Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Journey to the 2014 Boston Marathon

...as well as the journey towards a sub-3:00 marathon

I guess the latter journey technically started with my first marathon in Raleigh, NC in 2002 but didn't begin in earnest until 2009 at the Philadelphia Marathon. I went out WAAAAAY to hard that day  (6:18 pace for first 10 miles!!!) because I got overconfident from running a downhill 1:16:32 half marathon the previous month and crashed & burned in the 2nd half with some cramping around mile 23. 3:15:21

Other failures included:

2011 Pittsburgh - Much more consistent pacing (1:29 at the half) but things got hard around mile 19, I had to back off a lot then my hamstrings seized up around mile 24. 3:22:38

2011 Harrisburg - Went in with the goal of 3:10, was at 1:33 at the half, but the stomach (and then legs) didn't cooperate over the final four miles and more crashing & burning to a 3:22:02

2012 Pittsburgh - Thought I had worked out all of the kinks, went through the half at 1:31:25 with the goal of negative splitting, but I got greedy around mile 17-18, it got hot & humid, and I crashed & burned again down the stretch with some hamstring cramping at 25.5. 3:14:07

2012 Columbus - My closest to breaking the elusive barrier, but came up just short. 3:00:46

I used the 2013 Pittsburgh marathon weekend to try something different and see how fast I could run the half. I just missed 6:00 pace and ended up around 1:18.

2013 Harrisburg - Much of the same. Didn't have enough to finish and ended up 3:02.

Then, the bombing at the Boston marathon happened. It wasn't right away but as summer rolled around (and I was able to actually have time to sit back and think after track season and the school year finished) the thought began to tug at me that it would be neat to be a part of the celebration up in Boston in 2014. So, I submitted my application and got in! Boston here we go! But, if I was going to do it, I wanted to do it right. I committed to sticking to a great training plan that included not just running but also core work and cross training.

This training cycle was rough. It was really cold. And snowy. And more snow. And more cold. There was the 0 degree day for hill repeats in the dark before school. There was the using a 1 month free membership trial at Anytime fitness to have somewhere to run since everything else had ice on it. There were the repeats behind Walmart because it was flat and clear and the track was still covered. There was the day after the Indoor State Meet. We got back late, they were calling for a big snowstorm the next day. So, I sleep overnight at a hotel near school and the dog boarding location, pick up Roxy, run at home with snow on ground to do a 13xmile workout. It was brutal but I got in all of my training and felt very prepared for this race.

We got up to Boston on Good Friday and the race wasn't until Monday, meaning 3 days of relaxing before a race - almost unheard of with my coaching schedule. It was fun using the t-system. The expo was a zoo, but really fun to be at packet pickup. The morning before, I had a chance to do the shake-out run with a former athlete from my school, his sister (who was still a senior on our team), and their dad who was running the marathon. Beth and I had Easter dinner with the Snow family. That helped pass the time and was nice getting out of the hotel.

Then, it was race morning! Beth walked me to commons and I got on the bus with my bagel, banana, and many layers since it was still cold at this point. I shared a seat with guy from Denver that reminded me so much of a guy that volunteers with our cross country team. Then, we get to Hopkintown and there's the wait. Then, I saw the legendary Mr. Tim Hewitt (who's RUN the Iditarod race!!!). He's from our hometown and has done Boston numerous times. It was great to be able to lean on him for advice on what to do as we waited to go to the starting line. It's finally time to walk down to start. One last stop in the port-o-jons and off to wait with the crowds.

It was moving before the start went off-- the National Anthem, the flyover, the Race Director saying, "Let's take back finish line this year!" All of it was so special and why I was so glad to be a part of it.

Finally the race starts and we're on our way. As we move past the start line it was just as they said in the course video, the people slow you down at the beginning and it's a good thing! The first 5-6 miles just fly by, clicking off splits and staying in control. Through 10 miles I'm still good. I would make moves on the uphills if people around me slowed down.

I get to halfway on pace. The Wellesley College co-eds - screaming so loud that my ears rung after!

I made the right at the fire house (mile 16) - it was a decent hill and I could see people around me starting to fade. I felt like I went in with a solid, conservative plan, had been taking my nutrition and hydrating and pouring water on me (it was getting hotter). I felt good.

At mile 19, the hill I thought was possible heartbreak hill, actually was to come - it went well. More people are starting to fade as the sun continues to pound more on us. It get up heartbreak hill - it was solid but not this wall you have to climb. I think it's more about where it comes in the race..

Coming down by Boston College, it's a downhill and the quads were letting me know that they really hurt. But I felt like I could do it.

There was a long straightaway around mile 23.....still on pace!

There's the Citgo sign outside of Fenway Park - mile 25 and still on pace! One mile to go!

Down a hill, cross under bridge - that's where Beth, her parents and sister saw me but I couldn't see or hear them with the crowds.

I was waiting to make my final right turn and it felt like it took forever.

I labored as I approached the final turn to make the left onto Boyleston.

I took a look at my watch and I knew i had it -  just keep it together - no hamstring seizures!

Every two or three strides I kept looking at watch - trying to realize that I was going to do it! Go sub-3. In Boston. The year after the bombings. After all these years of trying and coming up short.

As I get there, I raised arms at finish line - I finally did it! 2:59:12!

One of the things that help me get through the tough parts of the last half of a  marathon is having a song in my head. I don't know what song it will be but usually I have one that is really speaking to me leading up to a race. This day, I kept singing over and over the song Oceans by Hillsong United.

It was a long walk to meeting area and it was taking forever. I was trashed and didn't want to attempt to bend over. So, I sheepishly asked a medic if they could loosen my lock laces on my shoes. They obliged and congratulated me. All of the support staff at the finish area was super!

I finally met up with Beth & family. We did our traditional post-race dining at 5 Guys Burgers & Fries.

We returned to the hotel, I showered and we went to airport to return home. It was a quick turnaround as our flight was only about 4-5 hours after crossing the finish line. One of Beth's best friends and former college roommates, MB, also did the race and she was on our flight. The two of them talked the entire way home since they hadn't been able to meet up for a long time.

I got home and it was back at it Tuesday morning. The week at school and practice was whirlwind and it was emotionally tough to come down from high. People would ask me about how the race went and I would begin getting teary eyes. The entire experience was so overwhelming!

There are so many thanks:
Mario Fraoli and his book on marathon training. It got the job done!
All of the online cheerers - it was great to get so many messages.
All the Boston Marathon veterans who gave me input and put up with my millions of questions leading up to the race including Nathan Snider, Mr. Gunz, the Saxtons, John Neff, Mr. Tim Hewitt, and many others
The Buchheits (with sister-in-law and former Boston resident Becky as our tour guide and chauffeur)
My parents for keeping track of Roxy the dog.
And, most importantly, Beth for modeling how to be excellent in training and all walks of life. Showing me how to be tough when the race gets tough. And showing me how to chase dreams.

Coming off the Boston high, I did another marathon in the Fall of 2014 in Harrisburg (that's such a nice little marathon!) and ran out of gas to finish 3:04. To be honest, it was like how they say sports teams have "champions hangover" and it was the same way for me. I trained but not with the passion that I did back in the spring.

So, that was my Boston journey. It was simply amazing. Will I ever return to run in Boston? Not sure, but if I never make it back I have memories from my time there that will last a lifetime.

Good luck to everybody running in the 2015 Boston Marathon. Continue to take back the finish line!

2 comments:

John said...

You're one of my running inspirations, so I'm glad to read this (as I try to get through the four hour barrier - which I will, sometime, I'm sure).

I don't know if I knew you were at Harrisburg 2014 . . . I think I've just talked myself into running this year (after a very poor showing last week at Garden Spot Village), but the redesigned course both scares & excites me at the same time. I've been fighting this course for several years . . . almost seems like cheating on it to run something else.

Again, thanks for sharing -- today's a very appropriate day for such a tale. Glad you hit the mark!

Ben Erdeljac said...

Awesome journey!!! Memories to remember for sure.