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Guest Post: Ryan’s Boston Marathon Recap

Note from the Editor: Ryan does not have a blog of his own but is an amazing writer and I really wanted everyone to hear his Boston Marathon Recap. Enjoy!

From the moment I first decided to run a marathon, I had one goal and one goal only: to qualify for and run the Boston Marathon. My first marathon was the Columbus Marathon in October of 2010. I ran a 3:05:31, which, at the time, met the Boston Marathon qualifying standards (the qualifying time was 3:10 or under for males ages 18-34; the new qualifying time is 3:05 or under). Simply put, I was on cloud nine. Unfortunately, when the 2011 Boston Marathon registration window opened the next day, it immediately sold out. Because I was at work for the entire time that the window was open, I was shut out. What began as heartbreak turned to anger; it just seemed cruel for me to feel so happy and then so disappointed. I then remembered that there are much more important things in life and that I would get another chance. I ran 2 marathons in 2011 and ran Boston qualifying times in both. Just before running the Akron Marathon in September, I was able to successfully register for the Boston Marathon (huge thanks to the amazing girl who runs this blog for submitting my registration while I was at work). Knowing I was going to run Boston changed a lot about how I trained. I decided that I had to give this my absolute everything.

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As I began to think about goals for Boston, my first thought was to PR. I needed to run under a 3:04:23, and since I had done that in Akron, I felt confident that I could do so in Boston. When I revealed to Jess that my training for Akron was not ideal (no speed work and skipped long runs), she told me that if I truly buckled down, I could go for a sub-3-hour marathon in Boston. At first, I did not believe that. However, as my training went along, I noticed significant gains in speed work, long run pace, hill work and race times. I began to believe in myself; sub-3 was the goal.

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Packet pick-up

Let’s fast-forward to Boston Marathon weekend. The dreaded news began to hit the internet about 5 days before the race; temperatures were likely to be in the 70’s for the race. That is terrible marathon weather. 2 days later, the projected high for the day jumped into the mid-80’s. With a 10:00 am start time, this was going to be one difficult (and perhaps dangerous) marathon. I did not panic at first; I told myself that sub-3 remained the goal. As we got closer to race time and I started feeling the warm temperatures over the weekend, I knew I had to adjust. Things got serious when the Boston Athletic Association sent out an e-mail warning only the “fittest” runners to participate; they even offered the option to defer your bib to 2013. I then read the words that I did not want to read: “For the overwhelming majority of those who have entered to participate in the 2012 Boston Marathon, you should adopt the attitude that THIS IS NOT A RACE. It is an experience. “ Disappointment began to set in, along with some fear. I remember telling my family and friends the night before the race that I felt as though I was about to “walk the plank”. However, the thought of deferring never once crossed my mind. I was going to run the Boston Marathon in 2012 no matter what. As the day finally arrived, I had to come to grips with the fact that my adjustment to my pace had to be much more significant than originally planned.

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After a 45-minute bus ride on the morning of the race, I made the walk from Hopkinton High School to to the start line. I was already sweating and had a small headache (a sign of heat exhaustion). What started as a goal now turned into survival. I wanted to run a strong pace, but knew that anything new goal pace would easily turn into a DNF. It was at that point that I decided that there was no time goal; surviving the heat was the goal.

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A couple local runners at the start.

The first few miles brought worry to my mind. Yes, I felt good, but I could feel the heat taking a toll on my body. As you can imagine, that is not a good sign so early in a marathon. The first water stop was almost a stampede. Everyone cut over from the middle to grab water. I literally had to stop running to get my water. At about mile 4, I found myself locked into a comfortable 7:20, much slower than my goal pace, but very comfortable if I wanted to finish in one piece. As the race continued, I grabbed water at every single water stop, which is not something I normally do in a marathon. Spectators had their hoses out, which helped to cool us off. Around mile 9, I did something that became a crucial strategy for me down the stretch; I grabbed a handful of ice cubes from a spectator and put them in my hat. This helped to cool my head and give me a small bit of relief from the heat. At this point, my legs felt fine, but I was incredibly hot. I started to see runners with bib numbers in the hundreds stopping to walk. I remember seeing a guy with a top-200 bib number completely stopped in his tracks along the side; he looked like he was completely done. Obviously, this was not an encouraging sign. You could spot multiple walkers everywhere you looked.

Staying focused and enjoying the little bit of shade

Miles 12-13 brought some excitement as we approached Wellesley College, an all-girls liberal arts school. You could hear the girls screaming from a half of a mile away, and their “Kiss Me” signs were awesome. As a side-note, I did not kiss any of them Smile. I knew that the dreaded “Newton Hills” were approaching at mile marker 16, so I began to mentally prepare for them. It was at this point where I realized what this race meant for me: I was about to learn what I was made of. Could I overcome the disappointment of having to back off of my goal? Was I able to handle a marathon in this heat? I knew deep down that these lessons (whether they were good or bad) were ones that would ultimately make this a memorable, fulfilling experience. Once we finally reached Newton, the sun truly felt hotter than ever. There was no shade in sight, and as my legs began to tire, I felt nearly helpless. I decided at this point that I was not going to look at my watch anymore; I was going to run as well as I could without regard to time. What I learned in miles 16-21 is this: going uphill is not the challenge; going downhill is. I had done a great deal of uphill work in preparation for Boston. Downhill work was still a key part of these workouts, but I had no idea the pain that downhill running can cause. The up-hills on the Newton Hills were not bad at all, in my opinion. Yes, they were tiring, but I felt comfortable on them. Even as we rose up the infamous “Heartbreak Hill”, I felt comfortable. I even had to ask a guy next to me if this truly was THE “Heartbreak Hill”. Unfortunately, the down-hills became something I completely dreaded. As soon as we’d reach the crest of a hill, I knew pain was in my future. It was a pain I could tolerate, but with the heat, I felt very miserable. Many times, I began to doubt myself. I walked for about 20 seconds immediately after “Heartbreak Hill”, something I had never done in a previous marathon. Once I started to go again, I felt like I would be able to finish strong. My quads were hurting and I felt like an endless supply of water was not enough to keep me hydrated; however, the race was nearing its finish.

Running past the Citgo sign

Somewhere around the end of mile 23, just when you think the worst is over, you reach another hill. This hill was milder than the previous hills, but at this point, it was an unwelcome sight. Again, going uphill was feasible; downhill was painful. There were people walking everywhere. As we reached mile 24, I began to think about how I usually feel so excited and strong by this point of a marathon. This time though, I found myself taking a few seconds to walk and ponder how I was going to do this. 2.2 miles should be nothing, but the heat had sucked the life out of me. I then decided that the pain was worth it; this was my moment to take in and remember. At mile 25 we reached the famous Citgo sign and it was that moment that I will never forget. I started to think about all of the training runs in the snow and wind, the way I felt the moment I found out I got into Boston, and how proud I was when I got to go pick up my bib. For that moment, the heat and pain were an afterthought. I was about to finish a temperature record-breaking Boston Marathon. Time did not matter; I was about to be a survivor. These thoughts carried me through the next mile. As I turned the corner onto Boylston Street for the finish, I again began to enjoy the moment. I rarely smile at the end of a race, but I could not help but crack a smile, if only for a few seconds. That smile did not do justice to the happiness I felt inside. As I crossed the finish line at 3:23:49 (way off of my original goal time), I cared about only one thing: seeing Jess, my parents, and my friends (Renee, Laura, Bill, Bill, and Nate). After walking for what seemed like hours (it was maybe 10 minutes or so), I finally got my cell phone and determined where I would meet all of them. As we met up, the conversations and hugs shared are memories that will last for the rest of my life. The heat and quad pain went to the backseat; they simply did not matter anymore.

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Nearing the finish

So where does this leave me now? The Boston Marathon was truly the most amazing marathon experience I have ever had. Being welcomed in town after town by incredible crowd support made the whole thing feel like a 26.2-mile running parade. It was truly amazing. Unfortunately, the work that I put in for a sub-3 marathon was really not utilized in this race. I want redemption. Therefore, I am now going to upgrade from the half-marathon in Cleveland to the full. This leaves me with about a month for recovery, which is not a great deal of time. However, 3 of the guys that I began the Boston Marathon with are also going the same route. We put in the work, we are hungry, and we are ready to focus on time, and not simply survival. See you in Cleveland Smile

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My Boston marathon supporters!

Finally, I want to thank all of my family and friends for the outpouring of support on Twitter and Facebook. I feel truly blessed to know people like each and every one of you. I also want to thank everyone who donated to Jordan’s Family Foundation. The humbling experience of seeing the generosity of so many folks is something that transcends any marathon high. I hope you know how many people felt the love and compassion that came from your generosity.

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11 thoughts on “Guest Post: Ryan’s Boston Marathon Recap

  1. What a great post. I think you need to guest post more often here, Ryan! So proud of how hard you worked and fought to finish. You are awesome! I have a feeling you are going to crush CLE!

  2. Thanks for sharing, Ryan. My running goals are far more modest, but it’s inspiring to see such determination in grueling conditions. I’ll keep in mind this torture you pushed through the next time I’m whining about some small crap on a long run.

  3. Great post! I relished reliving my first Boston where I ran merely for the experience with family watching. Qualified and returned a second time to run the 100th Anniversary where I ‘Bonked’ only to revisit again ‘over-trained’ and run smart and managed to break three hours, even better ran Cleveland about two weeks later only to run another sub three….those days are long gone now…I’m a old-slow trail runner now. Good luck you will PR, break 3, No Prob! At Cleveland race strategy was to run first 13 slowww…and had to have a friend hold reigns back on me.

  4. Ryan! I think you really captured the essence of this amazing race. I’m so glad you were able to readjust your goals and play it smart and enjoy this experience! When I qualified for Boston back in 2010 at the Cleveland Marathon, I had a disappointing race 3 weeks prior. I had intentions of qualifying at the Earth Day Challenge Marathon but it was really warm and humid on race day and it completely destroyed me. I ran a 4:10 that day. 3 weeks later I ran a 3:37. 🙂 Excited to see what you can do in CLE! I’ll be cheering at mile 25 just like last year!!!

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