Relax your shoulders. Lean into the turns. Head up toward where you need to go.
I’m making that famous right onto Hereford, left onto Boylston, and I’m doing what I can to take my mind of the toll my body is feeling in the last mile of the Boston Marathon.
Go. Just like intervals. NOW.
The finish is in sight about 600 meters down the road. I push on the accelerator. The crowds are yelling things about “Whippets,” “yellow shorts,” and “mustaches.”
I can now clearly see the race clock – incessantly counting up from the gun time. I have no idea how it jives with the seconds running off my watch. I knew I was on track for a good time, but didn’t know exactly what that would look like.
I finally hit the finish. I’m covered in sweat, water, and Gatorade. I check my watch to see my aggregate time. Until then, I had only kept track of my mile splits.
I almost couldn’t believe it.
A ten-minute PR. And a 29-minute improvement from last year’s debacle.
This was my second Boston Marathon. The 2016 edition ended in disaster for me. I started off way too fast, making for a miserable slog in the heat. Despite all of this going sideways, I knew during that race I had already qualified for 2017 from another marathon. There would be another chance.
From the outset, I set my target time for Boston at 2:50. I had just missed that mark at the NYCM (2:52) after abdominal muscle cramps totally derailed things in the Bronx.
Things really came together during this training cycle. I felt I could push the pacing a bit more compared to last year. I turned in several 70+ mile weeks, and peaked just around 85 miles.
The NYC Half – four weeks before Boston – was a big turning point and confidence boost. My long run training buddy and fellow Whippet, Spencer Duhaime, and I built a pacing strategy and ran most of the race together. I found I had more gas in the tank on the West Side Highway than I anticipated, and used this to come in at 1:15:02 – a nearly three-minute PR. Spencer also had a great day with a big PR at 1:15:20.
After NYC, I revised my goal time for Boston to 2:45, and Spencer and I decided to tag team again at the full marathon. We drew up a pacing plan to get us just under that goal mark, with one caveat. We’d make a point to stick together to the halfway marker; if someone felt good at after that point, he had the green light to go for it.
After an early morning, a ride on a school bus, and a wait at a high school football field, the gun went off in Hopkinton at 10 a.m. and we were off to the races.
Boston preys on those who start races too fast. You drop around 300 feet in the first five miles – to put that in perspective, that’s the same drop as if you ran down 3x the distance of Harlem Hill. This stretch is precisely what ruined my race last year, so I was extra focused at the start to not overextend myself.
The start is a giant mess of humanity. I got separated from Spencer early by only a few meters, but this was enough space to put three other runners in our way. We reconnected by the second mile, and were clocking in a touch fast than our plan called for. We agreed to watch our speed and keep each other in check.
I was sweating from the heat (70 degrees and sunny) almost immediately, and decided that I would grab Gatorade and water at nearly every station after mile 3. I also took advantage of generous spectators all along the course who gave out full water bottles to get some extra hydration when I could.
We got through the hills and into Framingham, where the course starts to flatten out. I started thinking that my left quad was feeling a bit off – was fatigue from the downhills already setting in? Demons from last year danced in my head. I kept going at 6:15s, but nothing flared up in my legs. I tried to push the doubts out of my mind and focus on the task ahead.
Spencer and I kept at a cruising speed of ~6:15s through Natick and Wellesley (no kisses from the co-eds for this guy), and hit the halfway mark at 1:21:52. This was nearly a minute faster than we had budgeted, but I wasn’t feeling gassed.
By mile 14, Spencer and I had started to drift apart, so I was solo for the second half of the race. Having a teammate to pace with, no matter how long, was a huge benefit that day. But we also had encouraged one another to push it in the second half if either one of us had the energy.
Right before the I-95 overpass between mile 15 and 16, I got a strong cramp in the left side of my abs. This was identical to what came over me at the NYCM and shut down my day. But this felt more like an air cramp, so I tried to keep moving and massage it out. Luckily it started to pass, and largely was pain free by the Newton firehouse for the beginning of the hills.
In a course with so many downhills, I actually wasn’t so terrified of what mile 18 through 21 had in store. I just kept focusing on form for the uphill climbs – lean at the ankles, back straight, and keep pumping those arms. It also helped to hit a raucous November Project cheer station at mile 18 to keep pushing me. Heartbreak was harder than I remembered, but I was willing to concede some time there after keeping up a strong pace on the earlier sections.
Miles 22-24 brought me into Brookline and into some of the race’s most favorable terrain and, quite surprising to me, my day’s best 5K split (6:07 pace). I saw the Whippets right after 22, and then my parents and girlfriend right at the elbow of Cleveland Circle, ready with some great words of encouragement and a cold bottle of water. I also got to see a few other friends and family through Brookline and into Boston.
I was really starting to feel the race by this point. I didn’t “hit the wall,” but I certainly had some heavy quads and tight calves. I told myself to keep pushing until mile 24, and I would then ease back just a bit to mitigate any potential disasters with cramps or pain in the final stretch. In hindsight, I wonder if I could have kept it up at the same pace and still held on until the finish.
I pushed through Kenmore Square, down through the underpass and into the heart of Back Bay for the final kick. As I wrote earlier, I couldn’t quite believe what I had accomplished once I saw what time it took me to cover those 26.2 miles.
This was the best marathon I’ve ever ran, and not just because of the final time.
To be sure, I got myself a new PR by ten minutes. I also redeemed myself in a big way from last year’s race.
But it also felt like the product of a complete race. I didn’t plan on this, but I essentially even split the day (1:21:52 in the first half and 1:22:06 in the second half), with my strongest 5K splits coming toward the end of the race. I adjusted to the weather conditions by staying hyper focused on hydration, and felt in control of how I managed my energy throughout.
The race also validated the choices I made for training and the effort I put into it, particularly after not hitting my goals in my previous two marathons.
I’m excited to see what I can do at Boston next year. This is such a special race with an incredible atmosphere. Before that, I’ll be gearing up for the Detroit marathon in October, where I’ll be pretty tempted to see if 2:40 is possible on a flat course and (hopefully) a cool weather day.