Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Persistence is something I admire. It's a trait I admire and want to have. What's great about it is it's equal parts obstinance and hope. That's how I think of running. It's such a long-term thing. In 2003, I was still pretty new to running. I'd been at it for three years and kept improving. I qualified for Boston after doing a 3:02 in Chicago in the fall. I was running so much that I even did a 50k in February of 2003, coming in eight place with a time of about 4:05. I was running 60 miles a week. I felt so ready for Boston and going under three hours. It felt inevitable to me.

It didn't happen. Instead I had the worst day of running in my life. Boston chewed me up and spit me out. Before this year's race, I went back and pieced together my memories of that race. I remember sitting next to a guy from LA on the bus out to Hopkinton. I told him about running under three. I remember realizing I couldn't keep pace with my friend Barney in the early miles. I remember dreading the last 18 miles. I remember seeing people writhe on the ground in pain on Heartbreak Hill. I remember knowing friends were on the left side of the road at Cleveland Circle but going to the right side to avoid them. Finally I remember sitting on a curb after it was over and feeling for the first time really acutely upset by running. I said that day that I'd come back the next year and fix what went wrong.

It didn't happen. I got sidetracked and didn't run that great. Then I ran some mediocre marathons. The years went by. I registered to run one year but got hurt in training and didn't make it. Finally on Monday, seven years later, I went back to Boston, older and heavier but also smarter. My goal was not just to beat the 3:32 I did that day in Boston in 2003 but run the race on my terms. I felt like in 2003 the course ran me. The hills crushed me. This time I didn't flinch when the hills came. One thought kept coming back to me, "This is what I do and why I ran all those miles." I kept powering up them with consistency. I rarely thought about 2003 when I was on the course. The only time I did was at the top of Heartbreak Hill. There was a group of school kids at that op holding signs that said "The end of Heartbreak." I admit, for a moment, I got emotional. It was a moment I realized I'd run a good Boston. I thought back to all that shit from 2003, how physically and emotionally beat up I felt sitting on the curb after the race. The last six miles, while painful, were more of a celebration. I haven't felt that way in many marathons. And so I came away with a great thing: a memory of a certain time on a hill that I won't forget. That kind of thing means more to me than some medal or a number on my watch.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Making Right a Wrong

It is crazy for me to think that on Monday morning, I'll get off the bus at Hopkinton, seven years after I first went to run Boston. At the time, I was coming off a lot of success as a runner. Six months earlier, I ran a 3:02 in Chicago, taking about 20 minutes off my PR. That winter, I got eighth place in a 50k held in Central Park. My thought was under three hours. It didn't happen. Instead, I suffered mightily. This week, I went back and found an email I sent to my friend about the race. Here's what I wrote:
I would have done well -- if I was in the visually impaired category. It was a very, very tough day. I'm not really all that sure what exactly went wrong, but something went wrong. First, it was hot as the dickens, 70 at the start. After running in the cold all winter, I felt like I was in the Sahara. I even grabbed a sponge from some kid on the roadside, only to find it was one of those pre-soaped sponges, so I had toxic materials running down my face and into my mouth. Then, I peeled off to pee in what I thought was a semi-secluded spot at mile 6. I didn't expect a man with a bullhorn to accost me, "PUT THAT THING AWAY!" Basically, the race went smashingly until mile 8, when I started getting leg cramps. I was cruising along at a 6:40 pace at that point. Over the next 18.2 miles, the world came crashing down. Women, the infirm, men in llama costumes all streamed by me. My first half was at 1:32; my second: 2:01. Ouch. It wasn't fun. My only solace is I didn't stop, like the man I saw puking on Heartbreak Hill or the other that was curled up in the fetal position screaming. The finish area did a brisk business in giving out wheelchair rides.
You get the picture. I don't have all the splits from the race. These two tell the story: first 5k: 20:54; last 5k: 30:28. I'm not going to let that happen again. I remember finishing the race and for the only time in running being truly upset. Sitting on a curb, sunburned, incredibly sore and filled with disappointment, I felt sorry for myself. I quickly vowed I'd get my revenge. That day in Boston has remained my greatest regret in running, even more than the trips to the hospital. It's crazy that I get my shot at making it right seven years later.

So I'm ready. I want to find that balance between running smart and not leaving anything in the tank. My main worry is going out too fast. As Bill Rogers said, "You lose your mind in Boston (on the early downhills)." Follow my progress on the Boston Marathon site. My bib is 5081.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Keeping Your Head

Over at DailyMile, there was a comment on a runner's training that made sense. It talked about "keeping your head" at Boston. I've only run the race one time, but this seems to me the biggest challenge. The course is seemingly designed to make you go out way, way too fast, then punish you into submission. That's what happened to me in 2003. It was probably my worst day running, including the two hospitalizations. I knew at mile 10 I was done, steeling myself for 16 miles of getting passed and feeling worse and worse. With the taper fully on, I'm trying to think ahead to the race, how I'm going to run it. Going out easy is a big goal of mine. It's tough because I tend to go out pretty hard and challenge myself, then figure if I die, I die. That approach doesn't work so well with Boston's hills. Time to keep my head.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Boston Training: An Assessment

Boston is just 17 days away. The main training is finished. It's time to assess. Overall I'm pleased with how it went. I didn't get any major Achilles flareups, and I was able to run a fair amount. Did I run enough? Who knows, probably less than I'd prefer. The last few weeks of training were hard with travel. There's not much you can do about that. Here's my assessment:

1. Endurance: B-. Winter is always harder to get in the miles. I started training in January with a great month, 152 miles. I think basically held steady until this past month, when I had a couple big weeks followed by ending with a whimper. I was happy to do most of miles in hilly Central Park. That should prepare me for Boston. If there's any area I'm concerned about, it's endurance. On the plus side, I ran five solid 20 milers. On the minus side, I didn't get in many midweek semi-long runs.

2. Speed: B+. I ran fast during training, probably too fast. If I had to do it over again, I'd be more disciplined about running my easy runs slower and hard runs faster. The way it is, I ran most runs sub 7:30. Three long runs came in at sub 7:15, way too fast. On the flip side, I didn't do nearly enough tempo workouts, and those I did tended to be at 6:40. That's OK.

3. Health: B. As I said, I'm not terribly injured. I have aches, of course. My Achilles is sore right now from doing 7 miles last night at 6:50 pace. I've learned to rest it, use ice and even KT tape. It will be alright. Otherwise, just some odd knee pain and a little hamstring and calf soreness -- nothing that should bother me in Boston.

I guess that leaves the overall grade at a B. That feels right. I'm not in the best of shape, but I'm in pretty good shape. I still think I can running under three hours if I'm able to string together enough quality training without injury. That wasn't my goal this time around. Boston is too hard for that. Originally, I thought sub 3:15 would be my goal. I'm making that sub 3:10, with a stretch goal of 3:05. I don't have a ton to go on since I last ran a race in January, a half marathon I finished in 1:31. That was before most of my training, so I don't put too much stock in it. From prior experience, I know a lot of it comes down to the day. Maybe I'll feel good, maybe I'll be patient the first 10 miles that are downhill, maybe the weather will be great. No matter what, I'm eager to run the course again. I screwed up the last time I went to Boston and got totally humbled. Not this time.