Friday, April 22, 2011

2011 Boston Marathon–Race Report

I had about a mile to walk to Boston Common to catch the bus.  I got on the elevator at 5:30AM and was greeted by two guys from Utah.  We walked together for a little bit but they were taking the train to the park.  I was planning on walking. 

The air was brisk as I exited the hotel.  I had planned on this and was wearing my racing outfit with a long sleeved shirt and a throw away track jacket.  However, I was still only wearing shorts and nothing was on my legs.  It was cold – around 38 or 40 degrees. 

More and more racers appeared as I made my way to the buses.  It reminded me of hundreds of trails of ants all leading back to the queen.  Runners would meet up.  Some people we silent, others were talking and joking.  The atmosphere was very different than the start of an ironman.  I remember IMLOU back in 2009 and the crowd was silent as we made our way to race start.  It was a very different atmosphere.  This was a victory lap.  The hard part of getting to Boston was done. 

Boston Common / pre-dawn

Having departed so early I just walked right up into one of the many buses.  I grabbed the first seat behind the driver because of the heater.  I was cold.  The bus quickly filled and soon we were off to Hopkinton.  There was a lot of chatter on the bus.  Normally I would have made fast friends with someone and talked their ear off but the person sitting next to me did not speak English.  I rested my head on the seat back in front of me and relaxed.  I felt no pressure.

I knew the bus ride would seem long.  After all 25 – 30 miles by bus is still a long way.  I was reading the highway signs as we rolled by – Brookline, Newton, Wellesley, Natick, Ashland and then finally Hopkinton.

On the bus

We pulled up at the Hopkinton and there were already people standing in line at port-o-potties.  I skipped this set and made my way down to the fields.  This was a huge area that was completely surrounded with facilities.  There was no waiting. 

It felt colder in the field than in Boston.  I was not dressed warm enough.  The air was brisk and the wind was brutal.  I was cold.  I had brought the plastic expo bag to sit on.  I moved around the area and grabbed a bagel and a water.  I consumed this while feeling out the area.  I grabbed a spot to sit down behind a power bar both, hoping to be out of the wind.  It did not help.  I saw a couple of people pilfering the thrash bags from a stand and I looted the area as well.  The garbage bag was of high quality and sufficient size to fashion a make shift bivouac sack.  I climbed into the bag and curled up.  I pulled the door closed and tried to make the best of the situation.  It was miserable but would have been much worse without the bivy.

The jumbo-tron

The cold field

Curled up

Sleeping it off

In the bivy

The sea of people

I was near the public address system and tried to get a few winks.  It was all but impossible.  I did get up a few times to hit the can and the lines were short for the first 2 hours.  Yes, for the first 2 hours.

My race would be starting 10AM.  The announcer had said we would make our way to the start at 9:15AM.  I had a while to sit in the field and shake.

Anyway, my time had come to move to the start of the course.  I hit the facilities one last time and made my escape from the tundra.  I remind you that it was 90 degrees in Mississippi the previous weekend.

The crowd made their way to the corrals.  There were thousands of people in front of me.  There were thousands of people behind me.  We stood in the corrals for about half an hour.  There was some announcements and celebrations at the front of the race but I could not really hear or see.

Walking to the start line – people in front

Walking to the start line – people in front


During the 90 second count down I ditched my track jacket.  They had bags for the clothes to go to charity.  I kept my long sleeved shirt on and waited to warm up.

The gun went off and we started.  First at a shuffling pace and then more of a trot.  The wave of athletes surged and stopped like a slinky.  It took a minute or so to pace the start line.  You could see everyone in front of you.  The start of the race is a steep decline. 

Now, I had read and been warned about the negative elevation of the race.  I knew that this would overload the quads.  I knew that the downhills would destroy the legs.  I knew this logically and my race plan was to take it nice and slow.  I wanted to shorten my stride and take it easy.  Save the legs for later in the race.

In the corrals you are seeded by your qualifying time.  Everyone in front of you is faster than you.  Everyone around you is at least as fast.  And everyone behind you is nipping at your heals.  I was treating this race as a victory lap.  I wanted to run a best case 3:15 or worst case 3:30.  I had qualified with a 3:08. 

So, already, everyone around me was 7 to 22 minutes faster than me.  We started the race and immediately I was being passed by people.  And not just a few but thousands of people.  I knew that I needed to run a 7:24 pace to clock a 3:15.  I set up the virtual nemesis.  I quickly put hundreds of feet into him.  I tried to slow down.  I knew that I was putting time into my quads.  Time that I would not get back.

People were still flying past me.  The roads were narrow and there was nowhere to run slow.  Everyone was fast.  After all this is Boston!

The first mile clicked off in 7:25.  Right on pace.  However, the next few miles ranged from a low of 7:04 to 7:24. 

I jumped off track to take my long sleeved shirt off at mile 3.  This was the first appearance of THOR.  I had decided on a fun name to write on my shirt for the event.  I knew that it would get a good response and I knew that I would need the encouragement.

Almost immediately the THOR, BRING THE HAMMER started.  I was starting to hurt and knew the pain would be coming.  THOR sucked it up and pushed on!

Even though I was running a much too hard pace for this course I was passed by 2000 people in that first 10k.

And around that 10k mark I knew my quads were already shot.  This was going to be one tough victory lap.


By mile 10 I knew I was done

My pace naturally slowed once the major down hills were over.

I heard many a Boston accent yell THOR, what a wicked name.  I had my race belt on and I was taking gels about every 4 miles.  I was sweating like it was summer in Mississippi.  Since we were running with the wind you did not experience much of a breeze.  Every once in a while the road would turn and the wind would hit you – it felt wonderful.

The race was simply amazing.  Can you imagine having a huge crowd on both sides of the road for the entire length of a marathon.  That is Boston.

At one one I could hear the crowd getting louder and louder as I approached. I thought it was for me. Nope!  That was when I was passed by the big bald guy in the pink ballerina outfit.  This guy is pretty famous.  It was humbling.

I knew that the girls of Wellesley would be coming up just pat half way.  You could hear the siren call from a mile away.  I move to the left side of the street.  For half a mile the noise was intense!  I read some of the signs as I ran by, “Kiss a Redhead”, “Kiss me – I go to an all girls school”, “Kiss me I’m a senior”, and “Kiss me, I’m a physics major!”  I stopped for just a second to snap a picture.

The Girls of Wellesley

As I got tired and neared Heart Break hill (between miles 21 and 22) I started to enjoy the crowds.  When a group of rowdy guys would start chanting THOR I would do the whole Hulk Hogan “I can’t hear you” bit.  I would then start to chop with my arm to “DROP THE HAMMER”.  I am sure it looked silly but I was having fun – the crowd was having fun.

Heartbreak hill is no big deal.  As I ran up it (it is actually the fourth in a series of hills) there would be no walking.  I just trucked up it, albeit slowly.  I had thoughts of dropping and doing a set of push ups to prove to the hill that THOR could not be contained.  However, there were simply so many people that THOR would have been trampled.  Also, once THOR made it to the top of Heartbreak he saw the down hill and knew that this would be the challenge – not the assent but the decent.  The quads were killing THOR at this time.

Once heartbreak hill was over, both the up and the down the rest of the race is a cake walk.  Or it would be if you could still run.  I watched my 3:30 goal slip away and I was at peace with it.  Even though I was hurting I was still relishing the experience.

solar blankets


a sea of blankets

taking a breather after the race

THOR – back in the room

I am so glad that I decided to have fun with the race.  I think if I had hard and fast goals for the race I could have been disappointed.  I am also glad that I was THOR for a little while.  The crowd support was simply awesome.  And no matter how bad I hurt, THOR could not walk – or at least not walk for very long.  Who wants to hear, “You can do it THOR!”  Not me!


Papa D said...

It sounds like Thor had a great time. I am so glad that you were able to go and experience this great race. You have worked hard to make it happen. So proud of you.

Happy Feet 26.2 said...

My experience was different. The downhills didn't bother me. I do agree Heart break wasn't awful, it was the continuous uphills that "got me" I trained on hills, but WAS NOT prepared for 26.2 miles of "racing" hills.

Unknown said...

Congrats James!

dawn said...

great report! so glad you had a positive experience! it was your victory lap!

Michael said...

Great race report. I saw on my husband Jim's blog you said we were in the same hotel. That's crazy. I have a pic of the pink tutu guy on my blog! GREAT job! What a great experience!

Tri4Success said...

Great report and congrats on the victory lap!

Anonymous said...

What a great experience Congrats!!!

Matty O said...

It was a victory lap. I agree 100% man.

You enjoyed every minute of it. Out of all of the race reports (minus Beth's SUAR) this was my most anticipated (come on, you didn't crap your pants like she did LOL).

I knew out of everyone you would actually be able to enjoy it and give an honest write up to the plan.

Great job once again!

Loved your heat trap "bivy" you created. I will have to remember that for future use.

Oh man, would I have gotten in trouble with those girls LOL!

I also thoroughly enjoy pumping up the crowds during races. Very few races have I not gotten the fans to go nuts for me. It is a disappointment when you are going past people and they just stare at you like another random fast runner haha. Leave a memory is what I say ;)

misszippy said...

Great race report. So glad you had fun with it and let the pace go. Wellesley is the most amazing spot on the course to me!

Big Daddy Diesel said...

I loved this race report, simply awesome and refreshing!! Congrats again

Ransick said...

Congrats and great RR! The garbage bag bivouac sack was a great idea. I'm glad you had fun with the race. You earned it.

Jim ... 50after40 said...

Great job Thor! The downhill didn't feel too bad when we were running it, but it tore up my quads too! My left quad cramped quite a bit around 18. But what an awesome day! I do silly stuff like the Hulk Hogan bit too. At Mile 25 these girls were cheering and I did a ridiculous "pound my chest" - which made them cheer louder ... kinda stupid, but it was awesome at the time! Great job, glad you had fun in Boston! Sorry we missed each other, maybe next time my friend!

Little Miss Runshine said...

Great job!! I did NOT go slow in the beginning and it killed my quads!! Next year if I get in I'm going to be much more smart!

Lindsay said...

i didn't start out slow last year when i ran... combined with everything else i had going wrong, my second half was brutal.

tip for next time: pretend you want a pre-race massage... then you can wait in the gym in the heat. :)