Friday, April 24, 2015

Race Recap: 2015 Boston Marathon

I gladly add my voice yet again to those who have sung praises to the Boston Marathon. After completing my second consecutive race (race recap for my first), I can understand why one might return year after year as some runners do (the longest streak is 48 consecutive finishes!). The people of Boston celebrate marathon runners unlike any other town I've observed. It seems to me that they see the sweat and struggle as a sacrifice in their honor and respond with shouts of encouragement and thanks. I certainly would have faltered more without them. It is this celebration of the culmination of the runners' dreams that I believe makes the atmosphere so intoxicating.

As last year, I was fortunate enough to have access to the Boston365 amenities made available through Adidas and Fleet Feet Sports. This year, I was particularly thankful for the warm, dry charter bus where we spent a good three hours and weathered a spring shower, and the trail mix bar in the post-race lounge which brought me back from lightheaded limbo. If you're headed to Boston in 2016, I highly recommend looking into this program as it takes the training and racing experience to a whole new level and only continues to improve. Kyle Larson deserves a big shout out for coordinating this program for the Fleet Feet Sports Chicago crew. Kyle did a great job managing the needs of 100+ neurotic runners throughout training and race weekend.

I was also blessed with encouragement from across the country (social media at its best!). Friends, family, and acquaintances offered warm well wishes. I am learning to internalize their words of encouragement more each day.

Somewhere in Wellesley with my marathon friend Ari (right)
photo credit: Mark Erspamer

As for the race itself, I missed what I considered a reasonable time goal of sub 2:35 given my fitness and the course. This was likely due to a quick first half and really quick opening miles. Last year, by mile ten my left quad in particular was pretty beaten up. One of my theories was that this was due to braking in the early miles (my first mile in 2014 was a 6:35). So in addition to lifting, taping, and hammering Windmill Hill I decided that I'd try to relax and run at a more natural feeling pace which I suppose backfired a bit. Here's a look at my splits:

5k and half splits with average split paces

A couple additional notes on the splits from the race:
+5:39 from the first half to the second half 
-5:12 from 2014 (+4:07 positive split last year)

The early miles, as you might surmise from the splits, felt like they should; easy and controlled. I tried to get out of the way and let my body do its thing, trusting that my training had prepared me to run the last few miles triumphantly into Boston. This went on for some time. I enjoyed getting out a bit faster than last year as the water stations weren't as crowded, but there was still a good group of people including my marathon friend Ari (with whom I've run parts of two Chicago Marathons and now this race as well). This group seemed to be targeting 2:32-35 and was rolling along at about 5:45 pace which seemed good to me as I thought a slight positive split was probably more likely than a negative split on the course.

Rolling through halfway, my split of about 76 minutes was quicker than the 77 minutes I had initially planned, but I had minimal concern as I was still feeling pretty comfortable. My breathing was completely in control, and my quads felt great thanks to my most drastic taper yet and some KT Taping (see photo). At this point, I was starting to notice my calves begin to fatigue and my gels did not seem to be digesting well. Both these issues were likely due to the hot pace. In particular, I've noticed in marathons where I've gone out aggressively for my fitness level, I've had difficulty digesting my gels. Looking back, I also didn't really train much with Gu Roctane so that may also have played a role. At least I did stick to my fueling plan: a Roctane prior to the start and at 7, Salted Caramel at 14, and Huma Apple Cinnamon at 21. In retrospect, I wanted more caffeine earlier and would have liked to eat two Salted Caramels instead of the Roctane on course.

After a comfortable half, the next major checkpoint in my mind is getting to the Newton Hills (Mile 16) unscathed. Aerobically very comfortable, I kept on the gas, splitting 5:47, 52, 58, 40 for miles 13, 14, 15, and 16. I arrived in decent shape and so decided to continue running at the same effort up the hills with reasonable success through the first three, running 6:00, 01, 01, 10 for 17, 18, 19, and 20. As the splits reveal, the wheels were starting to come off up the third hill. I could feel my form falter on this climb as my hips began to sway more than normal. I also couldn't remember at this point how many climbs I had completed. I knew I was starting to falter so I continued to press along just trying to keep my effort up. I crested Heartbreak Hill and it took someone's very helpful sign to tell me I had completed the Newton Hills. Splitting a 6:26 for mile 21, I told myself to rally for the downhill ride to Boston.

Mile 17's Clif Shot Stop
photo credit: Team BibRave

In my experience, once you start running well above the pace you've been averaging for the earlier portions of a marathon it's pretty hard to pull things back together. Usually this means you're bonking (you've depleted available muscle glycogen) and your day is pretty much done. In 2014, I had gone out much more conservatively, ran strong through the Newton Hills and had gotten to mile 21, looked downhill, and knew my race was done. A knot in my left quad prevented me from running downhill without pain and had me hobbling to the finish despite my conservative start.

I specifically trained to handle this section in 2015, pummeling my body during long runs in Barrington, pushing the pace on downhill sections. Cresting Heartbreak, I knew it was time to go to the well for whatever I had left. I stood tall and tried to let gravity do the work. At about this point I also ran into my friend Peter from Chicago which also helped spur me onward. I split a 6:04 for mile 22 running with Peter. Unfortunately, the earlier miles had taken more of a toll than I thought they might and I couldn't maintain that pace. I slowed to a 6:14 for mile 23 and Peter begin to slip away.

Crowds, teammates, and experience come into play when things start to fall apart in the marathon. While I continued to slow in the last few miles, I recalled prior races where this had occurred and remembered that despite running 30+ seconds per mile slower than what I had hoped to be averaging that I wasn't hemorrhaging time too badly and still had a very good shot at a sub-2:40 performance on the course. I chased Peter and another friend Ian who passed me at mile 25. Last but certainly not least, the crowds thicken through these final miles, cheering triumphant and faltering runners alike. I fought onward, hoping my effort would align with their faith in me. Unlike last year, when I felt embarrassed about jogging in the last few miles of the race, I enjoyed and accepted the adulation of the crowds using it as fuel to continue onward. Finishing within a few minutes of several Chicago friends including Peter and Ian who's silhouettes I had chased made the experience even sweeter.

While the objective performance was better than last year's by over 5 minutes, I was also able to feel more present and enjoy the event more this year which is the larger victory won. Celebrating the wonderful performances from teammates and friends was also a highlight of the day. I will put my coach hat on for a moment and agree with my friend Graham who ran a 2:26 PR and said in response to me saying I had run a good first 10 miles, "[Y]ou're better than that! Anyone can rock a fast first 10 there!" I should have stuck with my planned 77 minute first half. I know I can run much faster on this course, however I do have my doubts about training for a faster effort in Chicago. While I'll likely not race Boston again next year, I do hope to return for a more successful third try at the course and to experience again the shared joy of race day.

Thanks for following along!

Did you run Boston this year? How did it go?

Is there a course on which you've experienced a connection with the spectators like I have?

Let me know in the comments below!

Also check out my review on BibRave!


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Dan! You still did a great thing out there, which is to give it your very best, so congrats!

    1. Thanks, sir! Sorry for the delayed reply!

  2. I experienced a similar connection with spectators, both at the Chicago and Dublin marathon last year. Both unforgettable life moments. Great crowds in both cities!