2021 Boston Marathon report
3:31:45 (8:05/mi …7:59/mi per my watch with added distance)
10 minute course PR; third fastest of my thirteen marathons
Top 40% overall; top 50% male; top 5% in AG (17th of 364)
Splits: 1:45:02 (42nd place AG); 1:46:43 (12th place AG)
Boston. I arrived on Friday so that I could have all of Sunday free to rest. Arrived late morning and took a shuttle to the South Shore station. After a quick lunch at the station, took the train to the next stop (Back Bay) and headed over to go through the Covid documentation and get my wrist bracelet …easy peasy. Hopped on the next train out to Southborough, which is the suburb down the road from Hopkinton. I’ve stayed with a friend and her husband on my three previous visits, but they’re now divorced. I wasn’t positive that her new place was in the same area, and wanting the extra quiet time, I rented an AirBnB about a mile from the train stop. Grabbed some food and drink at the convenience store and hoofed it to the lodging. Took a train in on Saturday …met a friend for lunch; strolled across town for check-in and the expo; then caught a train back to the burbs. My Southborough friend is in the area, so we met for dinner. Sunday was a shake-out run and a day of rest …but also reoccurrence of a sore throat and some sniffles. Walked to a local joint and pick up chicken parm calzones for dinner.
Race day. My dinner friend had offered to drive me over to the Hopkinton state park to catch their stated shuttle service into town. With a 10:15 am start time for my race # block, I had a leisurely morning …caught an early stim run, did my business, ate some oatmeal, read a book, then prepped up to go. When we got to the state park – no shuttle. My friend was able to drive further up the road and get me within about a mile of town, so not a big deal. Arrived in Hopkinton at 9:45 am. Coming from the north, I was on the opposite side of town from the main drop-off at the high school. A benefit from where I arrived is a corner gas station with two toilets with little to no lines. I made a few nervous visits. As I saw the stream of runners headed to the start, I saw some with yellow bibs like mine. I asked a couple of volunteers why they weren’t being stopped and was told that we could just go when ready! So I did some warm-ups, proceeded through a side gate, and headed to the start.
The race. Training had gone really well, though a few questions existed …the hamstring tendinopathy that had me only walking in the days just before training began; a lost week at the peak of training due to poison ivy; a mixed-message twenty mile race a few weeks prior; not really finding my ‘high gear’ at all until during the taper. But then again, I did my typical 900 miles; I got in quite a bit of tempo work; and I put a big focus on hills. I felt ready, and I was eager to get at it.
I approached the race as five segments with a strategy for each – the early downhill miles (1-4); the stretch of miles prior to the hills (5-16); the hills (17-21); the stretch of miles after the hills (22-24.8); the homestretch (24.8-26.2). Times listed are per my watch (and then HR).
Early miles (1-4)
7:57 (145) ...7:51 (151) ...7:51 (152) ...7:48 (153)
I didn’t want to get carried away here, and in fact I haven’t been running downhill all that great. And despite a warm-up, I expected it would take some miles for the legs to loosen up. So the goal was ideally sub-8:00 but certainly keeping the HR in the 140s as best I could. The HR ran high, probably due to the early humidity, but not too concerning. With the rolling start, the course wasn’t crowded, and I was able to run tangents from the get-go …yet I still was running long. BTW, temps were in high-60s; humidity started in the 80% range and fell slightly into the 70% range. A cooler NE breeze and overcast skies helped make it comfortable. I wore my Nathan fuel belt carrying two flasks of Accelerade and with four gels (took three along the way). The flasks were way too bouncy on the downhills, so just carried them in my hands and sipped those for a while to avoid early aid stations.
Middle miles (5-16)
8:03 (155) ..7:52 (154) ..7:56 (155) ..8:01 (155) ..8:00 (153) ..8:01 (155) ..7:58 (157) ..7:59 (155) ..7:57 (156) ..7:48 (158) ..8:04 (158) ..7:59 (155)
These miles were rather easy and very enjoyable …even kind of boring. The road was mostly a straight shot with some ongoing undulations. I just relaxed, kept an eye on HR to make sure it stayed under 160, and used my easy-pace breathing pattern (inhale over three steps; exhale over two). I was very pleased to hold this breathing right up to the first Newton hill. I had a “Wally” tag pinned high on my shirt, and as in the past, the crowd picked up on that. I had a lot of fun interactions – pointing, waving, making eye contact, winking at a few girls. The Wellesley girls before mile 13 were as spirited as always. The pacing through this stretch, as you can see above, was incredibly steady. The ‘pace de jour’ was about as perfect as I could have planned. I was aware, though, that my total distance would probably come out a quarter mile long, which would add a few seconds per mile to my pace. Maybe I could have pushed a little to negate that, but I was comfortable with where I was at.
The hills (17-21)
8:03 (163) ..7:59 (163) ..8:03 (164) ..8:06 (164) ..8:20 (165)
Time to race. But how would my legs handle these miles and the four-hill sequence? The first hill was a lower grade, but it stretched for .6 miles. I ran it steady and smooth, and when I checked pacing, I was very happy to see that I had not lost any time on my cumulative pace. Yes! The second hill a mile later, after the Newton fire station, was shorter (.3 mile) and steeper. Here I started using a simple counting mantra synched on my left stride (1,2,3,4;1 . . . 2,2,3,4;2 . . .) and just plugged away. Again, pacing held! A nondescript mile brought about the third hill (.4 mile), and then a half mile+ later was Heartbreak Hill, which is also .4 miles and steeper like hill two. Checking stats, I ran mile 21, which included HH, with the 6th best time in my AG (8:20, per my watch, and my slowest mile of the day). The hill focus kept me from looking ahead, but I now realized – just five miles to go!
The stretch after the hills (22-24.8)
8:08 (163) ..7:47 (167) ..8:04 (166) ..8:03 (166)
This is seemingly a long, tough slog. But when broken down, it actually offers a few good opportunities to push extended downslopes, even on tired legs and with cumulative fatigue. The start of miles 22 and 23 are downslopes, and most of mile 24 is downhill (although some tricky upslopes are mixed in as well). That said, these are hard miles, particularly from a mental perspective. Crowd support is still strong, but I found I was much less interactive. Getting from mile 24 to 24.8 to start the final segment was my toughest spot.
Homestretch (24.8-26.5, per my watch)
8:15 (166) for mile 25; 7:04 (!) (169) for the final stretch
Having carefully studied google maps, I broke this down into small segments: x-way overpass – make the turn – two traffic lights – underpass – two more lights – road dip and rise – half block – turn right for the upslope on Hereford – turn left and drive it home down Boylston. Because of that, I wasn’t anxious about this stretch at all. I continued to push the upslopes, and when I turned onto Boylston, I lit the jets for the final third of a mile. What does it tells me that I was able to find another gear at this point? It doesn’t really matter …it’s not like I had been coasting to any degree, and shaving a little more time wouldn’t have changed anything. On Boylston, I felt like I was pounding big strides, but my son caught and filmed my finish from a link he found, and I was not lifting my legs at all …more of an old man fast cadence. Was I doing that all race? Has my stride regressed to that? A key aspect I need to explore and remedy.
After finishing, all I wanted to do was @gianmarcoon the ground. But there’s nowhere to do that, so I had to stagger along as best I could. At one point, as the time and pace sunk in, I did have an emotional moment while leaning on one of the barriers. But at heart, I was really, really happy. Eventually, I made my way to the train station for a ride back to the burbs. On the walk back to the AirBnB, it was cool how many passing drivers tooted enthusiastically or shouted out their congratulations. The Boston community does such a great job at embracing this race.
I still don’t get the distance thing. I showed 26.52. I see @SteelCurtain was 26.43 and even frontrunner Steve C was 26.35.
A jaded view is that the Vaporflys did their 4% thing, which would be 8 ½ minutes of the 10 minute improvement on my Boston times. That may be, but this was five years after my last Boston and at an age when the decline can be more extreme.
The short step striding bugs me, particularly since I’ve got long legs that should be an advantage. My instinct is that I have lost a lot of cartilage in the knees, so maybe my body is protecting me? Or maybe (ideally) it’s an issue of flexibility – maybe still tied to the hamstring tendinopathy. That’s something I can address over the next couple of years before a fall 2024 qualifier for Boston 2026.