Boston Marathon #5

For years I’ve been chasing the elusive sub 3:35.  However, I’ve always consistently ended up around the 3:40 mark, and never able to get under 3:35.  The closest I’ve ever gotten was a 3:36:50.

Some time last summer, I came across a NYT article talking about how the Nike Vaporfly 4% can help a runner run 4% faster thanks to the carbon fiber plate embedded in the sole.  The theory is that it acts like a spring and propels the runner forward – a later article cited studies suggesting that it acted more like a lever as opposed to a spring to help the runner run more efficiently.  The price tag on these babies…$250.

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My initial reaction was, “I would not spend $250 on a pair of running shoes!”

The study in the first article did a comparison of the Vaporfly to all other shoes on the market, and it out performed by a wide margin.  There were other shoes that did offer a 1-2% advantage, and one of them was the Mizuno Wave Sayonara, which is one that I’ve always wanted to try.  And at a lower price tag, I thought I’d give it a shot.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me, and that was the end of me trying any shoe that wasn’t a New Balance (have been running in NB for the last 15 years).

A few months went by and fall marathon season was in full swing.  Everywhere I looked, some runner was talking about and touting the Vaporfly.

Curiosity finally got the best of me, and after days of deliberating, I pulled the trigger.  My initial impression was that the hype was real.  It forced a faster leg turn over, and I was easily running 10-15 seconds/mile faster at the same level of effort.  I was sold, and this was when I readjusted my time goal to 3:30.  Why 3:30?  Well, 4% of 3:40 is 8 minutes, which if this shoe does what it’s supposed to, then it would bring my time down to a 3:32.  3:30 is just a nice even number to shoot for.

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After last year’s rain storm, everyone was fretting about a repeat of those running conditions for this year.  Early weather predictions were for cold and rain, however, New England being New England, the weather on the course took everyone by surprise.  The morning started off with rain and thunderstorm, but that quickly cleared up by the time I got to the start.  It was overcast and somewhat cool for the first several miles, but deceivingly humid.  I remember seeing a runner completely soaked in the early miles, and I wondered to myself how anyone could be so sweaty so early on in the race.

I held back on the first mile knowing that it was a steep drop, but started pushing the pace after that, averaging about 7:40-7:50 min miles.  Normally, I would not have pushed the pace, but I figured I had the Vaporfly on, I can afford to be a little aggressive.  Things were going well, but I started feeling slight calf cramping around miles 7-8, which was early and I started to worry that I had been going too fast.  I quickly took one Hyland leg cramp pill (losing one in the process), which held down the cramping for the next 7 miles or so.  The clouds started to dissipate around the 1/2 marathon mark, and the sun was in full blast by the time I reached the Newton Hills.  I took my second leg cramp pill before “powering up” (I put those in quotations, because it wasn’t so much powering up as it was trotting up, as my pace had dropped) the first set of hills.  For the next 4 miles I was in pure survival mode, counting down the number of hills I’ve scaled.  The weather at this point was similar to the running conditions in 2016 and 2017 – warm.  Luckily, training in SoCal allowed me to be acclimated to the warmer temp.  Unfortunately for those from colder locales, the warmer temp meant more difficulty adjusting.  People were walking, slowing down, and being tended to by the medics along the course.

By the time I got to the top of the last hill at mile 21, I knew I was going to be OK.  Took the last Hyland pill to help ease the cramping in the quads, but it wasn’t sufficient.  There was pain, but I said to myself, “elite runners run through the pain, you can too.”  I did have to stop twice to work out the cramping when it got unbearable.

At around mile 23, the Garmin shut down completely (forgot to pack the charger).  It was actually already on “low battery” by mile 14, so I really had no idea how fast I had been going since mile 14.  I didn’t even know what my time was when I crossed the finish line.  I just saw 3:33:xx on the clock.  It was only when I met up with Joe at the family meeting area did I find out that I had run a 3:31:38.  A PR!  Finally a sub 3:35!

So the shoes did deliver, yet a part of me is a little bummed because I’ll never know whether this faster time is the result of the shoes or my training.  Or could the shoes have unwittingly pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to run faster.  Like Joe said, “there’s an asterisk next to this time.”

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The Garbage Bag That Saved the Marathon

There’s no doubt about it.  The 2018 Boston Marathon was brutal.  I underestimated how cold it would be, thinking that it was going to be a replay of 2015, which was cold with drizzling rain.  Since I ran a PR in 2015, I figured the cold and rain were welcome news.  However, this year it was colder (apparently the coldest in 30 years), with driving rain, and 25 mph head wind.

I was prepared to run in a singlet like I did in 2015, but luckily I decided to bring a long running shirt that I could peel off later in the race.  I did prepare throwaway fleece pants, jacket, gloves, and an ear flap beanie hat to wear on route to the Athlete’s Village; but I didn’t have any rain gear, so I got a Kirkland drawstring trash bag from my sister, cut a hole on top and 2 on the sides, and voila, I had myself a rain jacket.  I was certain I was prepared.

That was until I got out of the T at Boston Commons.  It was raining, and before I had even gotten onto the bus my socks and shoes were already wet.  I was not prepared.

Luckily the bus was toasty, but as soon as I got off I was shivering.  I needed to start moving.  I so wished I could run in my throw away jacket and fleece, but that would’ve been unwise given that they would just get soaked and weigh me down.  I ended up keeping the beanie, and leaving the trash bag on so that I would not get any wetter during the race.  I believe that decision ended up saving me from a DNF.

Given the ‘cooler’ race conditions, I had set to go for the elusive 3:35 the day before the race.  However, once the race got going, the goal quickly turned into ‘just try to survive this’.  There really was no other option but to keep moving, because I knew as soon as I stopped moving I’d freeze.  I think the wind made a huge difference in how this race felt compared to 3 years ago.  Not only did it make everything feel colder, it also was hard to run against.  As a result, I hopscotched from one tall man/woman to another to run behind throughout the race – one of the benefits of being 5’3.  That helped tremendously.  Granted it slowed me down a little since some were running at a slightly slower pace, but it made the conditions bearable.

You’ll often hear that running a marathon is a mental game.  It truly is.  How you play the game will determine how well you do.  All negative thoughts need to be banished.  Thoughts such as “if I were to collapse right now, would there be medical personnel to come fetch me” or  “maybe I should just stop now, because there’s another 25 miles of cold, wind, and rain”.  Yes, these thoughts will pop up, but it’s important to shut it down immediately, and not allow them to grow roots.  Instead, I conjure up all the reasons I must finish the race, “I didn’t spend all this money to fly out here just to drop out”, “I need to finish in the top 3 of all the runners from my city”,  “this is the year I can get a huge cushion to BQ for next year”, or “the family is waiting, I shouldn’t let them worry about me”.   One trick that worked for me was breaking up 26.2 miles into segments and individual miles, and to conquer them one at a time.  Knowing the course and knowing what to expect helped a great deal.  When I know that the first 16 miles are mostly downhill it’s easier to stomach, and then when the hills come, I just tackle them one at a time.  The last 6 miles is just cruise control going downhill/flat to the finish line.

The usual spectator crowd was a little thinner this year, and it was nice to run in relative peace, because the last thing I wanted to hear was “you’re almost there” when I’ve only covered 1 mile – believe me someone did say that.  However, I did appreciate the ones who were out there cheering us on.  They really didn’t have to given how miserable it was out there in the element.

The volunteers were nothing short of spectacular again this year.

I made sure to take it easy earlier in the race so that I wouldn’t beat up the quads, and it definitely helped because I did not get any of the cramping I got during the last 2 races.  After I crested the last of the Newton hills, I was able to lengthen my stride and pick up the pace.  However, looking back at the data from 2015, I had run faster those last 6 miles that year, and I suspect the head wind this year had a lot to do with the slightly slower pace.  I distinctly remember how tough it was for me to sprint down the home stretch because of the gust.

At the end, I survived this epic misery and actually ran my second fastest marathon (I was racing to get to the end and the hell off that frigid course) and qualified for next year’s race by 15+ minutes.  I remember swearing off running the marathon between miles 20 and 21, but as I was ready to toss my water bottle at the finish line I held on to it and mumbled, “I can use this next year”.  Running the marathon is like going through labor pains (luckily, I’ve never had the misfortune to go through that), you’re hating it at the moment, but once it’s over, you’re ready for another go at it.

Finally, it was a combination of grit determination and strategy that got me through the race, but I honestly think the garbage bag (and the beanie) made a huge difference between finishing and being forced off the course by hypothermia.

2018 BM

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Five Seconds

The verdict was in this morning – 3 minutes and 23 seconds.  That’s how much one must beat his/her qualifying time by in order to gain entrance to the 2018 Boston Marathon.  I always knew that simply qualifying for Boston wasn’t enough, and so I’d train for a 3:35 marathon to give myself some cushion by registration day.

I have to admit that I trained half heartedly for the 2017 race as I just lost interest since this was going to be my 3rd Boston, and I assumed that I’d easily qualify again.  Well, we were treated with the same on course heat as we had in 2016, so obviously I didn’t hit my 3:35 goal.  I ended up running 6 minutes slower than goal, but still with a 3:28 cushion to qualify.  Naturally, I assumed I was a shoe in for the race, as prior year cut offs were in the 1 – 2:30 range.  So when I got the acceptance email this morning, it wasn’t a surprise.  However, when I found out what the cut off was, I was floored.  I was 5 seconds away from not being accepted.

Five seconds – that’s a wake up call.  I’ll be training seriously this year.