Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dan Horvath's Adventures in Beantown: The 2006 Boston Marathon

There were only a couple of random reasons for making the pilgrimage this year. Friends Brian and Eileen Peacock invited me, I had a free airline ticket that needed to be burned soon, and I had written in Marathon and Beyond about this being the 10th anniversary of the 100th anniversary running of the Boston marathon, and thus felt somewhat obliged to make an appearance.

Still having it bounce around in my head that I absolutely cannot run my fastest in Boston, I wasn't going to go all out. I was going to use this as a stepping stone to Cleveland, where I was going to really rock and roll. Yes, Boston was going to be a "training run". With this in mind, I ran hard at a half marathon the previous weekend, and planned to just take it easy and go with the flow for Boston Weekend.

And for the most part, go with the flow I did. Saturday the Peacocks had a small gathering at their place that included neighbors, some local runners and my daughter Veronica and son-in-law Barry, who drove over from Connecticut. Easter Sunday we hit the expo for a short time - it was nice to be there before the crowds. Then we went to dinner at their friends' place. Lots of good food and conversation.

On race day Monday, Brian and I got on the New Bedford running club's chartered bus to Hopkinton. For $15 each, the bus dropped us at the start and picked us up at the finish to bring us back. This was as low-hassle a deal as can be had at Boston.

The temperatures were in the low to mid 50s all day, and it was mostly cloudy and somewhat breezy. Darn! This meant I'd have to run fast... or die tryin'. It was not going to be a training run.

So here was yet another contrast to last year - besides the low-hassle vs high-hassle logistics, this time I just couldn't get warm while waiting around the athletes village whereas last year I was soaking up that hot sun. This year I went into the school to get a pre-race massage. Not because I thought I needed one (never tried one before a thon before), but just to get out of the cold for a while. This year there was a 2-wave start, and the athletes village was split into two parts. I learned that whereas the 12-noon start area had very long porta-john lines, the 12:30 start area had no lines at all. Gotta remember this if I ever return for my 10th Boston in 2021 or so. I mention 2021 because that will be the 125th running, and I'm sure I won't be able to resist the hoopla and perhaps even write about that great 110th running. I also bumped into training partners Dave Gajewski and Brian Gittinger in the village. We tramped down to the start together, but were all in different corrals.

My number this year was 5448, my highest ever. The 5000 corral didn't get to the starting line until 2:40 or so after the gun went off. The first mile was slow just because it was still so crowded. But the weather was holding - it still felt cool and breezy, with almost no direct sunlight. I felt great. The next several miles went by very easily as I kept the pace between 7 minutes and about 7:10.

Obligitory Wellesley Report: Wildly enthusiastic gals as usual, but I don't think there were as many as other years. My theory is that since this was Easter weekend, a lot of them were at home for a visit. Best sign: "Flash Us", then in smaller letters: "(Men only, please)". I kept my shorts on, but I felt like I was now running faster again.

Only I wasn't. Here are the mile splits for the 1st half:
1) 7:22
2) 7:06
3) 7:05
4) 7:00
5) 7:09
6) 7:07
7) 7:09
8) 7:12
9) 7:05
10) 7:16
11) 7:15
12) 7:16
13) 7:21

I think my half-way split was something like 1:34 and change. If I could run even splits, I'd have a great day, but I didn't like the trend of those mile splits. My effort level seemed to be constant, but the times were steadily slowing. I've been here before. Many times.

I did still feel pretty good though. Last year, everything hurt for the whole run. This time I was only hurting a bit, and I definitely was not over-heating or dehydrated. I knew there were some more steep downhills coming up, and made up my mind to hit those fast. I also knew that the Newton uphills, including Heartbreak, were looming.

Miles 14-20 were like this:
14) 7:18
15) 7:15
16) 7:00 - big downhill
17) 7:30 - the start of the Newton Hills
18) 7:30
19) 7:06
20) 7:23
21) 7:59 - Heartbreak Hill

I was somehow holding my own through the hills. Of course the uphills were slow, but I wasn't crashing and burning altogether. I still felt like I had something left. I hit the 20-mile mark at about 2:24 and a half. I could still run a decent time if I could only pick the pace back up to the very low 7-minute range until the finish. The only problem was that Heartbreak Hill was next. And yes, it was tough, and my slowest of the bunch.

After the crest of Heartbreak Hill, there are some more steep downhills, and no other major uphills until the finish. So it was hammer time. And somehow, hammer I did:

22) 7:00
23) 7:16
24) 6:49
25) 7:08
26.2) 8:21 for last 1.2 - I think this works out to a 6:57 pace

For those last 5 miles I knew I could finish fast. I didn't think I could - I knew I could! Felt great to be passing so many runners. It was a little tough to get around them at times, but I managed.

I crossed the line in 3:09:14. My best since 2002, and my best Boston since 1997. I'm extremely happy that I was able to finish so strong. That cool weather was *wonderful*. Another factor: I took a Gu at about mile 17, and then others at about miles 20 and 23. This time, they really seemed to help.

After a long wait, I got another massage (an excellent one) afterwards. I then lumbered back to the bus to finally get into some warm clothes.

I placed somewhere in the 2000's. That's understandable at a big race like Boston. But how in the world did 78 50-year-olds beat me?? Oh well, I'll still take it. There are so many races, especially marathons where I fail to meet my own expectations, usually after starting out at a fast pace, that I'd better savor this unusual situation where I actually met my tough standards.

Now that this "training run" is over, I'd better start training for Cleveland. I fear that I may have jeopardized my chances of a sub-3 there by running this one so hard. I may just do my best at Cleveland and really hit one hard in the fall. We'll see.

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