First up… Qualifying
After qualifying for Boston by 31 seconds in 2013, I was excited at the idea of qualifying, but as soon as I finished the Lost Dutchman Marathon I was already pretty sure I’d miss out on racing Boston. 31 seconds isn’t much wiggle room when it comes to qualifying, but I figured I had a slight chance. Then the bombings took place at the 2013 Boston Marathon, just two months after I qualified. The groundswell of support for Boston in the aftermath of the bombings was amazing to see, and at the same time it all but guaranteed I’d not get to run. Many runners who hadn’t run Boston in years decided they wanted to be at Boston 2014, and lots of those runners were able to go out at run times much faster than my BQ -:31. Lots of charity runners who were unable to finish 2013 were rolled into 2014 to allow for them to finish the race, something they all deserved. So, 2014 Boston was not in the cards for me, and after the initial disappointment, I was ok with that. This meant two things- rather than running that day, I had a front row seat watching Meb win via the live stream of the marathon. It also meant that I had to train a little harder and work towards a BQ time that would guarantee me a slot for 2015.
In the interest of personal finances, Mindy and I started looking for local marathons that would line up well with our schedules, as well as the Arizona weather. Taking the weather into account, we decided a late spring marathon would be ideal, as we’d have the great Arizona winter/spring weather to do the bulk of our training. Since Boston registration opens in September, we figured we’d even have a little wiggle room if our A race didn’t go well, and we could maybe try an early summer race since we’d have a good training base. After checking race calendars, we settled on Mountains 2 Beach Marathon. After the dust settled on race day, I had BQ’d with a 3:03, 7 minutes under my qualifying time. While there are no guarantees in life, I felt pretty confident I was headed to Boston!
The Main Event – Marathon Weekend…
Marathon weekend snuck up on us, if such a thing is possible. Mindy and I made the decision to host a 5k just a week before Boston, and all the race planning kept our focus off Boston. It was a little tricky juggling the race planning and the last few long runs in my training plan, but Mindy was great and picked up any slack with regards to the 5k. After the 5k though, all focus shifted to our weekend in Boston.
The Boston Marathon is held on Patriot’s Day in Boston, a Monday, which is actually kind of nice. We were able to fly to Boston on a Thursday, and an extra day to adjust to the time change would be alright by me. Rather than a traditional hotel, we opted to find a rental through VRBO.com. It was perfect! We stayed right near the intersection of Marlborough and Hereford, which is only a few blocks from the finish. It was short walk to the convention center for packet pick-up, to the finish area on Boylston Street, and less than a mile walk to Fenway Park. It was nice to have a kitchen and some extra space to stretch out, and we’d stay in the same place in a heartbeat. And while the energy on Boylston was great to soak in, it was nice to stay just a little outside of the race epicenter.
After a good night of sleep, we woke up Friday with plans to hit the expo bright and early. Mindy was the expo last year and warned me it was a little cramped- she wasn’t fooling. While Chicago Marathon’s expo has the blessing of space, Boston is a little… cozy. Getting there early helped immensely though, and we were able to cruise the expo without too much trouble. Of course I had to splurge on a few things – yes, Spike did come home with me. And just like Chicago, I was a sucker for some race-themed shoes. This time it was a pair of New Balance, complete with a motivational message. A few other items may have fallen into my basket, but all things considered we got out of there with out breaking the bank. The usual vendors filled out the convention center, as well as a few with Boston-specific merchandise.
The race itself provides a nice Adidas race shirt – long sleeve yellow, with the Boston unicorn- as well as a year-specific Sam Adams pint glass. There were a few other goodies in there, but those were the standouts.
After the expo, we wandered around Boylston Street, taking in the sights and killing a little time before the Red Sox game. Since this was my first time to Boston, we decided to make a trip to Fenway and take in a game. Growing up going to games at Wrigley, I really wanted to see Fenway in person and it didn’t disappoint! I’ll let the pictures do the talking, but suffice it to say, we had a great time and I’m a huge fan of Fenway.
Saturday morning was the B.A.A. 5k, so after a quick breakfast we headed over to the Boston Common. The course was a nice loop from the Common down and back on Commonwealth, with a short section on Boylston – including running down the finishing chute of the marathon. The 5k ends back at the Common, and after the race we were able to just wander the Common and run into several friends who were running the marathon as well.
After freshening up, we decided to make another pass through the expo just in case we missed anything (we hadn’t) and besides, we didn’t have much else to do. Through a random chain of events, we ended up back at Fenway for an afternoon game with several of the John Hancock (title sponsor of the Boston Marathon) employee runners. We were able to go out onto the Fenway warning track and snap some photos, then took in the game. A great, an unexpected way to spend the afternoon. After the game, we strolled back to the hub of activity on Boylston and found a lovely Italian restaurant for dinner.
Since the marathon is held on Patriot’s Day, a Monday, Sunday was spent as a relaxing day getting ready for the race. After sleeping in, we grabbed some breakfast and then I got down to business laying out all the gear for the big day. The weather had been cooperating all weekend, but it appeared our good luck might be running out. Forecasts were now predicting a cold (~40 degrees) and rainy Patriot’s Day. Now I’ve run in the cold before, and I’ve run in the rain, but I wasn’t excited to combine the two for my first time running Boston. That said, I was prepared – visor to keep the rain out of my eyes, arm warmers to pair with my usual race singlet, and gloves to keep my hands warm. Only one problem- no gloves in my luggage. So, while I kept prepping my gear, Mindy volunteered to check the shops on Boylston for some running gloves. She returned from her quest a while later with the only option she could find at any of the shops, including City Sports, the Adidas RunBase, and a few others- baseball batting gloves! First, I was shocked nobody had gloves, and second, I knew there was no way I’d wear bright white leather batting gloves for the marathon. I opted to make some mittens out of some extra socks I brought, and hoped I wouldn’t even need to bother using them.
With the weather forecast showing the chilly temps, I had to actually plan my pre-race attire. Boston is a point to point race, and any clothes you wear to the start line village are either worn or donated, there is no option to drop a bag of morning clothes. Since my bus heads out from Boston Common close to 6am, and the race doesn’t start until 10am, there wasn’t much of an option to tough it out. My outfit consisted of my Hammer Nutrition hoody, which I didn’t really want to donate*sigh*, and some foil heat blankets as an extra layer. After gathering as much disposable clothing as I could, I went back to organizing my race day nutrition.
My marathon fueling strategy is pretty dialed in at this point. I decided to follow the same strategy I used at Chicago, with the only difference that I carried an extra gel. I figured the cold temps might have me burning some extra calories to stay warm, especially in the hours sitting around the start village. I planned to take 4 gels for certain, and maybe a 5th if I started to feel the cold, or the Newton Hills, taking their toll. As such, I opted to carry six – always have an extra in case of butterfingers, and felt confident they would do the trick. I also carried three pill tubes, each with Anti-Fatigue Caps, Endurolytes, and Endurance Amino capsules. I planned to take them around miles 7, 14 and 21. In retrospect, nutrition and supplement usage went according to plan. I’m pretty set on that timetable, and it has served me well in my last few races, including this first time at Boston. Huge thanks to Hammer Nutrition for having great products and a great endurance nutrition knowledge library. They’ve been huge part of my growth as a runner (and triathlete), and I encourage everybody to give their products a try.
Normally we do a laid back pre-race dinner, usually just Mindy and I, but this race we had an opportunity we couldn’t turn down. We attended a pre-race dinner at the Fairmont Copley that had us in the company of such legends as Bill Rogers, Joan Benoit-Samuelson, Dick Hoyt and Meb Keflegzi. There were also many past Boston professional athletes like Jim Rice, Steve Lyons, Zach Thornton, Joe Andruzzi, Satch Sanders and more. We had a great dinner and spent some time talking with many of the guests- a treat on the night before my first Boston Marathon.
Race morning started out as a casual affair. Having done several runDisney events, I’m more than familiar with the 3am wake-up calls, and thankfully I didn’t have to get up that early. The Boston Marathon starts at 10am, though your wave determines what time you have to board a bus to the starting line. Since I’m lucky enough to have a Wave 1 placement, I had to be on a bus to the start line at approximately 6:30. If I remember correctly, I woke up around 5:30, had a snack and made the short walk to Boston Common and the bus loading zone. Mindy tagged along and took some pre-race pictures before sending me on my way. The walk over reminded me of one thing- it was cold. I had several layers on, but I was still feeling the chill. A bit of conversation with my fellow runners, and before I knew it, I was at the start line village.
The organization of the athlete’s village was outstanding. There were announcers providing constant information, aid stations with coffee, water and other snacks, tons of port-a-johns, and tents to keep us dry and warm-ish. It was cloudy during my bus ride to the village, but no rain sprinkled us on the drive. It didn’t take long for the drizzle to begin though. I had time to get my picture taken next to the famous “It all starts here” sign, and after ducking into one of the tents, I began to notice droplets forming on the plastic sheet “walls” of the tent. With plenty of time before I would need to make the walk to the start line itself, I wrapped myself in some foil blankets and tried to think warm thoughts. It may have worked, as the time approached for me to leave the tent and head to the start line, the drizzle stopped and we had a few minutes of dry skies. From the village to the actual start line is somewhere near 3/4ths of a mile, and on the walk over I ran into Sean Astin (Goonies, Rudy, Lord of the Rings) who was running on behalf of Team MR8, a charity set up by the parents of Martin Richard, a young boy killed during the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. I wished him a good race and continued on my way to the start.
Once at the start line, it wasn’t long before the national anthem was performed and the elite runners were sent on their way. A matter of moments later, and I was off on my own journey to Boston, 26.2 miles away. The first 4 miles are almost exclusively downhill running. The first mile in particular is fairly steep, and runners often go out way too fast and pay for it later in the race. Since I had heard so much about this, I was cognizant of the fact in the moment, and regulated my pace accordingly. I’m not exactly sure when it started, but somewhere around the mile four mark the skies opened up. A majority of the runners around me took it in stride, with choice commentary of course, but everybody seemed to accept it as a challenge from the running gods, as a way to prove their mettle on a course that already offers plenty of opportunity to do so.
The rain was falling fairly hard now, more than just a drizzle, and in addition to the 40ish degree temperature and the 10-15 mph headwind, it was making for quite the combination. I normally don’t wear a visor when I run, but with the forecast showing rain, I opted for my trusty Headsweats visor. It was a great choice to say the least, as without it I would have needed some mini windshield wipers to keep my glasses clear. With my visor doing some serious work, I was preparing for the rain to pound all 26.2 miles. Luckily the hard stuff didn’t last long, and after a few minutes the rain dialed itself back to a light drizzle. A drizzle which lasted the rest of the race for me. I can’t complain about the drizzle much though, as I heard later waves were dealing with much more substantial downpours, something the early waves got out ahead of by starting when they did.
The run itself is an odd combination of a blur, and yet such specific moments and places I’ll not forget them. Running past local residents up early cheering on runners while staying warm next to front yard bonfires, running through the lovely ladies of Wellesley College and their “Kiss Me” signs, and running up Heartbreak Hill with spectators providing energy to the runners in the form of cheers and high fives. I’ll remember the first time I saw the famous Citgo sign in the distance and realizing I was in the homestretch of the race, knowing that I’d finish and likely BQ on the Boston Marathon course. I won’t forget making the “right on Hereford, left on Boylston” turns to put me on the final straightaway, and seeing the finish archway in the distance.
Thanks to some wonderful folks at John Hancock, Mindy was able to get grandstand tickets for the finish line area, so I knew where to look for her near the finish. As I approached the finishing chute, I found her easily on the right side grandstands, cheering and taking pictures, and it was great to see her after 26.2 cold and wet miles. My time was 3:03, something I was thrilled with for my first time at Boston, and given the wind and rain. It wasn’t a PR, but it was a BQ and I immediately starting thinking about a sub 3 hour Boston next year.
After crossing the line and getting my first (of hopefully many) Boston Marathon medal, two things happened; First, I heard Mindy calling out to me from just outside the fence line, and second- I started to get really cold, really fast. Mindy was no amateur sherpa that day though, and she had a bounty of warm clothes for me to put on, she just had to figure out how to get them to me. For obvious reasons, security is tight at Boston, so to reunite with me sans barricade, Mindy and I would both have to take a circuitous route through security checkpoints, side streets and hotels. We finally reunited in the lobby of the John Hancock building where I tried quickly to get out of my wet gear before getting shoo’d out of the lobby.
After getting into warm and dry clothes, I gobbled down a Hammer Recovery Bar and bottle of water, then set about finding some breakfast. As part of her grandstand tickets, Mindy had access to a race day brunch and viewing area provided by John Hancock. Unfortunately for me, it was all but closed up by the time we hurried up there. The silver lining was they still had some delicious cake pops on the buffet line, and I was able to grab a few for my first mini-breakfast. There were a few other goodies for the taking, including a commemorative Sam Adams Boston Marathon Bottle opener.
After getting some calories back in, we made the walk back to our rental so I could freshen up. Once warmed up to a reasonable level, we ventured back to Boylston to cheer in the runners and soak in the atmosphere. After cheering for a few hours, we wandered back to our rental and packed up for the next day’s flight home. Once packed and rested up, it was off to dinner on Boylston to share stories of the day and begin planning for 2016 when Mindy and I will get to run Boston together!