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.

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