Race Report: 2011 Boston Marathon

CIMG0023-1Last summer I spent a weekend in Boston with my family, and during the trip I paid a visit the the Bill Rogers Running Center for the first time. While there, I admired the many Boston Marathon shirts that were for sale, but chose not to buy one since I had not yet qualified for the race. Instead, I bought a shirt that had on the back a quote by Rodgers that said “The marathon can humble you.” Turns out that the choice of shirt was quite appropriate, as my running of the 2011 Boston Marathon last Monday was about as humbling an experience as I have ever had.

To start, let me say that the entire weekend was truly amazing. Having lived within a few hours of Boston for much of my life, this was surprisingly my first ever trip to the city on marathon weekend, and it didn’t disappoint. I traveled down from NH on Saturday morning with my family, and we were joined by my parents and sister. I spent the afternoon on Saturday at a meet-up with some of my good friends from dailymile (see photo below), and then headed off to the expo for a few hours. For a gear junkie like me, the expo was like heaven, and I threw down quite a bit of money on race paraphernalia. I chatted for a bit with some folks from Altra and Saucony whom I’ve gotten to know through this blog. I also picked up a pair of the much anticipated Saucony Hattori (cool shoe!), which was available for the first time at the expo (it’s now available for pre-order at Running Warehouse). I’ve now run a few miles in them and they feel like socks with a thin, flat EVA sole.

CIMG0006

On Sunday I went to the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology with my family, and then walked around Harvard Square for a bit (no rest for me, which might have contributed to events that followed the next day…). Headed back to the hotel for a swim and then met my cousin for dinner. By a complete stroke of coincidence my friend Mark Cucuzzella happened to sit down two tables away from us at the hotel restaurant, and it was nice to chat for a bit (he ran a 2:37 on Monday!). Went to bed early and actually got a really good 7-8 hours of sleep on marathon eve.

Athletes VillageI headed out early on race morning so that I could catch one of the early buses to Hopkinton, and ran into the husband of one of my fellow dailymile Team members (Blaise) – had a nice conversation on the bus ride over. The bus ride was longer than I had expected, and our driver seemed to be in a race of his own as he kept pulling out of the caravan of school buses to pass those that were in front of us. We arrived at the Athlete’s Village with a few hours to spare, and I managed to find my dailymile/Twitter friends hanging out near the backstop of the baseball field. We had some time to kill, and it was great to spend it with such a great group of people (that’s me in the orange jacket in the photo above). It was cold and windy in the village, and runners all over were wrapped in mylar blankets and trash bags in an effort to stay warm.

As race time approached, I made a decision to wear arm warmers and gloves to the starting line. In retrospect, this may have been one of the first mistakes of many that I made on the day. I walked to the start with my friends Andy and Steve, and we met up with a few other friends while waiting in a porta-potty line (naturally!).

Pre Boston 

Ross, Me, Andy, and Steve just prior to the start of the race

Waiting in the corral (#7 for me) was yet another memorable experience. Standing there, knowing that I had earned the right to be there at that moment through years of hard work, was one of the most satisfying things I have ever felt. There’s nothing quite like waiting for the start of the Boston Marathon – every runner should experience it at least once. It was also cool to be grouped with everyone who had qualified with a similar time to mine, but this also created a challenge. I knew going into the race that a 3:15 was not in the cards – I’d lost too much fitness over the winter due to a combination of lousy weather and an excessively busy life. I’d also put on a good 5-6 pounds since my BQ race. My realistic goal was a 3:30, give or take 10 minutes depending on how I felt. However, when the starting gun went off I found myself sucked into running at the same pace as everyone in my corral – this despite the fact that nearly everyone I had talked to about race strategy warned me not be tricked into going out too fast by the initial downhill grade.

I knew from very early on in the race that it wasn’t going to be my day. Even in the initial few downhill miles I could sense that my quads were not fresh, and I was fairly certain that they were going to give me serious trouble at some point (which they most certainly did). My suspicion is that they weren’t yet back to 100% after the beating they took at the HAT 50K with its insanely hilly course – one thing I have learned over the years is that it takes my body at least four full weeks to recover from a marathon, and the HAT Run sapped my quads far worse than any marathon ever has. I have no regrets about running HAT though – like Boston, it was an unforgettable experience.

The one thought that kept going through my mind over those early miles was “slow down!” I knew I was running too fast – in fact, my early pace was faster than I ran in my BQ marathon back in October. I think the fact that everyone around me was running the same pace made it hard for me to ease off, even if I knew it was the smart thing to do. Running those early miles the way I did was pure stupidity, and I paid badly for the mistake.

Boston Finishline

It also wasn’t long before I started to get hot. Unlike the cold and wind that made sitting in the Athlete’s Village uncomfortable, once we were running the wind was less noticeable and the sun was bright – I actually wound up with a bit of a sunburn on my shoulders. Having done all of my training in much colder temperatures, it actually felt downright hot to me, and began to regret the decision to wear my arm warmers. However, for some mystifying reason I never took them off – strange how you don’t always do what’s logical when running a race. The combination of pace and heat led me to drink water at most of the water stops, and this set the stage for events that would unfold later.

The crowd along the race route was just as everyone had described – large, loud and incredibly supportive. Every time we entered a town the noise level rose considerably, and this didn’t help me in my futile attempt to slow down my pace. Around mile 10 I passed Team Hoyt, and the noise from the spectators cheering them on was deafening – this was one of the most vivid memories I have from the entire race. I hit the half marathon mark on pace to run between a 3:15-3:20, which I knew was way too fast.

Boston Marathon 4-18-2011, Split pace

My pace began to slip a bit in miles 15 and 16 (see split chart above) – they were the first two splits that I ran in 8:00+. Then, in mile 17, the wheels fell completely off. It had been a long time since I’d bonked in a marathon, but I hit the wall hard. My quads were completely shot, and I knew I was done. I’d been in this spot many times before, and I knew what the next 9 miles were going to be like – it wasn’t going to be pretty or particularly enjoyable. Quite honestly, I don’t really remember the final 9 miles very well. It was a complete mental and physical struggle just to keep moving forward. I made a conscious decision to walk the uphills (including all of Heartbreak), as I knew that trying to run them would only put me deeper into the hole I had dug for myself. I ran the downs and flats as best I could, but my pace rarely dipped below 9:00/mile until the final mile. I tried to keep getting sugar into my body, and the one thing that was tolerable were the orange slices being handed out by spectators along the course (did I mention the crowd was awesome!). I tried to start taking Gatorade at the water stops, but it wasn’t sitting well in my stomach, so I didn’t take as much as a should have. Temperature regulation had also become a major issue, and at each water stop I dumped a full cup over my head to try and cool myself down. I was a mess, and I was suffering.

I think the only thing that prevented me from walking more than I did was the shame I felt at doing it at the Boston Marathon. Here were all of these people watching this great race, and the last thing I should have been doing was walking. I felt like I was disrespecting the race by not living up to my ability, so I kept plugging along as much as I could manage. My new goal was simply to avoid a personal worst, though my mental skills were so heavily challenged at that point that I had a hard time figuring out just how fast I needed to go to avoid that fate.

CIMG0014Thankfully, as the miles wound down I realized that as long as I limited my walk breaks to the brief uphills and kept running around 9:00/mile for the rest, I’d come in under the 3:43:38 that I ran in my first ever marathon. This wasn’t saying much, but it was enough motivation to keep me moving forward. I don’t much recall entering the city, but I vaguely remember seeing the Citgo sign, and I managed to muster a pretty solid effort for the final half mile from Commonwealth to Hereford to Boylston. After turning onto Boylston, the finish line appeared in the distance, but it seemed like it was still miles away. The noise of the crowd pulled me forward, and somehow I managed to get my pace back under 8:00/mile during that final stretch. I gave it all that I had. I crossed the finish line in 3:42:12 – my second slowest of 8 marathons.

Not long after I crossed the finish line I began to feel dizzy – it got so bad that I asked if I could sit in one of the wheelchairs that was stationed along the side of the finish chute. After a few minutes, I hadn’t improved, so they wheeled me into the med tent, where the person attending to me took vitals and asked how much water I had taken on the course (too much). They indicated that I was caked in salt from evaporated sweat, and they were concerned that I might have mild hyponatremia. I had also started cramping severely in my quads and calves, and I was having some difficulty talking since my jaw muscles felt like they were going to cramp as well. Thankfully, after a few cups of salty chicken broth and about 20 minutes of lying on my back, I began to feel much better and I was able to check out. The med tent was hopping, and at one point I heard them announce that there were no free beds – apparently I wasn’t the only one who’d had some difficulty, and I saw a few people who appeared to be unconscious as they were wheeled in.

Given all that I went through on Monday, it would be easy to say that I’m disappointed and that I had a lousy time. However, my reaction is actually quite different. Running Boston was a hard-earned reward, and one that I will not soon forget. It reminded me that one can never take a marathon for granted – “respect the distance” is an oft repeated mantra among marathon runners, and it’s one that I did not heed in the months leading up to Boston.

There are so many factors in terms of race execution that I can point to that contributed to my crash, with my fast early pace and my temperature/fluid intake issues being the most likely candidates. However, the reality is that the major reason why I had such a rough outing was that I didn’t put in the necessary training to handle the distance. In fact, I had only run one 30+ mile week since last October, and that was the week I ran the HAT 50K. You simply cannot run a hard marathon effort on such minimal training mileage, and I knew that going in – I just failed to adapt my strategy to that reality. If I had to do the race over, I would have dropped back a few corrals and gone out at a 7:50-8:00 pace. I’d much rather have run slower throughout and enjoyed the experience than take the reckless and stupid approach that I did.

It would be easy for me to dwell on this race performance and beat myself up about it, but that would serve little purpose. The better option is to view Boston as yet another of many learning experiences and move on – it will make me a stronger runner going forward. It was an unforgettable weekend, and an amazing race that I am honored to have been a part of. I’m already feeling the need to train hard and redeem myself, but I’m thinking about taking a break from marathons for a bit and focusing on 5K’s this summer and then shooting for a half marathon PR in the Fall. Marathons beat me up physically, and this body needs a break from the pounding. For now I just want to run for fun for a bit and not worry abut training for a particular goal – summer vacation is only a few short weeks away and I can’t wait!

About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.



Comments

  1. RunningPT12 says:

    Pete, thanks for the report. Don’t sweat your race there, most first-time Bostons are rough, regardless of how well prepared you are. One really has to study the course and manage their pacing and fueling carefully to run well there. This time was my 4th race there (since 2003) and the first time that I actually had a good race there. Managed to just squeak under 3 hours. The whole weekend was very enjoyable, was able to listen to Lieberman, Cucuzzella and Davis over at the AMAA meeting and picked up a great deal of useful information.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks Kent – wish I could have made it to the AMAA meeting, but couldn’t
      justify the price. Had a great weekend, easy to see why the marathon has
      such a reputation.

      Pete

  2. Bob Mauer65 says:

    Hey, really great blog post… I’ve enjoyed reading through your blog because of the great style and energy you put into each post. I actually run AceHealth.org, a blog of my personal research and experiences. If you’re interested, I would love to have you on as a guest blogger. Please send me an e-mail: bob.mauer65(at)gmail(dot)com, and I can give you more information. Looking forward to hearing from you.

  3. I was just about to suggest the same thing you mentioned at the end. Last year, I got there late and started around 3 corrals back. It was a bit frustrating because you really couldn’t move, but I think it made my race perfect! Congrats, Boston Finisher!

  4. Where do I begin? You had the exact same experience at Boston that I did. We even started in the same corral. (bib 6533). I had never run such a tough course and I thought I was starting out slowly. (7:10 pace which was slower than my projected time.) I ended up bonking around the same spot as you did and had to push myself through the last 8 miles. I must say, I learned a lot about myself that day. I am MUCH tougher than I give myself credit for. I ended up run/walking the last 4 miles and I really enjoyed the Boston College crowd. I almost broke down and cried at the top of HB. When I hit the BC crowd though, things changed a bit. I finished in 3:48 which is WAY off my qualifying time. The old addage that Boston will humble you sure holds true. But I wouldn’t change my experience for ANYthing. It was awesome. The crowds were amazing and I am so blessed and honored to say I am a Boston finisher. I know how hard I worked to get to that point. We all deserved to be there. Some of us, just had a bad day. That shouldn’t take away from the experience. I am a much better runner and overall person because of what I went through. you are too! Congratulations to you.

    p.s. I also ended up in the med tent afterwards with dehydration. My bp was 70/30. I almost passed out. The warm weather in the second half was tricky.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Amazing how similar our experiences were. My BP was 100/60, so not too bad,
      but lower than my normal by a bit. I think I was also massively glycogen
      depleted and overheated, so it was likely a combo. Tough day for sure out on
      the course.

      Pete

      • Krisalarson says:

        I have a friend that worked in the med tent. He said his section wasn’t too busy with serious cases, but he had a couple people with escalating hyperthermia – one had a temp of 106.8 that he had to send up the chain for more advanced care. Sounds like lots of people had a tough day, and like I already told you, we saw lots of people who looked like they were struggling near the end where we watched.

  5. Linda Q. says:

    Way to persevere, Pete! Now, come over to the Seacoast and run the Runner’s Alley/Redhook 5k. It’s a fun one with a free beer waiting for you after you finish. What could be better than that?

  6. RaDragon says:

    Quite honest, informative, and yet still inspiring report of your race! Though you’re waaaay speedier than I am (your 10 min/mile is a slow jog?!), I can definitely relate to having suffered at a marathon (or rather, marathons, as I have had one-too-many of those experiences O_o). Your Boston finish time is a time that I can only dream of ATM, too. Anyway, I think it was Hal Higdon who once said, “time heals most of the damage done in the marathon,” and that you can’t start planning another marathon until after Zero Week… So congrats again, here’s to your recovery!

    p.s.,
    Looking forward to your Saucony Hattori review.

  7. The Laminator says:

    Great race report Pete! Despite the lack of training and the hard time you had dealing with all of your issues in the later miles, I am glad you got to run, finish and receive your much coveted unicorn medal! This was the end of a long journey for you and i’m happy you got to enjoy the weekend and the fruits of your labor! No need to dwell on what went wrong…you did a great job and finished what you started. That is highly commendable! Congratulations to you =)

  8. Sorry to hear that your Boston experience was not entirely what you expected. I am glad to see you are not discouraged. I myself am still trying to break the 4 hour barrier andd hope to SOMEDAY qualify for Boston.

    Take care Pete,

    Jamie

  9. Pete, respect to you for finishing in spite of everything. I read a bit about the dangers of overhydration before I did my first marathon this 10th April (e.g. in this Runner World piece: link to bit.ly) and I stuck religiously to drinking 300ml of water or sports drink every three miles, since I’d found I lose 100ml a mile in weight on training runs. That worked perfectly for me. Of course you were running at a much higher pace – I was pleased to get a 3:48 finish.

  10. Glad you’re not beating yourself up over your performance, and are instead seeing it as a learning opportunity. Indeed, it’s the incredible challenge of the marathon, especially when we try to unduly push ourselves to meet our former accomplishments where we get into trouble. Your belated idea of dropping back a few corrals to accommodate your fitness level is brilliant, I’ve never thought of that but in retrospect doing so definitely would have helped me in my two Boston runs as well. Indeed starting in the assigned BQ corral with other athletes who managed a qualification time withing a couple minutes of your own, combined with the relatively steep downhill enjoyed by running east from Hopkinton which got both of us into trouble (for me on both occasions running Boston… so I have less an excuse than you!)

    In any case, I was very impressed with your final half-mile split, as you obviously dug deep to achieve that pace despite certain low glycogen levels (a huge testament to your mind’s powerful drive), and wish you luck.

  11. Nice to hear your story.. I was there, and it went well for me this year, but I have a collection of split graphs from other races that look a lot like the one you posted..

  12. Hey Pete — congrats on Boston and for, once again, sharing your experiences. I admire your humility because it took me weeks to talk about & get over my poor marathon performance from last year; I really only had myself to blame because I didn’t listen to my body and pay better attention to the conditions (stupid pride). I’m glad you’re not beating yourself up about this…regardless of your finishing time, it took guts to keep going and to finish strongly the way you did. Hope you recover quickly and come back fresher & stronger!

  13. Davethecanuck says:

    I was in better shape than my qualifying time and corral, but was a bit tentative due to a mild calf strain 3 weeks prior to race day. I believe however that these two things helped me out as I started in a somewhat slower crowd, and took it really easy on the downhills. By the Newton hills, I was in a good running groove and started to pass the folks who all seemed to be wilting in the hills and heat. Had I gone out hard (i.e. not been injured) in a faster corral (i.e. qualified faster), I’m sure I could have run into troubles late. Funny how things work out.

  14. Jason Fitzgerald says:

    You’re one tough guy, Pete. Good job toughing it out and enjoy your much deserved time off! Love your attitude despite all of the struggles you endured.

  15. Elizabeth Winter says:

    Congratulations, Pete! I always come away from your posts happier and better informed, and this one inspired the hell out of me to boot. Thank you! Rest well!

  16. Sam Winebaum says:

    Way to hang in there. And pick up the pace after tough middle miles. Boston was an incredible experience, my first in 25 years and way more grand than back then. I enjoyed it all despite a disastrous performance. My Boston was very similar to yours. Started in a corral based on my BQ instead of my expected time, a mistake, and couldn’t really do anything other than the pace of my corral in the first miles. Ran very well and easy the first 8 or so ahead of pace… I too thought it was warm. Ran the Hoka One One Bondi B although I had not run over 12 or so in them at pace. By 15 the wheels came off completely as my knee lift and mid foot escaped me. I couldn’t walk as I thought and my race pictures show that I likely would have tipped over backwards! Weird. Wide awake the whole way, no bonk, no cramps but quads were locked up and I was tipping backwards.

  17. Great post. Thanks for all the videos and info.

  18. Tina (aka "Khara" on FB) says:

    Thanks Pete, for sharing this great account of your Boston experience! Your insight/hindsight is helpful info for those of us who are less experienced than you. Congratulations in qualifying for, and finishing the Boston Marathon!!

  19. RunWildDC says:

    Hey, Pete, great job persevering. How did the Kinvaras work out for you?

  20. Thank so much for sharing your story Pete. I would say we’ve all been there, but many of us including me haven’t even earned the right to bonk at Boston yet. I am inspired by your humility and resilience; for as much time as we spend on stride and strike, humility, resilience, and perseverance also define distance running.

  21. Nice work perservering through. It was tough but you never quit. Hope you score some nice 5k time in the Hattori’s!

  22. Great writeup and congratulations Peter!

  23. Irish0325 says:

    Pete

    You got to run Boston….something that can never be taken away. Good job!!!!

    Marc

    PS-Love this blog site….anytime I am checking out new shoes I come here first to see if I can find a review….

  24. What an awesome, descriptive recount of your trip to Boston. I am sorry to hear it wasn’t the best marathon you’ve ran. I am making my first trip to Boston in less than a month, and I am trying to do as much research to prepare as I can! If you have any other tips to add, please add them to my most recent blog post. link to runrevolution.com

    I am so excited…and nervous, and scared. :)

  25. Hey Pete – I know you’re disappointed…but I think you did great. It’s inspirational just to read about the race and the struggles you faced. Nice job, from Chicago. :)

  26. Congratulations on toughing out Boston, Pete. While it wasn’t an ideal race, I give you a lot of respect for leaving it all on the road despite less-than-ideal training. Enjoy the upcoming rest period, and I look forward to seeing you ramp up your training in the upcoming months.

  27. scottyboyswa2 says:

    Thanks for the update. No matter what, you finished it and in my book that is quite a feat!

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