Saturday, April 28, 2007

Boston 2007: in the eye of the storm

Everybody has heard about the terrible weather of this year's edition by now. During the expo, the organizers made sure to pass the message that there was 99.99% chance the race will be maintained, whatever the weather will be. There were concerned runners won't show up, and more importantly, volunteers. A few hours before the start, officials were reporting 10% of the bibs were not picked, about the same ratio as previous years. Yet, every runner received over the weekend an alarming email from race direction about the risk of hypothermia. In addition to taking care of ourselves (slower pace, wearing more layers), the email provided some guidelines to resurrect anyone who may suffer hypothermia. Needless to say, the family was quite excited by such a perspective...

Just before boarding in San Francisco, someone I don't recognize says "Hi Jean Pommier!" Was Mark Gallinger, who trains with Rob Evans (a very experienced and talented ultra runner, who offered to pace me at Miwok and Western States this year) and Jasper Halekas (from the competitive Vasque international ultra team). Mark had seen me at Fire Trails last year. He had strong hope to do well in Boston despite the weather.

At the expo, on Saturday morning right off my red-eye flight from San Francisco, I got my bib autographed by the legendary Pam Reed, and one of my ultra idols. Pam has run 300 miles without stopping, is an international elite in 24 and 48-hour races. For sure that was good enough to "protect" my from the storm for 48 hours. Pam and 2 other ultra runners did the double on Monday, that is leave Boston around 5am for Hopkinton and back, on the marathon course. Not a first for Pam who did it a few years ago right after the London marathon two days before, as she relates in her book, The Extra Mile.

I had met the rest of the family at the airport as Agnès and the boys were on another flight, and everybody enjoyed the goodies and excitement of the expo depite the fatigue of the red-eye.

On Sunday we drove up Merrimack, NH, covered with fresh snow, to visit our good friends Bob and Annick. After a mild winter in California, walking in the snow the day before the marathon felt a bit irrealistic. Not to all the Nor'easter runners who trained in such a bad weather all winter. That was turning to an advantage to them, at least or at last! Bob had prepared salad and chicken for my diet, that worked great!

On Sunday afternoon, the boys prepared cardboards to support their favorite runners, Bob and I.
On Monday morning and the way to the start, Agnès, Alex and I did the usual stop by the ILOG office in Southborough (we are celebrating our 20th anniversary this month and I joined ILOG back then, so a long ride, quite an ultra in the software world actually). A few miles from the runnners' drop in Hopkinton, I enjoy this quiet and comfortable stop to get ready. Two years ago I had found the door closed but, this year, Kurt was in the office to welcome us; was nice of him especially as we were much earlier than the previous years (8am instead of 10), thanks Kurt!

It was still raining in Hopkinton State Park, but a great and warm ambiance was filling the school bus, much recomforting. Getting to the start line from the drop bag buses in Hopkinton was less of a challenge than previous years thanks to the double wave start. The coral perfectly managed, I entered in the first one 10 minutes before the start, covered with a garbage bag. Couldn't find Bob. Figured out he was stuck in the pack.

Relatively smooth start, I quickly picked the pace up, passed runners on the edge of the road. After half a mile, I finally found into Bob and we ran together for about 8 miles at a 6:15-6:20 pace. The rain was light and there was not much wind in the early and down-hill first miles. Temperature was not too low, yet I really enjoyed wearing the scarf that Agnès gave me to avoid trigerring asthma with too cold air. I was so relieved with it that I decided to keep it most of the first 16 miles up on my face. With my bib covered by my running tights, my rain jacket, a hat and a cap, glasses, gloves and the scarf on my face, I was barely recognizable.

Indeed, I was really prepared for and expecting the worst weather. A bit too many layers, but I appreciated the rain jacket when the wind and rain at the end of the course. When some runners were running in shorts and topless, for the amusement of the local TVs!

At the 15K mark (0:57:43) I stopped to get a S! Cap and a GU out of my pocket (a big deal with the tights covering my shorts...). I thought Bob had passed me in the meantime, so I accelerated, and even more when passing the exhilarating Wesley College girls, definitely the highlight of the marathon. Our dearest cheerleaders seemed less numerous and packed than previous years, yet you could hear them half a mile away, so motivating.

Pushed in the first hill in Newton, stopped for another GU and S! Cap at mile 17 when I was feeling a cramp coming, then pushed all the way to heart break hill and the finish, passing quite a few runners and getting passed by only three in the last section. Was not good enough for a podium this year, 23rd in the 40-49 age group instead of 10th in 2005. Thanks to Saturn, here is a pic at the finish wich looks like an official podium! ;-)

Met Bob at the massage are. After several pit stops in the hills, he finished in 2:58, his best of four Boston. Didn't see Scott (3:07), see his race report. In addition to Bob in the following picture: Tony Arreola (training in Los Gatos), 3:12; John Stannard (our Stevens Creek Striders running club); Lydia Pelliccia (Craig's wife, an ILOG colleague), 3:50, goof for another Boston qualifier. Not pictures, Mark Gallinger was disapointed with his 3:25. He will take his revenge two weeks later by winning the Mt Diablo marathon!

It got so windy and cold in the afternoon that the family was anxious to leave the city as quickly as the heavy traffic was allowing!

André Paradis' strategic "support"! ;-)The alert email message providing time at every 5K marks or so worked perfectly this year, keeping family, friends and colleagues aware of my splits. And not much suspense this year as I was able to keep the pace quite on par with my goal.

So overall, the weather was not as bad as the alarming forecast did prepare us for. We were actually quite lucky, because it got worst again on Tuesday (I did a recovery run on Tuesday afternoon and had enough of cold rain after 6 miles). We were somehow in the eye of the Noreaster storm on Monday, hence the blog title.

At least there was no risk of hyponatremia like in London two days before (see the deadly occurrence reported by The Sun), and in Paris the day before with exceptionally high temperature (report, in french). Global warming... Yet, these two marathons were both won in 2:07 (10 runners under 2:10, including Ryan Hall, USA, 23-year old, for his first marathon!), when Robert Cheruiyot won Boston this year in 2:14 versus 2:07 last year (as another data point Peter Gilmore ran 2:16 this year, versus 2:12 last year). So quite satisfied with only 2 minutes above my Boston 2005 time.

Not faster this time for me, although quite a good time in such bad conditions. Not farther distance-wise, but definitely further from an effort standpoint. Worth the trip, as always, especially with the visit to our East Coast friends.

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