Overall Time: 2:59:41
Starting the race I had a few concerns about the weather. It was on the warmer side and humid; it had been raining all morning but stopped an hour before the race and the hazy sticky New England air was thick. Starting from Hopkinton I tried to fool myself that the overcast conditions would be good to run in. I was wrong. Within a few miles I was already wiping sheets of sweat from my forehead and feeling warm. I tried to run this race by feel without the pressure of hitting a goal time (though I had a few different times I’d be happy with), but I still wanted to keep the time under three hours.
For the opening downhill miles and through Framingham and Wellesley, the first half ended up going by in about 1:28:30 (roughly 6:45 pace). Boston has a nice opening half because the first 10k are downhill, and the following 10k are pretty flat and allow you to get into a good rhythm. I was feeling fine (as one should during the first half of a marathon), and clipping off 6:40 miles pretty effortlessly. However by mile 15 just before the hills started I could feel I was getting warm. Too warm. I was looking forward to any downhill section that would come my way so that I could save a little energy for the uphills in Newton. With over 11 miles to go I was knew I had to back off the intensity just a bit
Entering just past mile 17 at the firehouse heading onto Commonwealth, I had the task of getting up one of the longer and steeper of the Newton Hills. I wanted to use it as a gauge of what was to come, especially with heartbreak. I wasn’t feeling great. The heat was getting to me, and I made the choice to back off the gas up the hill knowing that there was a corresponding downhill to try and make up time. That hill was my first mile over 7:00 (7:02). I thought it was a smart sacrifice of time knowing that I’d be able to push the final miles into downtown Boston but at that point it still felt so far away.
The next mile has the second of the Newton hills, but it’s the easiest of them so I wasn’t too worried. However as I found myself mid-mile averaging over 7:00 I became a little concerned that I was slowing down more than I should have. I still had Heartbreak ahead of me.
Heartbreak was pretty miserable for me again this year. I took it easy in order to get to the top with enough juice to try and fly down the final 6 downhill miles. Slow and steady got me to the top of Heartbreak at mile 21 in a relaxed 7:34, and then it was time to move and accelerate to the finish. The next mile is a fast downhill and this was where I’d begin my final assault to the fiinish. Unfortunately I had nothing left.
Going downhill after Heartbreak I could only muster a 6:56 — downhill. This wasn’t good. In theory I did the math that simply holding onto 7:00 pace would get me across the finish line a few seconds under 3:00:00 but if I had a hard time keeping that pace downhill, would I be able to keep that pace on flat ground?
No. The next mile (23) was 7:06 and I wasn’t feeling any better. A couple women who I had run the majority of the race started to leave me behind as they willled their way to maintain pace to the finish. I wanted to give up and just accept a 3:01. I wanted to ease off the gas since this wouldn’t be a PR of any sort and since I had no one to answer to but myself. But then just for a second I thought about all of the runners whom I coach and what I tell them before a race.
I say that a race – especially the marathon – is the time to find your limits. In training we always hold something back. We may think we’re pushing 100%, but really we’re not. We can always do another repeat, or push the finish just a few seconds faster, or have energy for drills and a cooldown jog after the workout. The tank never gets emptied. But racing is the one time we can empty the tank, find our limits, push ourselves so ludicrously hard that it’s simply impossible to replicate in training. I wouldn’t be able to respect myself as a runner if I couldn’t follow my own advice, so I zipped up the Yuki suit, and started the task of individually racing each of the last 3 miles
At this point the crowds were great. Boy did they help. The cheering, cow bells, and encouragement coming from the sidewalks and overpasses was amazing. My pace hastened. 6:56 for mile 24. Now just two miles to go. I’m hurting stilll but I’m still just racing one mile at a time. Keep the pace under 7:00, one mile at a time. The crowds are still cheering. In the distance I see the Citgo sign. It seems so far away but I know that crossing it means there’s only one final mile left. I push to meet it and avoid looking at my watch. Two of the women who had left me at mile 23 are coming back. I’m catching back up to them. Mile 25 is 6:56.
I’ve got just over a mile to go. One final mile to race. There are two parts in this mile that I hate: the dip under Massachusettes Ave, and the slight rise going up Hereford. Luckily the quarter mile after Hereford is downhill, but I worry thhat I’m at my max and it could slow me down just enough. I push down and then up from Mass Ave, and look ahead to see the turn on Hereford. It’s here. The final stretch.
I’m going to my arms now and fling myself up the two blocks along Hereford at a quickened pace that surprises even myself. My mind knows that when I make the next turn onto Boylston I’ll see the finish and have a nice downhill run to the line and that gives me the energy to hit mile 26 in 6:54. I’ve done it. With only the .2 miles left to go, I know I’m finally “safe.” I’ve got the sub-3 guaranteed as long as I Just maintain pace to the finish. I see Connor and Alan cheering for me 200 meters from the finish and now I’m feeling good again.
45 seconds later I cross the finish line 2 hours 59 minutes and 41 seconds after starting 26.2 miles away in Hopkinton at 10:02 a.m.
I’m absolutely gassed. I’m spent. I stagger forward a bit nauseated and just want a bottle of water. No wait, I want to sit down because all of a sudden I don’t feel like I can stomach water. Sitting feels good. My legs are screaming, my stomach is in knots, and I don’t want to move just yet. Oh hey look, there’s Larry crossing the finish just after me. He sees I’m in a state but I get the sense that he has to keep moving so he doesn’t stop to do much more than say hi and he’ll see me later. I remain seated and after a few minutes get up to exit and head to my hotel.
I can’t do it, I want to sit again. I’d overheated and now I’m paying the price. A medical volunteer tells me I can’t sit and I have to keep moving or she’ll take me to the medcal tent. I don’t want that. I flash a smile and try to imitate what a healthy person would look and sound like, “Oh no thank you so much, I’m fine. I just need 60 seconds and I’ll be on my way.” She says if I need more than that she’ll escort me to the med tent (I still don’t want that). I flash a smile and thank her so graciously and ask, “How’s your day by the way? I’m Steven.” I”m just trying to distract her and buy time in case she’s actually counting down 60 seconds because truthfully I need more. She’s pleasantly surprised I asked about her day and she says it’s been great, especially compared to last year when everyone had hypothermia. She says she’s all the runners are winners and we should be proud of ourselves, but I try to flatter her: “Oh but you’ve probably had a longer day than me. I know how long these volunteer shifts can last.” Am I buying enough time? Is it working? I hope it’s working. Another volunteer — an angel in disguise, I realize — comes up to her with a question and she gets pulled away. Praise jesus.
I sit more. After a bit I get up and exit the finish area. I head one block and my stomach is sending me a message. It coming in loud and clear — it’s not happy. In fact it’s quite upset. A box truck parked over a street grate was all I needed: I double over and put my hand against the truck’s high bumper and support myself and up comes what must have been the last 6 miles of Gatorade I consumed along the course. Orange fluid met with audible heaving comes not once, not twice, but three times to make sure the stomach is empty. It’s funny, you see, because they never served orange Gatorade on the course; it was all yellow.
I take a seat on the curb by the grate, finally relieved of whatever my stomach was rebelling against. Another volunteer sees me setting and asks if I need anything. A heat blanket? No no, I say — my hotel is only a block away and it’s not cold. He insists, but I insist against it and tell him I refused one already.
What is it with these overly helpful volunteers? Can’t they just let a sick vomitous man alone in peace on the side of the road? I realize the only thing worse than dying on the side of the road is being attended to while dying on the side of the road, so I thank the man, stand up, and make my way to the exit.
I stumble my way to the hotel and let in a few friends who are showering at my room. They’re looking a lot better than the state I was in and it’s another two full hours before I feel like a normal person again.
I reflect on my race, and I’m very happy with it. The conditions weren’t conducive for me. I’m not a warm weather runner, but I was able to salvage a respectable time. I’m pleased with my effort. I’m proud that I didn’t give in to the lure of slowing down those final miles. I’m proud that I cared enough about pushing myself to keep the race under 3 hours. I have never been so wrecked after a race. It’s another learning experience how to manage the last few miles of a marathon on a tough day: just focus on the mile that you’re in. When things get tough don’t worry about the total distance ahead, just stay present in the moment and keep pushing. The finish line will come but you’ve still got to run the mile that you’re in.
This is my 5th Boston and the 4th consecutive one with poor (for me) weather. It’s Boston, we all know to expect weird weather. But that doesn’t mean don’t I still hope for 42 and cloudy (maybe with a 2011 tailwind). I’ll be back next year, rain or shine, and I’ll be better prepared to take on every step.