Photo credits: Boston Globe, BAA, Paul Locke
My journey to the Boston Marathon began on February 18th. That was the day FamilyAid Boston accepted me on their Boston Marathon 2016 Team.
My experience with FamilyAid Boston (FAB) was fantastic. I learned about homelessness and philanthropy and the little things each of us can do to make a difference. I would like to thank FAB for the opportunity to contribute and to thank all of my friends and family who helped make their fundraiser a great success.
FamilyAid Boston had an initial goal of $100,000 to celebrate their 100th year of serving families in Boston. As Marathon Monday approached, achievement of this goal drew close as well. Much like a runner who increases their goal when one goal has been achieved, FAB bumped the goal to $115,000.
By Marathon Monday this goal had been achieved through many generous donations. With a last kick, like a runner approaching the finish line on Boylston Street, FamilyAid Boston finished the race with over $133,000 in donations!
While finishing the Boston Marathon is a joyous achievement, being part of this amazing fundraising drive has been an honor. To give to others and to help those in need adds meaning and context to my Boston Marathon experience.
My Boston Marathon 2016
My journey had its highs and lows. I was excited to get a number to run the race I love. But I was also dealing with injuries and I was not in marathon shape.
My left knee had been bothering me for over a year. Last year it didn’t bother me when I ran 5Ks and half marathons were okay. Beyond 15 miles, my knee would ache.
It felt like tendinitis and not a cartilage tear. It reacted to treatment like an over-use injury, so I continued to treat it that way.
Last fall my back began to act up like a long dormant volcano. Out of nowhere, I was dealing with pain again. A few long runs were I cut short due to the pain.
Then there was my right shoulder. At the beginning of the year I set a modest goal of 15 push ups per day. I figured 15 was so easy that I wouldn’t be temped to skip a day, and I could increase my reps as time went on.
Well, late in January I pulled something in my right shoulder and my streak was over. On February 7th, I ran the Super Sunday 5 Miler in Kendall Square, Cambridge. The pain from swinging my arm was so bad that I didn’t think I would be able to finish the race. As I warmed up, the pain diminished and I was able to put it out of my mind.
Because I wasn’t training for a marathon and was trying to manage these injuries, I kept my training to a minimum. I knew that my knee and back would act up after 13 miles, so I often ran half of the Sunday Long Run distance.
On February 18th I was in half marathon shape, and behind where I should have been in order to be prepared for Boston
Since I’ve written extensively about my training throughout this season, let’s jump right to race day.
Boston Marathon 2016 Race Day
For a runner, marathon morning is like Christmas. It’s hard to sleep the night before and we’re often up well before the alarm goes off. I was up around 4:30.
I didn’t have to be at the train station until 7 AM, so I took a shower, had breakfast and checked my gear yet again. By 7:01 I met Don Keren on the platform at Wellington and we got the next train to Boston.
We had a short walk up to Kenmore Square, walked down Boylston Street and made our way to The Common to get the bus. As I had hoped, they let everyone on regardless of your bib color. In 2014 they were strict about only letting runners on the buses they were assigned to.
The bus ride wasn’t that long and we had fun talking to other runners and listening in on conversations. There were a few first time Boston runners and first time marathon runners.
The buses dropped us off behind Hopkinton High School, instead of out front. We walked to the lower field, got some coffee and got in line for the porta-potty. It wasn’t as crowded as previous years and our line moved along nicely.
Don was looking for sunscreen so we looked for a medical station. Seeing none, we decided to make our way to the upper field. Along the way we got more coffee and bagels.
We walked around the upper field, Don found sunscreen and we got in line again. This line moved quickly also and soon we were looking for a place to sit down.
There was a massive canopy covering most of the field. Their was clothing and Mylar blankets everywhere,abandoned by runners as they headed for the starting line.
As we walked around there was food and drink everywhere. In one spot I saw 7 gels neatly layed out on the ground. There were three Cliff Energy Zones along the course, so this runner must have decided they had 7 gels too many. My pockets were full, so I left them.
As we finished our coffee and bagels we saw runners from The Mystics and Melrose Running Club. As they headed towards their corral they saw us and came over to say hi and we wished each other luck.
A few minutes later Don suggested that we head for our corrals. I was in corral 6 and Don was in corral 4, so we headed our separate ways.
As I walked to the start I shot some video and spoke with other runners. Even though I’ve run Boston six times before, I could still feel the excitement building.
The BAA had marshals with signs to guide us to the proper corral. Everything went smoothly and in no time we were the next group to go.
And they’re off!
I don’t recall hearing a starting gun but they did yell, “go, go, go!” As we crossed the starting line I started my watch at 11:21 AM.
The highest point in the race is the start line in Hopkinton at 461 feet. Between the crowds,adrenaline and the down hill start, it’s easy for runners to go out too fast. My goal pace was 9 minutes. That was a little aggressive based on my training, but I didn’t want to go any faster.
I had set my watch to show my current pace and overall average pace. A third page showed total time and distance also. Pace was my main focus.
As we ran downhill I let the crowd hold me back. I moved through the crowd some, but not as aggressively as I might have. I moved to the side of the road and began slapping hands with the cheering crowd. I had to almost stop a few times for slower runners and a few walkers! I think they were fiddling with their watches or adjusting their gear.
Mile one appeared suddenly and my pace was 9:28. I had 25.2 miles to get that to a 9 minute pace and felt good about meeting my first goal. As we ran through mile two I took in all of the familiar sites. Some homes that had been run down when I ran my first marathon in 2003 were now fully restored and ready for the Boston Globe Magazine or Chronicle. Mile two came in at 9:15.
Just after mile two the crowd welcomed us to Ashland, the town where the marathon used to begin. Before we hit mile 3 I took my first gel and mile three chimed in at 8:52.
At 5K my official time was 28:51, or a 9:20 pace.
The water stops began at mile 2, but I had my bottle of coconut water and maple syrup. I nice high GI mix of natural sugars. As runners moved to the side of the road to get a drink, I kept to the middle and maintained my pace.
Somewhere before mile four Kip Sanford from Team FamilyAid Boston flew by me. Mile four came in at 8:52 and my average pace was now below 9 minutes.
As we approached mile 5 and Framingham I recalled how I felt at this point in my first two marathons. In 2003 I was beginning to feel fatigue, but had no idea what lie ahead. In 2005 I was already getting blisters on my toes at this mile marker and recall telling myself that I was in for a long day.
I took stock of my condition and was pleased to realize that nothing hurt. My level of fatigue after 5 miles was mileage appropriate. Everything was A-OK and mile five came in at 8:59.
Somewhere along here I saw Kip again and I commented on how fast he zipped by me. We spoke for a few seconds and he was off again.
Mile 6 chimed in at 9:02 and my 10K time was 57:03, maintaining my pace of 9:20.
The rest of Framingham and across Natick was mostly flat or down hill. At the 15K mark my time was 1:25:23 and my official pace was down to 9:14.
Coming out of Natick Common the road rose gently and peaked just after mile 11. Then it was mostly downhill until mile 16.
At mile 13.1, half way, my watch time was 2:00:23. My pace was about 9:16. This was about where I wanted to be. By this point I had taken three gels and finished my bottle. None of my injuries had acted up and my fatigue level was about right.
I also knew that I was getting to the distance where my knee might act up. Anything could happen. Earlier in the race I had a sharp pain where my left Achilles joined the heel. It felt like lightning but only struck about ten times. It was worried for a minute.
As we took the turn towards Wellesley College, I could hear the wall of screams. In the past it seemed less than expected. This year I could hear them a mile away and as we approached the sound was awesome.
I often run one of my fastest mid-marathon miles at Wellesley. Even slapping hands doesn’t slow me down. All of the cheering and energy pushes me along. I managed to slap 95% of the hands but didn’t stop for kisses. Having my name on my shirt was a big help. There’s nothing like a thousand pretty girls screaming your name! Intoxicating.
By the time I got to the end of the line my right shoulder had been tweaked. Uh-oh, I thought. The last thing I need is 12 miles of painful arm swings. Just like my heel pain, it went away in no time.
Bargains and Promises
At the 25K mark my time was 2:23 at an official pace of 9:22. This is 15.5 miles into the race and I knew my fastest miles were behind me. A sub 4 hour marathon was not possible. That was a stretch goal, but within the realm of possibilities.
At some point in a marathon many runners start to adjust their goals. Sometimes we are overly optimistic or things don’t go our way. From the start, you never know what is going to happen. Even the Pros drop out if things turn south. Uta Pippig had a rough day in Boston in 1996, but went on to win the race. At the Olympics that year she had to drop out of the marathon due to what turned out to be a pelvic stress fracture.
As the race wore on and my average pace stayed in the 9:15 range, I knew a 4 hour marathon was out of the question. I wasn’t even going to PR. But, all things considered, I was doing pretty good.
It was overly optimistic of me to have a 9 minute goal. Foolish even. I was under trained and if any of my injuries had acted up I probably would have run a 5 hour marathon, or worse. My knee really had me worried.
After the 95 over-pass and a nice hill, the second Cliff Energy Zone was waiting. They had four flavors, but I only wanted mocha with caffeine. I had vanilla at the first stop and it was just okay. Mocha was the last stop, but I got what I wanted.
The Newton Hills
The Newton Fire Station had a misting tent set up and a hose going. I skipped both. I hate running in wet shoes. At about 17.5 miles the road turns right towards The Newton Hills.
The first hill is pretty steep with about a 90 Ft elevation gain in a quarter-mile. I charged up the hill and mile 18 came in at 9:17. Considering where I was in the race I felt pretty good. My breathing was good, my energy was okay but my thighs were burning up.
The downhill had shredded my quads and my hamstrings were tired from the uphill pushes. I took my last two Hyland’s Cramp Pills just to be safe.
At mile 18 my time was 2:45 and I began to calculate my finish time. For some reason I thought I had 6 miles to go instead of 8.2. Based on a six-mile calculation I figured I could run 10 minute miles and finish at 3:50, or less than 4 hours at least. Then it dawned on me that I was using the wrong number to calculate my finish.
Back to bargains and promises. Simple math becomes quantum physics late in a marathon. 8×8:30 = what? Do you multiply the miles by 30 and then divide by 60, or substitute 30 seconds with .50? Try multiplying fractions and then try to remember the sum of the whole numbers calculation at mile 18. I dare you! My mind was a whirl of pain, fatigue and visual over load.
I knew people were waiting for me at different points, so I had been scanning the crowd for miles. I think my brain was going to blow up. My daughter was on the left at mile 20, but I didn’t see her. FamilyAid Boston had been at mile 18 and took a photo of me. They called my name, but with my name on my shirt, everyone called my name. They said I looked like I was in the zone.
At 19.25 miles the next hill starts. It’s small and over quickly. Then Heart Break Hill begins at mile 20.25. I started scanning the crowd for Team MRC at mile 20. I knew they would be at mile 20.5 or so, but I had missed everyone else and hoped to get re-fueled at this stop.
The elevation gain on this hill is about 90 feet also but over a longer distance than the first hill. Many people were walking.
I zig-zagged to get around the walkers and slower runners. I passed a ton of people and knew the top was flat and the rest of the course was mostly downhill.
I found Team MRC but barely stopped. They cheered me on and I grabbed two desert dry pretzel rods. I took one bite and started exhaling pretzel dust. A little girl was standing on the side of the road holding out a bottle of water. Her head was turned towards her father, but I needed the bottle she offered.
I snatched it out of her hands and was gone before she could turn to see me. It seemed a little odd, but runners don’t ask for permission to grab items offered to them on race day.
The cold water flooded the desert in my mouth and washed away the dust. I tossed the pretzels and finished the water. I was so grateful for that little girl and her gift of water.
We were now headed down hill.
On the Home Stretch
I walked a little at the peak of Heart Break Hill. Between getting up the hill and making a brief stop at the Team MRC water stop, mile 21 came in at 10:52. My slowest mile of the race and a bit of a shocker when I saw that number on my watch.
From mile 21 on, the next 5.2 miles are all pretty much down hill. A few rises in the road that most people would barely notice, but to an exhausted runner they feel like mountains.
At mile 20 my time was 3:04:09. I briefly dreamed of running 9:30 miles until the end and trying to PR. That dream vanished on Heart Break Hill when I ran 1:22 slower than that pace. With only 5.2 miles to go I would have to run 9:10 miles to hit my number.
For the next four miles I tried to run the downhills as hard as I could. I tried to push on the uphills but I didn’t have any push left. I did some long stride walking several times. This seemed to help stretch my legs a little and kept my time from completely falling apart.
I managed to run past Boston College where their scream tunnel rivaled Wellesley’s. I slapped many hands and a few of those kids almost took my arm off. I moved out a little bit so they couldn’t get as strong a grip on my hand.
At Chestnut hill we crossed the 35K timer. I was toast and the deal was to run as mush as possible. It was all I could do to jog across the timing mats. My time was 3:24 and I had about 4 miles to go. My pace was now around 9:40.
At mile 22, which is at Cleveland Circle and just after the 35K mark, my watch had a time of 3:24 for a 9:38 average pace. If I could keep that pace I might beat my PR of 4:04 from 2014.
One problem was that at each mile marker my watch was checking off the mile further and further ahead of each marker. Near the end my watch was off by about a quarter of a mile.
With scrambled eggs for brains it’s impossible to account for this variation in timing. I wasn’t even sure of my 10 minute mile math. It seemed impossible that I could PR, and indeed it was!
After BC and before Cleveland Circle I found my friend Kate Kennedy. We work together and ran Boston together in 2012. We had one of those abbreviated runners conversations and traded places a few times.
As we ran through Cleveland Circle I worried about tripping over the tracks. Somehow there seemed to be more tracks than before.
Beacon Street through Kenmore Square was a tough slog. My IT bands were killing me and I was running on will power. I had taken about 5 gels by this point and my teeth were covered in that stuff. All I wanted to do was brush my teeth!
It was so hard to keep moving. Part of me knew that was the best way to get to the end, part of me just wanted it to be over. Since this was my 7th Boston Marathon, I also knew I was getting close to the end of an epic race.
I wasn’t setting any world records but I was running a pretty good race. Most runners feel like crap near the end of a marathon, regardless of how fast they are. We all put our all into it and near the end there isn’t all that much left to give. It’s all relative.
My buddy Don Keren lost the fire before the half-way mark. I caught up to him and we ran together for about a mile. While I was still pushing hard Don was just trying to survive.
Don’s PR marathon is better than mine and he has been in marathon shape for well over a year. But he did not fuel or hydrate properly and it really messed him up.
Runners have all kinds of crazy thoughts run through their heads late in a race. As we approached Kenmore Square I kept thinking that I needed to push hard and get through the square in case they had to stop us, like they did in 2013. Thinking about why they stopped the runners made me a little emotional. In my condition I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to control my self if I did become emotional.
When I ran through the square in 2014 I worried that I was going to trip on a cobble stone. A few were out of alignment, but nothing major. Just more crazy thoughts.
We went under the Mass Ave bridge and I wasn’t sure I had the juice to get back up the other side. I sort of fell from one foot to the next going down the hill and then engaged my throbbing thighs to get back up the other side.
We were now back on Comm Ave headed to the “Right on Hereford Street.” I’ve been here six times before. The end is so close. I wanted it to end but I didn’t. No two races are the same, but I knew what to expect.
The crowd grew as the turn came into view. I knew the “hill” was coming. The crowd was crazy! As I felt my self engage with the “hill” I picked up speed. I didn’t know what would happen or how long this would go on. The encouragement of the crowd inspired me to dig deep and push hard.
I was a few feet from the left curb when we made the famous “Left onto Boylston Street.” I took a quick look around and the crowd was still huge and the sound deafening. I couldn’t hear a thing and probably wouldn’t have recognized anyone in the crowd.
I made it up Hereford okay, and now I was a few hundred yards from the finish line. Almost every Boston Marathon runner will tell you that when you turn the corner and see the finish it looks like it is miles away. As you run down the street, it doesn’t seem to get any closer!
A few moments after making the turn, I decided to toss it all in. Full speed ahead. The last shovel of coal was in the fire-box. I could feel that last reserve of energy in there somewhere.
My legs stayed under me and I began to pass a few people. I wasn’t the only one making a strong run for the finish. Several of us were going to finish Boston Strong.
I stayed to the left side of the road and as I crossed the finish line I stopped my watch at 4:09. I made my way to the water, food bag and Gatorade. The bag drop was just down the street from the finish line, so I grabbed my stuff and quickly out on my t-shirt and jacket.
I sat for a bit at the bag drop and then they hustled me out of there. I decided to wait for Don to finish. The sidewalk was closed off and the only people they were letting back inside the perimeter were runners. I actually felt like a VIP for a minute!
It didn’t take too long for Don to show up. My voice was surprisingly strong and I called out to him. He got his refreshments and gear bag and we headed to The Common. I wanted to get a Sam Adams 26.2, but Don was in tough shape.
We took some photos in the park and then Don sat on a bench and tossed the few cookies he had in the bushes. I made sure he kept drinking and we headed to the T.
We had a good chat on the train with people coming home from work. They were very nice and had many kind words for us. Neither of us felt deserving of such praise, but it kinda felt nice. We were destroyed and for me it was a bit of a pick me up.
I had planned a big steak dinner when I got home. My wife was in Spain and the kids weren’t home, so I could cook whatever I wanted. I was so tired, I microwaved some left over pasta and watched the race on my DVR.
What a long day!