Boston Marathon - Boston, MA

 Finish Time: 3:56:29

Average Pace:  9:01/mile

Final Place:  14,629 out of 26,411

 

Okay let's be very clear straight from the gate - Boston Marathon weekend easily eclipsed any race weekend that I have experienced, and I can't imagine another race weekend ever coming close in the future of everdom. My weekend in Boston was everything I could have asked for and absolutely lived up to (and in some ways exceeded) the hype. I qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon. I now count myself amongst the Boston Strong.  

Now, let's talk about it in detail.  

 

Marathon Weekend, the expo and pre-race hoopla 

 

SATURDAY  

My wife and I arrived in Boston early Saturday morning, two full days before Marathon Monday. We arrived at the airport and quickly hailed a cab to take us to Back Bay, the area of Boston that serves as the hub of activity for the Boston Marathon. My wife and I were staying at the Sheraton, right in the middle of everything. The cab had a difficult time navigating through the traffic as we approached Back Bay, and the meter kept rolling, so I told him to pull over and we walked the remaining 7 or 8 blocks to the hotel... you know, cuz we bout that life lol.

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Only after we began walking did we realize why the traffic was so bad... we walked directly into the BAA 5K. As early as we were, Boston Marathon weekend had been in full effect since well before we arrived. Blue and Yellow was everywhere, people were racing, crowds were thick, and I was in Boston! ... for the Boston Marathon... Ish. Just. Got. Real!!!

 "like I ain't got a hitter to the left of me"

"like I ain't got a hitter to the left of me"

After navigating through the on-going 5k, we made it to the hotel, which was absolutely bubbling with activity. Oh, and Boston Marathon celebration jackets were everywhere! Quick drop off at the room and we were down to the 2nd floor of our hotel to watch Generation UcaN celebrate Meb Kevleski's retirement - Meb announced that 2017 would be his last year of competitive racing; this would be his last Boston Marathon, and the NYC Marathon would be his last professional race (It was also his first).

 various Meb memories on display

various Meb memories on display

 

 

That's the thing about Boston Marathon weekend - there's ALWAYS something to do, and running celebrities are everywhere, mixing it up with the everyday runners.

After leaving the Meb event, we made our way over to the expo. The EXPO! The line was crazy long, it wrapped back and forth around the building, but who cares. I've waited for years to get into Boston, I'll wait however long it takes to get into the building. That said, the line fortunately moved very quickly and after about 30 minutes or so were inside.

There are two sections to the Expo - one side where you pick up your number and shirt, and the other side features all of the vendors. For us, the first stop was number and shirt pickup. 

Getting my race number upped the ante for me. I mean how much more official could I be? I'm in Boston roaming though the expo grounds, and now I'm holding my very own bib that was printed and packaged for ME!

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After grabbing my bib and shirt we made our way over to the vendor side of the expo. There were vendors, products, and food everywhere. I breeezed through the Adidas section because their stuff was mostly the same as what had been on the website for months. Between the gear that I already purchased, the hotel room, and the flights for my wife and I, I was already in the hole... but hey, this is my first Boston!

Shortly after leaving the Adidas section, we bumped into Margo and Evelyn (this was Evelyn's first Boston also and Margo's 3rd).

 Evelyn, Me, Margo

Evelyn, Me, Margo

We wandered around the expo until it closed. Yes, we waited until they made the announcements over the PA system telling everyone to go home lol. There was just so much to do. And between the free chair massager, cryo therapy, and normatec compression sessions, I felt like I was at the ultimate runner's spa. It was somewhere in the midst of all this running therapy that we bumped into Maurya (another Atlanta Boston Marathon vet) and Janelle and Ofeibea

 Maurya, Me

Maurya, Me

 Janelle, Me, Ofeibea

Janelle, Me, Ofeibea

Also during the expo, we randomly bumped into the race director and owner of the Jack & Jill Downhill Marathon, the amazing race where I earned my Boston qualifier (see recap here). This was such a great surprise and really helped bring the experience full circle.

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After we left the expo, we went back to the hotel for a quick nap before dinner. Unsure of where to eat, we ended up strolling down Boylston Street and dipping into a place called LIR. At LIR we were, for the first time, in a room apparently filled to the brim with local Bostonians. The Red Sox game was on the television, beers were in heavy rotation, and the accents were about as thick as the cheese that covered my pizza. Although the service was a touch on the slow side, we had a good time; we were in Boston, on Boylston Street, and prepping to run the Boston Marathon... trust me, we were in no rush this evening. 

 

SUNDAY 

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On Sunday morning, we woke up to attend church at Old South Church on Boylston. Listen to me people, if you ever find yourself in town for the Boston Marathon, do yourself a favor and attend church service here on Sunday before the race. Regardless of your religious beliefs, I feel confident in saying that you will feel welcome here, and you will walk out with more strength and love in your heart than you walked in with. We made it in time for the 9:00 service and managed to get a seat all the way in the absolute front row despite us being at the very back of an extremely long line to get in. Note: I'd recommend arriving 30 minutes to an hour early. Not only did we make it to the front row, we were able to sit right next to some Atlanta friends! If you miss the 9:00 service there's a second service at 11:00.

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During the Easter service, marathon runners in the audience (of which there were many!) were treated to a special blessing, word of encouragement, and bagpipe performance. The bagpipe was absolutely amazing. It was so beautiful and inspiring, and it led me to the absolute brink of tears. I held it in though... by the skin of my teeth lol (who's chopping onions in here???). After service we spent some time admiring the inside of the church (which was breathtaking by the way) and we answered some questions and took pictures for a local news publication. Margo made the paper!

After service, Keisha and I walked along Boylston Street and spent some time around the finish line, which is about a block away from the church. I didn't want to actually look at the finish line, so Keisha and I approached it from the rear. We were able to snag a great picture without me actually seeing the finish line :)

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After leaving the finish line, we walked over to check out the expo one more time... I had to get in one more normatec session. Apparently, I wasn't the only one. I bumped into Ameer doing the same thing.

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Next stop after the expo was California Pizza Kitchen for some lunch. One of the good things about me not having a goal for this race is that I was able to help the wife scarf down a delicious buttercake without any runner's remorse. I can still taste it now! 

After CPK, we hit Boylston Street again to walk off some of the food. I bumped into another Atlanta staple - Orlando, who ended up joining us on the trip to the NBMA meetup.

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Later that evening, we hopped on the train and headed downtown to the National Black Marathoners Association (NBMA) meet and greet and spent some time with a few dozen other black athletes that were in town for the marathon. NBMA presented several giveaways and a good time was had by all. Here's one of the pictures from the meetup taken by Craig Bailey of Perspective Photo

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Here's another with Amir and Alison from Harlem Run

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After the NBMA meetup we all walked over to the BAA Pasta Dinner. The line was super long, but the wait was tolerable. I'd estimate that it took about 30 minutes to reach the doors, and once inside I was assured that this would be well worth the wait. Food was everywhere - pasta, bread, and drinks were equally abundant and tasty! Approximately one hour and 2.5 plates later, I was good. Time to head back to the hotel for some sleep before the big day!

 

MARATHON MONDAY, the race

Marathon morning started with an early rise and a cool walk over to the buses. I laid out all of my running gear the night before, so that I'd be less likely to forget anything the morning of. I think this whole lay out your gear and take a picture thing is a silent ritual that almost all runners share. I'm not sure who started it, but most everyone does it. So yeah, here's mine: 

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The morning went smooth. I got dressed, handled all the necessities, and bid the wife adieu before slipping out of the hotel door into the still-darkish streets of Backbay. I wasn't 100% sure of where I was headed, but I figured I'd just see other people that looked like runners and follow them. That strategy worked. I ended up meeting a woman from California (I think); she'd been to Boston before and showed me the way to the buses, which was apparently a slightly different (and reportedly more efficient) location than in prior years. 

I could tell very early on that this was a smooth operation. Bag drop off locations were abundant, obvious, and well marked. There were also numerous lines for bus boarding, and the buses were staggered in a way that made the loading process extremely quick and easy. My bus was mostly packed, but I was able to have a row to myself for 80% of the ride; this was very good for me since I prefer solitude and quiet leading up to my races. After about a one hour bus ride from the finish line to the start, we arrived in Athletes village. I could immediately feel the energy. I couldn't believe that I, Da'Rel, was walking into Athletes Village! It All Starts Here!

Athletes Village

The village was filled to the brim with athletes and all of the supplies, shelter, and people that one could possibly need to sustain themselves... like a village of sorts. Athletes Village was the perfect name to describe this place. It was perfect. 

The first thing I did upon arrival was stand in line to use the bathroom. At this point, the lines were super short... like 3 people long, and I was in and out in less than 5 minutes. After leaving the port-o-potty (and washing my hands lol), I headed over to stand in the coffee line, which was actually about 10 times longer than the restroom line. Priorities haha! I snagged my coffee and a couple of bagels and found a warm spot to stretch out on the grass in the sun. I laid on my back, with the sun in my face, and the warmth from the coffee trapped between my fingers. All I could think in my head was that I'm here. I'm in Athletes Village, in Hopkinton, and I'm about to run the Boston Marathon. At this time, on this day, there is literally nowhere on earth that I'd rather be. I'm blessed!

For the next hour or so just take the prior paragraph and repeat it about 3 times. Bathroom, coffee, lay in grass, thank God, repeat. 

And then it was time. They began calling Wave 1 to begin the 3/4 mile walk to the start line!

The Start Line

The Start Line (and the walk to it), much like Athletes Village, has a life of its own. During the walk there are barriers that line the entire way. On both sides of the barricaded road were single family homes with residents camped out in the front yards to watch the parade of runners stroll by in search of the start line. Nearly every house had someone outside in the front yard. And at least every other house had a heavily armed police officer in the yard... a reminder of the changes to the world of big city marathoning post-2013. 

After the walk to the starting line, I found out that there is another staging area about a block away from the starting corrals. Here there are many many more port o potties. Tip: walk all the way to the back. The lines in the front were 60-70 people long, while the lines in the back were about 5 people long. Please people, walk ALL THE WAY TO THE BACK. Trust me, you'll thank me later. 

I was in Wave 1, Corral 4. The interesting thing about being this close to the front is that you are very close to the elite athletes. You can see them as they walk by, and you can hear the applause as they are individually introduced. It felt amazing tobe sandwiched into a pack of such highly skilled runners and a matter of yards behind the fastest men on the planet. And then there's me, Da'Rel, all these years later. I'm at the start line, and I'm about to start the Boston Marathon. There's a camera to my right that is panning through the crowd, and I enthusiastically wave at it, just like I've watched so many others do in my years of watching the Boston marathon on television. But this time it was me waving, not watching. I was the waver! And ironically enough, my wife would later tell me that she saw me on the local broadcast as she watched the race on television. She watched me on television. She watched ME wave. When I heard that, all I could do was smile and be thankful. 

The Race

I should warn you here. As exciting and memorable as Boston Marathon weekend was, the actual race - the 26.2 miles that spread between the start and finish line... yes, that part - the race itself was, to me, largely anticlimactic. I would describe the marathon course as.... okay.

Yes, yes, I know - blasphemy. But hey someone has to say it. The Boston Marathon course, itself, is resoundingly "okay." As in, not particularly special in and of itself. That said, my recap of the actual race may come off as a bit cut and dry. 

... from a performance standpoint

So I came into this race injured. I have been dealing with runner's knee (stemming from muscular imbalance in my quads) which has severely limited the amount of running I've been able to do since the NYC Marathon in November.  As of the this writing, per Strava, I have averaged 9 miles per week for all of 2017. And leading into the marathon, I only reached double digits 4 times in the 5 month lead-up (2 10-milers, a 12-miler, and a 14-miler). Needless to say I was in no shape to run a marathon. Not only was I injured, I was out of shape. That said, nothing was going to keep me from the Boston Marathon. I worked too hard for this.

My race strategy was pretty simple.  I planned to start out the race at a 7:30 pace and hold on to that for as long as my knee would allow. Once my knee flared up, I planned to walk until it felt better and then start running again. And that is pretty much how the race went - I ran the first 8 miles or so; from that point on, the remaining 18 miles of the course were covered via a run/walk combination.   

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As you can see from the splits, my performance started to go south around mile 8. And as my knee progressively got worse, I spent more and more time walking.

I picked things up towards the end as I realized I was in danger of missing the four hour mark. One of my goals is to run all 50 states in four hours or less so that I can join the 50 state sub 4 hour club. I'm not entirely sure whether or not I want to rerun Boston, so I wanted to finish in under four hours so that I wouldn't feel compelled to come back again. 

That said, I do think I may want to come back at least one more time so that I can run the course healthy. It's a point to point course with a net downhill and minimal turns; I'd love to see how I could perform while healthy.  

... from an observational standpoint

Running/walking the race at a slower pace allowed me a unique perspective. First of all, I gained a greater sense of respect for the Jeff Galloway run/walk strategy. There's no way I could have covered this course on a bad knee while running the entire time. Every time my knee pain flared up enough to cause me to limp, I started walking. The walking allowed the pain to recede relatively quickly. Once I was able to walk without lumping, I resumed running again. As a result, my overall splits over the last 18 miles weren't that bad, all things considered. 

The other thing is that the slower pace allowed me to really soak in the coarse differently then if I had race the entire thing. And perhaps it was this keener sense of awareness that left the course short of my expectations. The last course that I ran before Boston was New York, so perhaps understandably I drew many comparisons between the two marathon majors. 

Observation #1 - Boston crowds are thinner than New York's crowds. I won't argue this. I state this as a simple fact. It's clear as I observed it first hand and subsequent research from 3rd party analysis has confirmed it. Depending on who's research you believe, New York has 2-4 times as many people watching the marathon than Boston (500k in Boston compared to upwards of 2 million in NYC). My observation supports these 3rd party claims. While there are certainly some sections with thick and loud crowds (I'm looking at you Wellesley and Boston College), there are also some sections that are literally quiet with thin crowds. New York didn't have such lulls in crowd support. That said, Boston's crowds were by far the 2nd largest and loudest that I've ever experienced, they just fell somewhat short of my (perhaps unrealistic) expectations.

Observation #2 - Boston doesn't have much diversity, at least not along the Marathon course. Despite the large number of towns that the marathon passes through along its point to point course, the people along the route pretty much seem to be cut from the same monolithic cloth. The Boston Red Sox + a thick accent + "Sweet Caroline" = the entirety of what I could experience as Boston "culture" along the route. There was no variance in ethnicity, music, or personality along the 26 mile route. Unlike the other two US majors that pass through different towns with distinct cultures and personalities, don't expect to encounter any diversity here- you will be disappointed.  

Observation #3 - despite some aspects of the course that did not meet my expectation, there are many that did. The Wellesley girls and the scream tunnel were every bit as loud as I imagined. They felt even more loud than I expected given that the section preceding Wellesley is a bit quiet (again this course is not packed with spectators the entire way). So after a bit of a lull in crowd support, you reach Wellesley right around the halfway point of the course, and the sound and pitch are ear-splittingly loud! And because they are all on the right side of the road only, the power of their screams is amplified. I did not stop for the traditional Wellesley kiss (I'm married people), but I definitely felt the energy that they brought to the course! And yes, however loud you think they are, in real life they are louder! 

Observation #4 - there's another aspect that exceeded its lore. Right on Hereford, left on Boylston. The final two turns of the course followed by the straightaway to the finish line were AMAZING! Running these two streets made me feel like I was becoming a part of history. It was as if I were running through the fabled lore of stories whispered to youth. It was like running down the yellow brick road; I was living in the present moment while simultaneously recognizing the history that has unfolded on the streets that I now occupy. How many of my heroes have made these same two turns, looked up at this same finish line, mind weighing these same thoughts - "almost there. Almost there." While it didn't bring me to tears, there was definitely something emotional... something heavy about the moment.

Observation #5 - Crossing the finish line meant more than the completion of the 26.2 miles leading back to Hopkinton; it marked the finish of something much bigger than that. In many ways, the sign in Hopkinton is wrong. Very wrong. It didn't all start there... not for me, and I'd imagine not for anyone. For me it started on the rainy day in Atlanta when I first heard about the legendary Boston Marathon. It continued through all of those weeks of training, injuries, setbacks, comebacks... all of it. Seeing that finish line was more akin to seeing the line that marked the barrier between dream and realty.

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After the race, I met up with the wife and started the short walk back to the hotel room. After a reaaaaalllly long hot shower, I took a nap. Then I was ready to finally put on my Boston celebration jacket and hit the streets! 

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So that's it. My Boston Marathon experience. Will I be back? I can't say yet. For now I feel completely fulfilled with my experience. At present, I'm enjoying a nice long break from running; I want to completely rehab, and the build back up from scratch. Next up Chicago, for world major #3! 

- Hic Svnt Leones