Tuesday, April 22, 2008
We took the red-eye to Boston this Saturday and spent the weekend visiting the "most historical" of US cities. Beautiful weather made for a great time: we walked the Freedom Trail on Saturday, then visited MIT and Harvard with tour guide Misha on Sunday, who had flown in that morning. On Monday, I ran the 112th edition of the Boston marathon. This the oldest, and by some measure the most prestigious, Marathon of modern times (the first was held in 1897). This event is a huge circus, the whole town mobilizes for this and although the participant count is not that large (25,000 runners) the organization outshines any race I have ever been to. The runners are shuttled to Hopkinton from Boston in a gigantic convoy of hundreds of buses, waved through traffic by police as if we were royalty. The Athlete's village in Hopkinton is rather "rustic", basically a bunch of tents with runners trying to stay warm in the morning fog. Note to prospective runners: if I have to do this again I would time a later arrival, as the two hour wait in the cold thoroughly chilled me down.
At around 9AM starts the he usual pre-race routine: judicious timing of port-a-potty visits, tightening of shoes, warm up jog. I feel horrible, as the cold made my legs super stiff and numb, but I try not to think about it and join the huddle of my fellow runners in corral 1. Gun goes off at 10AM and off we go. The excitement, combined with the fact that the course is a slight downhill for the first few miles makes most of us start way too fast. I reach the first mile marker after 5:45min, here goes my well thought out plan to run a perfect 6:15 pace. Right around the first mile marker I see Lance Armstrong and his entourage, there are so many people bunched up around him that the narrow course makes it difficult to pass. Of course my secret objective is to beat Lance, so I get overly excited that I passed him so early and keep moving way too fast. My average pace over the first 6 mi (10km) is 5:55 (3:40min/km). I am mad at myself and my legs are killing me, this is the dumbest marathon start ever. I decide to force myself to stay behind a guy who "feels slow" and after a few trials I find the perfect pacer who runs a clockwork 6:17 per mile. I promise myself to stay behind him for the next 10 miles, no matter what. This was the right decision as my legs loosen up a little and the next 10 miles are uneventful. My first half time is 1h19, the Wellesley girls are crazy (runners actually do stop to kiss them) and I am thinking that this next half will be a world of pain. The Boston course is rather difficult, because of the "Newton Hills": a series of 4 hills between miles 16 and 21, a time when most of us are running on fumes. On top of the first hill my legs show signs of seizure, which is a bad omen with 10 miles to go. I slow down a lot knowing that if I actually seize up the race is over. There is roadkill all over the place, runners limping along the side of road (including a few pros), reminding us to take it easy. In the third hill I see Misha and Maureen (actually I barely see them, I was pretty "focused" at that point) and I am thankful I have made it this far and still no sign of Lance catching up. Heartbreak Hill is the last of the 4 hills. It is very painful, but its legendary reputation had increased my expectations and so it turns out to be not that bad. Now we are in the 20-something miles, it finally feels like we'll get there. My legs feel terrible, I keep telling myself to slow down "you can loose a minute or loose the race" is the mantra. The crowds get huge as we get into Boston, so it's hard to take it easy, I run a mile in 6:15 on cheers. Pretty stupid. A couple of bumps but a mostly flat road gets us into downtown Boston, it's complete mayhem in the city 100s of thousand of people lining the streets, the last 2 miles drag on forever but I turn around (for the first time in the entire race) and see no signs of Lance. Let's enjoy this. Slow down. A lot. Finish line.