2017 Boston Marathon Race Report: Part 2: The Race!

Hey again! In Part 1 I wrote about training for the 2017 Boston Marathon. Here’s Part 2, all about the actual race.

During my training I read as much about the Boston course as possible. For anyone who has never run the Boston Marathon, here’s my basic breakdown of the course, as learned through studying the course map, talking to friends, and reading race reports:

Boston Race Route

Just look at that elevation profile!

The first mile is almost entirely downhill, dropping rapidly for .6 miles, then rising slightly for .15 miles, and then dropping some more. The course continues distinctly downhill for miles 2-5, with some easy rolling hills that I can barely remember, flattening out from miles 6-15, with some more rolling hills that I also cannot remember. Just after mile 15, the course drops significantly for almost half a mile. It then flattens out briefly before the first of four bigger hills from miles 16-21. The first hill, starting right around mile 16, climbs steadily for over half a mile and traverses an overpass, so it’s long and quiet. The course then flattens out and rolls along for about a mile until the next distinct uphill at mile 17.5. Another small set of rollers emerges before a steep bump just after mile 19, and then another flat to rolling section before the infamous Heartbreak Hill, .6 miles of 4 percent grade at mile 20. Heartbreak has two climbing sections separated by a flat area. Once you’re at the top, the course drops slightly before a tiny bonus bump. Once over the bonus bump, the course drops significantly past Boston College, and remains downhill or slightly rolling through the finish line.

As you can guess, the key to running well on this course is preserving enough strength to get up the hills between miles 16-21 so that you feel strong enough to run hard on the final five-mile downhill stretch. If you hit the top of Heartbreak Hill feeling strong, then you can make up any time you lost on the climbs. If you pushed too hard earlier and you summit Heartbreak with thrashed quads, then the final miles will hurt.

Boston Marathon Shakeout Sun

Shakeout Sunday with Ilya and Bari, my fellow Brooklyn runners!

Knowing that the Newtown hills from miles 16-21 often claim a number of victims, I had made sure to run multiple long runs in Central Park, and added hill repeat days on Battle Pass Hill in Prospect Park. However, once I started to read other runners’ recaps of the 2016 Boston Marathon, I got a little scared. The warm weather during the 2016 race has become the stuff of legend in the running community. Ask anyone who ran that race how they felt out there, and they’ll just shake their heads. I lost count of the number of recaps that read something like this: “By mile 5, I knew it wasn’t going to be my day. So, I slowed down, drank as much water as I could, and enjoyed the fact that I was running the Boston Marathon.”

I also noticed another trend: athletes who readjusted their goal times prior to the race ended up having a decent day. In one particular recap, the runner had hoped to run 2:55 (around 6:41/mile), but decided to fight just for sub-3. He succeeded in his sub-3 goal, but not by much. He drank water and dumped water on his head at every aid station. I noticed this strategy in a number of other write-ups as well, along with the advice that in the warm weather, one should consume in-race nutrition earlier in the race. Noted.

Boston Marathon Shakeout Boylston

Shakin’ it out the wrong way up Boylston.

However, when I started to check the weather forecast about a week out from Marathon Monday, I felt good about my 2:53 plan. The weather was promising low 40s for the morning, with a high of low 60s. Perfect! That’s about what the NYC Marathon has been the last two years. Can’t argue with that.

Boston Marathon Finish Line Ilya

Just some cool guys hanging out at the finish line the day before the race! Thanks to Ilya and Bari for a great shakeout run and thank you, Bari, for the excellent photos.

Unfortunately, upon arriving in Boston on the Saturday before the race, temperatures had drifted into the high 70s, and promised Marathon Monday temperatures creeping into the 70s. I told myself not to worry about it, but to run my own race. It did not matter if 2:53 happened. Execution of a strong race plan and enjoying the experience became the most important aspects of my Marathon Monday.

On Marathon Monday I spent my pre-race time sitting near home plate in the baseball field at Hopkinton High School. The sun flew overhead, but I was not perspiring while sitting in the open. I chatted with my friend Ryan pre-race, and meditated on our collective attempt to run 2:50 at the 2016 NYC Marathon. We just could not pick up the pace after running a 1:26 first half., and I ran a four-minute positive split, never hitting the wall but slowing down in the final six-eight miles. After this past training cycle, with consistent 50-mile weeks and no time off for injury, I knew that I would be able to hold a more consistent pace through this course.

NYC Marathon Jim Ryan Mile 18

Ryan (second from right) and i cruising by Mile 18 of the 2016 NYC Marathon, simultaneously enjoying the atmosphere but not quite feelin’ the pace.

After a short wait of about an hour, the race organizers called the Wave 1 runners to the corrals, and we walked through Hopkinton down a small hill and to a second porta-pottie-filled parking lot. I strolled up to my starting corral, letting others walk and jog past me, reminding myself that I had over 26 miles to run. After about a half hour, which included the singing of the national anthem and a flyover by two F-16s, the starting pistol fired and Wave 1 Corral 3 lurched forward, halted, lurched again, and spilled across the starting line. Some runners sprinted. I focused only on starting my Garmin as I jogged across the timing mats.

Miles 1-5 (6:58, 6:49, 6:49, 6:40, 6:42)

Despite all my preparation, I was still surprised just how much the course dropped throughout those first five miles. Feeling the down slopes under my body, I focused on staying perpendicular to the hills, shortening my stride, and not worrying too much about my foot strike. Combined with the tightly-packed running crowds in the early miles, I did not push my pace much, and really let my body dictate how fast I warmed up. I sped up once at the end of mile 1 to get a sub-7 mile split on my watch. Otherwise, I followed my friend Mary’s advice: I “parked myself” on the double yellow line and ran down the middle of the road, and moved to the water stations on the left to hydrate (left-hand stations came after the right-hand stations, and were less crowded). I soaked in the crowds and enjoyed what felt like super easy running. Even though I was not thirsty or hot yet, I started drinking water and dumping water on my head at mile 2, grabbing at least three cups at each station. By mile 5 my shorts looked like I was swimming. My forehead, however, remained bone dry.

At some point during these miles, another runner yelled out, “Enjoy the miles while they’re easy.” I chuckled, and thought to myself, “I’m going to enjoy them even when they get tough.” And that’s the whole point of running these races, right? I did not take time off work to surround myself with thousands of strangers for hours on end just to enjoy the first five miles of the race. I came to enjoy the motion of moving my body at a fast pace for an extended period of time. Bring on the muscle soreness! Let’s have some fun.

Miles 6-15 (6:35, 6:34, 6:38, 6:37, 6:38, 6:39, 6:33, 6:38, 6:38, 6:40)

As the course flattened out, I started to find my rhythm. On a cooler day I would have pushed for 6:30-6:33 through this section, but I did not want to risk pushing too hard, too early. As the splits show, I was a model of consistent running. Honestly, not much to report. I felt strong, kept drinking and dumping water on my head at every water station, and grabbed extra water being handed out by kind spectators. At two different parts of the course, I grabbed entire water bottles, most of which went on my head. I also took a GU gel at the miles 7 and 13 water stations.

Boston Marathon 4

In the zone . . . somewhere on the course! Who is Fuller, and do we support him?!

Around mile 10 or 11 I ran into Steve, a fellow New York City runner who I’d e-mailed a few weeks earlier after reading some of his race recaps. Like me, he was running strong but cautious. Unlike me, he had the experience of running the 2016 Boston Marathon, so he knew firsthand just how quickly the heat could dash one’s chance at a strong race.

Miles 16-21 (6:29, 6:47, 6:49, 6:41, 6:53, 7:01)

After the steep downhill in mile 15, I approached the first of the four Newton hills. It loomed long, but not as steep as I had imagined. Although I felt my pace slow a bit as I ascended, my legs felt strong and steady. I saw my first group of walkers, and at least one runner at a medical tent looking disoriented. I reminded myself to stick to the hydration plan, made it to the top of the hill, and kept rolling along. The second Newton hill was steeper but shorter, and I felt good as I maintained an even effort to the top. I started to feel the first bit of fatigue in my legs, but not enough to slow me down.

November Project brought the ruckus to Mile 18. I heard the cheer station from about 30 seconds away, and moved to the left side of the street to grab as many high-fives as possible. However, right as I hit the main cheer station, I nearly collided with a guy running in a Robin costume, because why not? Robin looked like he was loving the NP crowd, so I felt a little bad knocking him out of the way to high-five my buddies.

Boston Marathon 2

Old school Batman!

After the NP cheer station, I honestly don’t remember the third Newton hill or the following section of the course. However, my mind came sharply into focus at the baseball of Heartbreak Hill. I looked up and thought, “This is it. Get up this guy and then you can let loose.” And up I traveled. My legs started to rebel a tiny bit, so I shortened my stride and repeated, “Get up this guy and you can let loose.” I crested the first bit, then started up the second. The crowds cheered loudly, but I focused only on each step, one at a time. The rebellion in my legs calmed. My body felt relaxed. My mind, clear. “Get up this guy and you can let loose.” One step after another.

Boston Marathon 1

Robin, unperturbed by me basically running him over at Mile 18.

Miles 22-26 (6:38, 6:35, 6:34, 6:33, 6:27)

When I summited Heartbreak Hill and the small bonus bump immediately following it, I pumped my fists and charged down the Boston College hill. My pace, which had dropped to 7:00/mile while climbing Heartbreak, briefly dipped into the low 6:20s as I high-fived every Boston College student I could see and shouted, “How ‘bout it, Eagles?!” I felt like the race was only just beginning, and smiled ear to ear down the hill. I really had to push myself to hold back. Although I knew that the remainder of the course was heavily downhill, I was not going to risk a late-stage, unanticipated bonk.

Miles 23 and 24 felt like the most intense and intimate miles of the race. Although no spectators jumped into the road like during some earlier points (which made me wonder if that was how the Tour de France riders might feel, surrounded by fans slapping their backs as they ascended 10 percent grades in the Alps), everyone seemed like they were continuously screaming and cheering. I really fed off their energy, even though I was conserving energy and no longer pumping my fists at every  “Yeah, NP!”

Jim Boston Mile 25.5

Nice job almost missing me, Melissa 🙂

Once I saw the Citgo sign looming ahead, I knew it was time to ice this thing. I ascended the short bump between miles 24 and 25, passed the mile 25 marker, passed the Citgo sign signaling one mile to go, and pushed my pace just a little bit more. The time on my watch suggested a PR was happening, but my brain was not able to compute exactly how fast I needed to finish to make it happen. Oh well, I thought: just run faster.

Boston Marathon Hereford

Right on Hereford!

And I did. As I dipped under Massachusetts Avenue while following the tangent line painted on Commonwealth, I got a huge cheer from my fiancé, Melissa, and our good friends Leah and Dana, who live right at that intersection overlooking the Marathon route. I raised my hands over my head and then focused on passing the two or three runners directly in front of me. I shouted, “Let’s go boys! Half a mile to go!” However, no one joined my cheers. Either I had too much energy left, or they were dying.

Boston Marathon Boylston

Left on Boylston! (Thanks, Winnie!)

Either way, I started to push a little harder when I took that final right on Hereford, left on Boylston. As noted in so many recaps, once you turn onto Boylston, that finish line seems so far away, despite being only 600 meters down the street. I planted myself on the tangent line and kept pushing, focusing only on passing the runners immediately in front of me. My hip flexors felt sore, but every other leg muscle felt up to the task. I pushed forward, the crowds screaming with every step, the sun bright between the buildings, reminding myself how many times I’d run a hard 400 meters in training. Then, as if the last two minutes had not happened, I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch, and saw 2:55:XX as my final time. Boom!

Boston Marathon Medal 3

If you had to base your opinion only on the shorts in this picture, which runner would you say likes to party?

As almost always happens after a marathon, every muscle in my legs seized up within a minute of crossing the finish line. I honestly believe that the hardest part of a marathon is the walk to pick up the medal and your gear bag! Fortunately, I ran into Ryan and my other friend Chris, who had just finished in times of 2:50:XX. Incredible! We congratulated each other, and then Chris and I walked to get our medals, goodie bags, and met up with Sarah, Chris’s incredible wife and Ironman destroyer. She was nice enough to take some great finisher photos of us once we exited Boylston and walked over to Commonwealth Ave.

Boston Marathon Medal

I’m smiling, but mostly dreading the half-mile walk back to where I’m staying.

Post-race reflections and next steps, in Part 3! (Coming Soon)

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Maffetone at Work! Also 9/22/15: Morning Run, 5:30 a.m., 6.2 Miles, Central Park Loop

I’ve written a lot of training run recaps. This morning’s will be short: I ran this morning, and it was lovely. Check out my Training Plan for updates on what I’m up to on a daily basis. I’ll be expanding that page to include the exercises I do at the gym, and welcome any and all feedback on my plan.

Now, for something far more interesting!

I have posted relentlessly about Dr. Phil Maffetone’s 180 Formula for heart rate training, and written about my experience training almost exclusively using this method for almost five months. I have discussed how I PR’d at the Percy Sutton 5k—running a 5:56 per mile pace and besting my previous 5k PR by over a minute—by performing training runs at my maximum aerobic heart rate, and doing (at most) three anaerobic workouts prior to the race. In short, Dr. Maffetone’s method has worked for me. But what about for other people?

Larisa Dannis

Larisa Dannis (reposted from Runner’s World)

Here is a great example from Runner’s World of the Maffetone Method at work. Larisa Dannis, a former recreational runner, ran the USA 50-Mile Road Championship in 5:59:11 in October of 2014, becoming only the third American woman to run 50 miles in under six hours. She will represent the United States in the IAU World 100K Championships in Doha, Qatar in November. She also came in second in the women’s race at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, and was the first female finisher from the mass start at the 2014 Boston Marathon with a time of 2:44:14, only 74 seconds shy of qualifying for the Olympic trials.

How does she train? You can probably guess! From the Runner’s World article: “Dannis trains via the Maffetone Method, doing all of her training runs and races in very specific heart rate zones. It’s an unconventional approach, but one that’s helped her transform herself from a relatively average runner to one of the best American ultrarunners in just a few years.”

The article also discusses her specific heart rate training: “Dannis wears a heart rate monitor to make sure that she’s doing all of her training runs and races in the proper heart rate zone. Over time, she’s learned what heart rate she can sustain for various distances, and uses those numbers to guide her in all of her training and racing. For example, she averaged 134 beats per minute during the Western States this year, and she knows that she needs to be in the 163-165 range during a marathon.”

Finally, “Dannis spent nearly two years building her aerobic base, aiming to not exceed a set heart rate in training. She estimates that she still does more than 90 percent of her training at an easy, aerobic pace.” She has incorporated more speedwork into her routines over time, she says, which also contributed to her excellent finishing time at the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Dannis also employs the piece of the Maffetone puzzle that I am just starting to put together: the nutrition plan. From Runner’s World: “Dannis credits the transformation in her running to three things: training via the Maffetone Method, focusing on whole-body strength (she particularly likes kettlebells), and eating a whole-foods diet high in healthy fats and high-quality protein” (emphasis added).

Such a diet contradicts the common wisdom that runners need to consume a diet high in carbohydrates before, during, and after a race. Anyone who runs road races knows what I’m talking about: carbo-loading for two-three days before a race, sucking down multiple sugar-happy gels during the race, and pounding all sorts of pancakes and other starchy treats after the race as a reward for a job well done. The idea behind the carb-heavy diet is that the body burns lots of sugars while running, so the runner needs to consume lots of sugars to stay properly fueled.

A diet high in healthy fats and protein, however, combined with the maximum aerobic heart rate training advocated by Dr. Maffetone and others, leads the body to burn more fat for fuel. Fat is a more efficient energy source than sugar, and the body creates fewer harmful byproducts at a cellular level when training aerobically and burning fat. This allows faster recovery times, more efficient training, and overall improved health.

At least, that’s the theory. As I do more research, I will expand on this topic. For now, because Dr. Maffetone’s heart rate method has worked for me, I’m willing to explore his guidance on the dietary component of endurance sports. As one running buddy once said after declaring his love for tuna melts, “I sometimes wonder just how good I could be at this sport if I nailed the nutrition component.” Some “food” for thought. Get it?! I’m such a dork.

Finally, I like Dannis’ attitude about racing. She says, “‘Running has always been a very personal endeavor for me. I find satisfaction and excitement through challenging myself rather than competing with others.”

Love it. Focus on improving and running each race better than the last. Results come in many forms.

Happy running, everyone!

9/16/15: Morning Workout: 5:28 a.m., “Golfing” with November Project NYC!

Now that I’ve recovered physically and mentally from the NYC Century bike tour, I’m putting the bike down for the next two months to focus on my fall road racing schedule: The Bronx 10 Mile, Staten Island Half, TCS NYC Marathon, and the NYRR 60k. I’ll ride to cross-train, but definitely no more epic 80-mile training rides for a while.

I also snuck in a run yesterday on my lunch break, running approximately six miles, three of them at my goal marathon pace of 6:50 minutes per mile. Even though I try to do most of my runs at or below my Maffetone maximum aerobic heart rate, I wanted to test out my goal pace, and learned that, after maintaining that pace for three miles, I was only about five beats per minute above my Maffetone max. Starting to feel like I can maintain it throughout the whole marathon!

This morning, though! What a workout. (more about that after the jump).

November Project Golf

Golfing with the November Project as the sun rises over the East River. Photo credit: Katie McEvoy (the awesome sister)

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