One year ago, Jess and I were returning from the Athens Marathon when we heard the news. There was a bombing at the Boston Marathon. Our ride home was silent; we were in shock. When we got home and watched the news coverage, shock turned to heartbreak. Two men had used one of the great traditions of the running community to kill and injure innocent people. We felt as though something had been taken from us. It was then that I knew that I had to be in Boston in 2014. I wanted to be part of the crew that took the marathon back.
Two years ago, I was preparing to run my first Boston Marathon, and I had one goal in mind: To run it in under 3-hours. Or, in runners’ terms, “run a sub-3”. Unfortunately, record-high temperatures forced me to back off of my goal and basically just try to survive the 85-plus-degree temperatures. Truthfully, two years ago, I do not believe that I was ready to run a sub-3. I was probably more in the 3:05-3:10 range. I ran my first sub-3 in Akron in 2012, and a second time in Athens in 2013. However, I wanted to do it on the hardest marathon course I’ve ever run: Boston.
When this training cycle began, I was feeling good about where I was. Unfortunately, some ankle tendinitis in January really halted me. I did a 15-miler in the snow and I can only assume that the uneven surfaces got to me. One night, I remember breaking down to Jess and telling her that I did not think that I would be able to do Boston. I could barely walk without experiencing any pain and I just saw no way I could get in the workouts I needed. I took 2 full weeks off of running and did some spinning and swimming. It was not the same, but it still helped me keep my fitness level. In the next 2 weeks, I had to ease back into running. So, I felt like I missed almost 4 weeks of true training.
As we got into March, things started to click again. I was able to really nail my key workouts (intervals, tempo runs, long runs) and my confidence was building. As the time came to taper, I felt like I was ready for Boston. But was I ready to go sub-3 there? Had I really done enough preparation for the hills? There was only one way to find out!
My buddy Steve, a local elite runner, told me that if I ran the first half of the race conservatively, then I would be passing people like crazy after Heartbreak Hill. See, in Boston, the early miles consist of multiple downhills. Many runners hammer these downhills and think they are on pace for a PR. Then, they get to the Newton Hills in miles 16-21, ending with the famous Heartbreak Hill. Maybe they survive up to that point or maybe they don’t. However, if they hammered those early downhills, it is highly likely that their quads are shot for those last 5.2 miles. It is common to think that it is the uphills that hurt the most. In Boston, it is the downhills. If your quads are shot after Heartbreak Hill, miles 22-26.2 will likely consist of a lot of walk-running.
On race-day, I spent the time before the race hanging out with my buddy Ryan. We had a solid 3.5 hours once our bus arrived in Hopkinton, so we just relaxed and talked a bit about our training. When the time came to line-up, I remember him turning to me and saying, “This is why you trained. This is why you’re here.” Those words stuck with me throughout the entire race. Next thing I knew, it was time to roll.
I stuck to my plan on running conservatively on the early downhills. My plan was to run even-effort, not even-pace. Therefore, I should feel approximately the same in each mile. If the terrain was downhill, my split would be a bit faster; if it was uphill, it would be a bit slower. This strategy truly worked for me and I was really pleased with how well I was able to put the brakes on when the downhills arrived. I still had some fast miles, but I felt like I was truly saving my quads for the Newton Hills.
As the miles continued to clip by, I was overwhelmed by the crowd support. Just imagine a 26.2 mile parade…this is the Boston Marathon. Obviously, this year was truly special. In 2013, something was taken from us; in 2014, it was our turn to get it back. People chanting “Boston Strong” all throughout the course gave me chills. I knew I was truly experiencing something special.
As I got into the double digit miles, I started to think, “Man I feel good.” However, at that point, it is still too early to “make a move.” There is simply too much distance. I got to the half-marathon mark at just over 1:28, which was right where I had hoped. The second half would be much harder and I would surely lose a little bit of time. How much I would lose would depend on how ready I truly was for this. As I saw the sign, “Welcome to Newton”, I knew it was go-time. Rolling hills continued to click by, and my body was holding up nicely. Yes, it was hard, but I felt like I really had it in me. I remember saying to myself “2 slow, 1 fast, 2 slow, then it’s on”. This was referencing miles 17-18 (2 slow), mile 19 (1 fast) and miles 20-21 (2 slow). This strategy was based on the terrain of these miles. I knew what was coming, and so I had planned for it. Before I knew it, it was time for miles 20-21 and I really felt good. However, Heartbreak Hill was coming…
I ran mile 20 a little faster than expected, but I was feeling good. Then came Heartbreak Hill. I turned to the person next to me and said, “Let’s go…this is why we train so hard.” Kind of cheesy? Sure. True? Most definitely. While going up Heartbreak was not easy, my body really felt ready to tackle the challenge. Next thing I knew, I was at the top and I was seeing signs saying that we had conquered heartbreak. Then, it time for the moment of truth. Were my quads shot? If they were, I was not going to reach my goal. If they still had some juice, I was good to go. I knew immediately that they still had some juice in them and I could not have been more excited. The guy next to me asked if it was smooth sailing from here on out. I told him as long as you still have some gas in the tank, you got this. There are a great deal of downhills in these last 5.2 miles and if you’re hurting, you are pretty much done. That is a blunt statement but it is true. The downhills HURT. I remember two years ago having to stop and walk multiple times, and I was running at a pace much slower than I was running this year.
Shortly after realizing I had juice left and my quads would hold up, I looked to my left and saw Jess yelling and cheering for me. It was a moment I will NEVER forget. I pointed to her and yelled “I love you! I got it! I got it!” It was then I knew that I was about to crush these last few miles.
I will not lie to you…these last 5.2 miles were not easy. Fortunately, it was just a little bit of pain. I still had energy and the slight discomfort was nothing I could not handle. Next thing I knew, my buddy Steve’s advice was dead on. I was passing people left and right. My paces were increasing! Barring something unforeseen like something locking up on me or a serious cramp (both of which, make no mistake, were still possible), I was going to run a sub-3.
The rest of this race will live with me forever. The miles clipped by as I saw my paces stay right around the 6:45-6:50 mark. When I had exactly 1 mile to go, I mentally stopped for a second and decided to soak it all in. This is what it was all for. Freezing cold runs outside, getting up at 4:30 AM to get miles in, running 800 meter repeats into the wind, and even once having to do a 16-miler on the treadmill (side note, Jess can do crazy high mileage on a treadmill…it’s pretty amazing). All of those memories came into my mind and I knew that the hard work was so I could enjoy this moment, a moment I would never forget. The infamous “Right on Hereford, left on Boylston” to the finish was on its way.
As I made my way down Hereford and turned left onto Boylston, I was grinning from ear to ear. I could see the finish line and my legs felt swifter than ever. As I finished, I just could not stop smiling and thinking about what I had just experienced. I came in at 2:58:40 (6:49 min/mile), a time that qualifies me for the 2015 Boston Marathon (I am not sure I will go as I would like to do another traveling marathon next spring, but it is nice to know I can go!). This was easily the most fun I have EVER had running a race, and I truly believe that it was the best I have performed in my running career. A marathon had never felt so smooth to me and I had never executed a race plan as precisely as I did here. Now, all that was left was to wait for Jess.
As I waited in the family meeting area for Jess to arrive, I felt some of the strongest anticipation I had ever felt. When we finally saw each other, it was one big emotion-fest. Yet again, another moment from today that I will never forget. We spent that evening celebrating with beers at one of the best beer bars I have ever been to, Sunset Grille in Allston. It was a perfect way to end the day.
One thing I want to say is that this race proved to me that I do not have to run 70-80 miles per week during marathon training to run a good time for the marathon. I know many people who believe that they have to get their weekly mileage into the 70’s and 80’s (I was once one of them). For me personally, all this does is get me injured and it lowers the intensity of my most important workouts. I have seen runners go crazy with mileage only to “bonk” during the marathon. My mileage during this training cycle never surpassed 56 miles per week. The difference was that my key workouts (intervals, tempo runs, and long runs) were totally spot on. I was able really ramp up the intensity during these workouts, and that was truly a difference-maker to me down the stretch during the Boston Marathon.
I am not sure what is next for me other than being a pace leader for the 3:30 group at the Cleveland Marathon and hopefully going for another sub-3(and possibly sub-2:55) in Akron in the fall. Otherwise, I am looking forward to a summer of speed races and enjoying life with my amazing wife and of course, our dog Bodhi.
Just a reminder that we are still fundraising for Jordan’s Family Foundation through May 18th. Help us promote awareness around congenital heart disease!