Today I ran the 2011 Boston Marathon in 3:15:16, qualifying for the Boston Marathon 2012.
Here are my official stats and my unofficial Garmin stats, followed by a recap of my race…
Official Stats per BAA.org
Bib No. 3691 (Wave 1, Corral 4)
Unofficial Stats per my Garmin 405cx
Wow. So I did it. I did Boston. But I also did Boston at a pace that qualified for the next Boston. Only I didn’t know it when I crossed the finish line. In fact, when I crossed the finish line, I thought I missed qualifying for the next Boston by 10 seconds.
But I wasn’t upset. I was beat. A volunteer asked if I needed help, to which I said “Yes.” She walked with me as I felt unstable, then passed me to another man who walked me some more. It was about 90 feet and I was feeling stable enough to walk. The second volunteer had asked how I’d done and I said that I’d missed qualifying by 10 seconds, “but that was okay.” But slowly as I walked through the heat sheets and other freebies, I realized, I think I did the math wrong in my head. I recall crossing the finish line around 3:16:50something. And I noted when I started the race in Hopkinton that I was starting approximately 1:40 after the gun went off. That meant in order to do a 3:15 Boston Marathon, I had to cross the finish line in 3:16:40.
But I had forgotten about the “grace” seconds! For the 2012 Boston Marathon (but not the 2013 one!), you are given 59 seconds above your qualifying time. For my age group, I had to run Boston in 3:15 … and 59 seconds … or less. And I thought, I think I did that.
I wandered over to pick up my things from the school buses. I got out my cell phone to unite with Elizabeth, who was there with me, waiting at the family reunion area. As I got closer, I saw her. And I saw the text messages of my splits just after. And I saw that my finish time was 3:15:16. And I realized, “I did it.”
I cried a bit and got a hug from Elizabeth. I was overwhelmed with what I had accomplished. In February, with barely any training, I did the Surf City USA Marathon in Huntington Beach, California, just under 3:40. I wasn’t in the best shape. But I realized that Boston was coming up, that I might never run Boston again because of its qualifying times, and I should not take it for granted. I started to train. I used the Advanced Marathoner B training schedule from the New York Road Runners Club website, jumping into it around Week 8 or so. I modified the training schedule from my past experience, to accommodate my work schedule and realizing I didn’t need to run 6-7 days a week in order to achieve fast times, that I could train about 5 days a week and do pretty well. It was working: I was getting faster. And by the time today’s race day came, my training level had nearly reached the level I achieved just before the Philadelphia Marathon in 2009, when I qualified for the Boston Marathon with 3:07:32.
Online pace calculators confirmed it: Some said I’d finish around 3:10, some around 3:20. I was getting the sense that I might finish around 3:15, but I wasn’t really sure. I kept my goal time private from people, never putting it to words. Then, on the train ride up to Boston, I told Elizabeth what I was looking at for a finish, and my rationale for that number. My actual goal was to run sub-3:15. I missed that goal by 17 seconds. 17 seconds! But no bother, though, because I still qualified for Boston next year, which is a mammoth-enough achievement for me.
What was the race like? It was big. It was not as big as New York City’s marathon, but it was on that scale. It was extremely well thought-out and organized. Part of that organization was the Course Map, which included an elevation chart. For days I had studied both the elevation chart and the detailed course, coupling them with a couple of course videos I found on YouTube. I figured the information would help me in strategizing the race–where I can pick up speed, where I won’t be able to, where the four Newton Hills were, and what to expect near the finish. I was most worried about the infamous Heartbreak Hill–the fourth of the Newton Hills starting around Mile 20.5 and finishing around Mile 21–but some of that worry was tempered when I compared a few statistics that suggested that Heartbreak Hill was comparable to Great Hill in Central Park, though just a little longer than my regular hill. (I can’t verify yet whether my stats were reliable, since some of the sources I used had different stats for the two hills.)
Here is what I remember from the course: In the first mile, the course is packed. It’s not innavigable but it’s packed enough that you can’t really break away. That’s probably a good thing because it’s largely downhill, and you don’t even realize how fast you are going. Well … I didn’t. I did my first mile in 6:52 according to Garmin, and the next mile I did in 6:36, which is the fastest mile I’ve been able to achieve this training period. And I did that second mile without much effort. I’m not exactly sure why I was so fast then, but it was a very windy day this Boston Marathon, with harsh tailwinds somewhere around 15 mph. HOWEVER, I barely noticed any winds once we started. The trees seemed inert. Where was this tailwind?, I thought. With the exception of maybe two times in the race, I never noticed the tailwind, and I even had a taste of headwind.
I had tried to strategize my race to keep the pace conservative for me in the beginning, and not to try to go fast, but here I was, kinda going fast for me. I wasn’t sure what to make of any of it. My training had not gone on long enough for me to know how well I could hang onto this kind of pace over a long distance. Admittedly, when you’re booking it, it’s a little hard to reason yourself to slow down. I had the same experiece today, but my recent running history suggested I could handle a great pace like this for about 10 miles. Great, but I didn’t know how I’d handle that pace after 10 miles. Or even after the Newton Hills.
By the time I hit the 10K and half-marathon mark, I could tell I was doing pretty well. I did the 10K at perhaps the fastest pace I’ve been able to achieve this training period, and my half-marathon was well under the 1:36 needed to be on-pace for a 3:15 finish. In other words, I’d banked about 4-5 minutes of time. But then the questions started to come: How much time would I lose in the second half of the marathon? I had the four infamous hills to come. Of course, I had other inclines, too, not to mention tiring legs. With the temperature rising over the race from about 49 degrees at the start to about 60 degrees by the finish, in generally direct sunlight, I was getting dehydrated based on my thickening saliva and I wasn’t sure how my body would handle the “heat.” Training this year, I’ve never had water. (I’ve done a 23-miler on NO water … would you believe??) I thought I would be well accustomed to avoiding water, but the sunlight was parching me (as was potentially any undetected wind). All in all, I had no idea how much time I would lose, and I thought that I had to fight.
I had my doubts along the way. This was a hard race and I found that my mind didn’t want to fight for as much as was required. However, I fought back. I didn’t want to disappoint myself. I wanted to impress my lone spectator Elizabeth with an achievement rather than a defeat. I didn’t want to regret this race. I said it to myself and I heard it in the crowd: “You Can Do It!” And I used that as my mantra. I kept telling myself “You Can Do It!” and that kept me going. Doubts, you see, slow you down. You have to eliminate doubts if you want to keep your speed up. Because when you doubt yourself, you have less of a reason to go fast. You have reason to slow down. I didn’t want that: I wanted to keep fighting. And the math I was doing on the run was saying that my finish time would be very, very close to my goal time … This was a dramatic race for me.
The drama became more interesting when I hit the Newton Hills. What did Heartbreak do to me? It sunk me to an 8:31 pace in that mile. Nearly a full two minutes slower than some of my opening miles. I had seen a steady slowing in my pace, creeping up to the target pace of 7:26, to moving up and past it. I was getting nervous. I did calculations in my head for how fast I’d have to do the rest of the marathon once I hit Mile 20, just before Heartbreak Hill. It was a 10K, and I knew a slow 10K for me would be around 50 minutes. The calculations were still saying, “It’s gonna be close, Ben… You’re gonna have to keep fighting, Ben…” My saving grace was that I knew after Heartbreak Hill, other than a few minor hills, it was basically downhill to the finish.
Um, my outlook was rosier than what it should have been. Every freaking hill after Heartbreak was demoralizing for me. Here I had expected a rolling, fast final 5 miles, but the ups were in my way. I had to struggle up each one, each one humiliating me a bit, testing my ability to move forward and achieve my goal. The closer I got, the closer I was to thinking that I just wouldn’t be able to achieve it. I saw the huge Citgo sign. While I knew there wasn’t much more to go, I had thought it was supposed to appear sooner in the race, leading me to think that there was much more until the end of the race than cartographically was the case. Fortunately, that hit wasn’t too huge to my psyche. I battled on.
Another fortunately was before the race, I measured the distance from the underpass to the finish line, and I also staked out Boyston Street, the last stretch of the race. According to my calculations, from the underpass to the finish line was only .5 miles. That would be motivating for me to know in case I wanted to rev it up a bit. When I staked out Boylston Street, I decided that at Exeter Street (the street just before the finish), I’d be able to tolerate a final sprint, but probably not before. I used that information as I charged down Boylston. Boylston was a slight downhill which helped. And wanting to finish also helped. But as I approached Exeter, at some point passing Elizabeth who was unseen to me in the crowd, I could see that the time was past 3:16:40. Sad for a moment, but I knew that I had put my damn all into this race. I crossed the finish line without much fanfare, but it was over. And not a moment too soon.
After my race, what pains I didn’t feel were interesting to me. I wasn’t sure if the hills of Boston’s marathon would kill my quads, my calves, or my knees. Any killing was unnoticeable. Instead, I came out okay. I had no chafing, no bloody nipples, and my lower back was fine (contrary to what it felt after the Surf City USA Marathon–thank you, Hip Hop Abs?). I had some soreness under my glutes. The arches in my feet felt partially collapsed, but ultimately felt like just after your feet have cramped–that kind of soreness. My biggest pain came in the lower shin area, just after my ankles–almost like the top of my feet. I didn’t feel any blister problems during the race, but once I got back to the hotel, I saw I had two blood blisters where I commonly get blisters, and I had some small blisters on the tips of my toes. I also had an injury from one toenail punching a small hole in the adjacent toe, which bled during the race unbeknownst to me. I forgot to stretch after the race (which I commonly forget to do after races), but I did do a nice amount of walking from the race to the hotel, then to get some dinner later in the afternoon.
Oh, and what did I look in the race? Elizabeth said I looked tired as I went by her on Boylston Street toward my finish. Afterwards, one could see the product of a long run: Caked in my eye sockets was salt, sunburn on my face, and a tan on my arms. I survived this race running in some cool green Mizuno Wave Rider 14s and wearing a lightweight, orange sample singlet by Mizuno, plus black shorts and black bike-short like tights. I hope to have photos up within the next two weeks on my Photos page.
So that’s my Boston Marathon. Will I run it again? It’s to be seen. While I qualified for next year’s race, the entry process has changed, and if memory serves, my qualifying time prevents me from entering in the early phase of the process. So getting in may be a chance affair. Do I need to run Boston again? It’s hard to say. I’m thinking that I don’t, that running it and actually qualifying for it using it could be enough. But as temporary bouts of insanity hit hardest the closer they are to a finish line, my thinking about a future Boston run might be underwhelming the real desire to return. For now, though, it’s enough to think of all the eggs in my basket that need to be juggled (or incubated), and it’s nice to have Boston now behind me.
Feel free to comment below if you have questions about what my race was like. I felt overwhelmed with what I accomplished today, and I’d be happy to share.