Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Race Report: 2024 Boston Marathon

On April 15, I ran the Boston Marathon.  This was my 13th Boston Marathon, including the last 12.

My last post was about the B.A.A. 5K race, which was Saturday morning.  This post picks up where that one left off.

Saturday, April 13

I always know dozens of friends who are also doing the Boston Marathon.  Marathon weekend isn’t just about the race.  It’s also an opportunity to get together with people who are in the same running clubs.

On Saturday afternoon, I always get together with a group called Boston Squeakers.  To understand what squeakers are, you need to know something about the registration process for the Boston Marathon.

Prior to 2011, registration opened in September, and it remained open until the race filled.  That usually took months.  If you had a qualifying time, you didn’t need to be in a rush to register.  Getting in was pretty much automatic.

That all changed in 2011.  When registration opened for the 2012 race, it filled the same morning.  There were people with qualifying times who waited until after work to register, only to find out that the registration was already closed.

After that, the B.A.A. changed their registration process.  Instead of registration being first-come-first-served, they kept registration open for a certain number of days.  When the registration period was over, they would see if they had more applicants than they could accept.  If they did, they would rank the runners according to the margin by which the beat the qualifying standard for their age group.  Then the B.A.A. would announce a cutoff time.  All runners who beat the cutoff time would get in.  Those who didn’t were rejected.  For example, a runner who qualified with three minutes to spare might get in, while a runner who qualified with 2:59 to spare might not.

A squeaker is someone who qualified for Boston, but not by a wide margin.  The Boston Squeakers were formed by runners who either missed the cut or just barely got in.  Many of the runners who missed the cut in one year trained that much harder, so they could make the cut the next year.

I joined this group in 2016.  Before that, I always qualified by a wide margin.  In 2016, I started the year out of shape after taking time off to recover from injuries.  One month before registration started, I still didn’t have a qualifying time, and I didn’t know if I would get one.

I can still remember going to the starting line of a race and not knowing how fast I needed to run.  The qualifying standard for my age group was 3:40, but I didn’t know what the cut-off time would be.  Could I get in with a time of 3:38?  What about 3:37?  I just didn’t know.  Late in the race, I knew I would beat 3:40, but I still had to fight for every possible second, not knowing if that extra second would matter.

I registered for the race, but I had to wait for the registration period to end.  Then I had to wait for a few more days before the B.A.A. announced the cut-off.  I got in.

I’ve never missed the cut, and I no longer have to worry about it.  Now, I’ve finished the race in enough consecutive years that I can register early, so I no longer have to worry about cut-off times.  In spite of that, I still identify with this group.  Anyone who has ever waited nervously to find out of they made the cut knows what it’s like to be a squeaker. 

The Boston Squeakers group met at Time Out Market in the afternoon.  Afterwards, a few of us had dinner at a nearby pizzeria.

Sunday, April 14

Sunday was the only day I didn’t have to get up early.  I slept in and then walked into the North End to have breakfast at North Street Grille, which is one of Boston’s best brunch spots.  This is their banana bourbon French toast.

I didn’t need to be anywhere until noon, so I did a workout at the hotel before going out again.

Sunday is the day that various running clubs meet at the finish line for group photos.  The biggest group is usually Marathon Maniacs, which always meets at the finish line at noon.

I know several of the runners in this club, so the group picture is one-stop shopping for seeing friends who are also in Boston for the race.  I had a light lunch with one of those friends before returning to the finish line for a group picture with the Boston Squeakers.

Then I went to Tiem Out Market again.  This time, it was for a happy hour gathering with the 50sub4 Marathon Club.  These runners have a shared goal of running marathons in all 50 states, with times under four hours.

For dinner, I went to Night Shift Brewing.  Last year, I discovered that this brewery also has excellent Detroit-style pizza.

Monday, April 15

Monday was race day.  Most people get to the start in Hopkinton by taking a bus from Boston Common.  They use hundreds of school buses to transport runners to the Athletes’ Village in Hopkinton, which is on the grounds of the high school and middle school.

Waiting in the Athletes’ Village can be fun if you’re with a group of friends and the weather is nice.  It can be miserable is it’s cold and rainy, as it was in 2018.

Some running clubs charter motor coaches to take them to Hopkinton.  The advantage of going in a motor coach is that you can stay on the bus until it’s time to walk to the start corrals.  There’s a parking area for these buses at an elementary school that’s just a few blocks away from Athletes’ Village.  The disadvantage is that you have to get up early, regardless of which wave you’re in.  My wave didn’t start until 10:50, but I had to be on the bus by 6:45.

The bus ride to Hopkinton took about an hour.  After that, I was waiting on the bus for another two hours before it was time to start walking to the start corrals.  I had to make a few bathroom stops, but there was a bathroom on the bus.  We also had lots of port-o-potties outside the school.  In the Athletes’ Village, there are long lines for the port-o-potties.  We didn’t have to wait in line at all.

About an hour before it was time for my wave to start, I walked over to the Athletes’ Village.  From there, it’s about a mile to the start corrals.  On the way, I made one last bathroom stop at CVS, where they have dozens of port-o-potties set up around the parking lot.  Then I walked up the hill to my corral.

The weather was on the warm side.  When we arrived in Hopkinton, the temperature was still in the 40s.  By the time the race started, the temperature was in the upper 50s.  The forecast high was in the upper 60s, but it may have reached 70.  I was expecting partly cloudy skies, but it turned out to be mostly sunny.  Finally, we had a tailwind for most of the race.  Usually that’s a good thing.  When it’s warm, it can be bad, because the breeze doesn’t cool you down when it’s blowing in the same direction that you’re running.

For the last 10 years, they haven’t had a gear check in Hopkinton.  If you want warm clothes at the finish line, you can check a bag near Boston Common before boarding a bus to the start.  If you want extra layers in the start area, they have to be clothes you’re willing to leave behind.  There are volunteers with donation bags in the Athletes’ Village and along the way from there to the start corrals.  I wore a pair of wind pants that Deb picked up at a garage sale and a disposable jacket that I got at the finish of another race.  I dropped them in the donation bags on my way to the corrals.

I had two goals for this race.  My first goal was to break 3:50, which is the qualifying standard for my age group.  My second goal was to run negative splits (i.e. run faster in the second half).  Those are both things that I’ve done in this race, but I’ve never done both of them in the same year.  Running negative splits is difficult on this course, because the first half is the easier half of the course.

There are four waves, and each wave has eight corrals.  I was hoping my qualifying time would get me into the second wave.  Instead, it got me into the first corral of the third wave.  The only way you can get into the first corral of any wave is to be assigned to that corral.  You can always move back to a later corral, and you can also move back into a later wave.  The one exception is that you can’t move into the first corral of any wave if you weren’t assigned to it.

I was joking with a few friends that I had the opportunity to do something stupid.  I could line up right at the front and then race down the hill with nobody in front of me.  That would be fun, but it wouldn’t be smart.

I moved to the front of my corral just long enough to take a picture of the starting line, which was currently blocked my several race volunteers.  Then I moved back to somewhere in the middle of the corral.  I wanted to have enough runners in front of me that I wouldn’t be able to run any faster than the wall of runners in front of me.

I knew what pace I needed to break 3:50.  My plan was to run as close to that pace as possible for the first half of the race.  The first two miles are sharply downhill, so I knew those miles might be a little fast, even if I wasn’t trying to go fast.

As we started running, the runners in front of me initially held me back.  Before long, everyone in front of me got up to speed, and I could run at my own pace.  I tried to start at about the same pace I usually start, but the first mile is sharply downhill, and it’s hard to gauge how fast you’re running when you’re running downhill.

Although the first mile is mostly downhill, there’s a short uphill section after about one kilometer.  Until then, I was keeping up with the runners in front of me.  On the uphill part, I allowed myself to drift back a bit.  I didn’t want to work too hard.  When the road turned downhill again, I started keeping pace again.

At the end of the first mile, I read my time.  I was surprised to see that I was about 30 seconds slower than my target pace.  That didn’t seem possible.  I wasn’t trying to go out fast, but this mile is always fast.

The people in my corral all had qualifying times in the 3:20s.  I didn’t expect to keep up with them, yet I was.  How could everyone be starting so slow?

As I started the second mile, I picked up my effort.  This mile is also sharply downhill, and I was trying to use the hill to speed up.  This mile also has a brief uphill section.  This time, I worked to keep up my pace going uphill.

Before that mile was over, I was already getting hot and sweaty.  I don’t usually get hot and sweaty this early in a race unless it’s extremely hot and humid.  I was also getting tired.  My effort didn’t seem like it would be sustainable for much longer.  It certainly wouldn’t be sustainable for the whole race.

At 1.9 miles, I saw the banner indicating we were entering Ashland.  Ashland is the second of the eight communities that we would run through.  Farther ahead, I could see the 2-mile sign.

My time for the second mile was much faster than the first mile, but I was still a few seconds slower than my target pace.  How was that possible?  These were downhill miles, and I was already working hard trying to get up to pace.  What would happen when the course leveled out?

I began to think that I was just having a really bad day.  Somehow, I just didn’t have it today.  The third mile is also downhill, but it’s more gradual than the first two miles.  I couldn’t speed up in this mile.  I did what I could, but I couldn’t sustain the same effort that I put into the second mile.

I reached an aid station and grabbed a cup of Gatorade from one of the volunteers.  There were so many runners moving to and from the tables that it was hard to avoid bumping into any of them.  I held the cup carefully and moved out to the middle of the road before starting to drink it.  I was proud of myself for doing that without spilling.  I drank it without slowing down.

I ran mile three in 8:02.  That was slower than mile two.  That was disappointing, but not surprising, since I wasn’t pushing as hard, and the third mile doesn’t descend as much as the first two.

An 8:02 pace is very close to 8:00, and it suddenly dawned on me that that’s the pace you need for a 3:30 marathon.  I was trying for a 3:50 marathon, so I shouldn’t be going that fast.  My target pace was 8:45, but I somehow got mixed up and thought my target pace was 7:45.  For three miles, I thought I was going too slow, but I was actually running way too fast.

Everything made sense now.  I understood why I was seemingly unable to hit my target pace.  I understood why it felt so tiring.  I understood why I was keeping up with the other runners around me, even though they should’ve been running away from me.

As I began the fourth mile, I slowed way down.  I let all the other runners go by me.  I needed to slow down to 8:45 mile per, or perhaps even a little slower.  I wasn’t sure if it was too late to salvage my race.  I was worried that those first three miles had taken too much out of me, and I would never recover from them.

I reached another aid station, but this time I slowed to a walk as I drank my Gatorade.  There was no reason to rush.  A few seconds of walking also helped me to settle down.

My time for mile four was 8:34.  That was still a little fast, but it was much more reasonable.  As I started the next mile, I eased up a little more.

I was entering Framingham now.  The course was leveling out, and there were even a few spots that were slightly uphill.  The moment I reached a slightly uphill section, my legs felt heavy.  I was only in the fifth mile, but I already had some soreness in my quads.  If they felt that way now, how would they feel later when I reached the hills of Newton?

In mile five, I slowed to 9:11.  That was too slow.  I could afford to give some time back, but I didn’t want to give it back all at once.  I was forced to pick up my effort a little.

I knew several people who were either volunteering or spectating at different spots on the course.  I was hoping to see a friend volunteering at five miles, but I wasn’t able to spot her.  The volunteers all wore the same yellow and blue jackets, so it was hard to recognize someone if you didn’t see their face.

In the next mile, I picked up my pace to 8:56.  I followed that by two 8:54 miles and an 8:52 mile.  All of these miles were a little bit slow, but that’s what I needed to do at this point.  The early miles took a toll on me, and even this pace felt somewhat tiring.

I realized by now that the conditions were hotter than I was expecting.  It was sunny, and I never felt a breeze.  I drank Gatorade at every aid station, knowing it was important to take in enough fluids.  It seemed like I was passing aid stations every few minutes.  In fact, they were spaced a mile apart.

At nine miles, I entered Natick.  There was a lake on my right, and the wind briefly shifted.  It was blowing across the lake, and the breeze felt nice and cool.  I really needed that at this point in the race.  Cool breezes like this were fleeting.

The first half of the course has a downhill trend, but the section going through Natick was an exception.  The next few miles were slightly uphill.  I reminded myself that I shouldn’t be too disappointed if a slowed down a little here.

I actually sped up a little in mile 10, nailing my target pace for the first time.  I slowed down almost to nine minutes in mile 11, but I was back on target in mile 12.  Now I was entering Wellesley, which was the fifth different town along the route.

One of the highlights of the course is the “Wellesley scream tunnel,” which begins at 20K.  The students of Wellesley College all line up behind barriers on the right side of the road.  I moved to the right, so I was running right in front of them.  Their screaming was almost overwhelming, but it pumped me up.  I felt like I was speeding up a little in that mile.

After Wellesley College, I reached the city center.  I was almost to the 13-mile sign when I suddenly tripped and fell.  I caught my foot on the cover for a gas line.  It was the second time this year that I’ve hit the pavement during a race.

It wasn’t a painful landing.  I didn’t seem to have any scrapes.  Physically, I was unhurt, but it took the wind out of my sails.  I got up quickly, but I wasn’t able to run as fast as before.  At first, I wondered if I would be slow the rest of the way.  By the time I reached the 13-mile sign, I was up to speed and keeping up with the runners around me.

Mile 13 was a little slow, but that was attributable to the time I lost because of my fall.  I was already looking ahead.  I could see the halfway point, and I wondered what my time for the first half would be.

My halfway split was 1:54:14.  That’s about where I wanted to be, but the way I got there was messed up.  I was on pace for a Boston qualifier, but I didn’t have any room to slow down.  One of my goals was to speed up in the second half.  That seemed improbable after the way I started.  The second half is the tougher half of the course, and I was already way more tired than I should be at this point.  My quads felt heavy every time I ran uphill.

The next few miles are downhill, and I was able to pick up my pace without too much effort.  My times for miles 14 and 15 were both in the 8:30s.  Mile 16 includes a half mile stretch that’s sharply downhill as we descended toward the Charles River.  In that mile, I sped up to 8:13.

As I crossed the river, I entered the town of Newton.  The next five miles are the most difficult section of the course.  There are four hills on this section of the course.  They’re not huge, but I would have to work harder just to run the same pace.

The first hill is long, but it’s also gradual.  I picked up my effort enough to keep up with the runners around me.  A few runners were walking.  I ignored them and focused on keeping up with the runners who weren’t slowing down.

That hill takes up most of the 17th mile.  Then there’s a brief downhill section, which gave me a chance to recover.  When I finished that mile, I was pleased to see that my pace was right on target.

The next mile starts out flat, but that’s the calm before the storm.  At 17.5 miles, we make a right turn in front of the fire station and begin climbing the second hill.

Several times during the race, I heard music.  Usually, it was at an aid station.  I heard lots of songs that I recognized, but none resonated with me as much as the song they were blasting from the sound system at the fire station.  It was a song by Boston, which is one of my favorite groups.  The song was “Don’t Look Back,” and that song framed my attitude for the rest of the race.  I had messed up in the early miles, but I couldn’t look back.  I had to forget that and focus on what I needed to do in the remaining miles.

The second hill isn’t as long as the first one, but it’s steeper.  It’s the first hill on the course that really feel like a hill.

Last year, I attacked this hill.  This year, I had to be more patient.  I focused on keeping up with the runners around me, ignoring anyone who was walking or slowing down.  For the first third of the hill, I found that to be manageable.  By the middle of the hill, I was still keeping up with everyone else, but only because everyone was slowing down.  By the top of the hill, I was no longer keeping up, but I did my best to limit the damage.

As the road turned downhill again, I initially used the downhill to recovery.  Then I started to pick up my pace.  When I reached the 18 mile mark, I was pleased to see that I had hit my target pace again.  Two hills down and two to go.

Just past 18, there was an aid station.  My friend Eliot was volunteering there.  I was able to spot him, because he was wearing his 50sub4 hat.

For most of the race, it was sunny, and I seriously felt hot.  As I ran through Newton, it started to get cloudy.  Having cloud cover make a huge difference.  I also started to feel a breeze.  We changed directions at the fire station, and for at least a mile I felt a crosswind.  That also made a difference.

Mile 19 is mostly downhill, and I really picked up the pace in that mile.  I ran it in 8:25.  Another friend had told me he’d be watching the race from somewhere near 19 miles.  I looked for him, but I wasn’t able to spot him.  The crowds were thick, and it was tough to spot someone if you didn’t know what they were wearing.

Looking ahead, I could see the next hill.  This one isn’t particularly steep or particularly long.  It’s the easiest of the four hills, but it still forced me to lift my effort.  I got through that mile in 8:41, which was slightly faster than my target pace.

At the 20-mile mark, I could see the beginning of the last hill.  This is the famous Heartbreak Hill.  It starts out gradual, but gets more tiring.  There are a couple of bends in the road, so you can’t see the whole hill from the bottom.

I did my best to keep up my pace, but I was starting to run out of gas before I reached the top.  I had to get halfway around the last bend before I saw a blue banner high above the road.  That was the top.

As soon as I crested the hill, I started to pick up my pace.  I momentarily forgot that the road kicks up again one more time.

After getting over that last little hill, I finally reached the beginning of a long downhill stretch.  Ahead of me, I could see the 21-mile sign and Boston College.  My time for mile 21 was 9:00.  I gave up 15 seconds, but that’s less than the time I gained in the previous mile.  I got through the hills of Newton without losing any time.  From here, it’s mostly downhill to the finish.

When you leave one town and enter another, there’s usually a large banner.  Theres isn’t any banner when you leave Newton to enter Boston.  That’s probably because you enter Boston more than once.  The next two miles through Boston were both downhill, and I used the hill to pick up my pace.  I ran mile 22 in 8:19 and mile 23 in 8:35.

By now I had made the turn at Cleveland Circle, and I was about to leave Boston to enter Brookline.  Here, the road leveled off, but it would eventually turned slightly downhill again.

When I tripped and fell earlier, I didn’t think I had any scrapes.  Now, I realized I had scraped the side of my right knee.  I had broken the skin.  I didn’t notice before, but now the salt from my sweat was making it sting.

Somewhere around 23 miles, I tripped again.  This time, I tripped on a patch of uneven pavement where a pothole had been patched.  I didn’t fall, but I had some awkward strides.  It was uncomfortable enough to take me out of my rhythm.  I slowed down, and I didn’t know it I would be able to get back into my pace again.  When the road turned downhill, I was able to use that to speed up again.

I had enjoyed the cloud cover for about five miles, but suddenly it got sunny again.  The last three miles were going to be hot, but I couldn’t back down now.  I somehow stayed on pace through Newton.  I wasn’t going to give up with three miles to go.

About halfway through the next mile, I looked up and saw the giant Citgo sign that’s across from Fenway Park.  It was still a mile and a half away, but it’s a major milestone.  When I got there, I would have exactly one mile to go.

My time for mile 24 was in the 8:30s.  That was encouraging.  It’s always tough to hang on in the last two miles, but I had done everything necessary to reach my goals.  I had to keep it going for two more miles.

I left Brookline to enter Boston for a second time.  Here, there was a banner.  Then, at 40K, we had to climb a ramp up to a bridge over the freeway.  This little hill is always tiring, but I pushed as hard as I could.  Then I reached the 25 sign.  I ran another mile in the 8:30s.

When I got to the aid station just past 25, I started looking for my friend Mary.  I ran past several tables, but I didn’t see her.  Then I saw a shiny unicorn horn.  She had told me she would be wearing that, but I forgot until I saw it.  I was already going by her, but I yelled and waved.

Underneath the Citgo sign, there’s a line in the road saying one mile to go.  Looking ahead, I could see a bridge painted blue with the words, “Boston Strong.”  I knew from that bridge, it was one kilometer to go.  That bridge was also the turnaround point of the 5K race.  From that point on, I would be repeating a section of the course that I ran as part of the 5K race on Saturday.

The road dipped down as we went under the Massachusetts Avenue bridge.  I picked up speed going downhill, but I had to go back uphill on the other side.  I thought back to running this same section during the 5K on Saturday.  I wasn’t going nearly as fast today, and I didn’t have to go as far to get to the finish.  I fought hard to keep up with the runners around me.  After that small rise, I saw the runners ahead of me making the turn onto Hereford.

Hereford is slightly uphill, but it’s only two short blocks.  Then I made the final turn onto Boylston Street.  I could see the finish line in the distance.

When I finished mile 26, I saw that I had managed to speed up in that mile.  I didn’t notice the total elapsed time on my watch, but I saw a digital clock next to the 26 sign.  It read 3:49:12.  By now, they had adjusted the clocks to show the elapsed time since the start of wave three.  This was the time since the gun went off.  I wasn’t right at the starting line, but I was in the first corral, so it didn’t take me long to cross the starting line.  Seeing that time really scared me.  It would take well over a minute to run the last two tenths of a mile.  I wished I had looked at my watch.  I fought for every second as I ran toward the finish line.

I finished the race in 3:47:41.  It wasn’t close after all.  Despite messing up early, I reached both of my goals.  I ran a Boston qualifying time, and I was faster in the second half.  I honestly don’t know how I did that.

I earned another finisher medal with the classic unicorn logo of the Boston Athletics Association.  I have 17 of these now, if you include three from the B.A.A. 5K and one from the 2020 virtual marathon.

I made my way through the finish line as quickly as I could.  I paused just long enough to get a heat shield that I didn’t really need and a snack bag with enough food for two meals.  Then I made my way to the closest T station.

The station was crowded.  Lots of people were waiting for the next northbound train, but there were also lots of people getting off the train.  At first, I had to stand, but then another passenger offered me his seat.  I’m sure I looked like a wreck.

After getting cleaned up at my hotel, I went over to the Marriott, where I visited with some of the other runners in the Boston Squeakers group.  One of the runners staying there overheated during the race and needed medical attention.  I felt pretty bad about that.  Earlier in the day, I had been talking to her on the bus.  She was concerned about the hot conditions.  I didn’t think it would be that bad.  I told her to just run her race and not worry about the heat.  In retrospect, I gave her bad advice.  I may have encouraged her to overdo it on a hot day, when she was right to be concerned.

By the time I got back to my hotel, it was getting late.  I had been up since 4:30, and I was about to turn into a pumpkin.  To save time, I had dinner at the restaurant attached to the hotel.  Then I crashed.

Tuesday, April 16

My flight home wasn’t until 11:30 AM, so I didn’t have to get up as early.  I still had leftover food, so I ate that for breakfast.  I had more water than I could drink, but I finished all my Gatorade.

When I got to the airport, I saw lots of other people wearing Boston Marathon gear.  It seemed like half the people in the airport had run the marathon.  We all gave each other looks of recognition.  We all silently congratulated each other.  For many, it was their first Boston Marathon, and it was a big accomplishment.  It wasn’t my first, but it was still a big accomplishment.  For the first time in 13 tries I ran a Boston qualifying time and also ran negative splits.  I did that in spite of shooting myself in the foot with a crazy fast start.

Race statistics:
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  3:47:41
Average Pace:  8:42
First Half:  1:54:14
Second Half:  1:53:27
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  511
Boston Qualifiers:  164
World Marathon Majors:  25 (13 Boston, 5 Chicago, 4 NYC, 1 London, 1 Tokyo, 1 Berlin)

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Race Report: 2024 B.A.A. 5K

It’s the weekend of the Boston Marathon.  For the third straight year, I flew to Boston on Friday, so I could do the B.A.A. 5K race Saturday morning.

It’s getting harder and harder to find hotels anywhere near Boylston Street, where the marathon finishes.  It’s not just that the close hotels are expensive.  Most of them are fully booked a year in advance.  For the second straight year, I’m staying someplace new.  It’s another hotel in the downtown area.  It’s within walking distance of a station on the blue line, so I could get there from the airport without having to change trains.  It’s also within walking distance of a green line station, so I can get to Boylston Street without changing trains.

My race bib for the 5K race was mailed to me, but I still needed to pick up my race packet for the marathon.  After checking into my room and dropping off my luggage, I went to the Hynes Convention Center to pick up my race packet.

On my way to the convention center, I saw this sculpture in the lobby of a Bank of America branch that’s near the marathon finish line.  Bank of America recently replaced John Hancock as the principal sponsor of the marathon.

After picking up my race packet for the marathon, I visited several of the booths.  I didn’t buy anything, but I always stop at the Marathon Tours and Samuel Adams booths.  I also stopped by the Point32Health booth, where they were giving sets of bib clips to runners who were over 60.

Even though I’ve done the marathon a dozen times, I was still surprised how heavy the race packet was.  It included a bottle of water, a large bottle of Gatorade, a protein drink, a race program, and several other product samples.  After the expo, I went straight back to the hotel, to drop it off.

I took some time to organize my clothes for the 5K race.  Then I went to a nearby cafe to pick up something for my breakfast.  Finally, I had dinner at a pizzeria near my hotel.

The start area for the 5K race was in Boston Common, which was able a mile from my hotel.  I could’ve walked there almost as fast as I could get there on the subway.  I took the subway, so I wouldn’t have to spend as much time outdoors before the race.

The race didn’t start until 8:00 AM, but they start loading the corrals at 7:30.  I waited until 7:00 before leaving my hotel.

The temperature was in the upper 40s, but I was expecting a cold breeze.  I wore tights to keep my legs warm, and I also wore a Tyvek jacket until the race started.  They had a gear check, so I could’ve worn extra layers on my way to the start, but I decided not to bother.  The gear check would’ve taken extra time both before and after the race.

You could pick up your T-shirt either before or after the race.  Some people pick it up before and put the T-shirt in their gear bag.  Since I wasn’t checking a bag, I waited until afterward.

Last year, I ran this race without doing any specific training for it.  I had race-walked a few 5K races, but it was my first time running 5K in about 20 years.  Since then, I’ve run two other 5K races.  I expected to be faster than I was last April, but I didn’t know how I would compare to my fastest 5K race last summer.  I wasn’t doing any fast-pace training during the winter months.

This is a large race.  There are about 10,000 runners, divided into two waves.  Figuring out where to line up is always a guess.  When I entered the start corral, I saw a sign indicating 9:00 pace, so I moved farther forward.  I expected my starting pace to be between 7:00 and 8:00, but I never saw signs for those paces.  Before I knew it, I was in the front of the corral for non-elite athletes.

When they moved us from the corral toward the actual start line on Charles Street, I walked slowly, while most of the other runners moved as quickly as they could.  Now I was farther back, and I wondered if I was too far back.

After the elite runners started, we moved forward again.  Now I went back to thinking I might be too far forward.

As we started running, there was a bit of congestion.  I was running fast at first, but came almost to a stop before having room to speed up again.  It didn’t take long, however, before I found enough room to run.  I hadn’t even made the first turn onto Boylston Street before I was already out of breath.

We ran two blocks along Boylston before turning again onto Arlington.  On Boylston, I was trying to find my pace, while also watching out for potholes.  By the time I turned onto Arlington, I was already slowing a bit from my initial pace.  It was a constant negotiation with myself.  I could move my legs faster, but I didn’t have the aerobic capacity to keep up that pace.

After two blocks on Arlington, we made a left turn onto Commonwealth.  By now, I had settled into what I hoped was the right pace.  I focused on keeping up with the runners around me until I saw my time for the first mile.

When I got my first split, I was disappointed.  I ran the first mile in 7:37.  That’s faster than I ran the same mile a year ago, but it wasn’t as fast as a 5K race than I ran last summer.

I couldn’t see myself picking up the pace.  The pace I was going already felt unsustainable.  I had been out of breath since early in the race, and that wouldn’t get better.  This is why I don’t like running 5K races.  They’re way too intense.

In the second mile, I kept up with the runners around me.  We eventually went down a slight ramp to go under a bridge.  I accelerated going downhill, but struggled with the pace coming back uphill on the other side of the bridge.

Next, we made a U-turn around the median to reach east-bound lanes.  We were now following the last kilometer of the marathon route.

Again, I accelerated going under the bridge.  Again, I struggled with the pace coming back uphill.  Ahead of me, I could see runners turning onto Hereford.

It’s two short blocks on Hereford before the turn back onto Boylston Street.  The two mile mark was right at that corner.  My second mile was one second faster than the first mile.  I expected it to be slower.  I was no longer keeping up with the runners around me.

When you turn onto Boylston Street, you can see the marathon finish line in the distance.  I knew that wasn’t our finish line.  I knew I would need to run another 7/10 of a mile after crossing that line.  I nevertheless ran hard toward the marathon finish line.

It occurred to me that this was probably the fastest I’ve run on Boylston Street.  I’m never this fast at the end of the marathon.  That thought propelled me.

After passing the marathon finish line, it got more difficult to maintain my pace.  I started to feel the wind for the first time.  It must’ve been a tailwind in the first half of the race.  Now it was a headwind.

It was two and a half blocks to Arlington.  That wasn’t so bad.  After that, it was another two blocks to get back to Charles Street.  Those two blocks seemed like forever.

On the other side of the street, I could see runners from the second wave who were going the other direction.  I was almost done, but they were just getting started.  I felt bad for them.  I was so glad to be done with those miles.

After making the turn onto Charles, I saw the three mile sign.  I expected to be disappointed with my time for that mile.  I was shocked to see that I sped up to 7:17 in the third mile.  That gave me the incentive to keep running hard to the finish line.

I finished in 23:19.  My best time last year was 22:46, so I was a little disappointed that I’m not as fast now.  On the plus side, my time was more than a minute faster than my time from this same race a year ago.

The finisher medal is pretty nice for a 5K race.  It has designs on both sides, and it features the B.A.A. logo, just like the marathon.

After getting my medal, I moved quickly through the finish area to get my food bag and my T-shirt.

After getting back to the hotel, I ate most of my post-race food, but I couldn’t eat it all.  They give you as much food after the 5K race as they do after the marathon.  What I didn’t eat today, I can save for my pre-race breakfast on Monday.

Race statistics:
Distance:  5 kilometers
Time:  23:19
Average pace:  4:40 per kilometer (7:31 per mile)

Monday, April 1, 2024

2024 First Quarter Review

The book, “Meb for Mortals” has a chapter on goal setting.  Shortly after reading that, I met Meb and told him how much I liked it.  He told me the most important thing is periodically review your progress.

I post a set of goals at the beginning of each year.  At the end of the year, I review how I did.  With Meb’s advice in mind, this year I’m also going to review my progress every three months.  Now that the first three months of 2024 are over, here’s how I’m doing on each of my goals.

Run 3,000 Miles in 2024

To reach my goal of running 3,000 miles, I need to average 250 miles per month.  After three months, I should have 750 miles to be on schedule.  I ran 270 miles in January, 273 miles in February, and 300 miles in March.  All three of those are personal bests.  It helped a lot that we’ve had a mild winter.  For most of February there wasn’t any snow or ice on the streets.

I’m already 93 miles ahead of schedule, and the winter months are behind me.  My mileage typically peaks during the summer months, so only an injury would prevent me from reaching this goal.

Run at Least 100 Miles in the FANS 24-Hour Run

This race doesn’t take place until June, but I’ve been training for it since September.  At this point in my training, the most important thing I can do is build a good mileage base.  I started building my mileage last summer.  I ran more miles in the first three months of the year than ever before.

In the race, I won’t just be running.  I’ll also be walking.  In fact, I expect to walk about a third of the race, so it’s important to be able to walk at a brisk pace.  With that in mind, I’ve started to add race-walking to my training.  It’s not enough to just have good fitness.  Walking efficiently takes practice.  In January, I started getting on the treadmill as many as three times a week to work on my race-walking technique.  So far, I’ve only been doing short fast workouts.  In the next two months, I’ll start doing longer walks.

Twenty-six years ago, when I was training for my first 24-hour race, a more experienced runner gave me some good advice.  He told me to do a few 6-hour training runs and use them to rehearse everything I’m going to do on race day.  Over the years, runs like this have helped me learn what I can eat and drink during a race without having GI distress.  I still find these run useful to practice pacing strategies, so I can go into a race with a realistic plan.  If your pace doesn’t feel easy after six hours, it’s not going to be sustainable for 24 hours.

Already this year, I’ve done a 6-hour run/walk workout to experiment with pacing.  I’ll probably do two or three more of these before the race.

Run My 100th Minnesota Marathon

To reach this goal, I need to run at least five Minnesota marathons (or ultras) in 2024.  There aren’t a lot of Minnesota races during the winter months, so I haven’t made any progress on this goal.  That’s to be expected.  I’ve registered for seven Minnesota races, and I may do as many as nine.  The earliest of these races is in June.  This goal is deferred until then.

Run Marathons in 50 Countries

To reach this goal, I need to run marathons in four new countries this year.  That’s an average of one every three months.  In March, I ran a marathon in South Korea, so I’m one fourth of the way to my goal.  I’m right on schedule.

When I posted this goal, I had three other international races scheduled, but only two of them were in new countries.  I was hoping to find one more, but I didn’t have much room in my schedule.  I needed to find a race in a new country that I could do in December.  Since then, I’ve picked out a race, and I’ve booked my travel.  I now have a plan for getting to 50 countries this year.

Run Outdoors Whenever Possible

I’ve made it through the first three months of the year without doing any running on a treadmill or on an indoor track.

January was challenging because of a week of subzero windchills.  There were a couple days that week that the temperature never got about zero.  I still got outdoors to run almost every day.  The only days I missed were days I was traveling.  To cope with the cold temperatures I dressed in layers, and on the coldest days I didn’t have any exposed skin.

When it was below zero, I couldn’t be outside long enough to run my usual training distance.  Instead, I split my mileage between two shorter runs.  For seven straight days in January, I ran in the morning and again in the afternoon.

February was surprisingly mild.  We had a couple of snow days, but I had dry roads for most of the month.

March started out mild, but we had a major snowstorm late in the month.  A couple of days were challenging, but I was determined to continue doing all my running outdoors.  The first day of that storm, I got out early, before there was too much snow in the streets.  The next day, I waited until after the streets were plowed.

Now that I’ve made it through the winter, it should be much easier.

Qualify for the National Senior Games

To qualify for the National Senior Games, I need to compete at the state level.  I could travel to any state to qualify, but it’s most convenient for me to compete in the Minnesota Senior games. 

The Minnesota Senior Games won’t be held until August, but I’ve started training for them.  Qualifying in the road race events is easy.  I just need to compete.  I don’t need to place.  To qualify in the race-walk events, I need to place in the top four in my age group in at least one of the race-walk events.  I’ve started race-walking on a treadmill a few times a week.

Walking at a fast pace takes constant practice.  If you neglect your training, you quickly get rusty.  Since January, I’ve been getting on the treadmill regularly to walk three miles at a brisk pace.

At first, I was out of practice, so I couldn’t go very fast.  The first of those three-mile workouts took me 40:38 minutes.  That’s an average pace of 13:3e, which isn’t particularly fast for such a short distance.  Since then, I’ve been getting a little faster with each workout.  By the end of March, I was albe to do the same 3-mile walk in 32:54.  That’s an average pace of 10:58.

I’d like to shave another minute off my pace, but I have until August to train.  I pleased with the progress I’ve made so far.

Stay on Schedule to Finish a 5th Circuit of 50 States in 2025

Goals are supposed to be well-defined.  Admittedly, this one is kind of vague.  Ideally, I’d like to finish my fifth circuit this year, but I don’t know if I can schedule races in all the states I need.  If I can’t do it this year, I want to finish by the middle of next year.  That’s my minimum goal.

Reaching my minimum goal requires running marathons in seven new states this year.  Reaching my stretch goal requires running marathons in two additional states.  I’ve scheduled my races for the first seven states, and I’ve already finished four of them.  In the first three months of 2024, I ran marathons in Alabama, North Carolina, Arkansas, and West Virginia.

So far, I’m crushing it.  Whether I can reach the stretch goal will come down to whether I can fit a Vermont race into my schedule.  Every Vermont marathon I’m aware of has some type of schedule conflict with my other races.  My best bet would be to do a Vermont race on June 13, but that’s only 11 days after the FANS 24-hour race.  Can I run a marathon that soon after a 100+ mile effort?  I won’t know until June.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Appalachian Series, Day 7

After running the sixth race of the Appalachian Series on Wednesday, I returned to run the seventh race of the series today.  Today’s course was the same as yesterday’s course.  It straddles the Virginia/West Virginia border, so runners can count it for West Virginia one day and count it for Virginia the next day.

I ran yesterday’s race because I needed one more marathon in West Virginia.  I ran today’s race because I was already here.  After traveling this far, why not do an extra race before going home?

Yesterday, I arrived early and made a last-minute decision to take the 6:30 early start instead of the 7:30 regular start.  Now that I know that most runners take the early start, I decided to do the same thing again.  I already had my race packet, so I didn’t need to allow as much time to get ready for the race.

Today’s weather was colder.  When I arrived in the start area, it was 39 degrees, but the temperature was still dropping.  It was forecast to reach a low of 36 before starting to rise again.

I wore my warmest tights.  Those are the cheetah tights.  I also wore the cheetah shirt and hat.  I didn’t think to bring arm warmers, so I wore a long sleeve polypro shirt under my T-shirt.  I risked being overdressed, but I could always take walking breaks if I was too hot.

I wore extra layers before the race, but I took them off before they started the pre-race announcements.  In retrospect, I should’ve kept my jacket on until we started running.

Pre-race announcements took much longer than I thought.  There were several runners reaching big milestones today, and we took the time to recognize each one of them.  Then the whole group sang “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” which has been somewhat of a theme song for our two days in Bluefield.

The irony is that we weren’t actually in West Virginia during pre-race announcements, or for much of the race.  Our starting line was in West Virginia, but once we entered Virginia, we never went back to West Virginia.

By the time pre-race announcements were over, I was freezing.  I was wearing gloves, but my hands were particularly cold.  I felt like I was dressed adequately for running in this weather, but I wasn’t dressed warm enough for standing around for so long.

For the second straight day, I started the race with Tim.  Tim started at a surprisingly fast pace, and I had to work to keep up with him.  I asked him why he was running so fast and he said he needed to run fast to get warm.

When we reached the first hill, we took a walking break.  Yesterday, we didn’t walk any of the hills until the second lap.  On average, our pace for the first lap was about the same as yesterday.  That’s where the similarity ended.

Our course was inside a valley.  The wind was blowing through the valley.  The way the course is laid out, we were usually running through the valley.  We rarely ran across the valley for very long.  As a result, we were usually had either a headwind or a tailwind.

After the first lap, Tim made a bathroom stop.  Ordinarily, I would’ve walked until he caught up to me, but we had a headwind at the beginning of the lap.  It wasn’t a strong wind, but it was cold, and if I walked this part of the course, I would get too cold.  I kept running until I reached the hilly part of the course.  Then I walked the hills until Tim caught up to me.  It didn’t take long.

Tim was motivated to run faster today.  It was the last day of the series, and he was planning to start driving home right after the race.  The sooner he finished, the sooner he could get on the road.

Yesterday, we slowed to a more relaxed pace in the second lap, and we also starting walking up all of the hills.  Today, we didn’t slow down, and we only walked a few of the hills.  I would’ve been content to go at a slower pace, but Tim was motivated, and I was trying to keep up with him.

After the last hill, there’s a long flat section that leads us back to the start/finish area.  Tim accelerated through this section.  I was starting to find the pace to be tiring, so I allowed myself to drift behind him.

I was hoping Tim would make another bathroom stop.  That would give me time to catch up.  Tim drinks a lot of coffee before the race, so he usually makes a few bathroom stops early in the race.  Today he didn’t.

When Tim didn’t stop after the second lap, I realized I would need to put in extra effort to catch up to him.  I managed to catch up to him before we reached the hills again, but I was working much harder than yesterday.  By the end of our third lap, I noticed that we were already about three minutes faster than yesterday.

By now, I was finally starting to warm up, but only when we had the wind at our backs.  As soon as we turned around and headed into the wind, I would get cold again.  That pattern persisted throughout the race.

Early in the race, it was cloudy.  During our fifth lap, I saw the sun for the first time.  I was hoping it would feel warmer now.  Unfortunately, the wind got stronger.  The colder breeze easily cancelled out the warmth of the sun.

The last day of a series is hot dog day.  It’s a tradition to have hot dogs at the aid station.  They usually have some type of hot food other days as well.  Yesterday, I didn’t eat any hot food during the race, but today I had a hot dog after the fifth lap.  Tim also stopped to eat a hot dog, so I didn’t have to worry about falling behind again.

When we finished our sixth lap, we were half done with the marathon.  My time for the first half was 10 minutes faster than yesterday.  I expected Tim to go even faster in the second half.  I didn’t know how much faster I could run.

I had to refill my bottle after that lap, so I fell behind.  I had to work hard again to catch up to Tim, but I was able to do it.

For a few laps, I had wanted to make a bathroom stop, but then I would fall even farther behind.  I had doubts about whether I could catch up to Tim again if I got too far behind.  During our seventh lap, Tim mentioned that he was going to make a bathroom stop at the end of the lap.  I thought this was my chance to make a bathroom stop without losing time.  It didn’t work out that way.

Tim was done in the bathroom quickly.  I took much longer.  By the time I started my next lap, Tim had a sizable lead.  I decided to pick up my pace and see if I could catch him.  That was a mistake.

In the early part of the lap, which is through a parking lot, I accelerated.  I wasn’t sure if I was gaining any ground.  It looked like I would have to run all the hills to catch up to him.

When I got within sight of the first hill, Tim was already on the hill.  He was running it!  That was the steepest hill.  If he ran that one, he would almost certainly run all the other hills as well.

I ran all the hills, but I didn’t gain any ground by doing it.  On the flatter sections in between, I picked up my pace.  I still didn’t seem to be gaining any ground.

As I approached the turnaround, Tim was already coming back.  Another runner said, “You can still catch him.”  He was wrong.  By the time I made the turn, Tim had already disappeared over the next hill.

I continued to push the pace, but I wasn’t getting any closer.  I eventually realized that I was falling farther behind.  Tim had kicked it into another gear, and I didn’t have that gear today.  By the end of that lap, it was obvious that I would never catch him.  I had to accept that I would be running the rest of the race by myself.

Trying to catch up with Tim took way too much out of me.  That lap wore me out, and I was never the same after that.

I still had four laps to go.  That’s almost nine miles.  I had to conserve energy, so I could finish the race.  For the rest of the race, I ran at a much more relaxed pace.  I also walked most of the hills.  It was still a struggle.

In the lap where I was chasing Tim, I got hot and sweaty.  Earlier, I was either comfortable or cold, but never hot.  For one lap, I was overheating.  That probably contributed to my fatigue in the laps that followed.

After slowing down, I went back to being cold, but only when I was running into the wind.  When the wind was at my back, I would get hot again.  It was amazing how different the weather felt when I was running in different directions.

When I finished my tenth lap, I had another hot dog.  I still had two laps to go, and each one was difficult now.

When I finally reached my last lap, I took some satisfaction in knowing that each time I ran one of the hills, I was running it for the last time.

Yesterday, I raced through the last part of my final lap.  Today, I dragged myself through it.  I finished the race in 4:54:19.  My time was similar to yesterday, but my splits were a mirror image.  Yesterday, I was much faster in the second half of the race.  Today, my second half was much slower.

After finishing, I got a Virginia medal to add to my chain.

Before leaving, I ate another hot dog, and I drank two glasses of chocolate milk.  I didn’t spend much time in the finish area, because I knew I would quickly get cold.  It had warmed up a little, but it was still in the low 40s, and there was still a cold wind.

Tim wasn’t the only runner who was going home today.  Several other runners had the same idea.  Everyone wanted to get home.  I’m waiting until tomorrow.  I felt like a train wreck after the race, and I needed the rest of the day to recover.  Besides, I’m going to need a full day to travel home.  Before I can fly home, I have to drive back to Charlotte, and that’s a three hour drive.  I’ll start that drive tomorrow after breakfast.

Race statistics:
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  4:54:19
Average Pace:  11:14 per mile
First Half:  2:23:30
Second Half:  2:30:49
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  510