After the usual restless pre-marathon night we got ready, and got to Hopkinton in good time. The best tip I had gotten all day was to use the bathroom before entering the buses, I would have been in real trouble otherwise. We split when entering the corrals; I tried to catch the elite women's start but only got a glimpse of them heading off. I started in the middle of corral 3; it took about one minute to cross the start line, and we got up to pace fairly quickly, not too surprising on that steep downhill start. I knew all about starting conservatively and taking it easy on the downhills. I jogged the first few miles, the HR was in the low 160s, certainly pretty much where I would want it to be on your usual marathon. On the uphill stretches I kept checking the Garmin, and slowed down judiciously whenever the HR was too high, not particularly caring about the fact that people kept passing me whenever I did so.
However, I never felt good. My stomach was unsettled, and the legs just were not right. I have done plenty of marathons before (today was my ninth), and I know that it sometimes can take a while to find your rhythm. The pace was good though, and actually kept going down. On the Garmin it went as low as 6:45, but I have learned to add about 3 seconds per mile to that to get your official pace; I reached 10k in 42:23, 6:49 pace, which is what I thought you should aim for if you're heading for a sub-3 marathon. I took my first gel at that point, but unfortunately it seemed to really upset my already dodgy stomach. I stopped drinking Gatorade, and took water at miles 7 and 8, and eventually I felt better. This turned out to be my best stretch. The course is flat for several miles at that stage, and I managed to keep my pace and still felt reasonably fine in the legs while doing so. I certainly did not think that I had overdone it on the first few downhill miles, and I was reasonably optimistic that I might have a good race, even if the sub-3 was still a high-hanging fruit.
By mile 11 or 12 I got more pains in my stomach, and this time it felt like hunger pangs. Since I had not really eaten since 6am, this was of course possible. Despite having earlier decided not to take any more gels I took one, more to put something into my stomach than getting some carbs. I again took water at the next opportunity, and it seemed to work.
I already knew what would come next, and I heard the siren calls from half a mile away. Wellesley all-girl college is known as the tunnel of noise, and it is nothing like you have ever experienced. I tried to tune them out, but got sucked into it and started giving high-fives, but at least resisted temptation to stop for a kiss, despite the open invitations. The screams were so loud that my ears started ringing – no exaggeration. It seemed to go on forever, but eventually I reached the end of the noise. I glanced at the Garmin, and was astonished to see that I had been suckered into running 6:10 pace. Of course I slowed down immediately, but I knew that I might just have f*cked up my race.
I reached the halfway point in 1:29:38, 6:50 pace, the fastest half-distance mark I had ever set in a marathon. However, this still only gave me a 22 seconds cushion, and with the much tougher second half ahead of me I already knew that sub-3 was not on the cards today. However, I was taken completely by surprise by what happened next, and especially how quickly it happened. Within half a mile after crossing the halfway mark my legs started wobbling with every step. I was afraid they would buckle completely, and seemed to have given up the ghost. With supreme effort I was still able to stay on pace, but I knew immediately that this was not sustainable, and started thinking on my feet.
It would have been possible to keep the pace going for another 2 or 3 miles, but then I would have been completely and utterly out of it, and might even have to drop out of the race. I had not come from thousands of miles away to record a DNF, and running myself into the ground was too stupid even for me. I decided the only sensible course of action was to slow down right here and now, and jog towards the finish, however long this would take. I knew I was in for a long hard day, but was determined to make the most of it and take in the incredible atmosphere of the hundreds of thousand of spectators. You could say I was trying to enjoy the occasion, but enjoyment is rather relative when you're in agony.
The next few miles were bad. There is no other way of putting it. Runners kept streaming past me. I thought how many places I would lose between here and the end, 1000, 2000, maybe even 3000? Never mind, I wasn't running for place. I felt embarrassed about my performance. It's perfectly ok to blow up on the hills, but to have your race over and done with before the hills even start is bad. I thought I was in the worst pain ever, but then remembered that the Connemara Ultra had reduced me to 12-minute miles at one point last year, so it must have been worse then. I just had forgotten about it.
When I first started slowing down I thought I might still salvage a personal best, but within half a mile I knew that was out of question. I had slowed down to somewhere around 7:30 pace, and I knew I would slow down more later on, on the hills and on the last few miles. By the time we reached the first hill at Newton Lower Falls I was mightily relieved to be running uphill for a change, because my quads hurt less on the climbs. To my big surprise I actually started overtaking runners again here. Apparently others were suffering even worse than me. That's some sort of consolation, I guess. At one point I realised there was still over an hour of running left, which was rather hard to take; an hour of agony is not something to cherish.
Then the three Newton hills came in succession, culminating in Heartbreak Hill. Since I was basically jogging, the climbs were all manageable, but the downhills hurt, even though the pace at roughly 7:00 was fairly decent. After passing the top of Heartbreak at a Tudor Mansion (Thomas' mansion, as Michael insisted on calling it during our recce on Saturday) we came to Boston College, where the noise reached Wellesley levels, but sadly (or luckily) the spectators there were not nearly as pretty, and I didn't feel the urge to high-five them.
I kept counting down the miles, and by now there were only 5 left, a mere fifth of the marathon. I really wanted to walk, but I thought I would not be able to start running again, and walking 5 miles to the finish was the last thing I wanted to do. Better get that thing over with as soon as possible. Then I remembered that Jeanne would be somewhere around mile 22 or 23, and I started to look out for her. This was actually a very good thing to do, because it took my mind off the agony in my legs. Most of this mile was downhill and passed reasonably quickly. I even seemed to overtake more runners than were passing me. The sheer number of runners in trouble is a clear sign just how brutal that course is. Just as I was starting to worry that I might have missed her, I spotted Jeanne with a sign (my name on a sign. How sweet! Thank you!) I ran up to her and gave her a big hug. I wanted to say something, but no words came out, and I was off again. Later she told me that she had also been at the halfway mark, but I had been so much in my own bubble that I had not noticed a thing.
Disappearing into my own little world is something I do during marathons, and I actually managed to pretty much tune out the crowd from here on. This is quite a feat with the noise, the spectators standing 5 deep and shouting at the top of their voices, but it all became background noise to me. I had actually recovered a bit by now. That's a bonus of my heavy training mileage, I have the ability to pull through a low patch and eventually come back to run stronger again. I spotted the famous Citgo sign from very far away. It disappeared again, but then came into view, and then we spent a mile slowly, very slowly, drawing closer. Somewhere between miles 24 and 25 I took another sip of Gatorade when someone started talking to me. I looked to my left, and there was Michael. I was totally taken aback, he had looked fit and ready on Saturday, and I had expected him to be finished, showered and fed by now. Instead he had an even worse run than me, and he told me to push on, he'd finish a minute or two behind me.
There were 1.5 miles left, and somehow, against all odds, I actually got back on pace again, agony or not. I could smell the finish. A few runners that had been around me for the first half, and that had pulled away when I slowed down, came back to me and turned into roadkill. There was the guy in the green singlet and moeben sleeves, the guy with the great dreadlocks, the girl in pink, and quite a few more. We turned the last corner with about half a mile left, and I could see 5:54 pace on the Garmin (slightly downhill, admittedly). Why now, oh faithless legs, and not when I needed you most! I must have passed dozens of runners between there and the line, and 3:10:36 after crossing the start line I was finally done. I cannot even claim to have taken it easy today, because I had only slowed down in order to allow myself to finish at all. There was nothing left in my legs at the end.
Your first Boston is always a learning experience. I thought I had trained plenty to get ready for the downhills, and I genuinely thought I had run conservatively during the early miles, but to no avail. After Wellesley my legs felt like they each had a brick attached to them, and oh my, it hurt! They wobbled so much that I was worried about them buckling at each step. My calves were close to cramping at a couple of occasions but just about managed to behave. If it didn't involve crossing an entire Ocean in order to get here I would definitely be back to try and get it right, but as it is it might remain my one and only shot at the Newton hills. The spectators are something I had never experienced, they really give the rockstar treatment even to struggling runners, but it is the course itself that would entice me back. But not too soon. I have to forget that one first before I can even think about doing another one.
- 20 Apr
- 2009 Boston Marathon, 3:10:36, avg. pace 7:16, HR 165
2849th place out of 23162