Thursday, April 24, 2014

Race Recap: 2014 Boston Marathon

First off, thanks for reading and for the kind, supportive texts/tweets/posts/photos/tags/etc!

I've been terrible at keeping this space up-to-date for the last 8 weeks or so, but I wanted to make sure to get down my initial thoughts about my 2014 Boston Marathon experience:

The race itself presents some pretty interesting logistical challenges as it is a point-to-point course. Of course one of the biggest perks of the Boston365 program is that we got to ride in a chartered bus (instead of the race provided school buses) and could wait (as long as we wanted) on the warm buses. This was great for the first couple hours, but by about 9:10 am, when I began walking to the start corrals, it was nearly warm enough outside to stand in a singlet and shorts and not be chilly at all (a slightly ominous sign, but at least it wasn't pouring rain).

The walk over to the corrals was filled with greeting various other Chicago-area runners and in my corral (wave 1, corral 2), I quickly found a group of guys I knew from Chicago. Once in the corral, I was thankful to have read about Sage Canaday's hilarious attempt to pee into a bag at the start of his Boston Marathon experience in 2010. Instead of a bag I chose a 20 oz. Gatorade bottle which served me well.

After the gun start, we seemingly very slowly moved in the direction of the start line, ultimately crossing the timing mats around 45 seconds after the gun. I fell in step with Chicago guys, Jason Ream and Craig Taylor. All three of us were focused on a sub-2:40 finish and a very conservative start.

Our first mile was a very pedestrian 6:35 which made me pretty uncomfortable knowing that we had run some pretty significant declines and had perhaps been actively breaking during this mile. I stuffed any fears away, hoping I'd gain tens of seconds back charging into Boston after mile 22.

The next few miles were conservative but not slow as we ran between 6:00-6:10 for miles 2-5. I was feeling good, but not great and was hoping that I'd really be able to get into a rhythm when we dropped the pace below 6:00. The roads were crowded with runners and spectators. So much so that it was difficult to see the aid stations early on. I immediately started drinking water and after the first couple stations also started dumping water on myself as it was pretty warm.

After mile 5, the course flattens a bit and we started trying to get a bit of time back from the slower early miles. We started running our miles in the mid-5:50s. Jason fell off a bit. The pace felt a bit hot and Craig and I had to do a fair amount of weaving as we were already passing slowing runners, but I decided I still felt like I had enough in the tank for the Newton Hills so I kept it up. 

By mile 10 or 11, my left quad was starting to bother me.  Anytime you feel something like that before the half-way point in the marathon, you know you're in trouble. That said, I kept relaxed and enjoyed high-fiving some of the coeds in Wellesley around mile 12. By half-way, the discomfort in my quad hadn't gone away and I considered slowing down, but I again decided that otherwise I felt okay and that slowing down wouldn't necessarily make running on a sore/strained(?) quad less painful. 

Around mile 14 or 15, I ran into Boston365 runner Andrew Kaehr and tried for a short bit to pull him along (while simultaneously dropping off of Craig's pace). After this failed attempt, I regrouped and began setting my own rhythm for the first time in the race this allowed me to feel a bit more comfortable as I was just about to enter the famed Newton Hills.

Running the Newton Hills with fellow Chicagoan Rob Chenoweth.
(Photo credit: Jason Dement)

The Newton Hills are a bit of an enigma as the final hill is somewhat appropriately named Heartbreak, but at the same time they're often down played by experience marathoners. I had made it to Newton, MA on pace and ready to tackle whatever was in store. I was hurting, yes, but generally still running okay, I was happy and hopeful that I'd still be able to pull this one out of the fire. As we began climbing, I noticed that the inclines were taking pressure off of my left quad! I was passing people left and right (literally) the first three climbs and felt good. I had even almost caught back up to Craig. The only problem was that I was getting caught between climbs as it was painful to run downhill and even on flat surfaces. By the time I got to Heartbreak, I was beginning to tire as the rolling terrain was starting to wear me down. I also knew there is a pretty significant descent the mile following which didn't bode well for how the shorter descents had been going. Heartbreak was long, but that's about it. The pain kicked in as soon as I crested it. My quad was shot and I couldn't really use the downhill portion to my advantage.

I went deeper into damage control mode (versus racing mode) and tried to stay as smooth as possible while still moving towards the finish line. It felt like I was crawling along, but really I was running around 6:40 pace (then 7:00 pace for mile 25). I had wanted to get to 22 feeling good, read to "unleash the kraken" in the words of Dan Daly, but instead I was just trying to keep myself going. It felt like I had eons to deal with the disappointment of this development. I did my best to let the crowds carry me (and they did) and I also did my best to enjoy the experience. Jason, who had held back earlier blew by me.

With 1000m to go (underneath the Mass Ave overpass), I knew there wouldn't be anymore quad pounding declines so I decided to do my best to run hard through the finish. I was a bit surprised at how much I had left. I took the right on to Hereford feeling pretty good and passing some runners. I took the left on to Boylston and picked it up again. The stretch to the finish seemed never ending and I did my best to stay engaged mentally, but I probably slowed down after the 26 mile marker.

Looking back on my race, I am disappointed I wasn't able to run more strongly in the final 5 miles. I don't mean this to be an excuse at all, but based on this experience, the Boston Marathon course is hard to train for in Chicago, specifically it is difficult to prepare your legs for hard (marathon pace) downhill running. Sage mentions the 10 x 1 mile workouts he did downhill when preparing for Boston with the Hansons. No doubt 1-2 of these sessions would have been helpful in my preparations. I also could have done a little more of a warm up before the race to loosen the quads and slowed the second mile down a bit (6:35 to 6:08 is a pretty big jump). Other than that I would say I am pretty satisfied by my performance and am happy to have made it to the finish line healthy (not needing 2 months off unlike my previous couple marathons). The 2014 racing season is just beginning and I am optimistic about future success!

It is a bit embarrassing to admit, but I did not really understand how much the Boston Marathon means to the people of the Boston area, other participants, and the running community in general. Prior to this experience, I was certainly guilty of a certain cavalier attitude towards the event (rather foolish, I know, perhaps this was also a way to dissociate from the pressures of performance). While at its core, a running race, the Boston Marathon more so than any other race in which I've participated, reflects the hopes and dreams of the watching world, its host community, and its determined participants.

For me, the 2014 Boston Marathon was a gift from the people of the Boston area, an opportunity not only to leave behind terrestrial cares for fleeting moments to chase a dream, but to be celebrated for this act. The Boston Marathon is my reminder that racing and running are valuable because these acts require and inspire hope.

What does the Boston Marathon mean to you?

*For my thoughts on the 2014 Boston Marathon weekend experience... Check out this blog here.


  1. Loved reading this Dan! So glad you finished strong and healthy! :)