Ryan’s 2018 Boston Marathon

Race information

What? The 122nd Boston Marathon
When? April 16th 2018
How far? 26.2 miles
Where? Boston, MA
Website: http://www.baa.org/
Strava activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/1512489429

Goals

Goal If Good Weather If Bad Weather Completed?
A 2:36 2:39 Nope
B 2:37 PR (2:41:27) Not even close
C PR Have a good time Far From it

Official Splits

5k:          18:27                     25k:        1:33:11
10k:        37:21                     30k:        NR
15k:        NR                          35k:        2:15:14
20k:        1:13:46                  40k:        2:38:33
Half:       1:17:46                  Finish:   2:49:06

Training

My training leading up to Boston was probably the best block of training I’ve completed. I followed a plan from Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning.  I basically executed the plan 100% with a few extra easy miles here and there. I attempted the same plan for my last marathon (California International Marathon) which yielded great results despite not following the plan very strictly. This round, excluding my taper, I ran an average of a little under 80 miles per week with a peak week of 90 miles. In addition to running I spent my Monday mornings weight training at True North Fitness with the wonderful Kathleen Stabler. I would occasionally bike and swim but I wouldn’t consider that much of a contributing factor to my fitness. I had many workouts that indicated my run fitness was the best it had ever been. I was regularly completing workouts 10-20 seconds per mile faster than when I ran them in training for CIM. I was geared up to execute a great race in the case of great weather. However, even two weeks out the weather forecast was grim.

Pre-race

Here’s a video FloTrack posted just before the start time, please watch it before reading the following to help set the tone: https://www.facebook.com/FloTrack/videos/10156399177094445/

I comfortably woke up forty-five minutes before my alarm, I laid in bed and stared out the hotel window. I could see a flag blowing hard in the wind and rain sweeping down. So much for my hopes for unexpected good or mild weather. Rachael also raced Boston so we made plans to head to the bus loading area together. She was in the second wave (wave two starts 25 minutes after wave one) so she was sacrificing extra sleep and comfort to be by my side on the journey to the start line. We had all sorts of warm clothing layered and a couple of disposable ponchos to protect ourselves from the weather. We even had shower caps to keep our shoes dry and clear of mud. Our hotel was “only” a little over a mile away from the bus loading area so we decided to be brave (stupid) and walk there instead of getting a cab or uber. The rain was already coming down steadily and the wind was gusting pretty impressively. Thankfully most of the walk was shielded by Boston’s skyscrapers. We were already a bit cold by the time we marched into the loading area.

The bag drop for post-race clothes was about a mile past the bus loading area so we started hiking over. The layout of the barricades for the athlete busses forced us onto what would normally be a nice grassy part of Boston Common. We were trudging through mud instead. Turning onto Boylston Street was a relief from mud to asphalt and brick. I turned back to grab Rachael’s hand – she was gone. Panic, then sadness fell over me. Neither of us had our phones with us. No way to reconnect. I stood there for three or four minutes scanning the sea of ponchos hoping to spot her. No luck. I dropped my bag of clothes and slowly walked to the bus loading area with my head up hoping to spot her. No luck. Shit. I feel guilt realizing she basically lost an hour of sleep to be by my side.

I boarded a bus to the start line and tried to enjoy the hour-long journey to Hopkinton. I’ve picked a seat in the front row and the guy next to me is a triathlete from Sarasota, Florida. We chat a lot about triathlon and how these conditions are out of our wheelhouse. He runs in the heat year-round and I run in dry conditions. We laugh and wish each other the best as the bus makes the last few turns. Towards the end of the bus ride it dawned on me that my gloves were soaking wet. I wring them out on my poncho and about an ounce of water escapes. A sign of things to come.

At the start area there are two medium sized tents and one large tent. I popped into the first tent you approach and poke around for Rachael. No luck. I note there is snow mixed into the mud at the starting area grounds. I consider how much nicer snow would be right now. I’d be dry (relatively) which would diminish the cold significantly. I approach the largest tent then walk a lap through it slowly. I didn’t spot Rachael. Crap. They have hot coffee at the end of the tent. I grabbed a cup thankful for the only source of warmth that morning. Before I know it, wave one is being called to the corrals. Here we go.

It’s still raining. It’s still windy. I’m still cold. Hype is building as I start the mile walk to the starting line. I ditch my shower caps (shoe protectors) as I realize they are just holding water in, not keeping it out. My feet are soaked. I can feel water oozing out with each step. Since I’m wave one, corral one, I’m positioned right behind the professional men in the starting area. The hype is building. I’m about to run a marathon. The national anthem starts and a surge of emotion hits me. There would normally be an F16 flyby but the visibility is too low for them to take off. Guys are ditching their prerace warm clothes but all I can think is, “I am very cold” – I ditch my Walmart special sweat pants with five minutes to start, they’re soaking wet anyway. I’m still wearing a winter coat over my tank top thinking I may hang onto it for a while. Rachael and I bought ‘scrunchie’ style headbands the night before to use as ear warmers. I’m grateful I have that on. Guys are already stripped to shorts and singlets and I can’t fathom how they’re comfortable. Guys with less body fat than me (read: less insulation) look comfortable.  The gun goes off and my brain says, “Wait, it’s still cold though!”

Race

I knew the wind was going to be bad on race day. The forecast was pretty much a direct headwind for 26.2 miles. My strategy was to find a big pack of guys and work together to hold a good pace. In cycling this is race strategy 101. In cycling the aerodynamic benefit of riding behind another cyclist can be as much as a 40% energy savings. Normally, in a run race it’s at most an 8% benefit. With the 15-30 MPH headwinds I expect to see a more of a “cycling benefit” if I work with other runners. My idea was take a turn at the front of a pack every few minutes and conserve energy behind them while someone else leads.

For the first few miles of the race, I’m weaving through a lot of folks to try to get to ‘my pace’ that I think I can race at. Before I know it, I hit the 5k timing mat. 18:27. This is pretty spot-on with what I planned on hitting in my “Good Weather A Goal” calculations. My heart rate monitor is not giving me good data. It’s reading right around 200 (my max heart rate is 193), I manually check my pulse to verify it’s not sky-high. Normally I would use the heart rate value to validate or modify pace. Effort feels easy. I’m still wearing my jacket, it’s probably creating static that is interfering with the monitor. However, the jacket is becoming heavy with water. When do I drop this thing?

Around mile four I found a good group to run with. I’m starting to feel warm in my upper body, everything below my waist was 100% saturated and chilled. That’s the way it’s going to be. Mile five is going to be my dump for the jacket. I take it off and wait for the aide station around the five-mile marker. There’s a spectator yelling something about my jacket and I can’t really make it out. Oh well. Maybe it was, “Hey don’t drop your jacket you will regret it you idiot.” I bet that was it. I did regret it eventually. My mile splits are all right on for my A goal still. Cool. Mile six clocks in on my watch at 5:42 which I happened to not see, which is unfortunate because that is considerably faster than what I had planned for any of my fastest miles and that particular mile is fairly flat. 10k split is 37:21, Good Weather A goal still on track.

I have a handful of good guys to run with and we’re staying in a pretty tight bunch. My nutrition and hydration are perfect. The weather seems gentler at this point and I feel pretty comfortable. I noticed that my cheap cotton gloves are great at absorbing water. On my arm upswing I see droplets scatter from each hand every stride. Do I bother keeping the gloves on? Are they helping or hurting? They’re so soaked that I figure keeping them on will be easier. Heart rate monitor is finally reading properly and my pace is not reflected by my heart rate – in a good way. Cool. Race is on. Mile nine ticks by right on track with that most ambitious goal and I’m feeling good, though it’s starting to feel like work – as it should over a third of the way into a marathon. Cool. Shit, my shoe is untied. I stop just shy of the 15k timing mat to tie it. This is really difficult. My hands aren’t really working and the gloves are so wet and saturated it’s tough to grab the laces. After a lifetime (probably 30 seconds) it’s tied and I crossed the 15k mat. No official time but I estimate 56:30, I remember thinking still on track for the A goal. This pack running is working!

Due to the shoelace fiasco (dramatic?) I’ve been passed by a lot of folks and I feel like I NEED to get back up to my homies from earlier. I start working a little harder to jump up the pack. It’s spread a little thinner here and I’m hopping from one guy to the next to hide from the wind. I remember hoping that these guys were getting on my shoulder to help hide from the wind and jump up to one of the bigger packs. The wind is pretty strong at this point in the race which I’m starting to notice more and more. Miles are still clicking off at reasonable effort and A-Goal pace. Cool. I’m starting to feel a bit colder outside of my power pack. 20k timing: 1:13:46

It’s right about this point you start to hear “the Wellesley girls.” The Wellesley College is home to the infamous group of young women cheering their heads off and offering a kiss to runners that stop. This is a huge adrenaline rush. I wanted to find a girl for a kiss (Rachael gave explicit permission) but I just can’t fathom slowing down or stopping with the high from the tunnel of screams. I opt to high five the girls, maybe next time you’ll get a kiss, ladies. The adrenaline dips and I start to realize I’m pretty effing cold. I’m kind of shivering and my teeth are chattering a little. Halfway point of the race: 1:17:46 – this is also a new PR for the half marathon distance!

I knew I would positive split the race. Fastest case – I figured around 1:17-1:18 then 1:19-1:20 for the second half would be how I would execute. The first half has more descent and the second half has more rolling hills and climbs. I feel confident I’m in good shape but I am cold. I keep thinking my shoe is untied but in reality, it’s just water spraying on my leg from every step I take. There is standing water covering the road so it’s basically unavoidable. Turning through the town of Wellesley the wind starts to really hit me. I am very cold. I am shivering and my teeth are chattering. No more kind of/sort of. Hmmm… 25k mark at 1:33:11, a little slower than A goal but that’s okay, maybe a little recovery is okay. Or just soften up to secondary goal. There aren’t many folks to run with any more. Where did everyone go? It’s sparse.

The second half of the course was packed with spectators to my surprise. I am in a mental fog with the cold. I can’t focus on pace. At an aide station I grabbed a cup of Gatorade and roughly 75% of the drink ended up in my eye. If you’re wondering, that feels pretty bad. I don’t recommend it as a saline solution substitute. I kind of have to use a bathroom but fear a pit stop means a race stop. I soldier on. 30k mark at (estimated) 1:53:15 – slowing down a lot.

My body is not happy about running. It’s not, “oh I went out hard and died,” but cold weather physical shutdown. I’ve felt this before at the St. George 70.3 in 2016. I’ve felt this before when I decided to ride to the Sandia Crest in a snowstorm while severely underdressed. Decision time: back off effort or battle through the conditions. If I run slower I can shorten race recovery period from a month to a couple weeks. I will risk injury by running hard while I am mentally debilitated – I could slip, trip, or fall. I knew I COULD run hard but if I did it would be debilitating pain for days and inability to run/train much at all for weeks. There’s a phrase “going to the well” in running that describes digging very deep and putting in a maximal effort. I did not want to go the well in this race. I do not need to sacrifice myself for a bad weather race day. Just finish. 35k: 2:15:14, all goals are out the window. Too slow.

I am trying very hard to shut myself off from the pain and cold but it’s ineffective. I keep thinking that even after I finish I need to wait for Rachael so we can leave together. That means thirty minutes to an hour after the race in the cold. I have to pee still and consider stopping to use a portipotty but know that’s a DNF waiting to happen. I considered peeing while running but couldn’t bring myself to do it. Even though nobody would ever notice since I was so wet. Other pain becomes more apparent. Bad chaffing between my thighs and I’m pretty sure I no longer have skin on either of my achilles. I rarely get chaffing in either spot. I also eye every medical tent and sign advertising one greedily. No… too close to the finish. You can’t run 21 miles then quit, idiot. 40k split: 2:38:33, not as bad as I thought it was going to be. Getting passed by droves of people. This crushes the soul.

The final mind game: “Okay I have 2.2k to go. That’s about 1.3-1.4 miles. “That’s really easy.” Ten-twelve minutes or so. At the worst. And I was mentally at my worst. I knew I was physically in a magical place. There is so much crowd support, so much history, and the countless unmistakable Boston landmarks at this point in the race. It’s like you’re the biggest rock star in the world taking the stage to start the show. It is epic. I want to feel this high but I can’t. I know the last few turns and I know exactly where I am – I want to enjoy it. All I can do is look at my feet with my hat tucked low because I am so miserably cold. It is simultaneously the worst and best feeling in the world. Finish: 2:49:06. I try to smile for the camera but after reviewing the photos it is a very forced grimace.

Post-race

I hobbled through the finish and see the countless volunteers offering everything a runner would want at the end of any normal race. I receive my finisher’s medal and move on. I don’t want water. No Gatorade. I don’t want food. All I want is a blanket. The blankets seem like they’re a mile away. I try to jog a little to get there sooner. It doesn’t happen. Seeing volunteers with wheelchairs lining the finishing chute, I strongly consider jumping in one but it just seems pointless since they don’t have blankets. After an eternity, a blanket! I’m still cold but my mindset has changed from “freezing” to “thawing.”

I continue my ugly hobble to the dry gear that I dropped off in the morning. Since I had a lower bib number it is as far away from the finish line as possible. Cool. I grab my bag and turn around back toward the finishing tent which seems so far away (it was near the blanketing area). The men’s changing tent is 100% packed. Fortunately, the volunteer at the women’s tent was letting men in since it was so early that very few women had finished. I move toward the back of the tent and just stare at my gear. I can’t untie the knot to open it. I waited a few minutes just staring at man-ass until my hands sort of worked (those two things are unrelated). I was really smart and double bagged my gear in the morning so that it would stay dry even, in this muck. The second knot was easier to untie.

It took a solid fifteen minutes to change clothes, I had packed a towel so I was even dry now. I had a full change of dry clothes, life was kind of good for the first time in six hours. I stopped shivering for the first time in hours too! I grabbed my wet race gear as women started to confusedly yet nonchalantly enter the tent and change. Rachael and I had a designated meeting spot and I was headed that way. She had NOT checked a dry clothes bag so I knew she would be ready to leave ASAP.

I stood at our meeting spot for a few minutes trying to eat what little food I had grabbed along the way. It was difficult. A couple women that were waiting for their runner held an umbrella over me. I asked them to look Rachael up since I didn’t have my phone. In her perfect race she would have been finishing shortly – on this day she was still five miles from the finish line. Okay, I guess I can walk to the hotel. Good-she’ll want clothes and I can be a little bit of a hero for the first time that day.

I got lost on my way back to the hotel. I’m such an idiot. I took one wrong turn and it ended up taking about an hour to walk fifteen or twenty minutes. I was soaked to the bone again. Back at the hotel I stripped my wet gear and put on dirty clothes. That’s all I had to wear at this point, I had packed without accounting for multiple changes of clothes in any one day. I was dry at least. I have a missed call and text messages. Rachael is in the med tent and requesting clothes. Shit. I grabbed an umbrella and Rachael’s clothes. I got in a cab and hustled down to the med tent.

Physically Rachael was okay but she was hypothermic – like many of the participants. I read that over 2300 people received medical treatment. I was very thankful that she was able to wait in a warm dry area. We exit the med area and debate uber/cab versus walking it. We posit that the traffic and demand for transportation will outweigh the time it takes to walk. We start walking. The rain is coming down hard and the wind is brutal. Rachael does not have the energy to walk very fast at all, and I don’t either. We call an uber. Eight minutes out, okay. Ten minutes after the eight minutes, he cancels. We start walking again. Can’t do it. The weather is too bad. We hide under a hotel awning and call another uber. The hotel very graciously lets us wait under the awning while turning away random folks that are trying to go into the hotel for shelter. We keep our eyes peeled for the driver in his White Dodge Caravan. After twenty minutes our uber finally makes it.

We hop in what I assume is the only White Dodge Caravan in Boston and get on our way. Relieved to be in real shelter we relax. Turn the heat up to eleven and start chatting with the driver. Rachael looks at me and says “we’re in the wrong uber” … the driver is Caucasian and the app showed our driver as a large black dude – FUCK ME WHAT ELSE CAN GO WRONG. We apologize and our real driver calls. We hustle the half block back to the meeting point and get the right White Dodge Caravan. Forty-five minutes later we arrive at the hotel (two miles away). The day is finally over.

In hindsight it was kind of a funny calamity – painful but I can laugh now. I scoured results. I did end up ‘beating my bib’ – entrants are seeded based on qualifying time, so finishing in an overall rank higher than your bib number means you finished faster than predicted, more or less. I also looked at some of the pro women’s time and saw how much they were slowed. I ran about as fast or faster than women that have run ten minutes faster than I have in other marathons. Okay. Enough self-pity. I saw that nearly the entire pro field of men did not finish. Half of the women didn’t either. Okay, I did it. They didn’t. That’s a point of positivity.

Thanks for reading! Here’s hoping my next one won’t be such a shit show. And thank you to everyone that sent me support and congratulations along the way. I really appreciate.

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