113th Boston Marathon

Event: 113th Boston Marathon
When & Where: 10:30 a.m. April 20, Hopkinton to Boston, Mass.
Results: 3:48:19 (8:43 pace).

After four months of slogging through lousy winter conditions, logging hundreds of miles on the treadmill, and learning the neighborhood hills by heart, it finally came time to return to Boston.

Despite often arctic weather, training went well. Working with my coach I had been able to get some 6-day running weeks in with regular speedwork, peaking at my highest-ever 60 mpw. Other than a few nagging tight areas, I felt good and had been surprised with a 5K PR four weeks earlier. According to that result, I was fit enough to run a marathon in the low 3:40s. Whether or not I was smart enough would remain to be seen.

In 2008’s Boston, my first, I’d missed a sub-4:00 by 6 seconds. While I would have been even more pleased with a 3:59:59 – funny how that works – it was still OK as I’d gone only with the intention of soaking up and enjoying the whole experience, rather than pressure myself with a hard time goal. It was great fun to approach a marathon with a celebratory vacationer’s perspective, and sharing the exhilarating environment with loved ones surpassed last year’s goal no matter my finish time.

The entire weekend had been so magical that as soon as it ended I began dreaming of next time. That’s when the Serious Runner returned. Next Time, I would not let the Newton Hills break me. Next Time, I would give the race my all the entire way. Next Time, I would run a better race. On such a challenging course it would take everything coming together to score a new marathon PR, but since it’s not every day a runner has the potential to do so I decided to go for it and fight hard for all 26.2 miles. As long as I gave my all the whole distance, I couldn’t disappoint myself.

Pre-Race

boston09fenway1Next Time became This Time when Lloyd and I arrived the afternoon of Saturday, April 18. We went right from the airport to the T to the race expo for my race bib and goody bag, met Lloyd’s coaching client Missy for a chat at a nearby restaurant, and walked just over a mile to our hotel. We knew the hotel was in the vicinity of Fenway Park, but were stunned at the proximity. From the room’s window we looked across a small parking lot at the red brick ballpark’s right field side. Earlier we’d happened upon tickets to that night’s game, and we could hear the pre-game festivities. After a quick bite at Chipotle we found ourselves seated in the lower deck surrounded by rowdy, mouthy Red Sox fans. During the game we explored different areas of the historic facility and got to say hello to Phil and Tonya, a couple from Nebraska who we had watched part of the women’s Olympic Trials race with last year.

After a great, long nigboston09bostoncommonht’s sleep, Sunday started with a reconnaissance expedition so I’d know how to get to the bus the next morning. We went for a short run around Boston Commons, ending up at the Finish and expo area. We found a quick place for lunch and headed to the expo, where I had every intention of reversing the global economic recession. I found a shirt and sunglasses I liked, but was put off by the lines, crowds, and high level of nervous energy. We scoped out a few items of official race merchandise and decided to order them online, then walked back to the hotel. Lloyd went out for a run on his own while I got my gear together for the next day.

About this time I started feeling pre-race nerves kicking in. Everything seemed to be so busy and fast, and I didn’t have the confident zen demeanor I’d had prior to my previous PR race. This set me off and required a brief sports psychology session with my running coach boyfriend to simmer down to a state of barely controlled anticipation.

For the all important pre-race pasta dinner, we were guests of a local running club member’s brother. It was much more laid-back to be at a small, serve-yourself gathering rather than a huge pasta party or waiting hours for a restaurant table. We traded stories of previous Bostons and “good luck”‘s with the other guests, then at my insistence caught a cab back to the hotel. After some final preparations, stretching, and reading, I called it a night. Sleep was fitful, but I woke up feeling energetic and ready.

Race Morning

I got up at 5 a.m., quickly had breakfast of oatmeal with PB and coffee, dressed, grabbed my gear bag, said good-bye to Lloyd, and headed out to catch the T to the Boston Common area. Arriving there, I made a quick detour to Missy’s hotel so we could ride the bus together. It took almost 30 minutes to get rolling and another hour to get to Hopkinton, but the time passed quickly with talking, listening to my iPod’s Boston playlist, and thinking about the race. In Hopkinton we left our gear with the transport buses and spent an even more pleasant hour in a home opened to one of Missy’s friends, Dan, who was running for the Michael Carter Lisnow Respite Center charity. With plentiful food, beverages, restrooms, and floor space to stretch, I finally tapped into some pre-race calm. Walking to the starting corrals under mid-40s temperatures, partly sunny conditions, not feeling a hint of the stiff headwind forecast, I felt giddy and joyful looking forward to 26.2 miles of fun ahead.

The Marathon

I slipped into Corral 17, took a Gu, and counted five minutes to the start. I was wearing Adrenaline 9’s, my favorite black marathon shorts, a black Vertical Runner tank, throwaway long-sleeve tech shirt, throwaway gloves, and black ear band. I carried 4 Gu packets and a sport-top plastic water bottle to bypass the crowded early water stops. Looking around at possibly the most prestigious starting area in marathon running, I felt elation and appreciation for the health, fitness, and means to be where I was at that moment. We cheered and waved as we moved forward, heard the official start, and went forward to seek our marathon fortunes of the day. Striding across the starting mat, I pressed my Ironman watch into service for the first of 27 times. I would record mile split times, though mentally I approached the race in five sections.

1.The Downhill Start (Hopkinton into Ashland, approximately Miles 1-4)

My goal in this section was to never feel like I was pushing hard, but also take advantage of being a good downhill runner. The first crowded Mile 1 was 8:34 minutes of avoiding tripping and bumping with fellow runners and reveling in the crowd’s enthusiastic send-off. My pace quickened for the next three miles, but it felt so effortless and gentle that I stuck with it. In Mile 2, I came upon Keith Straw, a prolific ultramarathoner I first met while crewing at the 2007 Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run. Keith is a minor marathoning celebrity known for running his races in a pink tank top, pink tutu, and pink-painted shoes. In one hand he carried a small sparkly wand, and in the other he was already sipping a beer! He explained that he’d done a 100+ mile run the previous weekend so planned to run Boston very easy and accept every beer offered to him. I told him I knew he would brighten many people’s days that day and wished him a fun race before moving on. Miles 2, 3, and 4 descended and my splits were very comfortable 8:12, 8:10, and 8:17.

2. The Flat Part (Ashland into Wellesley, approximately Miles 4-11)

Now the course would be flat for the next hour or so, and I wanted to keep my pace even and closer to the 8:30 min/ miles my coach and I had targeted for race pace. We followed the course through the town centers of Ashland, Framingham, and Natick, where cheering, cowbell-ringing crowds helped buoy us on. I kept wondering where the forecasted strong headwind would crop up, but barely noticed any wind resistance except when passing the small lakes in Framingham and Natick.

I was still wearing my throwaway shirt and feeling comfortable in overcast mid-40s. Because it covered my race bib, apparently another bibless runner thought I was a fellow race bandit (unofficial participant). Right after mile 6 he came alongside and warned, “If you can get by the cops here, you’ll be OK. This is where they pulled me last year.” I thanked him for his tip and chuckled at what a good story it would make if officials tried to pull me, then thought appreciatively of the Boston Marathon’s earliest female runners who had to deceive and fight off officials for the chance to run. We both passed unnoticed, and not long after I tossed the shirt.

Time and miles seemed to be moving quickly. My splits in this section were easy-feeling 8:38, 8:24, 8:32, 8:29, 8:30, 8:32, and 8:37. I tried not to get ahead of myself so early, but did entertain a few thoughts of a new PR and re-qualifying. I was well on pace for both but knew it was much too early to predict, remembering Lloyd’s smart advice: “Let the race come to you.” I would aim for the same pace and effort mile by mile, and see if that delivered me such a day. I felt so happy and alive simply running, and at the moment was completely at peace with whatever the course had for me.

3. Wellesley to Newton (approximately Miles 11.5-15)

Soon after Mile 11 I started listening for the famous screaming Wellesley College corridor.  It seemed louder this year, and while I enjoyed the funny signs and sight of female co-eds enticing runners with offers of kisses, I tried not to get too distracted. When I get caught up in surroundings like that, experience has taught me that I slow. Besides, I had two greetings of my own coming up. The first was my cousin Ann and her three adorable young daughters at the half marathon point. Last year I had fun stopping to greet them with my parents, and thought about that fondly. This year with a more ambitious race goal I gave them quick high 5’s and yelled greetings without losing step, starting to feel the wind increase after I passed. Remembering that I had begun slowing after this area last year, I focused on keeping my pace.

Next up was Lloyd, who would be spectating around the 15th mile. I was very excited to see him soon, and mentally felt even more energized even as my quads began feeling the first slight, easy-to-ignore, touch of heavy fatigue. Lloyd spotted me before I saw him and jumped alongside, handing me a sport bottle of my favorite Gatorade. I looked down and was touched to read an encouraging message he had thoughtfully written on a piece of tape attached to the bottle.

boston09running2Lloyd ran ahead to get a few pictures, then found an area to run along side of the course. Somehow he found ways to do this the rest of the way without interfering with runners, and I loved having him pop in here and there with encouraging words. A personal cheerleader made it easy to keep a positive mindset, and I felt extra lucky to have him.

Finally, I began climbing the I-95 overpass, which meant we were entering the Newton Hills or “The Hills” as Boston veterans call them. I had looked forward to this 5-mile section of the course all morning, determined to run strong and see how actually training on hills would affect performance over last year. In 2008, I struggle-shuffled, watched my pace slip  to over 10 min/miles, and at one point come to a complete stop “to more easily take Tylenol” when really I just needed a break. There would be none of that this time! After three steady miles of 8:28, 8:29 and 8:31, I slowed less significantly to 8:50 in the first ascending mile, which felt easy and comfortable enough.

4. Newton Hills (approximately 25K-Mile 21)

Going up meant coming down, and I picked up pace to run the steepest downhill into Newton as flowingly as I could. We made the famous right turn at the fire station, then headed up. I chanted names of hills I’d trained on at home to myself: “Hinckley. Meadows Drive. Chaffee Hill. Shamrock 15K,” over and over, as a reminder that I could run strong today.

Moving uphill changes muscle recruitment, and I was momentarily relieved that climbing shifted the work into my glutes and hamstrings and away from my slightly aching quads. My heart and breathing were more labored, but no time on Monday did I feel near the red-line of an all-out intensity. As I kept a steady effort going up, I spotted a woman ahead whose red shirt read “RUNFARGORUN” on the back. No way was I going to let a flatlander Fargoan get to the top of this hill before I did! I picked up effort and soon was at her side. “That’s some pretty good hill running for a Fargo girl,” I complimented her, explaining I’d grown up there. We stayed together for a few minutes, and Lloyd was back with his camera and encouragement. This impressed my new buddy. “Wow! Is he the best or what? Don’t you just love him? Can I borrow him for today?” Of course I agreed whole-heartedly with her, and said she was welcome to share my supporter.

Pace had dropped slightly, from the fun 8:20 drop into Newton to 8:58, 8:59, and 8:57. One final hill to attack: Heartbreak. I was counting down and chanting “Hinckley. Meadows Drive. Chaffee Hill. Shamrock 15K.” My quads were definitely aching, but I didn’t get discouraged. I never felt like I needed to stop running, but my pace slowed around Heartbreak Hill to 9:06 and 9:29. Still on pace to re-qualify and possibly PR if I could find a strong finish, I didn’t let the slower miles worry me.

5. The Downhill Finish (Heartbreak Hill crest to Finish)

Spotting the large Tudor style house that marks the end of Heartbreak, I was ready for the same second wind I’d caught the last five miles of 2008’s Boston. So sure was I about storming the gradual downhill to Boylston Street, I think I took it for granted. My pace came back to 8:50 cruising into Boston College and its exuberant spectators. All right! Let’s go now! But then my next mile was 9:16. Huh? I was having a hard time ignoring my sore quads, alternating between looking forward to the race Being! Over! and losing focus a bit. I couldn’t quite find the place in my head where I could shut out the discomfort but still stay in the game. Crap, my legs hurt. I tried to tap into the crowds 5-6 deep as we approached Boston but was having some access problems. Unlike many around me I was still running rather than shuffling or walking, catching a runner here or there, but I wasn’t feeling great by any means.

Just a slight pick-up and I could re-qualify. 8:46, OK, keep that up. But re-qualifying was slipping away as I tried to do math in my head, estimating I had about 18 minutes to run 2.2. miles and earn a trip back. But ugh, that sounded so painful. Come on!  This is fun even though it hurts! I am alive and able and healthy! It’s not every day you’re in shape and in this place! I was in full pep-talk mode, and somehow Lloyd was back yelling for me and pointing out a colorful sign with my name on it someone had made for a different Andrea. Even with all the encouragement my next split read 9:18 coming in to Mile 25. I knew then I wouldn’t requalify that day, but could solidly aim for sub-3:50. I challenged myself to run my second-best marathon, which would be sub 3:49. Soon we got to the neon Citgo sign and I hit the split button for the last mile. Last Mile! Thank God! boston09herefordMy head, heart, and breath never wavered, but my legs were complaining loudly. Knowing I was almost done and would be happy with my finish helped dull the pain. But there was no longing to stay on the course longer because I was having so much fun, as I had felt the year prior. Now we were going down under a bridge and coming up the small hill. There’s the famous right turn on Hereford. My watch read 3:45 as we made the left turn to Boylston’s home stretch. The energy here could have inspired the song “Electric Avenue” and I tried to tell myself to soak it all in, but really all I wanted was to be done running. I dug a little harder and accelerated as much as I could, eyes locked on that oh-so-promising sign reading FINISH. A couple more minutes and I slightly stumbled across the mat, having traveling the last mile in 8:55 for my second-fastest marathon of 3 hours, 48 minutes and 19 seconds.

boston09doneAnalysis:

I am very happy with my overall race and experience. I improved my time about 12 minutes over last year. I never walked, never stopped, never felt miserable physically or negative mentally. The increasing headwind may have been a factor in slowing near the end, but I was not consciously bothered by it.

Even though I am happy with the race, I am not entirely satisfied. I think could have run a smarter race and can do some specific things better than I did this year in Boston. Would the result have been different had I forced myself to go slower in the beginning?  Could I have been tougher in the last five miles? Though I dropped some weight this year, what if I had been more disciplined and lost the 5 more pounds I had wanted to – would that have made me faster? Was I too nervous the day before the race? I will never know for sure, but can promise myself to remember and improve for the future.

Here’s where I fared along the official check-points. Projected pace fell gradually from a 3:38 finish after the first, fast 5K. Finishing 12,654, I surpassed my seeded bib number (and therefore higher-ranked runners by qualifying time) by more than 5,000.

Bib Name Age M/F City State Country Ctz *

17844 Berninger, Andrea B. 36 F Brecksville OH USA
Checkpoints 5k 10k 15k 20k Half 25k 30k 35k 40k
0:25:46 0:52:05 1:18:30 1:45:08 1:50:53 2:11:49 2:39:22 3:07:44 3:35:58
Finish Pace Projected Time Official Time Overall Gender Division
0:08:43 3:48:19 12654 3794 2645

Post-race:

boston09lloydmissySoon after finishing I met back up with both Lloyd and Missy, who had run a superb PR despite a dramatic fall in mile 22. The stronger wind and tall buildings made the finish area quite chilly, especially for a sweaty, underdressed body. We exchanged congratulations and took a few pictures, then Lloyd and I walked slowly toward the hotel. Walking was comfortable, except for going down a flight of stairs to a coffee shop for some delicious hot chocolate. We walked back along the race course and stopped to take pictures and cheer on those who were still in their last mile.

After cleaning up, we met up with some Ohio people at a pub for dinner and beers. Before turning in, we stopped at Boston Beerworks and people-watched the bar full of Celtics fans cheer their team’s close win over Chicago. Tuesday, our last day iboston09cheersn Boston, was rainy and very sore one for me, so we didn’t explore too much other than the Quincy Market area where lunch was. The evening flight was full of stiff-legged, happy runners wearing the famous bright blue race jacket, returning back to reality.

I feel so fortunate to have twice experienced the Boston Marathon. It is not the only worthwhile goal in marathoning by any means, but no one can deny the specialness of its history and spirit. I brought back more wonderful memories from my second time running Boston — and the resolve to earn another Next Time!

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