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Saturday, June 25, 2011

32 Minutes From Boston

As the race wore on, the uphill climbs seemed to keep coming. One road was, in fact, uphill both ways, and my legs were screaming for help. We passed the 22-mile marker.

"Four point two miles left guys," said our pacer.

I checked my watch. "32 minutes to Boston, gentlemen," I said.

I was stuck to the 3:10 pacing group sign like glue for the entire run. The two other runners who were still in the group (from the 12 or so that started) had both discussed their desire to qualify for Boston. One had done so a few years prior but had not been able to enter the race. The other was giving it his tenth try.

We came upon a water stop, and I decided, too late, to try and grab a cup from the last person, which of course I simply knocked out of her hand. In hindsight, I should have ignored this and kept running, but I stopped, for just a moment, and got another cup. This one moment of hesitation created about 20 feet of separation between myself and pacing guide. I would not catch him again.

Now, I don't want to say that the wheels came off, because I kept on running. I walked for about one minute up the sadistic hill at 25 miles, but then I got right back into the jog. Still, I was out of gas and try as I might, there just weren't any reserves to pull upon. With about 3 tenths of a mile to go, the Boston qualifying time came and went, and to be quite honest with you, I was fine with that.

Why? Because I just had a 24-minute PR on a marathon.

I'll do an in-depth review of the event itself tomorrow, but today's post is about my experience therein. First, you cannot beat weather like we had today. At the start of the run, it was about 55 degrees and cloudy, but no rain. By the end, it was maybe 64 and partly cloudy with a little bit of sun. When you're used to training in 100 degree heat, 60 is cruising weather.

I made the final decision to follow the 3:10 pace group and got right in line at the start. Naturally, what happens five minutes before the gun? I have to go to the bathroom. There isn't one readily accessible from the starting corral, so I figure it will go away. It doesn't. In the second mile, I found a porto-john, sped a little ahead of my pace group, took a ridiculously long time in there, and then got back into the crowd. Even though I knew it could tire me out, I made a point to get back with my group as soon as humanly possible. By the next mile marker, I'd only lost 25 seconds. By three, I was back in the mix.

We enjoyed the cheering all along the route, and the music was a nice touch, though I felt many of them could have chosen more adrenaline-firing songs. Still, between the gold-pants wearing boy/girl duo covering "Regulators" and the killer bluegrass band, the first half was filled with great stuff, not the least of which was my wife and aunt screaming for me.

The others in our pacing group were fantastic. There was a lot of friendly conversation (including a great deal about the weather in Austin), and the encouragement between all of them was very nice to hear. Before too long, really, we'd reached the first split from the half-marathon for a long out-and-back on the I-90 bridge. Here I took my first gel. I'd planned to do them every 8 miles, but I lost one within 5 minutes of starting the race, so I decided to go every 10 and only use two. The only problem I had was the need to stop and rinse my hands off in a puddle to get that junk off of them. Seriously, it gets everywhere. This, too, was fine, though, because the others in my group thought for a second I was going to drink the puddle water. Several thought, "Wow, that guy's hardcore."

After that (and evidently waving at my wife though I did not see her), we went into the first tunnel, and man, it feels like you're flying in those things. We would do two more tunnels before it was all said and done, and each time, it gave the sensation of running much faster than needed.

Once we got to 14, our pacer switched off. We thanked her and welcomed the new guy, and that's when the race got interesting. From 15 to 20, there is a whole lot of uphill, most of which I dealt with fairly strongly. At one point, only myself and the pacer were next to one another, and we discussed pace running and the goal of doing Boston. It's always encouraging to be able to have a conversation in the middle of a long run. When we hit the turn around at about 18.5, though, I started to lose my breath. Past 19, 20, and 21, I really started to feel myself working, especially since the hills that I had been told would die down after 20 kept rising up. Mile 21 is the "past 80%" point where I know that I can finish, but I could feel that my legs were draining quickly. I was having a mental battle, saying that if I can make it 20 miles at that pace, I should be able to run the last six. Then I dropped a cup at 22. You know most of the rest.

And yet, even as I made the final turn toward a rather anti-climactic finish line, I smiled. For one thing, this always makes the crowd cheer. For another, they announced my name, so I got to raise my arms in victory. And finally, even though I was 3 minutes off of a Boston qualifying time (that will get 5 minutes harder in a few months), I was still 24 minutes faster than Austin. I felt 300% better than I did after that race. And I'd just completed marathon number three.

I'll hopefully write a full event review tomorrow, and Monday I'll take it easy.

On Tuesday, I start training for the Marine Corps Marathon.

Today's Race:
Seattle Rock 'n' Roll Marathon
Seattle, Washington
52-64 Degrees, Mostly Cloudy
3 Hours, 12 Minutes, 48 Seconds (unofficial time)

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