Monday, April 17, 2017

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
country and track in high school, and even ran the New York City Marathon in 1999. But after that I quickly fell out of shape. In 2005, I got motivated, dropped 50 pounds, and ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 3:50. There is nothing remarkable about a 3:50, but my journey to get there had ignited a flame.

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,
knocking almost 20 minutes off my PR. Even though it was frustrating to get sick the week of the race, I finally felt like I was onto something, and had "figured out" the marathon. So, I tried the Philadelphia Marathon again in 2013, but again got sick the week of the race. This time, I was so angry that I just walked most of the last few miles, and finished in 3:34. At this point, I was really frustrated, and ready to give up on the whole Boston thing all together. But I stayed in shape, and chose to make one more attempt at it in the fall of 2014 at the Potomac River Run Marathon. The marathon starts just about 20 minutes from my house, on the C&O Canal Towpath where I do almost all of my long runs. It was very low key, relaxed, and felt like a "home meet" for me. I needed 3:10 to qualify, and ended up running a 3:07 that day, FINALLY qualifying for the Boston Marathon after all those years!

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!!
qualified me for the April 2016 race. Having the extra time turned out to be a good thing for me. After qualifying, I kept training through the winter. But I developed plantar fasciitis in my foot, to go along with the achilles tendonitis that had already been bothering me for a few years. I fought through it during the spring racing season, even managing to win two 5ks on back-to-back weekends in April - the Gainesville 5k and the Run Me Home 5k. But it kept getting worse, and by June, I was hardly running at all. My wife and I had signed up for the Peachtree Road Race 10k in Atlanta (the world's largest 10k) that July, so I wanted to at least run that one. I was very excited to finish in the top 1,000 out of over 60,000 runners and win my Top 1000 mug, but at this point, my body was really telling me to take a break. I needed to make sure I was healthy by next April for the Boston Marathon. So, I reluctantly visited the doctors at OrthoVirginia.

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!!
Then 2 minutes of running, one minute walking. Then a mile of running, followed by walking. Eventually I was doing 3 and 4 mile runs, and then 6, and then 8. By mid-January, I finally completed my first double digit run - 10 miles - in quite a while. But the marathon was only 3 months away and I had basically no base. This was going to be a challenge! My training for Boston was greatly reduced from what I was doing from 2012-2014 when I would routinely run 40-50 miles per week during the marathon training cycle. This time, I began in the 20s, worked my way up steadily into the 30s, and I only had one 40 mile week during my entire marathon training. Luckily, I didn't really care what my time was at Boston. The real achievement was just in qualifying and earning the right to compete in the race. I knew I wasn't going to PR, or even re-qualify for Boston at Boston, but I really just wanted to feel strong and healthy throughout the race.

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
Top 1000 @ Peachtree Road Race, world's largest 10k!
(even at a reduced level) got me back into shape quickly. By early April I had dropped about 20 pounds and was back just about where I wanted to be. As I was dropping weight, I was also getting faster. I ran the Ringing in Hope 5k on New Year's Eve just to get a sense of where I was at, and ended up finishing in 20:58. I normally run in the high 18s and low 19s, so I was a good bit off of that. But by mid-February, I was feeling much stronger, and thought I might have a shot at breaking 20 at the By George 5k on a very flat Hains Point course. Unfortunately, we got a strange clipper snow storm that dropped a quick inch of powdery, slippery snow right before the race began. It was difficult to get footing or push off, but I still managed a 20:43. It was still frustrating though, because I knew I could run faster in better conditions, and was looking forward to my next opportunity.

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!
 I was actually winning the race until the last half mile when someone passed me for the victory. So, I was determined to go back and try to win in this year! There was good news and bad news. The good news is that I ran a 19:35, knocking 20 seconds off my time on the same course from the previous year, and finishing in a time that would have won the previous year's race by 10 seconds. The bad news was that a 19:35 this year was only good enough for 3rd place. But even though I didn't win the race, I was very excited to break 20 by such a wide margin and encouraged to feel like I was getting my speed back,

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
weeks away. We actually went to watch the World Figure Skating Championships, which were being held in Boston (my wife is a big skating fan!). One cool thing about going a couple weeks before the race was that I was actually able to get out that Saturday morning and preview part of the course for my long run. I ran from around mile 20 down to mile 14, and then turned around and ran back to mile 20. This allowed me to preview some of the toughest hills on the course, including the infamous Heartbreak Hill.  The hills themselves really aren't that bad, not any bigger than anything I've seen in Virginia. And the hills I ran on the day of my training run were actually a bit steeper than they would be on race day. This is because for my training run, I ran on an access road that ran parallel to the course. On race day, the actual road (which has a less steep grade) would be closed to traffic and open to us runners. But as I said, the hills themselves are not that bad, it is more WHEN then hills come up during the race. They start around mile 15 and go all the way until mile 21 or so. The location and placement of the hills on the course is more what crushes runners' souls rather than the steepness of the hills themselves. But it was nice to get a chance to preview part of the course. I even got to see the finish line! They keep the finish line on Boylston Street year round for tourists to see, but repaint it right before the race each year.

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
qualifying time was. I was proud to make it into the red wave (even though I was in the last corral of that wave) because that means that I was in the fastest group of runners at a race that includes the fastest marathoners in the world. Once I had my bib number, it was time to buy some overpriced race merchandise.

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!
want as many souvenirs as possible to commemorate your achievement. I probably could have spent hours at the expo, but we had to leave in time for our dinner reservation.

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
wanted to try the Sam Adams 26.2 beer. It is a lighter gose style ale, only about 4.5% ABV. It's designed for runners who generally don't want a really heavy beer. It was a good beer, so we actually got a growler of it to take back to the hotel, figuring that it could serve as our celebration beer on Monday after the race.

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
Fenway Park!
 Fenway Park before! There were so many people there with their marathon jackets - myself included. It was a beautiful day for the game. We got to see the Green Monster, sing Sweet Caroline in the 7th inning, and the Sox won the game! It was a bit warm and sunny during the game though, so I tried to hide out in the shade of the concourse and drink water in between some innings. After the game, we went to Lucia Ristorante for a nice Italian dinner. More carb loading, hooray!! Finally, it was back to the hotel to rest up for my big race the next morning.

Marathon Monday! One of the many unique things about the Boston Marathon is that it's always
Green Monster
 run on a Monday - the 3rd Monday in April which is known as Patriots' Day in Boston. It is a state holiday in Massachusetts, commemorating the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which were the first battles of the American Revolutionary War.

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
Newton - and only the last 5 miles or so of the Boston Marathon is actually in Boston. Unlike most races which start and finish in the same general place, Boston is a point-to-point race, so you finish 26.2 miles away from where you started, which necessitates the use of shuttles. After all, who would want to run a 26.2 mile warm-up to get to the start line? It was kind of fun riding the school bus to the start line with all the other marathoners. The guy I sat next to was also a Boston virgin - this was his first Boston Marathon. I was excited because he thought I was a Boston veteran since I looked so prepared. I had my throwaway sweatpants and sweatshirt on, had a copy of the Sunday Boston Globe to read while I
26.2 mile bus ride to the start line
waited, and a bag with some Gatorade and snacks.

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.
bagel. And because it was not too crowded yet, I also was actually able to make it to the port-a-potty twice before I had to head to the start line. By the time I had to head to my wave, it had gotten MUCH more crowded though. Now runners from the other 3 slower waves were starting to show up. I actually had to go to the bathroom again when I was leaving, but the line had gotten too long by that point. Luckily, there is one more bathroom stop for runners to use right before you get into the starting corrals.

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
Chillaxin' pre-race
get from the Athlete's Village to the actual start line. Like at least a mile. So, you don't need to do too much of a warm-up ahead of time. But, even though it was a long walk to the start, I was glad that it gave me a chance stretch my legs a bit more before the race, get some sunscreen, and go the bathroom one last time at that final bathroom stop before the start.

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
walked until I was about 10 meters away. No sense wasting energy before my race actually began! It felt so amazing to cross the start line of the Boston Marathon. I was finally living my dream of running the Boston Marathon! It was a little crowded for the first mile or two, but not nearly as much as I had anticipated. They do a great job of dividing everyone up based on qualifying times, so you are running with people who are about the same speed as you, and less likely to get in your way.

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!
would be about the best I could hope for in this race if there were perfect conditions.  Unfortunately, there were not perfect conditions. The temperatures were in the 60s to start, and spiked up into the mid 70s during the race,  There also was lots of sun with not much shade to cover you as you headed in towards the city.  It was a beautiful day to sit outside on your deck and sip an iced tea, but not such a great day to run a fast marathon. Perfect marathon weather is temperatures in the 30s or 40s with a nice cloud cover, and no wind.

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!
 had awesome crowd support in Ashland, they were so loud and enthusiastic!  Mile 6 was a 7:43, and mile 7 was a 7:50, which was my last mile in the 7s for the day. At this point, I realized the magnitude of the heat, and shifted into conservative mode. My other miles, except for one where I stopped to talk to my family, were all in the 8s.

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!
cell phone, so I actually took a lot of pictures along the way. I also was able to text on the run to let my wife and parents know where I was on the course (the runner tracking was not working). A couple of spectators were nice enough to take pictures for me too at mile 10 and the half marathon point.

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!
the course, encouraging runners with wild cheers, funny signs, high-fives, and even kisses! Sorry Ashland, you were great, but Wellesley definitely had you beat for crowd support.

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!
part of the course, it felt somewhat reassuring to know that I had already run it before. The hills roll all the way up to about mile 21, and then the last 5 miles of the course are actually mostly downhill and flat. I slowed down a little bit on these hilly miles, but continued to consistently nail miles in the 8 minute range.  The final of the Newton Hills is known as Heartbreak Hill. It comes towards the end of the 20th mile, and runs right by Boston College. Boston College had some fantastic crowd support as well. Lots of loud, enthusiastic cheering and funny signs.  About halfway up the hill, I spotted a group of fraternity guys on the side with a couple kegs of soda, holding out cups of soda for the runners to enjoy. Not many runners were taking them up on their offer. But I transported back to my old college fraternity days at Syracuse, ran over to them, grabbed not one, but two sodas from them, and chugged them both down at the same time, Stone Cold Steve Austin style. This garnered a raucous cheers and many high-fives from the fraternity boys, and fired me up to conquer the remainder of Heartbreak Hill. The 2 sodas did not mix particularly well with all the Gatorade I already had sloshing around in my stomach. But
Family photo at mile 17
I had summitted Heartbreak Hill, and there was nothing that could stop me now.

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!
spill out of the stadium and cheer the runners onto the finish. One big Boston community celebration! Scott and Dawn actually had to leave the game a couple innings early to see me, but luckily I was able to find them right around the 25 mile marker! I ran over to the side and high-fived Scott before heading on to my family, who they told me was about a half mile ahead.

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
entire Boston Marathon course because it is a point-to-point course. But you make two famous turns during that last mile: right on Hereford and left on Boylston. Making that right turn onto Hereford felt amazing. The crowd was going berserk! It was so loud, you couldn't even hear yourself think. It also felt amazing because I knew that I was almost done with my long run. As I mentioned, I didn't really have any specific time goal heading into the race. But at this point, I looked at my watch and saw that I was in the mid 3:30s. I figured that if I hustled a little bit, I could break 3:40. So, after the left on Boylston, I kicked my pace down into the 7s, fueled by the raucous cheers of the crowd, and finally crossed the famous Boston Marathon finish line in 3:39:50! Here were my mile splits and heart rate data from the Boston Marathon:

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!
achievement for me was just in qualifying for the Boston Marathon. But what good would that be if I hadn't actually completed the race I qualified for? The race was only 3 hours and change, but in reality I had been chasing this finish line for over a decade.

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.
We took the train back to our hotel, where I took a nice, cold ice bath, put on my Zensah recovery socks, and took a nap. When I woke up, I went over to my parent's room where we enjoyed our growler of Sam Adams 26.2 Boston Brew before dinner. I'm usually not hungry right after a race because my stomach is still swimming with Gatorade, GU gel, water, etc. You feel kind of bloated and don't really want to eat much of anything. But by dinner time, I was ready to replace some calories! I, of course, wore my jacket and medal to dinner (I was far from the only one), and had a fun, celebratory dinner with my family.

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
to run any marathons for a while, let alone trying to qualify for Boston. It's kind of like when you beat a video game, and then you just stop playing it. I already reached the pinnacle, so why continue? But if I did try to re-qualify, I would probably wait until I turned 40 or 45. You get an extra 5 minutes when you turn 40, only needing to run a 3:15. And when you turn 45, you get a huge 10 minute bump, which means you only need a 3:25. So, if I were to make another run at it, I would likely wait until I was 45, because I'd like to think I could maintain the 7:49/mile pace required to run a 3:25 fairly easily. Of course, I will also be older by then as well, so we shall see. But in the meantime, I am perfectly happy to focus on blasting out some fast local 5ks and racking up some age group awards. Plus, who has time for marathon training now anyway? Our sweet baby boy, Austin was born just a couple months after the race, in June.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Potomac River Run Marathon - November 2014

Potomac River Run Marathon -
Carderock, MD - November 2014
Like Augustana, I think I'll go to Boston!
After bad luck with my last two marathons, I decided to take one more shot at my dream of qualifying for the Boston Marathon (which I had been trying to do since 2006) this fall.  To qualify, I would need to run at least 3:10, which is about 7:15/mile.  I signed up for the Potomac River Run Marathon, a small race which begins in Carderock, MD and is run entirely on the C&O Canal Towpath - a dirt/gravel/rock trail that runs all the way from Georgetown to Cumberland, MD.  It would be my 9th marathon. 

My training had gone extremely well the past two years, and I really felt like I was prepared to qualify each time.  But I caught a nasty cold the week before the 2012 Philadelphia Marathon, and ended up running a 3:15.  Then I caught another cold the week before the 2013 Philadelphia Marathon, AND the weather ended up being too warm and humid.  D'oh! I ran a 3:34 there, although I basically quit and just walked the final 3 miles. 
I knew I was in great shape each of the last 2 years, but all I needed was a little bit of good (or at least not bad) luck on the actual race day.  After Philly 2013, I honestly didn't know if I ever wanted to run another marathon.  They can be SOOOO FRUSTRATING! You train for so long - I followed 18 week training plans each time - and then everything depends on one day.  And if it ends up being too warm, or you get sick, then everything is wasted.  Too much depends on factors beyond your control.  The marathon also takes a long time to recover from and can limit other racing you might want to do.

I approached this marathon very casually and relaxed - at least mentally - compared to my previous two. I never even really admitted to myself that I was going to run it for sure until the day before the race. Most of my friends and family actually had no idea that I was even running a marathon.  Something my parents said to me the night before the 2013 Philadelphia Marathon really stuck with me.  I had caught a cold for the 2nd year in a row before a marathon and was pretty frustrated.  They basically said that maybe I need to "sneak up on the marathon."  While this might sound silly, it probably actually was exactly what I needed to do.  I had gotten so mentally worked up and put so much pressure on myself leading up to the previous two races, that I'm sure it contributed to me getting sick and not running well.  Maybe if I still did all the training, but then just showed up and ran without much fanfare, I would be better off.
I had a good talk with my friend, Scott, a couple weeks before this race too.  He was one of the few people who actually figured out that I was signed up for a marathon, even though I wouldn't actually admit I was running it yet.  I told him that I might still change my mind and run the half instead.  He basically told me to stop being crazy.  "It's all in your head. You've done all the training.  Don't stress yourself out. You are fit, you are ready. Just run. If you make it you make it, and if you don't you don't."  The last part of that really stuck with me.  "If you make it you make it, and if you don't you don't."  Yes, all I needed to do was just go out and run my best race!  So what if I didn't qualify for Boston?  The sun would keep rising in the east and setting in the west.  There would still be traffic in Fairfax County.  The media would keep covering the Kardashian family.  Life would go on. 
The past couple years, I was so afraid to fail that I was just mentally defeating myself before the races even began.  But this time - though I obviously wanted to qualify - I really adopted the mental approach of having a goal of just running my best race.  And not quitting like last year, no matter what.  And if my best was a 3:05, it was a 3:05.  And if my best was a 3:12, it was a 3:12.  But either way, I would run my best. It was very freeing and relaxing to approach the race this way.
So, mentally, I approached this race much differently.  But physically, I really didn't do much different than the previous two years.  I still followed the Pete Pfitzinger 18 week, up to 55 miles/week training plan from his book, Advanced Marathoning.  The plan had gotten me in fantastic shape each of the last two years, so why change now? 
Heading to the start line

I was very grateful to learn about this book from my friend, Tyler.  I stumbled across his running blog a couple years ago, and ended up meeting him at a race in North Carolina.  Before I met Tyler in 2012, I was already a pretty strong runner in everthing from 5k to half marathon.  But I honestly didn't know what I was doing when it came to the marathon.  I had run 6 marathons, but none faster than 3:34.  And my most recent one in 2011 had been a 3:55 disaster.  This seemed way off, given that when I entered my race times at almost every other distance into McMillan's Calculator, my marathon time usually projected out to the high 2s or low 3s.  My marathons clearly should have been much faster.  I learned a lot and got inspired from reading Tyler's blog and talking to him.  And that summer when I read the Advanced Marathoning book he recommended, everything finally clicked. It was finally time to get serious about marathon training!

So, my training was basically the same.  The only thing I did differently was pushed it a little harder on my long runs.  I actually ran the first long run of my 2014 training plan - a 12 miler - with Tyler and a couple other runners back in July.  We ran down in North Carolina the day after a race we had all done the day before.  My legs were still a little tired from the race and it was pretty hot and humid.  But we still ran hard and got in a great workout.  After this run I realized that I really needed to push my long runs harder if I was going to qualify for Boston.  The Pfitzinger plan recommends you run your long runs at 74% to 84% of your maximum heart rate, or a pace of 10 to 20% slower than your goal marathon pace.  Last year, I stuck to that, but the problem was that I usually stuck to the LOW end of it.  On many long runs, even though my pace was ok, my heart rate was basically at recovery rate the entire time.  So, this year I pushed it harder on my long runs, and got my heart rate up into the 150s more, which is closer to what it would be when I was actually racing the marathon.  I also focused on running hard at the end of my long runs to get used to running fast on tired legs. I would try to finish each long run with 2 or 3 marathon pace miles.  Leading up to the race this year, I had completed some really solid long runs.
The only other thing I did differently this year was focus on getting more rest and relaxing in the week or two leading up to the race, so as to avoid getting sick again.  I went to bed early each night no matter what, and didn't stress out as much about work and other stuff.  I even took a day off from work the week before the race to catch up on some rest.  I really felt good with all the extra rest. I should try going to bed early more often!
It worked, and finally, I arrived to a marathon start line in awesome shape, and not sick! Hooray! But what about the weather?  The weather, as it turned out, could not have been better!  It was low to mid 30s at the start of the race, and would only rise up to the high 30s or low 40s, even by the end.  There was low humidity, virtually no wind, and a cloud cover.  It was a marathoner's dream! Perfect weather! After running 3 previous marathons (Buffalo 2006, Lehigh Valley 2011, and Philly 2013)  in "too-hot" weather, I deserved it!
I'm glad I picked this course to run, too.  The C&O Canal Towpath is a dirt/rock trail, which might not sound very fast to most people.  But, for me, it was perfect because I had run almost every single one of my long runs on this trail for the past 4 years.  I had run here literally hundreds of times.  I knew exactly where every hill was, where every turn was, where every mile marker was, where every rock was.  I had raced three half-marathons and two 20ks on this trail.  For me, a race on this trail was basically a "home meet."  I knew that they also held a marathon on the trail every November and May, but had never seriously considered running it because it seemed "too small."  But, in the spirit of being more relaxed this time around, I thought, 'Why not just run a small, low-key marathon, on a trail that you run on all the time?'  It definitely helped.  I felt relaxed the whole race, and honestly didn't even feel like I was in a race much of the time. It felt like I was just out on another Sunday morning training run. 
So, I was not worried about the rocky running surface.  But what about hills?  The course is an out-and-back, which starts at Carderock Recreation Area in Maryland and slopes gradually downhill as you run towards DC, and (obviously) gradually uphill on the way back.  There is a marathon and a half-marathon.  So, if you are running the marathon, you just run the course twice - out and back, and then out and back again.  The only noticeable hills are at the canal locks, and even those are short.  The biggest hill - which is basically a series of 3 smaller, nearly consecutive hills - would come right around mile markers 12 and 25, just as you run under the I-495 overpass. The one at mile 25 would be especially challenging.  If I could conquer that hill in one piece and anywhere near my time goal, I knew I should be able to make it, as the final mile was almost entirely flat.
My wife and I got to the race only about an hour before it started.  Much better than the big marathons where you have to get there super-early and then stand on the start line, waiting forever.  With a smaller marathon like this, you don't have to worry about shuttles or bag checks.  You can just put stuff in your car and then walk back to it after the race because you can actually park right near the start line. There are also much shorter lines for bathrooms. Since this was a local race for me, it was also nice to not have to travel anywhere and be able to sleep in my own bed the night before. 
I put on my racing shoes to begin my warm-up.  I decided to wear my Adidas Adizero Adios shoes for this race.  I had worn them in every race distance from 5k to half-marathon, so I was pretty comfortable with them and they were broken in well.  They are built more for half-marathons and marathons, as they are a little heavier and sturdier than the flats you usually see in 5ks.  But the last few marathon world records were actually set wearing them (by people who were not me).  I had never worn those shoes in a marathon before, so it was a little bit of a gamble - but I figured it would be fine. 
Pete Pfitzinger writes about wearing racing flats in marathons in Advanced Marathoning.  He reccommends only doing it if you are planning on running under 2:40, weigh less than 160 pounds, have a history of being relatively injury free, and have good form.  I was not planning on breaking 2:40.  And at 165 lbs, I was slightly over the recommended weight.  But I do have good form and consequently haven't had too many injuries.  I have read several different articles which suggest several different % amounts of an advantage that racing flats give you.  But even a 1% advantage could be huge in a race as long as a marathon, and would translate into an easier road to my Boston Marathon qualification.  So, I decided to go for it! Just in case, I gave my wife my regular shoes to hang on to in case it was really bad and I needed to switch out during the race.  I did a very light warm-up before heading over to the start line.
Ready to run!
Even though it was perfect marathon weather, I still felt really cold as I was warming up!  This was only mid-November, so my body hadn't acclimated to tempeartures in the low 30s yet. I was wearing shorts no matter what, but I decided that I would start with a long sleeve shirt over my short sleeve race shirt, and just toss it a few miles into the race once I warmed up.  However, once I got to the start line, I didn't really feel that cold, so I gave my long sleeve shirt to my wife.  I did keep my gloves and hat though.  The start of the race is actually just off the main trail, and is sheltered pretty well by trees.  You make a right turn onto the trail about 20 feet after the start, which might sound strange.  But it actually is a smart setup because it keeps the race start/finish staging area off the main trail so it doesn't block other trail users - since it is not a closed course.  I felt good standing on the start line, but once I started running and made the turn onto the main trail, I was more exposed to the cold air and actually felt a little chilly at first. Oh well, I would just have to Let it Go.  The cold never bothered me anyway.  I felt fine soon enough though. I ended up tossing my hat around mile 5, and my gloves around mile 8. 
 Finally, after 18 weeks of training, the race began! One runner blasted off the start line and went way ahead of me and another guy was running just slightly ahead of me. I didn't really care about the competition in this race for several reasons. One reason is that my only goal was a time goal of breaking 3:10. I didn't care whether I finished first or last, as long as I broke 3:10 (although I would take first if I had the choice).

And we're off! 0.1 down, 26.1 to go.
Another reason is that I was literally not racing against all the people I was running with. The Potomac River Run Marathon is interesting because it is actually four races in one.  There is an 8 am heat and a 9 am heat of the race. I signed up for the 8 am heat a few months back, just to make sure I got the maximum amount of cold weather to run in. It ended up not mattering much, as the temperatures were cold all day and never even climbed out of the 30s, even for the 9 am starters.  In addition to two heats of the race, there are also two races in each heat - a marathon and a half marathon.  So, for all I knew, anyone ahead of me might just be running the half, meaning that I was not technically racing them. But even if not, I really didn't care who I beat or who beat me. 

I ran a solid 7:12 first mile. Right on pace! I wanted to average a 7:10 pace overall. One of the worst mistakes you can make in a marathon is running too fast too early, especially in the first mile. When I ran the Tallahassee Marathon in 2006, I got way too caught up in the excitement of the race and actually ran a 6:35 first mile. Needless to say, it didn't turn out well.  Marathons are so much different than other race distances.  5ks, for example, are about aggression and fearlessness, whereas the marathon is about patience and faith.  Being patient, holding back and running a reasonable pace, even when you feel you can do more. And having faith in your training, and that you can maintain your pace, and that you don't need to try to bank a bunch of time early in the race.
I stayed incredibly consistent over miles 2 through 6, as they were all between 7:05and 7:07 - within 2 seconds of each other!  That pace had really been locked into my brain during 18 weeks of training. This part of the course had a pleasant, gradual downhill grade. All downhill and flat.  Around mile 4, I passed the runner who had been just ahead of me. It turned out that he and the guy who blasted off from the start were both half marathoners. I was winning the marathon, although I didn't know it yet.
I was pleased with my pace, but also with my heart rate, which stayed in the mid 150s all the way to the turn around at the 6.55 mile mark. When I did the Philadelphia Marathon last year, my heart rate shot up into the 160s way earlier, and I was steadily into the 170s after the first half. By miles 20 and 21, I was into the 180s, and essentially finished.  So, I was off to a much better start this time.
I reached the turnaround point at mile 6.55, and started ascending back towards the start - where I would just turn around and do it again. My heart rate stayed in the very low 160s all the way back up, which was awesome! My body was definitely enjoying the cold temperatures and also not being sick. A little after mile 10, another half-marathoner - who was really sweaty and working very hard - passed me. He looked a little too proud of himself for passing me and I wanted to say, "Hey, nice job buddy...except that I am running twice as far as you, and I'm barely even trying right now, and if I wanted to I could run way faster and smoke you." But that, of course, would make me an insane person. So, I did not, and instead continued to run my race.
My fueling was going well, too. During a marathon, you should aim to consume 20-28 oz of fluid and 30-60 grams of carbs per hour. I wore my fuel belt, which was filled with 28 oz of Accelerate.  Accelerade is kind of like Gatorade, but with protein. It helps reduce muscle damage during workouts, speeds recovery, and increases endurance in workouts. I also carried a 16 oz bottle of Accelerade with me at the start of the race. I was finished with that bottle around mile 4, tossed it, and then used my Fuel Belt. They had water/Gatorade stops along the course too, but I think Accelerade is better, and I was also just used to it from all my training runs. 
My wife was also involved in my fueling plan for the race.  After the start, she would go down to a white house along the canal towpath, right around mile 2. On the way back, which would be mile 11- I would toss my Fuel Belt to her and grab another 16 oz bottle to carry. Then I would drink from that bottle for the 2 miles to the turnaround and the 2 miles back, which would give her time to fill the bottles on my Fuel Belt with more Accelerade.  When I passed by her again at mile 15, I could toss the bottle I was carrying and put my re-filled Fuel Belt back on, grab one more small 12 oz bottle from her, and then I would be all set with fuel for the rest of the race.
There were only two small problems with my plan. One problem was that there actually are multiple white houses along the canal towpath. Who knew?! Michelle stopped at one that was more around mile 1.5 instead of mile 2. So, she wasn't exactly where I expected, but close enough that it really wasn't a big deal. After I saw her the first time, she walked a little further down the trail to the one I was thinking of. 
I reached the half-marathon turnaround point in 1:33 - perfect! And even better, my heart rate was still in the low 160s and I had a nice 6.55 mile downhill and flat stretch ahead of me.  After the turnaround, I also noticed that the only 2 runners ahead of me had gone to the finish line, meaning that they were half marathoners, and I was indeed winning the full marathon! 
The second problem with my fueling strategy happened around mile 15. Michelle had found the other white house and was waiting with my Fuel Belt and additional bottle. Before the race, I thought about just stopping and putting on the belt and getting everything all set, rather than trying to rush and do it all on the run. I had already mentally calculated in that I would lose some time during this exchange anyway, so I wasn't too worried about it. The few seconds I would lose would be far better than the many minutes I would lose if I ran out of carbs and depleted my glycogen stores, or got dehydrated.
But I thought I would be fine, so I ended up trying to grab everything on the run. I got the belt first and wrapped it around my waist, and then took the additional 12 oz bottle from Michelle. The problem was that my shirt got stuck in between the velcro on the belt, and therefore the velcro didn't stick and the belt fell to the ground and the bottles fell out of it. Oh no! I ditched the 12 oz bottle, so I could focus on picking up the belt. I picked it up, and also managed to grab 3 of the 4 Fuel Belt bottles. I kept running and finally got the belt fastened and stuck the 3 bottles back in the belt as I ran.  I should have just stopped and got everything secured to begin with instead of trying to rush it!
This was unfortunate, but I actually stayed calm and didn't really worry about it. I was still feeling great. And I had 3 GU gel packs in the belt too. So, I had enough calories and carbs to get me through the remaining 11 miles. And I could use the actual race water stations to make sure I got enough fluids as well. Plus I was still running downhill for the next 4.5 miles. Nothing to worry about!  I still ended up running a 7:33 during that crazy mile - the 16th. So, even after all that, I only really lost about 15 seconds off my pace. No big deal.  And I ran a 7:08 17th mile, so I got right back on pace easily. 
I actually stayed really relaxed throughout this entire race. Like I said earlier, I didn't even feel like I was running a race for most of it. It just felt like another training run. I had two songs stuck in my head at various points of the race. One was I've Got All the Time in the World by Bahamas, which was from a phone commercial that was on TV all the time.  The other song was Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce.  The 1970s song was also in the X-Men movie, which I saw with my Dad back in June. There is a cool scene in the movie with Quicksilver, where they show time from his perspective. Everything slows down and allows him to cause all kinds of mischief.  Both songs are pretty easygoing and helped me stay relaxed and not panic throughout the race.   
I didn't wear an i-Pod during this race, although I thought about it.  I wear an i-Pod on most of my training runs, but rarely during races.  During training, I did most of my long runs on Sunday morning. I would frequently use the radio on my i-Pod to go to 94.7 and listen to some of their Acoustic Sunrise, which goes from 8 am-11 am, while I  was running on Sunday mornings.  Nice, relaxing music to run to. Since this race started at 8, I actually thought about wearing the i-Pod and just listening to Acoustic Sunrise the entire race, as it would last about as long as the race. I decided against it, as I wanted to stay focused on the task at hand.
I continued downhill, all the way to the final turnaround point at mile 19.65.  Only about 10 kilometers to the finish! And my heart rate was still only in the high 160s. This was amazing! I was in awesome shape, and finally getting the chance to show it in a marathon.  But this is where patience comes into the marathon. I knew better than to get too excited. I had been on pace to qualify for Boston in 2012 and 2013 up until about the 22nd or 23rd miles. Even though there was only 10k to go, this is the point where a majority of people's marathons tend to blow up as they hit the wall.  Disaster can strike at any time, and in many different ways.
Once I hit mile 20, I realized that I had several minutes banked and was in great shape time-wise.  I decided to play it conservative for a while and slow down into the 7:20s to conserve energy and ensure I reached the finish line in my goal time. It was tough to hold back at this point. I felt great. My heart rate was still low, and I could clearly do more and run a faster time.  But my goal was to qualify for the Boston Marathon. It didn't matter whether I ran a 3:08 or a 3:05, my goal was to qualify. I had to keep telling myself this over the final 10k - to stay calm and hold back until maybe there was only a mile to go.
The strategy worked great! Even though I was running uphill, and over 20 miles into the race, my heart rate stayed in the high 160s and low 170s. I had plenty of room to play with, effort-wise. At this point, I could comfortably climb up into the higher 170s and even low 180s, slowly accumulate lactic acid, and still easily make it to the finish line - and in a speedy time to boot. Hold back! Hold back! All you are trying to do is qualify!
Heading into the 25th mile, which would be the toughest of the course, I was still feeling good, with heart rate in the low 170s.  There are several small hills along the 25th mile.  And the biggest hill on the course (which is actually a series of 3 hills) was just after the 25 mile marker.  I knew that once I reached the top of that hill, the final mile was flat and fast.  If I got to the top of that hill in good shape and on pace, nothing could stop me!
I actually felt energized as I approached the hill; ready to conquer this final challenge. I just focused on driving my arms to help me to the top.  I had run up this hill literally hundreds of times in training runs, and was not afraid.  I was tired when I reached the top, but also relieved because I knew that I could recover quickly on flat ground and that I only had 1 mile to go.  And with my heart rate still in the low 170s, I had all the energy in the world.  With only 1 mile to go, it was finally time for me to apply the Hulk Hogan leg drop to the marathon!
I really took off on the final mile.  Nothing could stop me now! This was the first point of the race when I truly knew I would make it and qualify for Boston. I knew I would make it; it was only a matter of how fast.  I was really tearing up the trail, blazing by runners in the 9 am heat along the way. I actually ended up running a 6:53 26th mile, which was my fastest split of the entire race, and my only sub-7 minute mile of the day!!  With about a third of a mile to go, I could see the finish line!  I heard my wife cheering LOUDLY for me, and finally saw her there with our dog, Dante, waving frantically.  She was super excited for me to finally qualify for the Boston Marathon! Once I passed the 26 mile mark, I dropped the hammer for the final 0.2, averaging a 5:25/mile pace to the finish. I finished 1st place overall in the 8 am heat of the marathon out of 76 runners in 3:07:59, and finally qualified for the Boston Marathon!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Potomac River Run Marathon, 2014 Race Results) 
I felt great coming through the finish line; like I could have just kept going all the way to 30 miles and it would have been no big deal.  I definitely could have easily knocked a few minutes off my race time if I were so inclined and hadn't run so conservatively. Here were my mile splits from the race:
1- 7:12 (148 average heart rate)
2- 7:06 (154)
3- 7:07 (154)
4- 7:07 (155)
5- 7:07 (156)
6- 7:05 (158)
7- 7:10 (160)
8- 7:03 (160)
9- 7:09 (160)
10- 7:08 (160)
11- 7:09 (160)
12- 7:15 (163)
13- 7:12 (162)
14- 7:16 (162)
15- 7:08 (161)
16- 7:33 (166)
17- 7:08 (165)
18- 7:13 (167)
19- 7:16 (167)
20- 7:23 (168)
21- 7:17 (168)
22- 7:18 (170)
23- 7:29 (170)
24- 7:26 (171)
25- 7:26 (173)
26- 6:53 (178)
Final 0.2- 5:25 pace (182)
TOTAL: 26.2 miles, 3:07:59, 7:10/mile pace, 164 average HR
I never even looked at my watch during the final mile.  I didn't care what my time was, I just wanted to run that last stretch as fast as I possibly could.  I also wanted to give myself as much  of a buffer for qualifying as possible.  One thing that not everyone knows about the Boston Marathon is that, as of a couple years ago, meeting your qualifying time doesn't mean that you automatically are accepted.  They accept runners based on how much you beat your qualifying time by.  For example, to actually be accepted into the 2015 race, you needed to beat your qualifying time by 1:02.
One other cool thing about this marathon was that I won it...sort of.  Six runners in the 9 am heat actually beat my time. But I was the winner of the 8 am heat of the marathon.  And my prize was a Timex GPS watch. Awesome! I already have a GPS watch, so I thought about selling it, as I saw it listed on Amazon for about $100.  But I knew I could never do that.  Imagine the conversation, and someone asking, "Hey, where did you get that watch from?"  "Oh, this?  I got it when I qualified for the Boston Marathon.  Oh yeah, and I won the marathon too."  Too good to pass up!
Watch me win this race
So, I finally did it!  I qualified for the Boston Marathon! It felt amazing to finally accomplish my dream after pursuing it relentlessly for the past 8 years.  What a relief!
Because the registration for the Boston Marathon is in September, the 2015 Boston Marathon was already full.  So, I technichally qualified for the April 2016 race, for which I will register in September 2015.  Some people asked if I was annoyed that I couldn't run the 2015 race, and would have to wait a year and a half to run Boston.  It doesn't bother me at all.  I would wait 100 years!  And it's actually kind of nice because it gives me some long term motivation to stay in shape.  I also like it because now I can focus on other race distances that I enjoy more - like the 5k - with no marathon looming ahead in 2015.  Then I can just start my marathon training through the winter of 2015-16 and be ready to run in Boston on Patriot's Day - April 18, 2016!  I don't care what my time is in the Boston Marathon.  I will high five every fan on the course, take pictures, stop to hug my family and friends along the way, stop and drink a Sam Adams 26.2 beer (if anyone is handing them out), and just fully enjoy the experience.