I was aiming to finish the 2014 Boston Marathon in about 3 hours. It took me almost 2 hours longer than expected. My nerves got the best of me. It was my first Boston. I was so excited and nervous that I made a few rookie mistakes. Most of them revolve around my usual routine. If your routine gets you to Boston, keep following it!
The mistakes have nothing to do with training or my race plan. I was well-trained and had a solid plan. I followed the plan almost exactly for the first 5 miles. a 6:40 pace almost exactly. This is what I had trained for. It was the right strategy.
Then the bottom fell out. I was gradually getting weaker and my top pace was slowing. I tried to slow things down for a bit and then level out to a 7:00 pace, but that quickly fell by the wayside. I was getting weaker. This is how the last 6 miles of a marathon feels when I am doing well, but this struggle was not at mile 20 or 21. No, this was mile 6. And I was getting weaker at a much more quickly than I would at the end of a good marathon. Something was very wrong and I knew it.
By mile 8, I had gone from Goal A (3 hours), to Goal B (3:05), to Goal C (3:25), but I had to give that up too. No, the rest of the race would be about survival. It was time to move to Goal D: finish the race without an injury. By the last mile, I was struggling hard to get a 15 minute pace.
My mistakes were made before I ever left the hotel room to go to the starting line. First, I didn’t eat carefully enough for the month before the race. I have a gluten intolerance and I was “glutened” at a restaurant about 3 weeks before Boston. I had mostly recovered but I was not 100% going in to race day. Second, I drank Gatorade for a couple of days before the race. Good for electrolyte loading, bad for carb loading. The sugar spikes your metabolism and causes you to deplete your carb supplies. Rookie mistake. Got nervous and forgot my own rule: stick with the routine that is working. The third mistake probably had the biggest effect. I forgot to take my electrolyte supplements with me to the start line. Everyone has their own level of need for electrolytes. My need is much higher than the average person. I did not even think about this until I was struggling in mile 6. I am a coach. I blog about these things. I teach these lessons. I am more embarrassed than disappointed. I knew better on all three counts, but my nerves got the best of me. Not going to happen next year!
Even though I struggled hard for over 20 miles, there are a lot of positives in this experience too. First, the race is extremely well-organized and extremely secure. The Boston Marathon is a class act and the runners are all class acts as well. The whole environment was uplifting.
Cheering fans lined every step of the course, all 26.2 miles of it. There was no break. The support was overwhelming and I was thankful for it. Whenever I got too down on myself for my errors, I just looked over at the side, waved my hands a little, and the crowd went wild. Awesome support.
This is the year after the bombings. At every moment in the entire experience, we were safe. A guardian angel from law enforcement and/or our armed services was there watching like hawks. It wasn’t just the course. There was a wide perimeter of security around the entire towns of Hopkinton, Boston, and every town between.
Did the terrorists scare the crowd away? No. The crowd was double the usual number.
Did the terrorists scare the runners away? No. The crowd of runners was MUCH larger than last year.
Were the crowd and runners focused on a possible bombing? No. We thought about it, but the security blanket offered by the law enforcement agencies was enough to let us focus on excellence and fun.
Last but not least among the positives was the presence of my wife, Muna. Muna is a running coach, too. She hasn’t run Boston yet, but she is really close to qualifying. It will happen. Even though she ran a 19-miler on Sunday, she was not there as a coach or a runner. She came to support me. She stood by me and tried to calm me down before. She was there encouraging me after. Muna knew what my expected time was and she saw the reports of my progress throughout. She knew I was struggling. She knew I was getting worse as I went. I had two extra hours of struggle during the race. Muna had 2 extra hours of worrying about what might be wrong. Then she had to wait as the medical support got my electrolytes back to a stable range. She took care of me. Despite the enormously positive experience with the people of Boston and their marathon, Muna was my biggest positive of the race. Thank you, Muna.
How Do I Feel About My Race?
My first marathon was the Knoxville Marathon in 2010. My first Boston Marathon was in 2014. Both were slow and painful. These are the ones that mean the most.
If this had been a goal race, my bad day would have been much more devastating. To be sure, I am disappointed. I am embarrassed by my rookie mistakes. But it was not a goal race. Even though I trained for the distance, the focus of my training is presently on shorter races: the 800 meters and mile. No, it was not a goal race. It was a victory lap. It was a victory lap for the 4.5 years it took to go from novice to Boston. Hence, it was not as devastating as it could have been, because I still have that progress. I have still qualified for Boston 3 times over the last two years.
Looking ahead, I am determined to come back next year and get a sub-3 hour marathon at Boston. I have been inching closer to sub-3 for a couple of years now. I will take another shot at it in Savannah in November, but most of my training will still be focussing on the short races. After Savannah, I will turn my attention to Boston without being distracted by the short races. I will follow my safe routine. I will bring my electrolytes. I will conquer the Boston Marathon. I always return to the site of a bad run to conquer it as soon as I can.
The Boston Marathon is a great race with awesome runners, and super fans.
I just had a bad day.
I shall return.
“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”
– P. Mark Taylor
Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:
The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners
Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life