Beware of the Ides of March: Respect Boston

“For  international runners, Boston is a destination.  However, for the Massachusetts-born and bred runner, it’s part of our DNA.”

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I’ve run three Boston Marathons.

I’ve registered for four.

I’ve only qualified for one while actually running in the race.

As of today, I feel there is a 0% chance that I’ll run Boston again.

Running Boston is hard, there’s now way around it.

However, like a pilgrimage to the Promised Land, running the Boston Marathon is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For others it’s more than that. The Wampanoags, a local team I coach in Massachusetts, is full of runners who keep doing it every year since their first qualification.  For non-New England or international runners, Boston is a destination race.  However, for the Massachusetts-born and bred runners, it’s part of our DNA.

And why shouldn’t it be embedded deep in the marrow of our bones? I think Thoreau might’ve taken up distance running if the marathon had been around during his era.

The starting line is a mere 30 minutes from my house, an exit to Hopkinton off of 495. I literally lived at Mile 21 at the top of Heartbreak Hill my junior year of college. In fact, although I was not a marathoner at the time, the opportunity to train on the course for four years while at Boston College seemed appealing. In high school, my chaplain and parish priest, Father Paul Caron, regularly trucked us up to Newton (he had attended St. John’s Seminary so parking was secure) for a few Marathon Mondays. The winners were denizen – Bill Rodgers for example – lived in Melrose and had running stores in Brighton and Faneuil Hall.  Salazar was from Wayland. From my perspective, if you are a runner and from the Boston area, the Marathon is in your bloodstream from a very early age. You want to be part of the excitement on some level.

Still, it takes some training – to say the least. I’ve tried to dodge it, get around it, take short cuts. Here’s my conclusion: There are no short cuts when training for the Boston Marathon. You have to respect the distance.

And here’s another tip: Don’t get too excited about your fitness until Marathon Monday!

BEWARE OF THE IDES OF MARCH!

Sadly, in my three attempts, I have not taken Coach Atwood’s advice. In fact, I’ve ignored his wisdom and by wisdom I mean he’s seen so many friends and athletes train for the event, he has observed a few things. In the end,  I would have benefited from a coach myself….instead of trying to coach myself.

You see, just finishing wasn’t enough for me. I decided after my first Boston Marathon in 2003, I would try to “race” Boston, mostly to qualify for another one. At the time, it required a 3:15. However, I was 39 when I made this decision. I had three kids, a job, coaching responsibilities, and a much older body and a less motivated work ethic than I had 21 years old. I was also carrying about 50 lbs. more than my racing days back in college, which is arguably my natural build, running had just burned so many calories, it never showed up on my frame.

So I started…real slow in 2009 to really try to get in racing shape. Looking back at my logs in late 2009, I was struggling  to run five miles under 40 minutes never mind 26.2 in the low 7:00’s! After many years off between my first Boston at 31 and my second at 39, I struggled to get back into it. After a pulled a calf muscle and some other soreness, I finally got in a groove early in 2010. I did some “real” marathon training but my novice stature has led to some mistakes – not with advising others but advising myself. 20/20 vision is perfect when you look back at those old running logs. You can’t believe you made those stupid mistakes.

So here is a recap of what I’ve done. Beware…it ain’t pretty…but I took my best shot.

2003 – 3:56 – I was given a number – legally.  This was before the Boston Marathon was the extravaganza it is today when it came to getting a number from a connection. I’d say 2014 was the hottest year for numbers due to with united from following the Marathon Bombing.  I was thankful, had to still pay for it, but it saved me the trouble of running 26.2 miles to qualify and wait another year.

I was in grad school in Los Angeles and had gotten terribly fat from Mexican food  and draft beer from Sonny McLean’s, owned by a high school friend of mine.  So, in search of good health, I decided to start training for a marathon. I ran the Carlsbad / San Diego 1/2 Marathon in 1:43 in January and then a 10K in Hermosa Beach. I remember trying to get up to a 60-minute run and finally made it. My longest runs were two 16-milers, one out in Westlake Village, where my wife grew up and another one around Santa Monica and the Brentwood Country Club. I really didn’t know what I was doing. I felt if I ran close to 2.5 to 3 hours in training, I’d be able to finish the race. I was 32, no kids, no job, grad student….I pulled off the 3:56 and finished. Will Ferrell apparently beat me by 30 seconds but I never saw him on the course..he was in disguise, some kind of clown outfit apparently.

My only setback was a bad cold in the middle of March. I was down and had to push back long runs etc. It hurt me and I used the Jeff Galloway “Stop for 30 seconds every mile” that I read about in Runner’s Word and drank a full cup of Gatorade or water. It was a warm day but not too bad.

I felt the joy of finishing Boston, something the miler in me thought would never happen in my lifetime. I ended up siting in the lobby of the Sheraton Boston for a couple hours waiting for my family to find me. My body ached but it was an accomplished ache. We went to the Olive Garden in Framingham for dinner after I got a shower at my sister’s house. I was sore but happy, earning that prized medal for finishing my first Boston Marathon.

We went back to Southern California, had a baby that next November, and I quit running for about six years.

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2011 -3:14:16 – This race will always break my heart. I was ready or at least I thought I was. This time around, I started training in December 2009. I ran a 3:10 at Providence in May 2010 to qualify and even improved my time at Bay State with a 3:07. My number was 3547. I would be starting at 10 o’clock. Expectations from myself and my training group, The Wampanoags were high since I had run a 1:21:57 at the New Bedford 1/2 marathon and a 17:47 5k in the middle of March.

I had a fantastic training block. Starting in December, I pushed my mileage up higher than I had before. I ran a 13.1 tempo on a nice day in January and clocked a 1:28 on a challenging course. I was excited. By February, I was down to 1:23 for a 1/2 at Hyannis in a relay.

Then, I made a few mistakes. I entered a local 5k on a Saturday when I should’ve done my long run. I won. 17:49, 5:45s…very steady. I got up the next morning and ran 22 miles up in Boston on my own. I was exhausted after and it took me the week to get my legs back. My track team was hosting a 5k the next week. People were talking about my performance and I decided to run it. I felt terrible and ended up 4th in 18:20.  Mentally it kind of set me back (turns out the course was long) and I went out and did 20 miles the next day. I think those two weekends fried my legs. I never really got the snap back in them as we entered April.

On race day, I started well running my first 13 miles at 1:31…nothing super fast (I’d run 1:31 during my 3:07 at Bay State the October before).  By mile 17, I was feeling it and the last 8 miles or so I slipped into the high 7:00s then 8:00s and it was tough coming home.

https://connect.garmin.com/activity/80095218

2012 – DNS  – I did a great training block from December to April. Mileage was up to 65ish, long runs went from 12 all the way up to 23 miles three weeks out. I did little speed so in the final phase I did a six-mile tempo and stepped in a pothole turning my ankle bad. I limped in at 6:40 pace but quickly realized I tore something. Instead of running Boston, I opted to sit out when the temperatures rose to 90+ and waivers were offered. I took the deal and two years off from the marathon with it.

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2013 – 3:16:06

Missed qualifying by about 7 seconds. An hour after ran down Boylston two bombs exploded but I was long gone, getting the news on Rte. 95 via text. Awful day to say the least.

My race had also gone awful. I started out fine (although my sleep the night before was awful). I check in early in the 6:40s but for some reason around miles 6-7, ran two 6:30 miles. Now with a goal pace of 6:52 and 20-miles of real estate in front of me, this made no sense. I was 1:28 at 13.1 miles and trying to convince myself that I just had to stay steady and maintain pace staying south of 7:00 miles through 18! I was running very well but I was feeling more and more fatigued and three major hills were in front of me. I should’ve known better. By the top of Heartbreak, 21 miles, I realized it was going to be a long last 5-miles. I walked twice (in fact my moving time was 3:14:53…which would’ve qualified me for Boston ’14) and my pace was destroyed. I didn’t know if I was going to even finish but something drove me to the line – and thank goodness with my family waiting for me on Boylston. We were able to get out of there before any of the bombs went off.

https://connect.garmin.com/activity/298798436

So what happened?

It was indeed the Ides of March that got me again.

I had followed the Hanson Marathon Method getting up to around the high 60s. Why? That’s all I have time for. I read the book then followed their plan and charts, really bought into the great 5k then 10k workouts on Tuesday, the tempos on Thursday, and marathon miles mixed with long runs. By February, I was getting faster and I held my own into March….until The Ides of March that is. The SOS run is a 16.3 mile run set up to mimic a marathon race in other words, you are dialing in at your marathon pace for almost two hours. I had my wife drop me off at mile 6 in Natick. I was going to run to Mile 22 in Brighton then add the .2 on to Cleveland Circle.

I took it out hard. Very hard.  I hadn’t raced all winter in favor of hitting these workouts and tempos so I was excited. I also sat out Hyannis 1/2 and the OFTM (a ten miler in Foxboro) which I usually raced each year. Check out how this tempo (or solo race) went.

https://connect.garmin.com/activity/282355357

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I hit the finish and felt exhausted but confident in my fitness. I had just run 16.3 miles at 6:41 pace by myself on the course. More importantly, I had run all of the Heartbreak Hills AFTER 10 hard miles (64:00) at a decent clip. I was ready. So I thought.

The next week was miserable. Age, dehydration, maybe even a case of the flu…I was wiped out. I took off about five days…nothing. I slept and dragged myself to work. I had basically run a 16 mile race.

But, I recovered and then got the bright idea that I try this again as proposed in the Hanson’s book. This time I ran from the start in Hopkinton to Mile 16 in Newton Lower Falls, just before 128 and the Starbucks.

Looking back, I added more tempo work the week after, running 6:20s for 10 miles from Newton-Wellesley Hospital (17 miles). Over the last five weeks, I did (beyond my Tuedsay 10K speed work and Thursday  tempos (up to 10 miles at goal-pace) almost 70 miles at 6:39.

So what have I learned?

A lot.

Boston requires time, time that I just don’t have at 43. Boston requires a mild winter. This past winter was so bad with the snowfall from late January up to April 1st…I’m not sure any how anyone survived it mentally or physically.  You have to do your long runs – up to 23 is about right. You have to bank mileage and if you can go over 70 per week even for a couple, all the better. You should do marathon tempo work but don’t kill yourself in the training…it’s just training…save it for the race. Cross-train, in fact, I really believe training like a triathlete – bike trainer, swimming mixed with key running workouts is the way for someone like me to see success.  Hills…lots of them. My running group swears by hill workouts once a week and hills on your long run (I prefer downhills).

However, in the end, you must respect the distance.

Respect the Marathon.

Respect Boston.

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