The Boston Marathon: You’ll Only Understand If You’ve Been There; Pt 3 THE RACE

The time is finally here for part 3 of The 2014 Boston Marathon: The Race.  I am sure the majority get most excited to hear about this part of the whole experience.  I myself think the build up and chaos that goes on beforehand is more entertaining but I feel as though I need to give you what you have been waiting for all this time.  

Race Morning: Pre-Race

Everyone poops even him.  Come on, you know you do it too :)

Everyone poops even him.  Come on, you know you do it too :)

The alarm sounded at 4:00AM at the Charles St. Penthouse and I had to remind myself that I really did need to get up.  Part of my mind was saying, “the race starts at 10AM what the heck are you getting up this early for?”  Then I snapped back into reality and remembered we had to get to the shuttle at 5AM to go to Hopkinton and sit on our behinds for five hours.  Because of the 10AM start time at Boston you must alter your eating schedule and that of course means you must alter your pooping schedule.  If you ever learn anything from reading my blogs remember this, “The pre-race crap is the most important part of the race.  If you don’t take one you may as well not even start the race.”  Unfortunately and fortunately that is the most important thing you will ever learn from me.  

My first half guide Ryan Irwin and I arrived with all the other blind/VI athletes at the bus pick up just before 5AM to go to the Hopkinton Vision Center.  The owner of the Hopkinton Vision Center so graciously opens up his clinic which is like a big house for us to hangout and relax at before the race each year.  The best part is that its only two blocks from the start line.  When we arrived I went straight to Josh Warren’s wife Lisa who had prepared me some yummy oatmeal with peanut butter, brown sugar and bananas.  I was in a hurry as I had to get over to the media area and do a few interviews.  While in the “Media Meat Market” I managed to say hello to Jennifer Morales, host of the Today Show. I also met the Executive Director of the BAA Tom Grilk.  After enough time in the “Media Meat Market,” I headed back to the vision center for a little more chill time with my Team With a Vision teammates.  

Around 9:10AM, Ryan and I went for a little 10 minute warm up job and then one more trip to the “Kings Thrown” before heading to our start corral.  We were stopped and searched individually by security before entering into the corral and then we maneuvered our way near the front.  I don’t have to be at the very front but i don’t like to be smushed right in the middle of the enormous crowds just in case I get too close and snag someones foot or someone happens to get my foot. Worst way to start a race is to get tripped at the start line.  

Race Strategy:

This was my third straight year at the Boston Marathon and i knew the course very well.  My guides and I also both knew my splits at all the markers from previous years and wanted to stay ahead of those splits.  The first half of the Boston Marathon is primarily downhill with a few rollers.  More importantly, the first mile is a fairly steep downhill that you can get going pretty quickly with no effort.  I also know that one of my strengths is my downhill running so I always try to utilize this strength at Boston.  Its tricky though because you don’t want to totally put your heel out and brake yourself while going downhill on that first part but you also don’t want to charge down the downhill and use too much energy right off the bat.  

The Race: 

With my new custom Champion Systems CDWA Boston Strong race apparel on, Ryan and I locked in for an experience of a lifetime.  Over 36,000 runners packed the start line and I’m sure the scene could be recognized via satellite from outer space.  At 10AM sharp the gun sounded and I hit the start button on my talking stop watch.  

As  mentioned above, the first mile is a good downhill and we were just cruising along trying to stay nice and relaxed in the shoulders and face while taking in the street side parties.  At mile two Ryan let me know that we had just passed the SEC champion in the 10,000m and he was probably thinking in his head, “Aaron, I hope you know what your doing.”  I knew we were cruising along pretty quickly and at about mile three I told Ryan, “Ok, let’s slow down just a tad and settle into a rhythm.”  We did settle into a good rhythm and continued to utilize the “Free Speed” from the downhills.  Even though we went a 17:02 on the first 5K I was still feeling comfortable and I knew that this time was very skewed by the net downhill.  

At mile three, I was expecting to encounter a strong odor of stale beer and whiskey breath, as the year before there was a house on the left side of the road that had the biggest house party I had ever encountered.  People were on the roof three stories up, hanging off the front porch and crammed tight from the house all the way to the street side barricade.  To my surprise, the house party was not there this year.  This was all right though because about everyone else in town and their entire family showed up elsewhere on the course.  In my conversations with people reflecting on the experience I assimilate the event to running down the New York City Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade route for 26.2 miles.  For, Seattle Seahawk fans I compare it to being in CenturyLink Field for an entire football game.  As I ran through the more densely crowded sections of the course (which was much of the way) multiple times I felt chills go through my body.  I hadn’t really experienced this during a race before but it made me realize how enormous, special and powerful this event really is.  Just as in every race, when the pain started to set in I just looked down to my forearm to the smiley face that always tells me to “Smile Through Pain.”  During this race, in addition to  using my “Smile Through Pain” montra I also just told myself, “Aaron, no matter how bad your body feels physically just realize how blessed you are to be here.  There are people hurting more than you. Focus on the moment and  utilize the energy that the crowd is giving to you.”

Ryan and I continued along at a blazing pace but I was feeling pretty comfortable.  We went through the 10K at 35:02 and Ryan kept informing me our splits and how far ahead I was of last year’s time at each point.  At 10K I was almost 1:30 ahead of last year’s time of 36:23.  I knew I had trained well for this race and in my head I was still ok with the place I was in.  We continued along at just under 6:00 pace up and down the rollers of the first 13 miles.  Ryan did a great job of continually informing me of the pace I was on and where it related to last years split.  As we got further along in Ryan’s half of the race, he mentioned to me “I don’t think I could hold this pace for 13 more miles.” Ryan has never done a marathon and he is a miler on the track but this should have been a clue to me to pull in the reigns.  At 15K we were at 53:34, 2:04 faster than the 15K split of 55:38 in 2013.  The lead was growing and in my head i was thinking, if I can just continue pushing this gap further than I have a little cushion for the hills in the late miles.  

We continued along with envisions of the Screaming Wall of the Wellesley girls in our near future.   I continued to focus on my form and stay relaxed in the face, shoulders and arms.  I constantly tell myself to stay as tall as possible when running, as if a string from was pulling me up from the top/back of my head.  From there, I tell myself to lean forward like the “Leaning Tower of Pisa.”  For those of you that find yourself breaking down in form or find your mind wandering while you run, try thinking about these things and you will find that everything becomes a little easier.  

We crept closer and closer to Wellesley and as we cruised down the long gradual descent at mile 12 we could hear the roar in the distance.  Chad was waiting at the 20K mark and I think was very shocked at where we were.  Chad was also sporting the new CDWA Boston Strong race kit and looking pretty fine.  I think the ladies really wanted a piece of Chad as we passed by the half mile stream of Wellesley girls but unfortunately for him I always run on my guide’s right and Wellesley is on the right (LOL).  The girls were in full force again this year and for that half mile stretch I remember two things.  First, I remember my arm being tired from holding it up and giving so many high fives and second I remember my ears ringing for minutes after we went by from the constant high pitched scream of thousands of college aged girls that probably hadn't been to bed from partying the night before.  Each and every time I do Boston and I go by Wellesley college, I immediately say to myself, “Whoa, what just hit me!”  

Back to the race course and we were still well ahead of pace to break the 2:43 time that I needed to break the American record for fastest blind/VI runner at the Boston Marathon.  We crossed the 20K mark at 1:12:37, now 2:25 ahead of the previous year’s split of 1:15:02.  Just a short while later, Chad and I hit the half way point at a blistering 1:16:46 which was still nearly 2:30 faster than the previous year and would have put us at a projected time of 2:33:32 if we were to hold that pace for the second half.   Everyone knows that the second half of the Boston Marathon is much slower than the first.  The hills come at mile 17 and continue through Heartbreak Hill at mile 20.  

By mile 15 I was starting to feel a little woozy and in my head I knew what was coming.  My pace started fading to 6:15 per mile and then 6:30 as we approached the toughest part of the course.  Chad did an amazing job at getting the crowd fired up.  I needed every bit of energy from the crowd to help me continue to put one foot in front of the other.  As I have told many people, “this wasn’t my first rodeo with bonking.”  I think you could call me an expert at it.  The one thing that I know with bonking is that if you push through the bonk and just start taking more gels, you can get back into a rhythm and back to a fairly good pace.  Once you let the discomfort and pain mentally take you over and you stop to walk, you are done for.  

By the time we got to the fire station around mile 17 and made the right hand turn that leads into the hills I was beginning to stager and probably had glassy eyes.  On lookers were probably thinking to themselves, “that kids messed up.”  If they were thinking this they were correct in the assumptions.  I was messed up but I put my mind someplace else and just let my feet fall down underneath me.  

It was getting warmer as we got to the later miles but don’t let runners tell you it was a hot Boston Marathon.  It may have reached 70 degrees at like the six hour mark in the race.  It was not hot but everyone around the country came off a nasty winter so I will give them a little slack in speaking of the temperature.  Personally, I was far from hot as my bonking episode ledt me with the chills trying to climb up the Newton hills.  Chad and I continued plotting along as I had now registered two straight miles over 7:30 in the hills and I wasn’t exactly getting any faster.  Chad gave me updates on my time and its relation to last years time.  At 30K we were actually still hanging on to a good lead over 2013, coming in at 1:52:29, which was 2:01 faster than 2013.  It was between the 30K and 35K where the wheels really fell off the bus.  This stretch includes Heartbreak Hill and it lived up to its name on this day.  That two minute lead was all but wiped away and then some by the 35K mark.  We hit 35K at 2:15:43 and in 2013 I was here at 2:15:14.  I knew at that point I was not going to beat the record because I remembered how strong I finished the last five miles the year before.  Despite knowing this, I continued fighting like any Spartan does and just as I mentioned earlier, the bonk began to wear off. By mile 21 I was running 6:30-6:45 mile pace and wasn’t feeling like a staggering drunk anymore.  Not nearly the 6:00 pace I was running at this point in the previous year but considering that I felt like death was knocking on  my door just miles before, I was pretty happy with a 6:40 pace.  

Chad continued pumping up the crowds as we went by and as we got to mile 22 the crowds were getting ever bigger.  Right around mile 22 is also where the Ivy St. School for the Blind is and there was a huge contingent of people wearing the CDWA Boston Strong shirts and making a ruckus as we passed by.  I was still not exactly feeling great so I needed every bit of energy from the crowd.  For the next three miles to the finish line I really never heard anything of meaning but I definitely heard a lot of noise.  This meant that when Chad and I entered the tunnel under the street at mile 25 it was like we had entered a sanctuary of silence.  This only lasted a mere twenty seconds or so before we were blasted by noise once again.  As we made the famous “Right On Heriford, Left On Boylston” I once again got chills down my body.  Then as I ran down Boylston street, a place of great history and tragedy, I said to myself “there is nothing in this world like the Boston Marathon!”  Chad and I came across the finish line smiling despite coming short of my goal by nearly four minutes.  We crossed the line in 2:47:46 and I was absolutely exhausted.  

I had not run a very smart race especially considering this was my third straight year at Boston.  Sometime you think you have more than you do in the tank and you take a risk.  I took the gamble and this time I lost. I pushed my limits early and now I know for next time to just sit back and be patient.  The course won’t  change next year and so i know what I need to do.  No matter what kind of race I had though, all I can say is that there is no endurance event in the world that compares to the Boston Marathon!!! 

AND….. that is how I will end my 2014 Boston Marathon Recap blog.  I hope you have enjoyed following along on yet another one of my adventures.  Until next time, “Smile Through Pain :)”