Elise and I were sharing a pizza at the Trophy Room downstairs from our hotel on Tuesday night and she said something to me that stung a little bit, but it’s very true.
“There are people that would kill to get to run the Boston Marathon, and when you crossed the finish line you were disappointed.”
As I type this, I’ve moved on from the disappointed phase and I’m now treading in the ambivalent phase. I’m working on getting to the happy phase. I’m close. I think I just need time to reflect a bit more.
Here were my goals for this year’s Boston Marathon:
Goal A: 2:55
Goal B: 2:56:40
Goal C: 2:59
Goal D: 3:04:09
I’ve made it a habit to share my goals with people, either in person, phone, text, and/or social media. I usually share my goal(s) the day before a race. It gives me a sense of accountability. And I think it gives people something to measure against if they’re inclined to track me while I’m out there. I’m realizing that’s probably part of the error right there. I should consider keeping any goals to myself.
When I share my goals, I never mention the goal that comes before “Goal A.” When I set out in Hopkinton on Monday morning, I thought I might have a 2:52, or maybe even a 2:50 in me.
The first mile is tough because you’re leaving a corral with thousands of other fast runners and you’re all barreling down a hill on a narrow New England road. You can keep things reigned in, you can go out a little fast and find some room to run, or you can immediately settle into your pace and just watch your footing and elbows to avoid getting tripped up. I opted for a combination of the latter two.
My 1-mile split was good. It was reassuring. It was 5 seconds fast, but completely within reason. And then I settled in faster. My splits through mile 10 were 15 seconds faster than they should’ve been if I wanted to hit my Goal A and, in hindsight, I should’ve stayed focused on Goal A, or even Goal C.
My faster pacing felt fine. It felt natural. I’d struggled with my Goal A pace throughout training because I could never get used to the cadence to maintain that pace over longer distances. So I made the decision to stay with the faster pace that felt more fluid. I figured if I could maintain comfort in stride, albeit at a faster pace, the tradeoff would be sustainability, but I’d figure that out whenever I needed to figure that out later in the race. And I knew that would mean a grind.
And it didn’t take long to start feeling fatigued. I could tell I was getting tired already at mile 8. But I knew I was running a marathon, and I was already almost a third into a race, so I told myself I’d gut it out. And if I had to back down later in the race then I could do that.
And that’s pretty much the worst decision I could’ve made. At that point, my strategy was banking time, and while I’m far from a Boston Marathon expert, I can comfortably say that trying to bank time at Boston (or any marathon) is going to make for a long day.
Usually we’d fly into Boston on Friday before the race. This year we didn’t get in until late Saturday night. On Sunday morning I went on a shakeout run with Jess. Since this was her first Boston Marathon, I wanted to take her around the requisite loop around the Charles River. I had to run to our meeting spot at the Harvard Bridge, so that made for a 6-mile shakeout run. Usually, my prescribed shakeout is 2-3 miles the day before the race.
After my run with Jess, I ran back to the hotel, showered, and walked back to Boylston for Fan Fest where I watched a panel interview with Bobbi Gibbs, Amby Burfoot, and Bill Rogers. Then Elise and I met up, went to the expo to get my bib, and try to hunt down some Maurten hydrogels. The Maurten booth was sold out. So we left the expo and walked to Start Market to get lunch. After lunch, we walked to Fenway to watch the 1:30 Red Sox game against the Angels.
After the game, we walked to REI so I could get my gels. I’d only brought one Maurten hydrogel with me, and I needed one more to get me through to mile 12 on the course where I could thereafter take gels from the course. After we’d finally found my single gel, we walked all the way back to our hotel where I was finally able to get off my feet, and then Elise went out again to get us pizza for dinner and breakfast and post-race food for the next day.
According to Garmin Connect, I’d walked 19,974 steps on Sunday. That’s around 15,000 steps more than I like to take the day before a race. But, we were in Boston, and I know when I have family with me for a big race, I have to indulge in site-seeing, touring, and a bunch of walking. I was admittedly tired from all of the walking on Sunday. Walking is more foot-to-ground contact than running and I could really feel it. My feet and legs were tired, but figured with a good night of sleep, I’d be perfectly okay the next morning.
As I was on the bus to Hopkinton for the 2022 Boston Marathon I realized that I’d forgotten to eat breakfast. I made sure I didn’t make that same mistake this year. Elise had gone to Whole Foods after we got back from the Red Sox game and got us pizza for dinner. She got me a slice of cheese pizza and a slice of pepperoni pizza. I ate the pepperoni first and I was satiated. I should’ve left it at that, but I figured I might as well top off as much as possible, so I ate the other slice of pizza. And the tank was very full.
I went to bed around 10 p.m. Sunday night and slept like a rock. I woke at up 5 a.m. on Marathon Monday and ate a small bowl of oatmeal and half of a bagel. I had my coffee and took care of bathroom business. I was feeling pretty good about the pre-race checklist. I took a banana and a couple of granola bars with me for the bus ride out to Hopkinton.
I ate the smaller of the granola bars while on the bus at around 8:30 a.m. I knew I was fueled up and was excited to employ my new topping-off strategy of one gel at every 4 miles during the race. My previous marathon fueling strategy had me eating every 5 miles. My recent research indicated that I should be topping of my glycogen every 25 minutes. Four mile increments would put me right at that 25-minute mark, and multiples of 4 makes for easy on-course math. Plus my watch beeps at the 1-mile split, so I knew I’d have an audible reminder to eat.
At mile 10 I experienced a tinge of GI distress. And the first thing that popped into my head was that I shouldn’t have had that second slice of pizza the night before. And I probably should’ve picked either the oatmeal or the bagel for breakfast. Not both. While I was sufficiently carb loaded, the tank was just a bit too full.
At mile 12 I heard the scream tunnel at Wellesley. That’s still my absolute favorite part of the Boston Marathon. And I took it all in as I usually do. I didn’t stop for a kiss, but I hung to the right so I could see the girls’ faces and hear the cheers and excitement, and so I could absorb the energy.
My fourth Boston Marathon and I’m still baffled and amazed at how loud, excited, and supportive all of those girls are for the entire duration of the race. Words just can’t do the scream tunnel justice.
After Wellesley, I knew I had a few quieter miles to try to settle and relax before getting into Newton and taking the first of the hills at the I-95 overpass. And I wasn’t too far past Wellesley, right at mile 13, when my stomach said, “Hey! Remember me?!” And that’s when I knew I was going to have to do something. There was a fleeting moment where I thought I’d keep pressing on and see if I could make it to the finish line, but that thought was squashed. I knew it would be better to take care of business now versus wait until I hit some point of no return and risk finding myself in an embarrassing situation where the line of spectators gets deeper as we get into Newton and Boston College.
I started looking for porta-potties right at mile 13 and I kept my eyes peeled. It wasn’t until we took the descent at mile 16 that I finally found a row of three stalls to the left. I ran over, hopped into the far right stall and, well, took care of business. I didn’t look at my watch because I think the pressure of seeing the seconds tick by would induce some anxiety. Thankfully it was quick and I was able to hop back out without any thoughts of, “I hope I got it all.”
I have to admit that I’m a little impressed that with a pit stop to take a crap in the middle of the Boston Marathon, my mile split was 8:14. Given my bookended mile splits, and if my math is right, I think I “took care of business” in about a minute and 45 seconds.
And I was able to hop back into the race and get back on pace with a bit of renewed vigor. Maybe a little bit too much vigor as I went over I-95 a little faster than I probably should have.
I did what I wanted to do from that point forward. I didn’t let the Newton Hills stop me. I let them slow me down, but I didn’t stop. In 2021 and 2022, the hills got to me. I had to stop and walk in both previous years. I’ll admit, Heartbreak Hill was tough. I think most will tell you that three good hills in the late stages of a marathon are tough, and then after you have to climb Heartbreak right at mile 20, you’re zapped. Especially if you haven’t left plenty in the tank. Heartbreak emptied my tank.
I knew the last 5 miles were downhill, and those were when the race really started. And I tried to settle back into some kind of cadence, knowing I wasn’t going to be able to sustain my previous, and pretty consistent, pace. I was actually on a good little downhill section just past the cemetery when I just got completely zapped. I couldn’t go anymore. Despite fighting it, my body just stopped. I wouldn’t really call it walking. I was moving forward, but both of my legs were wobbly and my upper body was involuntarily leaning to the right. I was nervous that I might collapse, or even pass out. I felt like my legs weren’t going to support me for much longer. I kept moving forward while a barrage of thoughts went through my head.
“Well, that was it. You walked.”
“It’s going to be a long rest of the day.”
“I’ve never had to be pulled off a course and tended to by medical staff.”
“What happened? What’s wrong with me? Am I going to be okay? Did I do some kind of damage?”
“You went out too fast.”
“You should’ve figured out how to run your splits 15 seconds slower and settled in.”
“You’re walking right now. That means you’ve given yourself permission to walk again.”
“Elise is going to be expecting to see you on Boylston soon.”
“Did I bank enough time to account for this walk?”
“Can I still get Goal A or Goal B?”
“Look at all of these people passing me. How do they have so much energy?”
“Start running again!”
So I started running again. It was slower, but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I rode the wave of the others on the course. It hurt, but I told myself to just keep going. I had three miles left. I told myself to just jog it in. I’d banked time in the first 20 miles and even if I just jogged it in, I’d still come in with a respectable time. I might even get my sub-3.
And then the sky opened up and it finally rained. It’d been foggy and cloudy all morning, and we’d all gone through a few patches where it sprinkled. But now it rained and it was cold. My body was spent. Every bit of energy I had left was being used to move forward. The air temperature and rain zapped me. There was a split second when the cold rain shocked my system and I thought that it might revitalize me, but it did the opposite. It made me cold, uncomfortable, and upset. It rained on my pity parade.
I saw the Citgo sign and it looked like it was 800 meters away. It was 800 meters away for 10 minutes. It was hell trying to get to that damn sign. I knew that once I got there I only had a mile to go. But God it was hard getting to that sign. And when I did, I had to stop and regroup again. I think I walked for less than a minute, and I regret having to do it, but it was an exercise in listening to my body versus fighting my body. Everything hurt and I had that wobbly, passing-out feeling again. I was beaten down and chewed up. But I only had a mile to go. I could keep jogging it in.
I was happy that I was able to start moving again and that’s all that I could do at that point. I could run, but I couldn’t push. I had zero kick left in me, but I rallied and just kept jogging it in.
I didn’t remember that Hereford St. was so close after passing under the Charlesgate Bridge. Once I saw the right turn at Hereford I finally felt a sense of relief. And the crowd was absolutely nuts. If you’re into crowd support, Boston brings it.
I crossed Newbury while making that slight climb up to Boylston. I hugged the tangent and made the left onto Boylston, and then immediately started veering to the right side of the street. I know Elise is always at the Prudential, right across from Gloucester.
Almost immediately I saw her. We made eye contact. She was screaming and cheering for me. I could feel my chest get full, my eyes welled up, and my nose stung, like I was about to cry. I put my arms out to my side with my palms up to indicate, “I don’t really know what happened.” She knew I was behind on my goal schedule.
I pointed to her and blew her a kiss. Then I turned forward and just kept my eyes on the finish line.
I can’t remember the last time I’d looked down at my watch. After the course punched me in the face at mile 23, I knew most, if not all, goals were gone. There’s always the unwritten goal of “just finish.” And that’s what I was going for at that point.
While there are still some lingering feelings of disappointment, I’m happy. I came in right at 3:03:00. I PR’d the Boston course by a minute and 10 seconds, and it’s my second-fastest marathon. I beat my Goal D.
I told Elise last year that this year would be my last Boston.
This wasn’t my last Boston. I still have some unfinished business on this course.