Saturday, April 21, 2018

Boston Marathon 2018: braving the elements, without brio

This blog post had to soak in, literally... I wrote most of it on my fight back from Boston on Wednesday night, but had to do some additional editing and research on line this Saturday, after another busy work week.
I knew it a year ago already, there was a reason why I didn't want to run Boston in 2018! Call it superstition but I was really fine with my odd series: 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2017. More importantly, I didn't want to be the oldest in my super competitive age group. And then, there was a bit of intuition about what the weather could be this time... I never pursued my kid's dream to get good at weather forecast and I'm always in awe when I read Leor Pantilat's analysis when we have some weather pattern and meteorological events in California, which isn't too often these past years, but my intuition was that we'd have much different weather conditions than my dream ones last year, and I was indeed expecting a lot of rain for a big change. What I didn't expect was that the temperature plus the wind chill would make conditions close to the freezing point, although, leaving California a full week before race day, I still managed to pack a hat, a pair of gloves, a Buff, arm sleeves, my Ultimate Direction rain jacket and a pair of long tights. Just in case... And, when you see snow out there on race morning, plus the alarming weather forecast in the medias, you'd better buckle up for the worse.
Again, as I wrote in my previous post, I wanted to come in 2019, when I was the youngest in my age group again. But I couldn't pass on the honor to be invited so, amid quite a troubled period leading to the race, running-wise, and the usual incertitude and last-minute planning on my business trips, I felt quite lucky to be in town for the race and able to get to the start line. Ah, that start line which looked so elusive through March and, again, on Monday morning! I thought I was prepared on Sunday night but, when it was time to leave my friends' house at 8, I was still looking around for things like my Ultimate Direction bottle handles or my S!Caps, not quite ready yet. All while checking the weather outside, where the landscape was covered by a thin layer of wet snow, oh my...! To add to my pre-race injuries, I woke up with a terrible stiffed neck which I still suffer from 5 days after the race. I really feel like getting older this year, finally...

My friend Nicolas dropped me around 8:50 on the 52nd Street parking lot and I the shuttle arrived at the village by 9:30.
Trying to make my way through a crowded field, I had hard time hearing the speaker but figured out that our wave was already making its way to the start, darn! One of our QuickSilver teammate, Amy, grew up here and she invited a few of us to stop by to her uncle's place, less than a mile from the start. I had planned to be there around 9 but it was 9:39 when I got there, already soaked and the start was at 10 am, sharp... A quick bathroom stop, putting some anti-chaffing on, a boost to my iPhone which had already died with the freezing temperatures, I left the place past 9:50, thinking I would run straight down the street like I did last year, to get in the first corral. But, there was no such access this year so I had to rush all around the blocks, almost back up to the village, then slaloming through the next wave which was now making its way toward the start. I was still sprinting on the side of the 4th corral when I heard the official start and got in the 3rd corral, passing the start line 1 minute and 10 seconds after the gun, and out of breath. After this exhausting warm-up and stressful start, I was in the 6 min/mile rhythm and started passing quite a few runners, on the right side of the road which looked more like a creek. The worst start conditions you can think of for a marathon, and what a waste of my wave 1 access bib...

As you probably know by now, the course goes down significantly in the first miles and I was surprised how easy it felt to clock 6:11 for each of my first 2 miles. There are so many fast runners at this marathon, it seems like you just have to follow the flow, get on the bus. I felt good and encouraged by this solid pace which I could hold for the first 6 miles and owe a lot to my massage therapist, Doods, for fixing my broken body the previous Monday, before I jumped on a plane for Cincinnati. However, beyond the 10K mark, I felt less energy maintaining that pace in the uphills and started slowing down significantly, clocking a few 6:40 miles, which was super disappointing. To make the matter worse, I was passed by waves of runners, it felt so different than last year. The rain was intermittent: when it wasn't raining, I felt too hot with my rain jacket and the arm sleeves underneath (plus the tights and hat). When it was raining hard though, I was thankful to have these layers, plus my cap to protect my eyes from the rain pouring right in our face, given the strong headwind, and thinking that I might pass many of the runners in singlets if not running top less!

As I had slowed down, Mark Murray, from Sacramento, passed me around mile 9 or 10, saying Hi and looking like having a terrific good day. Similarly, Scott Dunlap passed me before the half marathon distance, taking a picture or a clip with his GoPro and having a lot of fun. At this point, my goal was first to finish, and as close to 3 hours as possible. Despite wearing gloves, I couldn't feel my hands and I had to stop on the side of the course 3 times to ask for spectators, and a policeman, to get me a GU or S!Caps out of my running belt. I even recall stopping by for more than one minute at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill, and getting passed by dozens of runners again, although, after swallowing that GU, I did pass a few runners going up the hill and in the last miles.
Overall I took only 2 S!Caps, 3GUs and one bottle of GU2O which, given the low temperatures and the fact that I had forgotten to bring my Vespa on this trip, was on the low/risky side both on the calorie and electrolyte sides.

I had pre-bought the Marathonfoto package for once and had planned to pin my bib on my tights so they can see it but, with the missed start, my bib was under my rain jacket, invisible. In the last mile I opened my jacket and was therefore completely soaked when I crossed the finish line.

I felt so embarrassed with my time and having been passed by several thousands of runners, I didn't feel much joy or pride when crossing the finish line, just a sense of relief to have survived the stormy conditions and not having walked at all.

Despite the disappointment, I tried to smile on the post-finish picture but, as soon as I stopped running, the muscles around my left hip seized/froze and it became super painful to just walk the six blocks toward the exit.
I was shivering (I'm so good at it in these conditions) and, several times, medical staffers asked if I was ok; at the third time, I accepted to get on a wheel chair (another bruise to my ego...), just to get to the extremity of the last block, where I found Nicolas, who started to worry, 17 minutes after I had crossed the finish line. I felt really cold at this point and, after a few detours, ended up back at the medical tent. The situation there was quite apocalyptic, almost like what we see in war movies: it was barely one hour after the lead men and women had crossed the finish line and the tent was already 85% full, while 28,000 runners were still on the course and battling weather conditions which were worsening (rain and wind). Many runners were on cots, pale, and suffering hypothermia. I felt lucky to have found Nicolas who had a bag full of dry clothes and, as soon as I changed, and felt much better right away in dry clothes, ready to leave promptly, to the satisfaction of the medical staff which started being worried about the tent getting that full so quickly and so early.

We took the subway back to Nicolas' car and many runners were changing in ad hoc conditions every where in the station: what an epic year to remember! And that poncho, including a hood, was a darn good and smart idea given the weather conditions, kudos to the organizers for planning for that!
I did watch the whole replay of the race on the local TV from 10 to midnight, before going to bed, and felt better about my race when I saw the elites wearing jackets and running 10 to 20 minutes slower than usual, and the winners shivering at the finish. Yet, I can't comprehend how the Masters divisions got so competitive this year, despite the bad conditions. It seems that many runners had trained for months in these wintery conditions and were actually quite prepared and happy about them. Look for instance and the variation of the top 10 across several age groups:
  1. Men 40-44: in 2018: 2:28:18 to 2:40:33 versus 2017: 2:12:45 to 2:32:46 a +16/+8 variation
  2. Men 45-49: 2:39:46 to 2:50:14 this year versus 2:25:15 to 2:44:27 last year, +15/+6
  3. Men 50-54: 2:44:29 to 2:54:28 in 2018 versus 2:41:48 to 2:49:54 in 2017, only a +3/+5 delta!
  4. Men 55-59: 2:53:17 to 2:59:51 versus 2:44:52 to 2:59:13 last year, a +9/+0 variance.
Speaking of M55-59, kudos to our local Mark Murray who had a fantastic run, breaking 3 hours by a few seconds and placing 10th in his age group. Also to Scott who ran a very solid 2:53 in such stormy conditions. And huge congrats and respect to Bay Area elite, Jorge Maravilla for taking 3rd in the Masters division, that's huge! Especially when you know he could have finished second, and take home an additional $2,500 purse, hadn't he stop before the finish line to grab his son so they could both cross the finish line together. Jorge is so generous, he has no regret for this life-time family memory, according to a famous ad, let's call that priceless! ;-)

By the way, I'm super happy for Desi for her major performance and toughing it out, running a smart and courageous race. I was delighted to represent Brooks on the podium last year along her, and so proud of her for getting the palms, the ultimate honor, this year. Not that it's a huge surprise given she had missed the overall win by 2 seconds back in 2011, and went on the top 10 podium several times since, but she really ran a smart and bold race. (Photo credit: Marathonfoto and part of the package I bought.)

Also an amazing win for the Hanson brothers, a testimony of the quality of their training program at a fraction of the cost of Nike's Oregon Project. Here are pictures from last year before we got on the podium:

I'm writing this post on Wednesday night. I wasn't too sore but the stiffed neck is still painful and I finally got a cold, my second this year. I tried to go for a run, but couldn't find good trails so capitulated back the hotel's fitness room where I did 30 minutes of elliptical work on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.
My result? I clocked 3:06:09, bad enough for 2,711th overall (!), 2,538th men and 56th in my age group, what a way to fall off last year's podium! That was my 300th race in my log, including 152 ultra races, and my 24th marathon. Here is chart summing-up my 20 years of marathon running:
I may have to accept that the trend can't keep going down for ever...

As much as I don't feel good about my race, I'm happy to have finished when many didn't (~25K finishers), including my good friend Bob who dropped at mile 19, suffering from hypothermia and having to call it a quit before jumping on a flight to Chicago a few hours later. Proud of having 6 finishes here and resolute to come back for a few more odd years. Including next year when I become the youngest (of my age group), again. And experience better conditions, most likely, as, according to many, that was one of the worst weather in the 122-year race history. Maybe that was the part of the legend, but certainly not my performance this time.
By the way, here is an interesting article from our local USATF Pacific Association about a few lessons to be drawn from this year's edition of Boston.

1 comment:

Peter said...

Hey Jean!
Did you know the Overall Winner of this year's Boston is a Vespa user....he didn't forget to bring his!