Last Monday I ran my third Boston Marathon in seven years (1993, 1996 and 2000). I've thought a little about the experience and why I wanted to go back and do it again and whether I'm up for another try in a year or two. I'm the kind of runner who can just barely make it under the qualifying standards with a great deal of training. The total aggregate excess time I've had over (actually under) the requirements is about 1 minutefor all three tries combined, so you can see I'm definitely no shoe-in. Unfortunately it also seems a bit harder each time I try. At least two years (1994 and 1997) I tried and failed to make it. But enough of that for now - how did Boston 2000 go ....
We stayed in the Cambridge Hyatt overlooking the Charles and this was a great place - except for getting back after the race. The view was lovely and I did a leisurely run along the river on Sunday morning. But the distance from the finish was trying in the tired state I was in after finishing, so next time (if there is a next time) we may opt for one of the hotels closer in. Those tend to fill up very early so that will require planning long in advance. Anne Fisher and Michelle Filippo were also at the Hyatt so we could share a cab to get to the start and walk back together in the cold over the bridge after the race (there are never cabs after you finish a marathon!).
There were over 20 Flyers in Boston and we did some fun extras. On Sunday afternoon, 10 of us went to a Red Sox game and saw the Sox beat the A's 5 to 4 (I managed to miss the game winning homer in the bottom of the ninth). Sunday night there were 24 of us at Papa Razzi's restaurant in the Back Bay for a very enjoyable pre race pasta dinner.
The race itself was on Monday, a local holiday in Massachusetts. I cabbed to Boston with Anne and Michelle. We had a bite and coffee at Starbucks. We met the Flyer group at 7:15 at the T station at Boylston and Tremont ("T" is Bostonese for subway). The temperature 47 - not too bad.
We took bus to Hopkinton at about 7:30 - the trip took about an hour. It was noticeably colder in Hopkinton. We hung out in a big tent and tried to rest between trips to pee. Everyone was generally cold and somewhat stressed out. It seemed that most of the pre-race conversation was about what to wear. Finally we moved on to the baggage busses and corrals. I was in the same corral as Sean and Monique andSara, Ann and Becky were just behind us in the next corral. These corrals are laid out strictly by qualifying time so the actual start is pretty smooth.
I got together with Ann and Becky (after they did a last minute pee) and we scrunched up for the start. The start was on time at noon and we shuffled along, crossing the start about 5 minutes after the gun. Our strategy was to go out at an 8:45 pace and try to finish under 4:00. I was hoping for a 3:50 at best and I think Becky wanted to do at least as well. In the end, in spite of the cold, I wore shorts and a long sleeve coolmax (w. singlet over) and wasn't really cold till after the race. The start logistics bears some resemblance to the NYC marathon, but I think it is a little bit less stressful. As a whole the race is extremely well run. Opinions on this may vary however.
The first mile was stop and go for a while and fairly steep downhill - as were the first 4 or 5 miles. We tried to hold it back a bit but Becky tended to pull us ahead slightly. The next section (miles 5 - 10) till Natick was fairly smooth. We all made a pit stop between Framingham and Natick and got into a picture at about mile 8. Just before 10, I saw my son Peter, his wife Nancy, my daughter Susan and my wife Joy and got photographed by them and I stopped and gave Joy a hug and kiss.
At around mile 11, I dropped slightly behind Ann and Becky but I caught up with them again just before Wellesley College. The girls there were screaming like banshees as usual. Becky pulled ahead around the half marathon.
From the half to the start of the hills we slowed a bit and my right knee started bothering me. Ann pulled ahead around 15. The Flyer banner and 3 or 4 Flyers were at 17.5 (Ed, Janet, Gary) just before the hills. It was great to see them and to hear "Go Flyers" ring out outside of central Park.
Starting about halfway up the first hill and then every couple of miles till the end, I had to stop and stretch my hamstrings. This gave real relief to my knees and I could run much better for a while - till it gradually got worse till the next stop and stretch. My legs weren't exactly weak or tired - just a pain that would grow in the knee(s) which made running very hard. It felt like my legs would crumple. The hills per se weren't that bad although my pace was clearly slowed. I decided that the famous Newton hills including Heartbreak Hill are not so bad. The are tough but the down hills in the first 5 miles of the course are probably worse - except you don't realize it till later. Heartbreak hill peaks just before Boston College. The crowds really do help you up and over these hills and when you get to B.C. it's a great relief and you get great support from the crowds.
After B.C. the stretch breaks came more frequent but I was buoyed by the crowds and the familiar terrain. I did not hit any "wall" in the usual sense. My legs had power except for the knees. I had taken a power gel at 0, 8, 13 and 20 which seemed to do the trick.
Surprisingly I caught up with Ann at around mile 25 and we stayed close together till the end. After the finish Ann said "why would anyone want to do this more than once", She felt it was the hardest course she had run. I think we have all had similar sentiments after finishing just about any marathon. I was in a much better mood and was enjoying the occasion. I finished in 4:03, a little over my goal, but considering my under training, I felt I did OK.
I was especially impressed how "nice" they are in Boston, compared to New York. As an example there was a little kid who jumped in a little before the end and finished with his dad holding hands. In New York he would have been arrested.
I Met Anne and Michelle (who was happy with her 3:36 PR!) at the family reunion area and we walked a long way to the T then after riding to the BU stop, we walked, cold and tired, back to the Hyatt over the BU bridge.
That night I had a lovely meal with my family in the restaurant that sits atop the Hyatt and revolves about once an hour. It was quite lovely seeing the Boston skyline as the sun set and the lights all came on.
What is it about Boston anyway? Some I talked to thought it was really tough, some thought it was easy, some thought once was enough, others hoped to return again and again. As with any tough undertaking, your mileage will vary. For me Boston is special in several ways: it's the only race I'll ever encounter that you actually have to qualify for (no I'm not a candidate for the Olympic trials); the crowds are great; the course is very lovely (avoiding all the ugly malls); I've been "connected" to the race since I was a child growing up in the Boston area. It differs from New York: the neighborhoods are less ethnic, the runners are less international, the spirit of the runners is perhaps more serious - less of a party. Take you pick - they are both great experiences.
Back to my initial ruminations - will I put in the time and effort to try and qualify again in a year or two? Ask me next year.
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