I have not mastered the Boston Marathon by any means, but in order to help others, and as a reminder to future Blake, I’m writing down tips for what to do and what not to do when trying to run a good time at the Boston Marathon while it’s still fresh in my mind. I recognize that just going to Boston is a big trip for many people, so maybe your finishing time will not be a priority. However, I think it’s fair to say that most runners toeing the line at Boston are hoping for a good time. Here are my tips.
Tips for Training for the Boston Marathon
Train on Hills
Everyone has heard of Heartbreak Hill, but I think most people don’t realize that almost all of the Boston Marathon is either uphill or downhill. It’s not flat. I think there is about 800 total feet elevation gain and 1200 total feet of loss. Your quads will be wrecked if you don’t train on hills, including downhill. Trust me.
Train for Heat
Maybe you’ll have a cold year, maybe you’ll have a hot year. You won’t know until 2-3 days before the race. Prepare for both. Since Boston takes place in April, people from about half the US won’t have any training in warm weather. I’d suggest purposefully doing some medium or long runs with too much clothing and consider spending some time in the sauna (I got that idea from Meb’s latest book). 60 to 80 degrees with humidity will roast you if you’ve been running in 20 to 40 degrees all winter leading up to the race.
Take Clothing and Shoes You Can Throw Away
Take warm clothes, shoes, and socks that you can toss right before the race starts. Wear them to the starting area. Then you don’t have to worry about being cold or getting your socks muddy before the race starts. You can get cheap clothing at Goodwill or other thrift stores. Easily worth the $10, but it’s likely you’ve already got something sitting around that you don’t need. Every marathon runner should have an old pair of shoes that they can discard.
Stay Put on Sunday
Don’t walk all over the expo. Don’t do the Freedom Trail. Just take it easy on Sunday. Go to church then go back to your hotel or wherever you’re staying. Standing/walking for two hours is not easy. You need your quads for Monday. If you want to be on vacation and don’t want to run a great race, then do whatever you want. I suggest saving the vacationing for after Monday at 2pm (when you’re done). If you want to go to the expo, do so on Saturday.
On Monday I had the privilege of running the Boston Marathon for the second time. The Boston Marathon is my favorite marathon and I had a blast… at least for the first half.
Approaching the Boston Marathon
I trained pretty hard this winter. The only comparable training block I’ve done was leading up to the 2017 Boston Marathon. However, I wanted to enjoy Boston and relieve some of the pressure that comes with lots of training, a trip across the country, and a huge race. Therefore, I decided to do the Yakima River Canyon Marathon 16 days before Boston. I know that was a little stupid, but the Yakima Marathon went really well for me, so I’m glad I did it.
I ate lots of protein and tried to recover as much as possible between Yakima and Boston. It went pretty well, although my left quad became pretty sore a few days before marathon Monday. I cut off some planned mileage and got as much rest as possible.
Cyndi couldn’t come on this trip, so my friend, Greg, came with me. We flew out on Saturday and arrived late Saturday night to Boston Logan International Airport. We got an expensive Uber to Greg’s brother-in-law’s house and went to bed. On Sunday we:
Went to church at 9am.
Went to packet pickup. I just walked in, grabbed my bib, and walked out since we couldn’t find a parking spot. It took about 20 minutes. I would have liked to go to the Expo, but I went last time and I don’t need any expensive compression boots or more running clothes.
Drove to Newport, Rhode Island to see some opulent mansions.
Drove to Providence to meet up with Greg’s friend Jesse.
Drove back to the brother-in-law’s.
Played a game of Camel Up and discussed plans for Monday.
Went to bed around 10:30, which was a little later than intended, but I didn’t sleep well anyways.
I woke up earlier than expected, grabbed my stuff and hailed an Uber. The Uber took me to the wrong side of the bag drop-off area, but it actually turned out to be exactly the right spot for my bib number. It was rainy.
On the bus ride to Hopkinton I met a guy named Kyle from Chicago. He’d done Boston a few times. During the ride there was a bright flash from a lightning strike that I’m sure made everyone think, “Just don’t cancel the race!” Luckily the storm passed through, it stopped raining before the start, and we had clear skies during parts of the race.
At Hopkinton I found myself a coveted tent pole to lean against. I also ran into Tyson, who was on my team for Ragnar Trail Zion. This was his first Boston Marathon, so I’m pretty sure he was even more anxious than me. I had about 2 hours to sit around and talk to people about marathons. Part of what makes the Boston Marathon fun is that there are a bunch of “serious runners” gathered in one spot. You can talk to others about marathon times, favorite marathons, training, etc.
Eventually the rain stopped and we made the 0.7 mile walk/jog to the start line. I dumped all my warm clothing and lined up. I was more calm this time than when I ran in 2017, which was nice. It was still really exciting though. The jets did a flyby, the National Anthem was sung, and we started the race.
Boston Marathon Miles 1-8: 6:50, 6:32, 6:35, 6:32, 6:43, 6:35, 6:31, 6:42
The first several miles of the Boston Marathon are mostly a blur. It was so fun to be out there!
The first mile got started a little slow. I was much more conservative this time around, so I was patient and tried to stay in my spot and not move around too much. Since my bib was 3604 this time, I was a bit farther back in the pack and maybe that made it more crowded. Around mile 2 a guy near me was tripped in the crowd, got very upset, and said some choice words. I asked if he was ok and he said, “Bleep bleep bleep no, but thanks for asking.”
The crowds are just so incredible! There is tremendous pent up energy in the runners and the crowds add energy and make it fun. I gave lots of high-fives to kids and other spectators. There were flags waving, signs flashing, people clapping, music blasting, and lots of smiles. It’s really one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had. It may have even been more enjoyable the second time around since I was less worried about my time.
Speaking of my time, I feel like I went out at a great pace. I wanted to beat my Yakima time, even though it was unlikely, but it was pretty hot. Humidity was very high thanks to the morning storm, and the temperature was in the mid-60’s. This may not seem too hot, but I don’t think I’d run in weather warmer than 45 since October, and most of my training I had done in morning temperatures at or below freezing. Therefore, mid-60’s felt hot. The sun broke through the clouds and added to the heat. From the first aid station I dumped water on my head and I drank a lot throughout the race.
Due to the heat, I was fine hitting splits around 6:40. I figured if I felt great later on I could try to speed up to beat my Yakima time, but I didn’t want to kill myself in the early miles.
At mile 8 I was still feeling good, which was comforting since that’s where I first felt signs of issues in the 2017 Boston Marathon.
I was noticing that my heart rate was unusually high — in the 170’s. That should have only been the case during a half marathon or even a 10K. I don’t know if my watch was off, or if it was all the anxiety, or the heat, or what. This was a little concerning.
Another thing I noticed this time around, is that Boston is full of hills. It’s not just the Newton hills and Heartbreak, the whole course is basically either going up or down. I had heard someone mention this, but this time I really noticed it for myself.
Boston Marathon Miles 9-16: 6:39, 6:44, 6:36, 6:30, 6:39, 6:39, 6:45, 6:23
I continued to feel pretty good in the next few miles. I didn’t really experience much fatigue or signs that I needed to slow down. My pace continued to be right around 6:40, which I was happy with.
I talked to a few people during the marathon, but not too many. Many of the runners seemed to be taking the race pretty seriously and were focused. I was willing to talk, but I didn’t come across anyone that really opened up. I’m not the most outgoing person, so maybe I didn’t try enough people.
I continued to give high-fives every once in a while, but I tried not to get carried away because I remembered from Boston 2017 that whenever I got pumped up I naturally sped up. The Wellesley Scream Tunnel was energizing, although I didn’t exchange any kisses (as promised to Cyndi).
There’s a downhill on mile 16 which was really nice, and I took it pretty fast as I was still feeling decent.
Boston Marathon Miles 17-21: 7:01, 7:14, 6:54, 7:21, 8:03
Mile 17 of the Boston Marathon is where the wheels started falling off for me. I was running up the first in the set of four hills, when my right quad suddenly tightened. It was enough of a change that I noted what mile I was on and thought, “Oh no.” When I hit The Wall, it’s usually my quads that go first and that feel the worst throughout the race. At the Yakima River Canyon Marathon I had evaded The Wall and I hoped I could repeat that glorious accomplishment at Boston.
Boston Marathon Miles 22-26.2: 7:41, 8:22, 8:17, 8:45, 9:00, 8:25/mile
The uphills slowed me down, and I started losing speed on the downhills. By the time I got to Heartbreak Hill I was pretty much wiped out. I’m a pretty strong climber, so I wasn’t getting passed too badly, but when I peaked on Heartbreak I didn’t have much left for the downhill and after that it was a complete slog. I had hit The Wall hard and I couldn’t wait to get to the finish line and be done. The first 17 miles of the marathon were exhilarating, the last 5 miles were excruciating. Miles 18-21 were somewhere in between.
Occasionally I would pass someone walking, or limping. I saw one guy step on a water bottle on Heartbreak Hill and roll his ankle. I thought he was ok but then he started limping pretty badly. I encouraged him along. For a while it felt like I was standing still in a river of runners that were flowing past me. Eventually everyone started slowing down and I felt a little better, but not before I’d been passed by hundreds of runners. That was even despite the fact that I didn’t walk.
It took forever to get to the right turn on Hereford, but I was so glad when I did! I was in my own world those last few miles just trying to put one foot in front of the other. I started looking for Greg and Jesse. I scanned the crowd as my head swam with fatigue and delusion. I finally found them at the top of the hill right on the corner of Boylston. It was great to see them and exchange high fives.
I couldn’t believe how far I still had to go to the finish line. It took forever to get there, but I was so happy when I could finally let myself walk!
Final time: 3:07:27. Better than 2017 (thankfully!), but not as good as I wanted. I really didn’t feel too disappointed. I knew doing the Yakima River Canyon Marathon 16 days prior was a risk, and I think my legs just weren’t up for another marathon yet. The heat didn’t help either.
Once again, getting through from the finish line to a place where I could collect myself was excruciating. The second I stopped running I just wanted to faint or lay down; however, I didn’t want to get stuck in a medical tent. I did my best to keep on my feet. I had to find a rail a few times to lean against for 30 seconds so that I could keep walking. I got my medal, grabbed a bag of food, grabbed my bag, and finally found a curb that I could just sit down on. I remember this same feeling from some other races, in particular the Utah Valley Marathon and the Boston Marathon in 2017, both races where I hit the wall hard (although it has happened many other times).
After resting for several minutes, I made my way to meet up with Greg and Jesse. I rested more at Boston Commons while they grabbed some pizza. Then we slowly made our way back to the hotel.
After a shower/bath and a game of Camel Up, I felt a lot better. We walked some of the Freedom Trail and ate some delicious Italian. I also downed two Canolies from Mike’s Pastry. (Two is probably too much, even after a marathon.)
I just love the Boston Marathon! It’s full of energy and enthusiasm. It’s full of hope and potential disappointment. It’s full of athletes that are out to prove something to themselves or to someone else, or to just experience the event. I’m glad I could leave everything on the course and have another amazing experience, even if I hoped for more. It’s easily my favorite marathon to run and I hope to return again someday.
I’ve had my eye on the Yakima River Canyon Marathon for 4 or 5 years. It occurs on the last Saturday of March or the first Saturday of April. Since I usually run the Race to Robie Creek in mid-April, I haven’t wanted to run a marathon shortly before it and jeopardize my Robie time.
This year I’m planning on running the Boston Marathon. I trained hard all winter and my training went very well. I started thinking about whether my training would be best directed at Boston. The Boston Marathon is a hard course to set a PR at, as I found out in my first attempt. There are a few reasons for this:
Since it’s a destination in an awesome area, it’s hard to rest properly and avoid touring and walking around leading up to the marathon.
The race itself requires walking to the buses, walking from the buses to the waiting area in Hopkinton, and walking from the waiting area to the start line.
Since it’s the Boston Marathon, it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment and run a stupid race. Been there, done that.
The Boston Marathon course is somewhat challenging, with early downhill and late rolling hills.
The weather is completely unpredictable. Will it be 90F (2012) or 34F (2018) or somewhere in between?
I also just want to enjoy Boston and have no pressure. Because of those reasons, and some others, I decided to use my training this year to focus on running a good race at the Yakima River Canyon Marathon. That would leave me with 16 days to recover and see what I can still pull off at Boston. My wife, Cyndi, also ended up signing up for the Half Marathon at Yakima.
Yakima is about a 5.5 hour drive from the Boise area. We left late morning on Friday and went straight to packet pickup at race headquarters in Selah. The Yakima River Canyon Marathon race organizers put on a full weekend event for those interested. We decided not to participate in the spaghetti feed since we had our 6 kids with us (2*$10 + 6*$5 = $50 for spaghetti) and we aren’t the most extroverted people anyways. Instead we ate a McDonald’s (kids) and Subway (adults), which is always a safe, consistent choice before a marathon. I’d been eating all day, so a 6″ was great for me along with a few fries I taxed from the kids.
We went to a nearby hotel and let the kids swim. I did a couple laps in the pool and sat in the hot tub for 20 minutes or so. I find hot tubs very relaxing before a marathon, but I try to limit my time.
My sister-in-law met us at the hotel, which was great. She took most of the kids to her room so that Cyndi and I could get some rest. I got to bed around 10pm. Success!
I woke up at 2:30am by chance and ate half of my PB Honey sandwich. Then I slept until 5am and finished it off. By 6am I was on the bus and finishing my Lemon Lime Gatorade. It was chilly, but near the starting line there was a hotel with a clubhouse that runners could hang out in. I talked to one runner on the bus ride, but I was pretty introverted otherwise. There were lots of Marathon Maniacs at the race (they were having a reunion) so I heard some stories. I think there was a guy there that had run 1400+ marathons. There were definitely a few people that had done hundreds. Crazy.
The starting line was about a quarter-half mile from where we were. This made for a nice warm-up. A lady sang the National Anthem and the gun fired around 8:05am. I wore a tank top and gloves, which I ditched after a couple miles.
Getting Started, Miles 1-5: 6:32, 6:33, 6:39, 6:37, 6:40
Why is it so hard to not go faster than target pace at the beginning of a marathon? I was looking at my watch ever few seconds and doing everything I could to SLOW DOWN. It felt so easy. I was able to keep my first mile to 6:32, which was a success. My target pace for the first half of the marathon was 6:40, but I was willing to be in the 6:30’s if I felt good.
Two fast-looking guys took the lead during the first mile, followed by a third man. Just ahead of me a group of 3 people formed, two ladies and a guy. I thought about going with them but they were definitely going faster than 6:30, so I let them go and trailed behind them.
This group continued to build a bigger lead from me, but I stayed within the boundaries I had set. Around mile 2 or 3 another guy passed me and then went passed the group after the third place guy.
The first 5 miles of the marathon are ran on country roads outside Ellensburg. We actually enter the beautiful canyon around mile 5. The rest of the race follows the Yakima River through the canyon on a 2-lane highway. The canyon is green with grass and sparse trees. It has rocks, bluffs, and hills surrounding it. There are birds of prey and pretty vistas. Traffic is pretty much closed down, except for an occasional car passing very slowly.
Right at mile 6 is the first notable hill. Actually, there are two hills about 40 feet each back-to-back. The group of three ahead of me began to break up. One of the ladies fell back and another charged ahead. I took the downhill portions of the hill pretty fast, so I passed one lady and caught up to the guy.
His name was Steve and he was very friendly. We started chatting and ended up running the next 7-8 miles together. He was from Seattle and had done 40+ marathons. Even though he was 50 years old, he was keeping right up with me. It was a pleasure to talk with him. I don’t think I’ve ever hung with someone for that long in a marathon before. We talked marathons in general, Boston and Yakima in specific, and various other things.
It was nice to pass the miles with someone and not worry too much about how I was feeling. He was pushing a little harder than intended, both with the previous two ladies and with me, but it was definitely within his range. I was right where I wanted to be, running mostly in the 6:30’s, pretty close to my target of 6:40.
During this part of the race, runners will probably really notice the road curvature. The road winds back and forth along the river, but the road is also slanted, so you’re never really running on flat terrain. Fortunately there are enough curves that the angle of the road alternates between angling down to the right and angling down to the left. It didn’t bother me a ton, but I could see it aggravating knees/ankles in some runners.
Around mile 10 my quads were feeling pretty heavy, but there wasn’t much I could do about it besides plug on.
A Kiss for Cyndi and Leaving Steve, Miles 13-17: 6:37, 6:43, 7:03, 6:15, 6:41
As Steve and I approached the Half, we could see the Half Marathon runners corralled up ahead. We joked with each other about not breaking into a sprint as we got pumped up by the large, cheering crowd. I’m pretty sure most marathoners have made that mistake before.
Since we were the ~6th and 7th marathoners through, the Halfers were cheering pretty loudly and it was fun. They were going to start their race in 3 or 4 minutes. Cyndi, who was waiting to start the Half Marathon, separated from the crowd to give me a high five. I stopped and gave her a quick kiss, which led to an “Awwwww” from the crowd. It was fun to see her and wish her luck for her race.
At mile 14 things got serious again. We could see the first big hill ahead: a 140ft climb over a half mile. We started plugging up the hill. It isn’t terribly steep, so my pace didn’t go much above 7:30 for any part of the hill. I started to separate from Steve during the climb, and I knew I’d take the downhill pretty fast. I wished him luck as we approached the top.
As I sped back down towards the level of the river, I noticed the lady ahead of me was slowing a bit. Steve had said that she told him she’d be happy with a 3 hour marathon, so it was likely that she was going too fast to maintain. I caught her around mile 16 or 17. She was still going pretty strong and would end up getting 1st Female.
I was feeling good at this point. There were no major alarms going off. I was trying to keep the pace in the 6:30’s.
Last Stretch Before the Final Hill, Miles 18-21: 6:15, 6:35, 6:38, 6:43
A few miles back, I had also seen the 4th place guy seeming to slow down. I felt like if I had a strong race I’d be able to catch him in the last few miles. Sure enough, I closed on him around mile 18 as he began to fade a bit.
There happen to be some tiny rolling hills in this section of the marathon. Most of them go by unnoticed. I realized this when I myself really pushing to maintain a 6:40 pace in miles 19-21. It didn’t seem like my legs were that tired yet. I determined that it was a combination of some slight uphill portions and a steady headwind that we had encountered throughout the race depending on which way the road curves were headed. I really wish it had been a tailwind. Fortunately it was pretty light. Maybe 5-8mph at its strongest.
I was saving a little energy for the last hill while still trying to keep my pace.
A few fast half-marathoners passed me. It was nice to have some of them to keep me distracted.
The Bigger Hill, Miles 22-26.2: 6:49, 7:33, 6:08, 6:25, 6:10, 5:56 pace
Finally during mile 22 I could see the big hill. It was definitely long and steady. It rose about 275 feet over a little more than a mile. I dug into the hill the best I could. I was past the spot I’d normally hit the Wall, so my confidence grew as I ran up the hill.
The nice thing about a hill at this stage of a marathon, is that it gives your legs something different to deal with. To some degree I appreciated this change of slope.
But even more, I appreciated the downhill! The final downhill is long and fairly steep. I went fast and tried to make up for the slow uphill.
After a half mile of downhill I felt my right hamstring start to tighten into a cramp. I slowed down in time to keep it at bay, although I was a little annoyed. I was sure to grab some PowerAde at the next station to get all the fluid and electrolytes I could.
I continued charging down the hill and I was able to maintain a fast past for the last flat portion leading into Yakima. I couldn’t believe how much energy I had going into the finish. It was by far my best marathon finish ever.
I ended with a time of ~2:53:55. This was my second best marathon finish ever, and my best on a course without significant downhill (my PR was at the Big Cottonwood Marathon). I was very pleased with my time; I beat my primary goal by about 1 minute.
I celebrated with the other runners as they came in — especially Steve. He ended up around 3:05 and the 1st lady was close behind him.
Cyndi finished the half marathon in about 2:05, which was great for her coming off her 6th childbirth in July.
After cleaning up we got some KFC (hard to beat after a marathon) and went to a park with the kids for a while. The weather was great in Yakima, which polished off a good day before driving home.
I would highly recommend the Yakima River Canyon Marathon. The organization is good, the scenery is excellent, and the course is fast.
Now it’s on to the Boston Marathon in 16 days. In the meantime, recover recover recover recover recover…
My wife and I had a baby over the summer so I didn’t sign up for any fall marathons due to schedule uncertainty. I kept up my training for the most part and stayed in good shape and injury free. As fall approached, I wanted to run a marathon to get another finish in the bag and test my fitness.
I settled on the SoJo Marathon, located in South Jordan, Utah on October 20th. This would be a 5+ hour drive from my Idahome, but Idaho has slim pickings when it comes to marathons.
The SoJo Marathon course looks pretty decent on a map, although I think it turned out to be more challenging than I expected. It starts at 5500 ft, then drops to ~5130 by mile 3, only to climb back up to 5500 by ~mile 6. Then there’s a bunch of downhill dropping all the way down to 4300 ft by the finish line, with an occasional roller mixed in.
Packet pickup was available the evening before and the morning of the marathon, which was nice for those coming into South Jordan from out of town. There is also a half marathon, 5K, and kids run.
I caught one of the buses on marathon morning to the starting line. The start was pretty laid back — located in a neighborhood next to a park. They had a couple heaters going in the ~40F weather. I was bundled up and feeling pretty well. I hoped for 2:55:00ish.
My cousin happened to be doing this marathon, so I found her and we chatted for a while. This was her first.
SoJo Marathon Miles 1-4: 6:35, 6:33, 6:40, 7:11
The SoJo Marathon started at 6:45. I took it easy on the first little uphill and tried to run loose on the downhill. It was steep enough that I focused on not restraining myself but also tried not to get caught up in the early race adrenaline. My initial miles were in the 6:30’s. I slowed down for mile 4 since I knew a hill was coming up.
I had the unique experience of thinking I had just started mile 2 and then looking at my watch and seeing I was past mile 3. That’s never happened before.
I met a nice guy named Josh Hernandez who was shooting for ~2:50. He was wearing a Boston shirt. We ran together for a mile or so and eventually he pulled ahead. I met another guy named Jon Harrison shortly after. He was shooting for a time similar to mine. He said he was mostly a trail runner and did Ultras.
SoJo Marathon Miles 5-7: 7:07, 7:53, 6:52
The hill was pretty large, although it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected. We had a headwind which I didn’t appreciate. I slowed down to almost an 8:00 pace for mile 6. I didn’t want to burn out early in the race. At mile 7 I believe my average pace was around 7:00/mile, which seemed about right. Josh and Jon both pulled ahead of me.
SoJo Marathon Miles 8-11: 6:15, 6:32, 6:26, 6:48
Then the downhill really started. It was really steep at first and I took advantage of it. I passed Jon back up on the steep part. Then it was a gradual downhill which was pleasant to run in. I saw some deer which is always nice during a race.
Through mile 10 we were in the outskirts of the city. Right at mile 10 the SoJo Marathon took a left turn and started a series of turns on big roads in the city. Mile 10 was the most poorly marked turn, but the course was well marked in general.
SoJo Miles 12-16: 6:45, 6:44, 6:50, 7:03, 6:36
Now the SoJo Marathon course settled down and was pretty flat. The big, long roads were somewhat monotonous, but I was feeling pretty good and staying positive. It was nice to pass half way, and I did so in about 1:29:30. This was a little disappointing as I wasn’t feeling that a negative split would be very feasible. My plan had been to be somewhat conservative for the first half and then see what I could do the second half. I didn’t feel like I had been overly conservative.
Josh was now out of sight and I figured he was on his way to low 2:50’s. Mile 16 had a decent drop which I utilized to run a 6:36.
SoJo Miles 17-22: 7:16, 6:45, 6:56, 7:21, 6:59, 6:56
During mile 17 we passed the Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple. It’s situated right on a hill, which meant we also got to go up a steep hill. I passed a marathoner right at the bottom of the hill who struggling. At the start he said he was going for 2:50, but I think this was his first marathon and he was a little unprepared. Oops. Been there, done that.
The ~75 foot hill was a challenge, but at least we got to run down it as well. However, on the way down my legs weren’t quite moving like I wanted them to. Thus began a slow slide into the wall. There was a very gradual hill during mile 20 which again slowed me down, and around this time another runner passed me. I ran with him for a bit and it was nice to talk to someone at least. But I was dragging more and more and I told him to not let me slow him down.
SoJo Miles 23-26.2: 7:08, 7:15, 7:40, 8:04, (7:44)
Luckily there was more downhill during miles 23 and 24 because I was starting to hurt. I was definitely hitting the wall and watching my shot at even a sub 3:00 slip away. It was disappointing, but there wasn’t a lot I could do.
At mile 25 we entered a running path. I was passed by a few more runners, including the top female with about a mile to go. I held on pretty well but I was really looking forward to the finish line when it finally came.
Is there anything more relieving than crossing the finish line of a marathon? It felt so good to stop running. Official time was 3:02:59, which earned me 11th place.
Post Race Thoughts
I was pretty disappointed with my time. I really thought I was capable of 2:55, and that I had a shot at 2:50. I’m not sure what went wrong. Sleep was good, nutrition was ok, training was good. I think I may have underestimated the course difficulty. Josh and Jon both ended up finishing just a minute or two ahead of me.
I think my time will be good enough for Boston 2020, but it might be right on the edge, so I can’t depend on it (I’m not sure I’ll want to run it anyways). I still did get another marathon under my belt and it’s always a good experience to run it and finish, even if it’s not what I hoped.
The SoJo Marathon organization was good. The first half of the course had some great views, including sunrise over the city. The second half was nothing to get excited about. I think the only reason I’d run it in the future is if the timing is just right. That said, I’m still glad I ran it. It was my 21st lifetime marathon/50k and my second this year.
On Monday, April 17, 2017, I joined a corral of a few hundred other anxious, jittery runners a few minutes before 10am to begin the 121st Boston Marathon. It took a few years of preparation to get to the starting line, and it was an unforgettable experience.
Qualifying for the Boston Marathon
In October 2013 I ran the St. George Marathon. It had been four years since I last ran a marathon, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. For the previous 13 years since graduating high school my running was intermittent. I rarely ran in the winter because it was too cold. My weight went from about 185 in 2003, up to 239 in 2007, and then back down to about 205 in 2013.
I ended up finishing the marathon with a time of 3:24:53. It was a major success for me, and it broke my previous PR set when I was 18 years old at the Park City Marathon. I was hooked on running. For the first time I realized I could potentially qualify for Boston — something I’d never considered before. I needed to take 20 minutes off my time, but that seemed doable.
I signed up for the Phoenix Marathon in the late winter of the following year and continued training with the goal of eventually dropping my time down to below 3:05. Unfortunately the following year was marred by small, but nagging injuries that stifled my improvement. However, I took the time to heal in the fall of 2014 and then trained hard in 2015. I finally hit my goal time of sub-3:05 at the Mt. Nebo Marathon in September 2015.
Once again my Boston Marathon plans were frustrated as excess demand to run the race reduced the cutoff time and I missed qualification by 1 minute 46 seconds.
I continued training until finally I got a secure qualification time at the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon in May 2016. Then I had to wait one year to actually run the Boston Marathon.
Vacation to New York and Boston
This month (April 2017) finally arrived. Cyndi and I decided to make a vacation out of our trip across the United States to Boston. Neither of us had been to New York for more than a few hours, so we wrapped that into our plans.
Airline tickets are generally cheap on Wednesdays, so we booked a flight to New York on a Wednesday and out of Boston the following Wednesday. On the Tuesday evening before our flight, we drove 7 hours to Vancouver, WA to drop our kids off with family. Then we caught a red-eye flight to New York. We spent 2.5 days seeing all sorts of sites and having a great time.
In approximately this order, we saw: all sorts of subway lines and stops, the Empire State Building, Bryant Park, Central Park, Belvedere Castle, the MET, an awesome Mexican restaurant, the show Stomp, Times Square, delicious cheesecake, a busy but spectacular bagel shop, the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Trinity Church, Wall Street, the Staten Island Ferry, the Statue of Liberty, the LDS Temple, Serendipity 3, Rockefeller Center, Highline Park, and also walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.
On Saturday we took a four hour Amtrak train to Boston, dropped our stuff off at our South End airbnb, ate at Shake Shack, and met up with my parents. On Sunday we went to church, walked around Harvard, went to packet pickup, and did a Duck Tour.
What did all of this amount to? WAY TOO MUCH WALKING RIGHT BEFORE A MARATHON! To be precise, here is my step count:
That doesn’t even account for the hours of standing around in museums, in lines, and on the subway. We came home exhausted every night. On Sunday I tried to take it easy, but it was too little too late. I knew going into the race that this was a major risk. Still, I don’t regret it since I wanted to see the New York and who knows when we’ll go back.
Boston Marathon Packet Pickup and Expo
Packet pickup and the expo run for three days for the Boston Marathon — Friday through Saturday from 9am to 6pm. We attended on Sunday. It was a great relief to finally have my bib in hand. I also loved the shirt.
The expo was huge and we walked around it for a while. There were several samples of sports drinks and we each got a free Kind bar. There were lots of running products and big stores from Adidas and New Balance (and Saucony maybe?).
I woke up at 5:40am on race morning, ate part of my PB&J, and got ready. I had arranged for an Uber driver to picked me up, and she dropped me off at Boston Common so I could hop on the bus to Hopkinton. There were large crowds, but the organization was superb and I was on a bus pretty soon after arriving.
In line for the bus I met a guy named Sam from Louisiana. We chatted the whole way to Hopkinton. This was his 4th Boston in a row. His wife had also run it in 2013 but finished before the bombing. It was good to talk to him. We discussed past marathons, target times, and training. When we arrived at the Athletes’ Village we snapped a photo at the entrance.
The Athletes’ Village is huge. I have never seen so many port-a-potties in one place in my life! They had everything you might need before running a marathon — bagels, bananas, apples, sunscreen, Clif Bloks, water, Gatorade, etc. (Who eats apples right before a race though?) There was a HUGE line to take a picture in front of the “Welcome to Hopkinton – It all starts here” sign. So I didn’t get a picture there. A guy on a loudspeaker was announcing the same stuff over and over and a helicopter hovered overhead.
Did I mention the police? They were everywhere. From when I approached the buses until I went home that afternoon. Everywhere.
I hit the port-a-potties early and then again about 20 minutes before I would have to head to the start. Right after I exited, around 8:45am, the lines grew exponentially. I couldn’t believe how long the lines got despite the fact that there were hundreds of toilets available.
I ran into Joseph, who I was runner-up to at the Mt. Nebo Marathon in 2015. We sat by each other and talked until it was time for us to head to the start.
The Boston Marathon had four waves this year. I was in Wave 1, Corral 3. I got to head to the starting line at 9:15. I saw an acquaintance from my hometown on the way and gave her a high-five. It’s about a 0.75 mile walk from the Athletes’ Village to the starting line. There were more port-a-potties on the way as well, so I made another stop right before the lines for those exploded.
All morning the energy was electrifying. Everyone was jittery and anxious, including me. I finally got to Corral 3 and waited for 20 minutes. It smelled of Ben-Gay and BO. Most of the people in my corral were similar to me with runner physique. All of us had trained for years to be here. I talked to a runner next to me for a few minutes, but I forget where he was from (Wisconsin maybe?).
A cheer erupted when the elites walked out from an area to the left. When their names were announced there were huge cheers for Galen Rupp and Jared Ward.
A man sang the National Anthem as several flags waved. Right when he finished two F-15’s flew overhead. The timing could not have been more perfect.
Before long a countdown began and at 10am we were off!
The Boston Marathon
Miles 1-5: 6:33, 6:27, 6:19, 6:19, 6:28
We started at a walk and quickly transitioned to a jog and then a run. I was in Corral 3, pretty close to the Start. There were so many runners! I was boxed in and couldn’t move around much, but it didn’t matter since everyone was basically going the pace I wanted to run anyways.
I noticed the energy of the crowd right away. There were loads of people lining the start. Eventually there began to be gaps in the spectators on the sides, but throughout the race I was impressed by the sheer numbers of spectators.
The Boston Marathon has some decent downhill for the first 4 miles. I didn’t feel like I was taking the downhill too fast because I was so boxed in. I actually wanted to go a bit faster, but I was happy with 6:33 for my first mile. The second mile was similar and I came in around 6:27.
I picked it up a bit for the third mile. The runners started to spread out. There were also some nice crowds and I had fun giving high fives to the people on the sidelines. I got a little carried away on a downhill portion with crowds and started running too fast, but I reigned myself back in and ran a 6:19 for miles 3 and 4. 6:19 was actually near my “stretch goal” pace of 2:45:00, so I didn’t mind.
One great thing about the Boston Marathon is the variety of runners. For example, I was near the Blind Runner pictured below for a while. It’s amazing to me that he could move like he did with that disability. I ran by him for a large portion of the race. I also came across handcyclers and people with other disabilities and missing limbs during the race.
Around Mile 4 I took my phone out and captured a selfie. I figured I should get at least one since I was carrying my phone. It was a pain to do since I didn’t want to stop, and as I got more tired later on I didn’t feel like messing with my phone.
I hit my fifth mile at 6:28. Something changed during that mile. I noticed that my legs and breathing were not quite right. If my heart rate was being measured correctly it was way too high. It was hot out. It hit 79 Fahrenheit during the race, and we started out at about 69F. There were aid stations every mile starting at Mile 2, and I was taking one cup of Gatorade to drink and a cup of water to dump on my head. Despite drinking a lot, I could tell that my stretch goal was not likely to happen. I was not feeling well.
Miles 6-10: 6:24, 6:25, 6:33, 6:35, 6:44
I still pressed on and continued hitting my primary goal pace of 6:28.
I don’t recall all the details of the race, just continued amazement at the crowds of spectators. It wasn’t exactly one continuous line of spectators, but there were large groups of people quite often. They were cheering, giving high-fives, handing out orange slices and water. Some were searching for their runners but many were just out to watch the spectacle and cheer us on. It was fantastic. It certainly provided a boost.
A few times during the marathon, a runner would grab a water bottle from a spectator, take a sip or dump some on his head, and then hand it on to another runner. I took part in this a few times during the race.
Miles 6, 7, and 8 were at 6:24, 6:25, and 6:35. I remember distinctly feeling rotten around mile 7. I was drinking a lot (more than planned) and eating my Gu Energy Chews, but I was feeling rotten. I decided to eat my Honey Stinger Waffle at Mile 8 instead of waiting until Mile 10. Unfortunately my mouth was already really dry and it was hard to swallow. This is usually the case around Mile 20 for me, but not before Mile 10 (that’s why I only bring one Waffle to eat). I actually gagged on the last bite and it got stuck in my throat until I hit the next aid station and downed some water. This was not pleasant.
I couldn’t believe how bad I was feeling. I had felt way better on training runs at a similar pace. Five weeks earlier I had run a half marathon at a 6:00/mile pace. Now I knew I had to slow down more, so my next two miles were 6:35 and 6:44.
I was in a pretty dark place at this point, despite the amazing crowds and all the energy. I did my best to think positive and keep chugging on. I was surprised at how lousy I felt, and I even felt light-headed a few times. In hindsight, I’m quite sure this was due to a combination of the heat and wearing out my legs walking all over New York. Touring on foot had taken its toll.
Miles 11-15: 6:50, 6:48, 6:57, 7:00, 7:07
Accepting this, I let my pace drift further. I wanted to finish, no matter what my time was, and I didn’t want a total disaster like when I ran the Hoover Dam Marathon. This section of the course was mostly flat. I tried to regroup and hydrate. I also tried to enjoy the experience despite how terrible I was feeling.
At mile 11 I grabbed a Clif gel and it provided a good boost.
At mile 13 we passed Wellesley College and the “scream tunnel.” I didn’t get a kiss, but a lot of other runners did and it was entertaining. I did give a lot of high fives. I thought the energy here was similar to what we saw in a lot of the towns along the course.
Crossing half way was a relief. I crossed at 1:26:30. This was slower than what I had originally planned and at this point I didn’t expect any kind of negative or even split. I still hoped for a turnaround though.
MILES 16-20: 6:37, 7:10, 7:26, 7:05, 7:18
Finally during mile 16 I emerged from my haze and got a bit of a second wind. In my last couple of marathons (Morgan Valley and Layton) I’ve gotten a second wind at a similar point. There was a half mile where I felt really good for the first time in about 12 miles. I thought there could be a chance of holding the line at a 7:00/mile pace. That didn’t happen for long, but I received a huge mental boost and it was enough to get me out of my despair and through the rest of the race.
My splits for miles 16 and 17 were 6:37 and 7:10, attributing to the second wind I got as well as some downhill during mile 16 and uphill during mile 17.
Now that I was past mile 17 I knew we had more hills coming up, in fact, we had just passed the first one. Given my state at this point in the race, the hills didn’t really bug me much. I mean, I was already somewhat of a wreck relative to where I thought I’d be, so I just took the hills as they came.
The crowds were also growing by now and provided some nice support on the hills.
MILES 21-25: 7:54, 7:26, 7:59, 8:23, 9:15
Heartbreak Hill finally arrived at ~mile 20.5. Similar to the previous hills, this wasn’t a huge deal for me since I was already wrecked anyways. I trudged up it at a relatively decent pace and finished mile 21 in 7:54.
The crowd from here to the finish essentially lined every foot of the course and it was awesome. However, when I got to the top of Heartbreak Hill I was starting to get really exhausted and I could feel my quads locking up. Uh oh.
I finished mile 22 in 7:26 but after that it became a slog. My quads became extremely tight and heavy. Every step took effort. I had been here before, but in the last four marathons I’d run I hadn’t gotten to this point. The Newport Marathon was the last time I had hit The Wall like this.
Now the challenge was not to finish in a certain time, but to finish without walking. I knew if I slowed to a walk I’d immediately cramp up and wouldn’t be able to resume running.
I also noticed that I was no longer sweating. This concerned me, but I was close enough to the end that I figured I could make it.
My miles slowed from 7:59 to 8:53 to 9:15. This is always remarkable to me in hindsight (even though it’s happened before). When I am doing training runs, I pretty much never run slower than 8:30, even on recovery days. On those days I can’t imagine ever needing to run slower than 9:00/mile. Yet here I was unable to hold a 9:00 pace!
To make things worse, I was getting passed by what seemed like hundreds of runners at this point. They were like a river running past me. I thought it was even thousands, but looking back and knowing my final placement, it was probably about 1000 runners that passed me between the half and the end, possibly fewer.
While it’s not fun to be passed by 1000 runners, I did see some guys walking or obviously injured or cramped up. I’m grateful I was still moving as fast as I was.
I counted down the minutes until I could stop running. I remember this started when I had about 3 miles left — about 25 minutes.
Cyndi later asked me if I had the classic dark thought of “I’m never doing another marathon again.” I laughed. It’s been a few years since I had that thought (Robie Creek 2012 I think). On the contrary, at this point I was thinking about which race I could redeem myself at…
MILE 26 & 26.2: 9:40, 7:47
One thing that kept me going was that Cyndi had texted me to say that she and my parents were on the corner of Hereford and Boylston, very close to the finish. I didn’t want to make them wait any longer and I wanted to run by them, not walk. From Cyndi’s spot, she saw a lot of my heroes:
I saw the CITGO sign up ahead, then finally I got to make the right turn onto Hereford. The crowd was so loud here! I watched for Cyndi and finally spotted her about 100 yards ahead on my left. It was such a relief and a happy moment to see her! I ran up to her and gave her a kiss. Then I rounded the turn onto Boylston.
Apparently I had a little more left in me because the pace of my last 0.2 mile was 7:47.
About 150 yards before the finish I saw two runners grab a guy in blue that was falling. I started to run up to help on his right, but an officer stepped over to support him, so I ended up going around them. I glanced back and saw him go all the way to the ground. He was later carried across the finish. I found this video:
Crossing the finish line at the Boston Marathon was such a relief! I had waited so long, thought about it during dozens of training runs over thousands of miles. It was an accomplishment I’d looked forward to for 3.5 years. It also meant I could stop running.
My official time was 3:08:42, a far cry from my expected time of ~2:48:00, but it could have been worse.
After the Boston Marathon
I soon got my medal and some snacks (which I couldn’t stomach yet). The race organizers made the runners walk what seemed like forever. I just wanted to sit down and rest! I was really light-headed. At first I just stopped and leaned. Finally when I thought I’d puke and/or faint I had to sit in a wheelchair. I rested for a minute then got up and continued walking. I eventually had to find another wheelchair. I rested in that and then continued walking. I found one more wheelchair and sat in it until they threatened to take me to the medical tent. Then I finished the death march to the meetup area and sat on the sidewalk for 10-15 minutes.
I sat next to a guy named Craig Stevenson from Michigan. He was in a state similar to me — happy to have finished, but exhausted and disappointed with his time. The heat had gotten to us both. If I remember correctly, we had both ran a similar number of marathons and were both at Boston for the first time. It was nice to talk to someone and realize that many of us had a tough race. [I later came across this thread on LetsRun.com and saw that many other people had similar experiences.]
I eventually caught up with Cyndi and my parents in a little cafe. It was good to see them and I gave them a recap of the race. They’d had a fun time cheering and seeing the fast runners come through. They said a lady next to them cried when I gave Cyndi a kiss! Cyndi said that watching the end of the marathon was one of the top 10 experiences of her life (I just checked again and she still affirms that even though it’s been a week since the race).
After cleaning up we walked part of the Freedom Trail and ended up eating a delicious dinner at a restaurant called Row 34. I had the “Daily Whole Fish” which was a black bass. YUM.
It was fun to see other runners walking around and congratulate them.
I honestly think that 70-90% of people that want to run Boston could run Boston. The 10-30% that can’t are those that are plagued with injuries or other ailments. I think most other people could do it. What does it take? It takes planning. It takes sacrificing other hobbies for running. It may take losing some weight (I’m down to <190 from my high of 239). It takes patience: I read recently that we generally overestimate what we can do in the short run, and underestimate what we can do in the long run. I think that most people that are willing to put in the time and effort can get to Boston in 3-6 years.
I hope to run the Boston Marathon again someday. It probably won’t happen next year, but maybe in two or three.
Boston was my 17th marathon. It was unlike anything else I’ve done. The energy and excitement was amazing. The organization was superb. I’ve never been in a corral with ~1000 other runners that are my same speed and fitness. I’ve never seen crowds that line a course for miles. I’ve never run next to blind runners, runners missing limbs, runners pushing disabled people, and wheelchair athletes all in the same race. Boston was a unique, memorable, and remarkable experience. How could I not want to do it again?