Distance Totals

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Boston 2014 Race Report: I should have just enjoyed the day....

Well, this wasn't the race I had hoped for. I made the decision to come back to Boston immediately after the 2013 events, to be part of the "Boston Strong" movement and to support the Boston and Running community after the tragedy. I stepped the line of the Boston marathon 2014 with big hopes of breaking 3hrs. I had a really solid training cycle, averaging 65 miles per week for 12 weeks before the final taper week and with some really good workouts, including a 17M run with 13.1@6:52 pace. My pace at marathon heart rate was 6:45-6:50 telling me that I had a good chance to finish somewhere around 2:59-2:59. Only minor issue was some right leg stiffness and weakness that started during the saturday run prior to race week-end (12M with 6 at MP) where I couldn't hit my marathon pace. I took care of it during the last week, with various treatments, but was still feeling it on the shakeout run on Sunday before the race.

I had a great pre-race week-end. I hit the expo on Saturday morning, which was way too crowded, so I didn't stay very long but met with Laurent V. afterwards and we had a long chat at his hotel. 

After picking up my bib, #4875, first wave, 5th corral

Writing my name on the wall
On Saturday afternoon I met with Pok, my first graduate student, and after dinner, I went to Beerworks to meet with a bunch of runners from the runners world forum and various Facebook groups. After a 4 mile shake out run with the RYP runners on Sunday morning I spent the day at the appartment to relax and get some rest and cooked my meals instead of having to eat out.

With the RYP runners, shakeout run along the Charles River

Dinner plate for Sunday night: fresh pasta, grilled chicken breast, whole wheat bread and kale with a bit of olive oil.
I had a good night of sleep, crashing before 10pm, and waking up with the alarm at 5:11. 
After eating two muffins and a banana and drinking a cup of coffee, I walked towards the bus area on Tremont St. and boarded one after showing my bib. We waited for a while in the bus before it departed, but once we got moving the trip took around 45 minutes. I had taken a bottle of Gatorade and sipped on it throughout the trip.

At Hopkinton, the bus driver had no idea where he was going, so instead of stopping at the village, he drove us to the start where we had to insist for him to drop us there, instead of driving further out. This was unfortunate as we had to walk back up to the village, which added some unwanted leg exercise before the race. I stopped at the entrance of the athlete village to get my picture taken wearing my hobo uniform:

At the village I could not find anyone I knew, so I just dropped my 4x6 tarp on the ground near the Hopkinton sign, and laid there to relax while watching people getting their picture taken near the sign. 

During the wait there was an emotional moment of silence for the victims of the 2013 tragedy. I waited for ~45 min before the first wave was called. At that point, nature called but I did not want to wait in line for the potties, so I wrapped myself in the tarp and did a quick #1 standing on my empty Gatorade bottle. After more waiting, we started to walk to the start area, but I had to stop at the potties near the start for another#1. 

In my hobo throw away clothes with my GU necklace, waiting for the line to move to the starting corrals
The temperature was a bit chilly, I was happy to have kept my throw away clothes, but I could feel the sun warming up the temperature quickly. Waiting in the corrals while feeling the sun starting to heat up the air had an eery feeling of déjà vu - similar to 2012 - although not as hot. A few minutes before the start I did a final #1 in the Gatorade bottle to make sure that all systems were empty. After hearing the gun going off, the corrals started to move forward and we finally crossed the line.

Almost right off the bat it felt difficult to hit sub-3 pace. The narrow road was very congested, and it was hard to hit the tangents to minimize losing some time compared to the Garmin. After a first mile off target because of the road congestion, I was able to run to race pace, but I soon realized that this was at a heart rate that was slightly too high (~167 instead of 164-165). I tried to maintain that pace, but the first few miles went by and hitting the pace while maintaining a reasonable heart rate became a struggle, despite some long downhill sections. I also lost some time on the uphills but did not try to force it because I knew this could be costly towards the end. In addition I could feel my right leg at some point, as if that leg was weaker. It wasn't a constant feeling but it felt like the right leg wasn't 100% functional and could give out on me on some of the strides.

I remembered at that point of the race that I did not particulary care for the Boston course itself, something I experienced during my first Boston Marathon in 2012. I am more of a rhythm runner, and I like to dial in a pace and then settle into that pace. Boston is difficult for me because of the undulating course, and it requires constant pace adjustments to maintain the right effort on the downhills and the uphills. This makes it a hard course to manage for my style of running.

The sun was starting to really beat up upon us, and after the first few miles with a bit of tree coverage, we hit some suburban areas with no shade whatsoever. It didn't feel too hot, but this made running slightly uncomfortable and I had to regularly douse myself with water at the aid stations to maintain proper temperature. The aid stations were still very congested, which didn't help with maintaining the pace.

Somewhere in the first half? Already way too wet for that stage of the course...
During the first half of the race, the situation got demoralizing as I was getting passed by hordes of runners from the previous corrals. I saw the pace dropping progressively but I told myself that I might catch up with some of them later, but it turns out that while I would pass some of them, many more would follow and pass me.

At the Wellesley scream tunnel I stopped quickly and kissed two girls. At this point my hopes of a PR had vanished and I thought that I might as well enjoy that unique part of the Boston course...I hit the half at 1:32:49 -- hoping at that time that I might still be able to run in the 3:06-3:08.

Towards Mile 15, I spotted a runner with a Polar singlet. I thought it might be Greg T, a Polar ambassador. Sure enough, I turned around and recognized him. He is a 2:48 marathoner but was struggling, having had very minimal training for the last few months. I told him I was struggling as well but kept plugging and passed him. This is probably the only race where I would finish ahead of him, since he is normally such a fast runner.

Somewhere in the second half I heard a spectator scream "an american won today! Meb won!" I thought that spectator was joking and was trying to encourage runners. I knew the field was loaded and I did not believe that this was possible with a PR 4 minutes slower than the best competitors.
Somewhere in the second half, trying to look good for the picture despite the internal struggles
The crowd support intensified the closer we got to Boston. In the Newton hills several spectators had mini aid stations set up, and I took advantage of them by grabbing some water bottles or water cups to avoid the congestion at the water stations. The Newton hills went relatively well. I slowed down a bit but was relatively comfortable on the uphills and passed a number of runners who were struggling. I got a bit of mojo back but the pace was still dropping with not much hope of getting an even split race. In addition I could feel the left hamstring tightening up. This wasn't a full blown cramp but I knew that the hamstring was working too hard, maybe to compensate for the weaker right leg. 

Pretty much the same as above...
During the downhill after Heartbreak hill I regained some confidence and high-fived a number of spectators on the right side. At that point I had an emotional high like the one I experience during my best marathons, a sense of overwhelming that makes me want to cry and makes it difficult to breathe. It passed relatively quickly and I thought I could finish the race strong. Unfortunately this didn't happen, as my legs just could not get faster even if my brain wanted to. I was passing some runners who were struggling and walking, but I was also being passed by others who were able to pick up the pace. Spectators were screaming to encourage us but I was so focused on my bad race that I just could not enjoy it. Retrospectively, I should have given up long before that point and jogged to enjoy the crowds and the race, but my head was refusing to do it, stubbornly thinking about the clock.

The last few miles passed by very slowly in dull pain and fatigue. The Citgo sign, the small underpass under bridge of Mass avenue, the small uphill on Hereford, and the long straightaway finish on Boylston. I just could not get the legs to turn over despite wanting to finish strong, and the pace slowed down progressively, including a miserable mile 25 at 7:50. I crossed the finish line with no emotions whatsoever, just happy that this misery was finally over.
After the finish I walked briskly to get away from the finish area. Clearly, my legs weren't in as much pain as many of the other runners, indicative of a race run at suboptimal pace for my leg conditioning. I picked up my medal and space blanket snuggie, and just wanted to get out of there to find the bar where Laurent, the RYP runners and other running friends would meet up. After turning right on Berkeley St., I broke down in tears, overwhelmed by my lousy performance after these months of training and how badly the day turned out compared to my expectations. 

What a difference compared to two years ago. At the time I decided not to race the marathon because of the warm weather and I ran it using a lower heart rate strategy (160), managing my race well despite the heat, and finished strong in a slow 3:34 but happy about the race and how I enjoyed the unique atmosphere of Boston. This year, I had the worst of both worlds. Unhappy about my time (3:11), how I managed my race -  a 5minutes positive split -  and I did not even took advantage of the unique atmosphere of this year by enjoying the crowds.

I don't know what the issues were and how to explain the progressive slow down. It's not like I ran a hard pace for 20 miles and then hit the wall.  Maybe my pace was over agressive right off the bat, maybe I wasn't in sub-3 shape and I paid the price later on - but the heart rate wasn't that high so I am not even 100% sure of that. It's also possible that the warmer conditions took more out of me than I realized and that it became just too hard to maintain MP effort given the conditions. Overall it felt that the effort wasn't too high but the body just could not run faster. It is also possible that my right leg issue may have handicapped me a bit - the tightening of the left hamstring may be a sign of this - even if I did not feel it during the later stages of the race. But overall, as Frank2000 who also had a bad race pointed out, "running hard just hurt too much".
Splits: some additional intervals are added in between- I pushed manual split at a few of the mile markers just to try to resync my Garmin with the official markers. For M2 - the HR monitor was not functioning proprely because of the dry weather thus the artificially high values.

Mile              Dist.       Time      Pace  Avg HR Max HR
1                     1 mi    07:07.8    7:08    160    172
2                     1 mi    06:50.4    6:51    171*   182* (*HR monitor malfunction)
3                     1 mi    06:53.0    6:54    167    169
4                     1 mi    06:50.1    6:51    168    171
5                     1 mi    07:09.1    7:10    167    170
6                     1 mi    06:54.3    6:55    167    169
                  0.03 mi    00:12.0    6:40    167    168
7                     1 mi    06:56.5    6:57    166    168
8                     1 mi    07:11.2    7:12    164    168
9                     1 mi    07:05.4    7:06    163    165
10                   1 mi    07:08.0    7:08    163    167
11                   1 mi    07:14.7    7:15    159    162
12                   1 mi    07:03.0    7:04    159    163
13                   1 mi    07:15.9    7:16    156    161
14                   1 mi    07:13.9    7:14    157    161
                  0.04 mi    00:18.8    7:52    160    161
15                   1 mi    07:18.4    7:19    158    162
16                   1 mi    07:05.8    7:06    157    161
17                   1 mi    07:22.4    7:23    161    163 (First Newton hill)
18                   1 mi    07:19.6    7:20    161    165 (Second Newton hill)
19                   1 mi    07:12.0    7:12    160    162
20                   1 mi    07:27.3    7:28    158    163 (Third Newton hill)
21                   1 mi    07:47.2    7:48    156    162 (Heartbreak Hill)
22                   1 mi    07:13.9    7:14    155    159
                  0.08 mi    00:34.9    7:16    155    157
23                   1 mi    07:38.6    7:39    153    155
24                   1 mi    07:33.0    7:33    152    155
25                   1 mi    07:50.9    7:51    153    157
26                   1 mi    07:36.6    7:37    154    159
                  0.27 mi    01:58.0    7:18    146    149

I met up with Laurent V., Dave L. and others and had a redemption burger and a couple of beers at the bar of the Loews hotel, a few blocks from the finish. I learned that many other runners had subpar races as well, but some managed great performances and reach a personal best, which given the conditions was admirable. 

Dave L., Laurent V. and myself, enjoying a well deserved post race beer
The best part of the week-end: Encounters at Beerworks and Sweetwater with many of my virtual friends, some of whom became "real":
with Betsy R, marathon maniac and ultra lady extraordinaire

With Joel "I hate you" K., speedster from the Hansons team.

With Jay "Cannoli" T., one of the last pictures before "THE shave".

With Rachel "Awesome" G., fastest aussie woman on the course that day; Joel, Greg "Hockey is cross-training" T mentioned above; and Daniel "Bag of Sand" R.

With Mike "Multi22" who had an awesome run that day, hitting a 2:50 PR.

With Steve "twin brother"  B., who managed to finish strong while training for a masters national body building competition

with Paul "Balls on the table" K., who hit a 3:20 with not much training and probably had much more fun than I did...

with Clay "typhus" B. -- an impressive run considering he got the disease 2 weeks before the race and lost 10 lbs in the process.

with Tony "Boston2Big Sur" C. and Nick "Orange for life" B.

With Jeff "dcv" V., who ran one of the smartest races that day en route to a 3:07 finish


  1. From here, it sure does sound like you had a memorable experience. You're a good runner, you'll be back and the sub-3 will happen someday. You kissed two girls at Wellesley and I see lots of pictures with lots of smiles ... looks like you did enjoy the day!

  2. Aw, lookit all the people you hung out with! That makes it totally worth it, doesn't it? I think of all the people I followed, maybe 10% had good races; it was a hot day, and I know you've been working on coming back from your injury issues. Better luck next time!