The Boston Marathon is a net downhill course. But there are plenty uphills including the infamous heartbreak hill. The course is constantly up and down and up and down. It is hard to get into a rhythm. Today this was compounded by cold temperatures, lashing rain and headwinds gusting to 30+ MPH. It was a tough race. I finished a good 12 minutes slower than I expected and a good 26 minutes outside my PR. I finished in 3:54:08.
5:30AM: Restless Sleep: As expected, I barely slept last night. The nerves, the excitement, the energy was all too much. I was checking my watch every hour waiting to wake up. I finally woke up and went through my usual morning routine. I brushed, showered, dressed, relaxed, stretched, went through my checklist, and of course pooped umpteen times. It was nasty outside. It was cold and already drizzling. The forecast called for rain at around 10:30AM (I was in wave 2, corral 8 starting at 10:25AM). It was already quite windy.
6:30AM: Uneventful Breakfast: Downstairs at the hotel, I ate a bagel with cream cheese and honey and packed a banana. I was carrying my gearcheck bag and a small plastic bag with my heartrate belt, SpiBelt (for nutrition), and a few other miscellaneous items.
7:00AM: Cold Walk to the Buses: I thought I could catch a cab to the bus transport point but roads were closed. I had no choice but to walk in the cold for about 20 minutes. I walked right past where the bombings happened in 2013 and onwards through the finish line. I thought to myself, “In a few hours, I will finish the first of all six Marathon Majors.”
7:35AM: The Bus Ride: There were hundreds of people waiting to board buses. I checked in my gear and waited patiently in line. On the bus, I was seated with Ann Marie on one side and Sarahlyn on the other side. Ann Marie is from Oregon and Sarahlyn from Georgia. Both were running their first Boston. Both were about the same speed as me. We indulged in small-talk about the race. The energy was vibrant inside the bus. Some were quietly concentrating on relaxing while others were bouncing off their seats. The quiet ones were smarter conserving energy! The bus ride to Hopkinton took more than an hour.
8:45AM: Chaos in Hopkinton: It was utter chaos at the start line. There were tens of thousands of people walking haphazardly and aimlessly. The lines at the port-a-potties were at least 50-long. There were random announcements, a solitary scoreboard showing god-knows-what, large circus-sized tents in which people were randomly laying down, smaller tents handing out Clifbar nutrition, bananas, water, Gatorade Endurance and a few other miscellaneous eatables. Everyone was freezing. It was wet. It was drizzling. It was nasty!
Just before 10AM, they called wave 2 corral 7 and 8 to start the slow mile-long walk to the starting line. Thousands of people started walking slowly and deliberately. Some had headphones, some didn’t. Everyone (including me) was making sure that their gear, nutrition, clothes, etc. were all in order.
From top to bottom, I was wearing my favorite M-Dot visor, glasses, a thick fleece headband around my neck (for warmth), a grey long-sleeve skin and my shirt-sleeve Snapathon tech-shirt on it with my bib number pinned, my heart-belt on my chest, the nutrition SpiBelt around my waist, cheap throwaway gloves with hand-warmers inside each glove, my Lululemon shorts with a side and back pocket, long black compression socks and my peacock-blue Saucony Kinvara shoes. I had my iPod in my left shorts pocket along with my driver’s license, and my salt pills in my back shorts pocket. I was carrying 3 packs of Gatorade Endurance gel-packs in my SpiBelt.
10:30AM: The First 10k (6.2 miles): Promptly at 10:25, wave 2 was off. By the time I reached the starting line, it was around 10:30AM. The first 5k is more downhill than uphill. My plan was to start easy keeping my heartrate near 140 and relax. I felt the wind rightaway. It was dead against us and already pushing us back. Rain had let up a bit and it was actually quite pleasant. The first few miles are rural and very pretty. the road winds gently left and right with undulating hills. Lots of people had braved the cold to cheer us on. I was smiling. I was running Boston. I was in my element on this gorgeous course. I removed my earbuds a few times to listen to the crowd. They were yelling loudly. I drafted a few people for a few minutes but these people were not taking the point-to-point shortest route on the left and right turns. I would draft, undraft, draft, undraft. Hills would go down, go up, go down again. My pace was not smooth. It had started raining heavily at around mile 3. At mile 5, I struggled to remove the gel-pack from my SpiBelt. I struggled to tear it open with my teeth. My hands were frozen. I had no dexterity. I was already unnerved by the time I finished the first 10k,
11:22AM: 10k to Wellesley: At the 10k mark, the race goes through Framingham. Once again, hundreds of people were lined up. I decided to have fun and high-fived a few of them. This would become a consistent theme for the rest of the race. My heart-rate during the first 10k was revving a bit higher than I wanted but it was still manageable. The second 10k saw rain, rain and more rain. Winds had picked up too. It was wet, cold and windy. It was pretty nasty out there. The course was still going more downhill than uphill, but the uphills were taking a lot out of me. My heart-rate was touching and crossing 150 on the uphills only to come down into the mid 140s on the downhills. I was still smiling and running relaxed, but was cold. I was trying to draft but it was not working well. I found an Asian guy running in a read translucent plastic bag (to stay dry) and drafted him for a while. He was faster than me on the uphills but slower on the downhills. I drafted a guy in yellow and then the girl in the purple headband. She was more my speed. The course went through a few rural towns. I was still running with good cadence but knew that tough hills were to come. At mile 9.5, I struggled even more with my second gel-pack. I dropped it and had to take a couple of steps back to pick it up. I was annoyed at Gatorade for making such a complicated package. I cursed under my breath. I wanted to smile but it was forced. I wanted my spirits lifted.
I waited for Wellesley to arrive so I could kiss the next President of the United States! At around mile 12, I removed my earbuds. I heard someone say, “Get some water; the girls are just ahead.” I found humor in it. I chuckled. I forgot the miserable conditions momentarily.
12:15PM: The Girls of Wellseley: Loud screams and pretty girls welcomed us to Wellesley. Everyone was drenched and wearing cold-weather gear. There were dozens of “Kiss me, I’m from <pick your state>” signs. They were all smiling and cheering us on. I kissed a couple of random ones and then saw one that said “Kiss me, I’m from Michigan” – the girl had a lovely smile and I had to kiss her. I told her that I used to live in Ann Arbor and then I ran on. As I left Wellesley, one of the young girls in the last batch actually had a sign that read, “Kiss Me, I’m going to be President one day.” I regret not going back and kissing her. She even looked like a young Hillary Clinton!
Strangely, my heart-rate started showing crazy results right after I passed by the lovely girls of Wellesley. You can see my Garmin stats here.
12:21PM: The Halfway Point to the Newton Hills: The hills were starting to drain me. I was slowing down. I was very cold and very wet. My hands were frozen. The hand-warmers inside my gloves were not warm anymore. I kept running through the small towns past thousands of spectators lined up to cheer us on. I high-fived people. I decided to eat my third and final gel-pack at mile 14. I knew that there was a nutrition station coming up in a few miles where I could restock with Clifbar gels.
12:50PM: The Hills of Newton: At around mile 16, the first of four Newton hills is long and sustained. It curves to the left where many runners had start walking. I am a slow uphill runner but was jogging uphill. Dozens of runners passed me. I tried to draft even for a few seconds, but that didn’t work. The wind slowed me down. Right after the hill is the nutrition station where I picked up 3 gels. I ate the first one right away and carried the other two with me. After a gentle downhill patch, the second hill showed up. This one is shorter but steeper. More people had started walking. I was still jogging up slowly. Even through the water stations where many runners stopped for a drink, I was running. Unfortunately, the hills had taken their toll on my quads, calves and knees.
I thought of all my friends I have run with to train with for Boston. Erin, Jim and Aly particularly came to mind. I thought of my family and all my cousins who wished me well over WhatsApp. They think I am some star athlete; if they saw me with all the Boston runners, they would know that I am one of the slower ones! I still had a long way to go, but was already digging deep. I thought of Naman and Binita who would be waiting for me at the finish line! It was comforting to know that I had support.
The Newton crowds were cheering us on. There were signs everywhere, “Go Random Stranger Go” or “Baahston Loves Ya” or “Wicked Hahd but Worth it” or “Touch Here For Power.” Kids were handing out bananas, candy, orange slices, even Twizzlers. I actually tried a bite out of a Twizzler. Yuck! I spit it out. I ran through the third hill with renewed energy and was on to the infamous heartbreak hill. I imagined the story of John Kelly and Tarzan Brown to try and take my mind off my own suffering. I succeeded for a fleeting moment. As I crested, I knew that I had 5 mostly downhill miles to go. Little did I know that the last 5 miles would take me forever!
1:30PM: The Mishaps on the Homestretch: If I had my wits about me, if the wind had died down, if I weren’t so wet and miserable, I should have done the last 5 miles in about 40 minutes. Instead, it took me almost 50. The first mishap came at mile 21. My left shoelace came loose. At first I thought I would just run with an untied shoelace but in a few steps reassessed this. It could lead to an accident for me or for someone else. I stopped, struggled to remove my soaking wet gloves one finger at a time to retie the shoelace. My hands were frozen. It took me about a minute and 3 tries to tie the shoelace. Frustrating! I took a deep breath and ran on. In about half a mile, the shoelace came loose again. This time, I asked a random spectator to tie my shoelace. Little did I realize that her hands were frozen too and she took almost two minutes to tie it.
Dozens and dozens of runners were now passing me. Dozens and dozens of runners were walking. I wanted to pick up my pace but just didn’t have anything left. I removed my second glove and ran on. I was still cold and drenched but so was everyone else. My earbuds were off now. I wanted energy from the crowds. I wanted to have fun. Everyone was concentrating on finishing strong. I decided to run by the crowd and high-five everyone until my hand hurt. I didn’t care about the time. I didn’t care about my pace. I was in Boston. I was going to finish. I had only a mile left!
2:20PM: The Last Mile: I was smiling as I saw the right turn on Hereford in the distance. I had it in me to pick up the pace but didn’t. I wanted to stay on the course just a bit longer. People were passing me left and right. I was energized by the deafening crowds. There were tens of thousands of people who had come to watch braving the nasty elements. It had completely stopped raining over the past few miles but the wind was still strong. I took the right on Hereford and then a left on Boylston to see the finish line at a distance. I had about half-a-mile to go. I actually slowed down on purpose. I was jogging. I was smiling. I was engaged with the crowds. I was happy. I was running Boston.
I thought of my father as I crossed the finish line. He would be proud today…
I finished in the official time of 3:54:08. This is a whopping 26 minutes slower than my PR. But this is Boston. It has history. It has nostalgia. It blows every other Marathon away and now I have run it. It is where Marathons were invented (after Greece of course). It is the first of 6 majors I want to run.
PS: All pictures are from the Boston Globe taken during the 2015 race.