Boston Marathon 2018:
A Short Story
I’ve been slow to write this because I don’t think my experience was as “exciting” as some of the other reports you may have heard. Perhaps it was the wisdom of age (wow, when did I become that person?) or perhaps it was the added body insulation (“racing weight” be damned) or my pre-race weekend hydration strategy of beer and wine (how appropriate was Harpoon’s “Lucky Duck” IPA?) or perhaps it was luck (see “Harpoon”) or something else. Whatever it was, I only have happy memories of my first Boston Marathon.
After qualifying for Boston at the Walt Disney World (WDW) Marathon in January 2017, my only ‘A’ goal for the next year-plus was to get to the Boston starting line in good health so that I could enjoy the race. I get a ton of energy from cheering spectators and I remember being so disappointed at my first marathon at WDW 20 years ago when, after slogging through the first 20 miles, we finally entered Hollywood Studios (where I fully expected the streets to be lined with throngs of cheering fans pulling me through to the finish) and the only people there were pushing their way across the course to get to Tower of Terror, completely ignoring us. Boston, I knew, would be different, and I was going to soak it all in. (Little did I know how different it would be!)
My initial plan was to run 3:35:00 to 3:45:00, which should be a comfortable pace for me. The last thing I wanted was to push too hard and not enjoy the last miles in the city where the crowds are the thickest. About six weeks before the race, Charrissa and I met with our coach, Terry Casey, and she was convinced that, despite my concerns about my running mileage to date, I could run under 3:20:00. (My PR was a 3:21+ on the flat WDW course.) I was hesitant and uncommitted, but I talked with Charrissa on the way home and looked up past races that night and decided that I’d give it a shot.
So, going into the race my goals were:
A – Under 3:20:00
B – Re-qualify for Boston (under 3:25:00 but realistically needed under 3:22:00)
C – Have a fun, pain-free race (as best as a marathon can be)
In spite of the weather conditions, I didn’t change my goals.
Although the Boston Marathon had been my goal race for over a year, the majority of my training was triathlon-focused. I have a history of getting injured if I run too many miles and Terry was great in tailoring my workouts to improve fitness through cross-training. The only time I was concerned about my limited running mileage was in early March. I wasn’t worried about my fitness but I was worried about the potential toll the hilly Boston course would take on my quads. I remembered my first BQ attempt at the downhill Tucson marathon and didn’t want to replicate that experience in Boston. I had also slightly injured my hamstring in February when I was working crazy hours during the Olympics at NBC. That’s when we had dinner with Terry and she expressed her confidence in me. I did nurse the injury all the way to Boston, managing it through stretching, massage, and ART/Graston treatments. Lesson learned – trust your coach.
Others have described how the weather forecast continued to get worse as Monday got closer and how all of us struggled with deciding what to wear. I don’t have much else to add so I’ll focus on all the other activities that surround the Boston Marathon. If you get the chance to go, I recommend that you try to take advantage of as many of the experiences available as you can. The race is a victory lap.
I signed up for a number of different running group / company mailing lists and followed others on Twitter and Facebook so that I could be aware of what they would be doing in Boston. There were so many shakeout runs and meet and greets listed, I couldn’t possibly attend them all. The Boston Marathon Expo is probably the best in the world and we spent multiple hours there, spread across Friday night and Saturday morning. Sure, we spent some money, but we also got to try a lot of different products and came home with many more freebies, so many in fact, that we had to check an extra bag (or two) on the return flight!
We attended a Generation UCAN event with Meb, Greg McMillan, Tyler Pennell (4th), Nicole Dimercurio (6th) and others on Saturday afternoon. There was a free Sam Adams brewery tour that afternoon. Charrissa and I did a bus tour of the course on Sunday morning – we did it before her first Boston in 2015 and she found it very helpful. I figured I should pay attention this time! Before the tour, we stopped at Tracksmith and had Linden and True Coffee, served by Ryan Linden and Ben True! (Needless to say, the coffee sold out in minutes after they officially opened their online store a week after the marathon.) Pre-race dinner was at Ray Bourque’s Tresca with a great group of ABQ friends. One glass of wine and I was ready to run!
I use UCAN as my fuel which requires me to carry it with me, mixed in flasks carried on a fuel belt. UCAN tastes best if mixed the day before and refrigerated, so Sunday afternoon I began to prep my fuel. My plan was to mix 3 packets of Cran-Raz in 20 oz of water to put in the flasks, but when I began to mix the first packet in our shaker bottle, the bottle broke and spilled UCAN all over hotel room floor. Wet hotel carpet definitely doesn’t smell good.
Given that I lost at least half a packet of UCAN, I had to adjust my fueling plan for the next day. I’d still have my normal morning Chocolate UCAN, peanut butter, and banana shake 3 hours before the race, but since I didn’t have as much UCAN in my fuel belt, I would have 2 packets in my pre-race drink 30 minutes before the start. Then, I’d take ¼ of my carried fuel at miles 6, 11, 16, and 21. (In hindsight, I could have mixed flavors and used my normal strategy – Chocolate Orange or Chocolate Cran-Raz probably would have tasted fine.)
For electrolytes, I typically carry Base Salt in a small tube and take a few licks every 2-3 miles. However, the weather forecast of cold and rain made me question my ability to lick salt off my thumb mid-race. I still carried the tube of salt but I also added one scoop to each packet of UCAN.
I woke up and looked out the hotel window to see what the weather was like. Sure, the ground was wet, but it didn’t appear to be windy or rainy. Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad after all! But those hopes were dashed as soon as we walked out of our hotel into a steady rain and gusty winds. (It turns out that our room faced an internal courtyard that was protected by tall buildings on all sides.)
Dressing for weather was a bit like Goldilocks making a decision – too little clothing and we’d be cold and miserable, too much clothing would get heavy in the rain and we’d also be cold and miserable. I also thought that skin-tight clothing would be better in the wind and rain than clothes that hang, so I opted for compression shorts and calf sleeves on my legs, and my Trail Dog tri shirt (actually the aero cycle jersey) and UCAN arm sleeves on top.
In addition to the practical reasons for selecting the gear, I was hoping that the words “Trail Dog” on the front would get cheers along the way. (Recall that it was all about the cheering for me.) Fortunately, intelligence won out over vanity and I put on a Marmot Precip rain jacket. There would be no cheers for me but the temperature forecast was just cold enough (in the mid- to upper-30s) that I feared I would be too cold in the wind and rain. Had there been no rain or had the temperatures been 10 degrees warmer, I may have foregone the jacket.
The jacket itself is more of a hiking jacket than a running jacket so it’s a bit stiffer than I may have liked to run in, but it served its purpose well. I did a test run in it on Thursday before leaving for Boston and decided it would be adequate. However, I will look for a better wet weather running jacket in the future. (There was a nice On jacket at the expo but not quite in the right size – and it was hard to justify spending $240 on what could very well be a one-time use!)
Knowing my feet would get wet, I covered them in Aquaphor to prevent blisters and wore wool running socks to keep my feet warm. I decided to wear my adidas Adizero Boston 6 shoes instead of my Brooks PureCadence because even though the Bostons have less cushioning, the rubber grip is so much better and I didn’t want to worry about slipping on the slick roads.
We figured the key was to stay as warm and dry at the start as possible, so over our running gear we wore throw-away pants, jackets, and rain ponchos. I also had a pair of throw away gloves that I planned to exchange for dry running gloves before the start. We both had a running cap that we put shower caps over to keep our heads dry. I actually wore my shower cap the entire race under my jacket hood. We tied plastic bags over our shoes to keep the rain from getting in the tops before the race and then slipped shower caps over the bags to further protect from the water and mud on the ground. Good thing for those bags! The shower caps worked well on the way to the bus but a few steps onto the “field” (aka mud-pit) at the Athlete’s Village and off they went! The bags were the only thing keeping our feet from being soaked and caked in mud before starting.
Charrissa was very kind to ride the 7:45 bus out to Hopkinton with me since she’d have to endure an extra hour or so in the elements by doing so. Even though we weren’t as chatty as the folks around us, I was very grateful to have her there. It made the trip “easy” and kept my mind off worrying what the race would feel like. I was even more grateful to have her guide me through the Athlete’s Village! I had no idea where I was going – there was just a horde of people slowly moving in one direction on a narrow track of pavement trying to keep off the muddy field. Finally, we braved the field to use the portapots (which took longer than expected given the lines but I guess that was because of all the extra outergear that most people had.) After that, it was time for me to head to the corrals. Charrissa pointed me on my way and off I went, still hoping not to fall into the mud before reaching pavement.
Charrissa had warned me that it was 0.7 miles from the village to the corrals and that even though there were volunteers collecting throw-aways as you exit the village and all along the walk, don’t give in. Keep your clothes until the end. I’d like to think I was a picture of calm excitement as I walked to the corrals, but realistically I was a bit nervous. I left the village later than desired and I was worried how long it would take for my final race prep – remove my outerwear and the bags on my shoes, reapply Aquaphor to the top of my left foot because I had felt some chafing already on the walk, finish my pre-race UCAN, open the hand-warmers, put them inside my running gloves, put on my rain glasses (yellow-tinted sunglasses that I hoped would protect my eyes from the wind and rain), pull up my hood over my hat, get to Corral 5 before Wave 2 started. These were the things stressing me out, not the fact that I was about to run 26.2 miles in the wind and rain.
As usual, my fears were unfounded and I got into the corral about 5-7 minutes before we started. I had decided to keep my wet throw away gloves as extra protection for a “few” miles (which turned out to be 26.2+.) The hand warmers weren’t warming so there I was in my blue shower cap shaking my hands beside me, in front of me, over my head, while waiting those last few minutes. Must have been quite the sight to the runners near me, but it did provide me with plenty of space when it was time to start moving! I remember hearing the start announcement and a minute or so later someone asked if we had started. My answer was, “Well, they have started up front but we aren’t going anywhere soon.” And then we started to move.
As mentioned earlier, my goal was to run under 3:20:00, which is about a 7:37 pace. I do a run-walk strategy for long distances (yes, I BQ’d using a 5 minute 30 second run / 30-40 seconds walk strategy so run-walk is not only for “slow” runners.) My original plan for Boston was to run to the mile then walk for 30 seconds, repeat, repeat, repeat. A 7:20 pace when running would average to 7:37 overall.
Before the race, I heard many experienced runners warn about starting out too fast at Boston. Shannon and Dorota both said to take it easy early on. Our course tour guide cautioned us about starting too fast. Meb said to be patient. Greg McMillan warned that “Boston is an evil temptress” and broke the course down into 4 phases, with Phase 1 being “Engine Brake”. They all said that Boston could be a fast course, but only if you make it to the top of Mile 21 without shredding your legs. From there, you can let go and fly to the finish. As Meb said, “Make the last mile your fastest and you’ll have a good race.”
Given this consensus, I adjusted my race plan, though not my goal, over the weekend. I would run the first 2 miles at a 7:35 pace, no faster than 7:30, and then take my first walk break. From there, I would implement my original strategy of running 7:20, walking 30 seconds each mile through Mile 16 where the hills start. I would run the 5 miles of hills strong, but not pushing it or worried about pace, still walking every mile. My goal was to get to the top of Mile 21 feeling good enough that I could take my last walk break and run the last 5+ miles to the finish.
I did think about pulling back my pace given the conditions, but, after looking at previous races and my conditioning, I figured I could probably do a 3:15:00 on a flat course so the 3:20:00 may already have some tailing back built in. Plus, I was planning on holding back during those first 4 downhill miles and hopefully that would help. Finally, I knew my priority was to enjoy the race so if I felt pushed too early on, I would just adjust on the fly before things got too bad.
The first half mile started out as planned. I didn’t push hard and there were plenty of people around to keep me from going too fast. I stuck to my plan and didn’t waste energy weaving around all the runners. Fortunately, Boston runners are fast so no one was ever in my way. I felt good.
At the one mile mark, my split was 7:58. Okay, a bit slower than I had planned, but that was alright. I could make that time up after the hills. The goal was to get over the hills in good shape and going slower now wasn’t going to hurt in the long run. Next mile 7:44. That’s better.
During that second mile, I felt my fuel belt bouncing around my waist a lot. I thought it was due to the wet and the rain jacket since I had not practiced wearing the belt with the jacket before (yes, I try new things on race day!) I also thought that I could manage it throughout the race by moving it with my hands. Halfway through mile 3 it became apparent that the belt was too annoying. I tried to tighten it while running but that wasn’t working so I finally stopped to walk and fix it. Third mile 8:06. Oh well.
Since I had already walked to fix my belt, I skipped my break at mile 3 and went right to mile 4. 7:31. Now I was on track and before I knew it, I was at Mile 9. Sure, I was over 1.5 minutes above a 3:20:00 steady pace at that point, but that was okay. If I felt good, I could make up the time later.
Besides, I was having a really good time. Once my fuel belt stopped bouncing, I was able to fully enjoy the cheering and the other runners around me. Charrissa said that spectators were sparse at times early on but I can’t say that I noticed. There always seemed to be some folks around cheering. There were people barbecuing under tents and handing out oranges and who knows what else. I didn’t see anyone hosing down the runners, though!
Which is another thing that I didn’t really notice – the weather. Okay, it was probably hard not to notice the weather but it didn’t really bother me. Yes, I was wet, but I had made the right choice in clothing and it kept me warm and didn’t chafe. My shoes had excellent grip, the Aquaphor was preventing blisters, and the wool socks were keeping my feet warm. I could feel the cold water on my feet when I stepped in a puddle or was splashed by some other runner, but within seconds the cold went away. The wind would whip up and I heard what must have been the same person as Charrissa did yell “Bring it!” Like her, I could only smile and laugh.
I smiled a lot on that run. It really was amazing how many spectators were out there and I did get choked up at times. I had to remind myself that Charrissa said “Save the getting choked up for after the finish line, because you can’t run if you can’t breathe.” I high-fived kids and thanked volunteers, though I didn’t do as much of that as I have in the past at other races. I knew I had to conserve some energy to get up the hills so that I could run to the finish. It was about that time that I noticed my right quad was a bit sore and I began to worry about what that would mean for later in the race. Again, I forced myself to recall Charrissa’s advice and kept telling myself “It doesn’t bother you now so just keep going. If it hurts later, deal with it then.” It never really got worse the rest of the day.
I heard the Wellesley scream tunnel about a quarter to a half mile out. Charrissa did give me permission to kiss a Wellesley girl (I guess all others were off limits? And what about the guy that was there?) but I didn’t want to stop, so I just high-fived them instead. One thought I did have was “They all look so young!” and then I thought “When did I become so old?”
Halfway in 1:42:05 – two minutes over my goal pace. At that point I figured I wasn’t going to run under 3:20 since I wasn’t going to pull 4 minutes off my time, but I thought let’s still try for 3:22-3:23. And that’s the last time I remember thinking about a time goal until Mile 21. I was happy to just run by feel for the next few miles until the hills started and to just power up them. I know that I looked at my watch each mile but I never really internalized what the effect of the times would be on my finishing time. I felt good, I was smiling, I was passing lots and lots of people going up the hills.
Officially, they talk about the three Newton hills, but, as many will say, there are actually four and the first “non-hill” may be the second toughest (after Heartbreak). The two thoughts I had after that first hill were “Well, that wasn’t bad at all – definitely no worse than Tramway from Candelaria to Montgomery” and “There were a lot fewer walkers than Charrissa said there would be.” (In hindsight, we think that perhaps those who would have walked the hills in other years, walked off the course instead.)
I powered through the next hill and then there was a much longer downhill break than I expected before the last two. I checked in on my legs and although they hurt, it was not any more than anticipated. It was at that point that I figured I’d be able to run those last 5 miles in, that it would hurt, and that my legs would be wrecked afterwards, but that would be okay. I made it to the top of Heartbreak, took my walk break at Mile 21, looked at my watch and began to do the math.
During the past 8 miles I must have sub-consciously given up on running a BQ time because I was very surprised when I calculated (as best I could in a fatigued mental state) that if I ran around a 7:30 pace, I’d be close to a BQ. Wouldn’t that be great! Sure, I won’t get in next year with a sub-minute cushion but to BQ at Boston under these conditions would be terrific! Plus, I won’t have the chance to get in and register if I don’t have a qualifying time! Let’s just run, trust McMillan when he says you can let it fly, and see what happens.
So I ran. I remember the spectators lining the course. I remember the winds picking up as we ran down from Heartbreak Hill. I remember the disappointingly small number of spectators at BC. I remember smiling as I ran. I remember being careful not to trip on the trolley tracks. I remember running on the left side of the road so that I wouldn’t be slowed down by the folks high-fiving and stopping for photos on the right. I remember a college guy pointing at me and yelling “That’s my man! Go! Go! Go!” I remember Dixie cups of beer that someone behind me stopped for. I remember looking for the Citgo sign but not being able to see it until close to Kenmore Square. I remember talking with a woman who was also running hard about 3 miles out, telling her that she was running well and looked strong, pointing to another woman ahead of us and saying that she looked strong too, so let’s keep up with her. I remember following one runner after another who was moving well until I finally went around them.
I remember coming up to the I-95 overpass with the wind whipping and everyone moving slowly. I remember “racing” up the hill and realizing afterwards that “racing” is all relative. But that was Mile 25. I looked at my watch – 3:15:00. Thankfully, it made the math really easy. I had 10 minutes to run the 1.2+ miles to the finish, depending on how well my Garmin was tracking the mileage. It would be close and could come down to how large the “plus” was. I knew it was more than a tenth of a mile because I had seen an extra tenth at an earlier mile marker. Had I lost another tenth since then? More than a tenth? Just run.
I remember Kenmore Square – not as many people as in the past because there was no baseball game but still lots of people. I remember running over the 1-mile to go logo on the road. I remember looking at my watch and thinking I had about 7 minutes left. I remember where we joined the BAA 5k route and thinking, “I know the rest of this course.” I remember running under Mass Ave, running the tangents through the underpass and then right onto Hereford. Up the hill that’s not really a hill except in the last mile of a marathon. Left onto Boylston. I remember taking the outside path on the turn because there was a wheelchair to my left and other folks moving slower than I was over there. I remember saying that I just had to keep moving. I remember looking the 600m down Boylston to the finish. I remember wanting to tear up but forcing myself to keep running. I remember hearing the cheers. I remember remembering how long 600m really is. I remember looking down at my watch for some reason and seeing 3:24:00. I remember looking up and thinking I have 1 minute to go “that far” without really knowing how far “that far” was. I remember thinking “I got this”, and then thinking that it is probably further than I think so I have to keep running. I remember crossing the finish line, crossing the timing mats, and then stopping my watch. 3:25:02. I remember saying “F***” and the guy at my side looking at me funny.
And then I remember smiling. I ran the Boston marathon and enjoyed it. I had a good race and was proud of how it went, of the strategy, of how strong I felt at Mile 21, of how I pushed through to the finish. I also knew that there was a chance my official time would be under 3:25:00, because I try to start my watch early and stop it late. It didn’t really matter – I was just happy.
And I wanted to do it again.
I just couldn’t stop smiling. I take my time walking down the chute after every long race and Boston was no different. Even though it was still raining and windier there on Boylston Street. I took my time taking photos with every photographer on my way to getting my medal, bottle of water, and heatsheet blanket (they even put it on you!) I thanked the volunteers and got all choked up each time one of them congratulated me. CLIF bars were next. I took one and then noticed a volunteer handing out opened bars! How awesome was that! There was no need to take off my two pairs of sopping wet gloves and dispose of the wet charcoal sacks that never did get warm. (For the record, that’s the fourth time that my throw away gloves have avoided being thrown away.) I picked up a post-race food packet, took some more pictures with the BAA background and made the slow walk over to our hotel, the Boston Park Plaza, which fortunately was not far away.
Unfortunately, however, I decided to be “smaht” and walked in the nearest side entrance to the hotel by the Starbucks, thus missing out on the hero’s welcome that Charrissa experienced. That would have been awesome, though there’s a good chance I would have started balling right then. Ugly crying avoided.
I got up to the room, took off my wet clothes and dried off, turned on my phone, and watched it start to light up with all the backlogged notifications of all the runners that I was tracking. “Ryan has started.” “Kellie has started.” “Ryan has crossed 5k.” “Rachael has started.” Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Turns out there was a lot of tracking out there.
I saw a message from Steph congratulating me and saying that Charrissa was crushing it out there. Based on that, I figured Charrissa must have been done by then so I looked up her results in the app – 3:43 and change! I was so happy for her! What a great race!
Then I decided I might as well see my “unofficial” finishing time (since that’s all the app was claiming at that point.) Derek Surka. Bib 12158. Time: 3:24:59! WOOHOO! A BQ!
Looking at my Garmin splits, I ran the last mile in 7:05, which was my fastest mile by 15 seconds. Just as Meb said, I made my last mile the fastest and had a good race. My Garmin also said I ran 26.36 miles, which I was extremely happy with, and I ran those last 0.36 miles at an avg 6:39 pace – so I was “sprinting” down Boylston. Finally, it turns out that from the top of Heartbreak Hill after my last walk break, I averaged a 7:24 pace to the finish. My in-the-moment estimate of needing to run 7:30 would not have gotten me there.
That night we celebrated at the Chart House, which has become a tradition for us post-Marathon. We skipped the Fenway party because it was still raining. The next day we picked up our last free swag of the weekend – a customized poster from Tracksmith with our time on it and our medals engraved for free at the Oofos store. And some more Linden & True coffee for good measure.
- The clothing strategy worked, though I’ll look for an actual running jacket next time.
- The pacing strategy worked.
- The fueling strategy also worked, though it was modified a bit and I honestly don’t remember exactly when I fueled. I took my first fuel around mile 8 or 9, later than usual because I had taken more UCAN before the race. I took my last UCAN at Mile 19 before the last 2 hills. Between then, I took UCAN twice more – pretty sure once was before Wellesley at Mile 12 and the other was at Mile 16 before the hills. More often than usual but I felt like I didn’t take as much at mile 8/9 as usual so I took more at 12, a little before the hills, and then my last normal serving at 19. I also grabbed a CLIF gel at the top of Heartbreak and took it before Mile 22.
- Try mixing UCAN flavors ahead of time, just in case.
- The hydration strategy worked. The salt in the UCAN didn’t really affect the taste at all. I also took licks from the tube every 3-4 miles. The first time I tried licking it off my gloves but that was a disaster so I resorted to just putting my tongue directly on the tube the rest of the race.
- Smiling worked. I had a really fun time even though the weather was not ideal and there weren’t as many spectators as I would have wished had conditions been better.
- I was ready to run a good marathon on only 100 running miles a month. With more pre-hab and a few more workouts, I know I can BQ again in the future with sufficient margin to get in. So I’ll put it out there:
- Next Marathon Goal: Tokyo 2019, sub-3:15:00
|Distance||Time||5k Split||Half Split|
|Division||Place||Finishers||% Finish||Starters||% Start|
All I said to my coach Terry Casey was that I wanted to run a strong Boston. My big A race for this year is the Berlin marathon. Boston is a tough course and I wasn’t sure how fully trained I would be since I was coming off of a fun marathon at Disney and a month of working crazy hours for NBC Olympics so I wasn’t expecting to PR (3:37:30) or beat Chicago (3:39). So what does a “strong” Boston mean? Well – better than my previous two Bostons which both came in about 3:52 (both times I was injured and took weeks off of training before the race). And one where I felt pretty strong the whole way (in 2016 I went out trying to hit a goal and kept readjusting that down as the miles ticked on and the last several miles were a slog). I didn’t define strict A, B, and C goals – but I probably was thinking of them like:
A – between 3:40 and 3:45 – closer to 3:40 if it was a good day
B – between 3:45 and 3:50
C – PR Boston (sub 3:52)
Leading up the day, it became apparent that the weather was going to be ugly. I ran in 2015 when it was cold and windy and rainy and I’ve run a half marathon in a downpour – so I have some experience with this (not that I wanted more). The weather in Boston is mercurial – and the forecast can change each day as you get closer, but mostly the forecast got worse. Cold, windy, rainy weather is some of the hardest to dress for – you want more clothing for warmth, something to break the wind, but less clothing to get wet and hold cold water against your skin. Thankfully – Kathleen Stabler had suggested that I wear a light running rain jacket and actually loaned me one – total lifesaver. So I had a plan. After some debate with myself about shorts vs. capris – I settled on my race attire: singlet, light running raincoat, shorts, hat with a brim, gloves. I also slathered Aquaphor on my feet – this was a rainy weather tip I picked up a few years back and it has kept me from blistering during rainy races.
Almost more important than that was what to wear before the race. You have to stand around for awhile in the athlete’s village and, I had made the decision that I wanted to go to the busses and village with Derek, which meant I would be out there an extra 45 minutes or so since he was wave 2 and I was wave 3. It’s his first Boston and I wanted to see him off. Plus – having been at the athlete’s village – I knew it would be a muddy field (although I had no idea the extent of the mudpit we would find). Our whole goal was to stay as dry and warm as possible before race start. Looking back on it – I think we did about as well as we could have and this might have made a big difference in our races compared to others.
So what did I wear? On top of my running rain jacket, I wore a throwaway jacket and then a rain poncho on top of that (as a note – whenever I have a jacket or sweatshirt or anything like that that I am thinking of giving to charity, I don’t give it away – I stack it in my closet as a future pre-race throwaway, this really helped for Boston). I had on fuzzy pajama pants to keep my legs warm. I tied plastic grocery bags over my shoes and then put shower caps over those. Since I had an extra shower cap – I put that over my baseball cap to keep it dry. We had hand warmers also (which I put in my gloves as I headed to the start line, but frankly – I don’t think they worked at all, so I ditched them several miles in). It was a serious fashion statement and I did hesitate a moment before we headed out – almost letting my self-consciousness looking completely ridiculous get the best of me. I am glad I didn’t.
Our outfits really did help – I was still warm and dry on the bus. At the athlete’s village, we waded through the mud – and I instantly lost both of the shower caps off of my feet, but was so incredibly grateful that the plastic bags hung on (and I walked so carefully to try not to lose them). We waited an incredibly long time in the line for the portapots – where I got to contemplate how challenging it would be to go pee with all this crap on. And I had a moment of sheer terror while in line – at one point the wind picked up (had to be close to 30 mph at that moment) and the rain picked up and turned to sleet. I think my face turned white (and not because of the cold) – I really wasn’t sure I could do this.
Derek left for the corrals right after that and I was left to meander the sodden fields alone. I contemplated going under a tent – but the closest tent was a mudbath – practically no one was in it. So I huddled behind an information tent. Despite the extra time in the cold, I was glad I went to the start with him because we got this awesome picture together:
When my wave was finally called, I made the 0.7 mile trek towards the corrals. I waited by the final Big Brothers Big Sisters truck until we were released into the corrals and at that point, I took my pajama pants off, the plastic bags off of my feet, and I think I took off my rain poncho and the shower cap on my head too. I just thought all of these would be hard to take off in the corral and I didn’t want to run in them. I still had my throwaway jacket on which I left on until the last few minutes. Despite doing such a good job at keeping my feet dry – my shoes were soaked by the time I got to the corral, it was raining that hard.
I had put on a 3:45 pace bracelet in the morning thinking that, who knows, if things aren’t that bad, maybe I could still try for that. But by the time I started, I was just thinking about finishing. Mostly I used it to make sure I didn’t go out too fast. We had heard several people (Greg McMillan, Meb, etc) talk about how to run this course and how you really need to be patient and try to run an even race. The pace bracelet was tailored to Boston (it adjusts mile splits based on the course) – and it still only had the first two miles at 5 seconds a mile faster than an even pace and I think the third mile at 10 seconds a mile faster – so a little faster than even, but not a screamer. I figured today was as good a day as any to try this conservative approach, since I wasn’t really sure I could run a great time anyway.
Once we got running – things were better. Not even a mile or so in – I was just struck by how much I love this race – because there were people lining the streets in front of their homes cheering their brains out for us. Yes, the crowds were thinner than usual – but they really made up for it in their enthusiasm and loudness! I had made up my mind earlier that week that I needed to embrace it, conditions and all, and seek to enjoy it – I figured if I focused on how miserable things were, that I would certainly have a miserable day. And truly – if I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t have to.
I remember the electrical supply company at mile 7.3 where you can “check out your style and form” in their windows as you run by. I remember running through one town where the rain and winds picked up (I called this the “deluge” – the “deluge” would happen periodically during the race) and a spectator yelled “Bring it!!” So every time the “deluge” happened later, I laughed to myself and said “Bring it!” What else was there to do but laugh?
Around mile 10 – I was just about exactly on my pace according to the bracelet, and I felt that my legs were more tired than I thought that they should at that point. So I wondered if this was going to be a hard day. I wondered – am I not as fit as I thought? Are the conditions making it harder? Is the cold making me feel this way? I didn’t know – but I used my old Grandma’s Marathon trick and just told myself, well, you aren’t hurting now – so just keep going.
I high-fived a bunch of girls at Wellesley, didn’t stop for a kiss though. Took it easy down mile 15 and got ready for the hills. I felt really strong on the hills and powered up them (ok, “powered” for me looks a bit like “slow” for some other Trail Dogs). There were surprisingly fewer people walking the hills than I remembered from previous Bostons. I gained time in the hills and started thinking that I might be in good shape. I’ll admit, I mistakenly thought that maybe hill 3 was actually Heartbreak (and then I actually got onto Heartbreak and realized that sadly I was wrong and I had to get up the hill).
Somewhere in the hills – there was a guy under a tent on the left side who had a microphone and speakers and he was telling all of us that Desi Linden had won! I was overcome with happiness and it gave wings to my feet. So excited to hear that!
Once I crested Heartbreak, I tested my legs on the downhill and found that they were ok – so I figured I could take it in harder. I sped up a bit and knew that I was gaining some time. Interestingly – at this point, I was flying by people. I was so excited to see the Citgo sign, the one mile to go line – I always get verklempt at this point. Kenmore Square is always incredible – so many people screaming for you. Then under Mass Ave, right on Hereford, left on Boylston – the crowds were incredible – you really do feel like you are something amazing. Why would all these crazy people stand out in the freezing, blustery rain to cheer you on? I could not be more grateful to all the volunteers, security people, and spectators. And just at the finish line – the announcer called out my name! Charrissa Lin from Albuquerque!!! Yeessssss!!! Victory.
I am really happy with my results.
Finish time 3:43:40
I ran the second half only 32 seconds slower than the first!
Overall 11685/25746 (45.4%)
In Gender 3759/11604 (Female) (32.4%)
In Division 281/1664 (F45-49 Age Group) (16.9%)
I am blown away by my placement. My bib was 20228 – and I had kinda been feeling self-conscious on the weekend knowing that the vast majority of people there were all faster than me. Top half of the field, at Boston? Top third of my gender? Crazy.
Given the conditions I had told Derek he should just head straight back to the hotel and not worry about waiting for me. So I got my medal, my heat blanket, food, stopped for a few pics and then headed back myself. I am so grateful that our hotel was really close to the exit from the chute. Even so, I got so cold that I thought I might not make it (where is Prince Charming to carry me off when I need him?) When I walked into the hotel they had staff and others lined up on both sides of the entryway and they cheered for every runner who came in – that was awesome! The second I entered my hotel room I stripped off every single piece of clothing I had on – I had no idea how much water my shorts could carry – but they weren’t just wet, they were like a sponge – probably could have wrung a glass of water out of them. A hot shower, some sitting on the bed catching up on runner tracking, social media, and texts. Then off to dinner at the Chart House – it’s become our Boston marathon tradition. I feel fairly certain that I ate enough that night to last a person a week… Afterwards we waddled our way back to the hotel (thankfully it had finally stopped raining) and watched a replay of the marathon coverage to see the elite race.
If I had to race in these conditions again (please God, please don’t let me have to race in these conditions again) – I think we did most things right. I would definitely put Aquaphor on my legs where my shorts hit – as I got some pretty bad chafe marks there (didn’t notice them until the shower – ouch!)
|Goal||If Good Weather||If Bad Weather||Completed?|
|A||3:15||PR (3:17)||LOL nah|
|B||3:18 (few second PR)||3:20||Nope|
5k: 22:31 25k: 1:57:51
10k: 45:53 30k: 2:23:47
15k: 1:10:34 35k: N/A
20k: 1:34:09 40k: 3:22:19
Half: 1:39:16 Finish: 3:35:41
The start of training was slow. On December 3rd, 2017 I raced the California International Marathon (CIM) and had a ten-minute PR for a 3:18. I was thrilled, but also feeling pretty wiped. I followed a Jack Daniel’s Training Plan for CIM and it was pretty intense. It was more weekly mileage than I had ran in a long time, and definitely more intensity. In retrospect, it was a pretty big jump in training, maybe too big. A month before CIM I was struggling with some minor IT Band issues. Nothing a few off days couldn’t fix, but enough to prevent me from completing a 20 miler before race day, which gave me some anxiety. Anyways, all of the hard work and tempo effort long runs paid off and lead to a huge PR. However, when I crossed the finish line, I couldn’t help but think, “I need a BREAK.” So the rest of the December was either taken completely off training through the holidays or incredibly low intensity. Once we got back into town after Christmas, I eased into mileage again very gently, not doing any speed work or even anything specific at all. I just ran. While I did start adding in some biking and swimming again, I don’t think I started to feel run motivated until late February. I got back with my amazing triathlon coach, Terry Casey, and started to add some more structure to my training. Turns out my “lazy weeks” really weren’t as lazy as I thought they were, because I was still averaging about 45 miles a week. I actually think the month of low intensity and steady mileage was really good for me both mentally and physically. Once I started with Terry again, we added some speed work back in and I was surprised to see that I was actually still in great running shape. Maybe even better shape than before CIM. I was strong and healthy, still averaging between 40-50 miles a week with the added speed work, and approximately 2 swims and 2 rides a week. I also was lifting every Monday morning with Kathleen Stabler at TrueNorth. I was feeling strong and consistent, and even in PR shape come the week leading up to Boston.
We knew the weather was going to bad. Even if I didn’t want to know the details, I did, because Ryan was checking the weather constantly. It was for the better though, or else I would have been even more underprepared for really dreadful conditions. On Sunday (the day before the race) the wind started to pick up, the temperature dropped, and the rain began to sprinkle from dark clouds over the city. After considering just doing a pre-race shake out on the treadmill, we decided to brave the elements. “Hey, this isn’t so bad! We can do this!” I said to Ryan between strides, stoked to see how low my heartrate was now that we were at sea level. We jogged back to our hotel, talking ourselves into believing the conditions really weren’t that bad. “If it just stays like this, it’ll be totally fine.” The weather did not just stay like it was that Sunday.
Sunday night was pretty restless, but thanks to a later race start, I still felt well rested by the time the alarm went off. I planned on heading to Athlete’s Village with Ryan that morning, since it was his first Boston Marathon and I wanted to see him off before what was bound to be a challenging day. His start time was at 10:00a and mine was scheduled for 10:25, since he was in wave one and I was in wave two. I was a little nervous about the extra time in the cold, but I was promised Ryan’s drop layers once he left for the start line and companionship (aka body heat) on the bus and in Athlete’s Village. We left the Hotel and it was already raining out. We walked the mile to bus pick-up in pretty vicious wind, and I tried to ignore the fact that I was already pretty cold and my feet were already wet. Once we got to the bus loading area, we realized that bag drop was on the other side of the park. We headed through the grassy park, which had already turned to mud. The shower caps over my shoes were not sufficing, and my feet were freezing. Regretting not bringing dry socks (or shoes, for that matter) I focused on avoiding the worst of the mud as we walked to bag drop. Long story short, I lost Ryan in a sea of other skinny runner dudes all wearing ponchos. I internally freaked out a little bit. I was upset that I lost Ryan, felt so bad that I couldn’t see him off to the start line, and was really worrying about the extra time in the cold. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that I could still be in bed and getting up early was unfortunately a waste. After searching for him briefly, I decided it was a lost cause in such a huge crowd and boarded a bus. Trying to mentally reset, I took off my shoes to dry my feet, ring out my soaking socks, and set my focus back on the race.
Athlete’s Village was muddy, wet, snowy, and freezing. I got under a tent and buried myself as deep into my poncho as I could. My feet hurt from being so cold. “Well, numbness could be a good thing, right?” I tried to rationalize with myself, not ready to give up on my goal, as I sat and shivered for the next hour and a half.
Ah, race time. It’s worth noting that I have so much unfished business at the Boston Marathon. The one time I previously ran it (or walked, really) was in 2015, coincidentally also a rainy year. I am sorry to everyone else that I am apparently a Boston Marathon curse. 2015 was my first time qualifying for Boston, and though I had a pretty serious piriformis injury heading into the race, I was determined to at least try. I mean, it’s the Boston freaking Marathon. I ended up limp walking the race that year in 5 and a half hours. It was really miserable and I was determined to have a better experience this time around. If nothing else, I was at the start line healthy, and that in itself was a victory.
I had already spent hours shivering and was so excited to finally start running, so I could hopefully warm up. As I began running, I was surprised by how quickly I started to come back to life. Hey, this isn’t so bad! I was thinking about a PR and how the possibility still existed. Running in the rain has always felt so liberating to me, and it was bringing me back to the many miles spent training back home in Ohio. Turns out it’s pretty hard to set pace when your body is already mostly numb. I hopped back and fourth between too fast and too slow, just trying to settle in and find a group to run with. I came through the 5k at a 7:15 pace and was pleased. The start of the race is downhill, so now was the time to get in some faster miles. My heartrate was low and the effort was easy. I high-fived spectators, danced and sang when passing crowds playing music, and was feeling incredibly rejuvenated. My feet were still undeniably wet and cold, but it was bearable.
The next several miles became mostly about navigating through the crowd on the course. While I wanted to keep my head down to avoid the rain and the wind, I had to keep my head up searching for openings so I could maintain my goal pace. My shoe came untied at mile 4, so I jumped off the side of the course to tie it. Turns out that’s a really challenging task with numb fingers and soaking wet gloves. The next several miles were spent weaving through runners and trying to ignore the fact that there was definitely going to have to be a bathroom break in my future. I weighed my options. Stopping at mile 9 when my legs were still fresh enough that I could resume running at goal pace seemed like a better option than having to stop at mile 20 and attempt to pick up momentum again during such a challenging part of the race. I hopped in a portapotty, did my business, and came running out of it like a bat out of hell, determined to make up time for my stop. I went back to weaving through the crowd and trying to find a group of tall people to hang behind. Every time I thought I found a good group I would settle in behind them and realize it wasn’t quite the pace I wanted. Back to weaving.
It was around the half mark that things took a turn for the worse. I heard the Wellesley girls ahead and got excited. The loud cheering and energy was definitely contagious. I searched for a girl to kiss (it’s tradition, don’t judge me) but didn’t see any with a sign that said “I kiss girls.” That was my cue in 2015. I didn’t want to put anyone in an uncomfortable position. You know, consent and all. It is worth noting that I saw a Wellesley girl holding a sign that said “I’m wet, kiss me” and that made me laugh really hard. So, I continued through Wellesley, slowing down a bit to high five the girls and just enjoy the moment. I felt like that was just what I needed, and then I would be good to go. Mile 14 was still on pace but felt harder than it should have. I looked at my watch to check in on my heartrate (Only 161. To put it in perspective, I averaged 168 at CIM and thought 170 was feasible for Boston) and saw it was still low so didn’t fully understand the fatigue I was feeling. I went through my mental check list to see where I was at and try to get a grasp on what was going on. “Okay, feet are wet and painfully cold… it’s fine. IT bands strangely already throbbing, but that’s fine, just pain management…. Hands are numb, okay, don’t need those to run anyways…. Huh, my teeth are chattering.” I don’t think I fully realized how cold I was until that moment. How long had I been shivering for anyways? We left the hotel at 7am, at this point it was roughly 12:30p. Okay, Rachael, you are fine. It’s just cold. You can handle that. Despite all of my positive self-talk, mile 16 is then where my pace dropped off pretty bad. I didn’t understand what was happening. My heartrate was low, I had done plenty of long runs so I should not be hurting this early in, why aren’t my legs listening to me? MOVE! I think my body just froze up on me. That’s the only thing I really have to say about the last ten miles. It was a really strange sensation to have my head in it, the fitness there, my heartrate low, but my legs just telling me no.
That’s when I started peeing. Yup, while I was running. I wasn’t trying to pee. I think it was my body just giving me an additional “fuck you.” It was raining and I was so drenched anyways that I guess it didn’t really matter. But what freaked me out was that this continued to happen several more times during the last ten miles. What the hell?! The most disgusting part of it is that when it happened my first thought was, “ahhhh, warmth.” Yeah, I’m a disgusting human being, this isn’t news to me. Feeling so out of control of my body made me very nervous. This was my seventh marathon and that has never happened to me before.
The last 10k was ugly. As we got closer and closer to Boston, the rain turned into a downpour, the occasional 20 mile-per-hour gusts turned into a steady 30 mile-per-hour headwind, and it was cold. So cold. I basically jogged it in because my body would not allow any more than that. Every med station along the course was so, so temping, but I couldn’t do it. I walked this race in 2015 and still finished. I have family, friends, and teammates back home tracking me, I would be so ashamed if I DNF’d. I have never DNF’d a marathon and today will not be that day. So, I dragged my defeated ass to the finish line, even though my legs did not want to take me there. So many spectators yelled “you got this, Trail Dog!” (I was wearing my Trail Dog hat) and it gave me a rush every single time, but regardless, my legs would not listen. I crossed the finish line in 3:35:41 and got my hypothermic ass dragged to a med tent.
I’m not the type of chick that cries at the finish line. In pretty much every aspect of my life I am so determined to not be a cliché. That Monday, I sobbed at the finish line as a volunteer dragged me towards a med tent. The sweet older gentleman clearly had no idea what the hell to say to me. “What is your name? You’re done now, you should be so proud.” I cried, my teeth chattering, “R-R-R-Rach-ael. I’m c-c-cold.” I don’t think he could really tell what I was saying between my sobs, shivering, and the finish line cheering. He passed me off to a young female volunteer, “Here, you should talk to her. She’s emotional and needs some help.” Oh, God. Poor, sweet man. I’m so sorry for my estrogen. I have never been inside a med tent before, and it was incredibly impressive to see all of the volunteers, beds, and level of preparation that went into it. I was taken to a bed, stripped, warmed up, had my vitals checked. Volunteer: Your blood pressure is 90 over 60. Me: Is that bad? and fed warm broth through a straw. As the volunteers asked about an emergency contact, I begged them not to call my mom (Sorry, mom) and to call Ryan instead. I didn’t want to panic my family while they were in Ohio and couldn’t do anything about it anyways. Ryan could grab me warm clothes and we could get back to the Hotel together. And that’s exactly what Ryan did. God bless him. I waited for my dry clothes to come in the med tent, insisting I give up my bed to someone who needed it more (I saw a lot of runners in really bad shape, and there was a line to get in) and the very attentive volunteers continued to check on me the whole time. Once Ryan passed on my clothes to a volunteer who went out in the rain to hunt him down, she helped me dress and walked me out to Ryan, making sure I had a Gatorade, a race medal, and some sort of snack.
Getting back to our Hotel turned out to be a nightmare. We figured walking the mile and a half would be quicker with the closed roads and traffic, but maybe made it a quarter of a mile when we realized we just didn’t have it in us to walk back in the weather that still just continued to escalate. After several attempts, we finally got an Uber. Once we got back to the Hotel, we turned up the heat to 78 degrees, ordered two pizzas, found the remaining dry clothing items in our suitcases, and remained in bed the rest of the night, feeling emotionally and physically defeated, but just laughing our asses off at the dreadfulness of it all. Well… It was faster than my first Boston.
At the end of the day, while it really was a rough day, and I was pretty miserable for the majority of the race, I don’t regret the experience. Being part of the Boston Marathon on the five-year anniversary of the bombing was a touching experience that reminded me of the grit, determination, and spirit that Marathoner’s have. While I was so stoked to hear about Desi winning (the first American woman to win since 1985) I was even more moved to hear about her selflessness in achieving that victory, waiting for fellow American Shalane Flanagan as she ran into a portopotty and pulling her back up to the front of the pack. A lot of people ask me why I do this, and Desi answered that question for me in her comradery. The spirit of the marathon, of racing, is something that cannot be matched. Going out there on a shitty day and giving it everything you have makes us better. Better runners, better people, who can say for sure, but I’d like to think so.
|Goal||If Good Weather||If Bad Weather||Completed?|
|B||2:37||PR (2:41:27)||Not even close|
|C||PR||Have a good time||Far From it|
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
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.
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!”
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.
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.
What? Boulder Half Ironman
When? August 5, 2017
How far? 70.3 (ish)
| A | Top 5 Age Group |
| B | Top 50 Amateur |
| C | Sub 4:20 |
My training leading up to Boulder was a mostly consistent execution of a 16 week plan I’ve devised myself. At the beginning (about 15 and 14 weeks out) I had to travel to Anchorage to take care of some family business so I didn’t get much training done – which was OK since this was basically right after Oceanside 70.3 so the extra recovery time wasn’t all bad. The training plan is something of a DIY with big chunks of Friel’s “Your Best Triathlon” and Pfitzinger’s “Faster Road Racing” – my swim plan was basically unchanged from the book. My bike training was modified – generally, I would bike to and from work 5 days a week (about 16 miles for an hour total, per day) at a mostly easy pace. Tuesdays I would do hill repeat work (in aero!), and Saturday or Sunday I would do a long ride with 4-5 15-20 minute intervals at race effort with 5 minutes recovery. A pretty simple plan. My run plan was only slightly modified version of a half marathon training plan for higher mileage runners. The crux of this plan is you run have two longish runs per week (generally, I would run 13+ miles twice a week), in addition to doing speed work the day preceding one of the long runs. Here’s how that breaks down for the final twelve weeks of training:
7,779 yards in 2:17 per week
149 miles rode in 8:52 per week
54 miles ran in 6:56 per week
Looks like I went pretty far on an average week! My biggest regret is that I skipped a lot of swims and my volume was about half of what I would like it to be. I need to be more diligent and stop making excuses to not swim.
I stayed at an AirBNB about two miles from transition with a few Trail Dogs. This relieved a lot of the stress that race morning commuting usually brings. However, of course, there was deadlocked traffic heading to the reservoir. We saw folks in the distance (probably 3-4 miles away) get out of their cars and start running toward the race start. We’re all in this together, just be patient. We get to the race start considerably later than anticipated, but I know the race director is a reasonable person and will push the start back. We got in ahead of a lot of people so there’s no way they’re going to start the race on time. I setup transition and find Jeff, who is the club’s race bitch for the day (he did great and I’m incredibly appreciative!), dumped my clothes/etc with him. Trying to find my mom who has come up from Albuquerque is not fruitful – until about five minutes before my start. She wishes me luck and off I go. I am so grateful she could come.
Swim – felt comfortable, reasonably on track swimming straight. I’m wishing for a 32:xx swim but hopefully for a 34:xx considering how flaky I’ve been in the pool. I catch a lot of feet and stay on target pretty well so I am fairly confident I’m on track. The last quarter of the swim is a graveyard of the earlier waves. Folks are hardly making forward progress and I think back to my first race and hope they’re feeling better than I did. I feel guilty colliding with them but they seem to come out of nowhere. Headed up the dock I click lap on my watch. 35:xx. Shit. Bad. At least I’m not wiped, I have plenty of juice for the bike. I transition fast despite stumbling on my wetsuit in transition at my bike. Swim official time 35:51. T1 official time 2:02.
Bike – I mount up smoothly. Lot’s of traffic ahead of me but the lanes are wide. This is good. I can hold below race power target and go faster thanks to slipstreaming ahead. I’m passing someone every five seconds, it feels like. Pounding gatorade and gels, feeling full, but tolerable. Good. I’m planned aggressive fluid/gel intake to make sure I don’t implode on the run. I’ve planned the ride – I know what my total time needs to be at 15, 30, and 45 miles to have a top 10 bike split. at 15 and 30, i’m a minute ahead of those targets. Must be a tailwind. Around 35-40 my lower back starts to really hurt. I need a bike fit. I’ve always just kind of DIY tweaked it. I know I’m super aero but I can’t maintain it. 45 mile mark, i’m two minutes behind. Yup, favorable winds early. Back hurts. Run is soon. Just suck it up. Man this headwind sucks. Wait, I’m out of gear at 95 cadence. It’s not a headwind, i’m doing 30+ mph. Okay. Just get out there. last mile or so of the bike stuck behind two guys. That’s okay, go slow into transition, better than wiped. Huh, 54 miles. Oh well, a little short isn’t bad. T2 is fast, smooth, steady. Bike official time 2:10:57. T2 official time 1:22.
Run – Okay, time to light some people up. I had the 10th fastest AG run split at Oceanside and my running has improved since then. I start out maybe 100 yards behind the only guy that passed me on the bike. Slowly reeling him in and someone is reeling me in. They have a fan club getting good gopro footage/etc. They’re cheering him on. Fuck you Alex. Alex passes me, I hang onto his shoulder. We catch the guy that passed me on the bike. He starts to fall back, I get on Alex’s shoulder. We pass a male pro (on his second loop of course). This pace is hard. Alex doesn’t seem to be hurting at all. Fuck you Alex. We get to the second aide station and Alex slows down. I blast past him and the adrenaline makes the same pace feel easy. Fuck you Alex! Start feeling real strong. About mile 3.5 my left quad shuts down and cramps hard. The kind of cramp that made me say “I guess I’m walking 9 miles today.” Crap. Slow down for a minute, it opens up. Pain is gone. What? Build pace back up, cautiously. Okay. Back in business. The course is much busier on the second loop. I’m passing packs of people just like at Oceanside. I have to surge ahead of packs at aide stations to make sure I get fluids. Around mile eight or nine an older guy hears me coming, he yells in a snarky tone “Somebody can’t bike!”, I laugh to myself and let him have his moment. I’ll be done soon. Mile 10. 5k to go. Let er rip. Just kidding, pace has got hard, more effort just means maintenance. Picturing my mom at the finish line lightens the load. Okay. Mile twelve. Everything is about to cramp. Shoulders. Arms. Core. Steady. 500 yards to go. I see Terry Casey (local pro, my girlfriend’s coach). “COME ON TERRY, DON’T LET ME CATCH YOU” … adrenaline, time to blaze it. 5:30 pace through the chute. Run official time 1:25:46.
Finish time: 4:15:58. 3rd in my age group. 7th age grouper. (Alex beat me, guy crushed me on the swim and bike).
Meet up with mom – everyone – grateful for everyone that came to spectate and real proud of all of my friends that had great races. I need to learn to swim. I had the 18th (i think) fastest AG bike split, 4th fastest AG run split. My bike is making steady progress and I’m happy with where that’s at. With a bike fit and more steady training I will continue improving. I’ve started working with a swim coach recently so that will help immeasurably. Until now I basically learned to swim on youtube.
My next “A Race” is going to be California International Marathon, December 3rd! I hope to have a significant PR – my run fitness has exploded this year and I feel like I can continue to improve. My current PR is 2:57:32.
Sandy is the inspiration for Trail Dog Tri. She inspires us all to be as crazy and out of control as she is. Sandy also crushes anywhere from 30 to 60 miles a week, including treadmill miles. She is a shelter dog from Animal Humane New Mexico, and has been with Ryan and I since October 2016. This dog lives for adventure and trail runs, so has made the perfect addition. As our mascot, Sandy embodies exactly what it means to be a Trail Dog.
We’ve all seen them.
That one dog at the dog park that is constantly running, leaping unexplainably. The friend that insists to march to the beat of their own drum. That coworker who just doesn’t quite make sense to everyone else. Or that training buddy who will always choose the rugged dirt path when you come to a fork in the road.
These are the trail dogs. The rowdy, the misunderstood, the determined. Hard working people that crave adventure and lust after backroads. The athletes that will crush a trail, be it on bike or foot, then happily crack open a beer to celebrate the effort. The people who live for new challenges, for getting dirty, for a new thrill. We love uncertainty and live for the adrenaline rush that endurance sports brings.
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, welcome home. We’re glad you’re here.
Trail Dog Tri .com exists now. Woo!