On April 16th, 2018, I became a Boston Marathoner. It’s been just over a week since I hopped on a yellow school bus at Boston Common in the pouring rain with thousands of other runners to begin the roughly 60-minute journey to the start line of the most iconic road race in history, but my actual journey to the start line took 15 months from the time I started training for the race that would ultimately send me to Boston.
When I first set my sights on the marathon distance and, ultimately, trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon, I started asking lots of questions of runners who ran the race in the past. I wanted to understand what it was like to not only participate in the Boston Marathon but to be immersed in the Boston Marathon experience throughout the weekend. I heard so many stories about the experience and while I thought I was prepared while heading down to Boston, I truly had no idea what I was in for.
My Boston Marathon training plan was the third marathon training plan developed by my Coach, Colin Murray-Lawson of the High Park Rogue Runners. This plan was the toughest of the three I followed for two reasons; (1) the Boston Marathon is a technical course with lots of downhill sections, rolling hills, and of course, the Newton Hills and (2) I really wanted a new personal best in the marathon distance (current PB is 3:11:17).
My Spring marathons the past two years took place the second week of May and my training cycles for those marathons started the first week of January. With the Boston Marathon taking place mid-April, I started training mid-December. My wife, son, and I were visiting my family in Brooklyn at the time and I remember it being a brutally cold start to the cycle. It was pretty cold throughout the training cycle, but that didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I wore shorts most of the time when I ran outdoors.
I had one of the best training cycles of the nine marathons I trained for. I felt myself getting stronger with each week that passed and the real test came at the beginning of March when I smashed my half marathon PR at the Chilly Half Marathon by nearly two minutes! My confidence was sky-high after that race!
I ended up getting sick four weeks before race day and it was really concerning because it impacted three of my last long runs (two of which were workouts). I was constantly coughing up phlegm making it difficult to hold marathon pace for a long period of time. I finally started feeling better a week before the race, but there was still a lingering cough which concerned me.
About two weeks prior to the race, my wife and I discussed her traveling to Boston with our son. While the city would be buzzing with runners, I thought it would be great for them to share the experience. Unfortunately, the weather in Boston wasn’t so going to be nice all weekend, so instead of getting to enjoy the various sights, they had to find things to do indoors.
We arrived just before Noon on Saturday and headed straight to the hotel. As soon as we got off the T (Boston subway) at South Station, the city was already buzzing! There were so many Boston Marathon jackets from previous years (and some of the 2018 edition) on the T and in the streets! We walked from South Station to the hotel, passing so many runners in the process. I was already starting to feel the electricity so many have told me to expect.
We checked in to the hotel, then walked to Newbury Street for sushi. After lunch, we headed over to Tracksmith to pick-up a really cool race packet which included a Ciele hat and a bandana. By the time we got to Tracksmith, there we no more hats, but I did get a cool Boston banana bandana!
I bumped into Alan Brookes (Canada Race Series Race Director) as well as a couple of friends from the Toronto running community (Meredith and Mads). They were headed towards the expo and I needed to pick-up my bib so I hopped in their Uber while my wife and son walked around a bit more. They knew the expo would be a bit crazy and my son probably wouldn’t last more than 15 minutes!
The expo was massive! I made my way to the area to pick-up my bib and when I finally saw my bib with my name on the packet, it really started to hit me that I was two days away from running the Boston Marathon! I found my buddy Jeph at the expo and we walked around a bit. Jeph wasn’t running the Boston Marathon, but came down to cheer on a bunch of friends! My first stop was the Saucony booth, then we walked around a bit, bumping into several runners I recognized from Instagram.I bumped into my friend Rose at the expo and we walked over to the Adidas booth to pick-up my jacket and a few other items! I tried on the Boston Marathon finisher jacket for the first time (queue waterworks for the second time in an hour!).
The expo was really large and I don’t believe I saw half of it because I was getting hungry and didn’t feel like walking around too much. Rose, Jeph, and I headed back to towards my hotel and met up with another friend, Laura. We had a pint in a nearby pub and I headed back to my room to relax.
An hour or so later Jeph joined my wife, son, and I for dinner at Stephanie’s. It was a relatively early night and I was exhausted from traveling and walking around!
On Sunday morning, I headed over to the finish line for an Instagram meetup. It was quite chilly (and the day before the race); however, that didn’t stop a bunch of amazing runners from joining the meetup! I got to meet so many awesome people who I’ve been following on Instagram and have been inspiring me for years! It was a really awesome experience. We ran around Boston Commons for a few kilometers before I headed back to the hotel to get ready for brunch.
My wife, son, and I were invited to brunch by my friend Linda, Marketing Manager at Saucony Canada. I’m so lucky to have such an amazing brand supporting my running journey and it was really awesome for Linda to include my family in the invite. Joining us was Jonny Quint, an absolute speedster and Saucony Marketing Director for EMEA as well as fellow marathon participants, Syd, and Lecia. We had brunch at MET Back Bay and the food was absolutely amazing! I got the Nutella filled french toast with caramelized bananas. I didn’t realize this at the time, but I would end up on a sugar high for most of the day! It actually wasn’t much fun to come down from that, but it was worth it.
We walked around a bit more, then headed back to the hotel to plan the rest of the day. I wasn’t planning on doing much walking so I could rest my legs, so my wife took my son to see a live show. I headed over to the Rambling Runner meetup organized by Matt Chittim, anchor of the Rambling Runner podcast. I’ve been a huge fan of the podcast and listened to all of his podcasts to date. I typically listen to the podcast on my easy runs and what I love about them is the guests are often amateur runners who, like me, balance their love of running with jobs, families, friends, errands, and all of life’s other responsibilities. In other words, I can totally relate to the guests on the podcast. A number of guests were at the meetup and it was not only awesome to meet Matt, but to meet some of the guests who shared their stories.
After the meetup, I went back to the hotel to relax a bit before heading to a dinner with a few running friends. Dinner was at the OAK Long Bar + Kitchen located in The Fairmont Copley Plaza. This is the same hotel where most of the elite runners stay; it’s steps away from the finish line. It was awesome hanging out my favorite people, and meeting a few new amazing people, for a really nice dinner; especially my good friend Jenna who organized the dinner! While we didn’t see any elites, we did bump into Peter Ciacci, New York Road Runner’s President, Events, and TCS New York City Marathon Race Director! Peter was really nice about chatting with us for a few minutes and obliged us with a selfie!
I headed back to the hotel to get some sleep. The next morning, I’d be running the Boston Marathon!
For days leading up to the race, the main topic of conversation was the weather. It was supposed to be cold, wet, and really windy. In fact, heavy winds were expected to be in our faces the entire race! I knew the weather was not going to be nice before leaving for Boston, so I packed some throwaway clothes for the start. I also heard athlete’s village can get really muddy if it rains, so I also packed a pair of throwaway shoes I was meaning to donate.
My start time was 10:25am, which meant I didn’t have to get up too early (YES!). I got up around 6:30 and went down to the lobby to grab breakfast. I grabbed a bagel and coffee for me and a few items for my wife and son. I then got dressed and headed downstairs again.
I met my friend Ana and her husband Luke in the lobby of our hotel around 7:30 and we walked over to Charles Street to board the yellow school buses that would take us to Hopkinton. The rain was fairly light; however, it was definitely breezy!
The ride to Hopkinton took about an hour. I ended up sitting next to a runner I didn’t know and we chatted the entire ride. The good thing about being preoccupied was I didn’t have time to think about the race to get nervous!
When we got off the bus at Hopkinton, the wind had picked up from earlier and the rain was coming down a bit harder. We decided to make our way to the port-o-potties knowing there were still two waves of runners who were heading towards Hopkinton and the line-ups would be really long soon!
We waited in line for about 30m or so and then headed towards one of the two large tents to get out of the rain. At this point, I understood the need for throwaway shoes. Athlete’s village is in a large field between two schools and the mix of rain and thousands of runners created a thick layer of mud that covered the field. My shoes nearly got sucked into the mud trying to walk towards the tent! Some runners were carrying extra shoes, some had plastic bags over their shoes, and others just braved it and wore the shoes they would race in without protection!
After standing in the tent for a short while, someone over the PA system instructed runners from wave 2 to head to the starting corrals.
Once we were clear of the mud, we stopped to change our shoes. I noticed my friend KC from Toronto. KC and I started in the same corral at the Chicago Marathon and ran together for part of the race! She’s a wicked fast runner and an awesome coach!
The walk from athlete’s village to the starting corral is about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers), but it didn’t seem that long. There was an area just before the corrals with a bunch of port-o-potties and I asked Luke and Ana if they needed to stop one last time. No one did, so we walked to the corrals.
Luke was in gate 3 or 4 and Ana, KC, and I were in gate 1. We entered our gate and waited for the start. Someone announced Meb Keflezighi was in our gate and ended up being about 20 minutes ahead of us. Meb was running for charity and pacing the 3-hour pace group!
I noticed someone pointing a starting pistol in the air; it was the first time I ever saw a starting pistol used in a race! At that very moment, I realized I was about to run through a marathon course so steeped in history!
A few moments later the starting pistol was fired to release the wave 2 runners of the 122nd Boston Marathon!
Ana and I planned on running the first 5 kilometers 15 seconds slower than marathon pace and then increase our pace by 5 seconds every 5 kilometers so that we hit a marathon pace of 4:20/km by the 15-kilometer mark.
Aid stations start at mile 2, so my hydration and nutrition plan was to start mile 2 with water and then alternate between water and Gatorade Endurance every mile. I planned on eating a Gu Gel every 6 miles (6, 12, 18, and 24). I based in on miles because the markers were in miles with several key kilometer milestones (5, 10, 15, etc).
First 5km splits: 4:39, 4:36, 4:29, 4:33, 4:17
The first kilometer of the course plunges 45 meters, but thankfully it was so crowded at this point, it was impossible to go out too fast.
I executed my race plan fairly well for the first 5 kilometers with the exception of a small blip at the 5-kilometer mark where the course plunges another 25 meters.
The rain was steady and I felt as if we were somewhat protected from the wind by the trees. It was definitely windy but not as bad as it would be later on in the race.
Hopkinton is a rural area of Massachusetts and the course is fairly narrow at this point. There are mostly trees on either side covering the houses behind them.
Second 5km splits: 4:24, 4:27, 4:24, 4:20, 4:19
After another 14 meter drop in elevation at the 6-kilometer mark, the course flattens out a bit as we run through the town of Ashland. From what I remember, Ashland and Hopkinton were very similar, although the trees start to thin out a bit and there seemed to be more spectators at this point.
The road is still fairly narrow (single lanes going in either direction) and runners are still bunched up quite a bit at this point.
I was about 5 seconds too fast in the next section (wanted to be around 4:30/km, but I was closer to 4:25/km). Not a big concern and Ana was very close to me the entire time.
The course flattens out for the next 10 kilometers, but there are still a number of small rolling hills throughout. If you’ve done any hill training for Boston, these hills will feel more like speed bumps.
I ate my first gel at the 6-mile mark.
Third 5km splits: 4:19, 4:21, 4:27, 4:25, 4:19
We enter Framingham around the 10-kilometer mark and this is where the number of spectators start to increase. There are much fewer trees and much more houses and small shops. The Framingham Station is at the 11-kilometer mark and I noticed spectators hanging out in the station cheering on runners.
By this point in the race, runners have been offered coffee and beer by quite a few thoughtful spectators! I didn’t need a beer just yet, but I could have really used a coffee! The winds and rain were starting to pick up! I was still wearing my yellow poncho which by now was flapping in the wind and really annoying me! I moved to the left side of the road and tossed my poncho near a crowd of people. Hopefully, someone put it to good use!
At the 15-kilometer mark, we ran through the Cochituate State Park and get a nice view of Fiske Pond on the right side. I was feeling really good at this point and really taking it all in!
16km – 21km: 4:25, 4:30, 4:33, 4:26, 4:30, 4:35
The next 5 kilometers features a slow, but steady climb as we enter Natick and make our way to the halfway point and the famous Wellsely College Scream Tunnel! Natick is a really quaint town and the spectators were starting to increase even more by this point of the race. It was really awesome having their support!
We pass the Natick Station and Town Common around the 16-kilometer mark.
Just before the halfway point, around 19 kilometers, I started to feel a sharp pain on my right side. It was the same side stitch I felt a week ago during my training. I ran through it as best as I could, but at the 20-kilometer mark, I had to pull over to the side. I bent over and relaxed my breathing for a few seconds and then headed off. I quickly regained my pace and the pain subsided. Thankfully.
It was at this point where I started to hear the screams. It sounded like they were really close, but they were actually still about half a kilometer away!
At the halfway point of the race, runners approach Wellesley College. This is one of the most famous features of the race. Wellesley College is an all-girls school and their support is legendary! If their creative signs aren’t enough to energize you (or make you LOL), they, quite emphatically, invite runners to plant a kiss on their cheek. I opted for a few high-fives instead. I know some runners do stop which makes the the right side of the course more crowded than an aid station, but thankfully not too many people were stopping.
I ate my second gel at the 12-mile mark.
22km – 30km: 4:38, 4:30, 4:32, 4:41, 4:31, 4:51, 4:34, 4:48, 4:34
The next part of the course offers a few rollers before a 30-meter drop leading up to the start of the four Newton hills. The first hill comes immediately after the course drops. At this point, runners are running down a fairly decent decline only to be welcomed by 15-meter incline. The course then runs slightly downhill for about a mile and then up the second hill. The second hill comes at the 29-kilometer mark where the course makes one of three turns. While this turn isn’t as famous as the final two (more on that soon!), this turn occurs on the second Newton hill so runners really start to feel it. By now, my quads were barking at me from all the downhill running leading up to this point!
Another mile or so of downhill running before the third hill!
I was supposed to eat my third gel at mile 16, but I wasn’t very hungry and I was too focused on the hills at this point of the race!
31km – 42.2km: 4:52, 4:47, 4:40, 5:16, 4:39, 4:53, 5:06, 5:13, 4:48, 5:28, 5:10, 5:28, 4:52
At the 31 kilometer mark (just shy of 20 miles), I decided I wanted to eat my third gel as I didn’t want to have any issues in the last 12 kilometers of the race and in the past, I usually only eat three. My hands were so wet and cold (I started the race wearing two sets of gloves and still had both pairs on at this point!) that I could no longer grip the zipper to open my pocket. I had to pull over to the side to ask a very helpful volunteer to open it for me. I ate my third gel and powered up the third hill.
The final two hills of the course were somewhat steeper than the first two at about 22 meters each. I ran up both hills without a problem. When I crested the final hill, known by it’s the more popular name of Heartbreak Hill, I lost count of how many hills I ran up (yes I realize I only had to keep track of four hills!) and asked a runner next to me if that last hill was Heartbreak Hill. She wasn’t impressed that I didn’t know and a few meters ahead I saw someone holding a sign that read “Top of Heartbreak Hill.”
At the peak of Heartbreak Hill is roughly 800 meters long and passes Boston College where runners welcomed by a26-meter plunge down the other side. I started having some issues with my breathing at this point (panicking as usual!) and found myself walking a few times for the next 5 kilometers that took runners through Brookline. The crowds were really picking up by now!
I haven’t said much about the wind and rain because it was pretty bad most of the race, but it was at this point of the race where both were at their worst. Everything was blowing sideways and in our face! I couldn’t believe how many spectators were in the streets and I started to think they were tougher than me!
It wasn’t long before I noticed the famous Citgo sign signaling the last mile of the race; of course, the sign first comes into view before that point, so I just focused on getting to the sign!
I spotted a runner I knew from Blacktoe Running, but couldn’t catch up with her. She was running very strong and I was not. I finally reached the sign and then ran under the Bowker underpass before making the most famous turns in all of marathoning!
Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston!
I started to get goosebumps as I approached Hereford. There were so many spectators at this point and they were going berserk! I made the turn onto Hereford and 200 meters later I was making a left onto Boylston. Just as I was about to make the turn, I could hear someone yelling at the top of their lungs “Brother, brother, brother!” I turned to see Jeph holding his phone in front of him! I couldn’t believe I saw him!
Once I turned onto Boylston, everything started to hit me at once. I saw the finish line (which was about 600 meters away, but looks so much further!) and started looking left and right to see if my family was in the area. I thought about how I would cross the finish line so many times before the race and even a few times during the race. I decided I would just hold my arms out to the side and look up; however, as I got close, I couldn’t even raise my arms. They were so sore! I just ran across the finish line, pulled over and folded my hat over my eyes. I started crying. A lot. Everything kind of hit me at once. A volunteer walked over to check on me and asked if I was alright. I told her I needed a moment and then I walked towards the volunteers handing out medals.
I walked over to the volunteers who were handing out medals and after receiving mine, I asked the volunteer if I could give her a hug to thank her for volunteering. I then walked over to the volunteers handing out the post-race blankets. Not too long after crossing the finish line, my wife, who had been tracking me, let me know she was up ahead at Panera Bread getting me a latte.
I walked a bit further and spotted my family. I cried again and a volunteer grabbed the latte from my wife and walked it over to me (the volunteers in Boston are the best I’ve ever seen!). I guzzled it down in record time because I was starting to get really cold! I was shivering and needed to get inside fairly quickly to warm up. Our hotel was 1-kilometer away, but we ducked into the John Hancock Tower where a number of runners were waiting inside to warm up. After hanging out for 15-20 minutes, we made our way to the hotel.
As soon as we got to the hotel, I shed my clothes and started the shower. I made it as hot as possible and hopped in. I’ve never been happier to be in a scolding hot shower! It wasn’t long before I started to experience this incredibly painful feeling in my, ummm, yeah, down there. Sorry, TMI! I suspect the issue was the running shorts I was wearing. They had a mesh lining that must have been soaking wet and rubbing the entire time! It was really painful. I never experienced that before and I hope I never do again. My quads were on fire and I wasn’t walking so well, but that was nothing compared to the chaffing.
We planned on attending an after-party hosted by my friends at BlackToe Running, but it was too painful to walk, so we spent the rest of the night relaxing in the room. We had an early flight the next morning so I was perfectly fine just relaxing.
I finished the Boston Marathon in 3:18:09; far from the goal I set before the race and not nearly as fast as I was capable of running, but considering how awful the weather was, I was very happy! I still BQd and have a 6-minute 51-second buffer for the 2019 Boston Marathon!
Here are the details of my results:
- Overall Place: 4890
- Gender Place: 4220
- Category Place (ages 45-49): 531
The Boston Marathon was everything I could have dreamed of and nothing I was expecting for at the same time! The energy in Boston during race weekend is palpable and I really felt as if I was part of something really special! I wish I could have taken advantage of more events, but I was already exhausted from the small number of events I was able to experience! I would do this race every year if I could!
We headed to the airport early Tuesday morning and the first thing I noticed was how beautiful the weather was. It was sunny and cool; perfect running conditions! Just a day late. Also, the chaffing issue felt much better.
The next day I headed to work and my coworkers surprised me with the most amazing surprise! They decorated my desk with blue and yellow balloons and printed a few photos of me from the race!
Last year I started to take two weeks off from running to not only let my legs recover but let my mind recover from the 16-week grind of marathon training. I have one of my favorite races, the Brooklyn Half, coming up the third week of May, and then I start training for the Berlin Marathon! Berlin with be my 4th World Marathon Major and I can’t wait to experience it!
Aside from a 10K in June, I haven’t given much thought to any other races. I may jump into another full in October to take a crack at Boston 2020. Maybe.
Now that I’ve actually captured my first unicorn, I plan on keeping the blog alive to chronicle future attempts and hopefully obtain my 6-star for finishing all six World Marathon Majors!
Thank you so much for following my journey! The connections I made through social media and this blog is unbelievable and I’m so grateful for your support!