Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My Boston Race Report - Hope you've got time to kill

It’s a long damn ways from Belle Fourche, SD to Boston, MA. Approximately 1,952 miles, according to MapQuest. But, in reality, my journey to Boston started from even further away, in Seattle (just about as far from Boston as you can get and still be in the lower 48). On November 27, 2005, I finished the Seattle Marathon, my first, in 3:46:14. I was 35 minutes and 15 seconds shy of a Boston qualifying time and, honestly, I don’t think I was aware of it in the least and I know I didn’t care. I was just happy to be upright and alive. But, like so many other marathoners, my goals changed from first just wanting to survive the distance, to wanting to cover the distance faster, to wanting to cover the distance fast enough to run the granddaddy of em all. I seem to remember at some point, not too long after Seattle, looking up the Boston qualifying times and immediately writing it off as something that would be cool, but not realistic. After all, I had just run a marathon at 8:38/mile pace and it had taken everything I had. Boston required that I run at least 7:17 pace….a daunting proposition at that point in time. One thing I did learn from Seattle is that marathoning wasn’t going to be a one and done endeavor for me. The challenge of covering the distance sparked something in me.

As I added more marathon finishes to my resume, my finish times began dropping. In May of 2007, I finished the Fargo Marathon in 3:18:53 and it was then that I first began to really believe that I might have a BQ in me somewhere. Now I just needed to put in the miles and find a place to unleash it. I settled on Ft. Collins, CO, home of the Colorado Marathon, well known for its fast, downhill course. Apparently, some people do well on courses with over 1,000 feet of drop. Apparently, I am not one of those people. I came home from Ft. Collins with a small PR (47 seconds), obliterated quads, and an overwhelming sense of disappointment. Like someone coming out of a bad breakup, I needed a rebound marathon. I ran Deadwood-Mickelson five weeks later, but its un-BQ-friendly course was really just a one night stand on my way to a more significant fling. On July 13, 2008, ten weeks after Colorado, I returned to an old mistress and my old college town, Missoula, MT, and set about shocking the world (or at least the RT forum). Without telling a soul, not even my wife, I toed the line at Missoula with a BQ on my mind. By that time, I had spent the last year or so wondering what it would feel like to actually cross the finish line of a marathon with a qualifying time. Would I be elated? Emotional? A combination of both? Well, when I hit the finish line in Missoula, looked down at my Garmin and saw 3:09:41 staring back at me, I simply felt relief. Some pain, but mostly relief. The elation and emotion came later, in spurts and at odd moments (i.e. the day I registered for Boston, the day my welcome packet arrived, the day my jacket arrived).

The thing about qualifying for Boston is that getting the BQ is only half the battle. After that, you actually have to run the damn thing, which is in itself a whole nother beast (not The Beast, a different kind). The logistics alone are infinitely more stressful than any other race I’ve ever done. It’s not like you can just make a $60 a night reservation at the local Super 8, drive to the start line the morning of the race and take off. I think I put more time into searching for a Boston motel that was close to the action but not $300/night and airfare that was less than a monthly mortgage payment than I have actually training for some races. In the end, all my hotel-stressing was for naught as I ended up scoring a sweet room at the Hilton Back Bay on Hotwire the week before the race for a mere $114 a night. Sometimes, waiting till the last second can be a good thing, I guess.

Beyond the logistics mess, I had to figure out how to train for this thing. I had just started delving into Jack Daniels’ book before Missoula and knew that I wanted to give his plan (the ‘A’ plan) a shot. The big question was what my time goal was going to be for Boston. Since it would be my first marathon since Missoula, I knew that I would be able to focus all of my training on it. I felt like I didn’t want to go there just to go through the motions and say that I finished Boston, but I also didn’t want to go there with some grand goal (e.g., sub-3) in mind and then ultimately be disappointed with the whole experience if that goal wasn’t met (a la Colorado). Ultimately, I decided to do the prudent thing (a strategy I’m totally unfamiliar with) and let my training dictate what pace I seemed most prepared for. Over 18 weeks of intervals, tempo runs (lots and lots of tempo runs…Daniels really has a thing for tempo runs) and a couple of marathon pace runs, I finally decided that 7:00-7:05 pace (3:03:30-3:05:30 finish time) seemed possible if I had a good day and a re-BQ would be great. But, above all, my primary goal was to enjoy the experience. I didn’t want leave Boston the same way I left Fort Collins last year, with a bitter taste in my mouth about what is really a very nice event.

If nothing else, qualifying for Boston in July left me with a bunch of time to think about and prepare for the race. Missoula had been my third marathon in ten weeks. I had planned on running the flat and fast Bismarck Marathon in September for a BQ attempt, but when my Missoula finish made that a moot point, I quickly ditched those plans. Nothing against Bismarck, but it’s not exactly on top of my destination marathon list. So, I was suddenly facing 9 months before my next marathon. I responded by launching into an extended base building plan, the longest I’ve ever done, that topped out at 102 miles. When December finally rolled around, I transitioned into my 18 week Daniels plan, topping out at 100 miles (a few times) and averaging in the upper 80s. That 9 months was by far the highest mileage and, from December through April at least, highest intensity running period of my life. From December 28th through March 23rd, I ran every day for 85 days straight, that streak only coming to an end because of the heinous acts of Mother Nature (i.e., a spring blizzard, the first of three in three weeks that totally shut down western South Dakota). Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything like that again, but then again I say that at some point during almost every marathon (heck, during every 5k for that matter).

Despite, or maybe because of, all those miles I entered taper feeling good. As taper progressed, I started feeling really good, having to hold myself back during the last few runs before Boston. This was a new feeling to me as, for some reason, the Pfitz plans I had used the last two winters had left me nursing a modest injury or some random aches and pains during taper. That wasn’t the case this time and I felt like I was using the taper to rest instead of to recover. Mentally, of course, I was a wreck for the last couple of weeks, obsessively checking weather forecasts, the status of flights going into and out of Rapid City and pretty much anything and everything that had to do with Boston. Let’s just say that by the time April 17th rolled around and I left to catch my flight out of Rapid my wife was relieved to have me off of her hands.
The trip to Boston itself ended up taking a little longer than expected. A blizzard that hammered Denver the day I left didn’t affect South Dakota (for once). I flew to Chicago first and my flight leaving there to Boston was delayed 2.5 hours (possibly because of the Denver blizzard, I’m not sure). So, I didn’t roll into Logan until 12:40 Saturday morning, at which time the T had just stopped running for the night, which meant that I would have to catch a cab to my hotel (I spent that first night at the Holiday Inn Beacon Hill because the Hilton didn’t have any openings for Friday). I knew it was a bad sign when I told the cabbie where I was heading and, in a thick Indian accent, he replied “Oh, that is very far, will cost very much.” Great buddy, thanks for the info, but I really have no choice. So, 30-some dollars lighter, I arrived at my hotel, got my room, opened the door and…..there was someone in there already. Now, I didn’t actually see anybody, but all the lights were on, the TV was on, and the sheets on the bed were undone. I quickly backed out, headed back down to the lobby and told the front desk dude that I needed a new room. He hooked me up with one, unoccupied this time, but was totally unapologetic about it. Nothing like service with a smile.

I didn’t sleep worth crap that first night and was up by 6 AM, which was actually 4 AM to me, but I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. So, I got up, went in search for coffee (I found that Starbucks are almost as plentiful in Boston as they are in Seattle) and then headed for the nearest T station and caught a ride to the Hilton. My first ever experience on a subway went well (i.e., I didn’t get on the wrong train and ended up exactly where I wanted to be). I checked into the Hilton and by that time it was almost time for the expo to open so I went and stood in the number pick up line and was one of the first in the door. The Boston expo is unlike anything I have ever experienced. It was almost overwhelming, like trying to ride all the rides at Disneyland in one day. I had tentatively planned on meeting with shellaran (Dan), vitadolce (Pam), Cartman (Justin), Toad (Joe) and irunforbeer (John) at the expo and, eventually, we all did end up coalescing at one of the adidas booths and chatting for awhile. After we separated, I hurried over to the Asics booth to meet Ryan Hall. He was a great guy. I tried talking him into running the Missoula Marathon sometime. He seemed more interested in going to Montana for some fishing. After I got his autograph and picture I headed over to the New Balance booth to meet Dick Beardsley. I actually met Dick a couple of years ago at a half-marathon in Spearfish, SD, but I wanted to get a picture with him too and have him sign my copy of Duel in the Sun, which I head re-read on the plane ride to Boston. After meeting Dick, it was off to the Running Times booth to meet Bill Rodgers, who I also got a picture and photo with (sorry, Jeff, I forgot to tell him “hi” from you). While I was in line for Bill Rodgers, I also met up with madbuck (Mike) and we chatted for awhile. The funny thing was, although Dick’s and Bill’s lines were much shorter than Ryan’s, they moved wwwaaayyy slower because those two can’t help but have at least a 5 minute long conversation with each and every person they meet. In the end, I was at the expo from the time it opened at 9 until about 3 in the afternoon. Good thing I did that on Saturday.

Sunday was more laid back, although I did venture out for a short run and to a finish line FE with rogere (Roger), The Beast (Bruce), Rio (uhhh…sorry), Stace76 (Robin), Bret (PhillyRunninMan), Rob26.2 (Rob), and probably some other people who I’m forgetting (and I apologize profusely for that). After the FE, Bret and I headed out in his car for a tour of the Newton Hills (yup, they are actually hills….damn) and dinner at a tiny, but very good, Italian place in Newton.

Monday morning I was off on one of the first waves of busses to leave the Commons, so got to Hopkinton with time to spare. I realized at some point that my caffeine-addicted body hadn’t had any since early Sunday morning and I had a pulsing headache because of it (how pathetic is that?). Fortunately, they were serving coffee in the Village and after drinking some I started to feel better. At 8:45, I headed over to the tennis court FE and met a bunch more people, more people than I can even attempt to remember and name here, so just look at Erik’s picture thread to figure that one out. Just after 9, I walked down to the corrals with Justin, Butters (Thomas), Joe and John. Almost before I knew it, it was time to cuddle into Corral 5, there were F-15s flying over and we were off like a herd of turtles.

I was wearing a pace band for a 3:05 finish time, but honestly didn’t even look at it after the first 3 miles and just decided to play it by feel. One thing that was concerning me right away was my heart rate (I had made a last minute decision to wear my HR strap). It was hovering in the upper 160s, which seemed too high for so early in the race….at my qualifying run in Missoula I had kept it in the 150s until about mile 18 or 19 before it started to drift upward. I tried to ignore it, but it was still bugging me. In any case, the first 5 miles went pretty damn good pace-wise and I was having a good time, high fiving kids and waving to the crowd. The thing that was immediately apparent to me was the rolling nature of the course. Yeah, we were going downhill overall, but there were a lot of ups too.

1 – 7:25 (impossible to go much faster in the mass of humanity)
2 – 7:03
3 – 6:56
4 – 6:55
5 – 7:05

The next five miles, I started to get into somewhat of a groove, but my HR was still too high and I would have periods where I just didn’t feel all that comfortable, followed by periods where I felt great.

6 – 7:01
7 – 7:06
8 – 7:06
9 – 7:06
10 – 7:15

At some point in the third five mile stretch, I started to reevaluate my goals. I wasn’t feeling totally comfortable, but I was still maintaining a decent enough pace and was well on pace to PR and re-BQ at halfway. But, with the Newton Hills still ahead, I knew that a negative split was highly unlikely and that it was more of a question of how much of a positive split I would post. Of course, this stretch is famous for one thing and rightly so. Around mile 12, I started to hear the roar from up ahead and knew that the Wellesley scream tunnel was coming. It was everything it’s cracked up to be and more. I didn’t kiss any girls (I swear, Shannon), but I did blow some kisses and slapped some hands. I hit the halfway mat in 1:33:21, on pace but knowing that a fade was coming.

11 – 7:11
12 – 7:09
13 – 7:10
14 – 7:13
15 – 7:25

And then the hills began. I knew my pace was going to slow going up them, so I didn’t stress out too bad when it did. I was able to use the downhill and flat stretches between each of the hills to keep my splits a little better looking. My hope was that once I crested Heartbreak, I’d be able speed the pace back up a little and maybe still re-BQ.

16 – 7:17
17 – 7:36
18 – 7:39
19 – 7:33
20 – 7:45

In between miles 20 and 21, you finally crest Heartbreak (I think I counted two false summits on that sucker) and the downhill begins. It was immediately and painfully obvious that the final 10k wasn’t going to be entirely pleasant. As soon as I started running downhill, my quads and calves started screaming and it felt like my calves were going to seize up at any second. At this point I was basically just resigned to going as fast as my legs would let me go. The kicker was, my heart rate had finally calmed down, so although I should have been able to push it harder heart rate-wise, my legs were having none of it. The end result was that my splits coming down the Newton Hills were actually slower than going up. As much as my quads and calves were screaming for relief, I told myself that I absolutely, positively was not going to walk a single step of the Boston Marathon. I searched desperately for the Citgo sign and finally saw it around mile 24. When I passed it at the one mile to go marker, my pace started to pick up. Right on Hereford, left on Boylston and I can finally see the finish line (although it’s a llllloooonnnnggg ways away). Magically, my legs don’t hurt so much any more and I’m able to muster something that vaguely resembles a finishing kick. As I cross the line, I point to the sky and it’s over. I’m a Boston Marathon finisher.

21 – 8:07
22 – 7:53
23 – 8:13
24 – 8:13
25 – 8:25
26 – 8:04
26.2 – 1:40 (7:14 pace)
Chip Time – 3:15:41, my second fastest time
Overall Place – 3,756th out of 22,849 (as of 4/22)

The very second I stopped running I was freezing my arse off. I had been fine the entire race, the 47 degrees and overcast conditions were ideal for me, but as soon as I stopped the wind hit me and I was freezing. I made the shuffle with hundreds of others as we got our silver blankets and medals and, finally, our drop bags. I carried my stuff off to a side street and sat down on a curb to put on my track pants and sweatshirt (this was probably a pathetic sight, as I found it very hard to bend my legs and basically had to flop around until I had my pants hiked all the way up). After calling my wife, mom and dad, I sat on the curb wondering how in the hell I was going to get up. I thought about asking one of the able-bodied looking bystanders to help me, but eventually was able to push myself up with having to bend my legs too much. Then, I made a very slow shuffle back to the Hilton to get showered and dressed for a night on the town.

After showering and dressing, I began another very slow walk (all the while telling myself that this was good for me) back down toward the finish area to meet up with some forumites for dinner and, more importantly, beer. Eventually, a few of us X-Squaders (Pam, Erik and myself) ended up crashing the MOTU party at Jacob Wirth’s. I hope I get this right….to the best of my recollection we were joined by Dan, his sister Amy, Barkeep (Steve) and his wife Renate, Bruce and his wife Patty (is that right??), HEB (Hardy), Waterdog66 (Tim) and RiverGirl, and n3103f (David) and his wife Madonne. Again, apologies if I missed someone or got a name wrong. It was all very overwhelming, plus the beer was tasting very good.

After the MOTU party split up, Steve, Renate and I hiked back to the Sheraton to continue celebrating in the lobby bar. Amazingly, the walk back was much more comfortable than the walk out. Beer apparently has medicinal properties. Renate retired and Pam eventually joined us and then, just as Steve was about to head up to bed, Bart Yasso sat down at the table next to ours. Immediately, Steve says something to him along the lines of “Whatever you do, don’t mess with the RT forums.” Bart is a really cool guy and Pam and I end up spending the next hour and a half or two drinking and chatting with him about the day’s elite races, Boston history and Bart tells us some good stories about Dick Beardsley and Bill Rodgers. As the three of us go our separate ways at about 12:30 in the morning, the last thing Bart says is something along the lines of “Okay, so I need to remember to not mess with the RT forums.” So, rest assured Steve, your message got through.

Oh, and while Steve, Renate and I were at the Sheraton I got a text from my wife saying that I had just been on the local news back in South Dakota. Apparently, I ended up being the fastest Boston finisher from the Black Hills area (out of 7). There was also an article in Tuesday’s Rapid City Journal, at the top of the front page of the sports section with my name in the headline and a picture of me in the article. I was shocked that the Rapid City media even knew the marathon was going on, much less took the time to check the results for the local runners. And it doesn’t end there. I also got a comment on my blog yesterday from one of the sports writers from the Journal. He wants me to call him so he can talk to me about my Boston experience. I’ll probably get around to that later today. Seems like an awful lot of attention for what isn’t even my fastest time. But, hey, it’s Boston and I’m just glad that the local media has actually recognized that running exists.

Tuesday, it was back home. My legs, quads especially, were definitely sore….walking down the steps to get to the T was an adventure in itself and the 4.5 hour plane ride from Boston to Denver wasn’t all that pleasant because I couldn’t stretch out, but otherwise I don’t feel too horrible. I’m back at work now (can’t ya tell??). My co-workers pasted a picture of me to the front of a Wheaties box and signed it and gave it to me today. Tomorrow is supposed to be Take Your Kid to Work Day, for which we’re supposed to go on a hike. Sure hope the hike doesn’t feature any uphill or downhill.

Next up, I’m already registered for three big races: the Deadwood-Mickelson Trail Half-marathon in June, the Missoula Marathon in July and the Lean Horse Half Hundred in August. So, I guess I’ll have to start running again soon, but for now I’m giving my body as much rest as it needs. It’s earned it, I guess.

Well, if you’ve made it this far, you’re doing pretty damn good. I don’t know if this is my longest report ever, but it’s gotta be close. But, hey, it’s Boston. Thanks to everyone for the support and for everyone I met in Boston, it was great to finally put a face to the name. Like Bruce said on Monday night, it’s amazing how all of these “strangers” we talk to online turn out to be genuinely good people in person. We’ll have to do it again sometime….I’m eyeing 2014.


JojaJogger said...

Congrats on a great race! Sounds like you had an awesome Boston experience, before, during, and after the race.

jen said...

Congratulations Chris. You perfectly recorded your freaking awesome experience. Wow! I mean, meeting the pros and legends is awesome. Drinking beer with them? Unbelieveable. Only could happen in Boston.

Congrats on a great Boston finish time. It's a tough course. Your effort would have been worth a much faster time on a flat course, but I know you wouldn't change this for anything. :)

The newspaper thing is awesome too. Enjoy all this, you really deserve it!! Congrats again. :)

(Author's note: I read this report aloud to my husband (and I took my time!) and we are just so excited for you. I may have cried a little.)

johnmaas said...

Hey Chris,
Fantastic race report!
You wrote about so many things that make Boston special.
Great run, I was going to warn you about miles 22-23 (after cresting heartbreak) but didn't want to scare you. I experienced the leg cramps thing at that exact same spot 3 years in a row.
Nice pics with Boston Billy, Dick, and Ryan.
Thanks so much for sharing your story with us. You are an amazing athlete!