Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Boston Marathon Race Report

After qualifying, registering, and deferring for the 2010 race, it was my time for 2011.  I qualified in the 2009 New York City Marathon on my second try with a 3:33 (needed a 3:40 or under).  Boston is every marathoner's goal race and I was happy and privileged to be able to do it so soon.  Incidentally, it was also my first marathon outside of New York City, which I have now finished 3x.  Here's my recount of the weekend:

Friday night:  Greyhound bus from NYC to Boston.  My parents live outside of Boston so that made this trip logistically (and financially) pretty easy.

Saturday:  After a good night's sleep, we headed downtown to the Number Pick-up and Expo.  On the way there I walked through the finish area and across the line.  The whole Back Bay was already getting ready to shut down for the race.  People were everywhere, taking pictures.  It was a fun atmosphere.  Got my number (13262), bought the requisite finisher's jacket (before the race, I know, but I didn't wear it!), and took a tour of the Expo.  My parents always get a kick out of these.  My dad is a novice/aspiring runner, at 61!, and my mom is just an awe of all of it.  We made a lunch out of sampling sports nutrition products- my parents loved the PowerBar Energy Bites and went back for seconds!- saw Ryan Hall, lots of shoes, etc.  The expo was mobbed and I think I was the only one who left without spending more than $100 on merchandise.  Adidas must have cleaned up!  The good thing about having the race on a Monday is that I felt more comfortable spending time at the Expo as I knew I still had a full day to relax and rest up.

Sunday- Rest day.  Stayed at home, ate well, rested.  I planned on doing an easy 3 miles to get things loose after the bus ride and Expo day, but such as my luck I got about 3/4 of a mile away before I got drenched in a downpour.  I ran back, quickly!, and just did some stretches and strides in the garage.  The rain stopped a few minutes later and I went back out for another mile. 

Monday- Race Day!  Woke up at 6am, in the car by 6:30.  The drive to Hopkinton was about an hour away and we pulled into the State Park around 7:30.  From there my parents dropped me off and I took the school bus down to the race start.

I thought Boston was a monster race with lots of logistical issues to deal with.  Don't forget the only other marathon I'd done with NYC which is a huge mess getting to the start line.  As it turns out, getting there at 8am was about 2 hours too early.  I didn't need or want to go to the Athlete's Village, it was a 1.5 mile round trip walk and I had brought my own food and beverage.  Unfortunately, I wasn't meeting up with any friends either.  My wave (2) was set to go off at 10:20 and we didn't even get into the corrals until 10:10, after the first wave went off.  So, at the start line I sat for 2 hours.  Having this be painless is a huge positive for the race, but I wish I had known and could have slept in longer! Met a man from San Antonio doing his first Boston as well, but his 10th marathon.  The idle chitchat calmed the nerves. 

I got into the 5th corral and off we went at 10:20.  I wasn't that nervous for the start, which is a refreshing change, and I just went with the flow.  The first few miles are extremely crowded, it's a narrow 2 lane country road.  And being in the second to last corral of the wave, I had about 7,000 people directly in front of me.  The good thing is the first 3 miles are mostly downhill, so I was able to go easy yet still maintain a decent pace.  First few splits were all about 8:00.  

My goal for the race was to finish with a smile on my face.  2 of my last 3 marathons had not ended well and I did not want that to be the case for Boston.  As such, I threw out my initial plans of a sub-3:30 PR and just would to go by feel.  It's a special race and I wanted to enjoy it.  However, the first few splits of 8:00 put the 3:30 back in my mind.  The weather was perfect, mid-50s, sunny, and a significant tailwind.  I didn't want to push my luck, but was thinking if I can keep this up, I'd be good.

In order to avoid a blowup, I decided to run based on HR.  The first few miles, being downhill, were super low and eventually I settled around the low 160s.  This is very much a maintainable rate for me and I worked hard to keep it there.  Of course, over the next 10 miles or so this was creeping up to 168, 170, 172 but there I stopped it and actively controlled my pace to stay within this zone.  I knew pushing upper 170s before I even hit the hills, and with 2 hours to go, would be very problematic.

However, as I maintained this HR my pace dropped a bit.  8:10, 8:15, 8:07. 8:20.  Perfectly decent paces, but I was definitely falling off the 3:30 goal pace.  I couldn't hit 8:00 miles and keep my HR as low as I wanted to.  Therefore, my heartrate won and I continued to run based on that, and let the pace be what it was.  I think this was the right move, but it was a bit painful to see my stretch goal slip away.  However, the last 5 miles are all downhill so I said I'd kill them if my HR plan worked and I still had gas left in the tank.

I like to break up marathons into 10 mile, 10 mile, and 6.2 mile sections.  I don't like to consider myself halfway done until mile 15 or so.  At 10 or even 13.1 miles it's just too early, almost everyone feels fine and is going strong.  Problems at this point would be VERY bad, so it's important not to get cocky.  The first 10 miles were just cruising, mostly downhills with some flats and short rises.  The course was crowded.  The crowds were intermittent, at every major intersection but not on the 1/2 mile stretches between them.  I did write my name on my jersey so I got far more call-outs than I was used to, which was nice.

After running past the Wellesley girls, which I'll admit was a bit disappointing as there weren't nearly as many as I'd expected (they were just in one section one one side of the road), I hit the 13.1 mile mark in 1:46:xx.  That was great, even though the 2nd half had all the hills I wasn't too far off 3:30, especially if I could nail the last 5 miles.  My hopes renewed, I picked up the pace a bit back under 8:10.  The crowds were getting better as we were in bigger and closer-in towns.

The next 4 miles were important as they were the last flattish ones before the Newton Hills.  Torn between banking time and saving my legs, I toed that line carefully.  I kept my HR low, 172ish, and was able to maintain a solid 8:10-8:15 pace.  I didn't feel any problems and thought I was finally getting there.  I was mentally preparing for the hills, taking in my Gu Roctane and Endurolytes salt tablets strategically so I would be well nourished and hydrated for the hills.  I also made my only pit stop for a brief respite (which unfortunately added almost a minute to my time).

The Newton Hills are 4 hills within miles 16-21, including the (in)famous Heartbreak Hill at mile 21.  The first 3 were totally fine, I was ready and cautiously attacked them.  The biggest mistake I made is that I thought Heartbreak was at mile 19 so when I saw a riser there I was up and over and then thought I was done.  Feeling pretty good, I picked up the pace (it dropped to around 8:30 on those few miles) and really let it go a bit on the downhill.  Turns out I was wrong, Heartbreak was yet to come and I was running as if the rest of the race were flat and downhill.  So despite making up a slight bit of time, it wasn't a great move.  Heartbreak came and I was actually able to go up in pretty well, getting a lot of cheers as I passed a number of people,  but then I really felt it on the steep downhill on the other side.  Ouch!  Quads were now on fire.

So at mile 21 it feels like the race is over, the hills are behind us, but there's still 5+ miles to go.  Even though it's an "easy" 5 miles, I finally understood all the warnings about the downhills.  My quads were absolutely shot and I was pretty fearful of cramping and having to walk, like last NYC marathon.  Yikes.  Ironically, my cardio felt great, my HR was still low, my nutrition/stomach were perfect, and I was mentally stable (not always the case if I get dehydrated or tired).  If it weren't for the quads, I really feel I could have run the last 5 miles well.  Even though breaking 3:30 was out of the question, too many miles around 8:20-8:30 made it impossible to make up, I was still looking at a decent time and had a chance of PRing. 

However, my legs just weren't having it.  It wasn't really a blow up, I didn't go above 8:45 min pace, but I was losing time with every mile.  And every mile felt REALLY long.  Are we there yet?  As usual, I wished this was a 22 mile race.  But it wasn't.  The crowds finally got really good along Commonwealth Ave (props to BC) and we were almost there.  I tried to pick it up just to finish well, but couldn't budge my mile splits.  Oh well.  I finished in 3:37:14, and felt decent crossing the line.  That was my goal, and it was almost exactly halfway between the 3:30 I hoped for and the 3:45 I'd tolerate in order to have a fun and good race.

Post-race I (slowly) got my goody bags, medal, cape, etc and met my parents. We had a mile walk back to the car, which I was able to make and probably was good to walk it off.  Other than the quads I felt fine with no other aches or pains, which was good.

The Good- Easy start, well-organized, good aid stations
The Bad- I was underwhelmed by the over-promised crowds.  NYC wins this competition hands down.  More music and more people!  If Boston is this highly touted, I'm nervous that every other race must be desolate.  Spoiled by NYC I guess.
The Ugly- My quads.  Ugh.  Need to run more miles!

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