Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Boston Marathon: A Weekend Awash


Understand that I have wanted to run the Boston Marathon for over 10 years. It took me a long time to qualify. I got a BQ ("Boston qualifier") in October 2005 but missed it last year due to an injury (despite having a bib, plane tix, and a place to stay). I wanted to do well this year at Boston since this is the one and only time I planned to run this race. I’ve never trained harder or run more miles preparing for a marathon. It was not unreasonable to expect a good PR ("personal record").

My splits: (mile, mile split, overall time, overall pace)
Mile 01, 7:20 (7:20, 7:20 pace)
Mile 02, 7:06 (14:26, 7:13 pace)
Mile 03, 7:11 (21:37, 7:12 pace)
Mile 04, 6:57 (28:34, 7:09 pace)
Mile 05, 7:14 (35:48, 7:10 pace)
Mile 06, 7:09 (42:57, 7:10 pace)
Mile 07, 7:10 (50:07, 7:10 pace)
Mile 08, 7:14 (57:21, 7:10 pace)
Mile 09, 7:18 (1:04:39, 7:11 pace)
Mile 10, 7:21 (1:12:00, 7:12 pace)
Mile 11, 7:18 (1:19:18, 7:13 pace)
Mile 12, 7:08 (1:26:26, 7:12 pace)
Mile 13, 7:19 (1:33:45, 7:13 pace)
Half = 1:34:32 (7:13 pace)
Mile 14, 7:16 (1:41:01, 7:13 pace)
Mile 15, 7:21 (1:48:22, 7:13 pace)
Mile 16, 7:13 (1:55:35, 7:13 pace)
Mile 17, 7:48 (2:03:23, 7:15 pace, Newton Hills)
Mile 18, 7:40 (2:11:03, 7:17 pace, Newton Hills)
Mile 19, 7:31 (2:18:34, 7:18 pace, Newton Hills)
Mile 20, 7:42 (2:26:16, 7:19 pace, Newton Hills)
Mile 21, 8:09 (2:34:25, 7:21 pace, Newton Hills)
Mile 22, 7:28 (2:41:53, 7:21 pace)
Mile 23, 7:50 (2:49:43, 7:23 pace, starting to fade some, realized I should’ve taken Gu earlier)
Mile 24, 7:49 (2:57:32, 7:24 pace)
Mile 25, 8:03 (3:05:35, 7:25 pace)
Finish = 3:14:56 (last 1.2 miles at 7:40 pace; 7:26 pace overall)

I finished #2,562nd out of 20,348 runners.

My Disappointments:

• Three recent races (10K, 15K, half) indicated I should have been able to run 2:55, but on Monday I barely managed to run 3:14.

• I didn’t run a single mile at or under 6:52, my goal MP ("marathon pace"). Only 1 mile did I manage to run sub-7:00. I was never able to get into the proper MP groove.

• On Monday, I hit the 24 MM in 2:57:32. My last long run 3 weeks before Boston was 24 miles in 2:55:55 (in the wind) so I didn’t even run 24 miles at Boston as well as I did 3 weeks prior on a training run (despite having tapered for the marathon).

• I averaged running over 85 miles-per-week (over 12 miles per day) since January 1 (3x with 100+ miles in a week; lowest week was 70mpw) and yet I couldn’t beat my PR (3:11:50) from 2005 when I averaged about 40-50mpw.

• Since December, I ran 15 runs that were 20+ miles (4 of the last 5 were 24 miles each) to make sure I'd be strong to the end of the marathon, and yet my splits faded some in the last 3 miles.

Why my demise?

• Never do anything new on marathon day… but I had to… run in the rain. I hadn’t run in the rain in years. I didn’t know how to prepare (even as late as 20min before the race). The anticipation of bad weather ruined me more than the weather itself. I ended up being overdressed. I was wearing rain pants and a rain jacket over running shorts and a shirt. Within 2 miles I had already peeled my jacket and tied it around my waste and was running in the cold rain with only short-sleeves (and wishing to take off the rain pants). But I kept those clothes that way because I knew we could hit a serious downpour and cold winds later. I was definitely overdressed. I wish I had run only in a running shorts, shirt, gloves, and a hat. But I didn’t know. I regretted my clothing decision for 26 miles. Most everyone in the corrals up front only wore shorts and going further back more and more people were bundled up. If you want to run fast, you just gotta risk being cold. You just gotta trust that your body will generate enough heat to keep you warm. But I was completely unprepared how to deal with the weather. (BTW, I had checked the weather for the last time at 5:30am on Monday and and both said 33mph headwinds and rain… that also scared me to overdress.)

• The weather was bad (40s, constant headwind, rainy... all part of a Nor'easter), but it could have been worse. The men’s and women’s winning times were the slowest in 22 years (since 1985). Robert Cheruiyot won this year in 2:14 but he had won last year in 2:07 in good weather. Virtually all of the elite runners ran at least 7 minutes slower than their potential. I met few runners who achieved their marathon goals on Monday (not their adjusted weather-related goals, but their original goals).

• Maybe I was too fearful of having to walk some on the course whether in the Newton Hills or at the end… and I just didn’t want to do that at Boston (maybe at other marathons, but not at Boston).

• Questions about my training: maybe I over-emphasized mile repeats that prepared me better for shorter distances but not the marathon? Maybe I didn’t do enough steady-paced MP runs and/or progressive long runs? Maybe I tapered too much and peaked too early in my training? I dunno.

• Boston isn’t an easy course (despite the misleading neg elevation loss). It’s tough to run a PR at Boston, even if you’re marathon PR is soft.

I shouldn’t be too surprised by my experience in Boston…

• I’ve had great weather for all my races for 2 years now (no exaggeration)… until Boston. My last bad weather races I can remember were in Feb-March 2005.

• I kept over-exceeding my expectations in races throughout the winter… but you can’t do that forever… and I knew that. That’s why I had often said, I’d trade all my winter PR’s for a big PR at Boston. A marathon PR is the toughest one to get.

High points of my trip to Boston:

• Catching up with so many of my friends from the online RT marathon forum. Marathoners are great people. Honestly, I was very discouraged about the weather until I caught up with some of them. We shared some good times and laughs together this weekend. Having dinner with Bret and Eduardo on Sunday night was great.

• Meeting Dick Hoyt and getting my picture made with him. For 25 years, Dick Hoyt has pushed his son (Rick) who has cerebral palsy in a wheelchair in the Boston Marathon. This was the first year in 25 years that he didn’t do so (only because Rick had just had surgery). I didn’t know Dick Hoyt would be there. When I saw him in person, I quickly realized I had no reason to wallow in self-pity about the weather for my race. What a guy and what an inspiration.

• Meeting Bill Rodgers and having my picture made with him. “Boston Billy” won the Boston Marathon 4 times (1975, 1978-80) and the NYC Marathon 4 times (1976-79) in the height of the running boom.

• The whole experience of running this legendary course. Even though I was running slower than I expected, I couldn’t help but absorb all the sights and sounds of one of the most famous places in the world for runners.

• Beating a guy dressed as a dairy cow. Hey, you gotta have a few minor victories on a disappointing day. Actually, dairy-cow guy is pictured in the results in the Boston Herald. I passed him and beat him by 6 minutes. I also beat the Easter bunny.

• Topping Heartbreak Hill at mile 21 and finishing on Boylston Street. When I reached the top of Heartbreak Hill fairly strongly (passing quite a few people even though my paces slowed some), I was whooping my arm in the air and urging the crowds to cheer us on. I did the same thing all the way down Boylston Street. What an experience!

Low-points of my trip to Boston:

• Obviously I came home with a lot of unmet expectations of the marathon itself.

• I was thrilled that my Anaheim Angels were playing at Fenway for the weekend and had a ticket to Sunday’s game. But Sunday’s game was the only one that was rained out so I didn’t get to go to Fenway. And my Angels got swept by the Red Sox in all three games (by a combined score of 25-3… ouch).

• I tried to go to Concord to see Walden Pond on Tuesday. I had reread Thoreau’s book on the plane. I really wanted to go there for some quiet reflection at the end of the weekend. When I got to Concord by train on Tuesday, it was about a mile walk to Walden Pond. But it was raining (and snowing!) so much that I was drenched within ¼ mile (and I had to fly home in those clothes) so I turned around and didn’t make it there. I did spot it from the train on the way back because I remembered Thoreau mentioning the train in the book.

What I learned…

• Not all marathon courses are created equal. The Newton Hills (miles 16-21) are not the only hills on the course at Boston.

• I admire anyone who has PR’ed at Boston. I don’t care if you ran Boston in good weather and your previous PR was soft. I admire anyone who has PR’ed at Boston.

• Marathoning is an outdoor sport. Sometimes the weather just doesn't cooperate.

• I don’t like running in the rain.

• Never ever wear rain pants in a race.

• I greatly admire those that run and train in New England in the winter. I’ve never been happier to return to sunny California.

• There are no guarantees for a good marathon… no matter how hard you have trained or how fast you have raced.

• Sometimes it’s quite an accomplishment just to cross a marathon finish line without having walked, regardless of your time goal or how hard you have trained.

• I don’t like the hassle of big-city marathons. I don’t like sitting in a crowded rain-soaked tent for 2 hours before the start. I don’t like standing in the wind in wet clothes afterward waiting for 10 minutes to retrieve my dry clothes from a school bus. I really prefer the small-town simpler marathons.

• I greatly admire race volunteers,… and even more so on rainy days.

• I greatly admire people who come out to cheer on us runners who aren’t anywhere near the front,... and even more so on rainy days.

• I do not regret any of the miles I ran training for the Boston Marathon.

• Hot coffee tastes really good after a cold race… so does pizza, orange juice, and most anything else I could get my hands on.

• The Boston fire marshal obviously has never visited the marathon expo.

• Staying in a hostel in downtown Boston was the best lodging decision I have made in years. The place was filled with other runners and we all enjoyed each others’ company.

• Running under a TV camera at the start line in Hopkinton and knowing that your wife and kids are at home looking for you and cheering for you… that’s enough to make a grown man cry.

• Dream big and train hard… and never be too disappointed for making a strong effort in any marathon.


Ironically, I re-qualified for Boston on Monday. For years, I tried so hard to get a BQ because I wanted to run this race so badly. On Monday, I got another BQ and have no desire to run it again.

I reread Walden (or Life in the Woods) by Henry David Thoreau on the plane trip to Boston. His feelings about his 2-year experience in the woods are somewhat comparable to my experience with the Boston Marathon. His comments about the beginning of his stay at Walden Pond (p. 59):

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear.... I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life."
Thoreau's comments about the end of his stay at Walden Pond (p. 209):

"I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one...."
...and such is my experience with the Boston Marathon. This was an experience I never want to forget, but this was a race I never want to re-live.