Friday, April 29, 2011

Boston Marathon - April 18, 2011 Race Report

I qualified for the "big show" by running 3:00:49 at the Ottawa marathon last spring.   In a way, that kind of came out of nowhere.   It was only my 2nd marathon.   My first was Mississauga in May, 2009, where I crashed and burned badly.   There, it was just a bad nutrition plan that did me in, and I finished in around 3:20.   A year later, I figured a few things out, salt capsules being one of the biggest!

By the time I ran Ottawa, my running partner from New Hamburg had already qualified by running a 3:05 in Waterloo.   I know he wanted to get to Boston, but didn't want to do it by himself.   I knew he was waiting and hoping for me to qualify at Ottawa.  When I did, I'm pretty sure he was as happy as I was!   Luckily, we were both near a computer and signed up the day Boston 2011 opened up last September.   As I'm sure you know, it sold out in only 8 hours.   It would have really sucked if either of us didn't get in because we didn't sign up in time.   At the end of the day, we both got in, and considered ourselves lucky.

My training for Boston certainly didn't go according to plan.   After a great race at the Around the Bay 3 weeks prior to Boston, I ended up with some very annoying knee pain.   I had an MRI done because of some constant "clicking" in my knee.   The results came back clean, with no meniscus or ligament tears.   It looked like I had a bit of a bone bruise, but either way, I had run a grand total of 11K in the 3 weeks leading up to Boston.   Pretty sure that's far less than any marathon plan would call for.   That being said, I still kept the fitness up by doing a decent amount of swimming and biking.   So needless to say, I was a bit concerned leading up to this race.

On Saturday, April 16th, Darryl Huras and I drove to Buffalo to catch our flights to Boston.   We arrived in Boston with enough time to take the T to our hotel, check in, and get to the expo to pick up our bibs and do a quick tour of the expo (at least part of it).   It's a huge expo, so we only got through about a third of it.   Enough time at least to get our Boston marathon jackets.   This was the one thing that I definitely wanted to get.   It's almost a ritual that if you've done Boston, you've got at least one Adidas Boston marathon jacket, so I needed mine.

On Sunday, the day before the race, Darryl and I got up and headed downtown to watch the start and finish of the BAA 5K.   Wow, some fast runners in this with the winners coming home in just over 14 minutes!   After that, we did the Boston Tea Party Canada brunch at the Vlora restaurant which was ok, but nothing great.   When we were finished, we met up with a friend of mine that I know from Waterloo who was down to watch his wife run the race.   They offered to give Darryl and I a preview of the race course from Hopkinton to Boston, so we took them up on their offer.   It was nice to see the course, and even better to see the start under normal circumstances, not when there are 25,000 runners waiting to race.

The night before the race, we took the T to Government Centre and participated in the race organized pasta dinner.   We were amazed at the speed and efficiency in which they moved athletes through this.   The meal was again ok, but nothing great.   Lot's of carbs for the next morning at least.

Race morning started early.....awfully early at 4:30am.   I normally don't have too much of an issue sleeping before big races, but I think I got about 2 or 3 hours sleep max that night, so by 4:30, I was ready to get up and get going anyway.   I made my normal whole wheat wrap with peanut butter and a banana to get the day started, had a quick shower and a coffee and we were out the door with our gear to catch the subway at around 5:15, or so we hoped.

After a bit of a delay at the subway, we eventually got on the first train about 5:40am that morning and made our way to the State T station.   This only took 10-15 minutes, so we had lot's of time, as we were supposed to board the buses between 6am - 6:30am.   Going to the first stop past Boylston was a really good call, as the lineups to get on the bus were significantly less at the end of the long line of school buses.   We quickly got on the first available bus, and about 15 minutes later, we were off to Hopkinton.   The bus ride out there seemed to take almost an hour by the time we got to athlete's village.   The time went pretty quick though as we chatted with other runners, many who have done the race plenty of times before.

When we got to the athlete's village, we quickly got in line for our first of many port-o-potty breaks before our 10am start.   By this time, we still had about 2 hours to kill before making our way to the start line.   Being some of the first people out there, there were still plenty of spots to choose from.   It was a cool and windy day, so we found a spot along a sheltered fence that was in the sun, and got out the garbage bags to cover us up and keep warm.

They had lots of food and drink out in the village to help hydrate and fuel up.   I had a few coffees, half a bagel and some Gatorade to pass the time.   After a bit more sitting around, stretching, port-o-potty breaks and chit-chat with other runners, the time finally came for us to drop our bags and start walking down to the starting corrals at 9:15am.   Darryl and I changed into our running gear, but still kept on some disposable clothes that would ultimately go to charity when we took them off near the start.   Speaking of the start, it was almost a mile walk from athlete's village.   Nobody really cares about that, as the walk there is a good way to loosen up prior to the race.   After one final washroom stop, we were off to the starting line.   Darryl was in coral 4 while I was in coral 3.   I decided to start back with him, and we'd run together as long as we could.  At 10am, shortly after singing the national anthem, the gun went off, and our journey to Boston began.   I was hoping to see the fighter jets fly by, but none were to be seen this year.

The first few miles were very tightly packed.   Since we were all running with people of similar qualifying times and fitness, this didn't actually cause too much slowness in the race.   The first K was done in 4:24 and the second in 4:30.   In the back of my mind I was going to be happy with a 4:30 average pace for the race, so this was good.   After the first few downhill K's, I got into a good rhythm and we just kept cruising along.

This was clearly the biggest race I'd ever been in in my entire life (by a LONG shot).   Previously, the Around the Bay 30K was likely the biggest race (in terms of numbers) that I have been in, and that was only about 6,000.   There were 25,000 runners in this race!   What people say about the crowd support was 100% true.   It's hard to believe, but except for the first K or so when we had to run through a bit of a wooded area, there were spectators the ENTIRE 26.2 miles of this race, often 2 or 3 deep in spots.   There was zero sense of loneliness out there.   It is a day off in Massachusetts and people make the most of it to come out and cheer on the runners.

Through 5K, things seemed to be going well.  I planned to use the aid stations as I did in Ottawa, taking water at one and Gatorade at the next.   Little sips at a time, but staying fully hydrated.   In addition to the aid stations, I decided to carry my fuel belt in order to make sure I got a decent amount of salt.   I dissolved 3 salt stick capsules into each fuel belt flask and had a half Gatorade, half water solution.   This seems to have worked for me in the past, so I kept up with tradition.  In addition, I had two powerbar gels that I planned on using every 10K of the race.   We went through the 5K marker in just under 22 minutes, feeling very good and relaxed and giving lot's of high fives to kids and plenty of other fans, since there was no shortage of them.

By 10K, I had already started to feel a bit of soreness in my quads from the net downhill to this point.   In addition, I could feel my left knee getting a bid tender, but neither issues were anything that were causing me to slow down, they were just in the back of my mind.   At this point, my average paced had settled in at a 4:20/K.   Looking back at my Garmin details, I would hold this average pace all the way through until 20K of the race.   This made sense, as this stretch of the race was relatively flat.   I can't think of anything too memorable other than talking to a guy that was doing the race in a speedo (and only a speedo).   I had asked him if he lost a bet, but he jokingly just said that he was working on his tan.   Running beside him for a bit, he certainly got lot's of cheers and some boo's from the crowd.   It was kinda funny actually.   In addition, around the 15 or 16K point, I passed Team Hoyt.   If you have not heard of them, just google them.   What they have done together is truly amazing.   Another very notable event was running by the girls of Wellesley Collage at around 20K.   I'd heard of these "loud" girls well before doing the race.   They offer free kisses to anyone that wants them.   Given the fact that I was actually running better than I was expecting to at this point, I decided not to slow down and "hang out" with them.   Instead, I just watched as others did.   It was quite entertaining to watch, and it was definitely a very loud cheering section.

At the 20K mark, my pace slowed down to a 4:21/K average.   The next 5K were relatively flat, so I just focused on maintaining a nice rhythm.   I would hold this pace through until the 27K mark where the hills began.   Actually, the first major change in elevation was a big downhill at the 25K mark, that was quickly followed by pretty decent climb.   This was the first of 4 pretty decent climbs through the Newton area.   The last of course, is Heartbreak Hill.

By this point, my legs were starting to hurt.   My right quad, just below my hip was getting moderately sore.   I was still feeling a bit of pain in my left knee also, but it just never seemed to get much worse than when I was at the 10K mark.

Before I knew it, we were climbing Heartbreak.   After hearing people talk about it, I knew it wasn't anything to get too concerned about.   It's a decently long climb, but not too steep.   I just kept moving up the hill and pumping my arms.   I remember thinking to myself this isn't too bad, and after this, it's all downhill.   Looking back, those downhills were the worse part.   I had never experienced any sort of pain running downhill before, but the downhills in Boston really hammer the quads.   In the final 8K, there were a few spots where the descents were pretty steep.   I felt like I couldn't just take longer strides and pick up the pace, because my legs were hurting.   So even though the elevation dropped 70m in the final 8K, my kilometer splits continued to increase.  I was simply in damage control mode and really wanted to get to the finish line.

The closer we got to the finish line, the bigger the crowds were.   At some point, it was ridiculously loud!   I wish I could have taken some video just so that I could remember it.   It's something you'll only experience in a few races around the world (New York city might be another).

Once to Beacon street, I could finally see the Citgo sign.   This is the sign that means you're almost home.   The sad thing is, that you can see this sign from almost 4 or 5K out.   It certainly seemed to take a long time to finally reach it.   The stretch on Beacon was tough, as I also started to feel some sort of rubbing or blister forming on my left foot.   I was almost tempted to stop and take my shoe off, but I decided to just keep going.   I was almost done.   I did take a few walking breaks at some of the final aid stations, just to get my HR back under control.   I certainly wasn't alone at this point, as a lot of other people seemed to be really suffering at this point too.

Once we got to the Massachusetts turnpike, I saw the sign for only 1 mile to go!   We had to climb a small overpass to get over the turnpike and then run past Fenway Park.   As it turns out, the Toronto Blue Jays were playing the Red Sox that afternoon as we ran by the stadium.

I recall only one more hard part of the race, and that was going under Massachusetts Avenue.   I took one more small walking break as we climbed back up to street level, and made the final stretch to Boylston Street.   Almost home!

A quick right turn and then a left onto Boylston, and there it was, the big blue finish line chute of the Boston marathon.

It's a good half mile run down Boylston, but at that point, the pain was gone. The crowds were large and loud, and I knew I was almost done. I picked up the pace and just ran pretty much as fast as I could to the finish, coming across the line in 3:10:11.

After finishing and moving through the finish area a bit, I turned to see if Darryl was anywhere to be seen.   Only a minute later I saw another friend, Kevin Tearle from the Burlington area come across the line.   He's doing the Lake Placid IM in July also, so this was a bit of a long training run for him too.   After waiting for a few more minutes, I decided to start making my way through the various finish line areas.   First came some water, then the medal, followed by the thermal foil blankets and then some food.  I just grabbed everything that people were handing me and kept stuffing it in my bag.  I really loaded up on the bars and Gatorade recover drink.  

After this, I made my way to the busing area to retrieve my warm up clothes that I left out at Hopkinton.    Sitting down and changing was certainly not the easiest thing to do right after the race.

Once I got this all done, I decided that I would just head back to the hotel and wait for Darryl, but just as I was heading out of the athlete area, I ran into him, which was pretty amazing, given the thousands and thousands of people all around.   We grabbed our stuff and made our way to the Arlington subway station to get on the T back to our hotel.

Going down those stairs into the subway station were absolutely painful.   It was so funny seeing all of the runners hobbling around the streets and stairs into the subway.   It took a bit of time, but eventually, we got on the train and then off about 10 minutes later down by our hotel.   The walk back to the hotel was very slow.   I was physically unable to do anything other than walk slowly at this point.

After finally getting back to the hotel, we got cleaned up and then I actually tried to make a bit of an ice bath in the bathtub for my legs.   The water coming out of the tap wasn't very cold so the ice I added quickly melted and the water only felt cold for a few seconds.   I thought to myself that this is better than nothing, so gave each leg about a 10 minute soak.   I had to do one leg at a time, since the tub wasn't even long enough for both legs to sit straight out.   After the ice bath and a shower, I sat on the bed and put some ice on my left knee to keep the swelling down.

After a few hours, Darryl and I decided to head back up to the Prudential center and go for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory.   It was about a 50 minute wait, so we put our names down and headed into the mall area to try and walk off our soreness.   It definitely felt good to move around, and I hope that helped with the recovery a bit.   Once we got seated, we had a nice dinner and I had a Sam Adams beer, that tasted just AMAZING!

The next day, we grabbed a bit of breakfast at the hotel, before getting on the subway back to the airport.   At the airport, it was neat to sit around and talk with many of the other runners who were also heading home.

So overall, I am very pleased with how the race turned out.   Only one week prior to the race, I was still unsure if I could or should run it at all.   I set very low expectations for the race, so to do a 3:10 and actually qualify again for next year if I wanted to, far exceeded my expectations.    My biggest relief is that it appears that my left knee is actually better after the race than it was before.   I have no idea how a marathon can make the clicking issue I had go away, but it did.   I continued with some icing for several days after the race, but was able to do a 113K bike ride only 4 days after Boston, and then a 12K run 6 days after the race.   My legs are still feeling a bit tired, but they are getting better every day, which is good, as I have some serious training that needs to happen to get ready for my July 3, 2011 Ironman race in Austria.

Here is the Garmin data for the race:

I was able to find some video of me crossing the finish line as well.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Hamilton Around the Bay 30K Road Race - March 27, 2011 Race Report

The Around the Bay road race takes place in Hamilton, Ontario.   It starts and finishes at Copps Coliseum, after runners do a complete loop of Hamilton harbour.

Once again, the weather for the day was going to be sunny, but very cold (for the end of March).   It was around -10 overnight, and highs for the day were projected to only be about -2.

I was up at 6am for the 9:30am start time.   I was getting picked up by Darryl Huras at 7am for the 1hr trek to Hamilton.   This gave me lots of time to eat some breakfast, which was a banana wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla with peanut butter.   I also had  a small amount of oatmeal and coffee to get started for the day.   After eating breakfast, I went downstairs and rode my bike on the trainer for 10 minutes.  This helps get the legs loosened up and ready to roll.   It would likely be better to do this about half an hour before the race start, but what can you do.

At 7am, Darryl showed up and we were off to Hamilton.   We had to make a small detour over to Dundas to pick up our race kits that had been picked up the day before by another friend in New Hamburg running the race, who was staying at her sister's place.   This didn't take long, and by 8am or so, we were parked and making our way into Copps to hit the washrooms and to walk around and stretch.

After killing time for 45 minutes inside Copps, we headed back to the van to get organized for the race and get to the start line.   At about 9:15am, we were off doing a light jog to the starting line and join the other 6,000 people ready to run this race.   We were planning on running together, so we seeded ourselves approximately 10 or 12 rows from the front.   At 9:30am, the horn sounded, and we were off.   It took about 10 seconds to actually reach the start line after the gun went off.

As expected, it was a bit busy for the first few minutes of the race, but after the first K, things opened up nicely and we were able to find a nice rhythm.   We went through the first K in 4:04 and feeling good.   The race is pretty much a triangle shape.   The first 9K are more or less a straight, flat run going due east.   This part felt really nice, as we likely did not have any wind, and it was right into the sun.   At times, I felt like I was actually getting a bit warm, but all in all, it was comfortable.  There were times during this part that it was totally silent, and I thought that was a bit strange.   There were a few spots were there wasn't any fan support and all you could hear were the sounds of running feet.   This seemed like the exact opposite of 20 minutes ago at the start.

At 9K, we turned north on Woodward Ave. and into a bit of a headwind.   It felt cooler for sure and the pace slowed down a little bit.  At about 11K, the course went under the QEW and onto Beach Blvd.   At this point, the fan support was much higher.    The people living along this street did a great job of coming out and cheering runners on.   This helps a lot as we went through the middle part of course.

My nutrition and hydration plan for this race was fairly simple.   I took my fuel belt with two bottles filled of half water and half gatorade.   In each bottle I dissolved about 1 and a half salt stick capsules in each one.   Trying to use my salt stick dispenser with gloves on wasn't going to happen, so to make sure I didn't get any cramps, I just pre-dissolved them.   In addition, I ended up taking in one powergel at about 12 or 13K and I would try to get a drink from every aid station, alternating between gatorade and water.   This all worked well, and I didn't have any nutrition or cramping issues during the race at all.

Back to the run, at 18K, we made the left turn south onto Northshore Blvd. where the race really begins.   The good news is that the next 8K or so are all through mostly residential areas, so the fan support is good to push you along, but the bad news is that this is where the hills are.    Doing this race for the 4th time now, I really know what to expect, and other than two or three challenging hills on the course, the rest aren't bad.   I actually enjoyed the rollers as we got into this section, as it seemed to give the legs a chance to use different muscles which helped.   Just past the 20K mark, we go up what I consider to be the first challenging hill at LaSalle park.   It's not too steep really, but it goes up for a while, so you have to grind it out.   Once at the top, there is a pretty good downhill, and this is where I first started to have some concerns with my knee.   Going into this race, I've had some problems with my left knee.   Going up stairs, etc. it had been a bit "clicky", and the downhills on the run seemed to make it worse.   I just tried to keep a steady pace and not "brake" too much, which made it worse.

After reaching the bottom of the hill at LaSalle park, there is another decent climb back into a busy residential areat.   Once at the top here, it's a nice gradual decent for a few K until you make the quick right and small climb back up to Plains Rd. West.   At this point, I was feeling pretty good again, and started to pick it up as the next 2K are pretty much downhill as we turn left on Spring Gardens road and go down past Woodland cemetery and the Royal Botanical gardens.   During this point, Darryl and I passed a few runners and headed down to meet the "midget" or "little person" to be more politically correct.

Just before making the decent to the bottom of "The Hill", there is a "little guy" who is always in the same place every year blasting out "We will rock you" by Queen.   It has become a ritual of doing ATB to "slap the midget".   He gives out high 5's to all those who want them.   It's a great place to get some motivation before tackling the Valley Inn Road hill.   This is the hill every talks about (or fears) when doing this race.   It's a pretty steep and decently long hill that challenges runners between the 26-27K point of the race.   Once at the top though, you end up back on York boulevard with a 3K downhill finish to the end INSIDE of Copps Coliseum.

At this point, my GPS was showing a 4:09 average pace, which is under a 2:05 finish time.   The problem with this though is that my kilometer markers were consistently coming up before the official race K markers.   The last few were coming up about 100-200 meters early, so for some reason the course seemed a little "long" this year.  

We ran hard for the last few K (with the last one a 3:53/pace) and as we were just about to turn down into Copps to finish, my 30K lap marker went off on my GPS.  I only had about 15 seconds to get to the finish line, so it didn't look like I was going to go sub 2:05 today.

As Darryl and I got inside Copps, we were side by side and we then shook hands as we crossed the finish line.   You can see this in the cool finish line video below or some of the pictures at the end of this blog.

We both finished in 2:05:15 officially.  I was 141st out of 5,882 total runners and 23rd out of 414 in my AG.

Below are the splits in Garmin details for the run.

2011 Around the Bay 30K road race - Garmin Details

After the race, and as soon as I stopped running, I could tell my knee was going to be a problem.   We went through the food line and then found a place to do a bit of stretching, but I could tell my knee was starting to tighten up.   Any more running was definitely not an option at this point.   My fitness seemed good and it wasn't from a lack of energy or muscle soreness that I could not run any more.   Simply the fact that my knee had had enough.

The day after the race, my knee was very swollen and the only thing I could do is swim.   So I did that for some recovery.   By Tuesday, I could bike, and since then, swimming and biking are the only things I have done.   It is now 6 days after the ATB and although I don't seem to have any more swelling in my knee, it is still "structurally" sore and bothersome.   I have a physio appt. for Monday morning and actually an MRI on my knee planned for next Saturday.   I have had what I would describe as general "weakness" in my left knee for a few years at least, but it never really caused me any issues when I run.   Once warmed up, it was always fine.   That does not seem to be the case now, and with the Boston marathon in a little more than two weeks, I must say, I am concerned.   I hope things can fix themselves quickly, or running Boston might not be in the cards.   Especially with IM Austria in July.  Time will tell I guess, but I'm definitely crossing my fingers.

Below are a few other shots from the race.