Or It’s not the up-hills that will kill you…
From my Garmin:
Going into the race I knew that Boston was a net downhill course. I didn’t realize just how downhill it was. I figured it would mostly be gradual and barely noticeable, but from the start of the race it was down, down, down. Of course what goes down also goes up, and there were a few minor up-hills over the first few miles too. Conditions were ideal, sunny with a high temperature of 60 degrees and a tailwind. I knew I had to concentrate on not going out too fast, which is what I always do. If I was going to survive the hills later in the race, I had to play it smart.
Elevation profile from my Garmin:
Even though it was very well-organized, the start was crowded. My first mile clocked in at 8:18, which was pretty good. My goal pace for the race was 8:00/mile, which would put me just under a 3:30 finishing time. The energy in the small town of Hopkington was electric. It was such a small town feel for such a big city marathon, and there were plenty of spectators cheering us on. From mile two on, I was able to drop just below 8 minute pace. I couldn’t believe how consistent my splits were, mostly between 7:45-7:55/mile. I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep it up, but I told myself that this is the Boston Marathon and I have to go for it.
I lost James pretty early on at a water stop, but he was always in my sights up ahead. Sometimes I would catch up to him, then we would get separated for a while. He mentioned how weird it was that we never made any turns on the course. I though about it, and it actually messed with my head a little bit. We were going to be running in a straight line for miles and miles. And miles.
The race seemed to be flying by faster than I could absorb what was going on. My pace felt effortless, almost surreal. We passed through several more small towns, and before I knew it I was entering the “scream tunnel” at Wellesley College. Wellesley is an all-girls college, and they were out in full force. The noise was deafening, and I couldn’t help but have a huge goofy grin on my face. Many of the girls were holding “kiss me” signs, and I saw a few runners take them up on the offer. The level of screaming and noise reminded me of mile 21-22 of the Chicago Marathon when you run into Chinatown. If you’ve experienced that you know what I am talking about. This section was exciting and also downhill, and I knew I was moving pretty fast. That mile was 7:39, and brought me to the halfway point around 1:44, a minute ahead of schedule.
Around mile 16 we came to the first of the Newton Hills. With every foot fall I chanted to myself run strong, run strong. There were two smaller hills before Heartbreak Hill just after mile 20. I could feel myself losing form on the hills, so I started chanting little steps, run strong, little steps, run strong. I made it to the top of Heartbreak Hill (my slowest mile of the race in 8:30) and I knew it was mostly downhill to the finish. I looked for Steve and Mike who said they would be cheering somewhere around Heartbreak Hill. I found out later they were there, but I never saw them and they never saw me
By this point I started to know what everyone meant when they said it’s not the up-hills in this race that will kill you, it’s the down-hills. My quads were starting to feel the effects of the pounding, but surprisingly not as badly as I anticipated. With 5 miles to go, I looked to my right and there was James. I hadn’t seen him for many miles, so it was funny that we were suddenly right next to each other. We were able to push each other a little bit through the final miles which was good.
I can’t even describe how fast the rest of the race went by. Normally the last few miles of a marathon are torture for me. Usually I am feeling the effects of going out too fast, I have slowed considerably, and I contemplate walking the last 3 miles or so. Not this time. Somehow I was right on pace and still going strong. Don’t get me wrong, my legs were hurting and I was ready to stop, but I knew deep down that I could finish strong. With one mile to go, I looked at my watch and saw that I had to run a sub-8 min mile to reach my ultimate goal of breaking 3:30. My chant had changed to don’t think about it, don’t think about it. I dug deep, gave it everything I had, and let the incredible cheering of the crowds carry me to the finish line.
When I crossed the finish line and looked at my watch, I knew I had done it. I can’t quite describe the feeling of many months and even years of working my butt off in training culminating into this one moment amidst a sea of other runners in Boston. What was once an impossibility had become a reality and I was living it at that moment. It was overwhelming and I couldn’t help but cry tears of happiness. I will never forget that feeling. It was better than finishing my first marathon, better than finishing Ironman. I got my finisher’s medal and tried to wrap my head around the whole thing. A week later it still doesn’t quite seem real. Boston was truly the race of a lifetime, and a dream come true.