"It's a treat being a runner, out in the world by yourself with not a soul to make you bad-tempered or tell you what to do." - Allan Sillitoe

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Boston Experience

We arrived in Boston about 1.30pm on Friday afternoon (17th) after our train was delayed leaving New York and then en route due to bridges needing to be opened. Despite the delay it was an enjoyable trip, giving us the opportunity to see some great New England countryside and towns that we wouldn't have seen if we had flown. It was good to go through Providence, Rhode Island where the excellent TV series "Brotherhood" is set even if it was only a fleeting visit.

After checking into our hotel, we decided to get the number pickup and expo out of the way. We didn't plan on spending too long there but ended up staying for around 3 hours.
Picked up plenty of freebies and best of all, we got to meet Steve Jones, the outstanding British marathoner and former marathon world record holder of the 1980s (2.07 PB) who is now coaching Lee Troop among others. We had a good chat and interestingly, he wasn't very complementary about the coaching Lee had been receiving previously from Steve Moneghetti, "sheltered" and "naive" were the terms I think he used. He expected to Lee to run around 2.14 on Monday which I thought was a bit pessimistic but turned out to be pretty much right on the money. He gave me some good advice about warming up or more accurately, not warming up prior to a marathon.

Just as exciting was getting to meet Frank Shorter, the 1972 Olympic marathon gold and 1976 Olympic marathon silver medalist. This one was just a photo op/meet and greet but I got a nice photo taken with him which he signed as well as quick chat. Definitely a highlight.

(Frank wrote "Go Simon. Way to travel! Now Run! Frank Shorter" on the photo)

We caught a taxi back to the hotel and I went for an easy 7km run (as usual when running in unfamiliar surroundings I nearly got lost -actually if it was usual, I would have really got lost). When I got back to the hotel, I took advantage of the free 15 minute chair massage on offer which while beneficial confirmed the tightness in my shoulderblades.

As our hotel was quite close to Chinatown, we picked out a restaurant recommended in our guidebook for dinner. The publishers must be getting some sort of kick back because it was possibly the worst restaurant meal, and definitely the worst Chinese meal I ever eaten. Chau Chow City was the name of the place. I forced myself to eat as much of rice as I could as I was now in carbo loading mode but the rest of it was basically inedible. Added to the grotty surroundings and surly staff, it was a really dud experience. Avoid this place at all costs if you visit Boston.

On Saturday morning (18th), no running today, just a short swim and wade in the hotel pool before we went for a trolley tour of Boston in the morning to quickly get in a few sights without having to walk too much. Lunch consisted of a huge falafel kebab at a Greek cafe restaurant on Hereford Street on the last mile of the marathon course. More much needed carbs consumed before we went on the bus tour of the marathon course that we had booked.

The trip out to Hopkinton was the quickest route there, not the marathon course so we were kept occupied with a Boston Marathon trivia quiz. We finished just out of the prizes, with Rox and I splitting our answers on the ones we weren't sure on and cocking up a couple we should have known. Doing the marathon course tour was really worthwhile. The tour group leader was a very experienced Boston marathoner and gave me some good advice on what to wear on race day now that the forecast for Monday was pretty well set (Given my inexperience of running in the cold, this was something I was pretty apprehensive about and had been stressing over). The tour itself gave me some idea of what to expect far more than any of the videos eg rolling hills from mile 2 not the downhills that the elevations suggest. Also gave me a good idea of how challenging the uphills later in the race would be. We also got to pick out Rox's vantage point near the Woodland T stop and the Newton Wellesley Hospital at approximately 16.5 miles into the race.

Another chair massage back at the hotel before we caught the T out to East Boston and had a carbo packed home cooked meal with Sugar, Kim, Sas and their friends.

Sunday morning (19th) was the BAA 5km race which Rox was running with me pacing her. Her goal was to run under 30 minutes, something I was sure she could do as long as her leg held up. Rox has had a niggly lower leg/calf/achilles for the last few weeks which tends to flare up after she has been running for 10-15 minutes. She had rested for the past 2 weeks other than some walking so had given it every opportunity to come good.

The weather was good, plenty of sun but still quite cold by Australian standards, so we kept our warm clothes on for as long as possible before getting out of them and checking our bag in the big tent. It was lovely and warm in the tent so we slowly made our way to the start area and got into the crowd about 5 minutes before the start of the race..

There was around 4000 people in the race. Rox and I started in the 9 minute per mile section. It was a very slow and congested start and the first mile took us over 10 minutes. Rox was running really easily, so once we had a bit of clear space and had got over the one hill (near the State House), we sped up a bit. From memory we went through the next mile in around 9 minutes and were pushing ahead nicely. Rox even started chatting about something her Mum had said on the phone which shows how easily she was travelling.

Unfortunately, Rox's leg "pinged" at around 21 minutes and she was in a fair bit of discomfort from then on. I knew that if we could maintain our pace, Rox could break 30 minutes. Rox gritted her teeth as we made the right turn into Hereford Street and then the famous left turn into Boyleston Street. We could see the finish line 600 metres away and I think Rox just wanted it to be over and then it was - 29:07. Mile 3 - 8:32. It was a good run for me too, just what I needed the day before the marathon to gently shake some cobwebs out.

We stayed around to watch the invitational mile races although we didn't sit up in the bleachers which were in the shade and freezing cold. Instead we stood on the sunny side of the street, quite close to the finish and watched were some high class races, especially the elite men's and women's races.

That afternoon following my now traditional pre race day lunch (Footlong Subway roll) we went out to Harvard and had a bit of a look around - not too much walking though. Carbo loading dinner consisted of the biggest bowl of spaghetti I have ever eaten. I was a little concerned that I may have over done it when the waiter claimed that it was the first time in 8 months working there that he had seen someone finish it. Luckily the marathon doesn't start until 10am so I still had plenty of time to digest.

Race day Sunday morning (20th) started when I got up at 5.30am although I had been awake and dozing on and off since 3.30am. After breakfast (Sanitarium Up and Go brought from Australia and a banana), I headed down to the buses about a block away next to the Boston Common. I didn't have to wait too long before getting on a bus. The buses were the yellow school buses you always see on TV shows, not too much leg room but comfortable enough. The only negative was the woman sitting behind me who sounded like Kathy Griffen and had a severe case of verbal diarrhoea. The bus ride took just over an hour to get out to Hopkinton which, according to Kathy Griffen, was much quicker than last year.
The weather had got colder and foggier as we got out of town and it was close to freezing out at the athletes village. Luckily, because I was out there relatively early, I was able to get to a porta loo straight away for visit #1. I then found a spot in the big tent, laid down on the plastic sheet I had brought, pulled my beanie down over my eyes and the collar of my jacket up and had a snooze for about an hour. Then I read for a while before joining a long and very slow moving porta loo queue for visit #2. On the way back to the tent, I got hold of some free woollen gloves that Hewlett Packard was giving away which was fortuitous as I was going to wear my Nike ones but didn't want to throw them away if I got too warm. Following the advice I had received, I had decided to wear my race singlet, arm warmers, shorts and a beanie (rather than long sleeves and tights) even though it was cold.

I coated the susceptible to blister parts of my feet in Body Glide before putting on my racing shoes (Asics Ohana Racers). I also re coated my nipples and inside of my legs. There's not much room for precious modesty in the marathon.

Around 9.15am, we were told to take our gear bags to the buses and make our way to the start. I was wearing old clothes that I was going to get rid of just before the start so was still nice and warm. It was about a 1km walk to the starting corrals during which I joined lots of other male runners in making a detour into the woods for visit #3. Surely that was it.

After an impressive flyover by some jet fighters and the singing of the American national anthem, we were off. It didn't take too long for our corral to get to the start line (just under 3 minutes). It was a narrow and crowded start and unless you wanted to pick your way through runners in front of you in a manner similar to playing Frogger or run off the edge of the road, it was impossible to run quicker than the pack was going. I was initially pretty comfortable with this as I knew one of the big dangers was to go out too fast on the downhill start. The course was packed with spectators three deep and I couldn't resist the temptation to partake in hand slaps with the kids extending their hands out on the side of the course.

Within a mile, there was already quite a few runners ducking off the side of the course to go to the loo and it wasn't long before I annoyingly had the urge to do the same. First mile was a very slow 7.21 and I knew that I had to start picking it up and hoped that when I did, my bladder issue would go away. Mile 2 - 6:48 so at least my pace problem was solved.

We ran past TJs Food and Spirits, a famous spectator spot where the biker community congregates. It is a massive boost to run past places and experience spectator support that you have only read about.

I managed to hold on until about 4.5 miles when I made the decision (or finally conceded) that if I didn't go to the loo, I wouldn't be able to drink and if I didn't drink then I was in big trouble. A detour into the woods cost me at least 30 seconds and as a result, mile 5 took me 6:51.

Felt much better straight away and without being silly decided to get back up to the runners who had been around me before my detour. Luckily mile 6 was flat and a I managed a 6:24 followed by a 6:33 for mile 7.

It was somewhere around here that I discarded my beanie by picking out a boy around the same age as Ben and handing it to him as I ran past. Hopefully he will google the Western Bulldogs and we now have a new fan on the outskirts of Boston.

Around mile 7 we passed the big plate glass shop windows where you are invited to "check your form" - I did so briefly, more to tick the box than with any real purpose. Saw a guy in an Australian flag shirt up ahead and caught up to him over the next half mile. We had a quick chat but he wasn't really up for talking so we parted at which point another Aussie called out. Ran with him briefly, he lived in London but was originally from Melbourne, again though he wasn't up for much of a chat other than an introduction.

Not long after this, I overheard an Irish guy trying to find someone who was looking to run sub 3 hours. His name was Steven from Dublin. We ran together having a bit of a chat and managed to get into a good rhythm, very similar to my mid week run with Simon and a very similar pace. Steven's marathon PR was 2.59 at Chicago.

The crowd support was amazing and we were both really enjoying the personalised support we were getting from having our names on our shirts. Not only the amount of support but the passion of the support was unbelievable. I tried to give a wave to those who called out my name or say thank you if they were close enough. Plenty of laughs such as when a girl called out "Go Simone!" and then got told very loudly by her friend "It's Simon, you idiot!" and of course lots more hand slapping with the kids.

Lots of supporters were offering drinks, fruit, wet towelettes and other items. I took some water on occasions but best of all was when, just after I had taken my second gel, some kids were offering small bottles of water. It was just what I needed as the the drink stations were only offering water and Gatorade in cups, which is always problematic to drink without slowing down or throwing it over you. I was able to carry the water for a while, share it with Steven and get in a good amount of fluid to wash down the gel at just the right time.

Pretty soon we were at Wellesley College and the halfway point. I sort of knew what to expect and we could certainly hear the screams and cheers as we approached. As we ran along we couldn't resist the offer to "Kiss a Senior", Free Kisses" etc. Two quick pecks for me, part of the experience and probably didn't cost me any more time than slowing down to grab a drink. Went through the half way point in 1:28:25 by my watch, just about right on pace for sub 3 hours knowing that the second half would be hard with the hills.

As we approached mile 16, the headwind really picked up and I got the sense that Steven was struggling to maintain the pace. Splits bear this out as Mile 15 took 6.55 and Mile 16 6.47. It was at about 15.5 miles that Steven dropped off behind me. It was a shame but I couldn't afford to wait and he had said that he thought he would struggle in the hills.

At 16.5 miles, we ran past the Newton Wellesley Hospital near the Woodland T stop where I knew that Rox would be waiting. I could see her with the Australian flag from about 50m away. She had made some friends (Paul and Nancy) who were waving Go Simon signs so I ran past and gave them a wave and what I hope was a smile. I was still really enjoying myself although I was certainly having to work harder.

Hardly noticed the first of the hills which goes over a highway. Some people don't even count this as the first of the hills and I can see why. At around mile 17, we made the right hand turn at the Newton Fire Station and the first of the three Newton Hills was ahead of us. I made sure that I maintained an even effort on the hill, a hill which was no more challenging than the hills we had been running regularly in Darlington. There was quite a gap between this hill and the next and it was a good opportunity to suck it up and maintain form. I found that I was passing more runners than were passing me which was encouraging but not as encouraging as the huge numbers of people lining every bit of the course through these hills.

I don't remember that much about the second hill and then Heartbreak Hill arrived in fairly quick succession. I found Heartbreak Hill to be the hardest even though I had told myself (and been told) that it was no worse than the others. It seemed to go on for ever and even though I maintained my form and effort, mile 21 took me 7.14.

At the top of the hill, a supporter yelled out "Enjoy the downhills!" and I told myself that this is where I needed to lift my intensity (what I really told myself was "Now it's time to give it the shit that will kill them" - apologies to Lance Armstrong). This is what I had prepared for and this was where I was going to really test myself. No half measures and leave nothing on the course.

Not surprisingly - I wasn't enjoying running anymore but couldn't help lapping up the crowds and the noise.
The crowds were building up and were 2-3 deep from about mile 22 onwards. I was getting tired but still felt in control although I knew that sub 3 was going to be a close run thing.

The turn at Coolidge Corner had a huge and very loud crowd and it just got louder as we approached Kenmore Square. At one intersection, there was basically a huge street party going on with loud music playing. "Walk Like An Egyptian" by the Bangles started playing as I got close and I was just thinking how cool it was when a voice of the PA boomed out "Lets make some noise for Simon!" The crowd cheered and I raised both arms and started pumping my fists and waving - at which point my left hamstring grabbed and started to cramp. I quickly put my arms back down and decided that I wasn't going to do anything but run until the end (Despite the near cramp and the scare, that was quite simply the most exhilarating moment I have ever had in sport - more than any wicket or catch I have taken or any save that I have made).

I could see the Citgo sign ahead and knew that when I reached it then there was only 1 mile to go. I also knew that I shouldn't keep looking at the Citgo sign as it is like a mirage - but try as I might I couldn't help looking up at it every minute or so.

Fenway Park was off to the right, the crowd was going off and I was passing people left, right and centre. With a mile to go, I thought I was going to run around 2.59.30 if I maintained my pace and was looking forward to the run down Boyleston Street although I was also cursing the unscheduled pit stop that had lost me time earlier.
As I took the right onto Hereford Street, I still thought this was the case but as I turned into Boyleston, I realised that I had less than 2 minutes to run the last 600 metres. I picked up the pace as best I could and went for it. It wasn't anywhere near a sprint but it was the best I could do. (Apparently I passed Sugar with about 200m to go, but I didn't see him or anyone else in fact).

With 50m to go, I glanced at my watch and felt sure I was going to make it. I raised my arms as I crossed the line and then stopped my watch at 2.59.57. I had stopped my watch a couple of strides after the line so figured my time was 2.59.55 or 56.

As I was bent over catching my breath and enjoying not running anymore, I felt a pat on my back. It was Sugar being pushed in a wheelchair. He looked pretty average, really drawn and pale. He said he had lost his vision with about 2km to go. They made us keep walking past the finish and when I turned back he was gone. I went to the medical tent but wasn't allowed in.

It took a long time to walk through the finish chute, exchange my timing chip for my medal, collect my bag and get changed. I briefly saw Sas who was looking for her bus to get her bag before I found Rox at our meeting point. While we filled each other in on what had happened, Sugar soon joined us. He looked a bit better and it seemed that the medical staff were happy to let him go. Sas then joined us followed by Kim and Caroline who, like Rox, had some difficulties on the overloaded public transport system.

Rox said that she had got a text message from my Dad saying that the AAT alert had given my time as 2.59.58. A comparison between my split and the official split at half way 1.25.25 vs 1.25.28 indicates that I started my watch 3 seconds late. It was a bit confusing at the start with the painted start line and the timing mats.

A coffee shop was the next stop for a much needed caffiene boost before we went our separate ways. We met up again that evening for a truly sensational steak dinner at Burton's Grill (and 2 Samuel Adams Boston Lagers for me - first beer since end of January).

2.59.58 is a massive PB for me (previously 3.11.09) but I know that running sub 3 hours after cutting it so fine was more luck than design. Even though I know I would feel very differently if I had run 2 seconds slower, I'm glad that I didn't miss out on "the experience" - the hand slaps, Wellesley etc. Maybe I would have run faster if I hadn't done those things but maybe I wouldn't have been so relaxed and run worse -who knows?
I think I got my taper pretty well right despite the travel and carbo loaded well. Still peeved about the extra toilet stop and think maybe it was a mistake to stay so rugged up right until the start. Maybe if I had got a little cold earlier, I would have felt the need to go earlier.
The work I did in the Darlington hills was the key I think and I can't thank Sugar and Sas enough for taking me under their wing and letting me tag along. Equally as important was regular marathon pace running mid week with Simon. I'm sure it was one of the reasons why I felt so comfortable running and chatting in the middle of race.

1 comment:

DC64 said...

Nice report Simone ;-) I'll bet you're itching to go back and do it all again, I know I am... and I suspect you're just scratching the surface of your potential. Next stop sub-2:54 .....