Thursday, September 29, 2016

I Got into Boston

I knew from the beginning this would be a rebuilding year.  First, I had to take some time off from running, so I could heal.  Then I needed about four weeks of physical therapy before I could even begin to run.  Finally, I was starting over with no aerobic base, so I needed time to get back in shape.  I’m getting closer, but I’m still not back to where I used to be.

At the beginning of the year, I was already signed up for a few races.  I had to cancel two races in February, because I wasn’t ready to begin training, much less run a marathon.  My next race was the Boston Marathon in April.  I wasn’t willing to cancel that one.

I’ve run the Boston Marathon every year since 2012, and I wanted to keep that streak alive.  To do that, I had to meet two challenges.

The first challenge was finishing this year’s Boston Marathon.  I didn’t start training until the beginning of March, so I didn’t have much time to get into shape.  At first, I could only run a mile or two.  The muscles around my hips were stiff and weak, so I really had to force myself to rotate my hips.  Running did not feel natural.  My glutes were weak, so I didn’t have any power in my stride.  Even with an all-out effort, my pace was about 13 minutes per mile.  That was over short distances.

A month before the race, I ran 10 miles for the first time.  It felt like running a full marathon.  I only had a few more weeks to train, so I had to build quickly.  Once a week, I did a long run.  I stepped up to 13.1 miles, then 15.25, then 20 miles.  To finish 20 miles, I had to alternate running and walking.  I couldn’t run that far non-stop.  That was 10 days before the race.

On April 18th, I finished my fifth consecutive Boston Marathon.  My only goal was to beat the six hour time limit, and I finished in 5:08.

As difficult as it was, I was always confident I would find a way to finish that race.  I only had 152 miles of training under my belt, but I knew experience and determination would carry me through the race.  The second challenge was much more difficult.  I still needed to qualify for next year’s race.

It helped that I moved into a new age group this year.  Instead of 3:30, I only needed to beat 3:40 to qualify.  I knew registration would start in mid-September, and the race would fill within the first two weeks, so I only had five more months to qualify.  Also, qualifying doesn’t guarantee you’ll get into the race.  In 2015, you needed to beat the qualifying standard by 2:28 to get into the race.  In 2014, the cut-off was 1:02.  I didn’t know what this year’s cut-off would be, but I assumed I’d need three minutes to be safe.  That meant I needed to beat 3:37.

At first, I didn’t really think I could get there in time.  I had to try, but it seemed like a long-shot.  I gradually made progress.  In May, I ran a marathon in under five hours for the first time since September of 2015.  About that same time, I finally managed to improve my mechanics enough to run my race pace on a treadmill, but I could only do it for short distances.  An eight minute mile still felt like an all-out sprint.

By the middle of the June, I was finally starting to believe I could get there on time.  I knew I would need help though.  I put off other goals to focus on qualifying for Boston.  To give myself every possible opportunity, I scheduled two downhill races.  The first was the Super Tunnel Marathon in Washington.  That race is almost all downhill, but with a gentle grade.  I knew I could run fast there, but the race was in mid-August, and I didn’t know if I’d be ready yet.  For my second qualifying attempt, I scheduled the Big Cottonwood Marathon in Utah.  That race is steep downhill for the first 18 miles, before leveling off for the last eight.  It has the potential to be very fast, but there are no guarantees.

At Super Tunnel, I paced myself aggressively.  In the second half of the race, I felt like it was slipping away, but I fought for every second.  I knew I had the potential to run a faster time at Big Cottonwood, but I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket.  I wanted to get a solid qualifying time at Super Tunnel, just in case Big Cottonwood didn’t go well.

In retrospect, it’s a good thing I fought so hard in the late miles of the Super Tunnel Marathon.  I finished that race in 3:36:39, giving me a cushion of 3:21.  At Big Cottonwood, I struggled in the late miles and didn’t come anywhere close to qualifying.  I had to hope my time from Super Tunnel was good enough.

The Boston Marathon uses a staggered registration process.  They instituted this for the 2012 race, after the 2011 race filled on the first day of registration, catching many people off guard.

First, there’s a pre-registration period for runners who have finished at least 10 consecutive Boston Marathons.  They still have to qualify each year, but they don’t have to worry about whether their qualifying times are good enough.

The regular registration period began on Monday, September 12.  For two days, registration was only available to runners who beat the qualifying standards for their age groups by at least 20 minutes (BQ-20).  The race wasn’t full, so on September 14, registration opened for runners with a BQ-10.  Then there were three days for runners with a BQ-5.

The race didn’t fill during the first week, so registration re-opened on Monday, September 19 for all runners with qualifying times.  It’s not first-come, first served.  All runners have an opportunity to register and enter their qualifying info.  At the end of the three more days of registration, the BAA announced that the race was full.  Not everybody would get in.  We had to wait an additional week before we knew who got in and who didn’t.  Better qualifying times got priority.

Yesterday, the BAA emailed all the remaining registrants to let them know if they got in or not.  They also announced that the cut-off for this year’s race was BQ-2:09.

I joined a Facebook Group for “Boston squeakers” (i.e. runners who were on the bubble).  It’s the first time I’ve had to wait to find out if I got in.  In previous years, I always had at least a BQ-5.  Sometimes I had a BQ-20.

The waiting was difficult, and there was a lot of speculation about what the cut-off time would be.  Most of us were expecting a cut-off time of about a minute, so the 2:09 cut-off was a shock.

I got in this year, but some of my friends didn’t.  For some, it would have been their first Boston.  I can’t imagine how disappointing that must feel.  Some will try to get a faster time next year.  Perhaps others will still get in by raising money for a charity.

As for me, I finished this year’s race and got into next year’s race, but I still have to qualify for 2018.  The cut-off times are hard to predict.  Next year, I won’t feel safe unless I can run a BQ-5.  That means I have just under a year to finish a marathon in 3:35.  That used to be automatic.  I could break 3:30 just about every try.  Maybe I can get there again, but I’m not there yet.  That will be one of my challenges for next year.

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