Wednesday, April 13, 2011

2010 Boston Marathon - Race Report

I found myself fortunate enough to toe the line in Hopkinton last April. It was my first Boston Marathon and it was easily the most exhilarating three hours of running in my twenty years of sport. I find this very ironic because road running is not really my thing, but running through those small Massachusetts townships surrounded by thousands of runners and thousands more spectators lining the course, the mind-games and cursing to move yourself faster and push harder, looking up to see iconic landmarks in passing, Heartbreak mf Hill, 115yrs of history itself really - it was an experience that cannot be equaled on a trail.

It's eleven months later now and I have a few friends that are finishing preparations for this year's race (James, Tony, Boots otra vez). For that reason I wanted to write a race report and give them something to look forward to. So, Boots and I got in by nabbing qualifiers in Austin, TX. We were convinced the course had to be short because we both had a somewhat above average day. Boots snuck into the top 20 overall with a 2:54 finish. I ran a personal best at the halfway mark, then broke that by two minutes 13mi later. Ha! A bit quicker than any optimistic goals we had settled on. We didn't even know how to put what we did in context, so we just limped off to the nearest Irish Bar and toasted to Boston 2010.

Aside from the training and anxiety in the months leading up to Boston, the first dose of reality hits when you board the flight out before race day. For me it was obvious that at least a dozen other passengers were qualifiers. You notice the carry-on shoes, the gaunt faces, timex watches. There's no other place they could all be going. At our connection, twice as many new runners boarded. I hadn't expected any of this. This was going to be crazy.

Christina, Me, Naomi, & awesome signs
Once in Boston, everyone in our hotel was either running or there to watch someone run. If you left the building you'd see joggers and runners on every corner. I was up early the morning before for some coffee and saw groups of people out getting in a morning run. Not for me dude, the hay was in the barn so to speak. I was getting coffee, a look around the hotel, and heading to the Runners Expo.

By the time you bus out to Hopkinton the next day most of the nerves are settled. You've got your bib, the weather is a known entity, time for some ass-kickin'. Athletes' Village before the race is insane. You just hang out for a couple hours as endless busloads of runners arrive and fill an entire park. We brought lots of warm clothes, plastic bags to lay out on, and stuff to read. I drank coffee and ate a banana - don't like to eat before racing. Briefly saw a couple friends from back home on the way to our corrals and wished each other the best.

Me looking thin as a rail, checking out the stuff I'd be blacked out running through
I jogged up to the front to take a look at the elites, then went to corral 2 to look for Boots. It was strange to walk up to the corral manager and just have him wave me in. How did I find myself here? Nah, but I was ready for this. These people look serious but how many of them have been training in arroyos the last few months? I'm going to give some of these fools the business out there. Took off my second-hand hat, gloves, and long sleeve and threw them over the barrier. The gun sounded and after a short pause my wave was off.

Everything I'd read told me to hold back the first 2-3 miles so several hundred people rushed by me at this point. You all are coming back to me down the road a ways I hope you know. So many people, the road was filled shoulder to shoulder. By mile two we were in a more residential area and the sides of the roads were lined with spectators. Kids were lined up for high-fives. Some held out their  hands flat offering an orange wedge. This was novel for me but after several miles I realized this sort of thing runs the length of the entire course. I saw hundreds of kids with orange wedges. Thousands of people and up-all-night college houses and national guardsmen and civic clubs and packed bars and restaurant patios. I hadn't occurred to me that all of this would be here.

I knew that the ladies of Wellesley would be at mile 12, so I had imagined many times what that experience would be like. Passing by the college is described as an emotional high-point of the race but it was better than advertised. You cannot help but smile and become a spectator yourself. I was worried about tripping-up and falling. I saw a few runners find a cheek to kiss, one did pushups, none of it seemed all that un-ordinary. You can still hear the cheers and screaming a half mile after you've passed. Brilliant.

Wellesley's aptly named scream tunnel
The race itself begins to come alive after this point. I slipped by the halfway mark in a new best. I'd been running 20min per 5km up to this point. People up front were definitely starting to move backward. The first guy I saw walking out a cramp must have been around 14mi which is really damn far from Boylston St.  The furthest metro stop along the course is somewhere around mile 16 so I began scanning the crowds for Christina and Naomi who had made signs for us and planned to ride the metro out to this point. At first it was easy to see a sign here and another one there - by mile 18 there were hundreds of signs, thousands of people lining the streets two-deep. There was zero chance I'd pick them out.

Boots, crushing mens' souls

Mile 24
Scanning the crowds I had zoned-out most of the running through the Newton Hills, but my focus was brought back by a hill that didn't seem to end - Heartbreak Hill. Several people told me not to worry about this hill, it was nothing compared to the trails in Santa Fe they'd say, but that hill was a beast. I could feel myself getting uncomfortable at a point and took a fateful glance up and couldn't see where it topped-out. This made me begin to panic. A few moments later two guys in front of me cracked and started walking at the same time. Wtf? I could not believe that I had just seen that. Is it even legal to walk Heartbreak Hill? And from a couple of guys running 2:50 pace no less. I motored through the top of that thing just out of spite. Near the top the crowds actually begin to close in on the road european-bike-race-style. Some guy with a cowbell was screaming at me, telling me I was almost there. I was tired but all of that was pretty awesome.

From there you roll down into town, past Boston College, past Fenway apparently. I was passing dozens of runners through this section but felt like I was working much harder to hold pace and my mind began to close up. Passing Boston College several belligerent students cursed out a guy right behind me inexplicably wearing a Yankees cap. That woke me out of my trance for a minute. Around mile 23 I saw Christina, Naomi, my Mom, and Bill & Ingrid my in-laws. This made me happy because I was freaking dying. At mile 24 I finally saw Boots up ahead in a slow fade. When I ran up on him I yelled, 'you long haired hippy-bastard!' and a few tired heads turned to see what was going on. Ha! Cut your hair you damn hippy.

Boylston St and agony
The crowds at this point seemed to be roaring. I swear it was the only thing besides torrents of mental cursing that kept me going. At mile 25 the road dipped under an overpass, the crowds disappear and the cheers fade and you're left demoralized. Then you climb back towards the sidewalks and the barricaded spectators and the roar returns! A right turn and slight incline and then left on Boylston - almost home. I could see the finish line from here and it read 2:48. I knew I had inched off pace over the last three miles but started to fly when I saw those two minutes could be had. Ah, but it was a cruel mirage. After a quarter mile surge I eased and tried to find some control over the last bit and was passed by a guy in his late 50's. I couldn't let that slide with 100m to go, it would be my lasting memory of the best day running I'd ever had. The last bit of drive that guy afforded me pushed me past another three runners to 574th place. Drove it home with a near six minute mile to finish in 2hr 50m 51s. One hell of a sweet race, all other races are now slightly less fun. Boots will be back running next week so if you see him kindly buy the man a beer.


  1. Bitchin story. thanks for writing it!

  2. Ten-four good buddy. We're gonna need to run another big one some day. That, or start up some syrup drinking contests to keep us from going soft.

  3. Awesome report. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Damn good read. I can't wait to run it next Monday myself!

  5. Thanks for the report. I was there and it brought it all back. Awesome experience.

  6. Boylston is the longest freakin' street in the country, the finish is a moving mirage. Great writeup of a one of a kind race.



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