It’s a strange thing to be so incredibly disappointed in something that others tell you to be proud of.
And at the same time, experience incredible gratitude for the ability to be feeling disappointed in the first place.
This was my Boston 2022 experience.
A 5am alarm awoke me from my rest, or lack thereof, to kickstart my travel day.
For any number of reasons, I’d slept terribly, and not long. Anxious about making my flight, and obviously a healthy anxiousness about the race itself, the weather, my performance, all the usual items.
I grabbed the bag I’d packed late the night before, and my wife, son & I made our way to the Airport.
I’d spent the entirety of the day before this with them both. We went to an airplane park, numerous playgrounds, got ice cream, and made a full day out of it.
It was a farewell tour of sorts, because with my wife being 8 months pregnant, she wasn’t going to be making the flight with me (and thus, neither was our 2.5yo son).
Lots of hugs, kisses and well wishes were exchanged in front of the SouthWest terminal – and then I was off. A short 50 minute flight was all that separated me from my family at home, to Boston Logan International Airport.
After landing I grabbed a cam and met Kevin Love at our hotel.
Kevin & I qualified for Boston at the same race, the Salisbury Marathon in April 2021 (I ran a 2:56, he a 2:49). His 2:49 was also enough for him to be awarded entrance into the October Boston Marathon in 2021 (I missed that mark by ~3min), so this was his second Boston, my first.
Sunday in Boston was freezing. Cloudy, windy, there was even a brief sleet/hail storm. Thanks to the beautiful weather, we grabbed an uber and headed to the expo for bib pick up (instead of walking everywhere like we did in October when I went to support him).
We grabbed our bibs, I grabbed my celebration jacket (that I swore up and down not to wear until I actually finished the race) and went back to the hotel before our ritualistic pre-race sushi dinner.
A few hours and several pounds of sushi later, we found ourselves back at the hotel packing our miscellaneous bags for the next day.
We laid out our clothes, set alarms for 5am, and passed out for some restless sleep.
Unlike Salisbury, and well virtually every other race I’d ever run – our morning before the start line would be long.
5 hours long.
From our 5am alarm, we’d have 5 hours until our 10am start time, but oh so much to do (and so long to wait) between the two events.
Wake up, eat, drink, dress and anxiously check uber status.
With 30,000 people all making their way to boylston street for bag drop and bus loading – we wanted to get out of the hotel early and be lined up ready to get on the bus before the 6:45am pickup time.
Finally around 5:45 we grabbed an uber and made our way over.
After being dropped off as close as we could get – Kevin and I walked about ¼ of a mile to bag drop, found our respective drop areas, left our gear and then began our ½ mile walk to the bus waiting area.
Despite the sun being “up”, it was not high enough to shine between the tall buildings of downtown Boston.
We spent what amounted to the next 45 minutes lined up in the shade in ~30* weather waiting, simply standing and waiting to get on the bus to the start at Hopkinton (this was not fun).
At exactly 6:45, the gates opened and we made our way into the shelter of an old school bus to commence our journey.
The 26.2 (ish) mile bus ride took over an hour, jammed in 2 to a seat on our way to the famous Hopkinton start line.
I had a chance to Facetime with my wife and son, which broke up some of the monotony, but other than that it was a long and slow ride.
Anxiousness to get the race started began to increase.
The pre-start line area for the Boston Marathon is much like the finish line area of every other marathon on the planet.
Large tents for shelter, water, food, trash disposal, 3,000 (probably) port-a-potties, and literally tens of thousands of people sitting around – waiting.
Waiting to get called into our corrals at the start with nowhere to go, and nothing to do but wait.
Count it – we’ve now been in pre-race mode for 4.5 hours.
We’ve eaten, stood in 30* weather, took a bus ride, and now sit in ~40* weather for another 90 minutes, all before we finally hear:
“Wave 1, red wave, head to your corrals!”
Released to our corrals at 9:30am, Kevin and I finally split up. He (faster) was in corral 3, I was in 5.
We exchanged a fist bumps and “good luck” – see you on the other side.
As like everything else this morning – the start line wasn’t actually close by, it was another ½ mile walk away.
This time, you did that walk, slammed together on a residential 2 lane road with 29,000 of your best friends before finally settling into numbered corrals at the highest altitude hill on the course.
Staring down at the start line felt like looking off a steep cliff, the first 4 miles of the race were significantly downhill, and here you got your first glimpse of it.
A flyover of 2 C130s, a beautifully sung national anthem, a starting gun shot – and the line began to move.
The line, 50 people wide and thousands deep slowly walked and jogged to the start – and before you knew it, there it was.
Two yellow and blue pillars flanked the sides of the road with a large starting mat between.
This was it, a 2 year journey starting in Baltimore of 2019 has gotten me here, to a small town west of Boston, on a beautifully sunny Monday in April.
And so began the Boston Marathon.
Everyone thinks of Boston and they think about “Heartbreak Hill”.
We’ll get to that, but heartbreak is only a big deal because of what comes before it. As a stand alone hill, it’s really… no big deal.
Here’s the problem with Boston though – the first 16(!) miles, are effectively downhill.
Every step over indexing pressure and exertion from your quads. While it can feel ‘easier’ to run downhill, that slow, 2ish hour depletion of energy in your quads becomes a big problem when faced with the Newton hills.
With that out of the way, the first 16 were broken up for me into 3 really distinct sections.
These miles were, or should have been easy. Down hill should have been a cruise at 6:35/mi and low heart rate.
Problem is, there was no way to personally regulate your pace.
You were surrounded, in every direction by people. There was no passing, moving, flanking, strafing, none of it. You ran with the crowd simply because you had no other choice.
Thankfully, the crowd moved at near my intended pace (roughly 6:40), but it became hard to be as calm as ideal to keep heart rate low for constant fear of tripping on someone in any direction.
The 5th and 6th miles were quite strange for me.
I was moving along at the intended clip, but I felt, off. Like I was working too hard for what I was doing – and this was FAR earlier than I had experienced any sort of doubt or negatively in basically any race I’d run to date.
A mental challenge 30-40 minute into a 3 hour race? Sure, sounds like fun.
But the miles clipped by, one after the other after the other, with only a few second variance between them:
The repetitive tick of my mile times helped stave off the negativity felt early on.
I was moving, didn’t feel 110%, but 90+ seemed to be doing good enough.
Here I had something to look forward to.
Seeing an old friend Jarrett Smith at mile ~11, who was doing a workout with the CrossFit New England folks on the side of the course.
Knowing I’d get a chance to run 100m or so with a friend I hadn’t seen in some time, at least gave me that to keep running towards.
Finally I saw him, joked about the knoll we were on being heartbreak, high fived, and on I went still ticking like a metronome:
Mile 12-13 or so was where Wellesley College is, or as it’s better known on Marathon Monday, “The Screaming Tunnel”.
I’d heard about it – but it was an entirely different thing to “hear” it.
Before cresting the hill to the college, some ¾ mile away, you can hear it. Screams, no words, just screams.
Louder than I can describe with the written word, the sound swells before it becomes completely deafoning. For almost a mile all you can hear is the screaming, cheering, and otherwise wildness of the ‘tunnel’.
A jolt of energy well needed for the final of what I considered the “warm up” miles – all before the bludgeoning that the Newton hills would bring.
Tick tock went the metronome:
There are 4 major hills in these 5 miles, one at 16, one at 17, one at 19 and one at 20, the final of which being “Heartbreak Hill”.
Feeling ok about where I was, and having ticked off only a few second variance to my planned 6:40 pace for the first 16 miles, I knew this was where I really needed to be smart.
I knew I had a major hill almost every mile, followed by a half to whole mile ‘rest’ period of flat or net downhill running.
I planned to ignore pace entirely going uphill, slowing down to a comfortable chug with controlled breathing, and then kick back to pace between.
All things considered, I felt I nailed this part of the race.
Cresting over “Heartbreak” at 21, feeling totally in control – with minutes banked to get to my sub 3 hour goal, I knew as long as nothing below up, I had it in the bag.
I could run ~7min miles the rest of the way and make it – this was the part of the race I wanted to revel in, badly.
This was also the part of the race that went horribly, horribly wrong.
Riding the adrenaline post “Heartbreak”-crest-fistpump, I cruised for a mile
Right at the end of 22, I started to feel the wall.
Heart rate was up, breathing was off – I was starting to run low on some key nutrients and time was limited.
I knew I had time in the bank, so I decided to be smart and back off closer to 7 minutes.
Then, the first quad twinge started.
I needed 15 good minutes left in my legs, and they just decided they weren’t going to give it to me.
At 24.5 miles, my legs didn’t hurt or cramp. They locked up and seized.
Forcing me to stop dead in my tracks, even walking hurt.
Quads, hamstrings, calves, all of it locked and immovable.
Watching seconds click by, I started walking – hoping it would loosen up.
I grabbed innumerable gatorades, waters, anything within reach, and slowly felt my legs again.
I had an outside chance to still end my marathon under 3 hours – I had to take it.
I needed just under a 7min mile for 1.7 miles to get it done. Maybe, just maybe I could.
I jogged. Pushed a little harder. Feeling vulnerable, scared, angry, anxious, arguably furious to be THIS CLOSE at a point in the race I should be reveling, but instead reeling through.
I pushed and I ran and I made it.
1.2 miles after I started to jog again, it happened one more time – this time much worse.
Fully still, bent at the waste I had to wait. Just wait for the cramp to stop.
Standing for minutes, I watched 3 hours tick by.
I was irrationally disappointed, angry, frustrated, sad, embarrassed.
All this work. 2 years of work to get RIGHT here. To be SO close.
And to be forced to watch time wait for no one. Not even me. Not even today.
I allowed myself to feel this way for a minute. Vulnerable, pissed, ignoring “you can do it!” from the crowd.
And time continued to tick by:
As the cramp subsided, so did my anger.
It was borderline ridiculous.
Boston wasn’t my ‘end’. It was my reward.
Since my 3:18 at Baltimore in 2019, I’d been trying to run a sub 3 marathon and get to Boston.
In 2021, I managed just that. A 2:56:01 at Salisbury got me in the field and today was the day I got to celebrate that.
Despite the pain, I did the best I could to jog that last half mile to the finish, eyes up and heart full.
Every step on Boylston street are steps I’ll remember forever.
Not because of my time, but because it really didn’t matter. The goal time had come and gone, and all there was left to do now was simply enjoy the energy, smile, and be thankful.
As Tommy “Rivs” Puzey had written just before the race, “we are the lucky ones” – and damn was he right.
Right before the wheels came off, miles 22-24, was my most memorable section of Boston.
It was after I started to hit the wall, but before I ran head first into it.
In this stretch it would have been so easy to pull up early. To call it quits. To ‘know’ that it wasn’t going to work out how I wanted.
But I didn’t.
I spent these 2 miles convincing myself to push at the risk that I might not be able to hold on.
It was a push for 30 minutes for the rest of my life.
I refused to let my mind fail before my body did. And if it was going to fail, it was going to be because I gave it what I had, all I had, and nothing less.
In those miles I chose to honor my goal and the gift that got me here.
I owed it to my friends, my family, my son, and myself, to try.
To try to push through that wall.
Legs screaming, heart racing, doubt mounting.
I had to give it what I had, and all I had – because failure isn’t the time. Failure wasn’t 5 minutes over 3 hours.
Failure would have been the absence of trying.
On this day, I could not, I would not, I did not, fail.