For many runners, running the Boston Marathon is a lifelong goal. Since you have to qualify to run at Boston by running another marathon under a certain time (the specific time depends on your gender and age) just getting to the start line is a big accomplishment. It is often referred to at the Olympics for the everyman (or woman) although there is no doubt that it takes a decent amount of dedication and discipline to run a marathon to begin with, let alone having to do it relatively fast.
While it wasn't on the very top of my bucket list, it was something I wanted to someday accomplish. As Sonja had qualified back in 2010 while running the Victoria Marathon, I decided to go ahead and get in a qualifying time so that we could both go this year. I almost waited too long, but did manage to get a marathon in Edmonton last August in time for registering for Boston. I didn't train specifically for that race so didn't push myself to my limit, but got the job done (Running 2:47).
This time around, I upped my long runs and managed to get in about 12 more than 20k with 6 of those being over 30k. I also kept up my speed work and did a handful of ~1 tempo runs. I certainly could have done more, but I was hoping it would be enough to get my goal time of 2:35 (3:40/km pace).
We planned our trip to have a few days to visit Boston as neither of us had been there before. We had two full days before race day and one full day afterwards to hobble around. Boston turned out to be quite a nice city to visit with very friendly people and some great historical sites and architecture. I would definitely recommend it if you are in the area. We also spent some time checking out the massive race expo and managed to pick up some sweet shoe deals.
Boston Sky line
Sonja and I at the Race Expo
Weather predictions before the race called for a heat wave just in time for the race. I didn't worry too much about it as stressing about it wouldn't change anything. Race organizers encouraged racers to not run if they were not prepared well enough. It turned out 4,700 people choose not to run (out of 27,000). I expect that most of these people were charity runners/and or local Bostonians. I can't imagine that too many others from out of the city would forgo running when they have already spent time and money training, and travelling.
Even with reduced numbers running, getting everyone to the start line (42 km away in this point to point race) was quite an undertaking. It took us nearly 40min waiting in line to get onto a bus. By the time we finally reached the start area, I had just enough time to use the facilities, drop my bag off, and take a quick photo before walking over to the start line about 1km away. It was definitely warm but not extremely hot at this point. I still opted to race without a shirt as I knew it would get even hotter as the day went on.
I was feeling pretty good and felt ready to take on the challenge. Despite the anticipated heat, I still choose to stick with my original plan hoping that it wouldn't affect me that much. The course started with some significant down hills in the first 10k so I expected my times to be a little faster than goal pace, but I definitely didn't want to beat my legs up too much on the down hills since they would be needed later.
The elite field of men were brought to the front just ahead of where I was standing. There was some amazing runners in that field including Geoffrey Mutai who set a new course record and world best time with an unbelievable 2:03:02 clocking last year. At best, I could run 2km at the pace he ran the entire marathon in! Being in the first corral (out of 9) in the first wave (of 3) was great as it meant that it took just 15s to crossing the starting mat. I was worried there would be some congestion, but as soon at I crossed the mat, it was smooth sailing and I could set my own pace.
I settled into a comfortable pace and cruised down the initial hills. The course loses about 200 feet of elevation in the first 5km so I knew it would be a quick start, but I tried very hard to make sure I wasn't beating myself up too much. I crossed the 5k mat in 17:46, which was about 30s ahead of schedule. The next 5k went by right on track, hitting 10k at 36:03 and things continued to feel pretty good. It was warm out, but it didn't seem to be effecting me too much. There were plenty of other people running around me, but I didn't stick with anyone in particular, determined to run my own race.
The crowds were not thick at this part of the race, but still quite supportive which was great. There were water stations every Mile so Gatorade and water were never far away. As the race progressed, they became all the more important. I rolled through 15k in 54:41 still on pace. While not struggling, I was noticing that I seemed to be working a bit harder than I should have been at this point. I know that if you don't arrive and the halfway mark feeling very comfortable, things are going to go bad. By the time I had hit 20k in 1:13:41, I had slipped a bit from my goal, but I still thought that I could have a reasonable finish.
One of the features of the Boston Marathon is Wellesley College, which is an all girls school just after 20k mark. They are famous for giving out kisses and holding a ton of funny signs and their cheering was very loud! I didn't stop to get kissed, worried that I wouldn't get going again, but it was great fun to slap hands with many of them - it was certainly a nice little boost.
Unfortunately, it didn't last and the race and heat began to wear on me. By 25k, I had fallen about 1 min back from my goal pace. I started mentally adjusting my goal and still thought that a sub 2:40 time was possible. We started to run through some towns with great crowds. The spectators were really fantastic and enthusiastic. There were tons of them giving out oranges, ice, water, and other treats.
As great as the crowds were though, they couldn't take away the fact that the heat was rapidly draining me. I poured a ton of water on my head and headed though several spray stations. It helped, but was never enough to cool the body sufficiently. By 30k, I was 2.5 min behind schedule. Still not a total disaster, but I had 12k to go. It also didn't help that the Newton Hills start around this point and consisted of 4 modest hills with the last being the steepest most notorious Heartbreak Hill. Normally, these hills would not have been too bad for me, but in my weakened state, they really hurt. I was very grateful to get over the last one, but by the time I crossed the 35k mat, I had dropped 3 more minutes.
I managed to speed up slightly on the downhill, but I was pretty much in total survival mode by this time. I just wanted to be done. I never considering stopping or quitting, but it each Mile seemed to last an eternity and it literally felt like I was crawling. I had long ago stopped looking at my Mile splits as I didn't want to see what my watch said. With about 2k to go, another shirtless racer caught up to me and encouraged me to hang on to him. I thanked him, but said I had really had nothing in the tank - I could barley maintain my pace let alone increase it. He took off, but then a few hundred meters down the road, he apparently hit the wall and I passed him again. I don't know where he actually ended up finishing, but it was somewhat amusing at the time.
Over the last mile, I got passed by a steam of runners pushing for the finish. I really wanted to be one of them, but it just wasn't in the cards. The crowds were massive and screaming at the top of their lungs, but I just about tuned it all out in my desire to get to the finish line. I finally limped over it at 2:46:54, nearly 12 min off my predicted time. I was disappointed with my major fade, probably the worst that I've ever had, but at the time I was just so grateful to be done. On the plus side, I placed 156th which was about where I expected to be with my goal time - it was obvious the heat took its toll on everyone. One of unfortunate things is that I will never know what I could have run under better conditions, but I guess I'll have to tackle another marathon to find out.
It was a tough day for nearly everyone and negative (or even splits) were few and far between, Even the Elite fields were close to 10 minutes slower than normal. Fellow Victoria, Chris Callendar, also felt the heat and finished off his goal time. Sonja faired better, while she was also off her goal time, she ran a smart race, only losing about 2 min on the second half.