What a weekend! I was treated to dinner with Saucony Hurricane teammates at Grill 23 on Saturday night and Meb was actually eating upstairs with his posse. I showed up in jeans and a running shirt… this definitely would not fly if it wasn’t marathon weekend. Waiters in suits, table clothes, etc. Whoops. I stayed with Dan Beck in Brookline Saturday night. Sunday lunch was a group of ~25 of us at Tip Tap Room. The Changs, Devon, Carrie, Chrrisie E, Cam, Jason Lantz, Juda, Kay, dad, Jackie Palmer, and a bunch of other older folks, mostly. 

Kay, dad, and I laid low Sunday afternoon and had dinner with at the Becks in Northborough. Dinner was lasagna, salad, rolls, and just 1 one beer to ensure a good morning bathroom stop. We had some rich chocolate desert which probably isn’t too smart but damn, it was good. Up at 6 and had the standard oatmeal with peanut butter and coffee. Bussed over to the start from a high school with my dad and ran into Jordie Chang and Nick Klastava. I found Cam Hanlin and Nate Brigham in corral 1 and started about 20 rows back. It took 15 seconds to get to the start line after the gun went off. No stretching or jogging. 

For me, I think of a marathon in 3 sections. I’ll call the first section miles 0-13. You can position yourself well to meet a goal but you aren’t making your race here (unless you’re Meb, but the average Joe is not racing to win. We are just getting to the finish as fast as we can). You can screw things up pretty royally, though. There is plenty of time to beat yourself up later on! The 2nd section is the mile 13 through mile 20. In my mind, this is where your race is won. This is especially true with Boston’s course. The 1st half really is a cake walk. The next 8 miles can be tough if you aren’t up for it that day. The 3rd section to the finish is hard to bank more time on meeting your goal. This is mostly holding on and having the gusto to run yourself into the ground, if you’re lucky. As with the 1st section, you probably aren’t making your race here, but you can lose it. 

Onto the race! The first mile or two I ran into my old Cornell training buddy Alex Looi, and Nate. I did what I could to not weave too much and actually ran off the road more than a few times moving around people. I hit 2 miles at 10:55 and felt okay doing it. My breathing could have been calmer but it was not a day to pack it in early. 

I caught up to a pack of 3 other Hurricane runners including 2:24 hopeful, Eric Wallor. The other folks around us were more like me in the 2:28-2:30 range. Shortly after, I found a guy, John, who blocked the wind for me in NYC last fall. I told him I owed him a beer for that piece of work. I didn’t get the chance to own up to that promise, yet! Eric and I maintained a 30 yard gap behind a 20 person pack for the next 10 miles or so it felt like. There were several yellow B.A.A. jerseys and light blue Western Mass jerseys in that pack. These two teams ended up going 1-2 in the team standings, deservedly so. Those guys were rolling deep, had a plan, and executed well. I was happy to run behind them and take better tangents! 

Eric and I consistently clocked 5:30 miles and hit 10 in 55:00. We maintained pace and came through 13.1 in a shade over 1:12. I was thinking 1:13:30 or so at the half so I was well under planned pace. Believe it or not, this was my 7th marathon. Some have been good; some have been a bit disappointing. But I’ve learned from all of them. On two of these occasions, I knew at the halfway mark that I was in for a bad second half and ended up with 4-5 minute positive splits. A 1.5 minute positive split seems to be the going rate if you run very well at Boston. I was feeling how you should at the halfway point. I’m sweating, not hungry, not panting, have no muscle twinges – all good things! If my marathon history holds up, this is going to be a good day! Maybe two minutes of slowing down and another 2 minutes for those damn hills gives me a 1:16 second half for a 2:28 on the morning. I’ll take it! My cadence was 88-89 and I ate my gu shortly after this.

Coming into Wellesley, you can hear the screaming for at least 600 yards before you get there. I was having too good of a day to stop for kisses but that place is a party, for sure. High 5’s would have to suffice. I thought I might have missed Ryan McGrath but he was right around 14. It’s always a boost to see a familiar face and someone who appreciates that you really are having a strong run so far. I couldn’t believe how many other folks out here were running so fast. I had to have been in well over 100th place. 14 miles running at 5:30/mile and I’m this far back! What a race. 

I didn’t know it at the time but I had been running and chatting with Matthew Laye (friend of Steve “Birdman” Laurie and Rocky Raccoon 100 winner) from miles 8 through 15 or so. We were both feeling very, very good. He gapped me on the first big uphill going over an I-95. I knew I had hit a great pace to this point and was not ready to crumble. A good position to be in! The hills were tough but the breaks between them are long. Coming into Newton was my favorite part of the race. You fly downhill and there’s actually a turn! I was still feeling strong and I knew I had a lot of friends there - a Hokie tailgate, Kaylyn, and cousin Annie. I passed on the beer, waved, smiled, and honestly felt good.

The next two uphills were much harder on me. It’s probably the same phenomena that makes middle reps of a track workout the hardest. You can’t go all out because there is work to be done, still. I hadn’t been taking much sugar in because I was getting to that point of wanting to puke and shit at the same time. At Chicago, I had the same feeling miles 18-22ish where I really could have gone for a portapot break. I don’t recall if I had a caffeinated gu there but those little things have like 35 mg of caffeine and I must have 150-200 mg in coffee each day so I have a hard time believing that could mess with me. Who knows… just something to think about in the future. 

While going up heartbreak hill after mile 20, I passed 2 or 3 Saucony guys who were taking a ride on the pain train a bit early. I was thinking heartbreak would be about the size of Baltimore Ave when running west across the top side of Patterson Park but it seemed longer. Head down, arms pumping, I must have passed 8 people going up. The course is very favorable for fast miles after this. I knew I was out of 5:20-5:30 miles but if I could avoid the portapot, I could keep it them under 6 min/mile. I came through 20 right at 1:51. A PR was unlikely but under 2:28 was well within range. I estimated myself to be in 150th or lower at halfway but had passed at least 50 people over the tough part of the course. Matt Laye was the only person who had gotten away from me. 

I ate a few more energy blasts and focused on just racing people. My cadence was more like 89-90 now while running a slower pace than earlier so my stride had shortened a good bit. By mile 23, I had decided that if I was going to make a bathroom stop, I should have just done it a few miles prior. The finish was too close! Mike Spinnler, a very trustworthy source, shouted that I was 59th male at mile 24.5 or so. Arghhh! I was hoping to be a bit higher and for a few seconds I conceded that there are just a bevy of great runners here… 55th or so in 2:26 or 2:27 will have to do. WTF ARE YOU DOING HERE, GRAHAM!!!! It’s Boston! Don’t be a wiener. Let’s race. 

26.2 miles is a great distance. It’s not long enough to jog but it’s not short enough to ignore the possibility of running into other issues you won’t find in a half marathon or 10 miler. On the best of days, you finish on the verge of some combination of muscle fatigue, cramping, dehydration, tiredness from being out of sugar, or G.I. issues. On a bad day, one of these things lags behind and holds you back. 

Wincing on the downhills, I opened up my 6’2” stride, which felt like it was cut to more like a 5’2” runner’s stride, and focused on catching one runner at a time. 57th, 56th, 55th… Typically at the end of a marathon, my hip flexors and hamstrings are the first muscle groups to crap out. Today it was my calves and Achilles. I did strength work this season targeting my hips for the first time. I’m not 100% ready to attribute that change to the exercises but maybe it did something? God only knows. 

The CITGO sign, famously the 1 mile to go mark, seems to be right in front of you forever, like a mountain on the horizon. I passed under the 1k to go bridge in 53rd. I was running as well as anyone around me! I probably looked like hell but in my head I was bounding up the bunny hill after that underpass like the day had just begun. With thousands of spectators on Comm Ave, I pumped my fist in the air several times and the crowd got louder each time. I surged past two struggling runners with no answer and hit Boylston in 51st, by my count. I passed one more to put myself in 50th and was mustering a pretty good pace those last 2 minutes but got passed by someone whose pace I couldn’t match! I got on the gas a bit more to try and hang but both calves did not like that action. I told myself, “Just stay within a few seconds of him, you’ll get him on chip time!!” What a sucker mentality… but I did sneak ahead on chip time by 2 seconds. Hah! Luckily, I had a bit more of a buffer and wound up in 48th male. All smiles in the finish chute! I’m not sure that I’ve run a more satisfying race before. As soon as I crossed the finish line, I heard the news that Meb had won. What a day! 

The simplest way to break down the splits is 5:30/mile for 16 and then 5:45/mile for 10.2. The weather was 55 at the start and low-mid 60’s at the finish. Sunny and without wind. Total calories during the race – 2-3 tiny cups of Gatorade, 1 caffeinated gu, 5-6 powerbar energy blasts.

Notes on the season: Ended up with 22 no-run days from Dec 9 till race day (10 of those 22 during foot injury). Only doubled 11 times over that period and never ran over 85 miles in a week. Not that doubles and volume are the absolute most important thing, but this was very similar to my build up to Chicago in summer/fall 2012. Both 2013 seasons had many more doubles, more total miles, and less strength work. One thing that I’ll hang my hat on this season is the pile of long runs I did 10-15 weeks before Boston. After all, a marathon is just a fast long run. 

59th overall - 2:26:36