Thursday, April 18, 2013

Boston Marathon 2013 Race Recap

It's finally here: My Boston Marathon race recap! My intention with this post is to be upbeat and focus on my perspective of only the race-related events Monday morning/early afternoon. My last two posts have touched on the tragic events of that day.

(Just to get summarize, this was my post-race experience: I crossed the finish line some 80 minutes before the tragedy occurred and had just reached my hotel room two miles away when it happened. The rest of the day was spent watching the events unfold on t.v. and listening to and watching the constant of emergency/government vehicles outside my hotel window.) 

Again, this post is about the happy memories I have from the race. 

Note: All Boston Marathon runners got an e-mail notice that our official race pictures are still being reviewed by the Department of Homeland Security. I only have pictures from my camera, which was in bag check during the actual race. 

Riding the "T"
I was assigned to an early bus from Boston to the starting line (in Hopkinton). The buses for my wave were leaving Boston Common between 6:00 and 6:30am. So I hopped on the "T" at the North End stop at around 6:00am. The "T" is Boston's trolley-like subway version of our "L" train.
Me and a Boston "T" car
Unfortunately, I just missed a train as I hustled down the North End stop stairs, so I waited another 15 minutes with an ever-growing mass of runners. I actually saw people walking over the tracks to get to the opposite platforms, which is shocking to see for a Chicagoan who is used to seeing the dreaded "third rail" signs:
Chicago "Third Rail" Sign
Apparently, the "T" is powered from overhead lines, so there is no electrified third rail. 

Anyway, I was getting anxious that I would miss my time window to get on a bus to the start of the race.  Fortunately, after 15 minutes another train finally arrived, and all of us runners were somehow able to squeeze on-board. I asked a Boston local which stop was best to get off at and he said it was Park Street Station. Google Maps had said to get off at the Boylston Street Station. So when we reached Park Street Station first, the rest of the runners, who were loyal to Google stayed on the train, but I trusted the Boston native and got off the train early. I took the stairs up to ground level. As I emerged from the stairwell, I realized I was right in the middle of the lines for the buses. Lesson: Always trust the locals.

Waiting for a Bus
Surprise! I emerged right in the middle of the bus pick-up lines
A look down the Tremont Street marathon bus lines along the Boston Common
The line moved quickly, and I was sitting on a bus in less than 10 minutes.

On the Bus to the Start
I sat next to a runner from New Jersey and talked to her for the entire trip, she got a picture of me in the bus:
In the Bus towards Hopkinton

This was her third Boston Marathon and she was targeting a time just around my target finish time. In an earlier post, I used historical training numbers to pinpoint that my current fitness would equate to a 3:26 marathon finish time. So, we briefly considered running together. However, with my race strategy (which you will find out about later) I thought it would be best to go it alone. 

Athletes' Village

We got off the bus and made our way to "Athletes' Village" which is the staging area for runners before we were herded into the corrals.
Making the short walk from the bus to Athletes' Village
A view of Athletes' Village
Waiting around
Besides having free water, gatorade, coffee, power bars and just about anything you could ever want pre-race, I noticed that they had the famous "Welcome to Hopkinton" sign out and the official photographer took my picture. I also sneaked a couple with my own camera:

In line for a photo op by the "Hopkinton" sign
Sneaky pic after my "official" pic
After that I wandered around and saw the road that led to the start line. The start line is about 1/2 mile down this hill:
Last picture before the race
I checked my plastic marathon bag, which I had to tape shut because it was falling apart. Then, I stood in line for the porta-potty as the announcer was calling my wave to get down the hill into town and into our corrals. It always seems like the next person in line in front of me takes forever in the porta-potty and I was getting nervous that my corral would close and I would be put in wave 2, which was 20 minutes after mine.

Luckily, the guy in front of me finally emerged and the port-potty door swung open! After finishing up quickly, I started walking down the hill to the corrals. I was walking next to a guy who was wearing bib 4991, and I was bib 4989. I asked him what is qualifying time was and he said 3:05:04. I qualified with 3:05:03. So, that one second difference meant two bib numbers higher.

The Start
I arrived at my corral with about 5 minutes to spare at 9:55 am. I don't think they closed the corrals until the race started, which was quite nice. Big Chicago race corrals close 15 minutes or so before race start. The corrals were in the quaint downtown area of Hopkinton and since you couldn't see too far up the hill to the starting line, it seemed more like a small town race start on a relatively narrow street. They briefly introduced the elite runners, and before I knew it, the race was underway. I threw my "disposable" sweatshirt and sweatpants over the railing and started walking to the starting line. After three minutes of walking I finally crossed the start line.

Run-Walk Race Strategy
This is probably a good time to talk about my race strategy.

I had been deliberating using Galloway's run-walk-run race strategy ever since I started recovering from my ankle injury six weeks before the race. In the six weeks prior to the marathon, I was not able to put in much mileage. I had to slowly ramp up the miles after my injury and maxed out with only one week at 50 miles. In fact, in my entire training cycle I ran only ONE long run of 16 miles! So, to avoid the dreaded marathon "collapse point", I needed a way to make it through the "wall" and still post a decent finish time. I wanted to be able to enjoy the final miles, instead of taking the risk that I would be dragging myself to the finish in pain.

From my 2011 NYC Marathon experience, I found out that I could run a pretty good pace despite taking occasional walk breaks, even with very little training leading up to the marathon. In NYC I only took a few random walk breaks in the first 16 miles. Because of the walk breaks, I felt so good at mile 16, I stopped taking them entirely, Quitting the walk breaks this early in the race resulted in a near total collapse at mile 23. I needed to do something different at Boston. So, for the Boston Marathon, mile 20 is the hardest mile, so I knew I wanted to pace myself and save some energy for mile 20. My race strategy would be to do run-walk-run until mile 21 of the Boston Marathon. I promised myself if I felt fresh at mile 21, I would stop taking walk breaks and only run from miles 21 to 26.2.

The key to the run-walk-run race strategy is to take walks early and often, so your legs are kept fresh. Also, since you are walking, you are still moving, so you are not losing too much time if you keep them short enough. I was going for a 5 minute run to 35 second walk ratio.

As I mentioned earlier, I had calculated my current fitness level which indicated that I was fit enough to complete the marathon in 3:26, which approximates to a pace of about 7:30/mile run portion with 35 seconds of walking every 5 minutes.

The Race
Mile 1: The first mile of the race is essentially a long, narrow downhill stretch, so I started out too fast. I also did not have enough open space in the road for my first walk break at minute 5, so I had to hop up onto the grass along the woods as to not be knocked over by the runners coming up from behind. My walk only lasted about 25 seconds, but at least I got one in. Lots of guys were relieving themselves along the woods by the side of the road. One walk break. Average pace for the mile: 7:21.

Miles 2, 3 and 4: These miles go through at town called Ashland, and are also downhill. Except for mountain hiking, I have never run this long going downhill in my life! My normal loose shoelace job was allowing my toes to slam against the front of my shoes. A blister was inevitable. A biker bar with about 200 bikers cheering us on was blaring "Born to Run" as we raced by. I found a video someone took of the bikers watching us go by. From the video, it looks like beer and jello shots were plentiful:
See if you can spot me, I was wearing a blue hat and green shirt! I couldn't, but I went by about this time. 

I was either running too fast, or not walking long enough as my pace was too fast. Four walk breaks total: 7:38, 7:37, 7:07.

Miles 5, 6, 7: We ran through the outskirts and the in-skirts of Framingham. This stretch is also slightly downhill, with a few uphills. At mile 5, I had to use the porta-potty. The first porta-potty door indicator I spotted was green, so I opened the door, and the person inside had forgotten to lock it. Oops! Luckily someone was leaving another one, and I darted inside. After I emerged, I ran through the town. I must have heard my name shouted 100 times. I was wearing a "Pete B!" sign pinned to my shirt. Three walk breaks total: 7:587:437:27.

Miles 8, 9, 10, 11: We ran through the town of Natick. The net elevation change was not too drastic, but there were a few large hills. I took orange slices and tissues from spectators. A little kid gave me a blue frozen drink plastic tube thingy. I ate my first gu and washed it down with a bottle of water a spectator handed to me. Another runner warned me not to take any water from spectators near the colleges in the second half of the race as some of them put vodka in the water cups. Spectators gave me lots of high fives and name shout outs, as I ran along the right hand side of the road. Five walk breaks total: 7:577:378:087:59.

Miles 12, 13, 14, 15: The fact that I train on almost completely flat roads and the fact that my shins were not used to absorbing all of the downhill impact was started to make my right shin sore. I started to worry about how I would handle having an all out painful shin splint at this point. Worst case, I would have to drag my bum right leg another half marathon. Luckily, the concern I had over my shin soon faded as we passed Wellesley College and its hundreds of screaming women. They all wanted a kiss, and held up signs like "Kiss Me, I'm a Hedonist" or "Kiss Me, I Use Tongue" or "Kiss Me, I've Had Lots of Practice". The road was a madhouse as guys who were excited by all of the beautiful and seemingly available college women, darted in front of me to go to the side of the road to give the women what their signs were asking for! Unfortunately, this was not a walking break section for me, so I blew all of them kisses as I ran by, which they seemed to enjoy! Five walk breaks total: 7:47, 7:47, 7:49, 8:24.

Miles 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21: This is the toughest section of the course that includes the major uphill climbs on which are known as the "Newton Hills".  I really enjoyed my walk breaks over this section! When I walked, I walked along the left side of the road and got lots of name calls and high fives by hundreds of smiling spectators encouraging me up the hills. I also had another gu and water. The final hill at mile 20 to 21 is called "Heartbreak Hill" and it is the longest, steepest hill on the course. I was contemplating running up the entire hill, but I stuck to my plan and forced myself to not be macho and to take my final walk break before I crested the hill. After this point my race would start and I could let "the beast out of the bag". Ten walk breaks total: 7:46, 8:22, 8:08, 8:16, 7:59, 8:43.

Miles 22, 23, 24, 25: I still get goosebumps thinking about these four miles. I was finally "free" of my walk breaks,  the sun was out and I was on top of Heartbreak Hill looking down towards Boston running the freaking Boston Marathon! My endorphins were surging to all-time highs! I decided I was going to put on a running clinic, and treat the remaining 5.2 miles as a race. I would give it all I had all the way to the finish. As I sped up, the spectators along the road noticed me speeding up, and they started going crazy, seemingly everyone of them calling my name. Mile 21 was mostly downhill, and emboldened by the fans, I put up a pace as fast as my slowly stiffening legs could handle. I literally started passing hundreds of runners. It felt incredible after being passed for 80% of the race. I had to weave in and around runners. I held back tears and promised myself not to cry until the finish line. By the mile 23 marker, I started to realize that my legs were really starting to stiffen, I had not run anywhere near this mileage since the Chicago Marathon last October. So, I began to reel myself back in. I decided to slow down so I would have something left for the last 1.2 miles. I took no walk breaks: 6:45, 6:56, 7:17, 7:29.

Miles 25, 26, 26.2: Everything became a blur, the crowd noise was deafening, the streets were packed with spectators, this was it, the finish of the Boston Marathon! I was in a foggy zone, but I also realized that I could potentially break 3:25 and BQ at Boston, but those hopes quickly faded as my legs got harder to turn over, especially as we went down and back up a tunnel. I had the lungs left, but my legs were giving way. I made the turn onto Boylston street, slowed down at the finish to make the victory sign with my arms and to look up into the cameras. I was finished. No walk breaks: 7:30, 7:52, 7:36.

Official Finish Time: 3:25:40
 (only 20 seconds difference from my predicted time!)
I actually ran 26.5 miles, probably from lots of weaving.
Post Race
We had to walk about 0.25 miles until we hit the first Gatorade stand, and I gulped some Gatorade down. We proceeded on to get water, more Gatorade, bananas and even dinner rolls! We got our "heat shields" and finally our medals. I got the following shots once I picked up my gear bag:

Runners making their way to the exits
Red Gatorade smile anyone?
Note the guy changing by the bus
My medal and "Pete B!" sign on my shirt
After the race I went back to the "Park Place" "T" stop and took the train the two miles back to my hotel. Not only was I riding the train, I was riding on an all-time high. My euphoria lasted another hour. However, now that I have been able to look back on my race, a little more of that euphoria has returned.
I am excited to run Boston again and would do it again in a heartbeat.


  1. Pete!! Considering all you went through this training cycle, you had a FANTASTIC race! Congratulations!

    1. Bobbi, You are correct, it was touch and go there during the training cycle, but I made it. Thanks!

  2. LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE. Thank you for putting together such a FANTASTIC race recap with the various humorous anecdotes sprinkled throughout! I've been looking forward to reading about your Boston experience for such a long time. That is absolutely amazing that your predicted race time came SO close to the actual results!

    Thank you also for sharing your experience with the run-walk method. I usually do a 4:1 run-walk ratio on my long runs in training, but in races I feel pressured to not walk. I am glad that it worked so well for you!!!

    1. Thanks! It is amazing that I was only 20 seconds off my predicted time. Using historical data and time conversion charts seemed to be pretty accurate this time. I think I may add more run-walks in my training now that this seemed to work so well.

  3. Nice job and game plan! I hope I can qualify for it next year! Great detailed review!

    1. Thanks. Good luck in your BQ attempt. Thanks again!

  4. What an excellent Boston race you had! That's amazing! It took me 2 Bostons to figure out how to enjoy it as much as you did the first time around :) Congrats again on a great race... and especially so with the injury you were battling during training. :)

    1. Thanks. I think that previous marathons that did not go so well have taught me a little on how to approach them to help maximize my enjoyment. Yes, the finish was all the better that considering I had overcome an injury recently.

  5. Congrats on a great race. It's been exciting to follow your journey as you recovered from an injury and then rocked at your race!

  6. Congrats and great job sticking to the plan! I can only imagine how difficult it was to keep with the plan with such an adrenaline charged atmosphere.

    1. Thanks Eric. It is difficult to stick with the plan in an exciting race like this one was. Perhaps I did not execute it in text book fashion, but it helped get me the distance, allowed me to still post a respectable time and to finish without "hitting the wall".

  7. LOVE hearing about this! I'm glad to hear that your strategy worked well, and that you didn't break down (either to stop walking earlier, or hit the wall) during the race. And of course that you are safe! Great job!

  8. What a great race, amazing your time was just about spot on. Your recap is great, I can just picture the course, and the experience (the closest I will ever get to running it). I hope to some day go spectate and cheer the runners on. I am glad writing the recap brought back some of the feelings of this awesome experience. Such a tangle of emotion. Run on!

    1. Jacky, I'm glad you liked the recap. It would be an awesome race to spectate as the spectators are very much a part of the race.

  9. I'm glad to hear you had such a great race!

  10. OMG - the guy changing by the bus is priceless! I am really glad your run walk plan worked out - maybe i will give it a try next weekend! Either way, that is a spectacular time, so CONGRATULATIONS!, and i can't wait to qualify and run Boston! Twenty years from now. :)

    1. Yes, I've noticed at these larger races, some people can't wait to get their sweaty clothes off as soon as possible! Good luck in your marathon next weekend! You may not have to wait 20 years to run Boston with all of the quality miles and martinis you are doing!

  11. Congrats on the Race!

  12. GIVE ME YOUR SPEED! haha congrats Pete!
    Loved reading about your Boston experience.

  13. Congratulations Pete. It sounds like you had an amazing race and a fantastic experience.

  14. Great recap of a great race, Pete......the mile by mile and section by section reports brought back a lot of memories for me. I'm so glad you came through it all safe and sound, and I'll see you in Hopkinton next April!

    1. Thanks Bill! I'm glad too! Anyway, I am still considering whether to run it again next year, although it will definitely be huge! :-)

  15. Just reading your last paragraph is so great - I'm glad you can look back and feel excited about running a great race (as you should!), and hope you'll get to go back again someday. Congrats on such a good race, and I'm impressed by how close you got to your anticipated time!

    The biker bar at miles 2-4 sounds awesome! Did you have a jello shot? :) And running downhill can be surprisingly (well, to me at least) hard! I did some steep downhill jogging last week and was a little worried I'd wipe out just from the momentum of it. And I find your walk break strategy interesting - doing it early and often totally makes sense. I always try to push myself to run as much as I can before I "need" to walk, but that actually doesn't seem very helpful (I think you've posted about this before, but the idea of planning walk breaks that way already slipped my mind).

    1. Thanks! Yes, I'm excited to do the race again someday, although I may do a local spring marathon next year. Yeah, taking walk breaks before you "need" them seems to be the best thing. If you are forced to take them because of fatigue, it is probably too late!

  16. Congratulations! I am still impressed you pretty much got the time you predicted. :)

    This recap brought back all the memories I had from running Boston 2011. It is such a fantastic event. The biker bar, the girls at Wellesley, the college kids handing out beer n vodka, that final turn towards the finish. Gives me chills thinking about it. Really hoping to punch my ticket to Boston this year so I can return next year.

    Bad planning on your part not scheduling the walk break where the Wellesley girls were so you couldn't get a kiss. Haha

    1. Thanks. Yes, I seriously had no idea I would get so close to my predicted time. I guess my "scientific" analysis really had some science behind it after all! :) Anyway, I am confident you will make it out to Boston next year given the way you are running now. Yeah, next time I will schedule a long walk break near mile 13! :-)

  17. What an amazing race! Congrats! I loved reading all the detail in this report! Listening to the locals, blowing kisses, the walk breaks... wow. What a great plan that turned out to be! I am so impressed that it works! Hee hee. Should I not be?!

    This race sounds so exciting and electric. The set up to start reminds me so much of NYC! I was amazed by how organized they were, and that they had FOOD for us PRE race (it's the simple things).

    So happy your race was a happy one :)