Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Race Report: Boston Marathon

April 18, 2011 was my fourth time running the Boston Marathon, and the first since 2005. I ran in 2003, 2004 and 2005 with mostly pretty disappointing results. 2003 was a fairly warm day, and I finished in the 3:15 range, and was the first time I'd ever walked in a marathon. 2004 was downright hot with temperatures around 85 degrees, and my goal eventually became to just cross the finish line on my own two feet, rather than on a stretcher, as I saw many runners being attended to in the medical tents. That is still my slowest marathon, in 3:54. 2005 was much better, and I finished in 2:56.

But Boston is a tough course, and many stories are told of those who start out too fast on the downhills and crash on the uphills between miles 16-21. Still, I was feeling in good shape and thinking that a PR was possible, my current PR being 2:52:06 in New York in 2007. I don't run as many marathons as I used to, in 2008 not running any at all. But I thought everything was looking good. Even the weather forecast was looking good, with high temperatures around 60 and a good tailwind.

I rode up to Boston with Mike Arnstein, who also arranged for a home stay with a family in Hopkinton. So right off the bat, I have to give a big thanks to Mike and to our hosts, Cecile and David. They were also hosting another runner, Jeff, and his wife Tania, so it was nice meeting them as well.

After being dropped off within walking distance of the athletes' village and finishing my preparations and dropping off my bag, I was on my way to the corrals and the start of my fourth Boston Marathon. Since I don't run many marathons, my qualifying time of 3:01 from the 2009 New York Marathon was a bit slower than my PR, so I was placed in the third corral behind the elite men. At the start, the field around me was running slower than I would have liked to, but it was so crowded I had no chance to move up for a while. My first mile, even on that steep downhill, was about 7:00. I was not just shooting for a PR, but for a sub-2:50, so I would have to average about 6:28 per mile to accomplish that. But I knew I'd have time to make up the slow start, and it might even be to my benefit to start slow.

Eventually I did settle into a 6:20-6:22 pace, a little slower or faster depending on the terrain, but always staying under 6:30. My 5K splits were almost exactly 20:00, just a tad under for the first 25K. My first half split was about 1:24:14, so in theory I was on pace for a sub-2:50, but those hills were yet to come. I did slow a little on the tough hill leading into mile 18, and the next couple of miles also were in the 6:40 range, but I was hoping I'd still be able to make up the time on the subsequent downhills and crack that 2:50. I was feeling confident about the PR still.

On the downhill at mile 21 I did feel like I was flying, and except for some involuntary muscle twitches, was still feeling good, although exhaustion was setting in. Turning on to Beacon St. the course leveled out and I just tried to keep my focus on my pace. At mile 24 I remembered my first two years when I stayed with my cousin Kirstin who lived near that spot and she would cheer me on. No one was cheering for me now, but with only two miles to go, I could sense the end was near. But I always get frustrated because it doesn't look like the end is near. And it also became clear that I wasn't going to get in under 2:50, but was still likely to get a PR, as long as I kept pushing. Two weeks before, I let a 6-hour PR slip away because I let up at the end, and when you have a chance to run your fastsest time ever, and the conditions are good, you don't miss the opportunity.

But before you know it, you're on the familiar stretch leading into downtown Boston. The final right and left turns onto Boylston St., the finish line came into sight, still close to a half mile away. But it got closer and closer, and I finally finished in 2:50:55, a PR by over a minute. And just seconds after I finished, I heard the announcer say that Joan Beonit Samuelson had just finished, and I looked over and saw her come through. It was nice to be in her presence. In looking back over my splits and her splits, we were actually running very close to each other the entire race, and I didn't know it!

So I was very happy all things considered. When I heard Geoffrey Mutai's winning time, I thought I should have been able to run faster, under 2:50. But even with the downhills and the tailwind, it's still a tough course, and to get a PR at age 42 after 13 years of running marathons is not bad. I'll get that 2:49 yet!

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