15th April, 2013 – Patriots Day
I wrote this review 5 days after the infamous Boston Marathon of 2013. It’s only now that I feel it appropriate to write and savour the many amazing moments of that race, as up to now, we’ve all been thanking our lucky stars that we are safe.
Watching the unfolding daily drama on the news stations was gripping, scary and yet surreal. Being so close, and even feeling you’re a part of such hideous acts really makes you think about what motivates people. Usually I’m thinking about positive motivations, but in this case it was incomprehensible how people could inflict such damage using negative motivations through their actions.
The 117th Boston Marathon was a day I will definitely never forget, for many reasons. As everyone knows, the race became the focus of world attention due to the horrific bombings. I wrote about our experience in a separate post, but would like to focus on the event itself now that the suspects are dead and detained.
Arriving into Logan Airport 2 days before the race, I headed straight to registration downtown after dropping our gear at the hotel in Harvard Square. The expo was good, with lots of stalls and freebies. The race top was nice – a bright yellow long sleeve adidas technical shirt. I also bought a blue Boston Marathon rain jacket – in Tipperary colours so good for a trip to Thurles.
I really liked watching a 30 minute video preview of the course, which really helped visualise how big the hills were and what the road surface was like. It looked like the crowds would be big throughout and the hills scared me to be honest.
Dick & Rick Hoyt were the other indelible memory of the expo. Seeing them in the flesh was inspirational in itself. If you don’t know about them, watch this video. Talk about motivation – these guys are SO inspirational, it’s hard not to cry and think, we have it easy. Dick is 73 years old, has ran over 40 marathons with his paraplegic son, including a marathon PB of 2:40, while pushing a modified wheelchair with his son. Unbelievable. If we all dream big….
Catching a school bus to the start at 6am
Since the route is a straight line A to B course, we were transported west to the start in Hopkinton by bus. Think yellow American school bus…lots of them to carry over 25,000 people to a high school grounds in this leafy town west of Boston. I was fuelled with a fresh egg sandwich at 5.30am from the local store and ready to go (gotta love 24/7 convenience stores in the US). I met an interesting guy on the bus, Justin Burke from Brooklyn, who I stayed with all morning. We chatted about all sorts – it reflected the mood of a friendly atmosphere, which continued in Hopkinton.
The 3hr wait at the start – tents, food, portaloos & music
The high school grounds were buzzing with people, music, food, drinks, giant marquee tents, portaloos, foil wraps, sleeping bags at 7am. It was chilly, but we’d sunny blue skies overhead and only 3 hour til the gun. The wait was shorter than New York City Marathon and passed quickly enough. I left my gear the bag drop on the school buses and headed towards the start, about half a mile away. After the Star Spangled Banner, I got ready in wave 1, corral 2. Boston sort people by time, so I was in the 2nd group (corral), with only 1000 runners between me and the elite runners.
First Half: Downhill
After the gun, the next 13 miles were generally downhill, passing through the leafy suburban route starting from Hopkinton. (The race runs through eight Massachusetts cities and towns: Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, and Boston). My target time was 2hr 45min (which meant a pace of 3:55 min per km (6:18 min miles; a PB by 5 mins from Dublin), which was an aggressive target, but I felt strong based on training and also thought “why not…if you never try, you can’t fail.” Based on research and feedback, I knew negative splits would be very difficult due to the hills in the 2nd half (only 10% of Boston runners achieve negative splits).
So I tried to stay conservative through 13 miles, although I was getting anxious, as the pace felt “easy” and my HR was 5 bpm below my marathon threshold pace. I told myself it should feel easy and that I had a long way to go and the hills would take that energy. I was really enjoying the race, passing people out in their yards or porches, cheering us on. School kids made lots of noise and some dudes had music blaring to keep us moving to the beat!
The weather was perfect and the route ideal. Nice clear skies, little wind and a downhill route on a smooth road surface, with no turns (there’s only 6 on the entire route I think). Getting to 10km was easy. 10 miles came as a big milestone and I still felt great. I refuelled with water every 2nd mile at the water stations. At halfway in 1:22, I was on track for 2:45 pace….
Second Half: Newtown Hills
I knew the race only started at mile 20, going up Heartbreak Hill, so I told myself to relax and enjoy the ride. That was easy, as the crowds were great, with lots of kids looking for high-fives, girls with funny placards and a wall of noise on both sides of the street. I had DAVE IRELAND written on my bib, so it was great (for my ego!) to hear people shout your name in encouragement.
The girls at Wellesley College are famous, so I was really looking forward to it. Basically you hit a wave of screaming college girls at mile 12, all waving placards asking you to kiss them or advising: “I won’t tell your wife”. Great for your ego, as normally it can be hard to get a girl to shout unconditional love to you, but here you got the power and the choice. It put a smile on every man’s face for 5 mins.
At mile 16 the famous Newtown Hills started. It’s a series of 4 hills which continue until mile 21, when you crest Heartbreak Hill. I was worried these hills would break my pace, especially after watching the video preview. However, the bark is worse than the bite, as while they are hills, they are not too long and I have good mental preparation having ran up real mountains in IMRA races, not just piddly hills (that’s what I told myself anyway!).
I passed numerous US army personnel walking up those hills in full uniform, boots and carrying 15-20kg backpacks. That told me again: “I have it easy” so I relaxed my body, kept my back straight and feet soft…I ran the race in Vivo Barefoot Aquas, so a real change in technique and footwear since Dublin marathon last October. I was hopeful my legs would hold up, although my left knee did start worrying me at mile 18. Doubts flooded my mind and I thought “well I could always walk the last 8 miles if the knee gives up”
Cresting Heartbreak Hill was a great feeling, as I knew it was all downhill from here for 5 miles. Still that’s 5 miles at pace, when your HR is above target, your legs are aching and the desire to finish asap is through the roof. But the crowds were amazing, 2-3 deep at this stage, willing you on. Each mile was a huge milestone: “mile 22- only 4 miles left, shit man, I’ve ran that hundreds of times in the past year, that’s nothing!” I’d tell myself.
The city skyline was in the distance. Running through Brookline, I passed this guy running in sandals. He reminded me of Caballo Blanco from Born to Run – a hippie in his fifties running in faded green shorts and homemade brown sandals attached to the cut soles of running shoes. I really wanted to chat to this guy, but my lungs could not cope with talking and running at that pace after 24 miles!!
Making the last turn onto Bolyston St, I had that feeling of elation, as then I knew I’d done it. “YEEEEEEEESSSSSS!!!! Don’t stop me now.” I thought of my family, my brother John – about how good it is to be alive doing this amazing event. The last 400 yards down to the finish line were SO good. High fiving the crowd, smiling all the way. This is what all the training was about. I crossed the line, arms raised and thought “you did it”. A new PB of 2:46 in one of the most historic and toughest marathons in the world. Worth every minute.
Oh, and then you realise the moment you stop running, pain stifles your legs and you try to walk to collect your medal. Ouch, your body stiffens up, it aches and moans but you ignore it, as you feel on top of the world. Well, for a moment anyway. Savour it, it’s worth it.
One happy runner
Boston was my third marathon and it definately deserves its reputation as one of the world’s top races. The course, the atmosphere, the organisation, all tops. New York is still my favourite, for the sheer adrenaline buzz of doing it in the Big Apple, but I’d love to do Boston again.
|Atmosphere||8||10||7||Boston had great crowds, but NYC rules|
|Course||8||9||8||Boston is A to B, downhill then the hills, great finishing straight|
|Food/drink||8||8||7||Boston had water every mile|
|Pre-race||7||6||8||Expo was good, video preview great|
|Post-race||n/a||7||8||The bombings took over|
|Gear||8||7||7||Catchy yellow long-sleeve top|
Full info & searchable results available on the BAA website.
|Race No 1126||Power, David||30||M||Dublin||IRL|
|Finish:||Pace||Proj. Time||Offl. Time||Overall||Gender||Division|