Monday, April 21, 2014

2014 Boston Marathon Race Report

A marathon teaches resilience.  The Boston Marathon teaches how to maintain resilience over not just a day, but a long period of time.

Resilience in training for a race just to qualify.

Resilience in getting that qualifying time with little margin for error or a bad race.

Resilience in then signing up to do it all over again - building a solid base all fall, then training through 18 weeks of the depth of winter.

Resilience in battling a deceptively tough Boston course, with some early downhills that beckon you to go out too fast, with some rolling hills on the backside that punish all who dare to go out too early.

18 months ago...

I qualified in October of 2012 with a 3:01.  At the time, I was ecstatic just to shake the BQ monkey off my back, until my friend Ken said "well now you have to go for a sub-3."  I thought he was crazy at the time, but I knew deep down I could not ignore that challenge.

I fought back from injury suffered during that race and worked my way quietly into great shape last fall.  I ran some great shorter races - broke 5 in the mile for the first time since high school, ran in the low 17s for a 5K, and low 29s for the 8K.  On paper, a sub-3 should have been easy, but then again, nothing that involves running 26.2 miles is actually all that easy.

18 weeks ago...

I put together a monster training plan beginning just before Christmas.  I was going to hit 70 miles per week, which I did the last week in March.  I ran some tough long runs - miles 8 through 18 of one long run at sub-marathon pace effort at Hard Climb.  I went a scorching (for me) 6:22 pace at the Merge 25K, which according to at least one running calculator I generally trust, meant I had the speed to go 2:53 today.  All signs pointed to being in a very good shape.  But many things can happen over 26.2 miles...

The day before the race, walking to dinner in the North End, I framed success as follows:

Goal 2:58.  

At 2:59 I would be relieved I got my sub-3.  

A 2:57 I would be thrilled.  

2:56 or below - over the moon.  

I didn't think too much on the other side.  I figured sub 3:05 would at least get me another BQ.  Beyond that, I had decided if I knew I having an off day, I should try to have fun.

26.2 miles ago...

I experience a wave of emotion watching school buses line up down I-90 going out to the suburbs.  Bus after bus, packed full of runners, a line as far as the eye could see.  The driver blares the national anthem, another one of many subtle reminders of last year's tragedy - and the unbreakable spirit of the marathon.

The athletes village was like a rock concert's grounds.  Porta-potty lines dozens deep.  A sea of humanity everywhere scattered across the muddy ground sitting on metallic heat blankets.  My last marathon by comparison had 250 people in total; there were vast parts of the course with no human in sight.  New York was the closest thing I had seen to this, but for some reason, this felt busier.

When the race starts, you just shuffle up to the starting line, buried in a pack thousands deep, all while knowing everyone around you qualified with roughly the same time.  As I stood in the sun early on, I felt like the temperature suddenly jumped 15 degrees.  Not a good sign.

The early miles are very downhill, which is where you need it least.  After a 7-flat in the first one buried in the pack, I broke free and was settling into my groove - 6:46, 6:44... the early miles run through a variety of small towns with town squares, not too different from the ones you find in North Carolina - only the people here get really into the marathon.  The first ten are always the part you just need to zone out but carefully monitor pace.  Usually I get a rush of euphoria somewhere around mile 8, a sort of light-headedness, but something was escaping me here. 

13.1 miles ago...

I crossed halfway in 1:29, shortly after the famous Wellesley cheering section with girls holding signs that say "Kiss Me, I'm from XYZ."  I didn't take any up on the offer.

At 1:29 I was right where I needed to be.  But it felt tougher than it should have.  I dropped a 6:42 the next mile, but mile 14 was where it hit me mentally.  "I don't have it today."


It was the earliest I felt that way in a marathon.  I just knew.  I couldn't explain it - maybe I could have gone slower early but I wasn't way off my pace.  Running 26.2 is just hard.

I managed to do ok through about 30K, but as I started putting up 8+ minute hills going up the rolling hills of Newton, as other runners all around me started bonking all over the place.  I think it was just a little too warm, maybe just over that tipping point - I wasn't the only one struggling.

Heartbreak Hill, the most infamous of the Newton hills

So what do you do when you go in with a steep goal, and know that it isn't your day?

You look around and observe what you can on and off the course and live in the moment of it all, catching the small things that you miss in the competitive mode.

You slap the hand of a small child, outreached on the course knowing that one day that child may grow up inspired to carry on the tradition.

You admire the runners on prosthetic legs; I counted 3 in total, battling up all the same hills never resigning to the urge to give up.

You smile every time someone cheers "Go Bull City" proud to represent the city of Durham here in Boston.

You think about all the shorter races you want to do in the fall, and own up to the fact that while marathons get all the glory, you are really more of a 10K-half marathon guy and that is OK.

You take your time at the water stops because time is no longer an issue, and finishing healthy and on two feet rather than a wheelchair or stretcher is the most important thing.

You put one foot in front of the other, time and time again, whether it is downhill or up, whether your feet are aching and quads are burning, you carry that forward momentum all the way into Boston.

You make the turn on Hereford Street and keep an eye out for your family and you give Megan and her parents a hearty wave and blow a kiss before making that final turn.

You run that last straight with purpose just like all the rest, absorb each second - never slowing but never speeding up.  You know the end is near.

And even though "I did everything right in training" and maybe 3:15 wasn't what I hoped, I wouldn't trade those 3 hours and 15 minutes or the last 18 weeks for anything else.

Get this guy a beer!!!  (after a shower and a burger and some fries, please)

One step at a time,
TAJ

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