Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Race report: 114th Boston Marathon

Took me a while to put this together, not because it actually took too long to write. Collected a few too many pictures and videos and was a pain to gather them here for this post. First, my favourite self portrait which is premature because I took it at the end of the 26.2 mile journey, on the street named Boylston.

But I digress.

The start of the 114th Boston Marathon began even before I realized it was already on. We were jogging up the hill on the main street and I did not see that the start mat and the chip were a few metres apart. Not a bad thing though, took a bit of the stress out of such a big race, seemingly with no fanfare we were off.

I felt absolutely no need to pile on the pressure. I've since read a few race reports of other runners who pushed it that day, and ended up with times not far off mine, the difference I can see now. Actually, I saw it from the start, with camera in hand. This marathon was years in the making and there was no way I would let the excitement turn into speed and burn(out). My training this winter told me anyways that there was no BQ this spring and knew that I had my second spring marathon in a month. Also helped that I had a cohort to rein me in.

Fran was running his second Boston, and he ran last year's in a personal worst time, which I thought was a totally inspired idea. We have also paced with each other at a race or two in the past, both of us are about the same running level. So that was my plan, run Boston in slower than 3:40 (which I ran Marine Corp in last year a week after my BQ marathon, at which I had a blast.). You see, you can race a marathon, or you can run it, and in my opinion, while there isn't a mile of a difference between the two words run and race, there is a measurable difference in attitude. To race with hunger, apply tactics and test your limits. You run, well, for the joy of running. We targetted a 8:23 mile pace, fine by both of us, a little slower than our Sunday long-run paces. I tend to do mine at 8:00 to 8:05s during the summer. In other words, Boston was a catered weekend long run on the most historic of courses. A real victory lap taken with a trot and a camera. I'll take that.

With that preamble, lets get to the fun! First things first, I had totally got the running-and-taking-picture thing down. Take that Marathon Foto. Oh wait, you weren't there. A first self-portrait WHILE RUNNING Boston!

I even stepped it up a level and decided to also tweet, which meant taking the picture, launching the Twitpic app on my iPhone, typing in a few key words, then sending it and waiting for the little whirly thing to do its thing or else the app would crash. Yes, this made running a little more trickier than usual. Those iFitness belts work well, which is where I stashed the phone in once in awhile.

Yep, the first miles includes a few downhills and surprising for me, a few little rollers. A picture of the view ahead of me.

And what it looked like after 1 mile.

And aiming the camera behind me was we were running.

A really enjoyable way to start off a marathon, because we were starting at the back, we weren't really in too crowded a group, in fact through the race we slowly made ground and passed a whack of people.

I remember sitting at the expo looking at the course overview on Friday, thinking what a desolate route it looked like. I imagine that they shoot the course video in the early spring when there is decidedly little growth on the streets. I remember having my jaw drop a few times when I just imagined running all those miles.

But that's what I didn't get until Marathon Monday. This race, this course, comes alive. The roads ahead, they are filled with runners. The sidelines, they were filled with fans. From Hopkinton to Boston, there were only a few stretches that didn't have a line of fans: families who were comfy in their lawn chairs, nudging their kids out in rows with their stretched out hands seeking a high five. How could you not want to high five those little kids. It's the LEAST we could do. So high five we did.

Over. And over. And over. I high fived rows of little kids. I high fived service men. I highfived high school kids. College kids who think high five is to tear the arm off a runner. But the best were those kids. They were not expectant, but got a big smile out of those runners charging at them.

The first 5K were pretty much dead on. We stopped so Fran could hit a portapotty. We saw a lot of guys dash out into the woods in the first few miles.

Mile 1: 8:22
Mile 2: 8:20
Mile 3: 9:09
5K: 0:26:48 (split of 26:48)

I don't know, the miles just started to go by because I was so entertained by the spectators. Take these folks welcoming us to Framingham.

And then Fran sees a bunch of guys drinking beer, shouts 'beer' and they beer him. He cracks it open and chugs.

Hands it over to me and I take a few swigs. I hate light beer. Tasteless. But still fun. I dunno, this was subject to one of my favourite race tweets.

A little while later, we see these kids jumping around. Pretty much that was the pattern to be repeated. I'd see something worth remembering, took out my camera and tried to get a picture all while running toward, alongside, then past it. Missed many a good picture opportunity. HAD to almost stop to take this picture.

Okay, I guess I'm not writing about running much, but we were going a little faster than pace, decent pace, easy even. I can not even really much about effort or stuff but I did manage to remember to take my first gel at mile 5.

Mile 4: 8:03
Mile 5: 8:10
Mile 6: 8:04

10K: 0:52:12 (25:24)

The 10K split was pretty much on pace. It was a gorgeous day, and a really laid back atmosphere at the back of wave one. Some faster runners from wave two started to catch up but mostly we were plugging away, making up ground, passing other runners or just keeping pace. Quite a few charity runners were among us, lighting up the mood, one group tossing a football (okay, that was a bit overboard), others just laughing and chatting.

By then, me the rookie was still really wide eyed. I kept on saying to Fran as we ran by Santa Claus, the Chickenman, groups of Canadian spectators (who we whupped it up for every time) and singers and bands, and of course the mass of crowds, that... I kept on saying... 'Are you kidding me?' with a big smile. I have done Chicago, run Marine Corps three times so I have my share of big-city marathons, but nothing like this. New York I hear is louder at parts but this was different.

Mile 7: 8:05
Mile 8: 8:13
Mile 9: 8:25

15K 1:17:53 (split of 25:41)

Miles chug on as they do. I continued to snap more pictures, conscious to save up battery power for the second half. I figured I didn't want to use up the juice to have nothing left for Boylston.

Always interesting sights and signs.

Mile 10: 8:01
Mile 11: 8:17
Mile 12: 8:01

As we hit the 12 mile mark, I asked Fran, 'Wellesley's coming up, right?' 'You can hear it from a while back,' he says. He warned me that he ran by too fast last year like the rookie he was. Boy I was looking forward to this.

20K: 1:43:19 (split of 25:26)

Of course, for those of you who do not know about the legendary Wellesley College, it's an all-women post secondary school (notable alum include Hillary Clinton) where there is the famed 'Scream Tunnel' where the gals, well, they cheer, and offer kisses to passing runners.

Fran goes tearing off into the distance and I just let him go, whipping out the iPhone for some images. It's freaking awesome.

Of course, a major fail on me and my iPhone video taking skills, so here is a video I found from some other runner from this year's Boston. You get the idea. (Hint: At 1:05 and 1:18 you see examples of the kiss and run).

So I'm running, enjoying the hilarious signs 'Kiss me I'm desperate' 'Kiss me I'm a senior' 'Kiss me I'm Canadian'... Wait, Canadian! All of a sudden, I'm dashing in for a peck to the cheek of this cute Canadian. Don't worry, it was a kiss a guy with a girlfriend would give a Wellesley girl. Some guy behind me is laughing while he dives in for his kiss.

Love Wellesley. We do take our time and I catch up to Fran while high fiving more Wellesley girls.

Mile 13: 8:15

Half: 1:48:55

Mile 14: 8:08
Mile 15: 8:48
Mile 16: 8:12

25K: 2:09:31 (Split of 26:12)

With the high of Wellesley over, we have a few miles before Newton. We take a portapotty break and then get ready for the next five miles of hills. I don't know. They were hills. They were not easy. If I were racing, they would be difficult. Today, I was just concentrating on taking the hills, letting the heart rate not get too high, pacing with Fran. I made sure to take pictures and tweet, which actually took my mind off the hills.

The first one, for instance.

Followed by a gel stop.

I have to remind myself to talk strategy with those who have raced Boston, I want to hear their thoughts on how much effort to use up through miles 16 to 21. I figure if I was going for 7:15 to 7:30 miles on flats, that I would give back a few 7:55s to 8 minute miles on these hills. Same effort, different pace is what I tried to remind myself.

I didn't have it so bad after all.

Cause there were more hills to come.

Mile 17: 8:41
Mile 18: 8:42
Mile 19: 8:34

Miles 17 to 19 were pretty much having us tentatively taking the terrain. Fran by this point was dousing his legs with cold water, saying he was starting to cramp up on his quads. He was running another marathon (Big Sur) in six days but I told him, no worries, I would stick with him and walk if he had to. He continued to try to shake off the cramping. (As it turns out, he thinks it was salt loss, something I always worry about. I actually put pretzel pieces inside my morning peanut butter bagel that morning. More salt is better for marathon day.

30K: 2:36:28 (Split of 26:57)

30K was perfectly on pace for 3:40, down to a few seconds.

Loved seeing my people on the course.

Later on, we saw three guys running and Fran made a comment. I saw on their backs they had two big letters each. One had DA, one had NA and it took me a few seconds to figure out it was CA NA DA. CA was trailing NA and DA so I yelled out, Hey guys, lets keep Canada together! Yes my lame unity joke (don't groan, I was running Heartbreak Hill!).

Speaking of, here's a picture I took, aiming the phone downward so you could appreciate the depth. It was not that bad except for the fact that I gagged on BBQ.

Mile 20: 8:48
Mile 21: 9:20
Mile 22: 8:50
35K: 3:04:28 (Split of 28:00)

Miles 20 to 22 were our slowest. Fran's cramps were starting to bother him and we walked a few stretches. We took the hills though, and were making our way 'downhill'. But not before we passed Boston College and the crazy kids. They were louder than the Wellesley and after high fiving a drunk guy who tried to rip my arm off, I decided to give them room to cheer.

A runner had an American flag, so for a while, the BC crowd were cheering 'USA! USA!'

Video from along this stretch

Oh, gotta love this unintentional but artsy shot.

And good bye to Newton.

Mile 23: 9:12

The mile above is my last with Fran, he was starting to suffer and I just knew that he would probably just want to shake out the cramps and take his time with the rest of the marathon. I thanked him for running with me, wished him luck, shook his hand and made my way along for the rest.

Maybe it was appropriate, it felt right to turn it up just a little for the last go, I suddenly had time to reflect. If it had to be, I would run the last 5K alone.

Mile 24: 8:03

For the first time in the race, I felt I was sort of running in one. The crowds were getting thick and although I was still fresh, it was still on my feet for more than three hours. If my cardio wouldn't be my undoing, maybe a cramp would. I felt mini cramps on my lower quads.

But it was good to feel the burn, this is what marathoning is also about, pushing your body beyond the limits of your energy. Getting back on to goal pace was a good feeling, so was seeing this most beautiful sight, the sign I've long heard of, the one that on a bad day takes forever to get to. This is the Citgo sign, right in the heart of Fenway, in the shadow of which is the mile to go mark. From far away, it was a mirage, and when it became all too real again.

Fuck, I'm running Boston. I really am. And I earned it. Sweet.

40K: 3:31:08 (Split of 26:40)

Mile 25: 8:10

Spectators were two, three deep. Five in other areas. Sometimes more. Some runners forced to walk couldn't make it far without being urged on. I know what that feels like. You want to give so much, but your body has nothing left to give. It is a feeling I had in my first marathon when I went for it, but hit the wall hard after 22 miles. I hit it again marathon no. 2. The feeling of defeat, of being drained of everything, to actually know what 'running on fumes' feels like. I think it's something every marathoner should know. It makes good days feel like a blessing, when smart training combines with smart racing, efficient fuelling and perfect weather. And sometimes guts.

These were the thoughts running through my mind. I was trying to have the moment, then realized I may not have many chances to take pictures so I snapped away.

I was actually slowing down. I was keeping to the right. I have to say that I really wanted to put away the camera but I also wanted to take pictures to remember.

Almost too fast, I was going underneath the overpass and I knew that all too soon, it would be over. It would be the final two turns of the race, right on Hereford, left on Boylston.

A day earlier, Lee and his wife were telling me how she had cheered on Lee for his first two Bostons. R. took their advice and met up with Lee's wife and they planted themselves to the right of the runners on Hereford. Perfect place.

So I turned the camera on, aimed at at the crowds, and looked for my sweetie. Because the rest of the runners were running the tangents, I was the only runner keeping to the right. While I was seeking her out, I suddenly saw about 15 metres ahead her waving wildly at me. She saw me, and I saw her. Apparently my orange shirt also stood out.

Yeah, I stop, and chat. I have a thing about doing that to her during my fun marathons. Everyone around her thinks I am crazy for stopping to chat. 'It's the Boston Marathon, I'll take my time. How's it going?'

And then take this shot of the two of us. Love the guys in the background.

Comedy aside, I say good bye, and make the sweetest left turn in the world.

Toward the finish.

I promise myself a few more pictures on Boylston.

Before I head to that line.

Then I would put the camera away. No time for the emotional moment. Just soaked in the end with my arms raised and loved every last few seconds I could drain from it. Personal worst marathon time, the most awesome marathon time.

Mile 26: 8:28
.2: 3:38

42.2K: 3:43:10 (5:28Ks or 8:48 miles)

Another Canadian offered to take my picture. Which like any ah-shucks tourist I posed for.

And joined the masses.

So we could collect the spoils.

Of our Boston Marathon.


Anonymous said...

Wow, nice recap! You made this look fun. I was vaguely aware of a lot of these things (REALLY aware of gagging on the BBQ smell ;p), but seeing the runners eye view with someone with your experience is fun. You'll enjoy NYC - I like Boston's course better but the NY crowds are unique with the turn off the 59th street bridge being kind of unreal. (A WALL of sound!)

FWIW regarding strategy: I managed to race and negative split this one two years in a row, but it was much easier this year when I DIDN'T push the downs between 16-21. The last 5 are aided enough that I closed far faster than I expect I could have on a flat course. (I have rough splits on my race recap, though my garmin was on autolap so who the hell knows.) And with the first half being more difficult than people give it credit for? Racing this one feels like an effort to keep enough in the quads. So I think its more of a question of even effort more than anything else. But that could just be me. ;)

Arcane said...

Wow Kenny, That's an amazing report. Even with the warning, I still tore through Wellesley. I'll get it right eventually. Glad you enjoyed the experience. Congratulations on the finish!

Arcane said...

oh yeah, I also can't take credit for the beer thing. Alex did that last year and I thought it was hilarious.

Boris T said...

Great write up! I like the beer thing, I've heard of a beer mile but never a marathon. :)

Marlene said...

Excellent report! I love that you soaked it all up and enjoyed every moment, capturing photos and videos along the way. That's definitely the way to do it!

Thanks for taking us along the journey with you - it's been fun.

So now what? Oh yeah, you have another marathon to run.

Look for me in the sub-4 crowd. ;)

Marky Mark said...

I'm so glad that you experienced it in that way-that was perfect!

When I was at university I used to go study in the Wellesley library-I never knew the marathon went through Wellesley! (And what's with the BC guy who seems to be doing something he shouldn't be doing in that photo?!)

I've really vicariously experiencing this journey.

Next stop a sub-four for Marlene!

JoeytheGenie said...

I think the woman with the Canadian flag is my running coach from last year...she retired so who knows....
great race:)

Trevor said...

Great stuff, thanks for posting it, and congratulations on your special experience.

Quinto Sol said...

Awesome race report... made me feel I had ran it with you and Fran... I even went to the fridge and grabbed a beer (jk).

Robin said...

Great race report and great pics! Congratulations