In 1979, Stephen King published a book called "The Long Walk". It's not as popular as some of his other novels like "The Stand" or "11/22/63" but perhaps it should be, at least if you're a runner. The story is about an annual event where several dozen sixteen year old males walk continuously, starting in northern Maine and making their way south, until only one of them is left on their feet. If they stop walking for more than 90 seconds, they are shot dead. The winner is awarded a life of luxury.
I don't mean to be overly dramatic here, but I thought that the theme of a miserable journey sprinkled with hope paralleled this year's Boston Marathon nicely. There were no soldiers aiming M-16's at our heads if we stopped, but there was the blazing sun and its insanely hot rays. Reports say it was already either 80 or 81 degrees at the start and it climbed up to 89 degrees along parts of the course as we ran. I wouldn't be surprised if the course's black asphalt made it even hotter.
When it was pretty much confirmed four days in advance that it would be a scorcher on race day, I begrudgingly decided to change gears. The plan was now to simply to take it easy and ensure a relatively comfortable finish. No sub-3. No heroics. Just avoid being "that guy". Get to the end, try to have some fun in the process and save the legs for a possible sub-3 run at the Sugarloaf Marathon next month instead. I am really glad I executed that plan. Here's how the day went:
|Already feeling the heat.|
I had to pee and waited half an hour in line to do so. Not good to be on your feet that long and a good thing I was planning to go slow today. Next year, I'm going to avoid using a drop bag so I can skip Athlete's Village and just hang out at the much less crowded start line instead.
Eventually, we were called for the long walk down to the start. Maddy and I stopped for a final bathroom stop at the much less crowded porta-potties near the start and then went to our corral (we were both in #7). Soon after, our friend Chris found us which was awesome. The three of us all basically had the same, smart plan of taking it easy so we had all hoped to run with each other for a bit. However, it was getting hotter and I began to wonder if it might be less painful for Chris and I to repeatedly kick each other in the nuts and call it good.
Hopkinton and Ashland - We're Off!
It took a little over five minutes to reach the actual start line when the gun went off. Crowded first few miles which was to be expected. The three of us ran together and we soon came to the first water station at mile one. Swooping in was difficult because everyone was going in, and that would be the case at every aid station throughout the race.
My plan was to drink a water or Gatorade and dump a cup of water over my head at each aid station. I was carrying a handheld water bottle filled with coconut water so opted to just dump water on my head until that was drained.
After that chaos was done, I looked around and soon found Chris and we linked back up. "Where's Maddy?" I asked. "I don't know, probably up ahead," Chris replied. We couldn't see her anywhere. It's really easy to loose people. I figured Chris was right and we still kept an eye out for her but didn't see her. Chris and I ran together for the next several miles, but by 4.5 miles in I had lost him.
Framingham - Water Boy
The heat continues to climb. The pace was going a little faster than I had originally thought I'd start at, but still within acceptable parameters at 7:40-ish a mile. Heard a "Jamie!!!" at one point and saw Noel and Madison, two friends I saw at the same place last year.
The Walking Dead had now begun. The heat was getting to folks and they were tired and taking walk breaks. We're only about seven miles in now, but those who went out too fast were already paying a heavy price with the heat.
At one point, an overzealous 12 year-old boy had brought out a large tupperware container filled with water from his house and asked "Want a splash?!" as he was already in motion to toss the water at a nearby runner, who clearly wasn't expecting it. It was hilarious! However, the runner managed to dodge it and thankfully it hit me instead. The water was ice cold and felt great.
Natick - Crowds Rule
Still trucking along and the heat continues to beat down and gradually intensify. Still dumping water over my head and running through every sprinkler or garden house that I could. I will mention here that the crowd support throughout the course was absolutely fantastic. Spectators were spraying water, handing out ice, giving out popsicles, setting up their own water stations, handing out sponges soaked in cold water, etc. Anyone with doubts in their faith of humanity would have had it fully restored during the race. Seriously. It was amazing and really made what would have be an otherwise miserable day a lot of fun.
Wellesely - The Scream Tunnel
The ear piercing loudness of college girls holding up signs asking to be kissed was entertaining. They all started with "Kiss Me, I'm ______", where the blank would say things like I'm from Georgia or I'm single. I thought an amusing sign would be "Kiss Me, I have herpes simplex one!" but virtually all of the signs were a bit more inviting.
I saw one guy who must not have been very good looking presumably get rejected a few times, trying to slow down only to speed up and move along and try again. Wow, guy. That's pretty rough if you can't even steal a smooch there.
Like last year, I stayed to the other side of the road for the duration, opting to save my ear drums and not having any desire to participate in the kissing game, though I think it's a pretty cool tradition of sorts.
About a mile or so after the scream tunnel, I saw someone who looked familiar and ran up beside her. It was Amy Lane, a talented ultramarathon runner who I see at some of the local races. We ran together for a bit and chatted, which was nice. She was also taking it easy on the pace, but we eventually split up.
Newton - The Hills
Not too much longer after I lost Amy, I heard a voice from behind me say "Hey, aren't there some bathrooms up at this hospital?" It was Maddy, referring to where I stopped for a bio-break when we ran this part of the course a few weeks ago. Turns out she had been behind me after all, and I was glad we had linked back up. The timing was perfect, since I'd have someone to work with on the upcoming hills.
The Walking Dead was now in full effect after the right turn on Commonwealth and the hot sun continued to shoot down fire from above. Not to brag, but I hardly noticed the prior hill before the turn and this next one also didn't seem too difficult. Of course, this is because I was taking the pace easy. But given all of the people walking and looking to be in really bad shape, they were having a much tougher time with it.
A very scary moment when I saw one guy go down. He was wobbling before collapsing and a crowd of spectators rushed to his aid. Watching him fall reminded me of a World War II fighter plane getting shot out of the sky...crippling blow followed by gravity doing its thing.
I'll mention here that I saw several others along the hills who had already gone down and were being tended to as well. Most looked more or less okay, just tired and needing to sit down and cool off, but at least another one looked almost as dire as the fighter pilot guy. Yikes.
Also saw a guy who was cramping on the first hill and I slowed to walk beside him and offered him some electrolyte pills. He accepted.
Maddy and I continued on and on towards Heartbreak Hill. Teamwork was in full effect as we would swoop in and grab Otter Pops, sponges, cold towels, etc. for each other and we also just generally pushed each other up the hills. Crowds were simply awesome here.
I remember one guy in particular manning a high pressured hose shooting ice cold water and I swooped in to get dowsed. Not too many people around me so I got the brunt of it. He drenched me first on the chest (I ran shirtless the whole way, a smart move) and then my face for several seconds as I ran by. Very refreshing as the heat was now very intense.
We soon reached the top of Heartbreak Hill and actually made pretty good time getting up this stretch, averaging maybe 8:20-ish a mile and doing so relatively easily while passing way more people than were passing us. Was very glad I was taking it slow and wasn't one of the gazillion Walking Dead who were around us. The carnage was pretty impressive.
The Backside of Heartbreak Hill
Up and over Hearbreak Hill and now came my favorite section of the course: Boston College. Like last year, they were rowdy, likely inebriated, but insanely encouraging, positive and energetic. I couldn't help but swoop in and exchange high fives with dozens of them as I went by. They rock.
And also like last year, I saw a few of the kids from the cross country team I help coach, stationed at the same spot they were at last year just past the BC students. We shouted greetings to each other as I went by. Nice to get another mental boost from them.
Saw another guy who was walking with a limp and obviously the victim of bad leg cramps. Slowed to his side and offered some salt pills. Like the other guy, he took me up on the offer.
The Final Four Miles
Okay, now the heat was starting to take its toll. My quads were also a bit tired. In a bit of a rough patch here and my pace slowed down to 9:25/mile from 35k to 40k. Was glad I didn't need to walk, but still a lot of folks were passing me here. However, I was also dodging and weaving an even larger number of the Walking Dead.
I began to do some time calculations and knew I should still finish faster than my slowest marathon time (3:37:02, MDI Marathon in 2005...my first). With that in mind I kept the pace slow and steady but on pace to get me under that time.
One mile to go and I began to pick up the pace a little, just wanting it to be over. Knowing I was close gave me a bit of a second wind. Made the right turn on Hereford and as I approached Boylston I saw some dude wearing a pink tutu. While I'm sure this guy is probably a very nice person, I despise the idea of running races in costume. It's a cheap and stupid ploy to get attention. I made it a point to push it a little more to get ahead of him and I did.
I swooped to the right, knowing my father, Kate and her parents, Ryan, Christine, Nate and Bob would be on that side and near a hotel with flags out in front. I found them and made a gun out of my fingers, put it to my head and pretended to fire as I ran by. Crossed the finish line in 3:35:14 and glad to be done in one piece.
|Ha ha ha, I kid, I kid.|
Got my medal, a very unnecessary mylar blanket and then ducked beside a street sweeper and puked. I had a lot of fluids in my stomach that weren't being absorbed, but better that than the other way around. A volunteer quickly came to my side and asked if I was okay and offered to get the medical team, but I assured her I was fine and that this happens to me after almost every race (though today I puked from the heat, not running fast).
Right after I emptied my stomach, Amy and I bumped into each other again and we walked together to the buses where our drop bags were. We talked about how our ultramarathoning experience paid nice dividends today. In ultras, you're slogging through hell for longer periods of time and we agreed that we probably had a significant mental advantage as a result.
Found everyone at the family meeting area and it was so great to see everyone. Very appreciative that my family and friends were there for the race. Tough day with the heat, but overall I had a lot of fun.
|My dad and I.|
|Feet pruned from socks soaked with sweat and water.|
So many people blew up on the course. Looking at the race results of others revealed many epic collapses. I'm sure the race averaged one of the highest average positive split differences in its history. That being said, a few managed to fare very well in the heat, namely the first American woman, Sheri Piers (from Maine) and also a friend of mine, Maureen, who placed third in her age group. However, rest assured performances like theirs were very rare on Monday. Hats off to them, most impressive.
On a scale of one to ten, I'd rate how I did an eight. That's based on sticking to my plan. The goal was to simply take it easy and use it as a long training run since I knew I would now do Sugarloaf next month and try to break three there instead (I'm now officially registered for said race, by the way).
I could have done better by taking it around ten seconds a mile slower in the first half to preserve the legs a little more. My quads are still a bit sore, despite the slow pace. Nothing too bad, but still more than I would like. The heat probably didn't help with that, but it still concerns me a little for Sugarloaf, as the last fifteen miles of that course are all quad-busting, downhill fun. I suspect I'll be fine though. Minimal running the rest of the week, then a quick ramp up before a two week taper and then it'll be go time again...hopefully in better weather this time around.
|Click to enlarge.|
Ran 26.2 miles @ 8:12/mile pace.
Official chip time: 3:35:14
Lower to upper 80s, sunny.
Saucony Kinvara 2, shorts, handheld bottle (coconut water).
Additionally, my future father in-law, Gary, made this awesome memento to my first Boston Marathon in 2011 and presented it to me over the race weekend. He made the frame out of cherry wood and the picture simply doesn't do it justice. Thanks a bunch, Gary!