We qualified for Boston at the 2008 Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
I say 'we' because, while I was the person wearing the timing chip, Brian Watson ran with me stride for stride both during the race (okay -- a bit ahead of me for the last part), and my wife Jenny was our 'support team' who kept us stocked in jelly beans, ibuprophen, Eload tablets and Eload sport drink, and even had a special treat of orange slices at Mile 22.
My time was 3:29:01 -- 1:58 under what I needed to qualify for Boston.
Brian and I agreed on a plan and kept to it -- pretty much. The plan was that we start off at roughly 8:00/mile, get a bit of time 'in the bank' during the first half, on which he could draw in the last few miles. What he didn't tell me was that once I hit mile 20, his plan was to keep me to 8:00/mile for the last 6.2. (Not sure if he had that plan in advance, but I was still relatively coherent by mile 20, so I think he felt he could push me more.)
The course was pretty much ideal. Other than a small mountain at miles 3 and 10 (an overpass across the harbour entrance), it was very flat -- right along the Atlantic coast, only 1 or 2 streets in, so we had a buffer from any east-west wind.
Speaking of wind, what we didn't have any control over was the weather. What we were looking for was no wind. Boy did we _not_ get what we were looking for. There had been tornados a few hundred miles away in Atlanta yesterday, and the forecast was 15 to 25 mile-an-hour winds from the north. Yet it had been a perfectly windless day in Virginia beach yesterday! Arrrgggghhhh. If the wind was from the east or west it would have been fine -- but the course runs pretty much north-south. The only saving grace was that the most direct wind would be from miles 10 to 16 when I would still be relatively strong. After that, we would be in a forested area for 5 miles with next-to-no wind, and then for miles 21 to 26, the wind would be at our back.
The overall target pace was 8:00 per mile to achieve a 3:30 BQ. Here is how the times went:
Mile 1: 8:10
Mile 2: 7:54
Mile 3: 7:51
Mile 4: 7:55
Mile 5: 7:55
Mile 6: 7:49
Mile 7: 7:56
Mile 8: 7:55
Mile 9: 7:50
Mile 10: 7:52
Mile 11: 7:52
Mile 12: 8:02
Mile 13: 7:46
Mile 14: 7:56
Mile 15: 7:58
Mile 16: 7:59
Mile 17: 7:50
Mile 18: 7:57
Mile 19: 7:58
Mile 20: 7:56
Mile 21: 7:58
Mile 22: 8:06
Mile 23: 8:04
Mile 24: 8:12
Mile 25: 8:23
Mile 26: 8:10
Mile 26.2: 2:00
(I've adjusted each of the full miles by 4 seconds up to account for the 1% difference between what my Garmin was reporting and the 26.2 miles I ran -- so this won't quite add up to 3:29:01).
As you can see, I was pretty strong up until mile 21 -- but then I got slower. There was a good reason for this: leg cramps. It started with a cramp in my left leg right around Mile 20. I worked through it and tried to keep the leg loose. But at mile 21, I got it again. Just a 1-second "aggghh" pain in the hamstring area. Kept working through it. By this point I could see my whole race going down the tubes. Brian asked me if I could keep with an 8:00/mile pace for the remainder and I felt that I could. But he could see that I was having issues keeping up.
It was crunch time. 4 miles to go. I'm now starting to see my pace times wane -- but running with basically only one strong leg was, well, challenging. Then in the middle of Mile 25, my right hamstring had a cramp. 'Holy crap!', I thought to myself. This isn't good. Must finish. I tried to keep both legs loose while keeping the pace Brian was trying to set -- and I popped my 4th ibuprophen of the race. I'd had a couple of Eload tablets along with more of my Eload sport drink at Mile 23, but it wasn't working yet.
I'm not sure if it helped, but for whatever reason Mile 26 was better. It was possibly psychological as I knew -- barring some disaster -- I was going to make my BQ. And for the final 0.2 of a mile, I was able to get a finishing kick to come in at an 8:00/mile pace (although it felt faster at the time!).
I forgot to hit the Stop button on my GPS at the finish so by the time I did, it said 3:29:13. And the clock time was definitely under 3:30 so there was no question I'd made it. It wasn't until I returned to the hotel and Jenny said she'd chatted with my youngest daughter Tori who had seen the results on the ShamrockMarathon.com web site that I found out that I'd done it just a hair over 3:29.
So, when we get back home, we'll be looking for hotels/bed-and-breakfasts in Boston for 2009. It feels good. It's taken 8-and-a-half months since I ran the Lucan-Exeter half marathon in a sufficiently fast time that I thought I could do a BQ marathon time. And a ton of credit goes to Coach Brian who tweaked my Runners World training guide and paced with me on some unbelievably brutal winter runs to get me to this point.
I'm looking forward to joining as many other Shamrocks as can make it -- and I'll definitely volunteer to do what Brian did for me by pacing and supporting any others in the group who want to give a BQ qualifier a try.