I. Leading to Boston
First, I was asked what motivated me to come back so I had to recall what went through my mind back in September 2015, when we put our application in. Several things as I recall. First, the yearly appeal of being part of this unique race, the oldest marathon with 121 editions so far. Second, the fact that I had gotten a good qualifying time during the 50K Nationals when I passed the marathon mark in 2:45 on my way to my 50K PR of 3:18. Third, the opportunity to visit a few friends we have in New England, a trip which got Agnès particularly excited. Fourth, that was going to mark a return to Boston after 10 years. Last, but not least, after the stroke of March 2016, there is a sentiment of 'do it while you can', the same motivation which got me into UTMB this year.
10 years have passed since my last Boston, wow, time flies! 10 years during which I ran 140 ultra races, a passion for ultra running which relegated the marathon distance to a long sprint... I've ran 61 50K races but only 22 marathons, time to give that mythical another try.
For those who follow-me, what led to Boston has been a strange preparation to that distance and format. In January, I prepared for a 24-hour track race I had at the end of February but, in the meantime ran a solid 50K road race the first weekend of February (3:19:59), then won the Masters division at the 50K trail Nationals 2 weeks later, only to falter on GI issues with a very disappointing 111 miles at the Riverbank 24-hour race a week later. I didn't race in March, with my main goal being to break our American age group record at the 100K Nationals the week before Boston and that led to a fiasco with some exercise-induced asthma and having to walk 50K to finish, and win the Masters division again short of a competitive field. With that asthma incident, I had no expectation whatsoever, or rather, a broad range of them, from running a strong race if my lungs could hold on, or just finishing, again.
Per my previous post, I went for 11 miles in Bloomington, IL, at 7:20 min/mile and felt ok but not over-confident with either my lungs or legs. But, in any case, it felt good to have my name on the 2017 roster!!
There is a lot going on with running Boston and such a huge international event. A 3-day expo to accommodate more than 30,000 runners coming from all over the world, this is big. Traveling and staying in Boston over that Patriots' Day weekend is quite a logistical nightmare in itself. The oversize of these events is one thing which makes me love the ultra races and sense of community even more.
Sneaking in before the weekend crowds...
To immerse myself even more into this incredible crowd and vibe, I offered to help one of my sponsors, GU Energy, for a 4-hour shift at the expo, and what an experience this has been! I was in charge of the GU Gel, GU Chew and GU2O/Roctane tasting bar and I've helped out quite a few runners hungry for extra calories and nutrition tips! I've been fueled with so much success and consistency by GU and GU2O for the past 10 years, I couldn't help sharing my passion for these products made in Berkeley, California!
It was also fun to visit the booth of my main sponsor, Brooks, who, despite ending up way at the end of the hall at this expo dominated by the main sponsor, Addidas, still managed to set the bar pretty high; so high that you had to look to the ceiling to catch these slow-motion animated running bots:
If there is something really serious Brooks folks are after is to make running fun, hence the Run Happy tag line and mantra! ;-)
I ran into Michael Wardian, a world marathon and ultra marathon celebrity I had the privilege to pace at the San Francisco North Face 50-mile event in December 2008:
On Sunday we went to the beach and, while the water was frigid cold, the air temperature reached 84F which felt really hot especially to the locals who had snow a week earlier!
In the evening, the weather changed, with some rain hitting us as we were still enjoying dinner outside. Definitely a different weather pattern than California... We even got a hot running conditions warning from the race organizers in our mailboxes on Sunday, asking that we planned on taking it easier, hydrating a lot and running slower than our initial targets. I've always said that, despite the overall elevation loss, Boston isn't the place to aim at a PR (and this is confirmed by analytics of course, like in this Runner's World article).
III. The race
With the attack of 2013, and the overwhelming security measures since then, the race has significantly changed from the times I ran it (2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007), starting with the logistic to get to the start or along the course. We left our friends' house before 8 am, so Agnès could drop me at the Hopkinton shuttle terminal before 8:30. And it was already a warm morning per local standards...
One of my Quicksilver teammates, Amy, grew up in Hopkinton, and invited the other team members to stop by her uncle's house near the start which looked like so much better than wait inside the Runners' Village. Picture of the first wave leaving the village, with 55 minutes to cover a mile...
Despite the crowd, I ran into two other Bay Area ultra runners, Nike team member, Alex Varner, and Excelsior's Karl Schnaitter. Surprisingly for such an elite runner as Alex, he got a 740 bib, just 5 numbers apart from me. He must have qualified on a hilly marathon.
By the way, would you guess what runners do before running 26.2 miles, and by a warm day? Yes, see below, run more miles to... warm up. As for me, I was just happy watching these guys running in circles and starting sweating before the gun.
I didn't want to wait for too long in the corral so I entered in just 5 minutes before 10 am and got at the back of the first corral, with maybe 700 or 800 runners in front of me. As a matter of fact, I ended up waiting next to a runner who was wearing a M50 bib on his back. He told me that, with a qualifying time of 2:43, he was the 8th seeded runner in my age group so, not being given such an age group, I deducted that I was an underdog. Hey, maybe the others didn't get their qualifying times while running a 50K... At least, I had some insights that it was going to be a tough battle for a M50-54 podium! Here is Scott Lebo, from Colorado Springs, CO:
To conclude this section, a word about my nutrition plan. I ate a GU StroopWafel 30 minutes before the start. Something I had never done before but a keeper. That was on top of a Vespa pouch 45 minutes before the start, and one just before the gun. 2 GU Chew blocks before the start as well. 1 GU gel around mile 11 and another one at mile 18. I just regret not taking at least one more, if not the two I was carrying with me. Overall, quite on the low calorie side compared to these GU cheat sheets we were distributing at the expo but Vespa did its wonder again, allowing me to take energy from fat. I also drank 2 bottles of GU2O and 1 of plain water. Plus 4 S!Caps.
Van Dyk, Ernst from South Africa, who finished in the same second as the overall winner, Hiroyuki Yamamoto from Japan and Kurt Fearnley from Australia.
Adding a conclusion to an already way too long report, really? Well, just to add one last wow, that Boston is still the most amazing marathon, from the exceptional tenure, the tough standards to get in which draws a very competitive field from around the world, this unique opportunity to visit Boston and New England, the super professional organization and the incredible crowd lining the 26 miles and cheering so loudly. As a matter of fact, when I was struggling in the last 2 miles, it dawned on me that the noise from the crowd was also hurting my ears and mind... Yet, such a level of support also gave me a chill at a handful of spots on the course. Indeed, a unique experience and hope to be back, but I'm going to enjoy a few very quiet miles in my next ultras in the meantime... ;-)