Distance Totals

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Boston Marathon 2012 Race Report - It's getting hot in here, so bring on the Wellesley girls !

Cliff notes: 1:48:34/1:45:47 = 3:34:21 for a ~ 3 min. neg. split in a very warm race that started in the high 70s and reached high 80s. While I started with #7681 with a 3:15:14 qualifying time, I finished 3636 overall with 3:34...this gives an idea of how bad the conditions were. If you are not interested in reading a novel, just scroll down and enjoy the pictures, most of which were taken while running during the race.

Pre-Race Weekend
I flew on Friday from California and spent the weekend in Boston to recover from the jet lag. I spent a lot of time with my friend and former student Pok, who drove me around and treated me like royalty. On Saturday morning I went to the expo to pick up my bib and bag. I took a few pictures and watched the video of the course.

I also ran into Stevie Ray Lopez at the Adidas shop. We chatted for a while, and it was fun seeing a familiar face in this mass of humanity. 

With SRL at the Adidas shop

In the afternoon, Pok drove me around and we visited the finish line.

We also found some interesting statues near the finish line, which were the perfect allegory for the race to come - those who started as tortoises might finish ahead of many hares...

We then drove the course on Saturday afternoon, to get a better idea of what to expect. Some warning signs were already posted:

Heat Warning Signs on the course

 After dinner with Pok, I had a few beers with Tony, Steve, his wife Gina, Rachel, and Holly but went back early since I got tired from the jet lag. On Sunday, I had brunch with Pok, chilled in my room in the afternoon and had dinner with Steve B., his wife, and other virtual friends from RWOL.

Pre-Race Strategy
Early during the weekend, the weather forecast for the race turned out to be bad - start in the mid 70s, quickly climbing into 80s with no cloud cover. Once the forecast stabilized, I threw the towel on the idea of trying to get a time close to my "A"-goal time (3:05). I ran Chicago in 2008 when it reached temperatures in the 80s, and I have a horrific recollection of the late stages of the race, when I death marched and experienced chills and dizziness, the early signs of heat exhaustion/stroke. I did not want to repeat the experience, so I decided to back off. With my family waiting for me, I got scared of the heat, and thought that it would be too stupid to die or finish in the medical tent trying to run a time that would probably not even be a PR. But backing off by how much? I also did not want to stay for over 4 hours on the course, baking under the sun. Ultimately I decided to pace by heart rate and to try to stay around 160 bpm, given that my marathon pace HR is around 164. Who knew what pace that would correspond to...

Pre-Race morning
After less than optimal sleep I met friends from the 3:20 thread at the Soldiers and Sailors monument in Boston Commons.
We then boarded the bus for the ride to Hopkinton, and hung around under the tent at Athlete Village. Ron (ESG) brought a tarp, and we stayed there under the shade, relaxing before the start. 

Local Carboloading

Walter (NACN), me, James (FB), and Ron (ESG)
 Since I was in corral 8, I got separated from the group once they started to call wave 1. Just before checking my bag in the bus, I made the last minute decision to take my camera with me. I wasn't going to try for a fast run, so why not try to take as many pictures as I could? I made a last port-a-john stop on my way to the corrals, and then walked what seemed to be a long walk to my corral. It really felt hot in the start corral, baking under the sun and surrounded by so many people. Just standing, my heart rate was 10-20 bpm higher than normal in decent temperatures.

Baking under the sun in corral 8
The Race
And off we started. Miles 1-4 were probably the most difficult for me. I tried to stay close to 160 bpm, but I saw most people in corrals 8-9 flying by and passing me. I scratched my head thinking that many of these people were starting too fast for the conditions and would pay the price later on. 

Flying down -- too fast - the downhill at the start
 It was also depressing to see my pace slip after the early downhills and I had problems finding a good rhythm in the early rollers. I only started to feel comfortable at maybe mile 4-5, and only after starting to douse myself with water at every aid station, or whenever a spectator would give me a cup of water.
Shortly after mile 4, I saw this guy juggling - after looking on Twitter, I found that his name is Thomas Gounley and he made it all the way juggling in 3:52 !

The Meat House Joggler
 Miles 5 and 6 sights and autoportrait:

Starting from mile 7 I really started to feel better - the topography of the course was more gentle, and I started to pass people who were walking and who had numbers in the 3000-6000's. I got into a groove, "feeling" the correct pace-effort without having to look at my HR monitor. Someone had a stereo blasting Nelly "It's getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes", which made me chuckle. I high-fived a few kids on the road.

At mile 8 or 9 I felt an emotional surge. I usually experience these only during marathon races, and in the past only during the later parts of the race. These are usually associated with thinking of a member of my family, and they push me to the edge of crying while at the same time having emotions of joy, and with difficulties to breathe at the end of the episode. These only last for a few seconds, but I got worried that because I experienced it so early in the course, it meant that I would blow up early on. Fortunately it wouldn't be the case.

Passing Mile 9
Some interesting sights in these miles, like passing the Team Hoyt:

The Hoyt team...Respect.
 At mile 10 or 11 I got passed by a few runners from wave 2, but continued to stay truth to my heart rate strategy. Interestingly the pace seemed to accelerate while keeping the heart rate around 160. It also felt slightly less hot during that part of the race. The thermometer might not have shown it, but maybe I got better at cooling myself down. 

Passing Mile 10 in Natick

Misting Station in Natick
Around Mile 11 - notice the runners like #8239 who passed me earlier and are now walking

Before mile 12, I heard a loud noise further down the road and knew I was approaching Wellesley College and the scream tunnel.

When I reached the scream tunnel, I got amazed to see all the students lining up with all sorts of funny signs:

 This was my slowest mile (8:22) but probably the most fun, as I kissed and hugged 10 or 12 students (I lost count). I got pictures for only four of them but that segment contributed to making me feel way better about the race and I started to really soak the atmosphere.

I went faster the next mile (7:53), either because of the visual stimulation of the scream tunnel or because of the kissing breaks (much more fun than Galloway walking breaks....). I cruised down the next couple of miles, knowing that the Newton hills would be coming soon.  

Reaching the Half after Wellesley College

Passing Mile 15
Water Station before Mile 14

 I felt relieved when I reached mile 16 and the first of the Newton hills, as I knew I was in good shape to attack them. I continued to douse myself every half mile but kept a consistent pace on these hills.

Mile 16 marker in Newton

First of the four Newton Hills

I encouraged the spectators to give me support by pumping up my arms while going through the hills. Many of them responded by chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A" - looking at my shirt (and easier than to pronounce my name, I guess !). Mile 16 and 17 went well, with the strong support from the crowds and the regular hosing.

Passing Mile 17 in Newton
Refreshing fire hydrant in Newton

 At that point a lot of people were walking the hills or death marching, and unfortunately, also saw a few who were aided by medical staff, who obviously paid the price for their overenthusiastic start. 

Passing Mile 18 - Everyone here seems to be in trouble....
After mile 18, I unfortunately could no longer take pictures, as the camera battery died. I tried several times to resuscitate it, but with no success.

I had a blast going through those hills, passing many walkers and plugging in at a regular pace. I wasn't sandbagging the pace, since the HR climbed in the 165-170 on the hills, but my strategy of reducing my effort early on paid dividends on these hills. At Mile 21, I finally reached heartbreak hill. At the bottom of the hill, I dedicated the climb to Flo, who currently climbs her own mountain and fights her own battle with disease. My pace dipped to 8:15, as I tried to stay relaxed, passed a large number of runners who were walking or shuffling, but I really had to zigzag to avoid some of the runners who would suddenly stop in the middle of the hill.  

After cresting Heartbreak hill, I reached Boston College, where the kids got crazy seeing my USA jersey. I high-5'ed countless number of students, and stopped doing it when my left hand started to hurt and when I almost lost my wedding ring. I looked for beer as I thought they would offer me some but could not find any. Mile 22 was the fastest, aided by the generous downhill. Then the pace stabilized since it got flat and I started to feel some muscle fatigue on the left quad and IT band. At that point I felt that there was no point pushing too hard, since I would not break 3:30 anyway, and this would only make recovery harder. So I decide to enjoy the crowds even more, and ran most of the time close to the spectators, encouraging them to chant "U-S-A" by raising my arms, and high 5'ing entire rows of spectators. Many of them responded and were also offering wet towels, ice, or water.  Around mile 23, I had another emotional surge, thinking of my boys at home. It did not last long, but made me feel like crying again. I then saw the Citgo sign far in sight and that it meant that the end was getting closer.

Despite the muscle fatigue that I started to feel, I smiled ecstatically during the last two miles, knowing that I was on my way to finishing my first Boston. Before turning into Boylston, I removed my visor and sunglasses to get better finish pictures. I encouraged spectators for support by raising my arms during the entire segment on Boylston. I ran faster without even thinking about it and felt like a rock star, the spectators chanting "U-S-A" when they were seeing my jersey. 

One of my best finishes ever, not for reaching a particular finish time, but for the emotions associated with it. Four years ago in 2008 I finished my first marathon, and while at the expo, I saw several runners wearing the Boston Marathon jacket. At the time, I thought this would never happen to me and that running Boston was out of reach. This was not my best time by far, but certainly one of my best race experiences. 

Here are the splits and HR data- thanks for reading.

              Mile       Pace         Heart Rate
(+0.49) 7:13