Re-qualifying Success at the Boston Marathon
The goal was simple: to re-qualify. With the blessing of entering a new age category, I had an additional 10-minute buffer to honour this great race and to prove that I belonged in it. Getting to the Boston Marathon marked the end of a long journey and I was determined to cap it all off by taming the course to my goals.
As my wife and I arrived into Boston for the marathon weekend, the city had been unmistakably transformed into a running mecca. Welcome posters lined the airport luggage carousels, running advertisements blanketed entire transit stations, and marathon banners were draped over city lamp posts.
And then there were the jackets.
To the uninitiated, Boston looked like it was hosting a convention of people wearing unusually gaudy athletic jackets. To the marathoners, the distinct colours of each year’s Boston Marathon jacket represented the legacy of runners returning year after year. This wasn’t just a race – it was a homecoming.
The expo served as our first stop and we were welcomed with enthusiasm. Volunteers celebrated my “first Bawston” as they handed me my coveted bib. I stared at that bib with a bit of disbelief. Was it really mine? Was that my name on the packet? Did I really have to run another marathon in a couple of days? With a rhetorical “Yes” to myself, it was time to get ready to race.
The School Bus Field Trip
Race day dawned and I was like an excited little kid getting ready for a field trip as I boarded a school bus to the Hopkinton start line. Instant connections were made with runners from all over the world as we shared qualifying stories and lamented the anticipated heat of the day. I tried my best to conserve my energy, but the excitement in the air was contagious.
As we arrived into the tented area of the Athlete’s Village, there was finally a sense of calm. It was two hours before race start and it was time for a final bagel, banana and porta potty visit. As I was about to leave the village for the start corrals, there was a burst of excitement as I stumbled into a couple of familiar faces.
Sherab and Ray are a couple of runners from the Toronto area that I met through social media. Whether I bump into them in real life or see their training postings online, I have been inspired by their training regimen and constant cheers.
Seeing them reminded me of the smorgasbord of support that I had received to get me here: from the cheering poster that my wife and kids made, to those who pushed me on speed workouts and pulled me through long runs, to the many, many generous words of encouragement posted to my social media profiles. Little did I know how important theses moments of support would be for me to run this race.
Beckoned to Start
The race marshal beckoned so it was time to head towards the start corral. Hopkinton’s small town charm was displayed via the landlocked locals who choose to sit out on their lawns to cheer us on. It was a beautiful sunny day for spectating but it was nervously warm for running. With a shot from starter’s gun, it was go time.
Given the Boston Marathon’s course profile, my race strategy was to take advantage of the downhill first half and run it 1-2 minutes faster than the hilly second half. The first 5K went as expected with a slightly fast start due to a big elevation drop in the first mile. The sun was shining, the crowds were out, and people were cheering my homemade nametag – life was good.
0-5K / 22:53 / 04:35 min/K
The Boston Marathon course takes runners through a tour of several small towns with the volume of spectators building to a crescendo in the city. Stretches of quiet would be overtaken by cheers as we entered each local area. The course itself required constant attention in navigating efficiently through the many rolling hills, twists and turns but my pace kept on point.
5-10K / 23:22 / 04:40 min/K
The next 5K were relatively flat and I eased off on the pace. The sunshine complimented the beaming support received from the heartfelt crowds. As a world-class race, the Boston Marathon offers hydration stations at every mile. However, as a world-class spectacle, the Boston Marathon locals offered up everything from orange wedges, to freezies, to cold-water soaked paper towels, to beer. It was the richest buffet of support that I had ever seen at any race.
10-15K / 24:10 / 04:50 min/K
We were now headed into Natick and the race started to have more of a big-town feel. Rows upon rows of spectators greeted us and outstretched hands of little future runners were happy to give us all a high-five. One of the most memorable sections featured a series of individual trampolines with kids bouncing up and down to motivate us on. Spurred by these pleasant distractions, I was able to keep my pace dialed in and I looked forward to crossing the half-marathon mark.
15-20K / 24:06 / 04:49 min/K
Passing the halfway point was an important milestone as it meant that I could start counting down the kilometers to go. My calves were thankfully cooperating as there were no signs of them cramping despite my left soleus being quite knotted only a few weeks prior. My half-marathon split, however, was a minute slower than I would have liked, but I rationalized to myself that I was saving it for the hills of the second half.
21.1K / 1:39:47
Although I anticipated what the next section was going to be, it still hit me as a complete surprise. I was in a quiet section of the course, but I could hear a distinct, high-pitched roar from a kilometer away. These were the screams of thousands of women forming the Wellesley College Scream Tunnel and it was the most fun I’ve ever had while being yelled at. Despite the cheers, my pace was starting to falter but I wasn’t sure if it was from fatigue or from just wanting to linger on in this magical tunnel.
20-25K / 24:27 / 04:53 min/K
A marathon is 26.2 miles but at this point in the race I had wished that it were 26.2 kilometers. The downhill portion of the race was over and it was time to start climbing through the Newton hills. As soon as I began climbing, my quads sent me an unnerving message: it was over. The combination of the heat, downhill, and a lack of training volume caused my quads to cramp up in ways I had never felt before. Although the pursuit of a goal time ended here, this was where the race would truly begin.
25-30K / 27:05 / 05:25 min/K
The next few kilometres were erratic. I don’t remember much except that it was hilly. My legs felt like glue was being poured into them and I had to keep them moving to avoid becoming permanently stuck. The heat was getting to me but I was thankfully distracted through the pursuit of different flavoured freezies as generously provided by the locals. My pace slowed to a crawl as I climbed Heartbreak Hill but the most emphatic cheers of the crowd helped to power me through.
30-35K / 31:58 / 06:25 min/K
With the worst of the hills behind me, I gained some confidence to pick up the pace of my legs again. The students of Boston College provided the strongest support of the day as they would systematically cheer runners by name. My greatest anticipation, however, was in knowing that I would be seeing my wife, my brother and friends along the course soon. Seeing their friendly faces buoyed my spirits and caused me to run my fastest splits in this latter part of the race. With their well wishes behind me, it was time to get to the finish.
35-40K / 28:32 / 05:42 min/K
The momentum of friendly faces, however, was only a temporary reprieve. My legs yielded to depletion and I was reduced to a murmur of a shuffle. Every step was a concentrated effort of defying the urge to stop. As I turned onto Hereford St., I was overwhelmed at the thousands of faces cheering for all the runners – cheering for me.
My body desperately wanted to shut down but I imagined each of those anonymous faces as representing every person who has supported me along the way to get to this race – to get to this finish. I could feel the goodwill of family, friends and my many running supporters tracking me online and I could hear their voices through the sea of spectators.
As I turned left on Boylston St., the finish line came into sight. The grandstands overflowed with encouragement for runners to give it one final push. My shuffle persisted and I barely resembled the runner that started this race. My initial goal of running a re-qualifying time was necessarily changed to celebrating the success of simply getting here. Success was already realized a year and a half prior when I ran my most perfect marathon to qualify, and today, success would be realized by crossing a finish line and becoming a Boston Marathoner.
42.2K / 3:41:35
For those of you who have journeyed with me to this point, please accept my sincere thanks. You are the ones who have cheered, paced, liked, and commented to keep this runner going to achieve what was once a dream. You are the ones who have re-qualified success for me and I hope that someday, somehow, that I can return the favour.
May 15th, 2016
Tags: Boston Marathon