I ran the Boston Marathon on April 17, 2023. These are my notes on race preparation and execution (as usual, mostly written to remind myself about the experience in decades to come).
2:58:41, 3,734 / 26,606 overall (beat my bib #6773!), 3,507 / 15,173 males, 2,489 / 5,285 AG males 18 to 39
✓ Goal A: Finish
✓ Goal B: Sub 3:05 (BQ cutoff for my age group)
✓ Goal C: Sub three hours
I took over a month off after NYC due to COVID and moving house. I decided to go back to McMillan’s plans after Pfitz 18/70 only because Greg has a Boston Marathon-specific race plan. I figured specificity couldn’t hurt, especially with the famed hills of Newton strategically placed right around the bonk mile. Frankly, I also liked being able to see at a glance from my phone and watch what the workout of the day was.
With the race on April 17 and my training plan starting in mid-January, this was the earliest start for a training block I’ve done: NYC is in early November and Colorado was June 1. This meant that I’d have to train through the winter, which I figured wouldn’t be bad because I enjoy running in the cold, the sun always shines, and the snow in Boulder melts quickly. Plus, anything beats training in the NYC hot and humid summer.
Boy was I wrong. It was a brutal winter and training through it was tough. My neighborhood was under a sheet of ice for weeks on end, the sun was missing in action for about as long, and it got really cold. Plus, the damned sun — when it is out — isn’t out for long in the winter! Just as the sun was rising acceptably early in March, we hit daylight saving time, and more dark runs were had. I found myself on a treadmill for more runs than I’d like, including one long run.
Training overall went well. I really enjoyed the hill training the plan had me on and I found a nice little local incline that is perfect for doing some 45-60 second hill sprints. I got sick with a cold that put me out of action for a few days. I rolled my ankle on a long run in a spectacular one-person crash, but I was able to finish the run and run on it despite some swelling. (It actually felt better when running than when not…) I think I stuck to the plan pretty well, peaking at 66.75 miles (107 km) in late March. The mid-week medium distance runs were not as long as those prescribed by Pfitz 18/70, which I appreciated because of the lack of daylight to do them in.
We had been living in a rental apartment that we chose specifically because it was around the corner from our daughter’s daycare. This made our drop-off and pick-up routine so easy. But, moving 3.2 miles away from the daycare reasonably precludes walking; a car or bike are the only ways to go. While the Great State of New Jersey certifies that my wife is a capable driver since teenage years, she hadn’t seriously driven in over three decades.
Being the only confident driver/cyclist of the family, I took on drop-off and pick-up duties. This — coupled with the lack of winter daylight — severely constrained the amount of time I had available to train. Gone were the days of being able to get a medium-long run in before showing up at work at 9:30am.
But my wife was extremely supportive. She took on the responsibility for rousing our daughter from her slumber and getting her ready to get out the door, to allow me to get running at sunrise or start work early. Not only did she at times sacrifice her own cherished morning exercise slot, but she also started to take driving lessons (being uncomfortable with my exacting standards for driving proficiency) and practiced the route to daycare by herself. It didn’t help that our Tesla is a little less standard to drive than other cars.
After my 2:59:59, I knew I wanted to target another sub-3 hour time to prove to myself that I’m capable of running to that standard on a course that isn’t ridiculously downhill. Up through the race, my Stryd analytics complained that I didn’t have the necessary 296 watts of power sustained for three hours to break that barrier. I still wanted to try: between using carbon fiber-plated shoes and running at sea level, I figured the algorithm didn’t know I had a few tricks up my sleeve.
After having foot pain in NYC the prior fall, I decided to get new shoes a half-size larger than I typically wear. Soon before I walked into In Motion Running during a coffee break, Saucony released their newest carbon fiber-plated shoe, the Endorphin Elite, which comes with “a super aggressive toe-spring and a propulsive ride”. I’d like to be sprung and propelled forward toward the finish line, and I have $275 to drop on something as frivolous for an amateur runner as running shoes, so that sounded great.
The plan’s 2-ish week taper was longer than I had done previously, though I will say that the feeling of freshness and the lack of constant fatigue was really enjoyable. I joined my club for my last long run before the race, but I probably shouldn’t have: the route was on trails along a rocky goat path with a good amount of vert. The others in the club going to Boston stuck to the roads that day…
The Boston Marathon traditionally is run on Patriots Day, a local holiday on the third monday of April. I planned to fly in on Saturday, have a day to pick up my bib and get settled, and come back home on Tuesday.
I had to bring my daughter to a birthday party for two of her classmates on Saturday. I knew I had to leave the party at exactly 10:30am to catch the bus to the airport and discussed this with my family. Sadly, it was only at that exact time that the party organizing committee was preparing to cut the cake. Cut to me, carrying my three-year-old daughter away from a party who was screaming, “I want cake!” over and over again… I felt terrible ripping her away from what I’m sure was a delicious, moist, sugar-filled, homemade cake and I hoped that she wouldn’t forever associate the Boston Marathon or my running with the time that daddy pulled her away from the birthday party just as it was getting good.
(My gracious wife took her to the nearby bakery to get a cupcake and reported that all was well).
I got to Boston in the late evening and grabbed some Halal Guys chicken and rice from across the street to my hotel, the W. I entered the hotel, but was confused because it seemed like a club: lots of people drinking and a DJ spinning. But that was the lobby. I checked in and had trouble falling asleep. By booking through Whatahotel, I scored a $100/day breakfast stipend (among other perks), which was more than sufficient for carb loading. They also provided a somewhat strange assortment of items in a goodie bag for runners, which at least was a nice gesture of hospitality.
I went to the Tracksmith shakeout run and made some great acquaintances. I got some valuable insider race information, like how the Newton Hills are not that bad, but the underpass on Commonwealth Avenue going under Massachusetts Avenue at mile 25.8 is the most brutal hill on the course.
Picked up my bib, contributed to the Marathon Industrial Complex by purchasing an overpriced crappy jacket that I’ll seldom wear, and headed back to my hotel room to get off my feet. I have some Massachusetts-based family and they took me out for lunch at La Famiglia Giorgio’s in the North End, followed by Modern Pastry. That meal ended, and an hour later, the Boulder Track Club’s organized pre-race meal at Bencotto started. Two pasta meals in four hours? Sure, why not.
Can you believe that the 7-11 across the street from my hotel had bread, but ran out of fancy strawberry preserves while I was gone for the afternoon? I was forced to make my PB&Js with grape jelly from a squeeze bottle! The indignity.
I got my gear ready, pinned my bib to my singlet, and went to bed for another night of restless “sleep”.
I set my alarm for 5:45 to be able to meet my team and get to the buses in Boston Commons to Hopkinton. While I would have been perfectly content with my PB&Js until the race start at 10am, the hotel graciously provided an early continental breakfast for runners.
The bus was fine. Point-to-point courses are amusing to me because it is made clear how ridiculous it is that we’ve chosen to run the 26.2 miles that we’re driving in the opposite direction.
We got off the bus and my teammate said, “We’re not going to the Athlete’s Village. We’re going to a house.” I learned that one of my teammates is friends with someone who owns an 1877 Victorian mansion right next to the starting corrals. Sitting in a comfy antique chair next to a huge radiator sure beats sitting on a field under a tent on a damp day in the cold. We got better treatment than even the professional runners in their tent across the street. The house’s owners even made banana bread for us!
I was happy with my decision to keep my 3 mil contractor bag on until the last two minutes when it started to drizzle. Not cutting holes for arms made it significantly warmer, but made me look slightly more ridiculous.
What a fun race. The course is interesting, the requirement for qualification makes the field more cohesive, and the crowds were invigorating.
(I amusingly had “New York, New York” playing in my head going through the start line, the song traditionally played at the start in NYC).
My mantra for the day was: “The race starts at the Newton Hills at mile 16”. My overall plan was to be around 10 seconds per mile faster than goal pace for the first six miles (10 km), settle into goal pace until mile 16 (26 km), keep the same effort on and over the hills between miles 16 and 21 (34 km), and then push as hard as necessary in the last 5+ miles (8 km) to get to the finish line without much left in the tank.
I also knew that sometimes the way to accomplish a goal is for one to get out of one’s own way.
A common complaint about the Boston Marathon is that it runs along narrow, rural roads which creates congestion among runners trying to find their pace. In my wave and starting from the front of my corral, I didn’t find it that bad. My first mile was the second slowest mile of my day at 6:57/mi (4:18/km), slightly slower than my target pace, but I easily accommodated for that in the remaining 3 miles of strong downhill. One other impact that I hadn’t heard of previously was that the course was often crowded enough that running tangents was not feasible; I’m sure I could have taken better lines to cut some distance out.
The crowds were phenomenal, especially at Wellesley’s Scream Tunnel. What an experience. My ears were ringing by the time I passed though the campus.
The Newton Hills were a non-issue for me. I was unimpressed when I got to Heartbreak Hill and saw the penultimate challenge ahead of me. I did start to feel a little sore in my quads at mile 19 (30.5 km), but I tried to keep it out of my mind.
I have a bad time with gels. While I’m religious in taking them at 30 minute intervals, I have problems getting them down. I used to use Maurten exclusively, but found that I often choke on the consistency of them. I had switched to Torq gels mostly because they have a more liquid consistency and have a wide variety of flavors. But, during this race, the acidity of the Torq gels irritated my throat and caused it to narrow, making breathing a bit more laborious. Suggestions for alternatives for future races would be appreciated.
All throughout the race, I couldn’t help but have a big smile on my face, thinking, “I qualified for and am running the Boston Marathon.” Thinking back to me 12 more or more years ago, I couldn’t believe I was even there.
In the last couple of miles, I felt like I was running at a swimmingly easy 6:00/mi (3:43/km) pace. But my watch significantly disagreed every time I looked down at it until I tried to ramp it back up only to slow down again. The increased rain intensity definitely didn’t help and filled the course with big puddles. I slipped a couple of times on the wet road paint; the traction on these Endorphin Elites is not great, seemingly because the contact patches are very smooth.
I ended up running 6:40/mi (4:08/km) at 303 watts for the first 16 miles, a bit faster than planned, and ran 6:52/mi (4:16/km) at 291 watts for the last 5.5 miles, a little slower than planned. I ran the first half in 1:27:48 and the second in 1:30:53.
I ultimately ran at an average of 301 watts, more than necessary to go sub-3. Eat that Stryd algorithm!
And unlike him, who was on the Today Show’s cooking segment the next morning, I didn’t have to work the next day.
I felt stronger after this marathon than any of the others I’ve ran. I probably should have tried to run harder in the last 10 km; I may have left some time out on the course.
Just as I was getting my mylar blanket, the heavens opened up. I made the short walk back to the W, where they had frames each with a congratulatory message personalized with our name and finishing time. I stripped out of my sopping wet clothes and took a long warm shower.
My team had made reservations at Trillium Brewing at Fort Point and at Row 34, a beer-centric restaurant. Both were phenomenal choices; we even ended up going back to Trillium after dinner. Copious amounts of beer were had.
Now I’m getting psyched for Chicago. It’s a flat course near sea level, so depending on the weather and my training, it could be a good day.