The weather was mid to upper 50’s in the morning with a chance of rain. I wore a long sleeve tech with running shorts and only brought my gel flask. Only drinking water on the course has been working this year so I stayed with that. I was shooting for 3:15 to qualify for Boston. I was confident I could do 3:20 but not sure how much faster I could go. Most of my training has been focused on triathlons this year so I was a bit nervous about my performance, especially since I blew off a couple of my taper runs the preceding 2 weeks. I hadn’t run any of the course beforehand but heard that it was flat. That was true for the most part, except miles 16 – 20. We’ll get back to that later.
My initial plan was to run a 7:30 minute mile for the first half and then turn it up if I could on the second half. I borrowed my dad’s heart rate watch since mine has been broken since June. My high end heart rate for long training runs is around 157 to 159 bpm’s. Since my threshold is 171, I didn’t want to go above 165 for any reason unless it was the last 2 or 3 miles. Here’s what happened:
I was in the first wave which consisted of runners going 7:30 pace and faster. For me to finish with a 3:15 I would need an average speed of 7:27 or 7:28 minutes per mile. The race starts and I’m with the 7:15 runners. It seemed like they started slow because it felt like we were going around 7:25. I ran a mile before the start so I was fully warmed up and ready to run at pace. I stayed with them for about a mile and a half and then they pulled away. I didn’t see the first two mile markers but knew I was between the 7:15 and 7:30 pacers (pacers are designated runners who hold up a sign stating what pace they are running to help participants pace themselves correctly). At mile 3 I checked my time and it averaged to over 8 minute miles! Something was wrong. I was either going really slow or the marker was off. At mile 4 I checked again and it showed a 7:18 pace. I was relieved – the 3 mile marker was in the wrong spot. I was holding a 7:18 pace and my heart rate was around 158 – 159. I felt really good and kept that pace for a couple of miles. Then I changed the plan….
Mile 6: I felt like I could go faster without compromising my race so at mile 6 I bumped up my heart rate to 161 to 163 and was keeping a pace of 7:15. I was moving really good from mile 6 to mile 13. I was also well aware that at some point, usually between mile 21 and mile 23, I would struggle to keep pace. I figured if I could keep this effort until mile 24, I could muscle through the last 2 miles knowing that I only had 15 minutes of pain to deal with.
Mile 13: At mile 13 I checked the time and it was 1 hour 35 minutes. Awesome! At that pace I could finish with 3:11. The fatigue started to set at this point which I expected and didn’t slow me down. I stayed at a 7:18 average pace until mile 16 and my heart rate was around 164 and steady.
At the 16 mile marker, we head south along the river to a final turn around point at mile 18 before heading north to the finish. This was not flat! Although the hills were short, they were steep enough to slow me down and wear down the legs. I was still moving fast but knew I had slowed to maybe a 7:40 pace.
Mile 18: At mile 18 the trail went in a little loop and I hadn’t realized that I was heading north. I kept thinking to myself, “where is this turn around?” When you push yourself hard, at some point it starts to affect your mind. I thought I was still heading south and began seeing the 7:30 pace group going the other way (I thought they were heading north and somehow had gotten in front of me). Did I miss the turn around?! A wrong turn? Then I saw a guy that I dropped at mile 6. I knew for sure there was no way he had gotten in front of me. It wasn’t until mile 20 that I realized that I had gone through the turn around and that the runners going the opposite direction were the ones heading south, after me. Not before me. Only 6.2 miles to go.
Mile 20: Miles 20 to 22 were quite hard to keep pace. I didn’t have the high turn over like earlier in the race. As I kept checking the clock, it still looked like I would finish around 3:12 if I kept this pace. With little energy to think and the math getting harder to figure out I wasn’t sure, but felt confident I was going to get to the finish line a minute or two to spare. Miles 22 to 25 were another story. The Fox River runs from north to south and there is slight incline as you go north. That little incline at that point in the race was physically challenging. My running form started to deteriorate as well as my mental attitude. All I could do for those 3 miles was to push my legs to keep turning over as fast as possible, which was slower than at any point so far in this race. I was probably running at an 8 minute pace.
Mile 25: At mile 25 I checked the watch and knew it would be close. As I came to a bridge, I was hoping that was the bridge I would need to cross and go west to the finish line. It wasn’t. The next bridge was, but it was a quarter mile away. My watch said I needed to get to the bridge within 2 minutes. Keep pushing. Just before the bridge, I’m told to get going by Karie, who has pulled up along side of me in her car and knows I have less than a minute to get to the finish line. I kick it into high gear and sprint the last 500 yards to the finish. Judy, Robin and Tricia are in the crowd but I am sprinting so hard I don’t see or hear anybody. I crossed the line and as I come to a stop my legs get wobbly. I go to my knees and in a minute or two, the volunteers help me up and help me find Judy. My watch says 3:15:12. Fortunately Boston gives you 59 seconds for your qualifying time so getting there before 3:16 is good!
For the next hour, my legs never hurt so much. It felt like they were in a meat grinder. Looking back, I think I was really lucky that I ran the race faster in the beginning. I don’t think I could’ve made up any time with those hills later on, even if I was more conservative early on. Usually it’s better to save a little early on and run a little faster on the second half. But in this case I’m not so sure. My average heart rate was 164 and my average pace was 7:27. That put me at 24th overall and 3rd in my age group. 2nd in my age group came in 52 seconds before me and 4th came in 23 seconds after me. That little sprint at the end put me on the podium! It’s hard to adequately thank all the people that are there to support you, especially when your eyes are glazed over in the medical tent. But I would like to thank everyone who was there and cheered me on. A special thanks to Tricia who gave me the worst tasting recovery stuff I have ever tasted (interesting packaging though). Also, Robin and Judy who made it to 4 different areas to cheer me on. No small feat for Judy with a broken foot. Thanks to Karie for telling me to get my ass moving at the right time. And Juan – what can I say about Juan? Whatever happens, let’s not take ourselves too seriously.