Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Notes from a Boston Marathon Rookie: The First 20K

First off, I’d like to once again thank everyone who supported me in making my run in the 115th Boston Marathon a personal Run For our Sons race. The only way to end Duchenne is to all chip in and work together. I’m proud to have played a small part in brining many of us together in this task. This may be the conclusion of my build up and run in this year’s Boston Marathon but I’m not done Running for our Sons. In November I’ll run the New York City Marathon and will continue to post here. What follows is part one of my best attempt at a race report. I’ll be posting it in parts over the next several days. Participating in the Boston Marathon is unbelievably experiential. It’s still settling in, more than I expected.

The Road to Hopkinton

I have to imagine, for a runner, going to the Boston Marathon is analogous to a child going to Disney. Unlike going to Disney, you don’t just get on a plane, go and enjoy yourself. You have to work hard, sometimes for years. You have to suffer, sometimes tremendously. You have to be persistent, sometimes tenaciously. You must also be ready to have it taken away from you, sometimes at the last minute when you least expect it. If you overcome all of this and find yourself corralled at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton on Patriots day with 24,000 others you’ll know an unspoken camaraderie shared with the runners huddled all around you. This is not unlike the unspoken understanding I find among other parents of sons with Duchenne. These can only be truly understood through experience, yet the two are polar opposites.

I find running a marathon to be reward and validation for hard work. Most of us have it within ourselves to run a marathon if we’re willing to commit to it and do the necessary preparation. If you find yourself prepared to run a marathon you will understand that it’s a positive celebration of what we should all be capable of.

As you can read in my earlier posts, my lead in went very well. I could quibble about training through the worst winter in recent memory, or not lining up workouts or miles exactly as I wanted to but that would be petty. Monday morning, April 18th, I took my place in the sixth corral of the first wave of the 115th Boston Marathon as prepared, rested, and injury free as I could have hoped. Not only was I physically prepared I had sorted out every detail from logistics, to gear, and reconnaissance runs. There was nothing more I could have done with the time I had. Still, this was to be only my third marathon and my first Boston. I was a total rookie.

Despite my rookie status I gave myself a very ambitious goal of running under three hours and finishing in the top 1500 runners. My previous marathon best was 3:12 just six months ago. Knocking off another 12 minutes, or two minutes per month of training, on Boston’s course would be a coup. Over the winter I read, researched, and picked experienced runner’s minds about the course. One thing was consistent. Go out too fast and you’ll pay for it dearly over the last 10 miles. But what was too fast for me? There was only one way to find out.

At Boston your bib number is assigned based upon your qualifying time. This also determines your start order. The 24,000 runners are organized into three waves containing eight corrals in each and each corral contains a thousand runners. My bib was 5461 so I was in the sixth corral starting with over 5000 runners ahead. Most runners do not run Boston faster than the time that got them there. With that in mind I knew I could be in for a possible log jam considering I planed to average at least 30 seconds per mile faster than most runners, not only in my corral, but in the two ahead.

The race started easy and quickly and my fears of being boxed in at the start were soon eased and I ran down the left of the road as if I had my own express lane. Never once did I weave as I easily passed more than two thousand runners in the first 5K. This was mostly heavy pounding downhill but, due to the crowds and adrenalin, you could hardly feel it. I had decided in the 30 minutes prior to the start to forget about my elaborate pacing strategy and run this by feel using my GPS only as a gauge to track my splits and overall pace. I wanted to keep my run on the easy side of hard but if a particular pace felt right that’s what I was going to run.

First 5K Split 21:01

After the first 5K passed by the race was still shoulder-to-shoulder. Despite this I had no problem running my own pace and continued to pass more runners. As I looked around I soon noticed I was wearing the only bib that started with 5 or higher. I would use this look around test at different points in the race to determine my position in the field. In this second 5K I spotted Brian Denger’s green Run for our Sons shirt ahead. He started two corrals before me so I knew I was covering ground quickly. I reeled him in slowly over the next mile but couldn’t help but to give a little surge as I got closer. We chatted briefly as I let my mile split drop back to where it was before continuing on through the field. Like me, Brian also seemed to be running easily as should be expected so early in the race.

Second 5K Split 21:03 (Total Time 10K 42:03)

After the first 10K was past I got to the point in the race where the road is straight and flat through Framingham and Natick. I was really looking forward to this 10K stretch of the race as I intended to put it in cruise control and focus on staying fluid and fresh. That’s just what I did. At one point in Framingham the crowds subsided for a moment and I could hear the familiar sound of footfalls from the runners around me. I enjoyed that brief moment of solitude and never heard it again.

Near the end of this stretch I passed Dick and Rick Hoyt. Dick had stopped to attend to Rick as runners were being directed around them. Soon after passing the Hoyts I approached Wellesley College. You could hear the Wellesley girls screaming for half a mile before you got to them. They are known to offer runners kisses and various antics often ensue. I didn’t see any guys doing pushups or too many kisses. By this time many of the bibs I was running with started with 3s and I have to assume most of them were focused like I was. I had my game face on and, as I planned, pulled to the opposite side of the road and cruised right past the screams.

Third and fourth 5K Splits 21:04 & 21:08 (Total Time for 20K 1:24:15)

Next up: Wellesley, the half Marathon, and the start of the Newton Hills.


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