This was my second Boston marathon and I could not wait to run this great race again. Why? It’s the big race with world-class elite runners participating, the prestige, the history, the enthusiasm of fellow competitors, the screaming girls by Wellesley College, the drunk and obnoxious frat boys near Boston College, among other inspirations. But the number 1 reason I love this so much is the feeling I get from thousands of spectators downtown Boston cheering on runners, including me. Especially, as I turn the corner onto Boylston Street for the final stretch, the roar of cheering people echos between the high-rises and I fall under the illusion as if I were the elite runner the whole world is watching. I fight the pain of having run 26 miles and, at the same time, enjoy being intoxicated with such illusion. It’s addictive!
So, I returned to Boston for the second time and could not wait to start running. My alarm went off at 4:30 am, and I promptly got up in my hotel room. I turned on TV and checked local news on today’s main event. Looks like it is going to be sunny but rather cold and windy. I ate 2 bagels; a chocolate-chip and a wholewheat. Shower and out the door without having any coffee.
Since Boston marathon is a point-to-point course, all the runners who stayed in Boston need to get to Hopkinton. Most of us take the free bus service and hop on the yellow school buses waiting on Tremont Street next to Boston Common. It was cold and windy out, so we were all happy to be on the bus. Nice and warm.
About 45 minutes later, we arrived in Hopkinton Middle School where the Athletes’ Village was located. Beautiful blue sky but still cold and windy… I hurried to the Athletes’ Village in search for coffee. There, the runners have breakfast, stretch, get massages, queue up for porta-potty, or take pictures.
This sign is at the Athletes’ Village and one of the most photographed signs of Boston marathon. It all started there 115 years ago.
I waited for Dave to show up at 8 am near the massage stand, and after 15 minutes I decided to get in line to get massage while I sort of wait for him. It’s a quick (5 minutes or so) rub down of wherever you tell them to rub down.
This year, they introduced Waves to control the crowds at the starting time. I was in Wave 1 Corral 8. At around 9:20 am, I left the Athletes’ Village and started to walk over to the start line. But of course, I had to visit porta-potty again and there was a slow moving line… At around 9:45 am, I finished my business and jogged over to the start line.
The wheel-chair people had already started and so had elite women. At 10:00 am, the gun went off for the elite men and Wave 1 runners slowly started to jog. Some runners were talking, while others just focusing. I was smiling.
I crossed the start line about 6 minutes past 10:00 am. I hit the start button on my iPhone app RunKeeper and the watch to monitor my pace and time. Last year, my adrenalin shot up high and I went bezerk. I was flying the first 17 miles or so, at around 7 minutes/mile, then my hams, quad and even groin started to cramp up even before the Heartbreak. So, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake this year. Live and learn. So, I looked at my watch expecting it would show 7:30/mile or so. But my watch was showing calories and something else that nobody is interested in seeing while running! Damn, but said I could fix this. In the first mile, I ran trying to fix this damn watch that I paid a lot of money for. Another mile came on, still not working. I gave up on the watch and decided to be happy with RunKeeper; however, my iPhone was tied on my left upper arm and it was not easy to see. I then remembered that I started about 6 minutes after 10:00 am, so after this point, I just looked for the gun time at each Mile mark and did a little math to figure out my time and pace. So much for the gadgets and technologies!
Rolling hills of Ashland and Framingham were very pretty and the wind was not bothering me at all – since it was a big time tail wind. I was running in a controlled pace, a bit faster than the first 2 miles, about 7:20/mile. I past Natick and here came the Wellesley girls. They are screaming at the top of their lung carrying signs ‘Kiss Me’ or some similar propositions that I am happy to look at away from them. Some guys were actually trying to kiss those girls. I increased my pace and passed the half-way point. About 1:35:00 as planned.
I was drinking plenty of Gatorade and water along the way. I also ate Clif Block Gel every 45 minutes or so. But I got really hungry after the half-way point. I ate the mini Clifbar I was carrying with me and started to look for bananas that people usually handed out. Got a couple of half bananas and I felt better. Still not feeling the wind but I could tell the temperature was rising. I passed a blind runner Kevin who were guarded by a couple of guides. I cheered him and wished him a good race. I cannot image being blind and running, let alone running a marathon. How inspirational is that! A little later, I passed another blind runner Kelly. I wished her a fun time.
I did not see a lot of runners in costume this year. There were a couple of guys in mouse suits and they were actually from Japan… One was running fine but the other one was slowing down quite a bit and drenched in sweat. I cheered him up ‘Ganbare’ but he did not look so good. More than 10 miles to go…
Just about when I entered into town of Newton and thought I was doing great, I started to feel tightness in my left hamstring. Hmmm… But I kept going at the same pace, trying not to think about it. It was about this point when I started to cramp and made some stretching stops. But this year, I was running in compression shorts and they helped.
I made to the Heartbreak hill in a good time. It is a well-known hill among Boston enthusiasts, but it’s not much of a hill, to be honest. Compared to some of the hills that I train in San Francisco, it’s just a long speed bump. People worry about this hill, because it comes after Mile 20 when their energy level is getting pretty low, and I must admit that I walked on it last year, a little bit. But this year, lived and learned, I was running strong passing runners left to right. I felt really good. I grabbed more Gatorade, pieces of orange, and Block gel.
Miles came and went really fast between 20 and 24. I was still doing about 7:20/mile, and I started to calculate what my finish time was going to be. I had 3 goals for Boston, as I did for California International Marathon. The most aggressive goal was 3:10:00, which is a New York Qualifying time. The next one down was 3:15:00. It’s just a good clean number. Then 3:17:00, which would be my personal best. Until I hit Mile 24, I thought I could do NYQ and I was very excited about it. My legs were tighter but not totally cramping. Then Mile 25. I started to feel fatigued and actually started to feel a small headache for the first time in my marathon running. It was not that hot and I was getting hydrated enough, so I was not sure why on earth I was getting a headache. That mile felt long and the speed bump (hill) near Mass Ave T station felt much steeper than it actually is. When I was approaching Mile 26, I realized it was no way I could NYQ…
Last mile of Boston marathon is one of my favorite living experiences, if not the best. True that I’m hurting and sweaty, and my hair must be totally screwed up by then. But the energy I get from those fellow runners and spectators is just so incredible that I endure the pain and actually have fun. And it’s such a confidence builder and inspiration to train hard to come back again next year.
I crossed the finish line and hit the stop button on RunKeeper. It said 3:11:51. Whoa! I cleared 2 of the 3 goals. I was stoked. I kept walking as volunteers led all the runners forward. They gave me water, the wrapper, and the finisher’s medal. I wanted to get the medal, because I gave last year’s medal to Chrissy as a going way gift. I think I am going to keep this one for myself! I got some photos taken and a plastic back with food in it, including a bagel. I was sick of bagel by then and did not even want to see it. Someone said a Kenyan guy won the race with a world record time. I kept walking to go get my bag off the yellow school bus. Some finishers were sitting on the sidewalk, while others were looking like they could do another 10K. I was happy to put warm clothes on and go back to the hotel. I returned text messages to Ben and Allen and told them that I did well.
My second Boston ended in a very satisfying fashion. The official time ended up 3:11:48. I did not get injured. I am very happy with the result and feel blessed that I was able to experience this special event again. I cannot wait till I come back next year. Big thanks to the organizer and volunteers who made this special event go smoothly. I give high-fives now to those spectators who saw my shirt and cheered ‘San Francisco’ for me. Also, many thanks to residents along the course, who supported this event and gave me oranges and bananas! See you all next year!!