Lean In: My 2013 Boston Marathon Recap

I've mentally been staring at a blank screen since Tuesday wrestling with how to write a race report that ended so tragically for so many.  Marathon runners are built to overcome adversity within training and within a race.  This too we must overcome.  Still with a heavy heart, my 2013 Boston Marathon race recap.

After dealing with a variety of training plans and coaches over my short marathon career (wouldn't it be great to call it a career?,) I hired a new training coach for Boston; Benita Willis.  Benita is an elite runner with a world cross country championship and a London Olympics appearance to her credit.  I won't get into great detail in this post on the training plan aspects, yet it's important to understand as it translated to my performance on race day.  Fundamentally, it focused on quality runs and slowing down other runs in the week (as in, I've never run so many nine minute miles ever in a training routine.)  I followed the plan religiously--you could almost say "blindly."  If Benita told me to wear bologna in my socks and run skip the last mile singing "Mary had a Little Lamb" I would have done it.  The other aspects of the plan were; strength training 3-4 days a week, running, upwards of 70 miles in a week, and training (or cross-training) 6-7 days a week.  All of these were "firsts" for me.  There's something to be said for "sticking to a plan" as I'd learn after mile 16.
My famous foam roller in Montreal encoute to Boston

The week leading up to the marathon was typical for me as far as work in that I traveled to Boston via Chicago and Montreal for work.  You don't have to be a geography major to figure out that's not the direct path to Boston.  Not recommended, but I did my best to focus on decent flight times and getting to bed early throughout the week.  I was successful with this and actually had some great hotel sleep.  Unfortunately, traveling 100,000 miles over the previous year including a trip to Barcelona, this training period had taken a "hit"on my immune system.   I was in denial, and was trying to shed a chest cold the three weeks leading up to Boston.  I would "break down" and go on antibiotics the week before heading to "beantown."

The other aspect I worked on this training period was trying to go gluten free.  My "jury is still out" on the impact of this, but stomach issues on race day have plagued me (see Colorado Marathon last year.)  Pounding down plates and plates of pasta along with ample amounts of bread and waking up with gut issues had me put "two and two" together that this may be the issue with "number two" on race day.

The positive aspect of my crazy circumvent way of getting to Boston was that my body was on the East Coast time zone since Wednesday.  Flying from Colorado, I mentally viewed this as an advantage combined with solid nights of sleep in King-sized beds on the road.  I arrived in Boston Friday late morning in the midst of the crazy weather that had been chasing me and the country all week.  I proceeded to head to the flat we rented in Beacon Hill.  This would be my third Boston Marathon and the second time we rented from the same couple.  Their flat was simply amazing and the most comfortable place you could find--an oasis away from the "hubbub" around Boylston and Hynes convention center leading up the race.  Our flat had a fresh aroma of incense and the refrigerator was stocked full of fresh eggs, bread and the like.
Our place in Beacon Hill

Over the course of race week, I had a couple nights of sleep that lead to chills and an "all out" sweat.  I have to admit this was starting to shake my confidence, but I was intent on taking it somewhat easy the three days leading up to the race.

Friday night was fairly tame other than celebrating my wedding anniverary with my wife at Flemings.  We got in early that night as I had scheduled a run and interview with Josh Cox (US 50K record holder.) A huge thanks again to Poland Spring (official water and sponsor of the Boston Marathon.)  If you haven't listened to the interview, it's worth your time as Josh had some tangible advice on managing the day before and raceday for any marathon along with some Boston-specific stuff.  Thanks to Andrea and Michelle from Poland Spring for setting it up, and to Josh for the time spent.  Out of a very busy weekend including multiple sponsor appearances and panels, Josh was also broadcasting with Universal Sports Sunday and Monday.  Crazy to think he'd spend a couple hours with me with all his other appearances.  I'm still thinking they had me confused with some other blogger.  It was simply amazing and a Boston Marathon memory I'll hold forever.
Hanging with Josh on Boylston

After the interview, we headed out to the expo to pick up my bib and expo swag.  I wanted to soak it all in, but my energy was fading so we head back to our oasis for a rest after a short time at the expo.  Saturday night, we had an invite from Runner's World for their annual party in Back Bay.  If it was any other invite, I would have stayed in, but I didn't want to snub (not that they'd notice) Bart Yasso and the rest of Runner's World.  It was very cool to see a roomful of heros and industry "heavies."  Bart was there along with Amby Burfoot, (Olympian) Summer Sanders, and Dean Karnazes.  Once again, I felt like I'd crashed a party I shouldn't be at, and once again, my body was not happy being out so we cut the evening early after one Samuel Adams 26.2 (Boston Marathon) Brew.

My sole objective on Sunday was rest.  After sleeping and lounging in bed until almost noon on Sunday, I had a gluten-free carb rich diet with Josh Cox's voice replaying in my head from the day before (with an Alec Guinness sounding Obi-Wan Kenobi, "Luke...another bowl of rice, and you will feeeel the force.")  My late breakfast was a couple of eggs, gluten-free raisin toast and a huge bowl of rice drizzled with cinnamon and honey--I'd highly recommend it.  #healthycarbload.
After the Expo at the finish line

After the slow Sunday start, I met up with coach Benita and skipped the opulent display of bagels at Finagel A Bagel on Boylston--an ironic place to meet a gluten free athlete.  Benita opened with encouragement saying, I'd trained hard, looked strong, and could run a 3:10.  At this point, I looked at her like she had serpents flying out of her hair or had her notes mistaken with another athlete.  She knew I'd been dealing with this chest cold and over spring break in March had probably incorrectly ignored her advice of taking the week off.  I felt almost guilty confessing that I was not not feeling 100% and was not sure about a 3:10.  She understood and mapped out a 3:20 plan.  Resist temptation and go out slow running 7:30-7:40 (or slower) in the first six (fast downhill) miles.  "Consider the first half of the race as a bus ride to the start of the race."  At that point around 13-16, you can start picking off other runners, and at mile 20, don't look at your Garmin and run on feel.  Josh (Obi-Wan) shared some of the same advice in our interview; run the first 20 with your body and the last six with your heart.

In previous marathons, I've actually gone to a movie on the day before a race to get off my feet and relax.  We'd planned to do the same, but with the late start and uber important race strategy meeting we scratched that idea and headed in for the night in Beacon Hill to lay out my "invisible man" with what I'd be wearing that day.  Part of that gear included a pair of disposable gloves from Marathon Sports we bought after meeting with coach Benita on Sunday afternoon on Boylston Avenue.  The same Marathon Sport whose windows would be blown out in a blast 24 hours later.  The race eve dinner was a Josh Cox-influenced meal bought from Whole Foods which included salmon, basmati lightly spiced rice, and gluten free lemon tart for dessert.  After a couple of race gear photos on the roof of our place, I was off to bed.  I'd have to say that the two nights of sleep were a couple of the best I had, and felt the best I had in three weeks as I dozed off.

The attractive part of staying in Beacon Hill was that the buses in the Commons were a short 10 minute walk in the morning.  Being in Wave 2 with a start time of 10:20, it actually felt like "sleeping in" compared to other races.  I ate pretty light that morning with a banana, another egg, and the toast I forgot to toast (and eat.)  The bus ride was fairly calm and actually seemed like a fairly short ride.  In other marathons past, a point-to-point bus ride can be intimidating thinking, "this is a long bus ride, and I have to run back?!"

Considering I'm a bit of a social media slut, you may be surprised to hear that on race morning, I'm a bit of a loner.  I didn't hook up with any of my running friends in Athlete's Village, but did my best to try and relax on my beach towel and space blanket while listening to the tunes being played over the loudspeaker.  Nothing like a little Michael Jackson to get you revved up for a race.  I "timed" two more visits to the bathroom making sure I would not have stomach issues this day and also took an Imodium AD to make sure there would be no stomach "funny business."  The bathroom tip I'd offer to future Boston runners is bring some toilet paper as they ran out as we got close to heading out.

The weather was clearly cooperating and the bad weather that greeted me and chased me all week was gone.  Cool temps for the race start meant a singlet, shorts and no armsleeves, but like the Denver Rock and Roll Half Marathon, I sported CEP Compression calf socks to help my legs over the hilly course.  For the first time in a mary, I also went with the same Rock and Roll Marathon shoes; a lighter pair of Brooks ASICS Racer ST 5's.  I felt fast as I entered corral 5 of wave two.
Entering Athlete Village

A new component to my training regiment was using Generation UCAN a half hour before.  Using UCAN, I ran my best ever 20 mile training run with progressive splits prior to Boston.  I pounded my 'Superstarch" lemonade flavored drink exactly 1/2 hour out...I continued to follow my plan to a "T."  As far as in-race nutrition, I'd been using PowerBar Gel Blasts on my long runs more frequently in smaller doses (every two miles roughly.)

 I "packed"" three packs of Gel Blasts inside a ziplock sandwich bad.  The bag went into my Amphipod belt easily accessed from the front "Scooby Snack" style.  Another marathon tip, I'd heard before and planned use was the empty big mouth Gatorade portable corral bathroom.  Disgusting, but effective covered up by my Hefty garbage bag.  I didn't feel guilty at all as I "emptied" right before the gun went off and discarded my Marathon Sports gloves (I later wished I kept them,) an old Broncos sweatshirt, Hefty bag, and aforementioned Gatorade bottle.

My energy at the starting line felt great despite how I'd felt the week (or was it "weak") leading up to the race and especially compared to my previous three marathons. One of those three was my last Boston appearance in 2011.  In 2011, I felt no energy in the first few miles.  That's a rough feeling.  The first six miles on Monday went according to plan as I consciously slowed down my pace in the fast downhill section.  I would later mildly "second guess" that I left "money on the table" as they say by going out too conservative.  My first mile was a mere 7:43 pace.   The crowds were electric and I seemed to draw energy off them.  As the miles added up, I kept reminding myself, you're on a downhill bus ride to the start of the race...relax.  I "fed" off the neighborhood crowds and "low fives" from the small kids on the course.
Love this pic...looks like I'm assaulting the course

My first 10K averaged a 7:37 pace.  I looked forward to hitting the "scream tunnel" just before the halfway mark in Wellesley where the all-women college line up in a frenzy with signs asking for a kiss from runners.  I ran right next to the rail again drawing energy from the loud screams.  This is what Justin Bieber must feel like...they were screaming and grabbing me.  This had me "fired up" for the "push from the halfway mark up to "Heartbreak Hill."  It must have worked as my first mile in the second half was at a 7:33 pace.  Somewhere (I think around the 1:32 mark) I stopped for a quick "number 1" pit stop as the UCAN I drank plus taking in fluids at every water stop was telling me my bladder needed to lighten the load.  I must have inherited my Grandma Lela's bladder...she'd go on road trips in the car with a coffee can in the car.  She had her coffee can, and I had my Gatorade bottle.  Smart move to stop as I seemed lighter, but would also later wonder if that 20 seconds cost me.

As I took in the big downhill just before the Newton Hills, my pace picked up to a 7:16 pace as I used Benita's advice about "picking off other runners."  The first big hill at mile 16 I passed a number of runners as I went up at about a eight minute mile pace.  During this section of the race, I remembered her words and also told myself that all the strength training I did (for the first time in preparing for a marathon) would get me through the last eight miles.  "You got this" I'd tell myself.  Through miles 18 to 21 leading up to "Heartbreak Hill" my pace hung around the eight minute per mile pace yet I was feeling pretty good.  For the second time in my three Bostons on "Heartbreak Hill," I heard another male runner yell out to the crowd, "is this is...is this Heartbreak...is this the last hill?"  I myself was confused, and glad once I got over it since I knew that it was all downhill into the city at that point.  The other advice that Benita gave me which I applied in the race is to not focus too much on the Garmin, but pick people, signs, or landmarks in the distance and focus on getting to that point vs. thinking about how many miles I had left.  This also seemed to help a lot mentally as I grinded out my race.

I'm not sure what it was at this point; training, the pre-race and in-race nutrition from Generation UCAN and the PowerBar Gel blasts, but I had this surge of energy.  I listened to Josh and Benita and ran this section by heart.  I felt fantastic and started ripping off what felt like negative splits.  My strength felt fantastic as I leaned into the miles.  I was waiting for the "wheels to come off" or the "bonk to hit that's hit me in every of my ten marathons (CIM perhaps the slight exception.)  I passed Dean Karnazes.  Once I saw the Citgo sign, it didn't seem that far away...it seemed like a magnet drawing me towards it.

I saw Bart Yasso (who I met at Boston in 2011) on a bridge overpass around mile 25 and yelled at him.  He yelled "Go Ty!"  I'd like to think he remembered me, but the "Go Ty" sign on the front of my shirt helped.  A couple times around Boston College and in the last few miles, I "teared up" a bit.  I knew I was running the greatest race in the land and I was having my greatest race of my short marathon career.  Marathon number ten, was turning into a true ten.  I looked for my wife and run coach who were going to be around mile 25, but I missed them.  My wife figured out Bart was more important than her, but I just didn't see her.  In the last half mile, I knew a PR and breaking 3:20 was not going to happen, but a course PR was.  I turned it up yet another notch and ran a 6:36 pace in my last half mile.  The training had paid off...I've never run faster at the end of a race than I did at the start of the race.  The short block and slight uphill on Hereford was electric as I turned onto Boylston.  I had a full on "kick" going and I drew energy from the crowd one last time.  Another BQ, a course PR, and my second fastest race ever on one of the toughest courses there is with a 3:22:27 finish.  I thrust my arms in the air...I kissed my medal when I got it, and yelled to the crowd.
Finish Line on Boylston

After I grabbed my bag, I made my way to the family greeting area where I'd reunite with my wife; two blocks from Boylston, and a block and a half away from the finish line.  We heard both bomb blasts, but couldn't hear the crowd panic nor see the smoke.  The first blast sounded like a dumpster dropped from a rooftop.  We didn't know what it was and went about meeting up with fellow runners at the Cuffs bar in the basement of the nearby Loews hotel.  Noone knew yet what had happened and revelry was underway.  Soon our phones started lighting up, but quickly became congested when news of the tragedy unfolded.  I'd later learn of the panic and fear of loved ones back home who feared the worst.

Five days after the tragedy, my emotions are still swirling as I'm processing what happened.  Sad, shocked, and angry.  At the same time, I have tweeted and posted on Facebook and Instragram that while tragic, these cowards must not have been runners because they don't realize that marathon runners are used to overcoming challenges and obstacles and coming out stronger.  What they also did not realize is that Boston is one tough city you don't mess with.  I will not let them permanently tarnish what was a great day on the course.  I still mourn for the losses, but will move on to remember my best marathon yet.

Comments

  1. Great race, great recap, Ty. Congrats on surviving Boston 2013. I share your sorrow for those that were killed and injured that day...that act of violence was such a shame, but it won't tarnish your accomplishment or the spirit of the great people of Boston.

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  2. Just gotta say............AWESOME!! Congratulations!

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  3. Congratulations on such an amazing race - I think we're all still in a state of "What just happened?" but I can imagine even more so for those of you that were near, in, and around. Let yourself take some time to swallow it all - but definitely relish in an amazing race. Congrats again!

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  4. Congratulations. A great race which is what was all supposed to be about. :-)

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  5. Amazing race recap Ty! Congrats on the course PB too.

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  6. Great race, great recap, and thanks for sharing all the wise advice you received! I'm so glad you wrote this as I know a lot of runners are struggling with if they should write a recap or not and I think they all should. What better way to help get over what happened then to not let it be the only thing that you took away from the experience.

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  7. It's great that you chose to tell your race story despite the tragedy that occurred that day. It's important to remember that even though something so horrible happened, there were also amazing athletic feats that occurred that day. You should be very proud!

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