Saturday, April 23, 2011

My 2011 Boston Marathon, there wasn't the thrill of victory but there was the agony of defeat...

Although the Boston Marathon is over, I still have yet to raise the required amount of money needed for the charity I ran for. As of today I'm still $1,000 short of my required goal. I was lucky enough to get an extension to the 18th of May to hit my mark. I'd appreciate any and all contributions. No amount is too small. If you are so inclined/motivated to donate, please click the donate button at the top right of my blog and thank you in advance. Now onto the race recap...

Okay, I’ve been way overdue for race reports (I have a few in the hopper) but wanted to get this one out since it was fresh in my mind. I could, and probably will, write up an entire post about the Athlete’s village, all the people and the spectacle that is the Boston Marathon but I’m just focusing on the race and me for this post. I guess where to start with all this is that I drove into Boston last year to see the marathon expo before the 214th edition of the Boston Marathon to see what all the hubbub was about.  I will tell you as I walked around the expo and saw all the booths and all the people participating I thought to myself "hey, I can do this". I’m fit, I’m fast and have a mileage base. I've done marathons, there’s no reason without training I couldn’t run a decent marathon time even if it was the “historic” Boston. There was a lot going on in my life at the time so I just kinda kept the desire and inner monologue to myself for months. Then while out running a local 5k with J, I mentioned wanting to run the marathon in passing. Her mom made some calls and then told me she knew how I could get a number if I wanted to run and then this quest was underway.

I have run marathons (quite a few actually) but it had been years (again, quite a few actually) since I’d run my last. There was a time when I and a group of friends in college ran marathons because it was something to do on the weekends and a reason to take trips. There was little “serious training” applied toward those events. Because of who I am and all the Army Ranger training, I have become very accomplished at being able to put my head down, fighting through the pain and finishing. That was how I got through most of those marathons, but this was Boston, the crown jewel of marathons, and I wanted this to be a special race. I wanted to not necessarily have an easy race but I didn’t want it to be a grueling slugfest to the end.

So, I got a coach and a training plan and went to work. While that “structured” marathon training started at 8 weeks out, I thought I had a great fitness base to go forward. I did all my workouts at the ties prescribed or faster. I won’t go into the week by week breakdown but 3 big things I think that are noteworthy during the training were my “long run” of 21 miles (that was completed at a 7:46 pace. I did bonk, like huge crash and burn bonk at the end, but made it through), I got the flu and missed 5 training days the week after that long run, and the 13mi training run (finished in 1:36)  8 days before the marathon (the 21 and 13 mile runs were on the Boston course). I felt good, prepared but little antsy the taper week leading up to Boston. I will say that I thought a “bad day” would have me running a 3:30 or 3:45 marathon but I thought that with my training and average pace throughout the training, I should hit in the 3:20s on race day.

My plan was to lay back and just deal with getting through the mass of humanity in the first few miles. I was in Wave 3, in the 6th of 9 corrals. There were A LOT of people in front of me. I thought that would work in my favor. I have a tendency to go out fast for every race so this would force me to slow down, focus on navigating through people and get some space so I could settle into my pace and run.  I figured that would probably take me 2 or 3 miles, 4 at the worst and then I’d settle into a 7:45 pace.

I got a call from my coach the night prior to the race with a new plan. Run the first 8-10 miles at an 8 minute pace, run up to the 20 mile mark at 7:50s and then either hold that pace for that last 10k or use up what I had left in the tank for the finish. The purpose being it would hold me in check during the “downhill” portion of the marathon and give me legs to get through the uphill section to 21 without bonking. I will say that this new plan completely freaked me out and I said as much. I am very much a creature of habit. I train as I fight (there’s the Army creeping in again) so if I train at 7:45s then that’s how I’ll run. Now I need to run to a new pace. Because I wasn’t accustomed to the 8 minute mile, I was afraid I’d expend precious energy in the early part of the race “chasing the pace” (i.e. would look down and see 7:45, know that was too fast, layoff the gas, hit 8:10 then need to speed up to hit 8s) but that was the plan and I'm a good soldier so let’s go with it.

So come the following morning, I step across the line in Hopkinton and the race begins:

First five miles: 8:52, 8:00, 7:51, 7:54. 8:09
Like I said I knew the 1st mile or 2 would be a toss up because of all the people. I spent alot of time weaving between bodies and trying to find a "clean" running lane. Every time I glanced down to see my pace I was at a 7:45, plan was to hold 8's so I'd slow down to get there and then like clockwork I'd fall to 8:05 or 8:10 and have to speed up again. It was really nice to see my chiropractor Dr. G on the sidewalk cheering me on. If not for him keeping this bag of bones together I don't know if I could've done Boston at all. But I was really focused on my pace so I could only gave him a quick nod. As you can see by the pace breakdown, I was working very hard to get to and stay on 8 minute miles. I felt good, not great. It was warm. Granted it was in the mid 50's but when you live in MA and the normal temps were in the 40' felt warm.

Miles 6-10: 7:52, 7:59, 8:00, 7:53, 7:58
The only thing I was focused on was trying to hit 8 minute miles. It was a challenge to say the least. I was constantly looking down at my pace to see where I was and constantly adjusting to try to stay on 8's. I hit the 8 mile mark and realized I wasn't feeling great so I figured holding 8 minute miles out to the 10 mark might give me some time to recover and worst case I'd make that my pace for the rest of the marathon and end up with a finish time in the 3:30's. I had a friend hand me a carbo drink at the 9 mile mark and I sipped away at that over the next 2 miles.

Miles 11-15: 8:18, 8:22, 8:38, 8:44, 9:04
I hit the 11 mile mark and was tired. I felt as if I'd been running for a lot longer than 11 miles. I think that the energy I expended chasing that 8 mile pace for the first 10 miles physically and mentally exhausted me. That amount of energy should've gotten me to 18 or 19 and here I was only at 11. Ugh. The only highlight was having my personal cheering section. I didn't realize it but my yoga teacher Maria was on the sidewalk and jumped 10 feet in the air when she saw me. That might have put the only smile on my face for the race. Just before 13, while running through Wellesley I didn't feel well.  In the midst of having a "I wonder why I don't feel well" discussion with myself, I threw up. In stride mind you because I wasn't gonna slow down for nothing! I was happy to have at least got a "...did you see that guy throw up and keep running? That was awesome!" yelled from some girl on the side of the street. I felt a little better but it took a little out of me as you can see my pace slowed after that. I knew that my new focus would be to replenish water and electrolytes because of what I was losing/just lost.

Miles 16-20: 8:55, 9:43, 10:50, 10:06, 11:11
I made sure I grabbed water and Gatorade at each mile marker (as in stride as possible) and sipped them to replenish. I knew that J was just on the other side of 17 with another carbo drink so I had the bonus of not only getting some fuel but also seeing a friendly face with words of encouragement to perk me up to look forward to. As the picture can attest, I needed all the perking up I could get. I was exhausted. There is something to be said when you realize this and STILL have 9.2 miles of running left to go. I just leaned forward and kept going. After the 17 mile mark is where you turn right at the fire station in Newton and head uphill. After cresting that hill I threw up again. This is where I had a moment of panic. I tried hard to get back to running a decent pace but throwing up again made me quickly realize I was gonna lose/losing the hydration/electrolyte balance that is so key to long distance events. My focus immediately changed. It went from a "let's keep this pace or that pace" kind of operation to a "lets focus on what's important and salvage what we can" type of operation. For those of you that now me or know the story, this was the 2009 Chicago Triathlon all over again (that one however was because of an error with the events staff/organizers). I had to now make sure I grabbed water and Gatorade at every mile marker from here on out to try and limit the damage.

Miles 21-25: 12:28, 10:46, 11:59, 12:16, 12:52
Now I'm just struggling to get back in any kind of running rhythm. You can see that miles 19-21 I went 10's, 11's and 12's minute pace respectively. At mile 21 I threw up again. Now, there is nothing left in the tank. I'm fighting through nausea (ever time I tried to pick up the pace I fought the urge to vomit so I'd lay off the gas), muscle cramping/seizing and I'm angry. I mean really angry (about a long list of things but this really isn't the forum for that discussion). For those of you that don't know me...welcome to MY fuel. Unfortunately, I am great at performing angry. I have the ability to turn off the world, focus on what I'm most mad about and that can, and has, got me through everything difficult in my life to the finish. When other people give up or quit, I can run on angry vapors forever. So time to buckle down and go down swinging. I got the pace back down in the 10's and then 11's, 12's respectively again. I saw the infamous Citgo sign and knew I was close to the end, so I gave it everything I had left. You know my motto..."you can throw up at the end". Sure I threw up 3 times already but I'm sure I had something left. Mile 26 went down at an 11:54 pace, that .2 mile end of the race was run at a 10:05 pace and my 2011 Boston Marathon was over. I will tell you that one of the main things that kept me going toward the end was knowing I'd get to add the very desirable,  and in my opinion the my very much earned, Boston marathon medal to my collection. That is why there's a smile creeping into my face.

I was and still am disappointed. My goal was never "just to finish". Hell, for those of you that know me...not finishing is never an option. I would've crossed the finish line with pneumonia and on two bloody stumps if I had to (ya, ask me about that forced road march in Ranger School). My goal was to have what I deemed to be a respectable time for me. I'm embarrassed by that overall time and by my pace throughout the second half of the marathon. Those aren't my numbers. That is only applicable to me. Everyone has their own pace for their own events but those aren't the kind of numbers I expect for myself. I firmly believe that if you aren't disappointed when you don't accomplish your goal, therein lies failure. My body has recovered. The day after Boston I logged a 21 mph bike ride and I'm back running again. I hope if the weather holds this weekend I can go out for an 8 or 10 mile run on Sunday. I don't know what to think moving forward. I will continue to train and race. I don't know if I want to do another marathon or if I have any desire to do Boston again, only time will tell.

And let me just clear this up before I get the standard "this is just one race" or "its not failure but what you learn from it" crap. I've had 7 surgeries, a broken back, a broken pelvis, broken more other bones than I desire to count, had spinal meningitis and kidney stones, and a very successful career and as Airborne Ranger leader while dealing with all that and the Army STILL had to tell me "thanks for playing but you can't do this anymore" and medically board me out for me to discontinue my service. Three years ago I weighed 245 pounds, had a size 38 waist and dragged my ass back into the gym to get back in shape and start being competitive again. I'm now normally around 168 pounds and frequently turn a sub-6 minute mile. I'm a walking poster child for "knocking the dust off and getting back up".

Right now I think I'm gonna get back to the type and frequency of training that allowed me to pick any race on a weekend and do well. I will always fight on to the next Ranger Objective...

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