Saturday, April 24, 2010

Boston Marathon Tips

Here is my 2010 Boston Marathon race report.
Also some from the expo and Boston are here.
I learned a few things about running the Boston, and I will provide my tips for others running it the first time.

Boston Tip #1 - Bring a duffel bag
... filled with your life savings in cash, large and small bills. Boston is an expensive town. You will need it for the $400 hotel, $18 hamburger and $45 official Boston Marathon tooth brush.
The expo was very crowded, with people trying to squeeze by each other in random directions. There was all kinds of "official" Boston gear, sales pitches for the latest running snake oil, and stuff you can find in a running store. I was getting claustrophobic and wanted to escape, but Shannon wanted to see how many free sample snack bars she could collect. Finally she let us go, as I nearly collapsed from dehydration.

Boston Tip #2 - Dress for an Arctic Expedition
For running, dress like it is 20 degrees warmer. For sitting outside for 3 hours waiting to run, dress like it is 70 degrees colder. So if it is 45 and sunny, it will feel like -25 and you will freeze to death
I get a kiss from that Minnie Mouse
guy who is everywhere
Monday morning we took a van shuttle from our hotel in Newton to the start in Hopkinton at 6:30 am. The race didn't start until 10:00 am, but because there are 26,000 people funneling into the tiny town there is no way to know how long it will take to get there, so you have to leave very early.

The driver took some back roads to avoid the traffic jams, almost getting lost. Unfortunately we got there very quickly, meaning we had to wait in the cold for 3 hours. Many people we there in winter coats and sleeping bags. I just had on 4 throw shirts. Shannon and I passed the time taking pictures, talking with folks, and shivering.

Shannon, me, my sister Monique, and Laura

As we walked to the start, we ran into my sister Monique and her friend Laura. They had spent over 2 hours on the bus, stuck in traffic, and had to get out and walk into Hopkinton. As we walked the half mile to the start, we heard the gun go off for the elite women's start. We went to see the elite men at the front, but they were still hiding.

We scored a porta potty with 5 minutes to spare and then went to our separate corrals.

As I stood in the 4000 corral, it felt odd knowing that the 1000 runners crowded shoulder to shoulder had the same qualifying time as me, and would be all running the same speed. Shannon was back a few corrals, and I wondered if I should have started back there and ran the race with her.

Massaging my sore calves, I thought this might be the first marathon I didn't finish. It is common for my calves to start cramping up the last few miles of a marathon, but this was the first time they hurt before the race even started.

Since February Shannon and I had run 8 races, including a marathon and 2 ultras, which obviously was too much. We had managed to only do some slow recovery runs in between, so we hadn't done any actual "training" in a long time. We both felt beat up and out of shape. I remembered the boast I made a year ago of a PR, but that seemed crazy. My only goal for the race was to finish.

Boston Tip #3 - Have fun
Slap some hands
The race started and big cheer went up, "Yea!" and we surged forward. A little too quickly I guess, and we ground to halt, "Oooo". Finally, we started running again "Yea!". The course was lined spectators cheering and holding out their hands. There were a lot of little kids, and the first mile I slapped many hands.

There were guys playing bongos, and I added some geeky dance moves to my stride as I passed by.

After resting for 5 days, traveling, and waiting, I was finally running. And it was wonderful. My legs felt great.
Boston Tip #4 - Take small steps
Small, quick steps will save your quads on the downhills.
The first 4 miles were mostly downhill, and I was just rolling down them with my "small steps". It seemed effortless. I pace myself by monitoring my breathing, and it was very slow and easy. The road was very crowded with runners going a little slower, so I was passing and dodging people, moving from one side of the road to the other to get ahead.

Around mile 3, I started to get cocky, "Hey, maybe I could PR... ".
To PR, I needed to average a 7:05 pace or under. I glanced at my Forerunner watch to see what my pace was. But the screen was blank; it had malfunctioned and shut itself off. I laughed, and took this as a sign from the running gods to forget about PRs and just relax and enjoy the run.

The next sign came about a mile later, when my calves started to tighten up. My left one, which had temporarily abandoned me 6 weeks ago, was starting to make creaking and pinging noises. My thoughts changed from a PR to "I am not going to make it".
Boston Tip #5 - No. Wait, don't take small steps.
Just run your natural stride, and don't think about it. Relax!
Ever since I had declared myself cured of runners knee, I have been having calf problems. There at mile 5, I had to accept that I still had not mastered my new "small steps" stride. It wasn't smooth and relaxed. Instead my legs were very tense, and that was tearing up my calves.

"Relax. Relax", I repeated to myself. I tried to let my legs just swing loose and stretch out. I was taking longer strides, and it felt good. Amazingly, my calves started to recover.

"Hey, a Godiva hat!", I heard from behind. It was a guy named Bart from Durham, NC who was also in the Godiva running club. I had seen his name in the results of a lot of races but never met him. We was on the Godiva Masters Team that ended up taking 3rd place in Boston.

We talked for mile or two, until he told me he was going for a sub 3:00 hour time. The thought of trying to run it with him entered my head for a second, along with visions of wheelchairs and ambulances. "I'm going to back off. Good luck!", I said.

Boston Tip #6 - Kiss the girls
This is the best thing about running Boston. The girls of Wellesley College actually want you to kiss them. Really. You won't get arrested this time, I promise.
There are people cheering the whole 26.2 miles, but it really picks up around mile 12 at Wellesley College. I stopped and kissed two girls. They both accepted a peck on the cheek, but declined an extended Casablanca reenactment. This really energized me and I picked up the pace into Newton.

Later, I learned that Shannon kissed a girl too, and that is simply awesome.
Boston Tip #7 - Watch for the Newton Hills
They may be very helpful
My quads in action
At mile 17, one of my quads seized up for a second.
I had been ignoring the fact that my quads were being pummeled into hamburger, but now my right one was defending itself and was about to curl up into a little ball like an armadillo.

Fortunately I started to hit the "Newton Hills", and the uphill running was a temporary relief to my quads.

After all I had heard about the hills, I was very disappointed. It was just a series of slight inclines for a few miles. No huge banner, no choir of school children singing "Welcome to Heart Break Hill", nothing.
"Congratulations! That was Heart Break Hill!", I heard a guy say about mile 21, otherwise I would not have known it was there.
Boston Tip #8 - Sorry! Try small steps again
Did that long stride trash your quads? Sorry about that. Small steps! Small steps!
"I'm not going to make it", I thought again.
After "Heart Break", it is all down hill for the last 5 miles, but my quads were done for the day.

I had run 2 much hillier courses in Uwharrie and Umstead, without trashing my quads at all. It had to have been the "small steps" strategy that worked there. So I adjusted my stride again, back to the small steps, trying to turn my feet over quickly while still trying to relax.
It seemed to work, letting me roll down the hills without using my quads much.

As the miles ticked by, my hip flexors and hamstrings also started to hurt. I wasn't really tired, but my legs were simply falling apart. I felt like an old bicycle careening down the hills out of control, with bent rims wobbling and nuts and bolts flying off. I had to keep alternating my stride as my quads, calves and hamstrings all teetered on the edge of cramping.

Boston Tip #9 - Enjoy it while it lasts
It goes by quickly
While all this was going on, I sneeked a peek at the clocks that were at each mile marker. Since my watch wasn't working, I had to do a lot of advanced math to figure out my pace, and this distracted me from the pain. At mile 25, I figured out that if I could just maintain the pace, I could actually get under my 3:06 PR.

The last mile into Boston was lined with cheering and screaming people, and I slapped some more hands. With the sight of the finish line I picked up the pace, in disbelief that I had made it. After I crossed the line, I was really, really done.

The 3 months of racing had drained my tank to zero; there was not even fumes left. I shuffled through the gauntlet of volunteers who handed me a blanket, recovery drinks, food, and my drop bag. I stopped at meeting place "M" to wait for Shannon, my sister and Laura. Every single muscle in my legs immediately cramped up when I stopped.

Shannon had a good run, finishing in 3:35. Half way through, she was not feeling a PR, so she stopped and took lots of pictures, making this blog post possible. No one believed she carried a camera with her.

My sister did an amazing 3:23:32. Amazing for the speed as well as consistency. She missed her 3:23:31 PR by 1 second. But beat her last marathon in Detroit by... 1 second (3:23:33).

It has taken 5 days for me to just start walking normally again. But that's OK. I plan on taking a few months off...

Thanks to everyone for reading this far!

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