Boston 2016

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The reward, Boston Marathon Medal number two

Well it’s all over except the memories and the memories will always be good ones. Despite not hitting my personal goal time I did thoroughly enjoy the trip and marathon experience. The memories of the preparation, sights and sounds of Boston, a pre-race dinner, race morning, the race itself, and of course all of the many great people whom I was able to share my experience.

Since race day I have had many people ask me how I did in the Marathon. I realize that only fellow runners really want to hear all the gory details and most folks are seeking not more than a 30 second answer to their question about a 252 minute race. Thus the format of this blog allows me to provide both types of answers.  To the person expecting a 30 second reply I can be extremely brief and simply direct them to this blog. Same works for the person who would be thrilled to learn of all the details. Thanks to each type for taking a personal interest in my running of the 120th Boston Marathon.

Arrival 

Seven months after booking our trip to Boston it was finally time for my wife and I to pack up and fly out. We had a 6:00 AM departure flight from Detroit Metro on Saturday morning. The good new was that that time and day are not exactly peak times at Metro. I don’t think I have ever been on an airplane so full of skinny people! They were mostly dressed in Boston Marathon jackets from previous years.  The flight was a good one as was our arrival in Boston. Our hotel was just around the corner from the staging area of the race finish, meaning only a minimal walk back to hotel after running a grueling 26.5 miles! Bags checked, we headed out to the Expo a few blocks away. Picking up my race bib was quick and easy as was my quick sprint into the Expo to purchase a few race souvenirs including, coffee mug, cap, label pin, and of course the free poster containing the names of all the runners, including mine, somewhere. The folks at the Westin Hotel were able to get us into our room early and so we were onto the next stage of our trip.

Nancy Start
Nancy and I continue the tour by visiting the finish line at the Boston Marathon, less than 24 hours before the marathon.

We arrived while the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) was in the midst of several special races involving local youth groups. What a thrill it must have been for these kids to race along Boylston St. and under the finish sign of the Boston Marathon. Thrill for the kids? It was a thrill for me to visit the finish line less than 24 hours from my official finish!

Whenever we travel to a major city we always connect with a local guided tour bus. A perfect arrangement if you are running a marathon in a few days and you need to stay off your feet.  We actually traveled several times on Saturday and Sunday with various tour guides and learned something new and different with each guide. I never knew Paul Revere lost his horse to the British army in route to warn the patriots!  And now of course I know what a Smoot is too (hint, it’s a measurement of distance that only someone from MIT could ever invent).

The final pre-race event was a group dinner at Stella’s Restaurant. Most of the runners from our training group were able to attend the very tasty dinner and compare notes about our race strategies and what to expect the next day. At the same time it was also a welcomed opportunity to forget about the race and comfortably relax a bit too!  Thank you 501 runner Mami for volunteering to organize the dinner event.

Pre Race 

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Ready to run, Marathon Eve

Unlike all the other major races in my life, I actually got a full good night’s sleep the night before the marathon! My brain did send me an automatic wake up call about 10 mins prior to my alarm sounding at 4:45 AM.  I need to finish prepping my race gear, get dressed, eat my first breakfast (honey soaked bagel), and get out the door of the hotel not later than 5:45 to walk several blocks to board a charted bus for Michigan runners.  Kudos to Bauman’s Running Store for taking on this task. It made a huge difference in the pre-race morning. While the first wave of runners were not scheduled to start until 10:00 AM the bus needed to arrive over 26 miles away in Hopkinton for security reasons. On Patriots Day the safest spots on planet earth are Hopkinton and Boston MA.

 

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Riding the bus to Hopkinton with one of my running buds, Robin.

While nearly 25,000 other runners board school buses in Boston Commons for their ride to Hopkinton, they must exit the bus upon arrival at the athletes village. Imagine a high school football field and adjoining sports fields being overtaken by several large tents, hundreds of porta-johns, and tens of thousands of runners.  Runners must deal with the local weather conditions.  This year the conditions were near perfect, well, at least they were early in the morning.  The chartered buses allowed runners to remain in the comfy cozy buses until near race time. But the real advantage was the large number of porta-johns available to the runners in the chartered buses!  Unlike the runners in the athletes village who needed to wait in lines with nearly 100 people, we had the true luxury of only needing to wait a few moments, if at all. Only an experienced runner can truly appreciate the luxury of such an arrangement!

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Robin and I about ready to enter the Athlete’s Village. Thanks Robin for showing me the route to the Village.

With nearly an hour before my scheduled start time (10:50 AM) I was getting a bit antsy waiting in the bus as was one of my long time running buds and protege, Robin. We decided to leave and head over to the athletes village to absorb the atmosphere of the Boston Marathon. The temps at that time were starting to feel nice and warm. Nice unless you were planning to run a marathon of course.  Robin and I were seeded to start in the third of four waves. She was further seeded in corral 8 and I in corral 7. After sitting in the shade waiting for the prior wave runners to clear we were cleared to proceed to our corrals.

From the athletes village to the actual starting line is about a 1 mile walk.  It begins just outside the village in the Hopkinton High School parking area. Your starting position is listed as a corral and how appropriate as there were nearly 10,000 runners being herded like cattle to their appropriate slot. The first corral was released to start the walk followed by another seven groups. What was both oddly strange and reassuring was the military sharp shooters standing along the parapets of the high school building. High above were several military helicopters circling and protecting the athletes. For a brief moment I felt I was in a foreign country. At the same time, it was great to feel so secure.

The walk to the start was much longer than I had remembered from 10 years ago but no doubt it was the same path.  The race conditions were deteriorating as the sky was clear of all clouds and the sun felt great on our very exposed winter protected skin. There were several opportunities to take advantage of free sun block. Thanks Robin for helping cover my shoulders. All during this time of about 15 minutes I continued to drink my special fluids from the bottle I carried. Needless to say, Mother Nature was calling. Robin assured me that “little known” porta-johns were just ahead. We finally, arrived at them and realized that they were obviously very well known now.  We found a relatively short line with only about 20 people but, it was also only about 5 minutes to our start time!  Needless to say, we gave up and continued to our respective corrals.

As I arrived at my corral I noticed more military sharp shooters on the roofs of the buildings along the start corrals. I also remembered that I needed to find my nearest friendly GPS satellite too.  What normally might take a minute or less suddenly seemed to take forever! My Garmin watch was simply not connecting!  Was it due to the crowds? The cause did not matter, the national anthem for wave three had started, still searching for a satellite. Then came the starting gun, still searching. The mass of runners way ahead started to move, still searching. Finally my group had started to walk towards the start line, still searching.  The runners just ahead of me started to run. Why?  Why start 50 yards ahead of when you need to start running? Still searching.  At the last possible minute I started into a slow jog, still searching. Then just before I was to cross the official start line, CONNECTION! So I was able to totally track m every move. Runners are an anal group.

The Marathon – The Early Miles

My game plan was to start slower than my normal training pace (8:30 per mile) for the first 14-15 miles, then to survive the hills between miles 17 through 22, then push strong to the finish line.

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During most of the first half of the marathon I felt very comfortable, relaxed, and cautiously kept my pace slow.

The start was crowded and I had no choice but to start slow but before I knew it I was briefly running faster than I knew I should. I had planned to run between a 8:45 to 8:50 minutes per mile pace. I slowed my pace down as I looked along a mile or so ahead of me and all I could see was a road filled solid with runners. I was carrying my water bottle still filled with UCAN.  Along the route the crowd support varied from almost none to boisterous gatherings along the side of the road.  I ran mostly along the right side of the street looking to “Low 5” young kids along the way with their outstretched hands awaiting to be slapped by runners and there were  plenty of such opportunities for the entire length of the marathon route.

The mile marks seemed to take longer to reach then I had remembered in previous years. I found myself thinking only 1 more mile to the first 5K split. This is not a good thing to be thinking so early in the race. Nonetheless, the 5K mark came and I remember thinking that my family, friends, and coworkers now could see I hit the first split as my computer chip was scanned and my split broadcast to the world. I forgot to set my watch to view my total actual race time but I knew I was within seconds of being exactly where I wanted to be. The next task was to hit the 10K mark on target.

For  nearly the entire first half of the marathon I maintained a very steady pace with minimal variation. Running nearly 30 seconds slower than my average training pace I should have felt very fresh.  Actually, somewhere around the 5 mile mark I could feel my legs begin to fatigue, not a good sign this early into any marathon and especially so for Boston.  The downhill trek of the Boston route was already beginning to have an impact on my performance. I remembered what my trainer, Kirk Vickers had taught me about breathing. At the next water stop I stopped running and walked through the stop taking deep cleansing breaths following my water. Kirk has preached the need for such breathing as our tired muscles were straining for oxygen and the deep breaths helped to supply oxygen to my tiring leg muscles.

IT WORKED!  Shortly after resuming my run my legs no longer felt fatigued and I was able to continue on with my enjoyment of the Boston Marathon. Actually, I felt pretty good during all of the early miles, legs fresh, pace felt easy, and I continued to “Low 5” as many little hands as I could all along the way. Then it came!  The sound!  The thunder!  I was more than a half mile away but I could already hear the roar of the young ladies of Wellesley College and the half way mark were approaching!

The Wellesley Experience

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Welcome to Wellesley

The girls of Wellesley are world famous for their loud boisterous support of runners at the half way point of the Boston Marathon but that’s not all they are well known for. They are probably best known for their long line of coeds leaning over the rails reaching out not only their hands for slaps but also for their kisses! This is one part of the route where the guys definitely veer to the right of the road while the lady runners tend to stay in the middle of the road.  I intentionally slowed my pace and tried to slap every single coed’s hand. Along the way I also felt so so sorry for two young Wellesley ladies. There they were standing a bit apart from the rest of the crowd, holding a sad looking sign indicating their desire to be kissed by a runner, so what else could I do but stop momentarily and give them each a big kiss (on the cheek) for good luck!

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Then there were the two young brave coeds near the end of the 1/4 mile string of Wellesley ladies wearing ONLY A SIGN!  Their sign read “Run Fast and I Will Drop My Sign”.  You need to think about that message.  I did not dare reach out to slap their hands for fear their signs may fall, but I did give one of the brave ladies a slap on her shoulder and told her she was looking good 🙂

The Wellesley support soon waned and I was on my way to run the last half of the 120th running of the historic Boston Marathon.

The Middle Miles

The Wellesley experience was very fun and actually it provided a bit of a spike in my pace. Not a bad time to do this, after all, I was aiming to hit a targeted finish time of about 3:50 and up until now had been running a very conservative pace.  However, I was beginning to get concerned about the warming race conditions. The temps were a bit too warm at the start and not getting any cooler as the race continued. We had also been fighting a wind most of the route too. At times the wind came from the side but mostly it was a head wind. The winds were not particularly strong so I did not figure they were affecting my performance.  That was a mistake.

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Need to keep going, not getting any easier, and definitely no longer fresh.

The combination of the wind, the heat, and of course the hills all combined to give me a distortion of the race.  The wind actually kept me dry and thus I never really felt the sweat and fluids I was losing without realizing it. I did walk many water stops to continue my breathing technique but also to gather more than one drink too.  The cups of water or Gatorade were minimally filled thus most runners were not really taking in the amount of fluids they needed and more importantly would need later along the finishing portion of the route.

Only with the benefit of my perfect hind sight can I now say that I was in the midst of becoming dehydrated only I did not know it at the time. I also had failed to accurately remember the course.  I thought that about 1 mile past Wellesley I would make the famous turn at the Newton Fire Station and head into the uphill portion of the route.  Mistake! It really was more like 4 more miles!  Thus my mind kept thinking this was a really really long portion of the route, when is this going to end? Why don’t I see all those runners ahead of me turning right yet?  Then we came upon a very deceptive long uphill as the route travels over the I-128 and a nice long uphill, an uphill soaked with baking sun.  Now I remember that I was warned of this hill.  My goal here was to not over work this hill but rather to simply keep running and get ready for that big turn at Newton.

It was also during this stretch that I had planned to start using my energy gels. I have had great success with a product called BOOM. Still thinking I was about to enter the Newton Hills, I reached to my belt and treated myself to a BOOM. It must have worked because the last two miles were inching over a 9:00 pace, the next mile was closer to the 8:40 mark and more importantly, I STILL FELT FRESH!

Hello Newton

Finally I could see the stream of runners several hundred feet ahead of me bend to the right. Were my own eyes deceiving me?  The body and mind do strange things when you run long, especially in the heat!  No, before I knew it I was around the bend and in front of the Newton Fire Station.  There was cool mist tent runners could run through but I opted to keep a straight path and take on the first challenging hill.  The Newton hills are a series of 4 hills and downhills the last of which is the infamous “Heartbreak Hill”. Each hill is not particularity a tough hill to run. What makes these hills difficult is their location in the route and the fact that the runners legs have taken a beating by running mostly downhill for the past 16 miles. One of my goals for this marathon was to figuratively survive these hills and come out of them still feeling strong. When I ran Boston 10 years ago I had already ran out of steam heading into the hills.  While feeling some fatigue after running 17 miles, I was still feeling much better than I was at this point 10 years ago.

Well, so much for that great feeling of feeling good.I could feel my running form slump, I was starting to stare at pavement and not the road ahead, not good. I forced myself to keep my head up and eyes out over the longer horizon. I actually remember telling myself that this part of the route looked so much nicer than what I had remembered from 10 years earlier. Not surprised as I was likely starring at pavement 10 years ago.  As I started my climb of the second, or third? hill, I saw an American flag stretched out over the crowd at the top of the next hill. It was several hundred yards away, but I focused on continuing to run as strong as I could at least until I reached the flag. By keeping my focus on the flag I think I was also able to get to my target a little bit faster too!

Before I knew it I was on my way up infamous Heartbreak Hill. Not so bad really, then again it could be much better. By now my pace was starting to slow. Where for the first 17 or 18 miles I had averaged in the 8:50 range and now I was edging closer to the dreaded 8:59 pace.  This meant I was within my one goal of finishing in less than 3 hours but not by much.

And The Rest Is All Downhill

Or so they say. True that most of the rest of the course is downhill but that does not make it any easier. By now the leg muscles are toast for most runners and mine too.  I could keep the running going but not at the same pace. I was beginning to slow to a 10 minute pace. I was beginning to think “when would I see that Citco sign”?  The Citgo sign is most often associated with the Green Monster wall of Fenway Park. It can be seen in nearly every homerun shot over Fenway’s left field wall.  Runners know it as the 1 Mile remaining mark of the Boston Marathon.

As I began my decent down Heartbreak I welcomed the entry into the Boston College portion of the route. Legs still moving downhill but taking every advantage to stop and walk the water stops. Not sure which is actually tougher, to keep running or to start running again after the water stop. It really does not matter, tough choices either way.

I was given continued encouragement ALL 26+ miles by onlookers along the side of the route shouting my name. As I passed through the Boston College area a group of hefty guys started to shout LEE, LEE, LEE, LEE!  Looking good Lee! No I am not really that famous, I simply used the same name tag I made for myself in the Chicago Marathon and pinned it above my race bib.  My “Fans” were super supportive all along the way and surely they made a very positive difference for me too.

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The CITGO sign and one more (long) mile to go!

Then I saw it out in the distance, CITGO!  I was told by Robin that our mutual friend and running bud, Jessica was planning to be near the CITGO sign to cheer us on.  a few miles before approaching the sign I told myself “only 3 more miles to Jessica”. This was simply my way of boosting myself to the point where I would only have a mile to go.

I did see her too!  To my left along the rail, somewhat isolated and thus easy to spot among the hundreds of people supporting all of the runners was Jessica cheering me on. I was able to identify her voice as being different than all the others who were shouting my name. Having someone you know along the route in a major race such as Boston is a huge boost! Unfortunately it did not boost my pace. By this time my pace was over 11 minutes per mile and I was doing all I could do to keep my legs from stopping.

The Last Mile

I finally made the turn onto Commonwealth Street. A very famous and beautiful street lined with classic row- house style brownstones and of course, more of my adoring fans!  The crowd support was simply awesome and very loud. There were still young kids with their hands outstretched seeking a slap. I was way to tired to move a few steps to the right and bend a bit to fulfill their wish. Sorry kids, maybe next time.

For the last several miles the heat of the day had diminished. Not that it was cold but it did feel good to be a bit cooler. Too little too late?  Probably so.  I remember passing the various cross streets that intersect Commonwealth. Our tour guides told us that the intersecting streets were named in alphabetical order.  I don’t remember the name but I do remember crossing a street and thinking only two more letters to H were I can make the second to last turn on the course at Hereford!

I had to battle one last stinking hill first. The nasty little incline down under a via-duct and back up to the main street.  In an odd way it was good to get away from the cheering crowds and under the via-duct. It was a very short hill but I took advantage of being visually disconnected from my cheering fans to walk about 10 yards coming up and out of the slight hill. But I could not walk too long for as soon as I was back in sight some guy with a huge voice yelled at me in the way only a Boston native can speak to  “GO LEE”!  What else could I do but start running again?  As I passed my fan I could hear him continue to urge me on by saying “WHAY TA GO LEE, YOU GOT THIS”.

Up the hill I climbed and my legs slowly moved a bit faster with every step. I cannot explain how loud the crowd was as I turned onto the final short stretch along Hereford before the final kick.  Even if I could explain, it would leave me speechless to explain the truly great roar of the crowd as I finally hit Boylston Street and headed to the finish line, FINALLY!

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Crossing the finish line at the 120th running of the Boston Marathon. April 18, 2016.

My legs were finally moving again. I was running the fastest pace of the entire marathon!  I looked at my watch and saw I was moving along at 8:08 minutes per mile pace.  I looked to the right side of the street to see if I could see my wife who was planning to be at a certain spot, but I saw that the crowd of onlookers was at least 12-15 people deep.

I kept running strong, taking in all of the thrill. I began to think about the finish photo opp that was just ahead. I felt I could easily take on the group of runners ahead of me and pass them but then I realized I was running alone along Boylston, no other runners were anywhere near me. So I took of my hat, ran a few more yards, raised my arms in a victory stretch and grinned.

In the flash of a camera’s light, I had finished the 120th running of the Boston Marathon!

 

Post Race

The glory of being a marathon finisher never gets old. It does not matter if it’s a world class marathon such as Boston, New York, Chicago, or a very small local marathon. All marathons require the runner to successfully complete the same distance of 26.2 miles.

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Finally, the medal is earned!

After crossing the finish line it’s very important to keep on moving. You do not need to be fast anymore, just move. Keep that tired blood from wanting to settle down to your legs. You will have plenty of help as the volunteers keep you moving through the post race lines where runners receive a bottle of water, bananas, sometimes other treats, but most importantly, especially at Boston, THE FINISHERS MEDAL!

You keep on shuffling along and while they were not really all that necessary the next best thing to is for a volunteer to greet and wrap you with a mylar warming blanket. A direct decedent of NASA technology, these blankets do an extremely great job of keeping the runner warm.  Even on this warm Boston day my race experience was not complete until a volunteer wrapped my shoulders in my Boston blanket.  Turns out I really needed too!

I was able to exit the post race chute rather early, only two blocks or so after the finish. I was looking forward to a slow but short walk back to my hotel. It may have been slow but it was not short.  I needed to walk a few blocks out of the way due to street closures and crowds. In the shadows of the tall buildings it was rapidly becoming cooler in the late afternoon. I also became very aware of barrier free design standards. As an architect I practice accessible design. I was suddenly very thankful for curbless sidewalks! At this point after any marathon the runners legs start to stiffen up and it becomes very difficult to lift your foot more than an inch or two above the pavement.

It took a bit of shuffling, but I did manage to return to my hotel. I was congratulated by my wife as I collapsed on the bed. It took a few moments but I eventually was ready for the shower and clean-up time. Hotels that host marathon runners need to have curbless entries to their showers! I will spare you the rest of the details and jump ahead.

After cleaning up and a “brief” two hour nap, I was ready to chow down on the biggest, juiciest burger in all of Boston!  Luckily we found such a burger at the hotel’s restaurant and I did not need to walk around Boston to reach my next meal.

Later that evening I received a hand written personal note from the young lady who originally checked us into the hotel. She congratulated my on my effort and noted my finishing time of 4:12.  It was not until I read her note did I first know of my actual finishing time!   My time was far off the mark I had aimed for and represented my second slowest marathon time of the 12 I have run in my life.  Not a problem, no worries, I still had a great “TIME” and plenty of excellent stories to pass on from now and long into the future!

In a race of 25,600 finishers, where 97% of the field was younger than me, and I was able to finish in the middle of the pack, I feel proud and grateful.

Thanks for taking the time to read this lengthy report. It was a marathon I ran, so hence the length of the report.

Run Happy!

Coach Lee

PS:

Following our return home I was contacted my a local (Novi MI) newspaper reporter. She was interviewing the local runners (6 of us) from my town for a story in the local paper.  Here is the link to the wonderful story she published this week:

http://www.hometownlife.com/story/sports/running/2016/04/26/boston-strong-stories-triumph-miles/83534226/

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Boston 2016”

  1. What a great recap Lee! I really enjoyed reading it and learned a bit more about the course. I think we’re going to have similar warm conditions this year. I’ll be sure to start slow 🙂

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