Right of Hereford, Left on Boylston - Boston Recap 2019
Warning: I’m still emotionally not quite recovered from the race. I get a little emotional and teary-eyed after running a long race, so this post is probably going to ramble a bit.
Boston. It’s not just a race, it’s THE race. And I got the opportunity to go back this year and soak it all in.
I’ll admit it, I’m a competitive guy. I wasn’t happy about not being able to race it this year when I finally admitted to myself that my foot and calf were actually jacked up and needed treatment and recovery that would necessitate not “training”.
Quick rewind: I ran Boston for the first time last year. That’s right. My first time at Boston was the year it was in the low 30’s, torrential downpour, and 30 mph headwinds the whole way. My first time there was the day with possibly the worst weather in race history (depending on your preferences). I knew going into it that there was no way I was going to run a PR, despite being in the best shape of my life. I was determined to soak up the day, and consequently I was able to enjoy the first timer’s experience. I had to try very hard to not cry like a blubbering idiot every couple of miles just from the emotion the crowd (which was still awesome despite the weather) were throwing into the race. I had resolved myself to just experience it, knowing that even with the bad weather I was in good enough shape to requalify for the next year.
Fast forward 9 months. My calf and foot are hurt enough that it’s impacting training. I finally throw in the towel, admit to myself that I’m hurt, and go to physical therapy. Big shout out to Troy Ketchum at Danni Jones Physical Therapy by the way. Troy giggled like a little kid at Christmas when he started poking at my calves and they squirmed like a bag of snakes. Apparently my calf was spasming as a guarding action for my foot, resulting in a beat up fat pad on my heel. He needled my calf to get it to chill out a bit, which felt amazing by the way, and then training dialed waaaaay back. I knew I wasn’t going to be in the same shape that I was last year for Boston. In fact, I wasn’t sure that running 26.2 miles, let alone on a net downhill course and the eccentric loading that entails on the calves, was something I would even be able to do. The longest runs I completed in training were 16 miles. The last of which was in February. It wasn’t until a week out when I was able to go for an easy 90 minute run without limping around the house the next day. So I went to Boston with my goal being to finish without doing permanent injury to myself. Needless to say, this was not the highest bar I’ve ever set for myself for a race in terms of performance.
The trip to Boston was a nightmare. The leg from Dallas to Chicago was the first flight of the day for that particular plane, and the crew the night before had left it a mess, so we were an hour delayed. Then as we were the second to next plane to go, we got hit by hail. Every single plane at DFW had to return to the gate to get inspected for hail damage, and we were number 40 on the list. Eventually the flight got cancelled. I eventually managed to get on a direct flight to Hartford (my final destination) that would get me in at midnight-ish, but then that flight was cancelled too. After spending roughly 13 hours at DFW for what was supposed to be a one hour layover I got a flight to Charlotte so I could take a direct flight the next morning from an airport that wasn’t trying to dig itself out of a hole. 3 hours of sleep later, I got on the plane to Harford and arrived 18 hours after I was supposed to. Luckily I made it to packet pick-up in time to get my bib. Not the best night of sleep for the critical night, but I got there.
I had planned on not returning next year so that I could possibly run Land Run in Stillwater next spring instead. Knowing that, I was able to treat it as a fun long run. Being able to mentally switch gears from the competitive racing trying to get a PR to being on vacation, soaking up the day, allowed me to really enjoy it. It no longer mattered that I hadn’t been able to train appropriately. Or that the weather might be crazy again. Or that I hadn’t gotten any sleep on the way up. I could just enjoy the day. And while having my first time at Boston be the year with the worst weather on record makes for an awesome story (and it was AWESOME), it was a really rough day.
As race day was approaching, it looked like we were in for weather conditions similar to last year. As funny as this sounds, it actually made me feel better about not being able to get the training in that would have allowed me to run an awesome PR. It did rain before the race started. But then it cleared up and we actually had a mixture of clear and overcast conditions for the first wave. It actually got hot! I always run with my handheld so that I have a constant intake of fluids, and I try to take a GU Packet every 30 minutes, starting 15 minutes before the gun goes off. But I hit up every aid station starting around mile three for a swig of water and to dump water on my head.
Despite living in Louisiana now and getting the benefit of being able to run in 70-80 degree weather the week before the race, I’m still a cold weather runner. I get dehydrated pretty easily, so I snagged a cup of water every chance I got to dump over my head. I started this process as early as I could so that I would stay ahead of trying to keep my core temperature down. The first couple of miles were a bit quick, but then I was able to dial it back and take it a little easier. I would occasionally check my heart rate, and if I noticed it getting a bit too high I would back off until I could get it back under control again. It’s easy to accidentally go too hard early in any marathon, but it can be work to not go nuts in the front half in Boston. That crowd support is awesome, but dangerous if you aren’t paying attention. Because I was determined to finish without getting hurt, I definitely kept my “out-of-shape” fitness in the front of my mind. I made a pit stop at the mile 9 aid station to use a port-a-potty and had to wait for someone to finish. There were only two there, really to be used by the aid station volunteers. Of course less than 400 meters later there were six or eight of them that were standing empty. I guess if I’d done my homework and known this, I may have been able to squeak in under the wire to go sub-3:05. Ah well. I wasn’t there to requalify.
Since I was there to have a good time I made a point of high-fiving folks, joking with other runners while we were running, and saying hey to friends when we were passing each other. It’s always fun when you’re at a race that size and bump into someone you know but weren’t expecting to see. Sometimes a friendly face is all you need when you’re deep in the hole.
At about mile 23 or so I realized that if I pushed a bit, I could probably break 3:05. Good enough to requalify. But it would be a crap shoot as to whether the legs would hold up at the higher intensity for that long, and quite honestly, I remembered what the bridge at the 40k mark did to me last year. And there was starting to be a decent amount of carnage as the heat and humidity started claiming more victims. Folks that were determined to walk it in instead of dropping because of how close they were. So I kept the goal of finishing without getting hurt firmly in my mind and rode just below the red line until cresting the 40k bridge. Then I opened it up for the last mile and allowed myself to get in the pain cave for the last mile. At this point I would finish before the course closed, even if I was hopping on one leg. I successfully pushed hard enough to get the tinglies all up and down both legs, riding the edge of going to total cramp-spasm-ville. It hurt. It felt great. And I was still mentally in the driver’s seat as made the right turn onto Hereford and knew I was home free. Left on Boylston. A couple hundred meters to the finish trying to stay in the driver’s seat and not start blubbering. And then stumbling around like a drunken idiot with all the other wonderful idiots who crossed that finish line.
I can happily say that I successfully completed the goal of the race. I finished without getting hurt. I was pretty sure I could finish, I just didn’t know if it was going to be closer to the three hour mark or the 3:30 mark. I honestly expected to finish right around 3:15 given the paces I’d been running at lately and the toll the downhills would take on the calf and foot. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised that they held up for the whole race. My heel didn’t even hurt at all the next day! I joked with folks that I should have just run a marathon back in February since it seemed to fix the problem. Not that I wasn’t sore. I had all the usual post-marathon aches and pains. My feet were sore from the pounding after the race. My calves and quads didn’t want to operate as intended until at least Thursday. And I managed to get a black toe-nail on my right foot. I was uncomfortable enough that I didn’t sleep super great Monday night after the race. But given how undertrained I was coming into the race, and the injury I’d been fighting for two months, being able to say that the worst thing I suffered was a black toe nail and some sunburn is amazing.
After the race I got to meet up with my family and get some clam chowder, fish and chips and the obligatory Sam Adams 26.2 beer at Legal Sea Food. It was pretty damn delicious. Later that night, I got to hook up with Allen Endurance Runner Brian Huskey who had finished his first Boston. He, his wife Jenny (another member of the Allen Endurance crew), and the other Knoxville Track Club runners were doing the celebratory post-race bar thing. It was great to hook up with Brian, Jenny, Scott, and all the others whom I hadn’t had the chance to see in a couple of years. Yet another awesome part of Boston: you see friends you haven’t seen in a while!
The plan now is to take one week completely off from training and let the foot and calf actually heal all the way up. I think I’m still digesting the lessons to be learned from this year’s Boston, so I think I’ll save those for next week’s blog post. I can say that we’re going back to the drawing board to address some of the fundamentals that got me injured in the first place. I’ll probably be focused on some of the shorter distances for a bit, taking advantage of being in my mid-thirties to hit that lifetime 5k/10k PR before really diving back into marathon training. And while the short term goal is to run fast 5k’s, the real goal is to develop speed that can be stretched to longer distances. Because I’m not done with the marathon yet. Boston calls.
I’m a firm believer that everyone should go to Boston for Patriot’s Day at least once. Even if you aren’t a runner. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever qualify to run it (although there are ways to run it as a charity runner). But marathon Monday in Boston is one of the most amazing things anyone can have the joy of experiencing. So figure out a way to get there. Make that pilgrimage at least once in your life. It’s worth it.
And if you are making your first trip to Boston, don’t worry about your finishing time. Soak it up. Get as much out of the experience as you can. Get your picture. Get your medal. Drink your Sam Adams 26.2 beer. Still train your guts out for it. But don’t let your finishing time be a concern your first trip. Hopkinton will always be there.