Posted by: pointlenana | April 19, 2017

Boston Marathon – 4/17/17

We just returned from the annual pilgrimage to Running Mecca, where I made my annual attempt to have a great Boston Marathon race.  0 for 8 now (although some of those years I approached it as a fun run and wasn’t racing).  I’ve already spewed a gazillion bytes (blog posts and videos) about this race so I’ll just focus on what worked and what didn’t.  Before I start though, most or all of the reason I didn’t have a great race this year is that the day was too warm to run a good marathon for the vast majority of the people running.

Things That Worked (to varying degrees):

  • My orange shorts.  My friend Nick (who is from Tennessee) says there is research showing that wearing the color orange in a race speeds you up by several seconds per mile.  For good measure, my socks were also orange.
  • My speed holes.  These were Jim Walmsley-style speed holes, not Galen Rupp-style holes.  The Walmsley ones work standalone (I hope), but (I suspect) the Rupp ones need to be activated by the medical professionals at the Nike Oregon Project to be really effective.  The idea is to get more airflow under the shirt so you stay cooler.  I thought I would finish the day with a polka dot sunburn, but Janet was right – the angle of the sun and the fluttering shirt worked together and no sunburn.
  • WP_20170417_003

    Modeling both the orange shorts (with BAA unicorn logo!) and speed holes.


  • My cotton singlet:  Pam Smith won a very hot Western States in part by wearing a cotton shirt and keeping it wet.  I cut a t-shirt down into singlet (and then lightened it further for speed holes).  It kind of worked – whenever I got it really wet I felt good for a bit, but it was hard to keep wet enough.  I also haven’t figured out whether more material is better than less.  E.g. would a wet long sleeve feel cooler than a holey no sleeve?  I don’t think I’m enough of a scientist and/or masochist to do the experimentation on that, so I’ll probably still go with no sleeves in the future.  (Now, if there were a way to get ice reliably while running at marathon pace…)
  • Cold water: I felt hot at mile 5, and someone handed me a bottle of refrigerated water.  I poured all of it on me – wet shirt, wet shorts, and soaked feet that felt cold seconds later.  I felt great for about 10 minutes.  Same for the couple times when I ran through sprayer hoses for more than .25 seconds – getting really wet worked.
  • Trail Toes:  26.2 miles of wet feet can end badly, but as usual, no problems.  Thanks Trail Toes!
  • Running somewhat by feel and heart rate: I had a pacing plan that I mostly stuck to through the half, but I also paid attention to heart rate and how I felt.  I knew I was a little hot in the early miles but then things seemed to even out.  If I had actually run by feel I would have slowed down a little.  This is a convoluted way of saying I could probably trust feel more than I do.

Things that did not work:

  • The Official Weather Provider To The Boston Marathon:  Those folks have really botched it these past two years – warm/hot on race day and perfect running weather the day afterwards.  I hope their contract is up soon and the BAA chooses to get weather from someone else.
  • The weather forecasters:  Even on the morning of the race, I saw forecasts saying it would by mid-high 60s.  NOAA (as usual) was closest to reality with a high temp forecast of ~72, although their forecast discussion on race morning said “temps will easily get into the 70s” which should have been a warning.  Not only were they all wrong at the last minute, but they treated us like boiling frogs in the week before the race.  Decent forecast about a week out, and then each day the forecast temps would rise slightly.  Supposedly it hit 79 in Natick – much higher than the high 60s to low 70s we all were thinking as we rode out to Hopkinton on race morning.  Even in Hopkinton there was a breeze and I was hopeful.  If we all knew “high 70s” we would have adjusted our goals.  But for a week we’d been thinking “might be decent” and then SLAM.  Like last year, most people missed their goals and many by a lot.
  • My second experiment trying to do enough to stay cool and run fast in spite of warm weather.  The weather was similar last year – I tried and failed then too.  This year I did still more stuff (e.g. the speed holes, and getting cold almost to the point of shivering before the race in Athlete’s Village) and it wasn’t enough to make a difference.  In the future, I’m going to add 5 minutes (maybe more) to my goal time for every 10 degrees of temps above 60.  3:25 seemed a lot less interesting to me than 3:20, after running ~3:20 in December.  But maybe I could have made 3:25 if I aimed at that from the start, and it would have been a personal course record at Boston.  It’s just not worth it to try to force an ambitious goal in heat – it’s not going to happen unless you are the 1 in 500 who gets lucky.  Better to cruise a bit and enjoy things.  I feel ok about doing the experiment the second time – one time could be an anecdote – but now I have a huge data set (two races) and can draw statistically-valid conclusions.
  • That woman who clipped my heels:  Coming off of Heartbreak, I grabbed a cup of water at an aid station.  As I tossed it in, someone clipped my heels.  Ok, that happens sometimes in races.  Then it happened again a second later.  I turned and gave my nastiest look to a woman behind me who was maybe drinking out of a bottle .  She said sorry and finally separated.  Unfortunately, she separated forward from me and probably finished way ahead of me.  I am secretly hoping that at some point further down the course she drank from the bottle again and disappeared forever down a storm drain she didn’t bother to look for.
  • Scheduling another hard race right after this one:  At mile 23 or so, when I was tired and clearly going to miss the only goal I really cared about, a voice started shouting in my head, “YOU HAVE A TOUGH 100K IN 12 DAYS!!!  NOW THAT YOUR GOAL IS NOT ACHIEVABLE IT WOULD BE REALLY SMART TO WALK THE REST OF THE WAY”.  I walked a little bit.  I mostly finished with some dignity but the voice was actually right.  I knew a good race here would affect the next one and I was ok with that, but I hadn’t prepped myself for the likelihood that I’d have to keep going in this one when it was hopeless.

My splits:

Miles 1-5 (Garmin/Strava auto-splits): 7:35, 25, 27, 26, 37.  These look fast (my goal was 7:37) but this is downhill and adjusted based on grade, these were fine.  Also, I was copying my successful CIM plan of trying to pick up a few seconds on the downhills.

Miles 6-10: 7:35, 33, 43, 39, 37.  Settled into goal pace.  Heart rate about what I wanted even with the heat.

Miles 11-15: 7:37, 40, 32, 37, 45.  Right on pace through the half.

Miles 16-20: 7:35, 55, 52, 48, 59.  Most of the Newton Hills, where I knew I’d lose time.  I was starting to feel things at this point and it felt like I was losing more time than I wanted to.  But I hadn’t given up, and hoped for a miracle, e.g. a cool breeze, after I finished the hills.

Miles 21-26.2: 8:23, 8:02, 8:22, 8:39, 9:39, 9:11, 8:08.  The 8:23 on Heartbreak worried me, but I knew it was downhill from there.  Unfortunately, even on the downhill I only got an 8:02 so I knew the sub-3:20 goal was done.  From there it degraded and I ended up taking 3 walk breaks for a total of 2-3 minutes.  “Hey, another race in two weeks – the SMART THING is to take it easy now…”

One thing hidden in the split info above is that I was losing at least 5 seconds in every aid station (one every mile) trying to get two cups of water – at least one to wear and some to drink.  Everyone else was doing that too so it was a mess with lots of slowing and near collisions.  So, to stay largely on pace I was actually running too fast in between aid stations.  I didn’t figure that out until after the race.  This is partly why it’s probably pointless to stick to an ambitious goal in a hot big race – if you do the work to stay cool you lose time, and if you don’t you lose time.

Numbers: Official time: 3:28:59, 6774th out of 26000+ finishers, and 189th out of 1537 in my old man’s age group.  Strava

Even though it wasn’t a great race, it was still fairly fun (Boston always is) and the weekend was great as usual – seeing lots of friends and seeing the city turn out for the race.  Already looking forward to the next one.


My Runners World friends, after our brunch.  I had forgotten this, but while I was running around Lake Tahoe for 78 hours last October, someone decided they should get a foam roller and all sign it.  They surprised me with that at brunch.


  1. Great job on another Boston. I think I saw you at the top of Heartbreak Hill. I heard that there are only a few years on record where the race started above 60 degrees: 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017. Of course this includes all years I’ve run! I know it will never happen, but I wish they would move the race back a few weeks into March, where it is reliably cold. Until then, Boston will continue to be tortuously hot for everyone living in the northern latitudes!

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