Arriving at Connecticut, US with just about 2 weeks( and 5 easy training runs) to go for the 118th edition of the Boston Marathon marks the beginning of the end of the journey that started nearly 3 years ago. Qualifying and running in Boston was an aspiration ever since I did my first sub 4 hour marathon at the Sun Trust National Marathon in March 2009. However, I pretty much gave up the on this goal after the Feb 2011 announcement tightening the qualifying standards by 5 minutes from 2012 onwards as I now needed 3:40 instead of 3:45 to qualify in the 55-59 years age group. But then the PB sub 46 minute finish at TCS open 10K in June 2011 and the interaction with coach and author Bill Pierce at a customised FIRST running retreat in Greenville, SC in July 2011 gave me confidence that with focus and structured training I might be able to get there. Subsequently my main goal for 2012 was to qualify for Boston 2014 and I trained and picked my events accordingly. I squeaked to a BQ by 3 seconds at MHRM in Ocotber 2012 and managed to beat my BQ by 2 mins 40 seconds at SCMM 2013. In September 2013 this enabled me to get an entry into the 2014 edition of the race - after a tense waiting period of over 2 weeks after the registration opened. And now over 6 months later I am maha excited to be on the verge of running my 41st FM (including 7 ultras) in the world's oldest and most hallowed marathon event and achieving one of my long term running goals!!
Whether to give it all and race at Boston or simply soak in the experience and the ambiance and enjoy the 'once in a life time' event is now the dilemma that I am brooding over. Reflecting on my future running goals , while this may not be the ONLY time I run Boston I don't expect to run it many times . I may do it a couple of more times if I manage to qualify - Boston and Big Sur marathon in the same year(2016?) and then maybe once in my 60s(2019?). The 2013-14 running season has not been a great one for me - a tear in the right calf muscle just before the TCS 10K in May resulted in a below par start to the season. Post that race I took some time off and trained 10 weeks for the Airtel Hyderabad marathon. However, the race on 25th August did not go too well and I finished in 3:46:20 - a good 10 minutes + slower than my target time. While I did well at the 7th Bangalore ultra I started suffering from severe pain in left glutes and calf and numbness in my left sole during my long runs while training for SCMM 2014. As a result I missed my PB by 9 minutes in the race in January. And the training for Boston 2014 which started a couple of weeks after Mumbai(11 weeks training instead o 16 weeks) has been a mixed bag. Due to the stress with the left glutes, hamstrings and calf and numbness in the left front sole ( now pretty much diagnosed as piriformis syndrome - more details in a future post) - the training runs have been inconsistent - falling short of the timing goal for at least one of the 3 workouts( intervals, tempo, long run) in most weeks. Though some specific stretches
(Neural flossing) and strengthening exercises (which I restarted at Manipal hospital from February) helped me feel better after the workout the pain/stress still appears during a moderately hard run and the glutes continue to hurt when sitting for quite some time after a workout. I have been hesitant to push myself in the training runs and risk further aggravating the injury. Also more than normal amount of travel in February and March has impacted my training. The second half of March was specially disruptive with travel to Tirunelveli, Chennai and Pune in a space of 10 days. Less intense training and frequent eating out coupled with a glass or two of wine (I normally avoid alcoholic drinks completely in the last 6 weeks leading up to a race )has resulted in my weight increasing by 3 Kgs+ (from optimal race weight of 55 to about 58). Therefore not being in the best of shape means it is easier to decide not to push hard and race at Boston and instead enjoy the spectator support and the historic course. I will most likely carry my phone to take pictures along the way - something I do only in events that I am NOT racing in.
The only time I have run a large marathon before I did not have a great timing though I had a fantastic experience. The London marathon in April 2007 was my slowest ever(4:47:56). Even if I were in a better shape and completely injury free this race looks to be quite challenging due to several other factors. Being in Wave 3/Corral 2 my race start time is 11am. To get to the athletes village in Hopkinton near the start area between 9 and 930 am I will need to take a bus from Boston between 8 and 830am. This means I will need to leave Bedford (where I will be staying) around 7am. So not sure what I should eat and when. Some food and beverages is likely to be available at the Athletes village. I typically eat bananas and some nuts 1 to 2 hours before the race start soon after waking up. In this case I would be up at least 5 hours before the start of my race which will be a new factor to contend with. Also, the comfort level during the 1 hour + wait at the athletes village will depend very much on the weather - I am of course rooting for dry and warm ( or not too cold) conditions. Due to the unfortunate incident in Boston 2013 understandably security has been tightened up for this year's race. So there will be no baggage check-in allowed at the start point in Hopkinton. One has to check in gear in the transparent bag provided for the purpose (in the expo at the time of bib pick-up) before boarding the bus in Boston. This means depending on the weather one may need to discard some additional layers before starting the race. And crazy runners in this country are actually shopping specifically for things to wear and discard on race morning.
BAA has been sending frequent mailers to participants for the last few weeks explaining the security policy, getting to the start area, the waves/corrals etc. All of this information is summarised here. The weather on race day will be another crucial factor for my performance. Detailed analysis of past race day weather can be found at Boston Marathon Weather History and Impact on Results and Boston Marathon Weather: Not as Crazy as You Think. Personally, cold weather does not work well for me and I prefer temperatures around 15C . Depending on the weather one will need to decide what combination of half-sleeve and/or full-sleeve shirt to wear. As of now the weather forecast for 21st April is sunny with high of 11 C and low of 8 C which, though not too bad, is on the colder side for me. If this forecast stays then I will need to run in full sleeves and also wear gloves.
The race itself is likely to be quite fast paced as most of the 36000+ runners have come through the BQ route(others coming through charity or running clubs). The corral cut-off times for this year's race depicted below shows how the race has become progressively faster over the years( With my qualifying time I would have been in wave 2/corral 8 in 2013 instead of the wave 3/corral 2). I am pretty much in the middle of the pack with over 19000 runners ahead of me and some 17000 or so behind me.
The race route passing through 8 towns and cities(Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, Boston) is not an easy one. The first 15 miles are mostly flat/rolling hills after a steep drop in the 1st mile. From mile 15 onwards one is going to be climbing and dropping for the next 9 miles. None of these hills ,up or down, seems to be a killer on its own. However, the cumulative effect can be quite devastating if one is not careful. I am for sure not a strong hill runner. The hill in Newton after mile 16 is considered by many to be the toughest one.Mile 19 has another tough hill and then the famous Heartbreak hill at mile 20. Miles 21,22 and 23 have several downhill stretches some of them quite steep that could batter the quads. Though I have been training for a MP of 8:17/mile(for a sub 3:38 finish) I am unsure of my race strategy as of now. Given the tough last 10 miles I am looking at a conservative start to hit mile 15 in about 2:08 at an average pace of 8:30 per mile and then try and keep an average pace of 9 per mile for the remaining 11 miles to finish under 3:50. I am hoping this will be my worst case time and if the first half goes well and if I hit the half way point in around 1:48 and feel energetic then I will probably skip taking pictures(even with the Wellesley girls - something strongly recommended by a dear fellow BHUKMP runner ) and push for a sub 3:45 finish. I am not going to finalise this till race day morning based on the weather and how I feel at the athletes village.
Finally, would like to conclude this post with kudos to the runners who have done over 25 consecutive Boston marathons; Every race, specially the large ones, have a number of runners on a streak - but 25+ consecutive Boston marathons needs really special mental and physical endurance!!