Thursday, May 5, 2016

Train Hard, Race Smart: My Boston Marathon 2016 Race Report

The Boston Marathon is more than a race. It is an event that combines the world’s most prestigious marathon that convenes such a strong running community. This was my third year running Boston and although each one was special this year was simply magnificent.

I decided to run Boston in November while knowing that I also planned to have a very busy ski racing season. So first, thanks to my wife and daughter for supporting both endeavors which certainly created a busy schedule. Due to my skiing, I was able to train four days a week with a few five days mixed in. I decided to run a long run every weekend day I wasn’t skiing so I ended up doing four or five 20+ miles run. For the first time ever I also did weekly track/speed and hill workouts. So I felt fit going into race day.

However, I pushed myself in my final long run during the Eastern States 20 miler (21 miles b/c we got a wee bit lost) which left me with a very sore left hamstring leading up to Boston. Thankfully, I stopped by Acumobility’s booth during the expo and the amazing Brad Cox and their mobility ball helped me pinpoint the knot and work it out a bit. I also had a minor earache and sore throat two days before the race but I knew I could push through those.

It was also a special experience because this was my first Boston running as a TopoAthletic Ambassador. To make it even sweeter my guide was fellow Ambassador Francis David, who lives in California. Topo was kind enough to document our partnership through these three short videos. Francis and I met on Saturday, did a short shakeout/guide training run, and we declared ourselves good to go.

This was also my third consecutive year running with Team With a Vision, which is my work’s marathon team. TWAV brings together a huge cadre of runners and plans out a full weekend of events. Getting to catch up to my running peers and their families as well as meet new athletes is such a joy.

I got on the TWAV shuttle bus at 6:00AM at Park Plaza and we arrived at the swanky offices (indoor plumbing, coffee, oatmeal and ton of food, TVs) of the Hopkinton Vision Center around 7:30AM. So we had some time to relax and prep for our 10:50AM start.

I set a goal to PR this year at Boston. I did the same last year and I tied my time of 3:50:18. I was determined to finish under 3:49:59. This goal became more of a reality when my friend Michele Liguori, who had a similar start time and same finish goal time, offered to run with me. Michele is one of the smartest runners I know so this was going to be a huge help. Michele mentioned as we were applying sunscreen just before we walked to the start line that she wanted to negative split (run a faster second half than the first) which is tough to do for Boston because of the Newton Hills. I wasn’t confident I could pull this off but more than willing to try.

Francis, Michele & Kyle at start line.

Francis, Michele and I made our way to the start and took off a few minutes before 11AM. I can become obsessed with my mile splits so the only two time goals were a 1:54 half and I wanted to complete 24 miles under 3:30 as to leave me some time to get through my Boston nemesis aka Mile 25. Michele reminded me to keep the pace at a steady 8:44.

The first few miles of Boston can be a nightmare due to the crowds but Francis did a great job keeping us on pace and not stressing me out by feeling like we needed to pass everyone. Around mile 2 we passed a very rowdy bar on the left and I let Francis know, who had never run Boston, that people are loud and wild most of the course.
We kept a steady pace and I felt my legs begin to waken up and stretch out a bit. I could feel my hamstring but nothing I could do about it then. 

We hovered right around our goal and hit the 10k mark at 54:35 for an 8:47 pace. I felt good about this.
Around mile 8 we hit downtown Framingham and we passed Francis’ family and the Topo Athletic crew. This was the perfect pick me up I needed heading into the stretch before the halfway mark.

Due to the warm temps I decided to hit every water stop and take a salt stick every hour. I knew that this would cost me a few seconds but it is always easier to make up a few seconds while staying hydrated. Francis did a wonderful job guiding me through the water stops making sure I got my water then taking care of himself.
A few times my Garmin had us running at an 8:20 pace and I was excited how strong my legs felt at this quicker pace. Around the 10-mile mark, somewhere in Natick, I was still feeling good and if not for Michele’s insistence on keeping a steady pace I would have likely pushed for lower mile splits. Still a lot of race to run and the sun was pretty strong.

Around mile 12 I started to hear a faint roar. With a smile I asked Francis what he thought that was. “A train?” Oh, just wait my friend. Soon enough we were at the Wellesley Scream Tunnel and taken over by raw emotions. The screaming, energy, and sense of history of this section is Boston at its best. It is also nice to know that we are almost at the halfway point.

We picked up the pace a bit and completed 13.1 miles in 1:54:26. Right where we wanted to be with a total pace of 8:43! Now we begin to count down.
We hit the long downhill stretch in Wellesley (maybe Newton Hills?) and the gradual decline can put a beating on your quads. We rode the “free speed” train while keeping things in check.

At about this point I realized that I missed two small, yet very important spots, with my body glide. C’mon really!!! I let Francis know to keep his eyes out for some Vaseline (a guide’s job is all encompassing!) and luckily we came upon a stash (thank you volunteers!). I reapplied around mile 15 and continued moving forward. This was my first my with a 9 minute pace (9:03) but considering the trade-off I’ll take it. Note that Gatorade stings WAY more than water when it splashes on those tiny sensitive spotsJ

The heat was starting to take a toll on me so I began dumping water on my Topo Athletic hat every chance I got. I still felt some spring in my step which was what I needed for the next stretch.

We began to climb over the 95 bridge which is the first of the four major Newton hills. Shortly thereafter, we turned onto Comm Ave. and were greeted by the throngs of supporters. I told Francis earlier that this is where the fun and magic happens so he was prepared. We began to climb and I felt OK. Francis and Michele kept repeating to stay focused, calm, level breathing. I dialed it in, leaned back on my glutes, and went for it. We were not fast but I was surprised by how many people we were passing. I was also concerned that I was exerting too much energy getting around people so at one point I asked Francis to stay put. Definitely a challenge trying to stay smart and not get overly anxious. I tried to peek at my pace but couldn’t see it. Probably a good thing.

We banged out the first couple of hills and I was confused if we had already done Heartbreak. If you have to ask then you haven’t done Heartbreak, yet. We rode the downhills waiting for Heartbreak.

We completed 30k (approx. 18.6 miles) in 2:43 for an 8:46 pace. So we slowed down a bit because of the first couple of hills but I was OK with that.

We climbed Heartbreak at the same steady pace. I thought about all of the painful hill repeats and numerous times I ran up and over Mission Hill, Summit Ave, and the Arboretum hills. This moment is what I suffered all those times for and I was tapping into this RIGHT NOW! When we crested I knew I was in good shape. I had to work but I felt decent and more importantly I knew I had some gas in the tank.

A small climb at Boston College and we were upon the big sweeping turn onto Chestnut Hill Reservoir and then over the train tracks onto Beacon. Francis was prepared for the simultaneous big turn, loud noise, and train tracks and his verbal cues were on point. Historically, I tend to get a little too excited at this point and run way too fast. So I told myself to pick the pace up a little bit but be smart. Michele reminded us that we still had some miles to cover.

I often feel like guiding this section along Beacon Street is tougher than the start; Beacon becomes pretty narrow, everyone is really tired, and you begin to come up on some walkers who are giving it their all to finish.

It was super loud and as we began to want to open up a bit we were often stuck behind a wall of runners. I could feel my anxiety and heart rate begin to rise.

With 5k to go Michele said we were at the 3:25 mark. I knew I was close to my goal but I was too tired to do runner's math. So my only option was to just go for it and run as fast as I could for the next 3.1 miles. My quads were shot, my hamstring had been barking and grabbing me for miles, but I just needed to grind it out and hang on for a little bit more. And not slow down.

It was loud and I yelled at Francis (in my outside/cranky voice) that he needed (yes, I was regrettably a bit demanding at this point) to keep me off of other runners because if I trip I’m going down. Thankfully, Francis handled this with absolute grace.
I told Francis to let’s go for it and we picked up the pace into the low 8s and high 7s. This only made the task of guiding even more difficult. Francis was finding some seams and spots for us to pass. But my legs were tired so shooting the small gaps became a lot more challenging. We cranked through Coolidge Corner and I knew at mile 24 we would see my family and the TWAV cheering section. We came upon the final water stop and I decided to run through it. If I couldn’t make it for two more miles without some water then lesson learned.

We stuck in the middle of Beacon and unfortunately couldn’t get over to give my wife and daughter (and Francis’ family-wife, daughter, sister & brother-in-law) a hug and hi-five. Almost at this point we passed the very loud and rambunctious TWAV crew on the left. Combined this was the motivation I needed to keep me going.

Mile 25 has taken me down psychologically the last two years so I was determined to keep focused. I was dreading the small yet sneaky hill over the Pike. We crushed that hill, continued to push, and all we had was the dip down then rise up under Mass Ave. At some point Francis said we had our goal time but I just kept pushing and gritting my teeth to hold on. I was leaving everything on the course.

We turned right onto Hereford and I took a peek at my Garmin-I could only see the first number which was a 6 so I knew my short little legs were turning over at a good clip. We took the left onto Boylston and Francis began to cheer me on and said for me to push it. I laughed out loud and said “dude, that’s all I got! J Francis slid us over to the right of Boylston and for the first time all race we had an unobstructed seam to the finish.

Crossing the finish line!!!

We crossed the finish line at 3:48:51-WE DID IT!!! I put my time and goals out there leading up to Monday and I made good on my promise to run my fastest (and smartest thanks to Francis and Michele) marathon. My three fastest miles all day were my last three in which I averaged approximately 35 seconds faster than my eventually finish pace. And I negative split the Boston Marathon by 1 second!!!

My legs were toast so it was only fitting that I had to lean on Francis as we made it through the (really long) chutes and collected our medals.

Francis more than earned his medal. Outside of a 16-mile practice run, this was Francis’ first time guiding in a race. He was so stoic, confident, reassuring when needed, smooth, and fun to run with. It was a blast seeing his confidence grow each mile we completed and how he not only share his sight as a guide but kept my confidence up the entire way. This was a team effort.

Also, thanks to all of my training guides who put me in the position fitness wise to accomplish my goals. Alina, Cory, and Michele-you all rock!

Congratulations to all my Topo Athletic and TWAV teammates who ran Boston and all of the guides who supported the 30+ runners who are Blind/Visually Impaired.
And another thanks to Jill and Lucy for always supporting my running (and ski racing)!

Gear: Topo Athletic Magnifly, Garmin Forerunner
Post-Race Beers: Notch Left of the Dial, Lost Nation Gose, and a few othersJ

Keep Running Happy & Strong.