Saturday, May 9, 2015

Boston to Big Sur, April 2015 - part 1

Ah, Boston. The Granddaddy of all marathons, it holds a special place in the hearts of runners all over the world, and mine is no exception. For me, so much has happened in Boston: it has been the scene of 3 marathon PRs, my first real "elite" running experience and also a tragedy that shocked the world in 2013. Last year's return was a triumphant one and a truly wonderful experience; there was never any doubt that I would return for 2015.

On a whim I also decided that 2015 would be a great year to attempt the Boston 2 BigSur challenge: 2 marathons, 2 coasts, 6 days apart. This is the sort of thing that seems like a wonderful idea at the time when you sign up for it, and remains like that until the day after the first marathon, when you roll over and try to get out of bed. But more about that later.

The Training
Well, yes. I wrote in my last post about life getting in the way of training, and the same was true for Boston. But for the best of reasons - in February my usual running schedule was very much interrupted when I travelled to Las Vegas to join and marry my soulmate, Joel - and the worst, when he subsequently came down with pneumonia on our honeymoon in the Grand Canyon!

Snow? In Arizona??

All interruptions aside, I did manage to put in some decent weeks of training in March and early April, in particular focusing on back-to-back long runs on the weekend of 17-21 miles each. I headed off to Boston with mixed feelings about my capabilities, knowing that a PR (sub-2:47:57) was very unlikely, but hoping that I'd be able to put in a decent showing at both Boston and Big Sur in any case.

The lead-up: Boston
As ever, it's amazing to be back in Boston and part of the festival atmosphere that envelops the city during marathon weekend. In the spirit of raceaholics everywhere, Joel has signed us up for the BAA 5K and we run it Saturday morning in the most perfect of race-day conditions: 10C/50F and clear with no wind. This contrasts sharply with the forecast for Monday, which calls for similar temperatures but also rain and - worse still - a moderately strong headwind. Pretty much a repeat of New York last November but also wet; how lovely.

So it's perhaps the idea of having at least a few miles of racing in good weather that is topmost in my mind when the gun goes off, because our plan of gradually accelerating towards MP is immediately scuttled when I notice females in front of me (this will not do!) and take off like a maniac. Oops.

Joel commentates on the pace as the miles click by in 7:01, 6:30, 6:20 and then the final stretch at 6:05 pace....we cross hand-in-hand for a finish time of 20:43. Much faster than anticipated and in fact good enough for 6th in my AG and 88th woman of over 5000! Ok, that was rather silly, but also rather fun.


The rest of the weekend passes in a blur of socialising, beer and various other forms of carbohydrate. To my horror, on Sunday morning an email arrives with a weather alert: the second of these I've had for Boston and the complete opposite of the first - it confirms what we already know, which is that Monday is going to be a freezing debacle. Nevertheless, the Elite briefing later in the day is exciting as usual; even more so that I now have a few friends there. Afterwards I sit chatting with my NYC friend Paula while Neil and Joel mob last year's winner, Meb Keflezighi, and pose for pictures with one of running's coolest dudes ever.

Race Day: Boston
Grey skies and a moderately strong wind greet us as we step outside to jog the mile or so to our respective buses; at the Fairmont Copley I quickly locate both Paula and Neil and we hop onto the coach that will take us to the Korean Church at Hopkinton. It's lovely to have company on the bus - for the first time in the 3 years I've taken this ride - and the time passes quicker than usual. Inside the church we quickly head upstairs; I know from experience it will be much warmer up there, and we settle in to one of the rooms to wait for the start.

Around 9am it starts raining outside - at this point I'm pretty much resigned to my fate, which is that today is going to be a nastier repeat of NYC. Benita and I have already talked about goals for the day and decided that 2:50 is no longer a realistic option; instead, we settle on a time around 2:55 and secretly I'm actually thinking that just breaking 3 hours (which I failed to do in NYC) will be enough for me today.

It doesn't matter though, because no Patriot's Day would be complete for me without a Meb Moment, and it happens when I decide to head downstairs to check just how horrible the weather is outside. I spy him in a side room and I can't resist: I poke my head in and wish him luck for the race. "You won't remember this," I add, "but I was the girl SCREAMING her head off when you passed me at mile 19 last year. I hope I get to do that again today!" Meb's whole face breaks into an enormous grin and he says "Aw, give me a hug!" I happily oblige, we again wish each other a great race, and I head downstairs with my day already made.

Outside it is indeed drizzly and cold; I jog around for a few unenthusiastic minutes and then head back inside to get changed. I decide on an outfit that replicates what worked for me in NYC, but at the last minute pull off my beanie and stuff it into my bag. Nobody else has a hat on and I don't want to risk jettisoning what is in fact my favourite running hat. The super-elites are called by name and before I know it I'm back up at my favourite starting line once again.

I'm so busy taking it all in - after all, 2015 is likely to be my last year running Boston as an elite - and smiling for the cameras that I completely forget to start my Garmin. I realise just as the announcer calls out "30 seconds!" and so it happens that my 4th Boston Marathon starts with me hyperventilating and frantically swiping at the face of my watch to get it to start. Certainly a change from previous years, and one that I'm not likely to easily forget!

2nd from left, with thought bubble: "Oh you IDIOT!"

Miles 1-6: ?6:20, 6:28, 6:23, 6:33, 6:31, 6:11 (pace in min/mile)
The GPS satellites usually take a few minutes to load, so I spend the first 10 seconds of the race wondering if I should wait for that or start my stopwatch regardless, before deciding to just start the timer and not worry about it any further. So I have no real idea what my pace is this first mile, but it feels okay and I just go with it.

The good news is that a small pack seems to have formed around me by mile 3; this will be very useful if it continues, a sharp contrast to New York and my expectations of today. Paula is in there somewhere amongst the group of 9 women running together; there is a tall girl right up front and I'm unashamedly sheltering behind her when the wind starts to really pick up around mile 5, bringing on painful memories of NYC once again. One part of my brain feels guilty over this but another is yelling "Are you kidding me? You deserve this!" so I tuck in and try to ignore my conscience. We will see just how long this lasts.

Miles 7-12: 6:33, 6:36, 6:24, 6:31, 6:36, 6:25
The tall girl - whose name will turn out to be Christine - is doing an amazing job of breaking the headwind for those behind her, and I'm still taking major advantage of this at mile 9 when she suddenly suggests "Why don't we take turns?" Immediately I agree and pull out ahead of her - she's done a lot of the work so far and my guilty conscience can only take so much, really.

As I pass Christine mutters "I'm trying to stay around 6:30", which is very convenient because that's what I'm trying to do too. Keeping on pace is going to require a lot of concentration, though: the wind buffets me relentlessly as I lead with another girl beside me, and it's very nice to fall back again into the shelter of the group when mile 10 starts.

We continue to switch positions mile by mile up to and then through the hellish cacophony of the Wellesley Scream Tunnel; by the end of it my right ear is deaf and the runner next to me remarks that she has a headache. So do I! Christine has started to pull ahead now so I am less sheltered than before; the group is inevitably starting to disintegrate. The wind picks up again as we emerge from the shelter of the trees and head towards the half-way mark.

Miles 13-18: 6:26, 6:36, 6:38, 6:24, 6:39, 6:48
Through halfway in 1:25:28, I know today's race is going to be far from a PR. All will hinge on how well I can hold things together through the Newton Hills and then onward to Boylston Street. By mile 14 my nice little group of runners has spread out completely; Paula is still with me as we head into the hills and there's another girl with us but nobody is close enough to affect the wind, which is gusting like crazy now. Mile 15 is where the heavens open and the rain finally catches us - as if things weren't bad enough - thankfully it isn't too heavy. Yet.

There are not enough swear words in my vocabulary to do this weather justice.

But by mile 16 the rain has petered out.......just in time for the first of the hills. This charming combination of weather and terrain brings an inevitable slow-down, but I don't care, I just want to be done. It's gratifying that I manage to get back to a decent pace by mile 17, but the worst is yet to come.

The 18 mile marker is barely behind me when suddenly I hear helicopters, then a bike spotter appears next to me yelling at me to stay right. Already? The men are catching me ALREADY?? I guess it's possible - I'm at least 5-6 minutes behind last year and who knows what pace they are on - but still, it seems a lot earlier than usual. Sigh.

What happens next could not be more different to 2014: an enormous pack of no less than 11 elite men rushes past, among them both Meb and Dathan Ritzenhein. I'm too surprised to remember to cheer, and then they are gone anyway. Oh well! The rain starts up again almost immediately, I'm completely reabsorbed in the misery of this bloody race, and the men are forgotten.

Rain? Just what I needed, thanks.

Miles 19-24: 6:39, 6:57, 7:15, 6:43, 6:54, 6:40
It rains the WHOLE way up Heartbreak Hill, and I watch both Paula and another runner who has been near me until now pull ahead slightly. My first mile slower than 7:00 beeps on my Garmin; whatever, I'm done, this is just completely unfair and ridiculous. What did I do to deserve this sort of weather in two consecutive marathons? Did I run over the Weather God's cat or something?

I could look at my watch and make myself try harder at this point but I just can't be bothered. I can't say I'm actively hating the race at this point - it's pretty hard to imagine hating anything about Boston, even when it's treating me like this - but I'm certainly not expending any energy trying to look good for the photographers. Mostly I'm just looking forward to getting out of the weather; I'm not cold but I'm definitely feeling very windblown.

Mile 23: stick a fork in me, I'm done.

Miles 25-26.2: 6:54, 7:13, 6:24 (final 0.2)
It has to be said that the crowd are still absolutely awesome, even despite the weather. In New York it seemed most of the usual spectators must have been blown away, but here in Boston they are still out in force and screaming their lungs out. This comes in handy over the final miles: more than once as I lumber down through Highline towards the welcome sight of Hereford and then Boylston streets, I make use of their energy by raising my hands and encouraging the crowd to cheer. They respond by trebling (at least) in volume - from deafening to completely unbelievable - and it brings a smile to my face that otherwise has been mostly absent today.

Trying to smile, and almost succeeding!

The sight of the finish line - as always SO far down Boylston St - is a very welcome one, more so this year than any other in fact. I have enough left in me to speed up towards it and reach a reasonable pace before at last I'm allowed to stop; Paula has finished just 29 seconds ahead and we walk together towards the elite recovery tent.

Finish time: 2:55:22 (6:41 pace)

Placement: 82nd female, 5th in AG (F45-49).

I'm only inside for a few minutes when there's a tap on my shoulder and I look around to see Neil grinning like a Cheshire cat - he has finished in just 2:30:03, an incredible performance especially in these conditions! Seconds later we hear noise from outside the tent and look out to see rain pouring down in sheets: we thought we had it bad, but the poor souls still outside are going to be in far worse shape. It's a huge relief to be able to change into warm, dry clothes, and I check my phone to see where Joel is.

It looks like he's on track to run 3:06, which he does, and the tracker on the BAA app enables me to spend just a few minutes shivering by the finish area waiting for him. A volunteer asks me if I'm okay - I say yes and explain that I'm waiting for my husband - and then asks me to move a little to the side. Why? Because she has a train of wheelchairs coming through heading for the med tent, each bearing a blue-lipped, shaking, hypothermic runner. These are the people finishing in 3:05-3:10 - how much worse are things going to be in an hour when the bulk of the finishers are going to be coming through?? I remark that I wish I could smuggle Joel into the elite tent, and when the volunteer replies "I won't stop you!" my mind is made up - he's coming inside with me, no doubt about it.

Elite tent awesomeness.

Once again, the weather has done a number on my race, but somehow I'm still pretty happy with how I ran. I took a full 5 minutes off my New York time and finished 5 minutes closer to Paula than I did there, so that can't be insignificant. In retrospect it will turn out that many of the elite women were around 5 minutes off their expected finish times, so I'm satisfied that I did the best I could under the conditions of the day. It remains to be seen what will happen at Big Sur, but for the next few days the focus is going to be very much on recovery. In the form of rest, foam rolling, and beer. Not necessarily in that order, of course.

Stay tuned for part 2, coming soon!

1 comment:

  1. You ran well - shame about the weather. I've devised a plan to race where you aren't to guarantee calm weather ;-) Good Meb moment and elite tent smuggle. Looking forward to part 2.