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Archive for the ‘The Road to Boston’ Category

Monday, April 21st was a great day for redemption in Boston! After the unthinkable events of Boston 2013, it seemed that the marathon would be negatively affected forever. It turns out that Boston and the running community used their resiliency and the memories of a year ago to fuel the excitement of the day and make Boston what it once was, and always should be; a day of celebration, achievement, and joy. This year, Boston was bigger and louder than ever! While there was a moderately increased awareness of law enforcement and security, which was graciously accepted, it quickly faded into the background of the overwhelming support from the entire world. The stage was set first by perfect weather – mid 50’s and barely a cloud in the sky.

a small sample of Athlete's Village

a small sample of Athlete’s Village

Before being directed to the start line, the runners gather in an area called “Athlete’s Village” which is a couple of the athletic fields of Hopkinton high school (surrounded by just about every rentable porta john in the state of Massachusetts). Spirits were high and the energy of the gathering crowd clearly indicated that today was about more than just running a marathon. Race director Dave McGillivray summed it up in the moments before the start when he said “We’re taking back our race today! We’re taking back the finish line!”

Dave’s comment likely carried a slightly different meaning to different people, whether you thought of it as a more global message to the running community or more personally directed to the people who were injured or didn’t get the opportunity to cross the finish line in 2013. But I’d imagine that no one saw it as a prediction that the U.S. would take back the men’s title, as Meb Keflezighi became the first American champion since Greg Meyer in 1983. Meb is also the oldest winner since 1931. Meb represents the true spirit of the marathon. Leading up to the London Olympics, Meb was recovering from a glute injury and had very minimal training. Despite the odds, he still managed to finish 4th overall. He recognized that friends, family and the country were looking for him to do his best, and that’s what he did. In the NYC marathon last fall, he decided early in the race that it was not going to be a good day for him, but he did not drop out. He finished the race with another competitor, showing that the race is not always about winning. These kind of selfless acts are truly inspiring and no one else deserved to win the 2014 Boston Marathon more than Meb!Meb Boston_edited-1

 

I went to the start line cautiously optimistic. I felt like my training had gone well. Over the past months I had tremendous support from my girlfriend who made sure I was eating well and recovering well. She also helped motivate me to run on those single-digit Vermont winter days in January (and February… and March). I had some fine tuning from my friend and coach Dick Vincent. I recovered very quickly from speed work, hill repeats (up and down) and IMG_7589long runs. My legs and my head felt ready. But I’ve had that feeling before only to have the later part of the Boston course beat me into submission. The start corral was surrounded by countless supporters holding signs saying: “Boston Strong!” “We own that finish line!” “This is our race!” “Boston is BACK!.” Once the race was underway, that trend, along with many other encouraging signs only increased as we ticked away the miles to Boston.

The key to Boston is to run the first 5k a lot more slowly than you think you should. I crossed the 5k at 20 min and the 10k at 40 min; much better pacing than I’d done in the past. I began to play around with my pace for the next few miles, picking it up on the flatter sections but still holding back a little on the steeper down hills. After having my ear drums blasted at Wellesley College, I entered the center of Wellesley and hit the half in 1:24, a bit slower than I planned. In previous years, this is when I realized I was already in trouble because my quads were showing untimely signs of fatigue. But this year my legs still felt good which boosted my confidence a little. I tried to stay steady and relaxed for the next few miles as I approached the Newton hills.

Finally, I arrived at the turn at the Newton fire station which is followed immediately by a respectable climb. Most will agree, this is where the work really starts. I put my head down, focused on my technique and the fantastic energy of the crowd and went up the hill with surprising ease. The next hill was easy too! And the next! Only one more hill, Heartbreak hill. Just as I started up the famed hill I realized that I had usually walked once or twice by now, but today walking had not even entered my head. I still felt really good! About half way up the hill I looked for the top to focus on getting to it. At that instant a red-tailed hawk soared very low over the top of the hill and three thoughts simultaneously came to my head – Dad is watching me. Float like that bird. Go! Any soreness that I was experiencing disappeared and I found an extra gear.

At 20+ miles in the marathon there are many things you have no control over and can’t change, but there is at least one thing that you CAN control – your breathing. For the next 6 miles I made sure I was breathing fully, inhaling and exhaling all the way. Doing this, I was able to hold a pace that I never thought I could maintain this late in the race. The last mile was quite a bit of work and pretty uncomfortable but knowing that I was going to have a new marathon PR made it much easier to tough it out. I crossed the line in 2:46:10 bettering my previous best by 4 minutes and 20 seconds. It was one of those days that we all hope for.  A day where all the training comes together and you feel like you could run forever. It turns out I WAS ready for Boston!

2:46:10

2:46:10

Did you run Boston this year?  How did it go for you?

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The Boston Marathon is less than a week away! The weather forecast, so far, is setting us up for a great day -partly sunny with a high in the upper 50’s. I always hope for nice weather because that will encourage more spectators to come out. I can clearly remember not just the sound of the crowd but the feel as I passed through the center of Wellsley in 2011.  The cheering was beyond loud, it was deafening, like it was literally traveling through me. It was awesome! I’m expecting that times 10 this year!  The crowd was a little more subdued in 2012 because it was so hot.Boston_strong_edited-1

When I crossed the finish line in 2012 in the 90 degree heat, I decided right then that I would take a break from Boston in 2013. Watching the events of the 2013 marathon unfold on TV brought a sense of anger and sadness to me. Marathon Monday is supposed to be a day filled with joy, pride and happiness.  Everyone is there because they want to be, whether they’re running, volunteering or lining the course cheering for the runners. People who have qualified for the race have a sense of personal achievement and pride.  The people running for the charities have their hearts filled with pride because of the difference they are helping make. Everyone has worked hard to get to the starting line of the Boston Marathon and each person should have the happiness of crossing the finish line and celebrating with their friends & family. That was thoughtlessly taken away from so many people last year, leaving physical and emotional scars. I have heard many stories of people who are coming back with more determination than ever this year; to cross the finish line, to have their closure. I’m really looking forward to hearing their stories after.

There is a Tibetan saying – ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ The support that the world will have for the city of Boston, the runners and everyone associated with the marathon will be overwhelming. That will reinforce the strength the running community has this year, which is already immeasurable. It’s going to be a great year to run Boston!  As I have been reflecting back on past experiences and thinking about this year’s race, I came up with the following list that I hope will enhance the Boston marathon experience…

Things for runners to do on Marathon Monday:

Talk to someone you don’t know on the bus to the start. My first year I sat next to an older fellow with a long grey beard. After asking him his name and where he was from, I asked him how many times he has run Boston. Without saying a word, he unzipped his warm-up jacket to reveal a home-made race bib he had pinned to his shirt. It said: “BILL, 25th Boston, 100th lifetime marathon”  This was the year he would make the Quarter Century Club!

Breathe. The long early downhill miles are not as metabolically demanding so you won’t feel the need to breathe as deeply. You can probably carry on a conversation without too much work. This can set you up for cramping and early fatigue later in the race as the course levels out and heads into the hills.  Try to take a few really deep breaths every mile to keep the lower regions of your lungs trading oxygen for CO2.

A little motivation at the 40k mark

A little motivation at the 40k mark

High-five 50-100 cheering spectators in a row along the course. Nothing picks you up like being right next to the crowd and drawing from their energy. That strategy has helped me through some tough sections in the past.  Technique is important here to keep moving: don’t make full hand to hand contact because each hand you hit slows you down just a little and you’ll be reduce to a walk after just 4-5 people.

Thank a volunteer. Whether it’s the bus driver that you pass at 7am, the person handing you water at the half or the person putting your finisher’s medal around your neck, the marathon would not be the experience it is without volunteers. Be appreciative and let them know it!

Smile. Researchers have been looking more closely at the ways our brain effects our performance. Keeping a positive attitude is paramount, whether you’re trying to set a new PR or just finish the race. I try to keep positive words in my head (“up”, “light”, “fast”) and congratulate my self for staying strong up a hill or keeping good running form when I’m tired. The minute negative thoughts enter our head, we start a downward spiral that makes us feel worse and slows us down.

Remember you’re running The Boston Marathon. People come from all around the globe to run this race because of its history.  It’s one of the few remaining races that’s not shrouded in cheating, doping or other unnecessary drama. This is also a race where you can actually compete against the best runners in the world! True, you’re probably not going to run next to them on the course, but you’re still running the exact same course on the same day as the best.  I consider myself fortunate that I grew up about 40 min from the start line and now only have to drive a few hours to get to the race. I never take a single step of it for granted.

 

Are you running Boston?  What would you add to the above list?

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This is a fantastic video of Daniel Lieberman that I found on Edge.org. He discusses several points of human evolution, touching on humans as endurance athletes, hunter-gatherers, the design of our heads, back pain and barefoot running.

I educate people daily about the negative effects of sitting, so I was extremely happy to hear him talk about how industry, technology and comfort – and the resulting “ignoring our body” has negatively affected our health in a profound way — from constipation to obesity to cancer.

The video is about 48 min long and worth every minute. Enjoy!

Click here to watch video

bk_332_lieberman630

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This was my third year running the Boston Marathon, and the second year of very unique weather conditions.  Last year we had a tail wind that would help Geoffrey Mutai run the fastest marathon ever.  This year, the intense heat would slow even the elite runners, to a winning time of 2:12:40.  With the exception of 2007, when rain and a relentless 30 mph head wind slowed the winner to 2:14:13, a winning Boston time hasn’t been over 2:12 since 1985.

Being a glass-half-full type of person, I’ve been reflecting back on the high points of the day.

  • My pre-race routine went exactly as I planned.  (With the exception of the bus I was on taking a wrong turn.  I hear stories every year of lost busses and this year I was on one.  Fortunately, we got back on the right path within 15 minutes.)
  • I felt like I ate and drank exactly what I should have before the race.
  • I walked to the starting line feeling surprisingly calm and confident.
  • At 9:50 I still didn’t think the heat was too bad.

I entered my corral and immediately made my way over to the left edge where things appeared to be less chaotic (I always start on the edges in big races).  I realized that I was directly in front of the route where the elite runners make their way to the start!  Just as I realized this, they came out from the church with Mutai leading the crowd.  I was impressed with the reverence the other elites showed him.  No one would walk in front of or next to Mutai.  With a smile, Mutai humbly encouraged the others to go ahead, but they insisted he lead the way to the start.  That was nice to see.

Shortly after, the gun fired and we were heading down hill.  It took me a few minutes to really get my head focused.  Something finally clicked and the realization of “you’re running the Boston marathon” sunk in.  I assessed my pace and thought about how I wanted to run these first downhill miles.

  • About 2 miles into the race I saw that I was about to pass Joan Benoit-Samuelson!  I said “Hi Joanie!” as I went by, and she wished me good luck.
  • I passed Dick and Rick Hoyt around 8 miles and said hello to them.
  • My plan to go out a little more reserved was going very well.  I hit the half at 1:21:45.
  • I made it up the first couple Newton hills without any trouble.

Considering the heat, I was very comfortable and happy with my pace.  Even if I backed off this pace a little, I’d still be well under 2:50.  Eighty degrees?  Whatever! …  To continue with the positive points of the day I‘ll have to skip over miles 19-25.  The heat finally hit me during those miles.  My legs wanted to go but my brain was saying “you’re walking now”.

high five at 40k

high five at 40k

  • I discovered that high-fiving the crowd really took my mind off how heavy and slow I was feeling.
  • From mile 25 to the finish I was able to pull it together enough to run the whole way.
  • The faster you run down Bolyston St., the louder the crowds cheer!

I crossed the finish line at 3:02:43.  Considering the fact that the heat even slowed the Kenyan runners, being 17 minutes off my goal time wasn’t that bad.  But the best was yet to come.

  • I could still walk!!
  • This year my preparation for the race was much more thorough and I got through the race without blisters, cramping, chaffing or heat exhaustion.
  • The post-race muscle soreness that followed has been very minimal!!  I consider that a huge success.

The first goal I had set for myself was to not let the course beat me.  Last year, I could barely walk or go down stairs for a full week.  My original time goal of sub 2:45, would have been about 40-45 minutes behind the winner of the race.  When all was said and done on Monday April 16 2012, my finishing time was 50 minutes behind the winner.  I’ll take it.   That’s one of the unique things about endurance sports.  Everyday people get the chance to compare their times directly with the best in the world, on the same day, on the same course, in the same conditions.  When will you get a chance to play in a tournament with Tiger Woods, or sprint against Usain Bolt, or swim in the lane next to Michael Phelps?  Probably never.  But if you sign up for the Boston Marathon, you’ll get a chance to race Geoffrey Mutai, Ryan Hall, Desiree Davilla, Joan Benoit-Samuelson, and probably the next big name in marathon racing.

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The folks at the BAA have been monitoring the weather for Monday and sending updates regularly.  The latest report was not very uplifting…

“We are now making the recommendation that if you are not highly fit or if you have any underlying medical conditions (for example-cardiac disease, pulmonary disease or any of a number of medical problems), you should NOT run this race.

Inexperienced marathoners should not run.

Those who have only trained in a cooler climate and who may not be acclimated (for at least the last 10 days) to warm weather running conditions should also consider not running.
 
For those very fit athletes who decide to run, you should take significant precautions:

Run at a slower pace and maintain hydration.

You should frequently take breaks by walking instead of running.

This will not be a day to run a personal best.”

The high of the day is predicted to be 87, but not until 3pm.  The race starts at 10am and I hope to be done around 12:45.  I’m feeling very ready for this race so I’m still going for it!!

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My number is 1095 this year.

I’m feeling ready for this race!  If all goes well I hope to be hitting the half around 1:19 and finishing under 2:45.

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Only six more days to Boston!  All the work is done so it’s really a week of low mileage and REST.  See how I put “rest”  in bold and capitalized it?  That means it’s pretty important!  In the last week or two before a marathon, a lot of people fear they haven’t done enough, and they try to cram in more mileage and/or speed work to make up for it.  At this point it’s too late.  Trying to make up missed workouts will only keep you from recovering completely for the big race.  If you’ve done the work in the months leading up this point, have faith that the training will have made you stronger.  The lower mileage in these last weeks will give your muscles a chance to recover and rebuild so they can handle the marathon.   This is why listening to your body is important.  If you need the extra rest, take it.  That can mean more sleep, lower mileage or an additional day off.

Over the weekend, my plan was to run 12 miles for my last long run.  As I started out, my calves were a little tight and I was feeling fatigued overall.  I didn’t really feel like running.  When I feel like that, I usually give myself 15-20 minutes to warm up and then decide if I should cut the run short.  I felt better after a while but I did decide to stop around 8 miles.  This close to the marathon, I’d rather end a training run feeling like I could have done more.

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