Boston this year was different than years past. My training mileage has been more consistent this spring, if lacking in speed a bit, but I didn't come into this race feeling particularly fast or confident. I was optimistic that I would PR by quite a few minutes, but I wasn't confident I could run at the level I desire to be at right now. I set my race goals conservatively so that I wouldn't have a repeat of Richmond, and it turns out it was probably good I did that because I ran the best I could on the day and was on the slower edge of my race goal (in ideal weather).
In past years at Boston I got so wrapped up in the excitement of the race, the crowds of runners in the city, the advertisements, the camaraderie of my local running friends. This year it just felt like something was missing for me, the ads weren't as good, there was some strife getting everyone together pre race, the expo was just a bit too crowded, it felt like a lot of rushing to wait around. I don't know what it was, but it definitely had an effect on my race. In years past at the start line in Boston I literally got chills. This year, nothing. I can honestly say I didn't get any boosts from the amazing crowds this year until the final 5k. From the start my gait felt uncomfortable and by about mile 10 my left hamstring was slightly aggravated. I did get little smiles here and there on the course thankfully. For some reason the accents of the crowds this year made me laugh. Hearing little kids with their Boston accents shouting "Go rahners" made me smile. I enjoyed the large crowds yelling, but made a conscious effort not to let that dictate my pace, maybe I was just trying to be to in tune with my effort and I should have used the crowd to bolster me a bit.
For the most part I was just tuned into myself this year though and I can honestly say I didn't have a clue how the day was going to end until the final stretch. I didn't micromanage my pace, I just ran at the effort I thought was appropriate for how I felt. Thankfully that effort was where I intended it to be based on my race plan. I would look at the Garmins average pace every mile and make sure it was around 7:30. I told myself not to look at the splits through the hills, and for the most part stuck to that. I started taking water at mile 6 opting for water every other mile from there. I took 5 electrolyte pills spread out over the course and started taking gels at mile 12 and every 4 miles after that (12, 16, 20). (I had a nice rookie move dropping one of my gels around Wellesley when I was trying to take my first gel, thankfully the course had gels at 17 so I just adjusted the plan and took my caffeinated gels (Rocktane, it seemed to work well, I will use this nutrition plan again) at 12 and 16 and used the race gel at 20) My energy levels were great the whole day, but something was just "off." At the half I knew a 3:16 was possible since I crossed around 1:38 but I wasn't feeling peppy and I was uncertain of an even split.
What did go well this year is that my quads held up to the course for much longer and with each mile that my quads didn't hurt I got more certain that I would run 3:16. I focused on smaller strides on the downhills and on the uphills I focused on trying to "glide." I used an image of my friend Frank gliding over the Sunday Solon hills to try and improve my pace and strides over the hills. Last year before mile 12 my quads were already thrashed. This year I made it to mile 22 before the usual quad soreness seeped in, and my calf didn't cramp up until mile 24. I did my best to put the hammer down after mile 21 but was uncertain if my quads or calf would give out on me. Despite that I ran the last 7k of the course the fastest of the day and was so glad to finally get over Heartbreak Hill and race the last 4 miles of the Boston Marathon. This was the first time that I did enjoy the crowds after Heartbreak. In the past I have felt like I was just surviving to the finish. This year I was pushing hard to get in under 3:17.
It's really hard to explain how I feel about this performance. On one hand I am elated, I ran an almost even split race on a course where runners typically slow 4 minutes on the back half. I did a good job mentally adjusting my effort where needed to respond to the course, when the opportunity was there I did attempt to draft into the wind. I ran a 6 minute personal best for the distance. I know I am blessed to be able to run so well.
On the other hand I never really got any race day magic on the course and my stride just wasn't comfortable. I know I can run faster than I did, but I know that I ran the best I could for how I felt on the day. I think in retrospect I was very unsure of my training leading up to the race, and unsure of my fitness level, I think no matter what I ran on Monday I was likely to be a little disappointed because I honestly feel I was in better shape last fall and I didn't get to cash in on it. Now I am struggling to get back to that fitness level and beyond. In order to get faster I am going to need to work really hard on trusting that I am capable of meeting more aggressive goals. No one is holding myself back but me.
I know this isn't the usual race report, but I am not really sure how to describe the day in usual terms, when everything felt so unusual.
What I will say about my pacing effort is that I do believe in order to run even splits on the course in Boston you have to go out easier than you feel. But there is not much room for error. You will slow down from newton up through heartbreak. You can count on that 10k being slower, but you have to have saved your quads in the first half for a final push once you crest heartbreak. I am really glad I finally figured that out and I was so ecstatic to be able to race hard the last 7k at Boston this year.
I have unfinished business on this course and I will be back next year. I have high hopes since last year Frank ran a 3:16 here and this year he returned and ran 3 hours. I think I figured out how to run Boston well this year, next year I want to return and race Boston well.