Posted by: pointlenana | April 21, 2016

Boston 2016

I’ve written about the Boston Marathon a few times before – you’ve probably heard of it also.  Big race, etc…  So this will just be my experience this year.


Last year and this year, my friend Will (most awesome host ever – this is the 7th straight year he’s put me up for the race) and his fiancee Heng Jin, provided amazing music before the race to distract me.  This year it was Heng Jin (piano), her son Jonah (cello), and their friend Irina (violin) performing a few pieces Friday night in their home.  I know next to nothing about classical music but I suspect that if people who did made a short list of “10 best 20-ish cello players in the US”, Jonah would be on it.  All three of them were pretty amazing.

I wonder if peak Boston has happened.  The expo seemed a little smaller, there was less intensity in the online forums beforehand, the flight out seemed a little calmer.  If so, that’s great for everyone who wants to go – it’s still an amazing experience.

Each year, there is always one surprise highlight – I never know if it will happen before, during, or after the race.  This year it was hanging out with my 3:20 friends heading out to the start and especially at Athlete’s Village.  We didn’t have much time together – long portapotty lines etc. – but it was fun and definitely lightened the mood.  Mike aka SuperFly had an ambitious sub 3 hour goal – he was clearly nervous and asked about 157 questions on the bus and while we were waiting.  At some point I realized he needed help so I told him everything I know about training, pacing, race strategy, etc., just to help the poor guy out.  It clearly worked too – he is the ONLY person I know who hit his time goal on what turned out to be a warm/hottish day.  Kudos to Mike!!!


After Sunday brunch with some of the 3:20 crew.  That’s Mike SuperFly in the Villanova sweatshirt busting a move in front of the backup Gnats.  Some people think it’s bad juju to wear this year’s Boston jacket (the green ones in this picture) before this year’s Boston race.  This picture is proof that the jacket does even more harm.  None of the people in any Boston jacket here hit an ambitious time goal.  Mike SuperFly NoJacket did.  Mr. McBen in this year’s green jacket on the right ran the slowest of us.  And Kid McBen next to him (note: no Boston jacket) set a world record.

The Race: Hopkinton can be cold, but I took all my spare clothes off an hour before I started and I was still warm when we started.  I ran a 15k about 2 months ago that projected out to a 3:17 marathon, training went well after that, and a few other things lined up that made me think I might have 3:17-3:18 fitness.  However, the forecast was for low 70s, there’s research that shows performance declines above 60 degrees, and after Western States I know that heat is insidious.  With all that in mind, I planned to run at 3:20 pace and hoped that I might be able to speed up at the end.  Sub-3:20 has been a goal for about 7 years, even as I’ve aged from 47 to 54.  Until I saw the weather forecast I was relatively confident, but I was hoping to squeak under anyway and hoped that giving up 3 minutes of optimal time would be enough to appease the weather gods.

Aside from high-fiving a few kids and occasionally cheering back at the spectators (the amazing spectators are the main reason to do Boston), I was all business through the first half.  Even though the course is rolling, I kept on pace and seemingly kept my heart rate about where it should be based on past marathons (looking at it afterwards, it was a tiny bit high).  My watch ticked over to 1:40 about one second before I passed the halfway marker, so I was exactly on plan.

Besides running, “all business” meant I focused a lot on keeping myself cool.  This included a few things.  First, I opted to wear a cotton singlet for the race (made by cutting up a cotton t-shirt).  Cotton is bad in the cold, but that means it should be good in the heat.  Whenever I mention this people comment on chafing and/or extra weight from sweat/water.  I had tried it out on a couple long runs beforehand so it wasn’t a big risk.  Also, when I grew up there was no tech fabric – we seem to have forgotten that it was fine 40 years ago (at least in the warm California days).  Anyway, I was in a cotton singlet and at almost every aid station – sometimes both the right side one and then the left side one – I’d grab a cup or two of water and pour it on shirt and/or head.  For the record, there was no chafing and I was never able to get it wet enough so that it felt heavy (and I cut off a few inches at the bottom to avoid that anyway.)

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the night before I froze two water bottles.  About an hour before the race I took them out of the bag and held them in each hand.  In the start corral (they were still partly frozen) I drank the ice water and poured it on myself.  And I was STILL warm when I started.  If could have figured out how to tear the bottles open, I would have put the ice blocks under my hat.  If I were to do it again, I would get my shirt completely soaked shortly before the race.

So, as cold as I could be at the start, cotton singlet, dumping water when possible.  I also made an effort to get ice when I could.  Sometimes that meant stopping fairly quickly and doubling back a few feet.  I’d lose a few seconds each time, but putting a large cup of ice under my hat kept me cool and gained the time back as I ran.

There were other occasional cooling opportunities – people would spray water from a garden hose, or that cooling tent (like a carwash) we could run through, or the fire department with a hose and fan.  I did as much of those as I could.

I think that all paid off – I could tell it was hot but my heart rate seemed reasonable, I was on track pace-wise, and I kept moving closer to the finish.

The Wellesley Scream Tunnel is still the best 90 seconds in amateur sports (I think an orange friend said this).  I ran a bit wide of the fence this year – I did watch one guy swoop in for a kiss, then trip, then stumble for about 30 feet before finally touching gently down and getting back up.  I knew that at best it would be very close for me so I didn’t need that.

My race implosion happened in three phases.

Phase 1: Miles 19 -21.  During the 19th mile, I realized hadn’t pressed the lap button on my watch.  During marathons, I keep track of my performance by comparing the time for each mile with my goal.  E.g. if my goal is 7:37 each mile (just under 3:20 for the race), and I run 7:42 in the first mile and then 7:30 in the second, I am “plus 5” after the first mile and “minus 2” after the second.  That’s about all the math I can handle.  I’m conscious enough through 16-20 miles that this approach works well, and after that – when my brain starts failing – what I actually have left matters a lot more than any goal.  Anyway, at each mile marker I press my lap button and see how long the mile took.  As I said, during the 19th mile I realized I had missed a flag and pressed my lap button.  Then, about 2 minutes later I hit the 19 mile marker and got totally confused about whether I had really missed a marker.  Besides suddenly having no idea about how I was doing, I had this weird mentally competent/mentally incompetent moment when I realized that the heat was making my brain short out and I was in trouble.  This is a learning from Western States – when it’s warm and you get confused, it’s not a coincidence.

My race strategy had been to focus hard on cooling through mile 16, maybe mile 18, and then the forecast said it there would be a seabreeze and it would start cooling. I went into the race intent on cooling myself for a while, and I stupidly followed that exactly.  But it didn’t cool down and by following my plan I didn’t pour quite as much water on myself and didn’t double back for the ice, and missed any popsicles, and suddenly I was a little confused.

I crossed paths with my friend Martin shortly before Heartbreak Hill.  (He’s also known as UB40 – he’s a musician and I think he did that Red Red Wine song a while back.)  He started ahead of me and was hoping to run 3:17 so it was a fairly tragic encounter – he was hurting, I shouldn’t have caught him, and I was hurting but not yet doomed – and he fell back after a couple minutes.

There are 4 Newton hills.  The first two (in miles 16 and 17) went fine.  I got confused at mile 19.  The last 2 hills are in mile 20 and 21.  Mile 20 wasn’t easy but it was short.  Mile 21 – aka Heartbreak Hill – was hard but marathons are hard and I thought I’d recover on the downhill so I pushed.  I made it up slightly slower than I wanted and started the last 5 downhill miles.

Phase 2: Miles 22 and 23.  In my first Boston, my quads seized at the top of Heartbreak Hill and every downhill step was horribly painful.  This year, I didn’t feel great but my legs still worked.  At this point I knew I was a little behind schedule – maybe a minute, not sure after the mile 19 watch mishap – but from there it’s mostly downhill and I thought I still had a chance.  (Looking at my watch data, I was almost exactly 60 seconds off 3:20 pace at mile 21, so even though I was confused I generally knew what the situation was).  But I knew that I would have to fly on on the downhills and not give up much on the occasionally uphill roller.  So I went at it.

The first mile (downhill) after Heartbreak Hill is known as the graveyard mile, in part because there’s a cemetery on the right, but mostly because that mile is where quads go to die after the first 21 miles.  My quads didn’t die and I made it through the mile in about 7:24 – 13 seconds gained back, on track to gain 65+ seconds over the last 5 miles.  Just barely enough.

The second mile after HB Hill has some small uphills.  I pushed as hard as I could, and did that in … 8:04, giving up everything I had gained and then some.  But hey, there must still be a chance.

Phase 3: Miles 24 to Finish.  The 24th mile broke me.  I started doing pace math and realized there was no way I’d go sub 3:20.  It also looked unlikely I’d beat my 3:21+ PR.  At that point the next interesting numbers were 3:26:x, my second and third best marathon times.  It also seemed likely I’d easily requalify for Boston next year even if I walked a lot, so my motivation went pffff.  And the nausea hit.

I revere the spectators at Boston.  There are few races I want to do twice, and yet this was my 7th straight year at Boston.  A little bit of that is the qualifications/difficulty, but 98% of that is the spectators.  They are amazing.  I’ve said that before.  So I’ll just leave it at The Spectators At Boston Are Amazing.

So there I am having waves of nausea at mile 24 and realizing that there is nowhere at all to empty your stomach towards the end of the Boston Marathon without doing it at the feet of some people who’ve staked out an amazing front row view for the race.  I did not want to barf at their feet.  So I started walking as I needed to, returning to running when I could, and generally not having a very good time.  (It took about an hour after the race, sipping fluids very gingerly, to get the nausea to calm.)

During the hot year of 2012, Janet told me that the spectator noise was very difficult to handle when she was feeling like garbage.  I experienced that this year also – “I’m just trying to get to the finish and everyone is being SO LOUD.”  It’s interesting how your condition influences how you perceive things.  I still revere the spectators, but I would gladly have had earbuds in at that point.

Anyway, after covering the last few miles and the last several hours of my race, I finally crossed the line in 3:26:27.

I did one smart thing just before the race, when I was in a particularly foul mood about the weather wrecking my golden opportunity after great training.  Last year I finished 731 in my Old Guys age group.  I figured out that a sub 3:20 last year would have gotten me something like 450 in my age group.  Allowing for some randomness in who shows up, and also the fact that the field gets slightly faster each year, I set a goal of finishing in the top 500 in my age group.  This wasn’t a goal I was going to be able to manage actively during the race, but it was a way to challenge myself to finish better at least in a relative sense, whatever the weather brought.

So after an all-business, tough, seemingly-unsuccessful day, I did have these positive results:

3:27:27 official time – my 3rd best marathon and a course PR for me (~10 seconds better than last year, in much more difficult conditions)

A qualifier for Boston 2017 by more than 13 minutes – I don’t have to worry about getting in.

I finished 6660 out of 26,000+ runners.  Bib #’s are assigned by qualifying times and my number was 14628 so in theory I passed about 8000 people (although some of those didn’t actually start the race and some are previously-fast people who had small numbers out of respect from the race.).

And… even with my weak finish, I finished 491 in my age group according to the BAA results.

Plus, I got to run the Boston Marathon.

Thank you again Boston.

On the other hand, I hate you marathons.  You are abusive.  As I said to some friends today, you occasionally toss a bone (like SuperFly’s sub 3 race) but mostly you are like Lucy and Charlie Brown’s football.

boston 2016

Which one is not like the others?  2 people excited, and 1 person thinking that 600 yards to the finish is a hella long way.






  1. Oof, sounds like a tough day weatherwise. Congrats on re-qualifying for 2017, the course PR, and the top 500 AG finish!

    • Thanks Steve. I definitely like last year’s weather better.

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