Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Recon Mission: Boston Marathon

I have the week off from work, and so does Kate so she graciously agreed to come down with me to Boston and help with logistics so I could run the last 14.5 miles of the course, starting at Wellesley. We'd also drive the first part of the course up to that point.

This was a great idea and I learned a lot. I was actually on much of the course two years ago when I helped crew and pace a friend who was running a quadruple Boston to raise money for charity. Unfortunately I had a bad plantar fasciitis flare up at the time so didn't run as much as I would have liked, and plus it was at 1:00am so I don't remember it as well.

After a tortuous drive down due to wide-load trucks taking up all three lanes on I-495, we were relieved to finally get to Hopkinton. We found the start line painted on the road, but first parked the car to check it out more closely and also the statue of George V. Brown firing his starting pistol.

We got back in the car and started driving the course. I noted the downhills the first several miles. As many have warned me, these can be dangerous, and I can see why. Race excitement + going out too fast + significant dowhills = trashed quads. I don't want to be that guy.

After four miles, bit of an uphill and then it seemed pretty tame for a while. I noted the small, rolling hills. Emphasis on small. Should be pretty fast going.

Back-up instructions in case the GPS failed
We reached Wellesley College and pulled into the parking lot. I gathered my running gear but first checked to see if a bathroom near their athletic fields was open. It was. Score! A good omen. After that I fired up the Garmin with a preloaded course map of what I was going to run. As a back-up, I had directions written down though.

I bid Kate farewell and was off. She was going to drive down to the finish and do some shopping while I ran.

I cruised along slowly, with the goal of this run just going at an easy pace. That wasn't hard, given my crappy diet the day before. Felt sluggish at first because of that, but it would thankfully wear off.

I noted the terrain continued to just have very small hills, and went through some really nice looking towns. However, the sidewalks were pretty bad at times, coated with thick, slippery ice which made the going slow. This was a bit aggravating, but so be it. On race day, no sidewalks necessary, as the roads will be ours.

Newton Hills  (before Heartbreak Hill)
About 5.5 miles into my run (17.2-ish miles from the course start), I made the right turn onto Commonwealth Avenue, and now the real hills, known as the Newton Hills, started. Granted these hills, including Heartbreak Hill, are smaller than what I run on around my house and also the ones on the MDI Marathon course, but they are still nothing to sneeze at. They're pretty big, and I could see how they could easily chew you up at that stage in the race. Definitely to be respected.

Running along the Newton Hills stretch was nice because there was a side road with only local traffic. I saw many other runners along here which was great.

Got to Heartbreak Hill and reached the top. After that, a nice downhill and I noted the Boston College campus to my right. Beautiful school.

The Garmin course feature saved me soon after passing the campus. I made a left hand turn a block or two too soon, and my watch beeped at me and flashed a message I was off course. I was sure I was on the right street, but who I am to argue with computers. I backtracked and sure enough, I discovered it was right.

Made the left on Beacon and the downhills really got serious here. I mused how it would definitely suck to trash the quads in the first few miles or elsewhere and not have the stamina for this section. Very easy to fly here if one still can do so.

Citgo sign looms in the distance
So I'm now 11 or so miles into my run (and 22-23 or so miles into the course) and I'm noting things are more and more getting city-like. No more individual houses, and I'm running alongside huge brownstone buildings crammed together along the street with pedestrians walking to and fro along the sidewalks. I slowed down several times when passing, not wanting to be rude. Yeah, I realize it is Boston, but I wouldn't feel right zooming past people and scaring the crap out of them.

I knew I was coming up on the right turn on Hereford, but suddenly my Garmin was saying I was off course and yelling at me again. Say what?! I was certain I stayed on Commonwealth Avenue, but my Garmin was saying otherwise. This time I would issue a challenge... I fired up my phone and checked google maps and verified I was right. Right at that same moment, I realized the taller buildings were interfering with the GPS signal and not giving me as accurate of a read on my location. Made sense.

Turned right on Hereford and saw several cop cars, firetrucks, and ambulances go by. Huh. Turned left on Boyston and was greeted with something unexpected: smoke, and lots of it. Really thick black smoke right down the street where I was supposed to run. You seriously could not see through it. I stopped and contemplated what to do. A guy on the street told me "you don't want to run through that" as he passed by. I didn't. But I did.

I pulled my jacket up over my nose and ran on. Other pedestrians were doing the same. Turns out a building was on fire a block away. At least it wasn't right on Boyston. As a result, the dense smoke wasn't very deep, and after a block I was through it completely.

Very soon afterwards, I was at the library and found the finish line painted across the road. I lept on to the road quickly to run across it before a wave of traffic came, and returned to the safety of the sidewalk. I called Kate and she was just a block away and we soon met back up. A nice end to the run.

Afterwards, I changed and we got an early dinner and did some shopping. Also had a bit of fun goofing off:

This guy offered me candy and drove a van without windows

Photo booth fun
Ran 14.5 miles @ 8:22/mile pace.
AHR/MHR - N/A (wonky data)
Paved roads. 
Moderately hilly. 
Upper 20s, sunny. 
Saucony Kinvara, long pants, windbreaker, short sleeved shirt, beanie, gloves, handheld bottle (water).


vja said...

What a smart trial! And the day sounds like it was a lot of fun.

Blaine Moore said...

Yeah, the Newton Hills themselves aren't that tough...but if you fly down those first 5 miles and then don't reign it in for the following 9-12 miles you'll discover you've got nothing left after you get over the top and try to come down the back side of Heart Break.

I'm guessing you didn't turn around to see the Young at Heart statue?

Doug W said...

I don't know... I'm running my 2nd year for the Children's Hospital "Miles for Miracles" team. WE do our weekly runs on "the course," and we do our 17 and 21 miler's and finish on Boylston street, just shy of the finish line. Our coaches, who are veterans of 18 Boston Marathon's between them say it's bad luck to cross the finish line before Patriot's Day. Just saying.

Jamie said...

Doug, hopefully the marathon gods will show me some mercy since I wasn't aware of that. I'll sacrifice a Gu in their honor.

mindy said...

Open letter to the Boston Marathon Course: Brace yourself...J-Rock is about to go Medieval on your ass. Consider yourself warned.

Luc said...

Sounds like a fun journey, Jamie! I especially liked this part: "who I am to argue with computers"... I do this everyday. :)