Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Seeking Boston's Return to Boston

It was a bit hard to predict how it would feel to return to Boston one year after the 2013 Boston Marathon. Many lives were impacted by that race including my family.  Even though I'd finished 50 minutes before tragedy struck, my wife and I can still recall the sounds a block away that we will never forget.  This year was about redemption, and putting that race in the past.  While cowards try and create fear with senseless acts, it tends to have an opposite effect.  This year's Boston Marathon was an example of that as runners and crowds showed up in droves.
Marathon Sports at the finish line on Boylston

I repeated my pattern of getting to the east coast a few days early for work and the shear weight of the event started on my flight on the anniversary of the bombing.  I was able to catch the tribute service on my way from Denver to Boston on CNN.  I wouldn't exactly call myself a Biden fan, but it was hard not to get "fired up" about the marathon with the Vice President's words, "we own the finish line."

Bib #12611 not #1261
Once done with work, I moved into the city of Boston Friday morning to check into our Beacon Hill condo and get to what is clearly the best expo in running at the Hynes Convention Center.  Being a "creature of habit" I had already bought my finisher's jacket online so there was no need to buy one at the expo, but I knew my wallet would be a bit lighter not being able to resist the temptations.  A coffee cup to replace my favorite 2013 mug that I cracked was on the list along with at least a t-shirt commemorating the race.  Done and done.  Only disappointment was that I discovered the "W" in front of the t-shirt model number represented "women's" and had to exchange later.  Badass "silver and black" shirt with the "Runs as One" slogan. #ohyeah!

Me and Meb
Comparing the expo to a visit to the mall, I had a list of bloggers and vendors that I wanted to check out and get in and get out. I caught up with the folks at EnergyBits, Zensah, Ortholite, and Generation UCAN among others. I finally got to meet Dani from Weight Off My Shoulders, but was disappointed not to connect with For the Love of Running's blogger meet-up, but I had a good excuse there. I was a bit overbooked on Saturday and had to make a choice.  It turned out to be the right one as I headed over to hear Meb Keflezighi speak at the Generation UCAN event at the Boston Park Plaza hotel. Meb was relaxed and quite entertaining, and came across as one of the most genuine guys you could meet (as was his wife.) Little did I know I got the autograph, photo, and handshake from the first American to win the Boston Marathon since 1983.

Outside those events, from Saturday night on, we pretty much kept to ourselves as we dined at our favorite restaurant in Beacon Hill at Toscano's.  Insane food and hospitality from the Beacon Hill area residents.  We also stopped into the Seven's pub and new Tip Tap Room in the same area.  As always, this area did not disappoint as a comfortable area of Boston to stay in that was walking distance to the Boston Commons which is the bus area for the race.

On Sunday, I was feeling nice and rested.  This was a confidence boost as I felt healthy going into the race on Monday, but had been feeling fatigued the last month.  While the area got snow earlier in the week, the
forecast keep getting warmer as the week went on for race day.  All of the "Plan B" cold weather options I bought were not going to be needed nor was there any "last minute" glove purchases; but I still felt the need for one more trip to the expo (my third day in a row) in search of a cowbell (John Hancock was not handing them out,) a beanie for my brother (sold out,) and some EnergyBits.  I tried some of the later on Friday and seemed to have "bounding energy," and felt I would need something beyond my normal gels for later in the race.  While I struck out on the cowbell, I got a couple extra 26.2 stickers and a blank name sticker from their booth.  In our bib package, they also gave out wrist bracelets made out of the street banners from the 2013 race; VERY COOL!

With the last trip done, the time on my watch seemed to spin by fast in the afternoon.  I got my finish line pictures then it was back to the condo for a dinner at home, bath, and early to bed.  Earlier in the day, I also posted my #100DaystoBoston video which you can catch HERE if you didn't happen to see it.
Blogger Rock Stars

My new best friend for sleep is the JBL Flip speaker I bought my wife for her birthday.  Load up a 2-3 hour "Spa Relaxation" video on YouTube and send to the JBL and you have a very peaceful setting for a good night's sleep.  Another good sign was that I slept solid both Saturday and Sunday night which seemed to be a first for any marathon.  Our condo was a short walk to the Commons on race morning and the mechanics of getting ready, eating, bathroom, and getting their were fairly routine.

The only curve that I didn't seem to catch until Sunday night was that "bag check" was not happening in
One of our favorite hangouts in Beacon Hill
Athlete's Village in Hopkinton; drop off and pick-up were both in the Boston Commons.  This lead to a somewhat frantic trip to the drug store the night before for some extra clothing.  This approach is not recommended nor do you wish to see me in a red $8 t-shirt and a pair of Leggs pantyhose.

The Commons was abuzz with activity and several news crews set up to cover the largest Boston Marathon since the 100 year anniversary.  Security was not quite as tight as I expected in the Commons as I boarded the bus without showing my bib.  This might explain the high rate of "bandits" this year (a whole other blog topic in itself.) Security was much higher around Athlete's Village and throughout the race and I never felt unsafe or uncertain at any point.
Our home while in Beacon Hill

Once in the Village, I got into my "zone" preparing for the race which is ironic that I'm heavy into social networking, but become pretty quiet leading up to a race. Experience and auto-pilot set in as I set up my mylar blanket near the baseball infield and went about my last bathroom breaks.

Once in the Athlete's Village, you started to get a sense of the enormity of this year's marathon with roughly
34,000 runners lining up in Hopkinton. Once I got through my routine which included a banana and some coffee, I started to make my way towards the exit area and was able to run into a few online race friends including Maddy from DailyMile, Phaedra from Blisters and Black Toenails, and Facebook follower Kathy. Thanks for Kathy for capturing my only village picture this year since my phone was hours away from updates and off my mind.

My run coach's plan suggested a 7:35-7:45 pace for the first eighteen miles but okay if I "dipped down" into a 7:25 pace on the early downhills.  I held to this plan religiously and reminded myself that this was "running slow" compared to many of my training runs.  This seemed to help.  It was apparent early on that the crowds this year were more intense than any other year and literally had people cheering the entire length of the course.  The other thing that was apparent even in the village before we left, was that it was going to get hot. With that in mind, I (right or wrong) decided to "hug" the edge of the course trying to stay in the shade as much as possible. While wrist Garmins are never entirely accurate (sorry Garmin,) my course mileage was way off fairly early into the race which started the runner's math problems much earlier in the race.  Runner's Math? That's the inability to count usually in the later stages of a race (18-20 mile mark.)
My Garmin data showing elevation, pace, and the heat we ran into.

Hugging the edge of the course wound up being 26.42 miles on my Garmin--whether I ran longer due to not following the tangents remains to be seen, and no, this is not the start of the "this is why I didn't hit my time goal" excuses.  That comes later.

The other thing I consciously focused on (other than pace and shade) was fueling and hydrating.  Before the race, I took in my Generation UCAN (I wanna be like Meb.)  I took in my first gel around mile 3 (forgot to take in at mile two,) and around every two miles I "dosed" something.  I also hit every water station alternating with water and Gatorade with more water than the later.  Fairly early in the race, I also started dousing myself with water as I went through the aid stations to try and keep my engine cool.
The "scream tunnel" of Wellesley did not disappoint and gives me (anyway) one of three giant "jolts."  There were numerous "high fives" as I hugged the rail with thousands of girls screaming like the Beatles arrived to New York for the first time.  The second insane crowd surge is around Boston College and the last is as you get close to Hereford as these areas are where you truly feel like a "rock star."

The other in-race advice from my coach was to virtually quit looking at my Garmin around mile 20 and to treat the balance as a 10K.  I once again took to this advice and rarely looked down, but knew the hills and heat were taking its toll on me.  I had a strong surge on the downhill coming out of the Boston College area (7:20 pace,) but my energy wasn't nearly what it was last year at mile twenty.  Mind games, self-doubt, and really bad runner math started in too early as was the often thought of "I just want this over."  I didn't pass Dean Karnazes or see Bart Yasso on the overpass as I did last year near the end.  I knew my PR was not happening nor was a sub-3:20 marathon which was my goal.  I knew I ran smart enough in the early miles to potentially have a course PR, but as I passed the Citgo sign (which looked a loooong ways off when I first saw it,) I knew a course PR was also not happening.

I hoped for that fourth crowd surge of energy when I turned on Hereford.  I was tapped out.  It was more than a bit disappointing as I was not in a happy "enjoying the moment" place especially down the home stretch along Boylston.  My mind wanted to, but my body was miserable.

The "kick" I always have at the end of the race did not seem to be there at the time, but dipped below a 7:00 minute per mile pace in the last half mile.  There were no walk breaks in this one.  I finished with a respectable finish of 3:23:35.  Like last year, I planned to meet my run team at the Loews hotel to celebrate our races and accomplishments.  To be honest, I was a bit reluctant to meet them as I felt I'd failed.  I know, I know...that's silly to say, but at least I'm being honest at least in terms of my race performance. As I began to meet up with fellow runners, there were a lot of the same stories.  Someone in my group who is a legitimate 2:40 runner finished with a 3:05.  Many more of these stories came out in the days following. There were some PR's, but more "missed expectations."  My coach emailed as she sensed I was a bit down, "was a tough day to PR as many people ran great but about 5min off what we predicted." Tough consolation prize.

This blog was tough to write as the week started with so many emotions around the anniversary of the 2013 marathon.  My body was also absolutely beat.  Poor timing and more than a bit ironic, I had to fly to California for work the morning after I got back home.  My mind by Friday (upon returning from California) thought I needed a workout so I hit the pool for a mile swim.  My body was still deplete of any energy and cut the session short. Still tired.

What I have been able to focus on over the first weekend post-Boston and into the week after is that it is a privilege to be able to run even a single mile.  It's a blessing to be able to run long distances and be good enough to qualify for Boston not just once, but six times as I did last Monday.  There were lives lost last year that cannot run as they are no longer here, or they can't run a sub-four hour marathon because they have lost a limb.  The city was as gracious as I'd ever seen it, and the love and pride I had back home made it all worth it.

What's next?  I don't know if I will do a Fall Marathon or not.  It's tempting to run CIM again to try and beat my goal of 3:20 on a "friendlier course."  While my 3:23 is another BQ, I will register for the 2015 Marathon and hope to survive the registration "gauntlet."  At the start of the year, I had four goals;
At home with four unicorns...wanting five.

1)  Break twenty minutes in a 5K (which I did for the first time in March.)
2)  Run a sub-3:20 marathon
3)  Break 1:29 in a half marathon (my PR last year was a 1:29:18.)  Eighteen seconds.
4)  Improve my triathlon game.

Goal number four will give my body some much needed cross-training (rest,) and help me prepare for a couple target half marathons later in the summer.  Otherwise, I'm still "Seeking Boston Marathon."

Footnote:  Taking excerpts out of this blog report could make me sound shallow or somehow ungrateful. This could not be further from the truth, but part of any race report includes what went right and what went wrong.  That's what makes distant runners so resilient; regardless of outcome, many try to improve, or chase that elusive BQ or PR.  That's what is so great about the sport.

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your emotions and honest thoughts! I ran my slowest marathon of all time last Monday, and it's hard not to feel bad about it...but then I remember all the great things about that day & I know those experiences will last with me forever & one day my time won't even matter to me anymore.

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  2. Ty, this is a great entry. Nicely done and put together.

    We stayed at Park Plaza, but did not arrive till late Saturday. I just saw in your writing that Meb did a GenUCan event there. Wow, what an awesome opportunity my friend.

    Keep up your good work.

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  3. As I followed your run on my office LT and windows phone, my prayer was that you get your 3:20 or better. At the end, I made a commitment to go in 2015 to watch you cross the "Finish Line" achieving your goal. LD��

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  4. I know how you feel as well... I had a wonderful experience, my first Boston. I was LUCKY that I was there, honored in fact. But I had a terrible race from the warmth - my slowest of 7. I was hitting my goals until mile 19 and ended up having to walk or I was going to faint or throw up when all I needed was to cross that finish line.
    I think, as endurance runners, we can take the "Boston" out of the "Marathon" and be unhappy with our performances because we know we are capable of better, but I believe we were all happy to run that Boston Marathon, no matter the time on the clock when we finished. The fact is, we finished.
    And I was in the For the Love of Running blogger group and bummed we couldn't meet. Maybe some year!!

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  5. Thank you for sharing your story! I qualified for the 2014 Boston Marathon but didn't make it through registration because I only qualified by 5 seconds. I just ran another Marathon last week with the sole intention of making sure that never happened to me again this time I qualified by 12 mins! I look forward to next years race, blogs like yours get me so excited!!

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Average guy w/ an above average appetite for marathon racing and triathlons. Ran my 5th Boston in '15. 3:21, 1:29, 19:21 PR;full/half/5K Opinions & wit are mine