tubes and the legs were on the verge of seizing. At that point, I knew I didn't have the race in me. The crowds were growing and I was appreciating the moment, in whatever state I was in at the time. Tired. A little overheated. Cramping. I wanted to enjoy it more but I also wanted to put some effort into it.
The last two kilometres the leg cramps were coming often and with greater strength. I would have to stop and stretch lest have them seize on me. And so that's how I finished the final stretch of the Boston Marathon. Slowly, with forcing myself to jog it in. It was an odd feeling, almost as if I were outside myself, watching myself slow down. But it was fine. I had survived a hot marathon intact, with only sore quads, aching calves and a blistering toe with a developing sun tan. I smiled a lot in that final mile.
I hit the finish line as slowly as I could, eventually hitting it in 3:23:03. I knew it would not be a finish line I'd see next year. And, given where life priorities go, maybe not the year after that. I thought back to the day, and of all the days that led to the last four Bostons. I fought to get here. When I said goodbye in Hopkinton in 2011, never would I imagine I would be toeing the line five years later a stronger runner.
And so I left satisfied. Happy. And fully aware of the moment. I got to do my dream marathon yet again. Four times to Boston, four medals, and four lifetime experiences I will always cherish.
Will I be back? I hope so, but I know that famous route from Hopkinton to Boston is a course of dreams for thousands, including many of my friends. I want them to run it so we can talk about finding your dreams. That's what I take away from Boston. A full appreciation. Thank you, Boston, its volunteers and the fellow runners who bring their passion to these streets. No matter if I'm back or not, I have a chock full of moments to remember for a lifetime.