Boston Marathon - Boston, MA - April 2016
The Boston Marathon. The Holy Grail. Part of Boston's lure is that it's the only marathon (besides the Olympics) where you have to run a fast enough qualifying time at another marathon to even be allowed to participate. For distance runners, qualifying for the Boston Marathon is like getting to play in the Super Bowl or the World Series, except that BQ-ing is something that a mere mortal might actually be able to achieve with a lot of hard work and perseverance.
My quest to qualify for the Boston Marathon began all the way back in 2005. I had run cross
Now that I was in shape, I began to wonder, how much faster could I get? I was pretty fast in high school after all, having made the Central League All-Conference Team in cross country, and broken 5 minutes for a mile several times. It was after completing the 2005 Marine Corps Marathon that I set my sights on qualifying for the Boston Marathon. But I had my work cut out for me. I would need to cut about 40 minutes off my time to qualify.
I signed up for another marathon - Buffalo in May of 2006. Unfortunately, it was way too hot that day, and I finished in 3:55. In 2007, I got sick the week of the Tallahassee Marathon, but still managed a 3:36, setting a new PR by almost 15 minutes. The next year, I ran a 3:34 at the Tybee Island Marathon, but still knew that I was capable of so much more.
I took a few years off from marathons after that, but in 2011 I got into great shape again, and attempted to qualify for Boston at the Lehigh Valley Marathon. The Boston Marathon qualifying times were getting harder the next year, so I figured I would make one more attempt while the "easier" qualifying times were still in place. Unfortunately, it was way too hot and humid, and I ended up running a 3:55.
I stayed in fantastic shape over the next year, but was getting frustrated. All my other times - 5k, 10k, 10 mile, half marathon - projected that I should be able to run a sub-3 hour marathon, but I hadn't even broken 3:30 yet. In summer of 2012, I got some great advice from my friend Tyler, and read an outstanding book - Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger. I highly recommend this book, and training with a heart rate monitor, to anyone who is serious about qualifying for Boston. I finally learned how to really train for a marathon. I got in tremendous shape that summer and fall, crushing 5ks, 10ks, and half marathons along the way, and was in the best shape of my life heading into the Philadelphia Marathon in November.
Unfortunately, I got sick the week of the Philadelphia Marathon in 2012, but I still managed a 3:15,
I was super excited to qualify, even though I would not actually run Boston for another year and a half. The cut off to qualify for each year is in September, So, because my race was in November 2014, it actually
|1st place overall at Run Me Home 5k!!
As I already suspected, I had plantar fasciitis and achilles tendonitis. I thought they would just tell me to rest, which seemed like a waste of a $30 co-pay. But to my surprise, the rehab was actually very active. It involved a lot of stretching, strengthening exercises, icing, dry needling, cupping therapy, KT taping, and more. They said I should be good to resume some easy running by November, and would have time to build up mileage to be ready for Boston in April.
I resumed running in November, just alternating a minute of running and a minute of walking at first.
|1st place overall in Gainesville 5k!!
I kept slowly building up my mileage throughout the winter. After the 10 miler came a 12 miler, and then a 14, and so on. We actually had a really mild winter until the end of January. I even wore shorts on Christmas Eve! But at the end of January, we got pummeled by a storm nicknamed Snowzilla, which brought 30+ inches of snow to the DC area. Luckily I have a treadmill in my basement, so I was able to continue training. But when the next weekend came around, I just couldn't bring myself to do a 14 mile run on a treadmill. The trails were still a mess, but I ended up driving out to Hains Point, which is a totally flat peninsula in DC with a perimeter of roughly 3 miles. Boring as it was to run 4+ loops around the roads of Hains Point, it still beats a treadmill. After that, things went back to normal, and I did most of the rest of my long runs on the C&O Canal Towpath. There were a couple of very cold days, where temperatures were down in the 20s or lower. But the good thing with running, is that after a mile or two, you generally feel warm enough.
I had put on a bit of weight while I was not running back in the fall.. But the marathon training
My next opportunity was the Running With the Saints 5k in Manassas in March. I had run this race the previous year and finished 2nd overall. But it was a bit frustrating though, because
|3rd overall at Running With the Saints 5k!
My final tune-up race was the Easter Classic 5k at the end of March - just a few weeks away from Boston. I ran even faster this week and finished in 19:17, good for another 3rd place finish. I had almost gotten back all of my 5k speed and was feeling great! I also had had some really solid long runs under my belt by this point - especially my 16 and 20 milers. I averaged a 7:45/mile pace for my 20 miler, which was pretty close to what I was doing when I qualified for Boston before. It was one of those magical days where I wasn't even planning on running that fast, but that was just the pace my body wanted to run that day. My heart rate was low and under control the whole way, and it felt like it would have actually been tougher to try to run any slower. Still, I knew I didn't have enough of a base, and it was too late to gain enough fitness to qualify for Boston again. But towards the end of my training, I felt like I had built up a great base, and that if I were to start up my marathon training from THAT point, I could have a chance to qualify again in a few months (like if I were running a fall marathon for example). Unfortunately, I didn't have a few months - I only had a few weeks before Boston. If I was going to qualify again, it would have to be another year. Nonetheless, it was great to be feeling so healthy and strong again heading into the race.
The next week, my wife and I actually went to Boston - but not for the marathon, that was still 2
|Finish line preview
Two weeks later, we were in Boston again - this time for me to run the Boston Marathon! We flew in on Friday afternoon, met up with my parents, and headed straight to the race expo. My parents have gone to hundreds of my races over the years, so it was awesome to have them with me that weekend.
The first thing to do at the race expo was to get my bib number. I was number 7093 in the red wave, which would go off first on Monday morning. The wave assignments are based on how fast your
|Got my bib # in the fastest wave
You actually get a really nice long sleeve tech t-shirt for "free" along with your bib number which I didn't realize. The Boston Marathon jacket is a must for any qualifier. Any serious runner is familiar with the famous Boston jacket. The color of the jacket changes each year, but the fundamental design stays the same. Whenever you see someone with that jacket, you always know exactly what the jacket is and what it represents. It means that person was fast enough to qualify for Boston. Some people think that people who wear the jacket to races are "show-offs", but personally I couldn't wait to show off my jacket. If I wasn't already married, I might even consider wearing it to the ceremony in lieu of a tuxedo. Luckily, my parents bought the jacket for me! Not surprisingly, I found some other things I wanted - some Boston Marathon sandals, a couple shirts, a half-zip, a hat, a pint glass. When you work so hard to qualify, you
|The famous Boston Marathon jacket!
Friday dinner was at Atlantic Fish Company, where we all met up with our friends, Scott and Dawn. Scott was running the BAA 5k on Saturday, so they were also in town for the weekend. We were all planning on going to the Red Sox game together on Sunday. Scott and Dawn were also going to go to the game on Monday, but leave early to come out and cheer me on in the race that morning. Dinner was delicious and fun. Afterwards, we walked by the freshly painted finish line before heading back to the hotel.
Saturday, we got up early and headed to the Sam Adams Brewery. I was worried that brewery tours might be hard to come by on marathon weekend, and so I made sure we were among the first to arrive that morning. As it turned out, there were actually many spots on many tours available that day, so we didn't need to get there quite so early. We were kind of like Clark Griswold arriving to the empty Wally World parking lot. First ones here! But the brewery tour with my parents and Michelle was a lot of fun. I had actually done that tour twice previously, but always enjoy it and always seem to learn something new each time. I also really
|Sam Adams Brewery Tour
Saturday afternoon, my wife and I headed back to the expo so I could check out everything I hadn't gotten to on Friday. I was glad that I went back, because I got to meet Bill Rodgers! Bill Rodgers is the greatest American distance runner ever in my opinion. He won the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon 4 times each! I had actually met him a couple years earlier at a 10k race down in Atlanta, but it was really cool to meet Boston Billy at the Boston Marathon! He signed an autograph for me and congratulated me on qualifying for Boston. I ended up buying a pair of Run Lites light-up running gloves from his table. I already had a head lamp, but head lamps can be impractical because they don't contour to your head, and end up bouncing around a lot. It is also hard because you want to hold your head up when you run, but it is tough to hold your head up and also get the light angled down enough for you to see the ground. The gloves work much better, and I have gotten some great use out of them already! It makes it much easier to see when you run in the dark. After the expo, we headed back to the hotel, and rounded my parents up for dinner at the Boston Public House. The carb loading continued with some lobster macaroni and cheese!
On Sunday, we all went to the Red Sox game! I was so excited because I had never been to
Marathon Monday! One of the many unique things about the Boston Marathon is that it's always
Monday morning, I woke up, got dressed and got ready to depart the hotel. My parents wished me good luck - they would catch me a few times along the course. Then I walked to the shuttles with my wife, Scott, and Dawn. The shuttles are actually all school buses. Marathon week is always spring break for Boston area schools, and so they use hundreds of school buses to transport thousands of marathoners to the start line. You catch the bus in Boston, right near the Boston Common park, and it drives you 26 miles out to Hopkinton where the race actually begins. The course winds through several small Boston suburbs - Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley,
|Pre-race carbo loading
|26.2 mile bus ride to the start line
After a long school bus ride, we finally arrived at the Athlete's Village! I was so excited just walking up to the entrance, my heart was racing. It's like the entrance was singing to me: Hello, it's me. I was wondering if after all these years you'd like to meet.
Once I got inside though, there was nothing particularly exciting about it. Because I was going off with the first wave, I got there early and luckily it was not that crowded yet. I had almost 2 hours to wait until I even had to head to my corral. So, I staked out an awesome spot on the grass under a big shaded tent. I was able to lay down, rest
my legs, and leisurely peruse the Sunday Boston Globe while I sipped on Gatorade and snacked on a
|Hello, it's me. I was wondering if after all these years you'd like to meet.
I ditched my throwaway Wal-mart sweatpants, sweatshirt, and gloves, and started walking with the other red wave runners towards the start line. Now that I was out of the shade of the tent, I realized that it was actually very sunny and much warmer than I was expecting. I was dressed appropriately, with shorts, short sleeves, and sunglasses, and had hydrated thoroughly, but I was worried that I hadn't applied enough sunscreen. Luckily, at Boston they think of everything! People had massive squeeze bottles of sunscreen for runners to use as they walked to the start. I basically completely slathered my body - arms, legs, neck with sunscreen, I was taking zero chances!
One other thing that surprised me about the marathon, is that you have to walk a LOOOONG way to
Finally, we arrived at the corral. As I mentioned, I was in the fastest wave of runners, but I was in the last corral of that wave, so I was still a pretty good distance from the actual start line. Before I knew it, it was time for the national anthem and then an inspiring military flyover. The Athlete's Village and marathon start line were probably the safest places on Earth that day with the overwhelming police and military support on hand. After the 2013 bombing, they also were taking zero chances.
Once the race starter's pistol went off, it took me almost 5 minutes to get to the actual start line. I just
|8k - Entering Framingham
As I mentioned before, I didn't really care what time I ran the Boston Marathon in. The real achievement was in qualifying. Qualifying for me was like winning the Super Bowl. Actually running Boston for me was like the Pro Bowl where everyone is just happy to be there, but doesn't really go too hard and just enjoys themselves. Based on my recent races and long run paces, I estimated that a 3:24 (7:45/mile pace)
|Forever Boston Strong!
I could tell right from the start that I was not going to maintain anything like a 7:45 pace today. It was too hot. And my legs also were surprisingly a bit more tired than I would have expected despite the fact that I had done very little running over the past week. But as I thought about it, we actually had done a lot of walking around the past few days - the race expo twice, brewery tour, Red Sox game, plus general walking around the city. And with traveling, I had neglected my usual stretching a bit too. So, my legs did feel a bit tight and tired even during the first couple miles. In a marathon where I care about my time, I generally would stay off my feet and do very little in the days before the race. But since I didn't really care about my time in this one, I just wanted to enjoy the Boston experience!
The first half of the Boston Marathon is mostly downhill. My first 4 miles were 7:54, 7:54, 7:49, and 7:47. I had to make one more bathroom stop during mile 5 (sorry, local tree!), which slowed me down to an 8:17. After leaving Hopkinton, the course heads into Ashland. They
|10 miles down, 16.2 to go!
It was startling to see the impact of the heat on the other runners. I saw people walking as early as mile 5. If you are walking by mile 5 of a marathon, you seriously miscalculated what you would be able to do that day. And these were some of the best marathoners in the world! As I kept running, I kept seeing more and more dehydrated runners laid out out along the side of the course, receiving medical attention. Of the 27,556 runners who started the race, 860 of them did not finish. I just took my time, kept a steady, manageable pace, and grabbed 2 or 3 cups of Gatorade and water at the hydration stations each mile. The last thing I wanted to do was push the pace and risk having to drop out of the race. A slow time at Boston I could live with, but I don't know if I could ever live down a DNF.
I kept my steady pace through Ashland and Natick. This was the first marathon where I ran with my
|Wild women of Wellesley!
A little after the halfway point, the course heads into Wellesley. This part of the course is famous primarily because of Wellesley College. Wellesley is an all-girls college, and they come out in FORCE to support the Boston Marathon. I could hear the cheering long before I could even see any of them. It is so loud, that this section of the course is nicknamed the Wellesley Scream Tunnel. Thousands of women line about a half mile of
|13.1 miles - half way done!
I was feeling strong, more than halfway through the race now. My next goal was to find my family on the course. I was texting with my wife while ran, trying to figure out exactly where they were. They found a great spot that was not very crowded, a little bit past the 17 mile marker. This was a great time to take a break. At this point, I had 17 miles under my belt, and was feeling good, with less than 10 miles to go! I ran over to the side where they were, and stopped to chat and refresh myself with some Gatorade. We got another spectator to take a couple family photos for us, and then I was back on my way. My family was going to try to find me again around mile 25, but I wasn't sure if I would actually be able to find them or not because it would be much more crowded at that point of the course.
So, I continued my run. I was into the infamous Newton Hills now. This was actually the section of the course I had run when I was here a couple weeks earlier. Even though it is the toughest
|Found my family just after mile 17!
|Family photo at mile 17
The next few miles of the course were mostly nondescript as you headed into Boston. One landmark that you could see a few miles from the finish was the famous Citgo sign. When you see the sign, it means that you are nearing Boston and the finish. My next task would be to find my friends Scott and Dawn, and then my parents near mile 25.
Scott and Dawn had gone to the Red Sox game that day. The Red Sox always have a home game on the morning of the Boston Marathon, on Patriots' Day. They try to time it so that the game ends at roughly the same time that many runners are finishing the race, so that the baseball fans can
|Citgo sign - almost done!
I slowed down a bit at this point, scanning the crowd, trying to find my family. Finally, I spotted my dad in the distance, waving his green Boston Marathon hat high in the air amidst the sea of people. I began to angle over the the right to meet up with them again. But when I got to the fence, I didn't see them. Then I heard voices behind me, "Duane! Duane! Duane!" I had overshot them by about 50 meters. So, I turned around and ran backwards. Yes, I ran backwards during the Boston Marathon! Finally, I reached my family for a few final high-fives and pictures before heading on to finish the race. At this point, I had less than a mile to go!
The last mile is one of the most exciting parts of the course. There are actually very few turns on the
|Found Scott and Dawn outside Fenway
Mile 1 - 7:54 (145 average heart rate)
2 - 7:54 (145)
3 - 7:49 (153)
4 - 7:47 (153)
5 - 8:17 (154)
6 - 7:42 (157)
7 - 7:50 (160)
8 - 8:18 (162)
9 - 8:18 (161)
10 - 8:10 (154)
11 - 8:34 (157)
12 - 8:21 (160)
13 - 8:10 (162)
14 - 8:12 (163)
15 - 8:11 (160)
16 - 8:04 (157)
17 - 8:23 (163)
18 - 10:25 (152)
19 - 8:13 (158)
20 - 8:52 (155)
21 - 8:37 (163)
22 - 8:16 (157)
23 - 8:08 (160)
24 - 8:29 (161)
25 - 8:27 (161)
26 - 8:34 (164)
Final 0.5 miles - 7:35/mile pace
TOTAL: 26.5 miles, 3:39:50, 8:18/mile pace, 159 avg heart rate
It felt amazing to finally cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon! As I mentioned before, the real
|Boston Marathon Finisher!
I collected my finisher medal and a chocolate milk, and kept on walking. We decided that it would be easier to try to meet at the Boston Common park after the race. It was hard to get anywhere near the finish line anyway, and so crowded that it would have been difficult to find each other there. It was probably a little less than a mile walk to the park, which sounds far after running a 26.2 mile race. But it actually felt good to stretch my legs a bit and revel in the glory of finishing the Boston Marathon.
Eventually I reached the park, where I was reunited with my wife and parents. It was great to have them there to support me on this momentous occasion.
Tuesday morning, we headed back to DC. And yes, I wore my jacket and medal on the airplane as well. So, that was my Boston Marathon weekend. Sometimes highly anticipated events don't live up to expectations, but this was not one of those times. It was everything I imagined, and I loved every second of it - even running up Heartbreak Hill.
Some people asked if I would try to qualify for Boston again. I don't really have any immediate plans