Update, November 2018: I’ll return to Boston on 2019, however this time as a coach. One of my athletes is training for the event using my marathon training program and has high hopes of setting her new PR by hitting 3:10:00.
I won’t be bothering you with a long story on how I wished to qualify Boston, how much did I train for running sub-3:00 etc. It’s enough for you to know that if you would like to run the Boston Marathon, you must run an AIMS certified marathon (even such a small country as mine has two of them) and your time should be somewhat 5 minutes faster than the age group requirement. Unfortunately, if you will barely fit your age group time, most probably you won’t make it; Boston Marathon in 2018 required to run around 3 minutes faster than a time required for qualification.
It was a first time I was racing in the US, so I was very curious on how will I recover after several hours spent sitting in a window seat. Just before boarding in Copenhagen, I decided to put on my Compressport calf sleeves, as expected duration of travel was more than eight hours. Of course, before I have read a bunch of articles about exercising during the long-haul flights. However, most of these exercises are so weird that I decided to sacrifice a better result (which then seemed less ambitious than it actually appeared to be) than frightening people boarded on the same plane.
I’m not sure if these sleeves helped, however, I’m confident that they didn’t do any damage, as, when leaving a plane, my legs felt quite rested. Also, I was neither worried nor tried to fight a jet-lag – you have to board the famous yellow-buses at 6 AM on a race day, so the “natural” waking up at 3:30 AM is not that bad.
After landing in Boston, I immediately headed to Seaport WTC to pick up my bib number and a runners package. My Uber trip was spiced by relying on almost-not-available airport’s WiFi (as was not ready to spend 6 EUR/MB for data roaming, and the Uber pickup site was quite far from the airport), but finally, everything went pretty well.
After picking up the package (I did not get Runners Passport by snail mail, but it took a few minutes to arrange everything at the Expo, so no worries), I went back to my hotel to have some rest. I stayed at the Ramada Boston – when booking well in advance, the price was very good (I believe I booked it ten months in advance and the price was around 550 USD for five nights). If you don’t need something fancy, I would really recommend staying there: rooms are equipped with a coffee maker, USB sockets for charging and the hotel even offers a free shuttle bus to closest T station on a race morning.
My first day in Boston ended up in a Boston Bowl’s (a bowling alley next to a hotel) restaurant, which surprisingly had pasta dishes for the marathon weekend (although you won’t find it in their hardcopy menu; obviously their usual dishes are wings, ribs, and locally brewed IPA).
Saturday: Expo and logistics
On a Saturday morning, in a dining room, I met a mid-aged guy who looked like a runner (you will find at least a few runners in virtually every hotel in Boston at that time of year). After a quick intro chat, I asked him which wave and which corral will he start. When he said “Wave 1, Corral 2”, I was about to throw a joke about him not looking that fast, but I decided to ask his qualifying time first. He said that it was two hours fifty-something, so I packed my jokes for better times and went on. Appears that he was a professional footballer, turned to a long distance runner after he retired. Alas, the guy was Irish and I’m not a native English speaker, so we became Facebook friends and continued our chat via Messenger.
As my plan was to spend some days in Boston and I was not ready to spend a fortune on that, I had two major challenges:
- Mobile data
- Public transportation
With transportation everything’s pretty clear — you buy a 7-day pass in a closest “T” station for 21 USD (one-day costs somewhat $12) and you can ride as many trips as you wish via all tubes, busses and even a ferry (didn’t try the latter myself). Needless to say, planning them in Google Maps is very convenient.
Mobile data solution costs a bit more — after a quick googling I found out that T-Mobile offers some Tourist plan for $30 – it has 4 GB of mobile internet, unlimited SMS, 1000 minutes of local calls and is valid for three weeks.
So, equipped with a T pass and a data plan, on Saturday noon I decided to visit Boston Marathon Expo again. After a lunch in Rosa Mexicana (a Mexican restaurant in a vicinity of the Seaport WTC; their food and service are outstanding, highly recommended) I bought some official Boston Marathon 2018 merchandise by Adidas (after standing in a mile-long queue for more than half an hour; if you can – go to Expo on Friday) and headed back home. Then there was a Boston Bowl pasta again and sweet bed at 9 PM.
Sunday: dry jog and wet pasta party
Sunday was very calm and started, as usual, with self-baked waffles with maple syrup for breakfast (it’s a staple of US hotel breakfast diet; I believe even the worst hostel in the middle of nowhere has that beeping waffle iron). Later I had a light 20-minute jog with my Irish colleague; that also served as a preview for a race day weather. Forecasts said that temperature will be around 2-6C (36-43F), also gusty headwind (up to 40 km/h or 25 mph) and sleet was expected. It wasn’t raining, however, 32 km/h (20 mph) wind and 2C (36F) air temperature was quite enough to get the general understanding of what awaits tomorrow.
On a Sunday evening, I got my butt to the traditional pasta party. I have never tried Lyft before, so I decided to give it a shot (and to check if it’s true that Lyft cars actually are decorated in the pink mustache… appears they are not). At that time I got a rain preview as well, but it was not even remotely close to a rainfall I experienced in a race.
After a dozen of minutes spent standing in a line waiting to get to the party and listening to some (thank God, they were short) speeches of city and marathon officials, I got a plate with two kinds of pasta and a pair of buns. While standing in line, I met a guy who appeared to be a US Navy veteran (with eight Boston marathons under his belt), and also a nice guy from Hong Kong. A short chat about the shitty weather and hills of Boston, quick bite and off we go. After getting back to a hotel I arranged all the stuff that I’ll be needing tomorrow and fell to bed to wait for the Race.
Race Monday: cold, wet… and colder
Ironically, the part about the Marathon itself will be the shortest one. However, it’s worth mentioning that weather forecasts did not lie. In Hopkinton, where we were brought by famous yellow school buses, there still were remains of snow lying on the ground, it was constantly drizzling and the headwind appeared to be as strong as promised. Groups of runners from a first wave hustled to the first available tent and, just like penguins in Discovery movies, were shivering in bunches trying to get at least some warmth.
My mood was pretty low at that moment already, but I tried convincing myself that when I’ll start running, everything will be alright. At that time I still had my four-size-too-big jeans (from my previous life) and my high-school hoodie on, but after an announcement to first wave runners to go to the starting area, I immediately passed my extra clothing to volunteers. What a mistake it was… I was creeping in a pouring rain nothing but my race outfit on and was shivering like hell. And with each gust of headwind (54 km/h or 34 mph, as race reports said) I was in deep regrets for lowering my body fat percentage so successfully before the race.
After race start was announced (nothing fancy, even no jet-fighters due to poor weather conditions) I started pacing myself conservatively, as I’ve read (and it was confirmed by seasoned Boston marathoners) that the route until mile 16 goes downhill, then infamous hills begin, and if you manage to live up to mile 21, consider yourself the Boston Marathon finisher.
Openly saying, I was not in a mood to pace myself well due to a bunch of reasons, like lousy weather, various kind of pain, thoughts about lack of preparation etc. I was so disappointed that even when I heard the screams of Wellesley girls (there’s a rumor that their voice is heard from a mile distance), I pulled myself left not to meet them. And only when I was half-way through the cheering line, I suddenly understood that I’m losing my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tell my grandchildren how close I was to these charming spectators (even in that cold rain there were plenty of them). I swiftly turned right, made as many high-fives as I could, and my mood started to improve.
After crossing a 16-mile marker I started waiting for the worse. And… It just didn’t happen. I’m not sure if it was the weather or some other factors, but hills of Boston didn’t impress me much. My pace has dropped, I must admit, however it was not something I was scared of. So, inadvertently passing the dreaded Heartbreak Hill (I’m still not sure which one it was), I approached marker of the 21st mile and then decided to go all-in, as there were no reasons to conserve energy left.
Moreover, even with my barely working semi-frozen brain, I understood that if I won’t heat up the pace, there’s a big chance to fail not even 3:10 (my initial pessimistic goal), but 3:15 as well. And failing 3:15 would be slightly tragic, as it would mean that I’m not qualifying for Chicago Marathon for sure. And qualifying for 2019 Chicago Marathon was my ultimate goal.
Endless downhill, slowing down fellow runners and approaching finish line gave me some extra motivation, so I started pushing myself harder. The last mile I cruised at a greased lightning pace of 4:10 min/km (6:45 min/mile), and the finish line clock, that could be seen from a far distance even through the wall of rain, was showing 03:11…12…13… I crossed a finish line with a chip time of 03:10:34 (I wasn’t aware of it at that moment). and then… Then there were coldest hours I have ever experienced.
Still Monday: ain’t no sunshine…
I must say I was never so cold in my whole life, even at my college times when I almost lost my toes in a skiing event. Totally spent, I was crippling through the lines of volunteers handing out bottles of water (water bottles, seriously? when it was nearly freezing and raining cats-and-dogs?) and picked up my finishers medal and a bag of treats. Then, looking around in my crazy stare, I tried to locate heat blanket distribution place. When I got one, volunteer girl helped me to put it on (since all I could do was to mumble “I am so cold”). Then, with all the crowd of unfortunate fellow runners, I started moving towards the gear tent where I left my bag with dry clothes before the race start.
I don’t watch Walking Dead, however, I’m pretty sure that the scene in the outskirts of the finish line was quite close to a zombie movie filming location: scattered groups of manlike figures in gray blankets slowly limping towards one direction… When we finally reached gear tents, we found even more frozen athletes trying to get their bags. Volunteers did their best, but it was simply too many of us. Shivering bodies, the sound of rattling teeth and view of dripping noses were haunting the place…
Some guy pulled the hood of my heat blanket over my head and offered a place in front of him (I must have been looking really miserably). Happy ones, who received their bags, were congratulated as if they were winners of the race. After receiving my bag, still shaking, I started moving towards the gear changing tent. Guess what? Another line there… The rain was pouring as if it was a firehose around, and I saw that some guy behind me is so hypothermic that he’s almost losing his consciousness. I push him in front of me to the tent and almost immediately got into it as well. Despite changing soaked clothes in a packed tent was tough (and dry clothes became quite wet in the process) I managed to do it and even did not lose a thing in that soup of tired bodies.
After I got out from the changing tent, I was so hungry that a cup of coffee and a pair of chocolate doughnuts from the Dunkin’ Donuts tasted like heaven. When I finally got back to my sweet Ramada (with the help of T and Lyft), I was quite upset to find out that my new friend from Hong Kong did not finish a race due to hypothermia.
I headed to a Boston Bowl’s restaurant, got my long-time-craved Double Barrel burger with fries and IPA (because f..k you diet, that’s why; no pasta today!) and that was the point when my Boston Marathon 2018 journey ended.
Few interesting resources and facts when preparing for this iconic race:
- Through analysis of pacing Boston Marathon – if you’re the data geek, that’s for you: https://medium.com/running-with-data/how-to-pace-like-an-elite-in-boston-4abf26e64bf8
- My GPX file of Boston Marathon 2018: boston-marathon-2018.zip (391 kb)
- Running shoes used for the race: Adidas Adizero Adios 3
Bonus feature – what to do in Massachusets, if you have some spare time:
- rent a Mustang
- drive to Provincetown, Massachusets and stay in Cape Colony Inn
- sprint into the Pilgrim Monument and easily beat my time of 02:13.
- buy a unicorn-puke-colored t-shirt with a picture of the huge anchor
- throw away your return ticket and head somewhere else (say, Chicago :))