I’m writing this nearly 7 weeks after the race. Life got a little busy, and I just kept putting it off. For as much as I want other people to contribute to this site, it’s lazy of me! So here it is. FINALLY. I have little headlines so you can skip all the travel sections and just read about what you’re interested in.
In 2015 I ended a pretty busy season with a solid 50 mile race at Stone Mill 50. Once that race was over, I was ready for a little break and scaled back my training. I took my now customary forced week off from running then got back into with with strict base training. For 5 weeks I just jogged. Nice and easy. Worked on my stride rate. Just got around 35 miles a week in and just maintained some fitness while recovering from a 5 Ultra year that had 234 racing miles. The base building felt great. I felt rejuvenated and ready to start getting back into the high intensity grind that is my road marathon training. After 5 weeks of jogging I gave myself a little fitness test and comfortably ran a 1:26 half marathon training run. Many runners can’t run one easy week without fearing a loss of speed/fitness let alone 5. This run was proof that their theory is false!
I typically rely on very established and proven training methods and alter them depending on what I feel works better for me and how I’m feeling at the time. I believe there is no reason to reinvent the wheel or try to design a square wheel just to be different or in hopes of coming up with some revolutionary training process. There are sport scientists and brilliant professionals and coaches already trying to do that. I don’t think I can wing it and beat their tested and proven theories. But I also don’t think one size fits all and the proven processes I speak of should be used as firm frameworks, not to be followed to the letter but not to be reinvented.
BOSTON WAS ONLY MY SECOND ROAD MARATHON EVER! Pretty crazy, I know. But I foolishly (but still had fun) went from pretty much casual 5k-5 mile racer to 50k. I still to today have never raced a 10k or half-marathon. For my first ever and Boston Qualifying marathon, Steamtown Marathon, I used the FIRST method from the book Run Less Run Faster. For me, the last few years of Ultra Running has made me pretty comfortable with running long distances and I feel like a pretty good “fat burner” when it comes to aerobic energy sources and long race endurance. What I’m NOT good at his running fast and hard. The lactic acid piles up, my perceived effort goes through the roof and everything just HURTS. It feels like I’m anaerobic prematurely and everything starts to shut down. FIRST helps me get acclimated to higher intensity running and pretty much ignores aerobic training. Many people are critical of this, but if you realize it’s a training CYCLE and not what you do all season, it makes sense. Especially for me. It’s very hard work. At least for me is it.
Each week is 3 core workouts. A track interval day, a tempo day and a long run day. For the first few weeks, I only do these three runs each week. Then I start to add an easy run then maybe two easy runs each week. Very low volume, very high intensity. Looking ahead a couple weeks I can’t even comprehend running the miles at the pace prescribed. Although I give myself some leeway when it comes to the track work (I have no speed) but I either slightly surpassed tempo and long run goals or met them comfortably. The system WORKS for me and for 16 weeks I stuck to it.
MY goal was 2:53 which was an ambitious but realistic goal after running a 2:56 at Steamtown. I was nailing the goal splits with my final 20 mile run three weeks from race day was at 6:50 pace in the wind. I was feeling good.
My girlfriend Rachel and her BFF Emily left the Friday before and stopped at Frank Pepe’s pizza in New Haven, CT. It’s often ranked very highly on national pizza lists as one of the best. I think their specialty is white clam pizza, but we are all vegetarians so that wasn’t an option. Instead, we got a margarita. It was ok. I wasn’t blown away. We then continued on to spend a night in Providence. I don’t know the city well, but it seemed at face value to be corporate offices, hotels and a big mall (attached to a hotel). But there was an amazing vegetarian restaurant called The Grange for dinner and Julien’s the next morning for breakfast. Both could be in a hip section of Brooklyn with Grange being a little more of an upscale foodie spot and Julien’s having a punk rock vibe. Great food at both.
On Saturday we spent a lot of the day in Newport, RI. It was an interesting beach town (not for swimming in April!) with a 3.5 mile Cliff Walk that follows the edge of the rock cliffs where at some parts waves crash into the large rock formations. On the other side of the trail are large mansions with manicured properties. Most very old properties with some modern mixed in. We walked most of the path out and back and I stood on the rocks watching the waves almost get me wet… until they finally did. We also saw Jason Segel walking around town. Just looked like a normal guy wearing a beanie with a backpack. Apparently, he was in town for some time shooting a movie.
Saturday evening we settled down at our hotel in Natick and spent the night. Sunday we finally got to Boston, hit the expo which was an absolute madhouse. So many people. Walking around the city, the percentage of people walking around in Boston Marathon jackets from this year or past ones was crazy. It was like some sort of outlaw biker gang was in town displaying their colors. After a long day of walking around and doing “tourist stuff”, I thought about how I probably walked 6 miles that day and the day before. I went to bed each night with tired feet. Not the greatest rest before a race, but hey… the race is a big part of the week, but not the only part.
For the race I wore my trusty Pearl Izumi In-r-Cool hat (go to race hat), my 2016 Pearl Izumi Run Champion singlet, North Face Better Than Naked short, Swiftwick Aspire One socks and Pearl Izumi Road N1 v2 shoes.
I took a shuttle from the hotel which dropped us off at the EMC offices. Once there we got on a bus that took us to the start. On the bus I realized that I forgot to put Body Glide on my nipples. I tried to get a little on my fingertips by rubbing my sides where my singlet might rub and tried to transfer it to my nipples. It was the best I could do, and as you’ll read later, it wasn’t enough! The start has an athlete village where each wave is dropped off throughout the morning. It’s basically a giant field at a high school with a large tent in one corner. There’s a ton of people. I walked around trying to find my friend Darrell Rosenberger and walked around for about 20 minutes. I eventually gave up and sat down under the tent. Less than 5 minutes later, he walked right by me! We wait and wait and it kept getting hotter and hotter. By the time they started to herd us into corrals, it was just about 70 degrees. Very hot for a marathon that starts at 10am. My goal for the day was 2:53. It most likely was not going to happen in 70+ degrees. But I’d go out with it and mind and accept how the heat affected me. This would be my first race as a Pearl Izumi Ambassador in my team singlet! I saw a few other team members which was a cool thing for sure.
Sidenote: When I got home and watched the TV coverage, the commentators waiting at the finish kept wondering why both the men’s and women’s starts were so slow. I guess where they were sitting (New England Weather) it was nice and cool. At one point they asked a commentator following the leaders the same question. He said it was perfect weather at 70º. What an idiot. How hard is it to get a runner to commentate during the biggest marathon in the world?
I had been told by many people that the Boston start with it’s early down hills is blazing fast and to let the rabbits fly by on the outside. Well, my start felt SLOW. My goal meant a 6:36 mile pace and my first mile was a 6:48 with a 111ft drop. This is not good. I want to be cruising downhill miles like that at or just under my goal pace with little effort. It’s early on, but that’s 13+ seconds lost that will not be easy to get back on a hot day. After that, I rattled in a few 6:26-6:31 miles before settling into just above or just below goal pace. My biggest problem was that I knew I needed to sip water often to avoid getting into a dehydration hole. Every mile I’d grab a cup or two, sip some, pour some on my head or shirt and my average pace would slip a second. I’d make it up only to lose a second the next mile. This wasn’t sustainable. My goal probably wasn’t going to happen. I’d rather have a healthy, successful race then jog the last few miles in misery.
As we ran the crowds started to accumulate. At first a handful of people in the smaller towns in front of their homes and around the center of their town like in Framingham. 99.999% of the course has no shade. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun was hot. Looking at the cheering crowds helped keep my mind off of it.
First 5k clocked in at 20:37. A pace just two seconds slower than my goal. But again, not the start I dreamed of.
Run, drink. Run, drink. Stay in control. This was all I was trying to do. Of course, my goal was still in my head. I spent 16 weeks running in the cold on salted roads running boring routes to make this goal. As much as the day was trying to prevent it, I still had my mind on it. I kept telling myself that maybe, MAYBE I could drop a slight negative split and get close. Keep reading and you’ll see how that turned out.
My 2nd 5k clocked in at 20:45. My goal was gone but by how much? With an opening 10k of 41:22 and feeling very comfortable but hot, I’m doing well. There have been a couple small spikes in elevation and who knows how the rest of the course will be. All I can do it keep running.
My 3rd 5k was a 20:46 and my 4th a 20:44. Steady Eddie for sure, but slower than I wanted. I should have thrown in the towel on my goal but the fantasy of a negative split lingered. I knew about the Newtown Hills but thought maybe, just maybe after I conquered them I could make up some time. For now, at around mile 9, I looked at some ponds we ran by and thought how great it would be to jump in. We entered Natick and the crowds were picking up. The energy was awesome and I started to understand why people come back to Boston year after year. You feel like a real athlete with spectators cheering you on. early and often. It’s like nothing I’ve ever done. I’ve had grueling 14+ hour trail races where I’ve finished to 12 people, 6 of them runners who finished before me.
In an effort to stay cool, along with drinking every mile, I threw a cup of water on my singlet. It felt great. The only problem was I was throwing it on the right side of my singlet. So the wet singlet kept rubbing my right nipple until I started noticing a small amount of blood. On a white singlet. Awesome!
Aiming for at least a low 1:27 half I picked it up a little and crossed the halfway point at 1:27:18 with an average pace to that point of a 6:40 mile. For about a half mile before the half, I could hear them. The Wellesley girls. Wellesley College is an all-girl private university with notable alumni like Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright. They are famous for their screams and trek past their campus is called “The Scream Tunnel” as well as their propensity to offer kisses advertised by their unique, witty, hand-made signs. One of the first examples is posted below.
Yes. That is real. Shortly after passing these ladies, there’s just hundreds of screaming women with signs. It’s just crazy. No, I did not dole out dozens of kisses. I just doled out dozens of high fives. I’m sure the ladies were disappointed that they didn’t get a kiss from bloody nipple guy.
At about this point, I started to notice the CARNAGE. I saw guys walking slowly, covered in salt. Just done. Toasted. They give you a bib number based on your qualifying time. So the lower the number, the faster the qualifying time. I was noticing me and my “slow” 2944 bib was passing bibs in the low 1000s and even 3-digit bibs. My guess, and I think it’s a very good guess, is that these guys went out balls to the wall like it was a 47º morning. They skipped the water stations and stuck to their 6:00 or under pace until they couldn’t run an 8:00 pace. It’s hard to believe these guys could be such amazing runners, and not have the experience to access the climate and adjust their goals and strategy. I just kept passing and passing runners. I guess I must be doing OK!
A few miles before the half I started to notice a nice breeze. I ran wide of the pack so I could feel it on my wet singlet. The nice breeze started to turn into a substantial headwind. How can it be hot and windy? New England. That’s how. A few friends told me Boston is a tough race to PR due to the hills and the weather. Well, I was starting to understand the weather part.
At mile 15 or so we dropped into Lower Newton Falls. A nice downhill that ended with the first of the 4 Newton Hills. My pace started to suffer a bit. During a descent, I tried to stay relaxed and not burn my quads. Not yet. Not knowing the course, I wasn’t sure if the hill I was on THE Heartbreak Hill. I just maintained stride rate and effort and kept chopping away. I gave out a ton of high fives going up the hills. It really gave me a boost and the spectators seemed to be EXTRA enthusiastic that a runner was high fiving while most were head down in misery, suffering up the hills. Trust me, I was suffering too. But a big smile and rapid sequential high fiving will take your mind off of your pain.
I just kept eating Gu Roctanes, taking Salt Sticks and drinking every mile. Once I crested Heartbreak Hill, I started to empty the tank. My mile 22 split was 6:21. I’m trying to make up for the slow hill ascents and get this race over with before I fall apart. Wind in the face made it hard, but it’s a race. This is what I trained for. I want the fastest time possible on the day. I remember at some point there seemed to be a ton of college kids cheering and I hung on to their energy.
About a mile or two from the finish, I could see the famous CITGO sign by Fenway Park. After that, it’s really a blur. I pushed and pushed and kept passing people. There was a hard right turn then a hard left and the finish was in sight.
En route to the finish, I kept glancing at my watch and seeing how far over my goal I was. I have to admit, I felt a little disappointment. I put a lot of work in. I feel like I need all that work to get the best out of myself in a road marathon. I don’t plan on doing many road marathons for this reason. I was really hoping for a great PR to hand my Pearl Izumi hat on. It just wasn’t the day for it. I crossed the line in 2:56:32. A HUGE 33 SECOND PR. 33 seconds. 1.5 years later and all that work for just 33 seconds. Don’t worry, I know this is irrational. Keep reading. I eventually find the gratitude I should be having at this point.
I can’t explain this other than, it’s New England… but after I finished, it was freezing. Cold wind ripped through the city and even people in thick coats were bracing for the chills. As I stumbled past the finish you just hear people yelling at you to keep moving. This was ridiculous. We’re walking slowly because we’re in a lot of pain. I get it, you don’t want 27,000 runners hanging out after the finish. But whoever was yelling could have relaxed a little. People were telling you to not even stop for your metal or a space blanket, as people would greet you with them. That wasn’t the case. Anyway, more carnage followed after the finish as I walked by guys being attended by medical personnel while on the ground or hanging onto the barriers.
My nipple was burning. I went to the medical tent and told a volunteer at the front that I just needed a bandaid. They scanned my bib and asked me to take a seat. Some of the seats were occupied by runners who looked near death. I felt a little foolish being in there, but I wanted band-aid! A young woman with an accent came to me with bandaids, I thanked her and she said she had to escort me through the tent to the exit. While we walked through the staff clapped for me. I felt like a real idiot and joked with the girl that it was overkill for a band-aid. They scanned me on the way out and I was free to go!
Looking back on the race, I’m happy. My fastest and slowest 5k were only 49 seconds apart, and most importantly my last 5k was NOT my slowest. My second half was just 1:56 slower than the first. On a day like that, it’s undoubtedly a success. I looked at splits from runners I know or passed during the race and literally couldn’t find anyone with a race as even as mine. After putting together all these positives I finally became grateful for the race I had. Will I ever break 2:56? I hope so. Will I ever go back to Boston? I think I will. Maybe in 2-3 years. It’s a serious trip and I don’t see me doing it every year. But Boston is a great city and the region has a lot to offer.
I like to take a week off. It heals what I didn’t even know was injured (or near breakdown) and give me time to get OTHER things in life in order. All this helps jumping back into training much easier and more enjoyable. You start to miss it, so it’s not a burden. M next race is Cayuga Trails 50. It’s a very unique and challenging trail race in and out of the gorges of Ithaca, NY. I ran the race two years ago unprepared and went out too fast (typical dumb rookie mistake) and I hope to change from low volume and high intensity to the complete opposite in 6 weeks. Getting my body used to running for 3-4 hours will be the key. Luckily I volunteered to pace a friend at MMT 100. The 34 miles and 8.5 hours of trails and hills should help be with that!