My 2023 Boston Marathon Experience was a celebration of twenty years of running. In 2003, my very first marathon was the Boston Marathon.
Back twenty years ago, I was excited to run my first marathon. The oldest and most famous marathon in the world. I was totally naïve and totally unprepared for that race!
You can read how my journey began and what My First Boston Marathon Experience was like.
Over the past twenty years, I’ve learned a lot. Mostly through making all the mistakes you can think of. All of those mistakes could fill a book or two!
Setting my sites on the 2023 Boston Marathon
In addition to learning a lot about running over the past twenty years, I’ve also become familiar with the challenges of getting a bib for The Boston Marathon.
2023 would be a special year for me, so I had to be intentional about getting a bib and couldn’t leave anything to chance. I analyzed the three ways that I know of to get a bib.
Qualifying had never been an option over the past twenty years, and it certainly was not an option this year. Even runners who qualify are not guaranteed a bib. Since CIVID-19 it has become easier as fewer qualified runners seem to be applying. But I know plenty of people who have qualified by a few minutes and still could not get a bib. Again, this was not an option for me!
My best marathon time of 3:47 ten years ago would not be a Boston Qualifying time even at my current age!
Running for charity is a great way to support an organization that you feel strongly about. But between training and fundraising, it’s about all you do for four months. And they take your credit card number when you sign up.
My best option seemed to be getting a bib through my running club.
The BAA donates invitational bibs to local running clubs. The Melrose Running Club usually gets two or three bibs and awards them based on volunteer activity.
Getting a bib can be very competitive, and you never know how many people will apply and how many points they may have. Celebrating twenty years of running was very important to me, so I had to be intentional and go after it.
I volunteered for everything that I could, including water stops during our summer and winter Sunday Long Run Series. I was in physical therapy all this time and many times I could not run far, or at all. So I made the best of a difficult situation.
I’m also a club board member and volunteered at all of our race events. All of my volunteering worked and I had more points than anyone else when it came time to select bib recipients.
Even with all of my points, it was still a relief to hear from The Board that I had been awarded one of the coveted bibs!
Training for My 2023 Boston Marathon
The other challenge I had to over-come was the fact that I’d been in physical therapy for over a year when I started thinking about doing this. At the time I couldn’t run even a 5K.
What started as Achilles tendonitis evolved into knee issues. We then threw in some back and shoulder issues for fun. Then I got into a minor car accident in November 2022 which effected my back and how far I could run.
Knowing that the best approach for a comeback was an intentional and methodical training process, I began in August of 2022.
As the 2023 Boston Marathon date drew closer, I read some of my recaps of previous Boston Marathons. I wanted to remember how those races and training went for me. I was surprised to read how often I have been injured. Less surprising was how challenging the training had been for each previous marathon.
I started my training nine months before Boston, in August. I ran 31 miles in August, up from twelve running miles in July. More than the 10% increase usually recommended, but I was careful and receiving guidance from my PT.
The chart below shows my nice progress through January. The first Sunday Long Run was on December 30th, 2022, a comfortable 10.32 miles at a 10:05 pace. I felt pretty good going into January.
January was a strong month with 91 running miles, of which almost 50 miles were Sunday Long Runs. But I was feeling too good and too confident and had a bit of a set-back in February.
My left knee started acting up again and I had to cut back. I didn’t even finish the first long run in February. I ran 13.6 miles that became increasingly painful. I skipped the next week’s run and cut the third February long run from 18.1 to 12.9 miles. The last February run on the 26th was 13.1 miles.
Even with knee pain at 5 out of 10, I was able to run a half marathon distance. Not how you want to run a marathon.
The first weekend in March I was on vacation, so I had to do the scheduled 20 mile run on my own. Twenty miles by your self is challenging enough, but my knee was the biggest challenge.
My PT, Dr. Sarah Marchionne, suggested a knee brace and showed me a few options. I picked up a “Shock Doctor” Level 3 knee brace at Dick’s Sporting Goods.
It looked and felt heavy duty, but I was able to run twenty miles with very little pain. I was both surprised and pleased with the result.
During my twenty-mile run I also tested my planned fuel for Boston: Snicker’s Bars. I ran The Portland Maine Marathon with two of them and it really worked well.
They worked well on my twenty-miler and on Marathon Monday.
I got back on track in March, didn’t cut any runs short and only missed one long run. I was also able to extend my Tuesday night club runs back to 6 miles and do five-mile runs on Thursdays.
When we did our 22-mile run on March 26th I ran a 10:43 pace, tested all of my race day items and felt pretty good. It was a real confidence booster.
According to the BAA, my pace during the 2023 Boston Marathon was 10:48. That 22-mile run was an accurate gauge of my fitness level.
Part of physical therapy was strength training. Dr. Sarah created a routine for me and eventually, I did the routine at home. During office visits, Dr. Sarah worked on my knee and back. Which was plenty!
Over twenty years, I had never incorporated strength training into my training. I think that it made a big difference and I considered it my “ace in the hole” to get me through the marathon.
Starting the 2023 Boston Marathon
By the time Marathon Weekend came around, I was ready to go. My training went pretty well, and Dr. Sarah’s “Marchionne Method” allowed my knee to improve, even as the miles increased.
A few days before The Marathon a buddy of mine who runs the BAA VIP program signed me up to join the VIPs. It’s mostly runners who work for the major BAA sponsors and not a bunch of sport and rock stars. I was really hoping to get some cool pictures.
They had a huge tent in Copley Square about 100 yards from the finish line. It was heated, had food and drink and a place to stash our drop bags. They even had medical staff and supplies to treat about anything.
When it was time to go, we filed out of the tent and boarded two coach buses out to Hopkinton. The last time I took a coach to Hopkinton I was still working for HP. It was great!
In Hopkinton we pulled into the High School but parked out back near the Hopkinton Center for the Arts. A large building with plenty of art and seating! They had some food but no water bottles or Gatorade. After a bit it dawned on us that they were trying to avoid plastic waste.
They also had real bathrooms and about a dozen porta potties just for us. At a marathon, that is a true luxury!
The only way to get water was to use their “bubbler” that used a filtering system and took several minutes to fill an 80z bottle. After waiting in line for 10 minutes behind just a few people, I went into the men’s room and filled my 2 water bottles from the sink.
On race day, unfiltered city water is the least of my worries!
On the big screen in the auditorium, they had WBZ’s broadcast of the race showing. It was great to see the elite runners and para-athletes. We could also see the weather conditions.
There were more than 150 of us in the BAA VIP group. Some people were in the first waves and most of us were in the last waves. Plenty of people were running their first marathon.
As I was leaving for the start line one of the volunteers asked if I wanted a trash bag. I knew that morning the weather was likely to be cool and wet, but I thought I had dressed appropriately.
But as we waited our turn to start, bands of rain came through and I knew I needed that bag! We tore holes for my head and arms, and I slipped on a super heavy duty trash bag for my run to Boston.
A clear mind and a calm heart
During taper time I never had the taper tantrums. Many runners get the blues when they basically suffer endorphin withdrawal when the long runs get too short to produce them.
Being in a blue mood, having lots of extra time to think and not being around that group of runners as much can be a tough few weeks.
I’ve experienced these runner’s blues and would find it hard to sit still. I coined the phrase “taper tantrums” a few years ago. It seemed an apt description of my restlessness and blue mood. But my mood never dipped this year.
Often I get a bit nervous before any race. Sometimes I wont get nervous until they call us to line up. Sometimes I’m a bit nervous for days before a race.
The way I run there are never any medals or prizes on the line. I think it’s just the pressure I put on my self. The desire to do a little better than last time, even as I’m getting older. Maybe place in my age group?
As I waited in the Center for the Arts, and even during the 0.7 mile walk to the start, I didn’t get nervous. It’s the strangest thing.
At the time I didn’t really think about it. It’s not like I was missing the feeling of butterflies in my belly or the need to pee every ten minutes.
I really had things dialed in. My PT and training went as well as I could have hoped for. I had trained and raced using the same food and hydration many times. Most of my clothing had been through many races and hundreds of training runs. I had run this race nine times before and ran 22 miles of it during training at least three other times. I knew each hill and turn as well as anyone could.
In 2018 I ran in much worse conditions. I literally have been there, done that and have the t-shirt.
A little rain, a light breeze and cool weather wasn’t going to phase me a bit.
Just like tap water, I had bigger issues on my mind.
The First Half of the 2023 Boston Marathon
As we walked up the hill to the start line, it was nice to see enthusiastic spectators. The course marshals directed us to a corral, and we kept walking and had a rolling start just like 2018 and 2019. I was ready.
As we ran down the hill from the start, I looked at the people there and and let out a few whoops of my own. It was time to have some fun!
While I had double tied my shoelaces, apparently, I hadn’t tied my shorts tight enough after the last porta potty stop.
As I ran along, I noticed that my running belt was pushing my shorts down! I had a trash bag on, but I couldn’t let me shorts slide down my legs. And while running to Boston dressed in just a trash bag may have been novel, I did have things I needed in my short’s pockets.
So, at 0.43 miles I went to the side of the road, hiked up my trash bag and re-tied my shorts. What a foolish, rookie mistake! It’s not like I was going to make up for that lost time. It was just lost.
I got back up to speed and before I knew it I was at 5K and it was time for my first bite of Snickers bar. While holding a Gatorade bottle, I had to take off a glove to tare the wrapper. Then I had to stuff the remainder into my pocket, not drop it, get my glove back on, and try not to inhale a peanut or piece of chocolate!
At 5K the BAA clocked me at 32:04 for a 10:20 pace. This was about where I wanted to be and wasn’t too fast for the beginning of the race.
At the 4-mile mark I was thinking that I still had my longest long run in front of me: 22.2 miles! And these would be hilly miles including the infamous Newton Hills. I resigned my self to the fact that I had a long, wet slog in front of me.
At the 10K and 15K mark my pace was 10:12 and 10:14 respectively. I hadn’t planned to speed up, but nothing hurt. At each 5K increment I kept up with my fueling and hydration.
Around Mile 12 the run began to feel like work. At some point in a marathon, it always begins to feel like work, you just never know how soon. I was happy it didn’t begin to feel like work before Mile 12, but I had 14.2 miles of work in front of me.
The half-way mark, 13.1 miles, always seems anti-climactic. Running half a marathon is just half of a marathon so we can’t expect a grand reception. But it’s still 13.1 miles.
The BAA clocked me at 2:15:19 at the half for a pace of 10:28. Still below my pace goal of 10:30, but slower than the even two-hours flat I would have preferred.
Finishing the 2023 Boston Marathon
Right after the half-way mark we approached Wellesley College. In the past I felt that the crowd wasn’t as big as the hype.
But this year, the hype was real. There were hundreds of enthusiastic girls up against the barricades. I have to say that there were some really cute girls, but I’m more than old enough to be their father. While I was temped to stop for a quick kiss, it just didn’t seem right.
After the pick-me-up at Wellesley it was back to business. At mile twelve it had begun to feel like work and at mile fourteen it was time to get down to business.
I still had over twelve miles to run and the “easy” miles were behind me. I could actually feel that my legs were pumped up like a speed skaters. They also felt rather tired.
My knee was still in good and my hydration and fueling were right on track. The pain that I felt in my legs was from fatigue and not from injury. There is a big difference.
Overcoming fatigue is a matter of will power. Running through an injury can screw you up for good. I wasn’t injured.
Running into The Abyss
At this point in the race I decided to dig in and run through the fatigue. To do this I needed to tune out the crowd and the runners around me as much as possible.
I had to narrow my focus to one foot and then to the other. I had to pay attention to the water stops and what I had in the bottles on my belt. I had to remember to eat. It was time to use everything that I’d learned over the past twenty years.
There were seven more miles to the Melrose Running Club tent and my big pit stop. I felt like I was running into the abyss and it was just me and the road. The black road.
In my mind, I visualized myself running into the darkness. Total darkness. Like a door had opened into a dark room. It wasn’t a scary darkness, but the absence of everything. It was me against me in a battle of wills.
At 25K, between miles 15 and 16, the BAA clocked me at a 10:42 pace.
Three miles after opening the door, I can recall running past Newton-Wellesley hospital and seeing the MGH logo. Another part of the empire I thought. There were lots of people cheering but I barely paid any attention.
Then there was the big turn at mile seventeen and a half, at the Newton Fire station. The road is so wide there and the crowd is huge on both sides of the street. It’s not unusual for someone to say they saw me there or looked for me there. So I scanned the crowd.
It was mental over load to try and actually look at all of those faces. I had to stop scanning the crowd after a few seconds because it was exhausting!
Running The Newton Hills
I was so in the zone that I don’t recall the descent of over 100 feet into Newton Lower Falls, which is before the Route 128/95 overpass. It’s usually a nice down hill run with a huge enthusiastic crowd. The area has a village feel with lots of shops and restaurants and we cross The Charles River.
Just after mile 16 we climbed out of Newton Lower Falls and summited the Route 128/95 bridge. It’s about 89 feet of elevation gain over 3/4 of a mile and really is the first Newton hill.
Around the fire station there are some small rolling hills so you can kind of enjoy the crowds. Then at about 17.5 miles the first of the Newton Hills begin.
Mile 18 had 80 feet of gain in less than half a mile. My pace for mile 18 dropped to 11:26. This was really a lot of work! Mile 19 is mostly down hill and my pace was 10:56.
Mile 20 had 62 feet of gain in about of a quarter mile. There were lots of spectators and running club pop-up tents in this area. I had it in my mind that my club would be at mile 21. So I dug in deep and kept on going.
Then all of a sudden I heard people calling my name. I looked up and saw familiar faces and the club pop-up tent. My watch said 20.3 miles. They were early. I wasn’t expecting them. Turns out, we’re at this spot every year!
Thuy Dang had a cold, flat Coca-Cola for me and it really hit the spot. Cold and full of sugar and caffeine! It had to be cold to be refreshing and flat so I could chug it like a college freshman!
Then I saw Mary O’Connor holding a bakery bag with a muffin in it. Chocolate chip, just as I requested.
She moved the bag towards me, being careful not to touch the muffin. I reached in with my gloved hand and grabbed the muffin with delight.
She had been so careful not to touch it and here I was grabbing it with the filthiest glove you could imagine. I had wiped my nose and sweat with it and did a few hand slaps along the way as well.
I stayed for a few photos and words of thanks, about one and a half minutes. Then I headed out with a Coke in one hand and a muffin in the other. I know a lot of people got a kick out of seeing me with my snacks!
I jogged a bit and then walked another minute and a half to eat and drink.
Then Heartbreak Hill began. 100 feet or so of elevation over about 3/4 of a mile.
My legs were tired and my mind was in the zone. But I had just consumed a lot of sugar and was well hydrated. I was ready to run the hill!
My pit stop and Heartbreak Hill were both in mile 21 and my pace was 13:21. The BAA clocked mile 21 at 13:24. But if you take out the time I took to stop, my pace was around twelve minutes.
As I ran the hill, I still had my coke and muffin. I was breathing as deeply as I could to make it up the hill, so I couldn’t really eat.
At the crest of the hill they had a large banner strung across the road informing us that we had just run Heartbreak Hill. It felt great. A significant section of the race had been run.
Running into Boston
Not that the hard work was over, but all of the big hills were behind us. After reaching mile 21 and conquering The Newton Hills, we still had 5.2 miles to run.
Most runners will tell you mile twenty is where the race really begins. Even on a flat course, twenty miles takes a lot out of your legs. And my legs felt like a speed skaters – huge and tired!
Earlier in the race I asked my self, “how much do you want this?” That got me to mile 20 and over Heartbreak Hill.
Now with about five miles to go I answered that question again. I wasn’t going to PR or BQ, but I sure as hell didn’t want to run for five hours, or more.
As I ran past Boston College, the mile 22 marker is kind of in the middle, I thought the crowd was louder than Wellesley. And I felt encouraged that I was still running while in previous years I had walked this stretch of road.
At mile 22 I thought, well I just ran my longest long run. Only 4.2 miles to go!
I got a bit of a lift running down hill into Cleveland Circle and the crowd was great.
Then from behind I heard a colleague from the office call me name. It was Larry Bradley and he had recognized me even though I was wearing a trash bag!
I don’t recall what we said other than “how’r you doin” and agreeing to see if we could run this in together. But at some point I lost contact with Larry.
Just before mile 23 I decided it was time to ditch my trash bag. It had served me well but the end of the race was only 3.2 miles away. It was impossible to run and take it off, so I walked for about a minute at the end of mile 23.
I tried to hand it to someone in the crowd, but no one was going to touch that! So I had to stuff it into a barricade so it wouldn’t blow back into the street.
After ditching my trash bag, I ran the rest of the way.
At mile 24 we reached Coolidge Corner in Brookline. The crowds were building and the end of the race was so close!
My inner voice said “I can do this”. Everything was tired or hurt, but it was low level pain. So why walk?
Through mile 25 it was a long slog. I was wiped and there was still running to do. I came out of my abyss and started engaging with the crowd a bit. This late in the race you need the fun and distraction of engaging.
As I approached Kenmore Square, Larry came up from behind again. Not sure how I passed him. But we ran through the square together and agreed to run this in together.
It was a truly unique experience to run this part of the course with someone I know. I’ve started the race with someone I know several times. And I’ve run parts of the course in between with someone I know. But never the last section through Brookline and into Boston.
Kenmore is another wide section but the crowd was huge and very loud. I raised up my arms and waved them around a bit and the crowd responded. It was awesome!
As we ran under the Mass Ave. bridge I commented to Larry how much I hate the hill on the other side. He totally agreed.
I couldn’t believe that we were running down Comm. Ave and headed for one of the most famous intersections in running: Comm. Ave and Hereford Street.
Larry and I made the turn close together and I’ll never forget looking up that street. Up. It never seemed like a hill to me before, though it definitely has a rise to it. In 2018 I passed a hand-cyclist going up that hill and the poor guy was barely moving. So I knew it was a hill.
As we ran up the street I waved my arms some more and the crowd responded. How often do you get to feel like a rock star? I was working it!
Larry and I headed for that other most famous turn in running: left onto Boylston Street. The widest and longest road in America! The turn was easy and not very crowded.
As we ran down Boylston Street the crowd was loud and there were runners on the road, but we had plenty of room.
It felt great to be finishing the race with someone I know. The only other times that happened were when my oldest daughter jumped the barricades and ran the last quarter mile with me.
I saw my coral number on the right side of the super structure and headed that way. Larry stayed left and I never saw him after that.
As I crossed the finish line the announcer mention The Melrose Running Club and my buddy Paul Clark, who got me into the VIP group, reached out to shake my hand. Again, nice to see a familiar face.
The BAA VIP tent was within 200 feet of the finish line. I didn’t do the usual walk to get my medal, bag of food and something to drink. Or to pick up my drop bag. That was all inside the tent.
As I approached the tent a volunteer put the medal around my neck and congratulated me. It felt great.
I found the food bags, grabbed a bottle of water and found a place to sit.
Apre the 2023 Boston Marathon
As soon as I sat down my phone started going off. People had been following me and my sister started texting me. Somehow my 85% charge was down to 5% on my phone. I had a charging battery, but if I kept texting I’d kill my phone before the battery could recharge.
After a few messages I got to the business of recovering. I hydrated and ate some food, though I really wasn’t that hungry or thirsty.
I walked around a bit and chatted with a few other runners.
I was smart and paid to park my car about a block from Copley Square where the race ends. In my altered state, I asked a cop for directions to the wrong garage and walked twice as far as I needed to!
I took the elevator to my level and quickly found my car. Getting in was a bit of an effort but it felt good to be situated.
During COVID I became familiar with this part of Boston and getting out to Mass. Ave and over to Cambridge was a breeze.
My 2023 Boston Marathon Experience was complete!