Wednesday, April 21, 2010
There aren't many sporting events in this country that are more than 100 years old. The Kentucky Derby, the World Series, the Rose Bowl--and the Boston Marathon. For 114 years in a row, the Boston Marathon has been contested on Patriots Day, a New England tradition. Two and half years ago, when I started running, Boston became my obsession. This week, I realized my dream of taking part in the spectacle.
I had always wanted to run a marathon by the time I was 40. One day, I realized that I was 41 and that I hadn't yet checked the marathon off on my bucket list. So, I started training in the fall of '07 for the Dallas White Rock Marathon. To give me something to shoot for, I decided I would try to qualify for Boston, which meant I needed to run a 3 hour, 20 minute marathon. That fall, I took a weekend trip to Boston--I ran parts of the course, I went to the Bill Rodgers running store, I learned the history of the race. In short, I was hooked. I had to get there. I had to experience it. I had to be a part of the legend.
It took me four tries, but last fall I qualified for Boston by running a 3:20 in the New York City Marathon. I trained hard this winter and spring, and felt like I could run faster at Boston. What I didn't realize until after the race was just how tough the Boston course is. Nothing but up or down. 32 hills along the way, some as short as 100 yards, some as long as almost a mile. They take their toll. Running downhill fast forces your quads to serve as brakes, while they double as engines on the uphills. There are no flat spots on the Boston course. The cumulative effect gets you.
Luckily, there is a wave of energy that you can ride to counteract the difficulty of the course. The crowds were amazing. Loud. Drunk. A solid wall of humanity on both sides of the road from the start village of Hopkinton to the finish in downtown Boston. There were 26,000 runners, and probably one million spectators.
Along the way you run through small New England towns like Natick (the home of Doug Flutie) and Wellesley (the home of Wellesley College, an all-girls school whose students line he road begging for kisses from the runners). After the halfway point, you head into Newton, where the famous Newton Hills start--a series of four big climbs that make or break the race for just about everyone. Then, it's past the drunk frat guys at Boston College, through JFK's hometown of Brookline, into Boston heading past Fenway Park, and down the finishing straight on Boylston Avenue.
I went through the halfway mark in 1 hour, 36 minutes. On pace for a 3:12, but knowing that I would probably slow a bit over the final 13.1 miles. I thought I could run a 3:15 at the start of the day, but once I hit the Newton Hills I knew that wasn't going to happen. My quads were toast. It felt like I was running on two stone pillars. The hilly course had caught up with me. The last of the Newton Hills is called Heartbreak Hill, for obvious reasons. I poked up this climb. At the top, I was so trashed that I seriously wondered if I could even break 3:30, or 3:40, or 4 hours. It felt like the final few miles were going to be a death march.
My secondary goal was to run a 3:19--set a personal best, and better my time from NYC. I did the math--I would have to run 8:00 minute miles for each of the final four miles to get a 3:19. I had averaged a 7:20 pace for the first 17 miles of the race, yet the thought of running 8:00 miles seemed impossible to me at this point. I dug deep, yet could only manage an 8:13, then an 8:07. I was falling behind my needed pace. Two miles to go, and I gave it everything I had. The next mile was a 7:49, and the final mile was a 7:35. I "sprinted" the last 300 yards, and finished in 3:19:38--with absolutely nothing left in the tank. I was really happy that I had broken 3:20 on such a tough course. And happy to qualify to run Boston again next year (if I can shave one hour off of my time, I could actually keep up with the Kenyans--something to shoot for I suppose).
There is something incredibly satisfying about finishing a marathon. It's even more satisfying to finish the most prestigious marathon in the world--and to do it in your personal best time. I will never be a part of World Series, Kentucky Derby, or Rose Bowl history. But now, I'm a very small part of the history of the Boston Marathon--the world's greatest foot race. Finally.