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Saturday, 22 December 2012

#56: Boston Revisited — Part Two

Early Sunday evening, I got my kit ready; most importantly pinning my race number to race shirt and lacing the timing chip to my right Mizuno Wave Rider 10. My legs felt strange. Almost as if they were throbbing with a mixture of excitement and nervous energy.

I felt happy I’d done my best to prepare – miraculously I’d managed to avoid catching any kind of illness in the run-up to the race – and my left heel, which had been painful since Thursday, now felt better. I was nervous, of course. But, deep down, confident I could finally shake that Sub-3-hour monkey from my back.

I slept reasonably well – 4-5 hours is about as good as it gets the night before a marathon – and the meticulous kit preparation, coupled with rising at 4 am, afforded me the luxury of a muscle-warming pre-race shower.

After devouring my bowl of Oaty Bites and rice milk at around 4:30 am, then washing that down with two cups of caffeine-rich Yerba Mate tea. I met fellow Boston marathoners Cara, Paul and Steve – also staying at the B&B – out on the porch at 5am and our race day had begun.

A 10-minute walk and 20-minute subway train ride later, the four of us hiked our way up onto Tremont St. The buses were already lined up, waiting to ferry us – like prisoners bound for the torture chamber – to the start in Hopkinton.

The Carruth House Quartet herded onto one of the first ‘yellow taxis’ and departed around 6am. It took longer than I expected – 45-50 minutes – despite the fact we took something akin to a super-highway. I told the driver the sightseeing could wait.

By the time we arrived, I was in desperate need of a portaloo. There’s nothing like the jangling nerves which accompany your first Boston to intensify the need for a toilet break.

The Athlete’s Village was essentially two gigantic tents set up at a high school in Hopkinton to house the mass of nervous energy generated by 25,000 Boston marathoners.

Lining two sides of one of the tents were the portaloos; about 20 one side and 30 the other. When we arrived there were no line-ups; two hours later, they were 30-strong. For me, there was no point going back to base-camp after releasing some guests from the foyer; I just joined the end of the queue again. By the time I got to the front, I knew I’d need to go again.

In what seemed like no time at all, 9:10am approached and the 14,000 Wave 1 starters were called to make their journey (a 10-minute walk) to the start. Along the way, I stripped off my secondary layers, yanked a bin-liner over my head to stay warm and stuffed my kit bag full of the sheddings – before lobbing it on to my assigned bus.

As I turned away to continue the journey to the start, I spotted, in my peripheral vision, three or four guys ‘watering the flowers’ in a small copse behind the kit buses. Before you could say Jimmy Riddle, I’d joined the synchronized slashing parade. Well, I’d done the same in Chicago and London, so wanted to uphold one of my major marathon traditions.

All was flowing nicely, until a “Hey, you there!”… “And you!”… “Stop that!” cleared some wax from my right ear. A quick glance over my shoulder brought into a view a jobsworth race official/cop about 50 yards away, who thought it was his lucky day. Oops.

With slick military efficiency, I replaced my ‘pistol’ in its holster and scurried, head-down, into the mass throng of runners swarming to the start, before Mr Jobsworth could reach me. At least four of us got away with it, though I think a fifth may have been a little slow off the mark, as I later heard someone got booked for watering a local resident’s petunias. If that was a garden, it needed a landscaper.

There was possibly a silver lining to the victim’s cloud, though; the energy he’d saved in not legging it (and that we’d, conversely, expended) may have proved crucial later on.

Confident my Catch Me If You Can disappearance had done the trick, I replaced my shades and bin liner and rejoined the procession of nervous anticipation. After reaching the start area, I took a gel, jogged over to the village green for a final – and legal, this time – pitstop and headed into Corral # 3.

A gaggle of pre-start festivities followed – including the warbling of the US national anthem by a Yankee crooner I’d never heard of. Before we knew it, our MC gave us the five-minute warning (we were due off at 10am), at which point the clouds parted and the sun beamed down. It would continue beaming for the next 26.2 miles, turning the many sunscreen-dodgers amongst us (me included) beetroot red.

With two minutes to go, one lucky punter was told his timing chip was faulty – and would have to be replaced. As if the whole pre-race deal wasn’t nerve-wracking enough. I imagine he just stuffed it in his shorts and did a ‘Paula Radcliffe crouch’ every time he crossed a timing mat.

“One minute to go,”… “30 seconds,”… “10 seconds,”… and the hooter sounded.

I planned to take it pretty easy for the early downhill miles, mindful of the many stories I'd heard of runners paying later for galloping out of the blocks. Fortunately, it took a while for the swarm of racers to thin out – the road out of Hopkinton was narrow – so I was forced take the early miles at a modest pace.

I passed through the Boston suburbs of Ashland, Framingham and Natick without realizing and slipped slightly behind my planned 2:55 pace. I went through 10k in 42:26 – my legs feeling inexplicably lethargic. But I was confident I could push on in Part II and still crack the Magic 3.

After high-fiving a dozen screaming Wellesley College girls at the 12-mile mark (if I’d noticed the “Kiss me” signs I’d have probably struggled to break 3:10), I cruised through half-way in 1:29:18 and was still on schedule; though I wasn’t leaving much of a buffer for the latter stages.

I maintained a metronomic clip for the next five miles and tackled the Newton hills with relative gusto. After cresting Heartbreak Hill I roared: “Come on!” to a pair of spectators brandishing a “You beat the hill!” placard. I thought the hard part was over. Surely I was going to break 3 hours now?

On the face of it, the 5.2-mile final stretch in Boston looks appetizing, as it's a net downhill – in fact, it's essentially all downhill. However, the reams of earlier descents your quads have negotiated, plus the sharp transition from calf/hamstring to shin/quad muscles can spark rebellion.

Add into the mix the fact our bodies aren't naturally designed to cope with running more than 20 miles and that my 'during race' nutrition plan had been scrapped at half-way (the Gatorade stations were a circus, so I switched to gels) and I probably should have had cause for concern.

But I'd convinced myself I was going to break 3 come-what-may... and thought my blind optimism and brute determination would get me to the finish line with the number 2 still showing on the left side of my stopwatch face.

Unfortunately, fate was following a different script.


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