Saturday, April 27, 2019

Race Report: 2019 Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon

On April 27, I ran the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon in Louisville, KY.  This is the third time I did this race, and it was my fourth marathon in Louisville.  Last year, I race-walked this race, setting a marathon walking PR of 4:39:51.  This year, I was running, so I was hoping to be about an hour faster.

I could have flown directly to Louisville, but I got a good airfare by flying into Cincinnati.  The Cincinnati airport is actually in northern Kentucky.  From there, the drive time to Louisville is less than two hours.

I arrived around lunch time, so before leaving the greater Cincinnati area, I stopped for lunch.  Pizza is my favorite food, but I also like Cincinnati-style chili, and it’s not something you find in other parts of the country.

I stayed at the Hampton Inn in downtown Louisville.  I wanted to stay there last year, but they were already fully booked.  It’s only a few blocks from where the race starts and about half a mile from where it finishes.  Last year, my hotel was a mile away.

The expo was held at the Kentucky International Convention Center.  That’s a different location from where it was held last year.  This location was much more convenient, since the convention center is just three blocks from Hampton Inn.

In addition to my race bib, my packet included a three quarters sleeve T-shirt and a souvenir size Louisville Slugger bat.  I don’t recall any other races with three quarter sleeve shirts, but it seemed appropriate, since the Kentucky Derby is three quarters of a mile.  The bat was one of the more unusual souvenirs I’ve received, but it’s worth noting that Louisville Slugger bats are manufactured here, and the race finishes next to Louisville Slugger Stadium.

Besides packet pickup, race expos generally have booths where local running-related businesses can promote their products.  It’s common to be able to try free samples of things like sports drinks.  At this expo, you could try free samples of bourbon.  Jim Beam was one of the sponsors.

After the expo, I went back to the hotel to drop off my race packet and organize my clothes for the race.  Then I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring downtown Louisville.

I had dinner at the Bluegrass Brewing Company.  Besides sampling their beers, I had a spinach and artichoke pizza.  It was much more filling than I expected.  Since getting home from Boston, I’ve been on a diet.  I’ve lost two pounds so far, but I had to wonder if I undid that by eating so much the day before the race.

I was able to get to bed early that night.  I didn’t sleep perfectly, but I got enough sleep that I felt alert and well-rested in the morning.

Hampton Inn has a free breakfast, and their breakfast service started an hour and a half before the race.  I was still full from my big dinner, so I didn’t feel like eating any solid food.  I had a cup of tea and half a glass of orange juice.

The weather for this race was almost ideal.  It was 46 degrees when I left the hotel and got into the low 60s by the time I finished.  For most of the race, the temperature was in the 50s.  There was very little wind and no threat of rain.

I got to the start area just as pre-race ceremonies were beginning.  They had the bugler from next week’s Kentucky Derby to play the Call to the Post.  That was followed by “My Old Kentucky Home” and the National Anthem.  Then Kathrine Switzer, who was the official starter, made some pre-race remarks.

Six weeks ago, at the Shamrock Marathon, I ran most of the race with the 3:35 pace group, and then went ahead on my own in the last six miles.  I tried to do the same thing four weeks ago at the Carmel Marathon, and the pace broke me after only six miles.  Two weeks ago, I started the Boston Marathon on pace for 3:30, but it felt too tiring, and I had to back off the pace after only five miles.  Ideally, I wanted to break 3:30, so I could get a time that would assure me of getting into next year’s Boston Marathon.  I had serious doubts about being able to run that fast.  It seemed more realistic to try to do what I did at the Shamrock Marathon.

If there was a 3:35 pace group, I would have started with them.  They had 3:30 and 3:40 pace groups, but no 3:35 pace group.  I assumed I would be on my own to set the right pace.

As the race started, I went out at a pace that felt similar to Shamrock.  Within a block or two, I got bottled up behind a large group of slower runners.  I don’t know if they were all together or were just coincidentally running at the same slow pace.  It seemed like they were starting in the wrong corral for the pace they were running.  It took a while before I could find room to get around them.  Then I tried to accelerate to my previous pace.

After slowing down and speeding up, I no longer had a good feel for how fast I was running.  Before the end of the first mile, I found myself catching up to a large pace group.  It was the 1:45 pace group for the half marathon.  That pace is equivalent to a 3:30 marathon, so I slowed down to stay behind them.

I reached the one mile mark in 8:01.  To run a marathon in 3:30, you need to average 8:00 per mile.  I wasn’t convinced it was a good idea to pace for 3:30, but the pace didn’t seem unreasonably fast, so I continued running right behind the 1:45 group.

Early in the second mile, we reached an aid station.  I usually drink at every aid station, but I skipped this one, so I could establish a consistent rhythm for at least another mile.  Running past that aid station had an unintended side-effect.

Everyone handles aid stations differently.  Some people come to a stop while they drink.  Some walk or slow down while they drink and then resume their previous pace when they’re done drinking.  Some people carry their own fluids and ignore the aid stations.  Because of all this, pace groups tend to break up at aid stations and then reform shortly after the aid station.  By the time the 1:45 group reformed, I was ahead of them.

In the next mile, I told myself to relax.  I didn’t want to get too far ahead of the group.  I was running ahead of them, but I could hear them talking.  As I reached the next mile marker I could hear the pace leader telling his group they were right on schedule.  I was ahead of schedule.  Pacing for 3:30 seemed ambitious, and I was already six second ahead of that pace.

Running through the downtown area, there were lots of sharp turns.  I did a good job of running the tangents, but it distracted me from my pacing.  I had a tendency to accelerate as I came out of turns.  Before long, I no longer heard the pace leader talking.  I ran the third mile in 7:45.  Now I was 21 seconds ahead of schedule.

The next time I reached an aid station, I walked for a few seconds while drinking.  That was like hitting the reset button on my pace.  As I resumed running, I wasn’t going quite as fast.  I could hear the pace group again.

For better or worse, I’m always influenced by the pace of the runners around me.  Soon, I was once again getting out of earshot from the pace group.

As I passed the five mile mark, I considered slowing down until the pace group caught up to me, but I didn’t want to slow down too much at once.  If I slowed to about 8:05, it would take four more miles for the group to catch up.  Eventually, the marathon and half marathon courses would diverge.  This pace group was doing the half marathon.  After the split, I would be on my own anyway, so I kept running at the pace of the people around me.

Just past eight miles, we entered Churchill Downs.  As I turned and ran through the gate, I heard the PA system.  They were replaying the call from previous Kentucky Derbies.  We ran through a tunnel under the clubhouse.  As I descended into the tunnel, the downhill grade was uncomfortable.  I had to adjust my gait to keep from overstriding.  Coming back out of the tunnel, it was uphill.  I eased up, rather than tire myself out running the same pace.  Up to this point, the course was fairly flat, but this was a reminder that there was a hilly section coming later.  I had to pace myself through the hills without wearing myself out.

We ran between the clubhouse and the track.  Before leaving the grounds, we ran through another tunnel.  This one took us underneath the track where the best three year olds will be racing next Saturday.  Coming out of this tunnel, I again had to control my effort going up the ramp.

Immediately after leaving Churchill Downs, we reached the spot where the marathon and half marathon split.  Half marathoners kept to the left side of the street, and then turned left to head back toward downtown.  Those of us doing the marathon kept to the right and then turned right to head farther south.  It was now official.  I wouldn’t see the 1:45 group again.  There was also a 3:30 pace group for the marathon, but I had not seen them yet. They were somewhere behind me.

At eight miles, I was 40 seconds ahead of schedule.  At nine miles, I was only 14 seconds ahead of schedule.  Did I really slow to 8:26 in that mile.  That mile included all the turns and tunnels going through Churchill Downs.  Maybe I relaxed too much in that mile.  Alternatively, the mile marker might have been misplaced.  I had to wait for the next one before I would know.

At 10 miles, I was only 11 seconds ahead of schedule.  Now it seemed more likely that the mile markers were accurate and I had slowed down.  I made more of an effort to keep up with runners ahead of me. The road wasn’t as crowded now, so it was harder to tell if I was keeping up.

At 12 miles, I was 22 seconds ahead of schedule.  Then the road turned slightly uphill as we approached Iroquois Park.  We had to do a four mile loop around the park before returning on this same road.  The entire loop would be hilly.  Every other part of the course is reasonably flat, but this is the section that made me question whether my pace would be sustainable.

I saw the lead runner already coming back.  There was nobody chasing him for as far as I could see.  All of the big hills were behind him, so it was unlikely that anyone would catch him.

I crossed a road and entered the park.  The grade got a little bit steeper, and I had to slow down.  My goal over the next few miles was to maintain a consistent effort, rather than trying to sustain a consistent pace.  As we made a switchback, the grade got even more tiring.  I remembered this hill from last year.  I was power walking up the hill, and I started passing people who were running.

The first hill in the park was both the longest and steepest.  The 12 mile mark was right at the top of the hill.  When I got there, I was 11 seconds slower than the pace I needed for 3:30.  I slowed to 8:33 in that mile.  It was the first time since passing the 1:45 group that I had fallen off the pace for 3:30.

I was surprised that I was still ahead of the 3:30 group.  I know they started in the same corral, but they must have lined up much farther back.  Each corral took up a full city block.  I assumed I was only in front of them because I crossed the starting line earlier.

The next mile began with a long downhill.  At first, I used it to recover from the hill, but before long, I was accelerating.  Over the next mile, it was rolling hills, but it was more downhill than uphill.  The top of the first hill was the highest elevation on the course.  For the rest of the loop, we had a slight downhill trend.

The 13 mile mark was also at the crest of a hill.  When I got there, I was once again ahead of pace, but not by much.  The halfway point wasn’t marked, but I ran the first half on pace to break 3:30.  I may even have been on pace for 3:29.

After a long decent, I saw runners ahead of me turning right to continue downhill.  I also saw runners coming up the hill and turning right onto the loop.  Where we already at the end of the loop?  It seemed too soon.  I thought we would be in the park for at least another mile.  As I made the turn myself, I reached it was an out-and-back.  I don’t remember this being part of the course in previous years.  Going out, it was a nice downgrade.  Coming back, we had to run back up the hill.

As soon as I negotiated the turnaround, I saw the 3:30 pace group still going out.  They weren’t that far behind me.

Running back up that hill took something out of me.  When I got back onto the loop, it was downhill again, but there was another tough climb near the end of the 14th mile.  The 14 mile mark was halfway up the hill.  When I got there, I was 25 seconds behind schedule.  That was a bit discouraging, and I was still going uphill.

I assumed mile 15 was mostly downhill.  I was wrong.  It was rolling, and the downhill parts weren’t as steep.  I wouldn’t make up time in this mile.

At 15 miles, I was shocked to see that I was now 55 seconds behind schedule.  Since the second mile, I had been focused on only one goal – breaking 3:30.  Now that goal seemed out of reach, and it was harder to maintain my motivation.  It occurred to me that I should be focusing on breaking 3:33 instead.  That goal was still within reach, and it would still be my fastest time this year.

We were now leaving the park.  The next mile was downhill, but only slightly.  I fought hard to pick up my pace, and I made up some ground.  Now the course leveled off.  I fought hard to keep up with runners who had consistently been in front of me.  The rest of the course would be mostly flat.  If I could get back into a good rhythm, I might not lose any more time.

At 17 miles, I had to look at my watch twice.  It didn’t seem correct.  Suddenly, I was more than a minute ahead of schedule.  I couldn’t possibly have sped up that much.  The mile marker had to be misplaced.  That made me suddenly question whether I could trust any of the other mile markers.  Was I ahead of schedule or behind schedule?  I really had no idea.  Then I realized that I hadn’t seen the 3:30 pace group since the out-and-back.  If I had fallen off the pace, they should’ve passed me.  They were still behind me.  Realizing I was probably still on pace to break 3:30 gave me the motivation I needed to lift my effort.  I didn’t know if I could sustain it for another nine miles, but I had to try.

As we passed Churchill Downs again, we merged with the half marathon course.  The street was divided.  On the right were a relatively small number of runners doing the marathon.  On the left were a larger group of walkers at the back of the pack of the half marathon.  I could see their mile markers as well as ours.  They were taking a direct route to the finish, but we had to run about four miles farther.

At the 18 mile mark, I once again appeared to be behind schedule, but I took that with a grain of salt.  I continued to lift my effort.  At 19 miles, I still appeared to be behind schedule, but by only a few seconds.  That seemed plausible.  I was now passing runners who had been ahead of me for the last 10 miles.

At the pace I was going, I would finish in about 58 minutes.  Even if I began to fade, I would probably be done in an hour.  I told myself I just had to maintain this effort for another hour.  That didn’t seem at all reassuring.  The pace no longer felt sustainable.  I was barely hanging on and needed to focus on one mile at a time.

At 20 miles, I was shocked to see I was now almost a minute ahead of schedule.  I couldn’t have gained that much time in one mile.  I now had even less trust in the accuracy of the mile markers, but I kept up my effort.

By now, I was feeling thirsty.  Since leaving Iroquois Park, I had been noticing the sun.  I was tempted to skip aid stations, so I wouldn’t be at risk of slowing down.  I couldn’t afford to do that.  I didn’t want to get dehydrated, like I did in Boston.

We turned left to begin a four mile diversion that took us east of downtown.  The half marathoners kept going straight.  They had less than two miles to go.

At 21 miles, I was slightly more than a minute ahead of schedule.  I didn’t know how much I trusted that.  By now, I was confident that I really was on pace to break 3:30.  I wasn’t willing to assume I had a minute to spare.

Shortly before 22 miles, we went under a railroad bridge.  It was downhill before the bridge, but uphill after.  Running uphill, even briefly was tiring.  A runner who wasn’t in the race was running in the opposite direction.  He said this was the last hill.  That seemed plausible, so I believed him.  He was wrong.

At 22 miles, I checked my watch again.  Now I was a minute and a half ahead of schedule.  I was starting to believe.  That was three consecutive readings that had me significantly ahead of a 3:30 pace.

There was a hill in the next mile.  I told myself I would just maintain the same effort.  I suspect I actually maintained the same pace.  I didn’t adjust my gait at all.  By the top of the hill I was tired, but I didn’t lose much time.  At 23 miles, I still appeared to have a cushion of 1:28.  There was no longer any doubt in my mind I would break 3:30, but I still didn’t know how big the margin would be.  I told myself not to let up.

With about two miles to go, my legs felt wobbly.  I seriously wondered if I had set a pace that was sustainable for 24 miles, but not for 26.2.  I focused on keeping up with the runners just ahead of me.  On the bright side, my cushion – if I could trust the mile markers – had grown to 1:50.

A spectator said, “You’re almost there.”  That’s a pet peeve of mine. I don’t think it’s appropriate to tell someone they’re “almost there” when there are still several turns.  I don’t feel like I’m “almost there” until I can see the finish line.  She also said, “You’re in the home stretch.”  That’s worse.  It’s a horse racing term that literally means you’re out of the last turn and headed straight for the finish line.

I rounded another turn and reached the 25 mile mark.  I had a cushion of more than two minutes.  At 24 miles, I didn’t know if I would falter.  Now I knew I wouldn’t.  I was running within a block of the hotel I stayed at last year.  I had a good feel for exactly how much was left.  It’s one thing to know it’s a mile to go.  It’s another thing to be able to visualize it.

I made the turn onto Main Street.  There was still one more turn, but that was just before the finish.  I wanted to pick up the pace, but I had no gas left in the tank.   By now, runners and walkers from both races were sharing the road.  It was hard to see around all the walkers to know how many blocks it was to the last turn.

At 26, I didn’t look at my watch. Instead, I was focused on the turn.  I could see it now.  I made the left turn next to Louisville Slugger Stadium.  I had to make a wide turn to get around a group of three people walking together.  Then I raced for the finish line.  Now I really was on the home stretch.

I finished in 3:26:59.  That’s a Boston qualifier with eight minutes to spare!  That was beyond my wildest expectations.  Now I know for sure I’ll be doing at least one more Boston Marathon.  At the Shamrock Marathon, I qualified with 1:36 to spare, but I wasn’t confident that would get me into the race.  I’ve felt under pressure to get a better qualifying time.  Now all the pressure is off.

If you exclude races that are substantially downhill, this was my fastest marathon in four years!  I used to take pride in being able to consistently break 3:30, but lately I could only do it with a big assist from gravity.  Those days are finally over.  Today, I did it on a loop course with a tough hilly section in the middle.  I even ran negative splits.

The finisher medal design includes a baseball bat.  It seems that’s as much a part of the theme as the Kentucky Derby.

I reluctantly accepted a heat shield, even though I didn’t feel like I needed one.  I remember how it made me sweat after the Boston Marathon.  I also remember how much I was glad I had it by the time I got back to the hotel.

After a bathroom stop, I made my way to the post-race food.  I had already finished a cup of water.  I took a banana, but walked past the table with bagels.  A volunteer handed me a box with snacks.  I didn’t know what was in it.  It turned out to be some peanut butter and cracker sandwiches, jalapeno potato chips, and applesauce.  I skipped the Powerade, but drank a carton of chocolate milk.  Then I made my way to the beer garden for my free post-race beer.

When I got back to the hotel, I soaked my legs while eating the rest of my post-race snacks.  I spent the next few hours relaxing at the hotel.  Now I just need to celebrate with some post-race pizza.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  3:26:59
Average Pace:  7:54 
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  372
Lifetime Boston qualifiers:  123

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Race Report: 2019 Boston Marathon

On April 15, I ran my ninth Boston Marathon.  This is my favorite marathon, and I’ll keep running it as long as I can qualify.  Each year, it gets harder to qualify.  It also gets harder to find a close hotel.  Most of the hotels within a mile of the finish line are fully booked almost a year in advance.  In the last seven years, I’ve stayed at six different hotels.  This year, I stayed at the Hilton Boston Back Bay.  This hotel is about a mile from the finish line, but it’s right around the block from the Hynes Convention Center, where the expo was held.

I flew to Boston on Saturday, arriving in the early afternoon.  My Boston weekend is usually filled with meet-ups with various running clubs.  This year was no exception.  After checking in at the Hilton, I immediately went to the Beantown Pub, to join a happy hour gathering of Boston Squeakers.  Several of us stayed there for dinner, while watching golf on TV.  I don’t remember the Masters being the same weekend as the Boston Marathon in other years.

I got to bed early and slept well until 4:30.  Then I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep.  When I finally got up, I felt tired, but I wasn’t too worried.  What mattered more was how I felt on Monday.

I went to the expo right when it opened.  I was able to pick up my race packet, drop it off at the hotel, and still make it to Thornton’s in time to join one of the other Boston Squeakers for breakfast.  I was feeling run down, but getting some food in my stomach helped.

After breakfast, I went back to expo.  Then I went to the finish line on Boylston Street, where Marathon Maniacs always meet for their group photo.  I always know dozens of runners at this race, but it’s impossible to know everybody’s plans.  Going to the group photo is like one stop shopping to connect with people I know.  I usually wait to see who’s there before making plans for lunch.  This year, I joined three friends for lunch at Uno’s

After lunch, I stopped by the Hilton again to organize my clothes for the race.  While I was there, I watched the leaders finishing the last few holes at the Masters.  Later, I went to Sola Irish Pub for a happy hour gathering of the 50sub4 Marathon Club.

Every Boston Marathon experience is different, but there were a few things I could always count on being the same.  I always used to have lunch or dinner at Durgin Park.  It was one of the oldest restaurants in the United States, and it was my favorite restaurant in Boston.  Sadly, they closed their doors in January.  This was the first time I stayed in Boston without dining there.  Instead, I had dinner at California Pizza Kitchen.  There are better pizzerias in the North End, but I was tired and wanted to stay close to the Hilton.

I got to bed early again, but woke up even earlier than the night before.  After 2:30, I couldn’t get back to sleep.

To paraphrase Forrest Gump, Boston weather is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re gonna get.  Last year, we had almost two inches of rain, with cold temperature and 30 MPH headwinds.  In 2012, it was a sunny day with temperatures topping out at 88 degrees.  Having seen both of those extremes, I knew I had to be prepared for anything.

This year’s weather kept everyone guessing.  A week before the race, the advance forecast was showing a storm system that could bring conditions just like last year.  By the weekend, it became apparent that the low pressure system bringing rain and strong winds would arrive earlier than expected.  There was a brief thunderstorm during the night, but it looked like the rain would stop before the race started.  As the front moved through, it brought warmer temperatures.  It was 50 degrees when I left the hotel, and it was forecast to get into the upper 60s in the afternoon.  It was unclear if we would get more rain before the race finished.  The only thing that seemed certain was that it was going to be cloudy all day.

On race morning, most runners get to the start at Hopkinton by taking a bus from Boston Common.  You get up early and wait in a long line to board a school bus.  The bus ride takes about an hour.  Then you get dropped off at the Athletes’ Village on the grounds of Hopkinton High School, where you wait until it’s time to walk to the start corrals.

I always considered that to be a big part of the Boston Marathon experience.  I used to enjoy it, but it’s changed over the years.  I have fond memories of 2012 and 2013, when I was waiting in the village with a group of friends.  We were all in the first wave, so we arrived before the village got too crowded, and it was easy to find each other.  Back then, they had a gear check in the village, so you could wear your favorite warm-up clothes, leave them at the gear bag drop, and then pick them up in the finish area.

In 2014, things started to change.  Security was tighter after the bombs in 2013, so you if you wanted to check a gear bag, you had to do it in Boston Common before boarding the bus.  Any extra layers you wore in Hopkinton had to be donated or thrown away.

I’m not as fast as I used to be, so I was no longer assigned to the first wave.  As my corral assignments changed to the second wave and then the third wave, I discovered that the village gets much more crowded the later you arrive.  It’s much harder to find people you know, so I sometimes had to wait by myself.  The bathroom lines also get longer.  The first time I was in wave three, I spent the entire time waiting in line, and I barely got through the line before it was time to leave the village.

Last year was the worst experience.  I arrived early enough to find space under one of the large tents, but when I needed to get in line for one of the port-o-potties, I had to stand outside in heavy rain and driving winds.  Leaving the village, there was no way to avoid walking through mud and deep puddles.

This year, I decided to do something different.  One of my running clubs, Marathon Maniacs, chartered a bus from Boston to Hopkinton.  To get a spot on the bus cost $90, but instead of riding in school buses, we had a nice comfortable motor coach with a bathroom.  Instead of getting dropped off at the high school, we had a private area in Hopkinton with dozens of port-o-potties.  We also had the option of staying on the bus until it was time to head to the start corrals.

The motor coach left from the Boston Park Plaza hotel.  They started loading the bus at 7:10 and left at 7:30.  Had I taken one of the school buses, I wouldn’t need to be on a bus until after 8:00.  Even though it meant leaving earlier, the convenience was worth it.  The Park Plaza is about a mile from the Hilton, but I could minimize time in the rain by taking the subway most of the way.

I wasn’t planning to leave until 6:45, but at 6:15, my weather app said a thunderstorm was going to start in 15 minutes.  I quickly finished getting ready and walked  to the nearest subway station while there was a break in the rain.  When I got to Arlington Station, it was sprinkling, but I was able to walk to the Park Plaza before the heavy rain started.  A few minutes later, it was a downpour.

I didn’t have anything to eat before leaving the Hilton, so I stopped at a Starbucks inside the Park Plaza and bought some coconut snacks to serve as a light breakfast.

When the bus arrived, it wasn’t able to pull up to the curb.  We had to walk to the other end of the block and then walk out to the middle of the street to board.  By now, it wasn’t raining as hard, but I had to hurdle a wide puddle to get to the bus.  The race didn’t start for a few hours, so I wanted to keep my shoes dry for as long as I could.

We got to Hopkinton just after 8:30.  All the charter buses parked at an elementary school.  From there, we would eventually have a five minute walk to get to the Athletes’ Village at the high school.  In the meantime, we could stay on the bus.

The elite athletes had early start times. The rest of the field was divided into four waves of roughly 7,500 runners.  Wave one started at 10:02, wave two started at 10:25, and wave three started at 10:50.  Wave four was originally schedule to start at 11:15, but because of concerns about afternoon rain, they started immediately after wave three.

Based on my qualifying time, I was assigned to the third wave.  I left the elementary school at 10:00.  To get to the start corrals, I first had to walk through the Athletes’ Village.  Runners from the 4th wave were still arriving, so it took time to make it through the crowds to get to the exit.  Then I had the familiar walk down Grove Street to get to the corrals.

When I got there, it was still too early to enter the corrals.  There are port-o-potties in the nearby CVS parking lot, so I made a final bathroom stop before making my way to my corral.

Each wave is divided into eight start corrals.  I was in the first corral of my wave.  If I wanted, I could line up at the front and race through the first mile with nobody in front of me.  That would be exciting, but it wouldn’t be very smart.  The first 15 miles have a downhill trend, and it’s most noticeable in the first few miles.  Racing through the downhill miles is a way to set yourself up for some slow and painful miles near the end of the race.  Instead of lining up in front, I stayed at the back of my corral.  That way, there were enough runners in front of me to keep me from going too crazy in the first mile.

Because it was in the 60s, I wore shorts and a singlet.  As warm-up layers, I wore a Tyvek jacket and a pair of wind pants.  I put the wind pants in the donation pile when I left to walk to the start corrals.  I tied the Tyvek jacket around my waist before starting the race.

Four weeks ago, I finally qualified for next year’s race.  Although I’m qualified, I’m not sure if my qualifying time will be fast enough to get me into the race.  Ideally, I wanted to go for a faster time in this race, but I didn’t know if I was up to it.  I wasn’t feeling 100 percent.  If it rained, the extra weight of wet shoes and clothes could slow me down.  If it didn’t rain, I could get too hot to sustain an ambitious pace.  My plan was to start the race on pace for a time between 3:30 and 3:35.  Then I’d wait and see how I felt.

Because I was planning to at least take a shot at a fast time, I left my camera and phone at the hotel.  I didn’t want to make stops, and I didn’t want to carry any extra weight.  I also didn’t want my phone to get wet if heavy rain started again.

My qualifying time for this race was 3:28:13.  Everyone in my corral had a similar qualifying time.  In theory, the people around me would all be going close to the pace that I wanted to start, so I could just hang with them.  In practice, everybody gets excited and starts too fast.  The downhill start makes that even more likely.

Starting at the back of my corral worked well.  I ran the first mile in 8:14.  That was actually a little bit slower than I intended, but I picked up the pace over the next few miles.  I averaged 8:01 through the first five miles.  That put me on pace for a finish time of roughly 3:30.

The course goes through seven other communities besides Boston.  After about a mile, we left Hopkinton and entered a remote part of Brookline.  A spectator yelled, “Brookline: Almost there!”  What made this funny is that we actually go through Brookline twice.  It’s the first city after Hopkinton, but also the last city before the finish in Boston.  Later in the race, one could say this in all honesty, as you’re in Brookline when you enter the last mile of the race.

In the absence of rain, the air felt warm and sticky.  By the end of the second mile, I was already getting sweaty.

After two miles, we entered Ashland.  All the spectators in Ashland are local residents.  Families in Ashland come out to watch the race every year.

Aid stations are fairly frequent in this race.  The first one is at two miles.  After that, they’re every mile.  I didn’t feel thirsty yet, but I started drinking Gatorade at every aid station, knowing I was going to be sweating heavily.

After five miles, I abandoned the idea of trying to pace for 3:30.  The pace already felt tiring, even though I had been mostly running downhill.  I backed off a little.

Now I was entering Framingham.  There’s a commuter rail station here, so in addition to local residents, we also got support from people who took the train from Boston.  This is the first place where friends and family staying in Boston can get an early glimpse of the runners they’re supporting.

Running through Framingham, I was averaging roughly 8:10 per mile.  Then I reached Natick.  Here the course levels off briefly.  The terrain is slightly rolling, and I still felt like my pace was too tiring.  I slowed to 8:15 in the 6th and 7th miles, and then slowed to 8:25 in the 8th mile.

Around nine miles, we ran past a lake.  I felt a cool breeze near the lake.  That was the first time I noticed any wind.  As we got past the lake, I went back to feeling hot.

I had to skip the next aid station.  I knew I needed fluids, but I felt like I was filled to the gills with Gatorade.  After skipping one, I was able to resume drinking at all the others.

At 10 miles, I entered Wellesley.  Now it was starting to get sunny.  That was the last thing anyone expected.  Running through Wellesley, my pace finally stabilized.  For the next five miles, I averaged roughly 8:15.  By now I knew I wouldn’t run a qualifying time for next year, but I was going to do the best I could.

At 20K, I reached Wellesley College.  It’s a women’s college right along the marathon route, and for decades, the students have come out to cheer the runners.  They hold up signs and cheer as only college students can.  They call it the Wellesley Scream Tunnel.  For the next several minutes, I’m distracted from my fatigue.

As I got past the Wellesley Scream Tunnel, I was almost to the halfway point.  I got there in 1:42:17.  I was still on pace to break 3:35, but that’s misleading.  I had slowed down since the early miles and I expected to slow down more in the second half.  Since the beginning of the race, I felt like I was running too fast.  The second half is more difficult, and now it was a bright sunny day.  The heat was becoming a factor, with the temperature climbing into the low 70s.  I fully expected to slow substantially in the second half.

I realized at this point I could phone it in and still break four hours.  I only needed to average 10 minutes per mile in the second half.  I pressed on at the same pace.  This is Boston.  I wasn’t going to phone it in.

The next major landmark was the Charles River, which comes just before 16 miles.  From the 15 mile mark to the river, it’s sharply downhill.  As I neared the river, I felt some of the Gatorade coming back up my esophagus.  I was able swallow it down again.  I don’t know why I felt so full.  Maybe my fanny pack was too tight around my waist.

As I crossed the river, I entered Newton.  Then the character of the race changed.  Up until now, the course had a gentle downhill trend.  Through Newton, the trend is slightly uphill.  There are four noticeably hills in Newton.  None of them are particularly large, but this is where it can be difficult to sustain the same pace.

I noticed some tension in my left Achilles tendon.  That was from all the downhill running.  Fortunately, it didn’t bother me once I started running uphill.

The first hill in Newton is gradual, but it’s about three quarters of a mile long.  Usually, I pick up my effort here in hopes of maintaining my pace.  This year, I was more concerned about overheating.  All the way through Newton, I tried to find a pace that wouldn’t make me overheat.

After crossing a bridge over the freeway, I noticed more crowd noise.  There’s a T station nearby, so this is a spot that’s easy to reach for spectators traveling from Boston by subway.

After finishing the first hill, I reached the 17 mile mark.  That mile took 8:35.  It was my slowest mile so far, but it was still faster than I expected.  I recovered from the hill on a gradual downhill section.  After half a mile, I made the right turn at the Newton Fire Station.  This was the beginning of the second hill.

The second hill, known locally as Braeburn Hill, is steeper, but not as long.  I maintained a consistent effort and didn’t worry about slowing down.  I was pleasantly surprised to feel a nice cool cross breeze.  Then I realized why I wasn’t noticing any wind before.  For most of the race, it was at our backs, where it doesn’t provide much cooling effect.  Going up this hill, the breeze helped, but the road eventually bends to the left, and I stopped feeling the breeze.

After the second hill, there’s another nice downhill section, where I was able to recover again.  Now I started watching for the clocks.  There are a few friends I can count on seeing in Newton every year, because they always volunteer here.

At 18 miles, I looked at my watch, but I couldn’t remember my previous split.  I’m not sure what my time was for that mile, but it doesn’t matter too much.  On this section of the course, I was more focused on how I felt.  I didn’t want to work too hard and overheat.

At 30K, I saw my friend David.  I moved to the side of the road, so I could give him a double high five.  A few minutes later, next to the 19 mile clock, I saw Alison and Elizabeth.  I gave them each a high five.  I forgot to read my watch.

The third hill is less memorable.  The start of the hill doesn’t coincide with any landmarks that I can remember.  It’s also tough to know when you’re done with it.  There isn’t a well-defined crest.  It just seems to level off.

At 20 miles, I finally checked my time.  I was pleased with my pace through the first three hills.  I could break 3:45 just by running 10 minute miles the rest of the way.

I couldn’t stomach any more Gatorade.  For the rest of the race, I drank water instead.  I needed fluids, but at this point drinking more sugar wouldn’t help.

The fourth hill in Newton is the famous Heartbreak Hill.  It would probably surprise most people to know that it’s only a 90 foot rise.  It only seems bigger because of where it is on the course.  As I started up the hill, I was handling it well, but halfway up the hill, I could feel myself slowing down.  For the first time in the race, I saw several people walking.  I continued running, but my legs got really heavy by the time I reached the top.

After cresting the hill, it took a few minutes for my legs to recover.  Then I saw Boston College ahead of me.  At 21 miles, I checked my watch again.  That mile took 9:10, but now I was beginning a nice downhill stretch.

Running downhill, I felt my Achilles tendon again.  That forced me to hold back a little.  The crowds near Boston College were loud – maybe even louder than Wellesley.

Just past 22 miles, I entered Boston for the first time.  Then I made the left turn at Cleveland Circle and entered Brookline again.  By the time I reached 23 miles, I realized I would easily break 3:43.  Despite my difficulties, this was going to be my second fastest race of the year.  I just needed to maintain my effort.

Midway through the next mile, I got my first view of the large Citgo sign near Fenway Park.  It was still a mile and a half away, but I was running directly toward it.  When I got there, I would have one mile to go.

There’s a tough little uphill stretch just before 40K.  I was struggling now, but that’s how it always is.  I reached 40K and looked for the 25 mile sign.  Then it was just a short distance to the Citgo sign and the one mile to go sign painted on the street.  I realized I would break 3:41, but 3:40 still seemed out of reach.

With one kilometer to go, I took the ramp onto Commonwealth Avenue.  It’s downhill going under a bridge, but uphill on the other side.  That little rise took a lot out of me, but now I was in Boston again.  After one more block, I made the right turn onto Hereford.  It was slightly uphill for three short blocks, but I fought to pick up my pace.

As I made the final turn onto Boylston, I wanted to put on a finishing kick, but I didn’t feel like I had any gas left in the tank.  Then I saw my time at the 26 mile mark and realized I was going to break 3:40.  That spurred me on to give it all I had.

When I was still about a minute from the finish line, I got short of breath.  I couldn’t sustain the pace, but I did what I could.  I crossed the finish line in 3:39:20.  That’s not a Boston qualifying time, but it’s my second best time this year by a wide margin.  I ran positive splits by five minutes, but I was expecting to be much slower.

The finish area stretches all the way to Boston Common.  In the first block, it’s mostly medical personnel, looking for runners in distress.  I kept walking forward at the best pace I could manage.  Near the end of the block, I saw someone I recognized.  It was Yuki Kawauchi, last year’s winner.  I went over to shake his hand.  I really regretted not having my phone with me.  I missed an opportunity to get a photo with Yuki.

In the next block, I got a bottle of water, my finisher medal, and a heat shield.  It was breezy in the finish area, and at first the heat shield seemed like a good idea.  Within minutes, however, it was making me sweat.

The finisher medal always features the logo of the Boston Athletic Association, which has sponsored this race since 1897.  There are larger medals and fancier medals, but this one is still my favorite.

The next block had post-race food.  I started eating a protein bar and washing it down with water.  Chewing made me get short of breath again.  I carried the rest of the post-race food with me as I continued walking.  After one more block, I reached Arlington Station.  By now, my quads were already getting stiff.  I had to use the hand rail as I walked down the steps into the subway station.

There were so many people in the station that it took time to get through the turnstiles.  When a train came, it was standing room only, but some of the people sitting got up to let runners sit down.  I was grateful.  I don’t think my legs could have kept me stable as the train started and stopped.  Moments after sitting down, my feet cramped up.  Yup, I was dehydrated.

When I left the station near my hotel, it was raining.  I was hot, so the rain felt good, but the wind was picking up, and it seemed like the temperature had dropped 15 degrees.  Would runners still on the course get cold now?

After getting back to the Hilton, I took a hot bath to loosen up my legs.  When I tried to dry off, I got so short of breath I had to sit down.  I had to rest for a few minutes before I could finish drying off and get dressed.  I finished the race feeling like I was under control, but I almost pushed it too far.

I still had a bottle of water and a protein drink from my race packet.  I drank them both.  Then I felt better.  I ate one of the rolls from my post-race food bag, but didn’t have room to eat anything else.  I saved the rest for breakfast.

A few hours later, my appetite returned and I went out for dinner.  I think it was good to get out and do some walking.

By Tuesday morning, the soreness in my legs had improved, but I was still working on getting rehydrated.

I’ll keep working on getting a better qualifying time.  I want to be back next year.  I don’t know what the weather will be.  It could be anything.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  3:39:20
Average Pace:  8:22
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  371
Unicorns:  9
World Marathon Majors:  18