Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Boston Marathon 2009 Recap

So now that I've had a day and a half to recover, I'll see if I can recap the adventure in whatever detail I can recall.

Bus Trip to Hopkinton

Jed DeJong's wife, Cathy, dropped Jed, my step-sister Emily, Bob (another runner from the bed & breakfast) and me off about 2 blocks from the Boston Common to pick up the buses out to Hopkinton. We met Bernie LeForte and Brian Watson there, and Brian's buddy from a couple of Boston Marathons ago, Denny, and we all boarded one of the school buses.

Imagine the logistics involved in busing 26,000 runners from one location to another location. Well, the Boston organizers had it down to a fantastic system. They would roll buses into place for boarding 20 at a time. As a bus was filled, the volunteer helping load the bus would raise a big orange flag -- and once all orange flags were raised, all twenty buses would take off at a time and another 20 buses would roll into place. Very efficient.

Athlete Village

We were dropped off at the Athlete Village in Hopkinton after the bus ride which took between 45 minutes and an hour. There were tents setup in the back fields of two schools in Hopkinton, but most of the spots under the tents were already filled with runners resting. We found a place out of the wind and blew up two air mattresses that I had brought along using a hand air pump.

The first step was to get to the port-o-johns which already had line-ups 20+ people deep. And then it was time to get into line for the bagels, water and coffee (primarily coffee). While I was sipping my coffee, I had my second serving of oatmeal with milk and brown sugar that I brought, and I got ready to run -- getting my race shoes on (I had carried them there just in case the ground was wet) -- but I kept my sweat pants and down vest on until just before we were ready to leave. I had a maple sugar 'maple leaf' to get more carbs in me. Before leaving, though, one more line-up for the port-o-johns.

NEXT TIME I'll leave on the first call for runners in my wave and hit the port-o-johns near the starting line. There were lots of them about 200 metres from the corrals, and the line-ups weren't nearly as long as in the Athlete Village.

Back from the port-o-johns, Jed and I collapsed the air mattresses, I took off my sweat pants, packed up everything and started making our way to the start line, which was about a kilometre walk. For the bag check, we dropped off our (quite large) plastic bags we'd been given with our race kits filled with the mattresses and other stuff we didn't need for the race at one of about 50 buses, each marked with our numbers and with windows open on the buses so that we could pass the bags to a volunteer in the correct area. Each bus held about 500 bags, and there were about 10 divisions within the bus, so it was very efficient to drop of and, after the race, pick up our bags.

Along the way, I left my down vest with a bunch of other clothes people had left at the side of the road. They would be picked up for local charities later. I popped my first ibuprofen along the walk as I knew I'd need it. I was grazing on some Reeces Pieces to get more carbs in me before the race. I was 'race-ready'. Except for one thing: I needed to pee again. Arrgghhh. Probably just nerves, so I'll ignore it. It was getting too close to start time.

We got to our corral and entered -- but I was mixed in with a bunch of 12000's who had moved up (my number was 11604, so I was to be in the 11000's corral). It would just mean I'd have to dodge more slower runners at the start.

NEXT TIME: Try to hit the corrals earlier in order to get a good spot in the corral.

We weren't in the corrals more than 5 minutes and the starting gun went -- but it took 8 minutes for us to actually walk to the start. It was a sea of people. Quite exciting. Lots of chatting. And as we neared the start we started a slow jog and then as we crossed the two timing mats, the race was on!

The Race

I was wearing my Race-Ready running shorts with my Race Ready singlet, my Mizuno running shoes with regular sports socks. I had on my ear muffs and gloves as I'd guess the temperature at the start was about 42 degrees F. or 5 degrees C. I had a Canadian flag tattoo on each bicep, and a Canada bumper sticker on my chest.

I had 6 baggies on me -- 4 filled with six jelly beans, 2 eLoad eTab pills (salt and potassium, primarily) and 2 ibuprofen each, 1 filled with 4 eLoad discs, and 1 filled with about 10 ibuprofen and 10 eLoad eTab pills. The various little pockets in the Race Ready shorts were excellent for holding my supplies.

There was a slight wind from the east -- right in our face -- but nothing really to worry about at this point.

We started down the first hill in Hopkinton and I looked at my Garmin GPS. We were a bit slower than I'd have liked -- roughly 8 minutes per mile and I was targeting 7:31 to 7:42 per mile. I tried to get around runners but it was tough. I went up the edges of the road and did what I could -- but I think I only managed to get up to about 7:50 per mile. Still well behind target pace, but there was really nothing I could do.

Oh yes, I still had to pee. Lots of people were finding a convenient spot in the woods between which we ran in order to relieve themselves, but I was determined not to stop. I knew that 1 minute spent here could cost me later. (Sorry to dwell on this topic, but there is an important lesson here later).

At the end of the first mile, I checked my GPS and watch. My GPS had me at the 1 mile mark about 40 metres before the 1 mile marker sign on the course. Not good. That would mean that all of the paces the GPS was telling me were slightly slow -- and that I'd have to be running slightly faster than the GPS indicated if I wanted to hit my pace. The GPS said 7:49 for the first mile -- 18 seconds slower than my target -- and 40 meters shy -- so it was more like an 8:00 minute first mile.

We were still generally going downhill during the second mile -- so my time improved and I was able to follow runners doing roughly the same speed as me. The GPS had me at 7:36 for the second mile and another 40 metres short -- so probably closer to a 7:45 -- but much better. I still felt the need to stop for 'relief' but I carried on.

By the time we started to come into Ashland about 4 miles into the race, I'd hit a 7:31 and 7:24 mile on my GPS and was well into a comfortable pace. And the need to stop at a port-o-john subsided as well.

NEXT TIME, as this time, I'll recognize that, as uncomfortable as it is to run with the need to 'go', the body will take care of it and in 4 miles the need will be gone. In this case, if I had stopped, I would have been over my target finish time -- so it a good thing I just carried on.

I decided that the ear muffs were no longer necessary and Jenny and Cathy were planning to see us go by at Ashland, so I took off the earmuffs and got ready to toss them to Jenny. But they weren't there -- they got there about 10 minutes too late due to improper directions we'd apparently given them -- so I stuck them on my arm. In hindsight, I should have just tossed them in a trash area since I knew I wouldn't see Jenny until mile 25 -- but the race was going extraordinarily well so far and it looked like the extra weight from holding onto them wouldn't be an issue.

By now, I was into a very good groove and I was able to check my elapsed time with the actual mile markers, while using my GPS as a very rough gauge as to what I was running.

My plan from miles 5 to 16 (inclusive) was to run between 7:48 and 8:00 per mile. We hit the flats in Framingham and they had the 10k mat, which I crossed in 47:58 -- so my average time thus far had been 7:43 per mile. This was a bit slower than I would have liked to have been at this point, considering the faster first four miles in my plan -- but certainly within range of the 3:25 finish pace I was targeting in my 'ideal' scenario. I knew I'd be hitting the hills of Newton around mile 17 so there was no doubt I'd slow down going up those hills.

Framingham was quite comfortable to be running though. Natick was a bit hillier, but still not bad. The GPS had the following lap times (bearing in mind these times are 1% or 2% faster than actual):

Mile 5: 7:46
Mile 6: 7:34
Mile 7: 7:41
Mile 8: 7:47
Mile 9: 7:45
Mile 10: 7:46
Mile 11: 7:51
Mile 12: 7:40

I popped another ibuprofen at 5 miles and another at 10 miles, as well as two eLoad eTab pills to get some salt into me. By now I was taking a small amount of water at most of the water stops.

The winds were fairly strong and right in our faces during this flat stretch. I did a fair bit of drafting off other runners in order to avoid the wind as much as possible, but there were certainly many times when it was inescapable. I was quite satisfied with my pace times, nevertheless.

Natick had a bit of a hill at Mile 11 but then it was a steady downhill to Wellesley so the pace picked up for Mile 12.

At Wellesley, the terrain had more of the rolling hills we'd seen through Ashland, but overall there really wasn't a significant increase in elevation. We approached Wellesley College and we could hear the screaming of the famed Wellesley College girls about a half mile away. This was certainly the most fun part of the run. While I didn't stop for "free kisses", the signs that the girls held up were quite fun and I joked with a bunch of runners near me about the experience -- how my pace increased (7:42 for that mile according to the GPS) and how my wife would have lots of kisses for me at the finish. But we all felt like rock stars!

At the halfway point, I went over the mats at 1:41:48 -- quite a respectable half marathon time on its own -- and it averaged out to 7:45 per mile -- pretty much right on what I was hoping for by that point. If I could keep that exact pace up for the remainder (I knew I couldn't), I'd cross at 3:23:36. And I felt really good and still strong -- but I knew what was ahead.

For the next three miles through the remainder of Wellesley, I banged off three more good miles according to the GPS:

Mile 14: 7:46
Mile 15: 7:57
Mile 16: 7:30

I had another ibuprofen at 15 miles and another eLoad eTab pill.

NEXT TIME I'll consume more eLoad eTab pills, and do the math of how many I should be having over the course of the run. I don't like Gatorade since I get sick of it pretty quickly, and the pills have absolutely no taste, which I like.

Then came the Newton hills. I'd been preparing myself for 5 miles of torture in the 4 major hills of Newton -- and the first one came the instant we passed the sign announcing we were entering Newton at the 16 mile mark. I battled up the hill without really looking at the GPS much. I knew I wanted to get up the hill without walking and without having calf or hamstring cramps. So I did what we were doing in training: I pumped harder with my arms, I shortened my stride and quickened my foot strikes. And within about 4 minutes, I was at the top of the first hill. "One down, three to go.", I said to myself.

One of the things I hadn't really counted on in my calculations was that after that first hill -- and, in fact, after most of the hills, there was a fairly long slightly downhill stretch. So my GPS said that I'd done the 17th mile in 8:05 -- significantly better than the 8:20 I'd used in my race plan calculations. I popped another ibuprofen as my thighs were starting to get sore.

At this point I was looking for some additional energy and there were quite a few areas where spectators were offering orange slices, so I grabbed one and sucked on it as I prepared for the next hill ascent.

The second hill was no picnic and came in the middle of the 18th mile. We climbed about 60 feet over about a quarter mile, and now I was done two of the four hills and I was pretty confident I'd have the energy to complete the remaining two Newton hills without walking. I picked up the pace again for the slightly downhill section after that second hill and ended up banging off an 8:10 18th mile.

The 19th mile didn't include an uphill, but rather a very nice, steady downhill section which I didn't include in my calculations. I used the downhill to regain my energy and knocked off a 7:58 mile according to the GPS.

My time at the 30k mark (roughly 18.7 miles) was 2:25:58 or an average of 7:49 per mile over the course thus far. It was actually possible, now, that I could hit the 3:25 'optimistic' goal -- but instead my mind was working on the math of 'How slow can I go and still hit my BQ time?'. I was feeling the effect of the hills and the previous 30k, and I needed to build the confidence that I could still get through this. My rough calculation was that I could do 'easy' 8:30's per mile and get through the race from there. In fact, I had 1 hour and 5 minutes to get through the next 12.2 kilometers (8:33 per mile) so my calculations in the middle of the race were surprisingly close.

I battled up the third hill. I grabbed what I thought was an orange slice from a spectator, but it was some sort of melon. No matter -- it didn't make me puke and it was sweet so I munched on it over up the third hill. Quite a few runners were walking by this point. My 20th mile was done at an 8:20 pace according to the GPS. Close enough to my target of 8:20 in my race plan (considering that I know the GPS was showing slightly fast). I had my last ibuprofen here.

There was a mile between the third hill and the fourth hill -- 'Heartbreak Hill' -- and so I had some more time to stretch out. This mile was fairly flat, and went by fairly fast. But I was glad I was finally nearing the end of the hills. One more to go. This 21st mile was long and slow -- 8:51 according to the GPS -- so that shows you how difficult it was. I don't think I looked at the GPS once during the ascent. I just put my head down, pumped with my arms, shortened my stride and quickened my footfalls and battled up the hill. There was a Canadian flag waving near the top, which really helped to motivate me up the hill.

Throughout the run thus far, spectators were cheering us on, but there was an incredible collection of spectators at Heartbreak Hill. If you had you're name on your shirt, people would cheer you on. "Keep running Bob!", "Go Joanne!" -- and in my case, it was "Go Canada" because of the Canada bumper sticker on my chest and Canadian flag tattoos on my biceps. The effect was the same -- you were kept alert and you dug deep to carry on up the hills.

At the top of Heartbreak Hill there as a bit of a dip and climb again, and then we started downhill. I knew I was through the worst of the marathon -- but I was having other issues now. During the climb I was starting to get cramps in my calves and hamstring areas of my legs -- almost right at 20 miles (the same point at which it happened to me in Virginia Beach, where I qualified for Boston in the first place). I concentrated on keeping my leg muscles as loose as possible.

The next mile was fairly steep downhill and I worked to get back up to my target pace of 7:48 or better -- but only managed an 8:01 pace over that 22nd mile. I told myself that every second of pace at better-than-8:30 was, in effect, a second I could put in the bank. I stretched out more but only managed an 8:17 23rd mile, despite the fact that it was mostly downhill. I was running into another issue I hadn't counted on -- having to dodge people who were walking!

By this point, though, I wasn't looking at my average pace -- just my instant pace and checking to see if it was in line with the average pace -- but knowing I just needed to get through the race.

I knew my wife, Jenny, would be at the 25th mile marker and that motivated me, so I was able to squeeze out a 7:54 25th mile. I threw her my earmuffs and the baggie I had in my hand as I passed her and Cathy -- and I think I smiled, although they may not have been able to see it through the strains on my face. I had 1.2 miles to go and I knew it would be tough.

The Last Mile

The last 1.2 miles was the toughest running I've ever done. It was relatively flat -- a couple of dips and slight inclines -- but my legs were hurting badly. I was getting minor cramp sensations and then a sensation I hadn't had before -- like my legs weren't going to hold me up any longer. I was looking at my watch and I could tell that I was still well under 3:30 -- probably closer to 3:28 -- by the time I headed up Hereford Street (affectionately known as Mount Hereford to runners) towards the finish at Boylston. But I had to walk -- just for 10 seconds maybe -- but I felt like I was going to fall over. I got back running again -- more like trudging -- and made my way onto Boylston. 600 meters to the finish. My feet felt like lead.

This is where Boston is perhaps like no other race. The crowds were thick as we entered Boston and got thicker as we approached the finish. "Go Canada!" "Keep running -- you're almost there!" "Don't stop -- keep running!" Unbelievable encouragement -- and it really helped to keep me going. But I had to walk a second time or I was going to fall. Another 10 seconds walk and I started running again. There were two lights at the finish and I just kept my head up and kept working towards them. Every step was painful, and I felt like I would topple over at any second.

I kept pushing and pushing -- using every visual and metal image in the book: "The pain lasts only for a few minutes, but the glory lasts forever!" "Only 3 times around the track at Thompson arena -- this is nothing!". "If you don't BQ now, you'll have to do this all over again in the fall -- leave it all out there!". "There is beer waiting for you after you finish!"

With probably 50 meters to go, I really felt like I was just barely going to make it -- and I recalled an article I read last year in Canadian Running about a guy from Quebec who ran last year and collapsed with 10 metres to go -- and crawled over the finish. I didn't want to be that guy. But as soon as I got to the first of the two timing mats, my legs simply gave out. There was nothing left. I thought I had to cross both mats to register my time, so I tried to get up, but by this point the medical staff at the finish were at me helping me up and into a wheelchair -- but not before a photographer ran up and got a shot of me on my hands and knees. "You only need to cross one mat -- don't worry about the other one." said one of the volunteers. That's all I needed to hear -- and I hit the stop button on my watch (but not my GPS). I couldn't read the "seconds", but I could read that it said 3:30 -- which meant that I had qualified for next year's Boston Marathon by being faster than 3:30:59. I was probably one of the only runners they wheeled into the medical tent with a smile on his face.

The Medical Tent

I was wheeled to a cot in a very large medical tent -- almost like they were expecting a lot of visitors that day -- and the nurse there started asking me a bunch of questions. Having gone through this sort of thing before, I knew the drill: They'd ask a bunch of questions, wait until I was stable and then let me go. Nurse Deena introduced herself and asked where I was from. I said I was from a couple of hours outside of Toronto. "I'm from Leamington", she said, so I explained I was from Lucan. I spent most of the time there trying to remember her name and the names and hometowns of the other people there, in order to make sure I wasn't losing it. She had to remind me again that she was from Deena from Leamington at one point, but then I had it. And Doctor Dave from Portland. And Nurse Tara from Burlington Vermont. I rested while they took my blood pressure and pulse, asked what I'd had during the run. I let them know about my Wolfe-Parkinson-White syndrome (which I should have mentioned earlier). They gave me some water, some pototo chips (to get me some salt) and the best thing was the cup of beef broth soup -- one cup with 4 broth cubes in it. Lots of salt in that. Then a strategic error -- I was sitting up and leaning over with my hands on my face resting -- and Nurse Deena asked how I was feeling. "Much better", I smiled. "Yes, but your a guy, so you aren't going to tell me if you're not feeling well.". Crap. So I sat up and brightened my face. She took my pulse again and it was coming down from 154 when I was wheeled in to 120. A few minutes later she took my pulse again and it was down to 80. "Do you feel good enough to get up?". I said I didn't know but we could give it a shot. She donned some latex gloves because she wanted to hold me up if I toppled and I was all sticky and gross. But I got up and was able to stand fine. A few steps -- and she was still holding onto my arm - and I knew I was okay.

Just a note about the medical tent. They were all great. Certainly Nurse Deena took really good care of me, but everyone was so helpful and friendly. Someone returned my timing chip and got me my finishers medal. Deena got me a mylar blanket to keep me warm when I went back outside. Everyone introduced themselves and chatted a bit. And they had a protocol for getting people in and out -- so Doctor Dave had to 'okay' my release and Nurse Deena escorted me to the exit where they took my chart. (I asked for a copy of it -- I was going to frame it -- but they needed both copies, unfortunately).

Back on my Feet

I wandered back into the throng of finishers who had just crossed the line. Someone asked where I got the mylar blanket. "Oh, just over in the medical tent -- but you probably don't want to go that route." The blankets were being handed out just a few metres ahead.

There were people helping runners by taping their mylar blankets in a few spots so they could stay wrapped. There were bags of food and water being handed out and there were announcers telling runners where to go to get their checked bags, which took all of about 20 seconds once you found the correct bus. It was all very efficient.

Once I had my bag, I dug out my phone. I met up with Bernie Leforte, who was trying to find Jed, and who had my reading glasses in his bag. But for some reason, I couldn't get completed call to Jenny -- probably too many other runners jamming up the cell site. Bernie and I eventually left and I finally got a call on my cell to Jenny. Jed, Jenny and Cathy were having a beer on the front steps of the B&B. I made my way back to the B&B to join them, which was about a mile walk -- and actually felt quite good to stretch out the legs at a leisurely walking pace.

Other Results

Jed DeJong of Lucan had kept to his goal of finishing upright and smiling and with a very respectable 3:46:39. He had had leg cramps at 18 miles and had told Bernie, with whom he was running, to go on ahead. But still a fantastic experience from his perspective and he didn't end up in the medical tent.

Our private coach and beer drinking buddy, Brian Watson who lives in North Middlesex just north of Lucan, had a smoking good time and finished under 3 hours (his goal) with a time of 2:58:53 -- a personal best time... in Boston!

My step sister, Emily Carley, (formerly of London, now living in Vancouver) ripped up the course as well with a 3:23:27 finish time, and did it with a 'negative split' where her second half (through the Newton hills) was faster than her first half. A phenomenal race.

Our running buddy from the Runners Choice training in London, Bernie Leforte, had a good solid race with a 3:39:57 finish time. And John dePutter, also with whom we did some Runners Choice training runs, had a very respectable time of 3:44:18.

And so it was a very successful race weekend. Not only was it a great race experience, but all of the people in Boston were incredibly friendly. Lots of people on the streets would see our race shirts or jackets and ask us how we did. One nice lady even got the Boston Globe out of her recycling bin for us so that we could have a copy of the newspaper's record of the event (we couldn't find a Globe anywhere in the city).

One ad by Nike that we saw in the Boston Globe said something like this:

"After yesterday, you're saying you'll never run another marathon. See you again next year."

They know their audience!


Anonymous said...

all I can say is awesome! great inspiration Bruce...congratulations

Anonymous said...

Popping Ibuprofen during a marathon may be the culprit to your medical tent adventure. Either way, what a great race and report. Awesome time, and congratulations!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!