May 19, 2013

Beantown - 6, The Marathon

Curls: While I had successfully earned my way into Boston, I was disappointed to learn that I was not assigned with the 1st wave, 10 o'clock start time, but rather would be assigned to the 2nd wave, 10:30 start. What's the big deal, you're wondering? Well, I was the lone wave-2er of our Iowa running group. Tough! Not only would I be behind the lead pack by a good 30-minutes, but the split times displayed on the clocks along the course would also read 30-minutes longer, from my actual race time. Ugghh. I would have to subtract by 30, each time I passed a clock. Many will back me up in admitting that it’s tough to do even simple math while running a marathon. At any rate, I relied upon my own watch for mile split updates, which seemed more motivating, but was also a tiresome distraction.

I made my way to my corral with only about 5-minutes to spare. I engaged in a quick conversation with a local gal from the area, who informed me that this was to be her 11th Boston Marathon. I would venture to guess that she was in her mid-to-late fifties and tops my list as one of the friendliest strangers I've ever had the fine pleasure of conversing with. She told me to soak in the scenery and have fun out there. Kind words!

And we're off!

I wore way too many layers. I'm embarrassed to even divulge my layered approach, but here it goes. I had on my capri-length running tights, a long jogging bra, a short-sleeved dri-fit Dam-to-Dam shirt, a long-sleeved dri-fit shirt, my rain-proof running jacket, a running hat, and a twin-layer pair of running gloves (fleece on the inside; rain-proof on the outside). I was also sporting a headband that I had initially worn to the start to block out the cold rain from my ears, which I had pulled down around my neck, fully meaning to check it in with the baggage claim bus, but completely forgot I was wearing it until the race was well under way. I was so stinkin' hot after the first 20-minutes that I toyed with the notion of tossing away an item or two. Many of the items I was wearing were not throw-away worthy, so budget got the best of me, and I kept everything on. I made it work by ignoring my inner self-whines, stuffing my gloves into the pockets of my jacket, and focusing on the task at hand. With hindsight being what it was though, big mistake!

I became spooked by the forecast, caved, and was now regretting it. While uncomfortable, I wouldn't say that this did me in entirely. After hours of waiting at the starting area, pre-race, my shoes were soaked. It was wise for folks to bring a second pair of running shoes. The idea never even crossed my mind. I had, however, had the forethought to bring an additional pair of socks. With about 30-minutes to go until showtime, I made the switch, headed over to the baggage drop-off site, and promptly stepped in a puddle a mere 2-minutes later. No harm done. My already soaked shoes pretty much mucked them up anyway. This is nothing more than an inconvenience, other than as the race unfolded, I had this nagging sensation that my shoes were going to fly off my feet. They were so heavy, like bricks, I tell you. I had considered pulling over to the side of the road to tighten my laces, but decided that a stop was not in order. Sure enough, after many miles were hammered out, so too, were my shoes airing out. Ah...lightweight Mizuno's again graced my feet. Patience pays. Don’t succumb to the minor nuisances.

Boston, while definitely the most challenging course I've ever run, does have some glorious downhill moments. Unfortunately, a great deal of these are at the start of the race. On one hand, this can be tough. Who wants to warm up on a downhill? On the other hand, this can be very nice. A fast, easy start, right? And that it was. I definitely logged a pretty fast start, by my marathon standards. I was running sub-8 minute miles. I remember feeling absolute joy at knowing that I was hitting this mark, but cautiously aware that it may have been a mistake to start off too fast. If there's anything that I do understand about marathons, it's the art of patience, pacing, and just plain, smart "moves". I'm no expert, but even I know my limits. So, here I was, well ahead of my Chicago Marathon qualifying time at the 15k mark. I'll admit that I started to get just a trifle bit cocky. This wasn't gonna last for too long.

I hung on to a relatively good pace through the half. Only some 30-seconds off my qualifying time, the time by which I was benchmarking my success at Boston.

Beard:  It was a sweet route, winding between hardy trees on both sides of the road that filtered out most of the wind. The eight towns we visited along the course were so full of character, I’d love to visit this part of the country again and stay in B&Bs, meeting the locals and taking it easy. The towns sort of had an Iowa Amana Colony look to them:  small, rustic, the houses very old but restored and maintained to perfect condition.  Hopkington and Ashland, Framingham and Natick, these are the small towns we ran through the first half. If the runners were blowing by me the first handful of miles, they were starting to slow and come back starting at mile eight.

Curls: Unfortunately, I soon lost steam throughout the second half. This was not a complete surprise to me. This is where the series of rolling hills began, miles 16 - 21. Given the incline, coupled with the reality that fatigue starts to set in about this time, I fully expected to witness a slow-down. And that I did. I wouldn't say that I was sandbagging, as you might say. But, I definitely lost that zip and succumbed to the climb, which quickly stomped out any inkling of recording a qualifying time today. Admittedly, that bugged me. A lot. Today was not to be like my Chicago Marathon day last fall. I was losing ground, time was ticking, and I was falling back.

Beard: Crossed the half in 1:28 and change, I knew the most difficult part of the course was crouching in the bushes, waiting to pounce and punish with bouts of incline and lactic acid. No matter, I warmed up and ready to go at this point. A negative split for the second half seemed unrealistic, but I went for it anyway.

There were hundreds of runners around me at this point.  A strange sensation, as I’m used  to mostly trotting alone near the frontish of the pack for the other three marathons that I’ve run.  Felt like I was in 5,000th place by this time, so many had passed in those early miles.

By mile 12, nobody passed, and by 14, the runners were coming back to me at a good clip. The tug against gravity started at mile 16, a point in the race when you really are not in the mood to climb. The hills were making me crabby, and the crabbiness would not cease until mile 21, the top of Heartbreak Hill. This is how the course elevation pans out:
It’s all unicorns and cupcakes the first 16 miles, downhill and fast.

Then she bulges like a festering puss pocket miles 16 to 21, with a fast 5 mile downhill finish. Runners enjoy a net drop of 450 feet over the course of the 26.2 miles, so on paper, it should be a fairly fast marathon. But the late hill climbs slow things down enough that many crash and burn.  

In Des Moines over lunch, we regularly train south of Grand on routes like Loop of Pain that serve loads of hill, so Boston felt like business as usual. And being, uh, “sinewy” is a help on the climbs, gravity trying in vain to tug on my gangly flesh, but unable to get a good grip. I thought the final obstacle, Heartbreak Hill, was the longest and steepest. I passed a middle aged man churning up one of the hills and gave him a few encouraging words. Told him to keep it up, the top was near, and asked what finishing time he was aiming for. He was sucking wind, said he's been trying to go under three for years, but has always faltered in the hills. He looked pretty good, I think he might have finished under three hours.

Curls: I took in water stops at appropriate intervals, never stopped moving, and even spotted my Chicago-based friends (in town on business) at the "1 mile to go" marker cheering me on from the  sidewalks. How on earth they spotted me, I’ll never know. Seeing familiar faces, Jane and Dave, my non-running pals jumping wildly through the air, Dave rolling his video camera, was nice. No, it was more than nice, it ignited me to press on. And I needed it. I will admit that the last mile of this race felt like THE longest mile ever. The course had a series of uber-tight turns every 100-yards or so. Each time we'd switch directions, I'd look ahead for the FINISH LINE. Only to my disappointment did I see yet another turn. Tough zigzag approach to the end.

Beard: It was a game of cat and mouse between me and a couple of young runners the last five miles. One was wearing a bicycling jersey, I suppose he was a triathlete.  He must have thought of me, “What a loser, wearing limp pants and a plastic wrestling sweat jacket, what are you, a first timer, New Year’s resolution weight loss person?”

Boston College was at the top of Heartbreak, it was a beauty. Chunky sandstone buildings with castle spires skewering the sky.

The cheering crowd was thickening, the college student screams were primeval.  Buckets of adult beverage were being consumed along the sidelines, foaming piles of beer intermixed with the rain water on the pavement to create a Boston Brewsky Brew.

The final five miles were down hill, sucking us us towards the finish line. I’d had enough of running and was ready for an after-race massage and large platter of meat. It was impossible to miss the CITGO sign that stood a mile from the finish. When I saw it, the story played through my mind where Babe Ruth saw a CITGO sign at a baseball game one afternoon, he read it as “See-It-Go,” as in his ball would sail across the fence.

The final mile was rude, it zigzagged, rose and fell at every turn. You thought you were done, then you’d round a bend and see not yet.  The crowd was energized, although the girls at Wellesley wailed out more volume than the roar that pulled us across the tape. Those W. college girls were jacked up on something, bomb-pops and caffeine. They were wild.  And maybe slightly insane.

Curls: Finally I saw it. The giant blue finish line. Yeeeesss! You earned it, I thought. I picked my pace up just a bit and came on through in 3:46, an 8:39 min/mile pace.

While not my best marathon time, not my worst either. Not too shabby for my first crack at Boston on a less than desirable day. I'll take it.

Me, front-ish and center, black hat, immediately after crossing: I'd be lying if I said there wasn't some element of disappointment in my finish time. I could have done better and I knew it immediately. There was a huge difference in how I handled myself during this race compared to the mental battle I waged when in Chicago, where I could feel myself fightig for that finish time. Lesson learned. If you want it, you have to work for it. Good enough for me. I'll take that with me from now on.

Ooo…does this remark make me a “real” runner now?

Beard: The finish line, what a beautiful thing! A combo of gladness and relief to be done, a sense of accomplishment for having clicked off a sizable distance, and enough fatigue that you want to squat down and nap on the pavement for a good 30 minutes.

To be continued...


  1. Ahhhh! Love this series you guys are writing! So inspiring! What's next? Every detail of the glorious food you indulged in post race? :)

    1. Thanks, these Boston posts are averaging roughly 14 hits per chapter. We'll shut her down with the next installment, basically stuffing our faces and the end.

    2. Thanks! Okay, so we account for 3 of the 14 - ha!

      Actually, one of my favorite things that the running circle we hang with does, is the beloved post marathon write-up. There are a handful of guys whose witty accounts I look forward to reading each and every time. You just know it's gonna be good...and hilarious!

  2. You're kidding, right? 14? Heck, I'm hanging on every ending. Good stuff!


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