Apr 24, 2009

2009 Boston Marathon

I've had two weeks to soak up my performance at Boston and am having a hard time finding anything I could have done better or different. My goal was to finish under 3 hours and since I tend to slow a little over the last 5-6 miles, I developed a pace strategy for 2:58:00, allowing a mere 2 minutes of wiggle room. The temperature was a bit cold at the start (low 40's) and there was a slight headwind. Uta Pippig spoke to the masses prior to the start of the race and commented on race tactics under such conditions. In addition to Uta's words of wisdom, I received some valuable advice from an 18-year Boston veteran lined up in my corral. In his late-40's (possibly early 50's), he shared with me his secret to success on the course. It was nothing I hadn't heard or read before but it was nice to hear it from a "pro". I couldn't be sure but I assumed he too was aiming to run under 3 hours. Notable events from the corrals: Wore a long sleeve cotton t (2006 St. Malachi) until the last minute and then tossed it to the side; sipped orange Gatorade until the last minute; F-15 flyover about a minute late following the end of the national anthem; many shouts urging Ryan Hall on when the gun sounded; Relatively slow movement before hitting the START mat (1 minute 2 seconds).

Hopkinton to Wellesley College
I got a little wrapped up in the excitement at the start and it wasn't until about mile three that I started to focus on hitting my paces as detailed on the pace band I was wearing. By the time I got "serious", I had fallen off pace by about 40 seconds. I now had only 1 minute 20 seconds of wiggle room and would have to be near perfect through and after the hills. The weather never changed and by mile four I was as warm as I was going to get, which wasn't that warm despite wearing gloves, arm warmers and a Brooks racer hat. At this point and throughout the race, I felt a slight urge to go to the bathroom, but thankfully never had to stop. By mile ten I was hitting my splits and feeling good, maybe a touch out of it mentally as it was sort of dreary out. To combat this, I would turn to the crowds on occasion for a pick-me-up (one of the many wonderful things about Boston). The stretch through the Wellesley College was remarkable as usual. It's amazing those girls can keep at it for so long.

Wellesley to Newton (the calm before the storm)
Hit the half at 1:28:52. Pace strategy called for 1:28:08, meaning I had not lost any time since the initial 2-3 miles. I've found in other marathons that a lull can creep in after the half way point, sometimes due to the fact that nearly half the field (half-marathoners) peel off toward their finish line. At Boston, the course becomes quite dynamic around mile 15 and I knew this upfront. So, instead of the usual lull, I enjoyed two miles of flat terrain and steady running. Since my pacing strategy was based on putting forth an even effort (versus an even pace), I never physically upped the effort when it came time for a fast mile. I simply let the course/gravity do its thing to guide me along. The best example of this is mile 15, the fastest mile on the course per my pace band due to the long gradual downhill. As fun as it was zooming downhill, the first of the Newton hills was waiting at the bottom.

The Newton Hills
The trick to this course is to take it easy (i.e. conserve energy) the first 15 miles, run strong through the hills and still have something left in the tank to "race" the remaining 5.5 miles. As crazy as it sounds, you've gotta have fresh legs after 20.5 miles! The first hill in the Heartbreak series starts at mile 16, just past Newton Lower Falls. This is the longest (0.6 miles) but also the "flattest" with an average grade of only 2.4%. For the most part I had no trouble staying on pace through the hills. I remember feeling tired, legs heavy, etc. but never “beaten”. One of the keys to successfully navigating the hills was to take advantage of the level sections after each hill. In years past, I wasn’t as aware of these flats and probably thought of them as part of the hills. This year, I used them to make up time and stretch my legs out. I remember pumping a fist when I reached the top of heartbreak still on pace.

Cemetary Mile - Coolidge Corner
If Boston ended at the top of heartbreak hill, it would be considered an easy course. Sure, finishing with 4 miles of uphill running is a challenge, but at least it’s over at that point. What makes Boston such a challenge is the 5.5 miles following heartbreak hill and having to hammer already sore quads on what is a gradual downhill to the finish (save one hill near mile 25). My memory of this section of the course is simple… I couldn’t believe I was still running at pace and feeling good. It seemed as though my legs were fresh. As hopeful as I was, I couldn’t help but wonder when I would crash and lose the 70-80 seconds of wiggle room I had. Another strange thing happened, mentally I began to let go of the moment. I’ve grown so used to slowing at this point that I thought, “it’s time to slow down”. However, the better part of my mind stayed the course and I kept on pushing. I still remember thinking to myself how good I must look to the spectators standing on the sidelines. How is it possible to be running so well after 23+ miles? This also kept me going.

To the CITGO Sign and Beyond
My legs were crushed as I approached the CITGO sign but there was no way I was backing off with just over a mile to go. The crowds were great as usual and I used this as a distraction from the pain. I wasn’t entirely sure how much longer I would be on Commonwealth but I knew it was only a matter of minutes until the turn onto Hereford and then onto Boylston. ‘Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston’ is the ultimate for many runners and how cool to still be on pace at this point. Looking at my watch, I knew I would get in under 3 but wasn’t sure by how much. One of the things that kept me going at the end was the thought of hitting the line with the race clock under 3 hours. As I got within 40-50 meters of the line I knew it was going to be close and I kicked as hard as I could. I saw the 2 switch to a 3 just about the same time I hit the line and wasn’t sure what would show up on my finish line photo, 2:59:59 or 3:00:00. Turns out it was 3:00:00, but a little work in photoshop fixed that right up and I now have a Boston Marathon finish line photo displaying my official time of 2:58:58!!

Apr 4, 2009

A Perfect Training Run

My final long run of Boston training went exceptionally well. The plan was to complete 8 laps of the 2.8 mile French Creek Reservation loop for a total of 22.4 miles. As far as pace goes, I wanted to be in the ballpark of 7:00-7:10 min/mile (roughly 19:49/lap).

Lap Time Pace
1 20:03 7:09
2 19:25 6:56
3 19:44 7:03
4 19:41 7:02
5 19:27 6:57
6 19:17 6:53
7 19:55 7:07
8 19:17 6:53

Total run time of 2:36:50 (7:00 min/mile average pace). No trouble mentally or physically throughout, not even a slight burn in the legs. Wrapped things up just shy of 9AM feeling very happy having wrapped up a 71.4 mile week. I'll run 2-3 10-milers this week along with some speedwork on the track.