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My Boston Marathon Experience

April 15, 2013

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The Trip:  Craig Jackson and I flew to Boston on Saturday, 4/13, arriving approximately 3:30 PM.  While riding in the shuttle to the Swissotel in downtown, the driver flipped on the radio – one pitch before Shea Hillenbrand hit a two-run home run in the ninth inning off Mariano Rivera to beat the Yankees 7-6 at Fenway Park.

After checking in, we walked a mile to the Expo where we picked up our race number, the long sleeve yellow shirt with the emblem on the chest and BOSTON MARATHON down the left sleeve. I got my first glimpse of the marathon finish line, spotting the logo in the middle of Boylston Street.  We passed by the Boston Commons, west of Charles Street, which was founded in 1774 and the Park Street Park, east of Charles Street, which was founded in 1630.  (The reason for the 130 year gap is that Charles Street is the dividing line between the old, natural part of Boston and the part of Boston. which is built on landfill.)

On Sunday morning, I woke at 6:30 and put on my running gear for a free 2.6-mile fun run sponsored by the Boston Athletic Association through historic Boston (the Commons, the State House, the Old Granary Burial Ground – where Sam Adams and Paul Revere are buried), finishing at the Marathon finish line.  A nice loosen-up run at a very leisurely pace (I even stopped at an ancient graveyard to take pictures).  After a trolley tour, I ate a baked potato at Bennigans before going back to the Hotel to watch the final round of Tiger Woods’ third Masters title.

Race Day: We woke up about 5:45 AM on Monday.  News coverage of the race was already on two different TV stations – they would be on non-stop until the middle of the afternoon.  Looks like a warm day – prediction of 67 at the start time, but one meteorologist mentioned the possibility of 50s in Boston by mid-afternoon…. At 7:30, they interviewed two runners (with numbers in the 17000s) already in Hopkinton.

At 11:00, we started walking past the loading chutes to the bag-drop buses.  The buses were further than we thought – at least a mile+ away.  Craig and I were separated and I did not see him again until a mile into the race.  After dropping my bag, I had to walk back to my chute, arriving at 11:39.  While others stood around, I sat on the ground for almost 15 minutes.  I was in the 8th  chute – each chute was 50 yards long.

The race:  The barriers were removed and the controlled walk-up began, making up about half of the distance to the start line.  Right at noon, the gun was fired – and we didn’t move a foot for about 2 minutes.  We kept walking towards the line, with one false jog-start, until within about 50 yards of the start line, when we started jogging.  I crossed the start line 5:05 after the race began.

I started at what I hoped was a slow pace.  The first mile is predominantly downhill and the excitement of the start makes a too-quick start all too likely.  As I passed the one-mile mark in 8:04 (perfect!), I heard my name – and turned around to see Craig!  He had already made a tree stop – I was already contemplating when to make my own stop.  A couple of minutes later, Craig had blended into the crowd ahead of me.

The first six miles went by without any significant notice, except for seeing an Asian man running barefoot (!) and another runner juggling three hacky-sack balls.  The support was very good – many children with their hands out, begging for a high-five while offering oranges, bananas, and cups of water.  Framingham and its residents showed up at Mile 6 – my quadriceps were beginning to feel the impact of five downhill miles. I felt a brief chilling breeze in my face and exclaimed, “Thank you, Lord!”, drawing a couple of sideways glances from other runners.  With a goal time of just under 5:00 per K, I passed the first 5K at 24:30 and the 10K at 48:59.  Every minute under 5:00 per K is a minute under 3:30 for the marathon….

As I passed Mile 8, it started to rain very lightly.  When I stopped for the walk break, I noticed the children no longer held out their hands for a high-five – wouldn’t want a high-five from a walker!

Natick came and went between Miles 10 and 11.  Shortly after Mile 12 came Wellesley and its all-girls college.  For a quarter-mile stretch, the girls line the road four deep on the right, many screaming encouragement, with signs saying “I kiss runners”.  The girls aren’t golf-clapping or saying “Go, runners” like so many others – they are screaming!!  The college buildings are behind them on the right and the pine trees are on the left side of the road, hiding the train tracks, forming an artificial canyon that contains the noise.  The noise bounces off the pine trees, reverberates across the street, careens off the buildings and back again.  Just incredible.

The half-way point came in the town of Wellesley, at 1:42:56 – a 3:26 pace.  The plan now was to just maintain the pace until the hills began at Mile 16.   The Newton Hills are four hills spread over a 3.5 mile stretch starting at Mile 17.  The first is a 1,200-yard beast. After that, the 400-yard second hill seemed little more than a speed bump.  On the third, an 800-yard test of concentration and will, I noticed the impact of the hills was not felt in my legs but rather in my breathing.  But, my training was paying off as I averaged 8:04 per mile from Miles 17 through 20.

When I took a short walk break at Mile 18, a race official asked if I was all right.  “I’m doing great!”, was my immediate response.  I maintained the run/walk and passed dozens of people when running, even up the hills.

Finally, the legendary Heartbreak Hill loomed ahead.  A half-mile of 5% rise that would be tough anyway – but at Mile 20, it can be a struggle.  To make things worse, the sun broke through in full force for the remainder of the race.  My goal had been to top Heartbreak fresh enough to make the 5.7 mile downhill push to the finish.

Now we’re going to see just how much I have left…. A 7:46 pace for Mile 22 was encouraging.  The next landmark is the legendary CITGO sign, one mile from the finish line.  I first spotted it, I was at Mile 23 (7:55).  A quarter-mile later, the sign disappeared behind the trees.  I reached the sign at 3:17:42 – it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes from here.

A right-hand turn, then a left, and the finish line was in sight – a little over a half-mile away down Boylston Street.  There were still many people around me – I passed some who were staggering, others who were merely walking.  Mile 26 was 7:53.  All that was left was to look good for the finish line picture.  I glanced around to see who else would be in my photo, and chose to move over to the middle of the street for a clearer shot.  With my arms in the air, I crossed at 3:27:15 – better than I had expected!

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