Monday, April 8, 2013

Memories of Boston 2011

The Boston Marathon is one week from today. In a fit of nostalgia, I wanted to read my post about my Boston Marathon experience two years ago, but it seems that I never did write about it. Why? Well, the usual inertia, in part. Also, in many ways Boston was a bittersweet experience and I guess it took a couple of years to process it! Actually it didn't take that long, but I do have a better perspective now.

I qualified for Boston at California International Marathon (CIM) in December 2009, so there was a huge delay between that marathon and Boston. In between I ran several marathons, but none as fast as CIM. I quickly learned that just because you run a sub-4 marathon once, you can't count on doing it again!

I retained a lot of my CIM speediness into 2010, but by summer I was dragging a little. And I think in the fall of 2010 I went into an overtraining slump. I finished the year with a 4:38 Seattle Marathon, a disappointment to be sure, but seriously, given my experiences since then, not that bad!

I kicked off my Boston training cycle in January 2011. It's always hard training in the winter, and I'm pretty sure we had some bad weather in January (ha!) but overall it went pretty well. I had no expectations of a PR in Boston, but I wanted to do better than I had in Seattle, and I wanted to finish under 4:30.

I actually think the Seattle Marathon is a good training course for Boston. Those are the two hardest marathon courses I think I've done (even though my times for each are really in the middle of my finish time spectrum).

One of the rules of training for Boston is to train for the downhills as well as the uphills. I did so, I think. It's hard to remember but I know a lot of my pre-Boston races had significant downhill portions...e.g. the Portland Shamrock Run and the Whidbey Half Marathon. In recent years, even though my overall paces and times have slowed, I think I have strengthened my downhill running and maybe I would deal with that element of Boston a little better now.

My parents and I flew east a few days before the marathon. We flew into Manchester, New Hampshire, I think on a Thursday, spent the night there, and drove to Boston on Friday.

We stayed at the Omni Parker House Hotel, which is the oldest hotel in Boston (and the longest continuously operating hotel in the U.S. (since 1855). It is known for the invention of Parker House rolls and Boston Cream Pie. I got a "good" rate from Marathon Tours and it really was a lovely place to stay. It was right in the heart of historic Boston and only a few miles from the marathon bus stop at Boston Common. If I were ever to run Boston again I wouldn't mind staying there, although I would also seriously consider a hotel near the finish area (such as the Copley Square Hotel, the second oldest hotel in continous operation).

The weather on marathon day was fine but the days preceding were cold and windy. On Friday we went to the expo where I got my bib, race shirt, and other commemorabilia (to add to what I had already purchased online beforehand).

On Saturday we took a trolley tour of the sights of Boston. It was a hop-on, hop-off tour but it was so cold out that we didn't want to hop off at all until we were done! Afterwards I desperately wanted clam chowder. We considered going to a traditional Boston restaurant but instead went to the nearest, McCormick & Schmick's in Faneuil Hall. I kind of felt like I was in Portland (the last place where I went to McCormick & Schmick's). But the chowder was good.

I will admit that we weren't the most adventurous with venturing out to far flung locations and restaurants. Both Saturday and Sunday night (maybe Friday too?) we had dinner at a casual pub/restaurant just a couple blocks from the hotel. On Saturday night I had a lobster roll and then I had pasta on Sunday. Or maybe I had a lobster roll on Friday and pasta both Saturday and Sunday...I can't remember.

On Sunday we made the traditional trip to the finish line near Copley Square. I will admit that I was wearing my official jacket in advance of the race. Everyone was doing it, I promise!
Selfie in jacket.
We took a bunch of pictures at the finish line area. I'm pretty sure I was smiling a lot more here than on race day!
 The finish area.
 My dad tries to take a picture.
 The famous finish line!
After our finish line tour, my dad got back on the trolley to use up the rest of our 24-hour ticket, and my mother and I visited another location that has great significance to me.
 A visit to the mothership.
Then we picked up some lunch and went back to the hotel to chill.
For dinner I had pasta with tons of vegetables. Maybe eating a gross of broccoli the night before a marathon isn't the best idea, but it was so good! (Although basic, not at all gourmet. Fine with me.)
On Monday morning I was up early for a trip to Starbucks to pick up coffee and breakfast. Even though my start time was 10:40 (Wave 3, for people who just barely qualified), I still had to catch the bus pretty early, around 7:00 I think. I dressed in capris, a sleeveless shirt, and a jacket. I also had another warm-up sweatshirt to wear to the start. It was a pretty cool morning, though it did get warmer later.

 The outfit on race day. That jacket came off minutes after the start!
I stood in line to get on a bus for a long, long time, but eventually we were on the road to Hopkinton. When we got there we had to walk to the Athlete's Village.

 Arriving at the Athlete's Village.
 The Athlete's Village.
Even though I had a couple hours wait to the official start, the time seemed to pass quickly. I stood in not-too-long porta potty lines at least twice, and before I knew it, I was walking with the crowds to the official start. I dropped off my bag (I no longer remember what was in it) at the well-organized bag drop and soon we were off!
 Heading to the start!
I shed my throwaway jacket right away. It didn't take long before I also took off my other jacket and tied it around my waist. Despite the cold, stormy weather over the weekend, the sun was out, it felt quite warm, and the only wind was a tailwind! Much has been said about the favorable tailwind during Boston 2011. I have to say I didn't feel it. Maybe there were just too many people around.
The first few miles are somewhat downhill and there are many tales of people going out too fast and wrecking their legs. I didn't feel like I was going too fast, but it's true that a 9:30ish pace felt easy. That might have been too fast but of course I would have liked to think it was a sustainable pace for the long run.
My first real problem was that within the first couple miles I urgently needed to go to the bathroom. Like "I'm going to pee my pants" bad. Maybe I could have forced myself to get through it, but at least there were no porta potty lines in the first couple miles!
I'm sure there were difficult moments, but the first half went really well. Except for the bathroom stop, I didn't have a mile over 10 minutes until mile 13.
1 - 9:41
2 - 9:29
3 - 10:31 (potty)
4 - 9:15
5 - 9:41
6 - 9:30
7 - 9:25
8 - 9:50
9 - 9:45
10 - 9:54
11 - 9:57
12 - 9:51
13 - 10:01
Looking at the Garmin elevation, the course was pretty much downhill-ish for most of those miles. I will say from recollection, though, and what I've heard from others, there is no part of the Boston course that is flat. It is either uphill or downhill all the time. There were lots of little rollers in those first 13 miles.
My pace continued pretty steady for a couple more miles. Well, three more miles, but the middle one included another bathroom break. (This is the point in the marathon where I traditionally have a bathroom stop. Apparently my early stop did not empty the tank.)
14 - 10:14
15 - 12:15
16 - 10:04
I wish I could say that I remember some of the famous sights of the Boston Marathon along the way, but I really did not notice a lot of stuff. I was quite absorbed in the running. I noticed the signs for the various towns along the way, and appreciated it at the time, but did not retain much. (The towns are Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, and Boston.) I recall the cheering, drinking, yelling crowds along the way. Some of them were pretty obnoxious, yelling criticism at people who were walking or on their cell phones.
Another think I clearly remember is that the "T" transit train ran alongside the course for many miles. Although I never would do it (unless I were dropping out), I certainly understand how easy it would be to jump on and ride away! I feel ya, Rosie Ruiz! (Although I don't know how anyone could do it without being seen, in this day and age.)
The Newton Hills begin at about mile 16, and extend to mile 21. They are actually four hills (some people say three, I counted four), and of course the final one is the famous "Heartbreak Hill" from mile 20-21.
If you ask me, though, the hills are not that bad. They are no worse than the hills in the Seattle Marathon, and I've run up steeper ones. I guess they are long, in the sense that you have five miles that are going primarily uphill. And I suppose if you are set on maintaining a certain pace, especially if that is a fast pace, that would be tough.
But I just slowed as I needed and plugged on up. Mile 16, as I already noted, was just over ten minutes.
17 - 10:38
18 - 10:40
19 - 10:25
20 - 10:48
21 - 11:29 (okay, I guess Heartbreak Hill was a little harder than the rest)
I didn't mind the hills. The hills were great compared to what came next. Five miles downhill into Boston.
Five miles downhill sounds like a gift, right? The perfect way to recover from your uphill slog, make up some time, and sail triumphantly to the finish line, right? Well....
Not so much. I've said a few times that I think it takes about three hours (18 miles) for your legs to really feel the effects of distance running and start to break down. The few miles of uphill was actually a reprieve, because my quads essentially got those miles "off."
But when I started downhill I quads are toast. I was in such pain, I couldn't run any faster on the downhills than I did on the uphills! That only added to my suffering, realizing that I was not able to take advantage of the beautiful gift of downhill. What's more, by this time my whole body was hurting, I was nauseous, and I couldn't even stand the thought of Gu. I had been drinking sports drink at the aid stations in the later miles to try to get some energy and stay hydrated.
It was during the last few miles that I had my weakest moment in a marathon (at least until I let myself walk way too much in the Honolulu Marathon). I took another bathroom stop at the beginning of mile 24. I wanted it more than needed it. I know I could have held out for another 5K (at least I believe I could have). But in a way, stepping off the course into a porta potty for a minute or two was more of a mental break than physical (although the physical relief was good too). Then I was able to jump back out and push myself through the final miles.
22 - 10:49
23 - 10:49
24 - 12:52 (bathroom)
25 - 10:52
26 - 10:45 (at least I was consistent!)
27 - .46 mile at 10:05 pace (yea! a finishing kick)
Final time 4:34:08.
I ran across the finish line with a smile on my face and got my medal. I actually felt a little woozy for a few minutes and had to lean against something.
I called my mom to tell her I was done. My dad had come to watch along the way (near the finish), but I never saw him and he didn't see me (although he took some random pictures of people who might have been me!).
Then I went through another "marathon experience" in trying to get on the T to ride back to the hotel. Runners rode free (though I didn't care about the cost), but it was extremely crowded and it took a couple of passing trains before I could even get on.
Finally I got back to the hotel, flopped onto my bed and ate some delicious food (no longer nauseous!).
That night we had a fancy dinner in the hotel restaurant. I had filet mignon and, of course, Boston Cream Pie for dessert!
 Dinner at the Parker House restaurant. Yes, that is a Parker House roll! And I promise everyone was wearing their medals to dinner.
On Tuesday we left Boston and drove up to Maine for a few days R & R. Unfortunately the cold, damp weather had returned. Maine isn't quite as nice in the cold early spring as it is in the autumn (and I presume, summer). But we stayed at a favorite inn near Wiscasset, the Squire Tarbox, and enjoyed their cozy rooms and gourmet food. They had actually opened early to accommodate us (they don't usually open until Easter, and Easter came late in 2011)!
 The Squire Tarbox Inn in Maine.
On one of our days in Maine we drove up to Camden, a charming seaport town.
A trip to Camden, Maine.

One of the reasons my Boston Marathon experience will always be bittersweet is because my calico cat, Sophie, died while I was gone. I still remember when Rod called me on Wednesday morning to tell me. She was only ten years old, but she had been quite ill, probably with a kidney disease. It was not a surprise, but it was still heartbreaking. I thank her for hanging on until after I ran the marathon, so I would not have that burden on me during the run.

It took me a while after Boston to see the run in perspective. Two years later, after running many more marathons, some faster, some slower, I have even more perspective. I did pretty darn well. Yes, I still wish I had been under 4:30 (and I think about the three potty stops and wonder what if...), but I have been a lot slower in marathons that should have been easier. My only lingering regret--and I don't know what I could have done to change this--was that I didn't run the final five miles faster. One minute faster per mile would have put me under 4:30 even without omitting the porta potty stops. happened. And I am happy that I had the opportunity to run.

After all, I got into Boston just a year or so before the qualifying standards changed (2012 was the last year of the old standards) and just before they started the tiered entry system. Plus, I managed to get in even though registration closed so quickly! That was lucky (and I was on the computer the minute registration opened).

I don't know whether I will ever qualify for Boston again or even try. When I go up an age group in a couple years the time standard will be the same for me as when I qualified in 2009. If I was able to hang in there another five years I'd get another ten minutes...but that would still require a 4:10 marathon at the age of 55!

So who knows. The Boston Marathon may well have been a once in a lifetime experience for me. Two years later, I can genuinely say that it was a truly fantastic experience.

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