Boston Marathon Race Report

Spoiler alert: I didn’t BQ at the Boston Marathon this year.

Which is a pity. Because now I have to find another marathon to BQ before September…* And I'm already committed for an Ironman at the end of July and a 234 mile relay race in August. So my training calendar is pretty full… But, hey, this isn’t a blog about me, it’s a blog about the Boston Marathon so let’s get on with it. 

(Sure it is. It’s just a coincidence that this is called “Phil’s Blog”, right?)

Hotel rooms are outrageous in Boston during marathon weekend (something about “supply and demand”) so I booked a single night at the airport Hilton. I drove into town on Sunday, checked in, and immediately hopped the T from the airport to Bolyston Street. I beelined to the Expo to grab my race packet. I found my name on the wall of runners (unlike the Paris Marathon, the race organizers at Boston use strict alphabetical ordering on their wall of runners) and then strolled the aisles of the Expo.

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I bought a t-shirt and an obligatory Boston Marathon Celebration Jacket. This year’s colors were mint green and black. (Last year’s were blue and some weird, pseudo-fluorescent orange/pink. This year’s jacket wins the color wars.) 

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2016 vs 2015 Celebration Jackets

Then I wandered around looking for a different knee strap (oh, the joys of patellar tendonitis) and a new race belt. I upgraded my iPhone a couple of months ago and getting the slightly larger size phone in and out of my race belt while running is like wrestling an alligator while walking a tight rope — only less elegant. I found the belt easily enough but never got the knee strap. I suppose it’s that pesky “supply and demand” thing again. Apparently, the runners who show up at the Boston Marathon Expo are all injury-free.

I popped into a pub on the way back the T station for lunch. It was jammed with marathoners and their entourages which was all the recommendation that I needed. On my way back to the hotel, I timed myself: about 1 hour from downtown to the hotel doors.

I woke up around 5:30 on Monday, well before my alarm was set to go off. Clearly it was pre-race nerves. Instead of trying to go back to sleep, I got up leisurely, ate my Clif bar breakfast and had a cup of coffee. Then I packed up my stuff, put on my cowboy hat, and checked out of the hotel. I left my bags with the bell cap. I took the hotel shuttle to the T and the subway to Bolyston Street. 

By 7:15 I was standing at the school buses to Hopkinton. In theory, I was supposed to wait until 7:30 to board the buses (I was in Wave 3), but there were no lines so I got on with everyone else.

I realize that it's a small detail, but in case you’d missed it, school children have shorter legs than adults. The benches on a school bus are wedged together a little close for comfort. Here’s a glimpse at the guy sitting across the aisle from me.

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The ride to Hopkinton in comfort and style

Once in Hopkinton, we exited the buses and walked about 1/8th of a mile to Athlete’s Village. (The buses go right past the entrance of Athlete’s Village and then keep driving… and keep driving… It was mildly amusing. “Um… Mr. Bus Driver? You just drove past my stop…” )

My experience at Athlete’s Village last year was huddling cheek-a-jowl with 30,000 other runners under a tent trying to stay dry and warm while it rained. This year was much more enjoyable. 

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Woodstock or Athlete’s Village?

The sun was shining, it was warm, and the grass was dry. The atmosphere is welcoming — the BAA serves endless coffee, bananas, bagels, Clif Bars, water, and Gatorade — and it’s easy to strike up conversations with strangers. (You know how your family and friends simply don't want to hear about your running escapades anymore? Well, everyone at Athlete’s Village is a runner. They won’t merely listen to your “blister the size of a walnut” story politely — they’ll actually interested and will ask follow up questions.) 

I settled in for a comfortable two hour wait before my wave was called up to the start line.

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I’m lying on last year’s post-race warming wrap… A trick I saw in the 2015 Athlete’s Village.

At 10:05 (five minutes after the official start of the race), Wave 3 was called to gather into corrals at the assembly area just outside Athlete’s Village. We moseyed to our corrals and once we were there, we were sent, corral-by-corral, to amble to the start line about a mile away. On the way to the start line, I noticed with surprise that the majority of my fellow runners were young, fit women. 

(Okay, the fit part I get — they were marathoners who qualified for Boston. Later I looked up online and found over 75% of the runners in Wave 3 were women. As for the young part, that makes sense, too. The BAA assigns bib numbers — and thus waves — by your qualifying time. Wave 3 was made up of runners whose qualifying times were between 3h 28m and 3h 50m. That means men between 50-59 and women between 18-44. Thus, Wave 3 is filled with old, slow men and young, fast women. Finally, being old and slow pays off.)

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A few minutes before the start of Wave 3

At 10:55, Wave 3 officially started running the 120th Boston Marathon. I was in corral 3 — roughly the middle of Wave 3 — and crossed the start line just before 11AM.

Normally, I spend the first few miles of a marathon settling into a pace and jockeying for position with a similar group. The bigger the marathon, the longer it can take. At the Paris Marathon, I never found a comfortable pocket where I could zone out and just run; I was always paying attention to the runners around me lest I run into a temporary log jam. At Boston, you’re placed with runners who run exactly your pace. Sure the field is large (30,000 runners). But with the long pause between wave starts, the wide roads, and the precise seeding of runners, I found my happy place within the first mile.

The Boston Marathon spectators are simply amazing. You have to wonder if there’s something in the drinking water. They nearly line every foot of the course and the crowds can be several people deep through the towns en route. I heard lots of shouts of “Go Texas” and several shouts of “Way to go, Phil!”. 

Some of my co-workers told me that they were thinking about watching the race. I was worried that I missed them in the crowd the first couple of times I heard someone call my name. By the 5th time though, I realized that there must be somebody else named “Phil” running nearby. Sure enough, I found him on the other side of the road around mile 7.

I haven’t ditched the hat yet

While it felt comfortably warm at Athlete’s Village before the start, it got down right hot during the run. I started dumping water on my head at aid station 2 and kept it up at every aid station from then on. By mile 10, I realized that my dang cowboy hat — despite it’s indisputable charm — was just too hot to run in. I threw it into the crowd the next time I heard someone shout out “Go Texas!”.

I heard the girls at Wellseley at mile 12. It sounded like the roar of a football stadium that kept getting louder as we ran towards them for the next mile. When I finally arrived, I smiled and waved as I ran past letting the younger guys stop for kisses. I got a huge shout-out near the end of the Wall Of Girls(TM) by a group of gals who had hung a Texas flag** on the fence in front of them. If I’d known I’d have my own personal cheering section I would have saved the cowboy hat for them.

At the half-marathon mark I was still on pace for a BQ, but I was fading fast. The heat was really getting to me. I desperately wanted to walk by that point, but I gritted my teeth and slowed my pace by 1/2 a minute for miles 12 and 13 instead. I was starting to suspect that I wouldn’t be able to BQ. I picked up the pace again until the hill at mile 16. I made it half-way up the hill before I finally gave in to walking. By this point I was running from aid station to aid station desperate to dump a glass of water on my head — and then getting something to drink. After that, it was all downhill. 

Figuratively speaking, of course. 

Literally speaking, there were three major hills in front of me. I was so out of it that I only knew Id finished with Heartbreak Hill was when I passed a sign telling me that “You did it. Heartbreak Hill is behind you!". (I thought that I was running up Heartbreak at the time, but I was afraid to ask someone in case I was wrong and they told me, No, thats the next one.)

Are we having fun yet?

I picked up my pace running down the backside of Heartbreak Hill in the vain hope that I could somehow gain enough speed to coast into Boston and miraculously BQ. It didnt quite happen that way.

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Slowing at miles 12 and 13 but not giving in to walking… Until Mile 17. And then I was toast. Despite my valiant efforts at miles 22 and 25 it just wasn’t enough. 

Map courtesy of the Graph tab of www.GraphMyRun.com — of course!

I apologize to all the spectators who lined the streets from Newton to Boston who called out to me to encourage me on. I no longer had the energy to turn to them and wave. It was a grim finish but I managed to squeak in under 4 hours  about 20 minutes slower than Id planned.

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Done!

And then I began my second race of the day: my flight back to Dallas left at 5:40. I crossed the finish line at 3PM. That meant I had a little less than 2 hours to walk a mile to the T station, ride the T to the airport catch a shuttle from the T station to my hotel, grab my luggage, catch another shuttle to my terminal, check a bag, get through security (still wearing my sweaty race clothes but now sans the cowboy hat), and find the Admirals Club to shower. (I had packed a set of fresh clothes in my carry on for just this purpose.)

Suffice it say, I made it with about 20 minutes to spare. As I sat on the plane, I thought about how crazy I was to have picked the 5:40 flight to Dallas. What was I thinking?!

And then I watched 30 other marathoners (I counted) board the plane  some still wearing their finishers medal. I suspect that most of them were seeded in Waves 1 or 2 which means that theyd have an extra hour to get ready between their early start and faster race times. (One guy on the plane actually finished in the top 100.) But its still a little crazy to jump on a plane 3 hours after finishing a marathon.

On the other hand, its crazy to run a marathon at all. :-) So whats a little more crazy in the grand scheme of things, right?

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Best race swag evah!



*My friend and fellow member of the Plano Pacers, Kevin, has never run the Boston Marathon. He’s run lots of other marathons, finished two Ironmans, and BQed twice. The first time he BQed was the year that the BAA changed the qualifying times. He BQed under the old cutoff time but over the new cutoff time. The second time, he managed to squeak in under his qualifying time, but not quite enough to get into Boston. He just ran the Eugene Marathon last Sunday and, of course since I didn’t BQ this year at either of my two marathons, he BQed at his. So now I have to find a race to BQ.

**Or maybe it was the Chilean Flag… They look so similar.

© Phil Miller 2014, 2015, 2016