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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Boston Marathon. An epic race with epic weather.

              I was not originally planning to write about my experience racing the Boston Marathon, however, considering the epic conditions and the stories and accounts from other races, I thought I would share my experience.

              Leading up to the race it was clear the conditions were going to be less then ideal. Forecast called for 40 degrees. Perfect, I would love a 40-degree day. It also called for rain. Not ideal, but my last marathon was run in the rain. Put those together and it’s a cold day. Then the kicker; we would be running into 20 mph winds with gusts up to 30 mph. That adds for a unique challenge. Its an epic race, so why not add in epic weather.

              Dana ran Boston in 2007 when a Nor’easter came through. That year there was talk of canceling the race, something that has never happened. We were able to use her experience to my advantage. She suggested I bring an extra pair of old shoes I could wear to the start and throw away so I could have dry shoes and socks when the gun went off. This was probably the best choice I made.

              My race day clothing choices were compression shorts, race singlet, arm warmers, and gloves that could pull off or over my fingers if they got to cold or to warm. My throw away cloths were a long sleeve tech shirt from a race, a ¾ zip pull over from a different race, and wind pants. When we got to Boston I decided to buy an extra throw away hoodie and sweat pants to help keep me warm. I figured it was better to have extra clothing instead of not enough. I also decided to buy a cheap hat I could throw away if I wanted and found a compression SKINS singlet to wear under my singlet to add a layer and help hold in my body heat. The actual race day weather did not worry me, I knew the challenge would be staying dry and warm waiting for the start.

              Race morning was exactly as predicted. Dana and I woke up, ate breakfast, dropped off my gear bag so I would have dry and warm cloths right when I finished, and headed over to the buses to take the athletes to the start. I was looking forward to riding the bus, thinking it would be dry and warm. It was dry, but not warm. It was cold enough that I could see my breath. It became even more uncomfortable on the trip as I suddenly had to use the bathroom about half way there. By the time the bus parked and we were let off the bus (I happened to be in the back row) I had to go so bad my gut hurt. It was so bad, that less than 5 minutes of using the rest room I had to go again. Next time, I will make sure to use the rest room right before getting on the bus.

              After my two bathroom breaks it was time to try and stay dry and as warm as possible. The athlete’s village is set up on a baseball field of a high school. There are two tents. The first one is on the grass. The second was partly on the infield of the baseball field. The second tent looked to have more space, so I walked over and I soon learned why. The rain had soaked the infield and half the tent was just sitting in mud. Turning around, I went back to the first tent to find a place to sit. Stepping over some snow and into the tent it became obvious it would be hard to find a place to sit as it wasa packed! Everyone is shoulder to shoulder sitting down with even more standing. I walked around and eventually found a sliver of a place to sit down. After laying down a trash bag I had brought my butt then became acquainted with the cold ground. The time was 8:15 am. 1 hour and 45 minutes to the start and 1 hour before wave 1 would make the walk to the start corrals.

              Normally at the start of a race, especially a marathon, there is a feeling of nervous excitement. On this day there was more of a feeling of misery, with everyone trying to stay dry and warm. I made a choice to not think about it or let it affect me, just focus on staying warm. I curled up as tight as possible and waited.

              After one more bathroom break in which the wind was strong enough to blow my poncho completely around, it was time to walk to the start. To get there, you had to walk across a muddy field and through an ankle-deep lake that had formed. Seeing the misery of other athletes who had little clothing on and whose shoes were getting destroyed by the rain, mud, and walking through the lake, I was never happier to have the extra throw away clothing and dry shoes and socks to change into.

              The walk to the start is a long and by the time I waited in a long line to sue the bathroom again, which was now probably more times then I do on a normal day, and got into my coral, we were 10 minutes from the start. With two minutes to go the sky started to rain cloths as everyone started discarding their extra clothing and you could finally feel the excitement one normally feels at the start of a marathon. Although I believe everyone was more excited to just get running and warm versus running the Boston Marathon.

              The gun went off, the race started, and being in coral 4, did the slow walk to the starting line. Crossing the line it was time to put all the training and my plan into action. I had broken the race up into 6 sections, to focus on one at a time. It’s always easier to think of the race in smaller parts versus one big 26.2 mile race  The first 4 miles, then 7 miles to mile 11, 5 miles to mile 16, another 5 to mile 21, 3 miles to mile 24, then the last 2.2.

              The first 4 miles is mostly downhill. The plan was to use theses miles to warm up and run conservatively. The first half mile is a steep downhill. Steep enough that if you are not careful, you will lose control, slip, and have a hard crash on the wet road. In fact, this did happen at one of the early aid stations as someone slipped on a cup and went crashing down. I believe he was ok as he hopped up and continued to run. The first 4 miles were executed just as I wanted with my first mile being my slowest of the first 13 despite the steep early downhill.

              The second section was 7 miles to mile 11. This was mostly flat with a small hill leading to mile 11. As I started this section, soaked to the bone, fighting the winds, and looking at the crowds a smile crept across my face and I thought to myself, this is awesome, this is fun. Settling into my pace and a smile on my face, I pushed on. The rain continued and would continue all day with times where it felt like a monsoon. We were running into the wind, but I never really noticed it except when those gusts of wind blew through. If runners were a little spread out, those gusts made everyone become a little cozier with each other. It was during this stretch that right above my left knee start to hurt, along with my left hip flexor. This was an issue the weak leading up to the race. I was in Cedar Rapids for work and during my cool down on the Tuesday before, running down hill to my hotel I felt the same pain, but worse, and to the point where I could not really run the last quarter mile. It concerned me because if it got worse, I would not able to run and it would be a long, cold walk to the finish. It eventually went away but flared up after a quick bathroom break at mile 9 (yep, 5 times on the day, the cold makes you have to pee more). It felt worse this time, but nothing I could do, so I told myself it will go away and it did after about 1 mile.

              Passing mile 11 I was now onto my third section of the course. The one that took me to the start of the hills at mile 16. It was around here my quads started to hurt. A bit early for that, but I contribute it to being cold before the start along with the first 4 miles being mostly down hill and the extra stress downhills put on the quads. At mile 12.5 you run past Wesley College and the stories of how loud the girls of Wesley are live up to the hype. It was at mile 12 that I could first hear them and I thought they would be 10 rows deep. Running by, there were a lot of them, but they were making more noise than I thought was possible. If you just heard them you would think there had to be at least twice as many. Many were holding signs asking for kisses, others were pointing to their lips, while others just screamed and gave out high fives. I did not indulge in any kisses, but I saw other runners run up to the young ladies and either give or get a kiss. No kisses on the lips, all on the cheeks. Soon after I ran through the half in 1:23:25, a pace of 6:22 and 6 seconds faster then my goal pace of 6:28 (under 2:50 marathon). I was feeling a little tired, but all in all I felt good. It was the hill leading down to mile 16 that became a problem and that really wrecked my quads. I knew I was really going to have to suck it up.

              This 5-mile stretch would take me up and over 4 hills to mile 21. Each hill is at least ½ a mile long and the last one is the famous heart break hill that ends at mile 20.5. The hills run separately would not be a big deal. After 16 miles, it’s a different story. My plan was to run them conservatively because even when you get over heart break, you still have over 5 miles to the finish. Some runners seemed to pick up their effort on the hills, I just let them do their thing and I stuck to my plan. It was on the 3rd hill that I heard someone yell “Looking good Nick!” I was to the side of the road, kind of by myself (other runners were further over to my right), so I knew it was intended for me. I do not have my name on my singlet or race bib, so it was someone who had to know me. I have no idea who it was, but it was nice to have some support at the part of the course.

              The hills took a little more out of me then I would have liked, but at mile 21 a pace of 6:35 miles would get me under my goal of 2:50. Miles 21 to 24 are mostly down hill (there are some up hills, but it’s a net down) and my plan was to let gravity do it’s job and carry me down. There was only one problem. My quads were screaming at me, they felt like they wanted to rip open and a downhill when they feel like that are not friendly to the quads. Gritting my teeth, I pushed on and mile 22 was a 6:33. From there, it was a struggle. My next split was a 6:55. I knew I still had a chance to break 2:50, just needed to get the legs moving. Unfortunately, it was not to be. My next 3 splits were 7:19, 7:36, and 7:30. I kept pushing forward and running on guts. The famous Citgo sign that marks 1 mile to go came into view. I knew it would take a while to actually reach it as it is farther away then it looks (It’s a big ass sign). I reminded myself of this and focused on pushing forward. Passing the Citgo sign I knew I would not reach my goal time, but I would still PR unless I stopped to walk.

              The entire Boston Marathon course has only 5 turns the entire race. Two of them come in the last ½ mile. I had checked out the final stretch the day before on my shake out run and when I hit the first of these two turns, I knew I was almost finished. The rain was still coming down hard and the three blue lines that were painted into the street to mark the course were running and a blue puddle in the middle of the street had formed. Then it was the final left hand turn on to Boylson street and 600 meters to go. I had two choices, run in easy and still get a PR or finish strong. This is Boston, so the choice was obvious. Finish strong! It was not an all-out sprint, but it still hurt. But then the pain went away as I let in the roar of the cheering crowds. All those who were standing out in the cold and rain were screaming loud enough that I forgot about my legs. Their cheers carried me to the finish line and as I crossed it, I raised my right arm in the air. Victory! The cold, rain, and wind stared at me and I did the only thing you can do, I stared right back and smiled. I stayed the course.

              Right after the race I still felt fine. There was no chill. However, it was a long walk to gear check. During this walk and waiting in line at gear check, I caught the chill and started to shake. Even after getting out of my wet cloths and into dry and warm clothing I continued to shake. It took awhile to meet up with Dana and my parents and it was a long walk to the hotel. I was shaking uncontrollably and looking forward to a hot shower. We finally got back to the hotel and walking in, the staff and the Hyatt Regency started to cheer. They cheered for every runner who came in. Two hours later, they were still lined up and cheering. It brought a smile to my face. After getting upstairs to our room, I took the best, most well deserved, 30 minutes hot shower of my life.