The Boston Experience

Boston Marathon Last week on April 18th 2016 (Patriots Day) I had the honor and privilege to run the 120th Boston Marathon. Like so many others, for me this journey has been years in the making. Along the way I have put in thousands of miles, created amazing memories and have grown as a husband, friend and coach.

All of this could not have been accomplished without the constant support and encouragement of my wife. She has had to deal with me mousing around the house in the early mornings as I head out the door for an early run. I am never around for those famous San Francisco brunches that everyone in the city stands in line for hours every Saturday and Sunday morning. Thanks Love!

I really can’t recall when I became obsessed with qualifying for Boston. However, I do know that my life as an athlete changed as soon as I set my sights to run the Boston Marathon. In 2012 I made it my mission to become as strong a runner I could; after all, I just needed to shed 40 minutes from my fastest marathon time to meet the qualifying standard. It will come of no surprise to those who know me, I became a bit obsessed with this task.

After a year of training I ran the California International Marathon it was my first attempt at a BQ and I needed a 3:10 to qualify. I put it all out on that course and unfortunately came in short of my goal, reaching the finish line in 3:10:50 and missing my time by 50 seconds. I finished the race devastated and exhausted. After spending some time in the medical tent due to a mild case of hypothermia… my wife came to the rescue again with a motivational talk, encouragement and some hot chocolate. So, I picked myself off the floor and started training even harder.

Finally, in 2014 at the Chicago Marathon I was able to barely hit the qualifying time I needed, coming in at 3:09:44. Knowing that my time might not guarantee me a spot (typically one needs to run 2 to 3 minutes faster to get accepted) and now with a new goal of a sub 3 hour finish, I adjusted my training, started to do more weekly miles than ever before. By this time we moved to San Francisco and I was fortunate enough to find a group of incredibly fast runners who would push my limits week after week. I was a man on a mission. In January of 2016 I was rewarded beyond my expectation as I finished the Houston Marathon in 3:01:57, guaranteeing my entry into the 2016 Boston Marathon with a hefty margin. My sights on a sub 3 hour marathon are not forgotten, but more on that in future post.

So, that’s my road to Boston. Finally I had earned a spot to race with the most talented and dedicated people in our sport. And let’s face it, who doesn’t love to show off the iconic Boston blue and yellow shirt? It’s a badge of honor which earns admiration and respect by serious runners wherever you go.

Yes, I wanted to run Boston, but I never understood what kept people going back year after year; an obsession of sorts.On Patriots Day of 2016, that all changed for me. Lets just say that from the moment I crossed the starting line in Hopkinton to when I reached Boylston Street I was a different person. Not to be overly dramatic but those 26.2 miles transformed me; they have had such a profound impact on me, particularly as a coach. Since the race I have had a few days to reflect, and it goes without saying that the Boston marathon is so much more than just a road race; it’s an experience, a celebration, a gathering place for athletes to showcase the hard work and take a victory lap around an amazing city, on a historic course. It is your opportunity to run next to world class elites, olympians and those who have undergone traumatic events with inspiring stories leading up to this incredible race. You are able to make that one day what you want of it.

For me it started from the moment we boarded the aircraft in San Francisco, you could feel a vibe and enthusiasm in the air. Fellow passengers wearing prior year Boston gear or shirts from their favorite events. It made me realize how small the running community really is as I recognized a few friends in the airport and on the plane. The flight was long and uneventful, but provided a good opportunity to get some reading and for me to jot down some thoughts about a future blog post. Once we arrived in Boston, it was on.

The entire city was energized. Veteran runners showing off their prior year Boston finishers jackets, some even having the years they participated in the race embroidered on the back – impressive stats for sure. Others made a vacation of it, enjoying the city with their families and friends. For race weekend Boston is a gathering place, as friends from all over the world come together. Many of them meeting up to get a final shake-out run days before the race. The city of Boston is prepared and ready for what is to come. Bostonians lay out the red carpet for the race; embracing the fact that for the next few days the marathon will take over their city. Even the Red Sox were in on it,playing a game every day leading to the marathon including on Marathon Monday. To top it off, the game conveniently lets out just in time for fans to spectate the marathon. How cool is that?!

We got to Boston a few days before the race to meet up with friends from Portland, SanIMG_3954 Francisco and Denver. It was a great time to reunite, catch up and chat race day strategy. We also took in the sights of the city and it’s amazing history and architecture. We got up early on Saturday to take care of the packet pick-up and race expo, given that it was my first Boston I felt an obligation to spend more money than I wanted buying Boston gear and the race jacket. Even though the color this year is not my favorite, it has started to grow on me. Getting the expo out of the way early allowed us to just relax and even catch a Sox game at the beautiful and historic Fenway Park. It was truly a highlight of the weekend and a great way to spend quality time with Ian and Lehiwa, who made the trek all the way from Portland, Oregon to spectate this wonderful event. They are amazing friends who have supported me since the moment we met 10 years ago.

Boston AVOK, now on to the race… Unlike many races the Boston Marathon starts later in the day
(10am) however, athletes still need to get up early to catch a 6am bus and take a ride which seems to take about 45 minutes around Boston to the starting line in Hopkinton. Once everyone arives, the waiting game begins… just picture 30,000 athletes waiting around trying to stay hydrated, calm their nerves and making small talk as they get ready for their starting wave gets called over a loudspeaker.

For me, I was lucky to have secured myself a spot on a privately chartered bus. We parked outside the Athletes’ Village,had our own bathrooms (a HUGE perk as we all know how the lines can get before a race) and plenty of room to stretch out and warm-up before the race. Kinda felt like an elite. It was also a good opportunity to chat with my San Francisco training buddies.

My plan was to run the first part of the race with David, a very talented (2:40ish) runner. He was running the race for fun, but having had done the race a few times he understood the importance of holding back and respecting the course. Our plan was to keep on a 7min/mile pace till the Newton Hills, then I would assess how I was feeling, if I felt good I would take off and finish the marathon on negative splits to have a perfect race.

This year was particularly warm with little to no cloud cover and a headwind, not ideal conditions for a runner. As we stood at the starting line and without the need to saying a word one could tell that the weather conditions were on everyone’s mind. With conditions like these athletes start questioning their fitness and have the potential to psychologically sabotage their performance – not the ideal way to start a marathon. We (the SF Crew) were all in Wave 1. Having put in the volume, dropped weight and properly tapered, we were all in sub 3 hour marathon shape and patiently waited for our wave to be called.

At 9:45 we finally heard our call and started the quarter mile walk through town to the starting line. By this time it was around 9:52 and the sun was blazing down on us. We wished everyone luck, reminded each other to take the weather into consideration and adjust goals as needed. Shortly after the national anthem played the gun went off.

 

Boston MarathonOff we go, the start of the race was a bit hectic as many races tend to be. My job was to stick with David, so I did and followed his lead as we cruised downhill holding back as much as we could and staying within our 7min pace. In Boston they have hydration stations at every mile and before I realized we had hit mile 1, David called out the splits took some fluids and warned to hold back the pace. We did the same for the next 6 miles or so, just conserving energy and making sure we stayed within our pace. About this time it felt like it was 100 degrees out. David looked over and mentioned that we might want to reconsider our goal due to the heat. I acknowledge as I grabbed a bottle of water from a volunteer and poured water over my head.

From this point forward I ran with a bottle of water in my hand, handing out water to David and making sure we both stayed hydrated. Around mile 12 was when I started to feel the effects of the heat, even having stayed on top of my hydration, salt intake and fueling; my legs started to feel a bit heavy. This was about the time I started to wonder how the next 14 miles would play out. David being the amazing Domestique kept us on pace. His plan was to stop as soon as he saw his wife at mile 15 and I would run the rest of the race building speed. We reached his wife, he wished me well and I was on my own.

Mile 16 till about mile 21 is what I feel was the hardest part of the Boston Marathon. This is where the Newton hills start. This section of hills comes when your legs are getting heavy and you are getting tired. I did some quick math and quickly realized that I had to pick up the pace to around 6:50min/mile in order to hit my goal time. On a flat course with cooler conditions I could totally make that happen, as I had trained for this several times before. However on this day it was not going to happen. So, I just played it smart and backed off, there was no need to push myself so hard that it would prolong recovery for my next race. It was at this point in the race when I just turned my mindset from racing to just having fun and enjoying the day.

heartbreak_hillRunning without a goal in mind is refreshing. I had planned to see Ashley and our friends around mile 17 and while it was not easy to spot them, their bright Prana Endurance tops and extra cheering did the trick! I stopped for a few seconds for a kiss and took off again. It was great to see them and it really re-energized me when I most needed it. The next few miles were not easy as you enter a few rolling hills and some steep inclines, finally reach mile 20 and the infamous Heartbreak Hill. Compared to the hills in San Francisco, it is not that bad. But when you have 20 miles on your legs, it feel like you are crawling up a never evening mountain. Right at the top of the hill I started getting a muscle spasm on my right leg. Just what I needed for the last 10k.

The next 10k is mostly downhill with a few rolling hills as you start entering Downtown Boston. The first sign that you are close to the finish line is when you spot the famous giant Citgo sign which is about 2 miles away from the finish line. By this point the crowds are about 4 deep on each side of the street and the cheering starts to become deafening as you get closer to the finish. Once you turn on Boylston Street the wall of noise is like nothing I have ever experienced in my life.

Boston MarathonIt is overwhelming to see thousands of people cheering on athletes as they reach the end of their 26.2 mile journey. I could not help but slow myself down to soak it all in, I had seen this finish line so many times from the live television coverage, being actually on the road took on a totally different perspective and feel. I reached the finish line in 3:12. Not my fastest marathon… but by far my most memorable and impactful race.

After the race I was feel surprisingly good having made the decision early on to not push myself was a wise choice. We made it back to the hotel, showered and headed back out the door to the finish line. We wanted to cheer on the last few people finishing the race, it must have been around 5pm and those folks had been running for almost 6 hours. It is one thing to finish a race in 3 hours, but to be out running for 6 takes a lot of dedication and mental toughness. The crowds had died down a little, which allowed us to get to the finish line and welcome the last runners in.

The after race parties in Boston are something not to be missed, most of them are by invitation only. We joined a few and finally met set camp in an Irish bar, where we meet with a lot of our friends from Colorado and San Francisco.. Had a few beers, danced a little and around midnight called it a night while others found a nearby nightclub to continue the party. It was great to see our friend Jay, who conveniently coordinated his birthday to fall on the same day as the marathon. That has to be the best way to celebrate a birthday.

Boston is truly an unforgettable experience for all involved. Whether or not you are able to run a perfect race, set a personal best, or qualify for Boston in Boston… what matters is that you enjoy your experience.

Boston…I will see you next year 🙂

boston-finish-line

Image Credit : www.therunformula.com

Getting Ready for the Boston Marathon

As I’m sure you have all heard, the Boston Marathon is quickly approaching. Some consider running the Boston Marathon as the Holy Grail of running events. Rightfully so, given its stringent qualification standards and illustrious history it’s no surprise why the race is so special to runners from all around the world. With the race quickly approaching, the last few weeks have been very interesting as participants start their taper. Most runners are using this time to put the finishing touches on their speed work, get in a final dress rehearsal and put in those last few goal pace miles before next week’s grand event.

Speaking from experience, the last three weeks have been brutal. Coming off a few high volume weeks, we start to feel antsy as the volume lessens and we are forced to give our body the rest it needs to be ready to perform at its peak on Patriots’ Day.  At times we find ourselves doubting our training, getting into our own heads about little niggles which manifest throughout our body. These feelings are natural and as I remind myself and my athletes; you have put in the work, now just trust in the training and run a smart race.

Taper is such an important phase of your training and unfortunately often not given the respect that it deserves. Taking into account how different we all recover from the stresses training places on our body, everybody’s taper phase will vary. I have coached athletes who do better and feel sharp maintaining a high volume of miles as they enter the race; while others need time to fully recover before towing the line. It typically takes a few race cycles of working with a coach to get your taper dialed in. This becomes extremely important if an athlete is racing at a highly competitive level where every second counts.

Generally speaking and not taking nutrition into account, we can all follow some basic rules in the last few weeks before a target race by simply adjusting the duration and intensity of our workouts. I find it beneficial to sharpen or dial-in the speed during track sessions. Maintaining a fast turnover and keeping the body in tune with the race rhythm and speed is essential mentally and physically to keep an athlete feeling fresh and strong.

Going beyond the physical aspects, mental tapering, patience and visualization are just as important for a successful race. Using these last few weeks to visualize your entire race, what could go right and what could go wrong… and how to recover from those things, having a plan if you drop your nutrition or if GI issues arise, etc. The last thing you want to do is have to figure something out on the fly.  So, visualizing every aspect of the day will help you overcome any unforeseen obstacle.

In a race like Boston, patience and smart pacing may be the difference between a well executed race and one where you are holding on for dear life. Given the fast downhill start, restraint in the first half will set you up for success once you hit the Newton Hills and the infamous Heartbreak Hill.

Best of luck to all my fellow Boston participants, have a blast, you earned your spot. Trust your training, stay mentally strong and don’t forget to say hi to the Girls of Wellesley.

I would love to hear from you, so send me an email with questions, comments or topic requests at [email protected]