In the late 70’s and early 80’s my Dad worked as a photographer for Runner magazine and covered the Boston Marathon, even grabbing a cover one year as Bill Rodgers broke the tape (same era as Roise Ruiz). When I started running in high school my dad would joke that I should run the marathon on the 25th anniversary of the occasion and he could get another cover (had the magazine still been in business). I was a fast enough runner in high school but never gave much thought to running a marathon, the distances I was running in high school all seemed far enough. I couldn’t imagine quadrupling (or more) that effort. However, that thought always lingered in the back of my mind.
Fast-forward many, many, years. My wife and I live in Boston and in the aftermath of the 2013 bombing my wife wanted to give back to the community and assist those that had been directly impacted by the event. She joined the One Fund team and raising thousands of dollars and completing her first marathon. I spent a lot of that day riding the course and cheering her on as she made her way into Boston and down Boylston Street. While the bug to run had not bit me it had certainly grabbed her and shortly after the race began talking about which marathon would be her next.
As she got more involved in running I slowly became more involved in triathlons. The hobby grew from a couple races a season to six or seven over the summer of 2015. That summer was by far the busiest summer with me also undertaking my first 70.3 race at Timberman. My wife had decided to run Marine Corps and we had some friends who lived in DC so on a whim I decided to round out my season with the marathon. I hadn’t included the marathon while training that summer at all, so once my last triathlon was over I increased the mileage as much as reasonably possible and it was a ‘hope for the best’ type situation. I knew I wasn’t in ‘marathon’ shape but I also assumed that I most likely never would just train specifically for that type of race.
Ultimately, despite my wife and I starting the race drastically late and working our way through the entire crowd she PR’ed by nearly fifteen minutes and I ran a 2:54 to qualify for Boston. I had honestly never thought I’d run a marathon, much less qualify for the Boston…
Fast forward another year, we’ve now living in London. I had qualified for the 70.3 World Championships in Australia at Timberman and so we’re in Sydney on vacation after my race. The signup for Boston happens to be during the vacation so one night I have to stay up till midnight to make the East cost time slot to signup. It seemed a bit crazy person to be committing myself to the race but, I figured, it is logistically and easy trip with family there, will be good to get home and I might never have that chance again. After a couple days I received my confirmation, I was in!
So, ran the qualifying race in 2015, entered in 2016 and now running in 2017… that’s a long lead time for a race…
So lets get to the important bits…
Before the race I had a good chat with Tommy, my coach at Ignition Fitness. We talked at length about my race prep and my state of mind. I think I mainly terrified him that I was in total mental free fall regarding the race and probably had money on me dropping by mile 13. While I know I had done the work and can prepare technically for a race, my mental preparation for racing is really weak… Its weak in that I also don’t race for any typical sense of enjoyment. I race for the competition, that is what I find enjoyable and so a race like Boston, where I know I’m not going to be gunning for first is hard for me to wrap my head around. It’s a race that is just for me, the hardest kind. Regardless, I cannot thank Tommy enough for getting me ready to run, his plan, and willingness to modify around my crazy work and life schedule made this race a possibility.
Waking up at 5:15 was easy given the time change in my favor from London and race day anticipation. I had an English muffin with peanut butter and stashed another in my start area bag along with a few other snacks. The walk over to the Common was quiet with only few cars on the streets. The closer I got to downtown crossing the more other runners I saw on their way in as well. I made my way to the busses and quickly loaded. I ended up sitting next to a gentleman from Switzerland who currently lives in St. Louis. He had a lot more marathon experience than me and we chatted a bit about living abroad, and what brought us to Boston, which made the forty-five minute trip out to Hopkinton a bit easier. Once at the high school we went our separate ways and I carved out a little space under one of the tents. A fellow runner (who had obviously run Boston before) offered me a spot on his tarp, which I gladly accepted. It made the hour and a half that much better. I passed the time by staying hydrated, frequent bathroom visits and people watching under the tent. A mix of first time marathoners, seasoned veterans and everyone in between, each had their own routine, which, as someone who really doesn’t have a routine, is fun and educational to see how others psyche themselves up for a race like this.
Soon enough they started calling out for people to move to corrals. I made my way out, dropping off my second hand jacket and remainder of my uneaten food. I hung on to the water and made a last minute bathroom break just before getting to the corrals. Once there the reality of the whole thing started to settle in, I was on the course, could see people lining up, stretching, and warming up. It wasn’t just a bunch of people hanging out in a field any more. I jogged around for a few minutes, mainly to try and shed some nerves and then stretched in the common. For me, I stretch more because its what people do than I feel my body getting any real benefit… but it helps to fill the time.
Entered the corral and made my way to about the middle of the zone. I knew my number seeded me towards the front of the corral but not having a great idea of how it all started I didn’t want to get caught up in any fast start or sprint down the hill. I heard the cheer of the crowd as the elites were brought out to the starting line. The anthem was sung and flyover perfectly timed, this was happening.
Some words were said and then the gun went of…. Everyone took the step forward.. then two… then a bit of walking… then jogging…. And within thirty seconds I was over the line and heading to Boston. I knew Carly’s dad worked the starting area and had video of Carly starting from just past start. As the crowd dove down from Hopkington I picked him out of the crowd and yelled as the pack flooded by.
I had broken the race into three sections, mainly based off of geography but ultimately also aligned quite nicely with the race
Once started my main goal was to keep my cool and not wreck the race in the first few miles. While a couple of friends that had run before noted that the first few miles were an easy place to bank some time for tougher sections towards the end I knew that with the weather and my general lack of marathon experience I could easily go out to fast and pay a big price later. Keeping a reasonable pace wasn’t as easy as I otherwise imagined. On one hand I was stuck in a crowd of people, that, for the most part had qualified with times I hoped to better by about 5-10 minutes, on the other however all these people had just started Boston, so it was general chaos. So I found myself alternating from easily passing a group of runners to backing off and using the same groups to slow my pace down at times. It took nearly three to four miles before the pack really ‘thinned’ and I was able to concentrate more on running a race than trying to pick my way through a crowd.
Other than managing my pace my main goal was hydration. I really wanted to not have dehydration be a reason I didn’t feel I was successful and having managed my water intake pretty well over the previous two to three days didn’t want to just let it all go during the race. I started by taking Gatorade at every stop for the first four miles, I’d also, if manageable, grab a glass of water and dump over me to keep me cool. Even though it was only 10am I could feel myself getting warm quickly.
So when I had dinner with my dad and stepmother the day before we had outlined a rough idea of where they might go and see me on the course. The loose plan had been to watching me run through Framingham and then they’d jump on the train and head into the city to see me finish/after the race. Though this plan was made without any concept of what the actual race day conditions along the course but formed the first major marker for me in the race. From Hopkington in the entire course is lined with people and once you get into a town the crowds are four people deep. The experience is undeniably cool, kids sticking their hands out for high-fives the entire time, its impossible not quicken your pace as you high five a crowd of strangers. That said, as I cruised through Framingham and hadn’t seen/heard my family and I was a little bummed. While I rationalized there was no way could have ever picked them out of the crowd, I hoped they saw me and got a few pictures… I’d see them once I got to Boston. By the time had I fully put seeing them out of my mind I was seven to eight miles from the start and I was able to run my own race.
All of the sudden I pick ‘Taylor!!! Taylor!!!” out of the crowd noise to my right. I’d been running along the left side of the road and glance over to my right and see my step mom halfway out in the road and my dad furiously shooting away. I smile and do my best ‘‘I’m feeling good, but fuck this is hard and I have a long way to go’’ smile and cheer back.
It had been good to see them, it was a nice boost to the mental state of things when it had started to quiet down. Its easy to loose your spark in the middle of a race, where it’s a personal competition and you wont get that big check at the end of the day. You’re racing for something inside and it can be hard to keep your head in that ‘Lets do this’ mindset. So as silly as it was the cheer really did help. Shortly after I saw my parents I overheard two runners chatting about their goal time for the day, a both around 2:45. So I started chatting with them and we all ran together for a number of miles. One was an architect in Cambridge and knew of the Colby college project I was working on so we had something to pass the time for a couple miles. Being able to clock off a couple of solid miles at pace loosing myself a bit in conversation was good and again, saved me mentally. Keeping me from running alone with my thoughts.
However, over the course of a couple of water stops (so a couple of miles) I started to creep away from them. I cruised through the half marathon in about 1:22. Pretty much dead on for my 2:45 and still very much in the realm of a 2:40. I was pleased with how I was managing the race both with pacing and hydration. I may have actually even been over doing it a bit. As we rolled into the Newton hills my stomach started to give me a bit of a ‘hey hey’. I could tell that the Gatorade at every mile was starting to be a bit overkill digestively. I switched to water only for the remainder of the race and my stomach slowly got better.
Everyone always talks about heartbreak hill when they talk about Boston, but again, a couple of friends that had run before warned me that the earlier hills are actually the ones to watch out for. You’ve game planned for heartbreak, it’s the others you run through without consideration that will eventually come back to haunt you they warned. So when the hills started around 16/17 I was careful to pull back, ever so slightly, and keep the heart rate down. I still found myself passing people who had overcooked the first part of the race and had started to pay which was mentally encouraging. However, I had to be careful to not let myself go on the downhills. I didn’t want to destroy my knees slamming down hill after hill for a few cheap seconds. But I also knew that holding myself back would have the same effect on my muscles. So a delicate balance of easing up the hill, cresting strong, and then easing into a bit of a downhill push played out from mile 17 through to Boston College.
BC was my last milestone. I felt confident that once I had made it to the college I’d finish the race. Yes, even though, knock on wood, I’ve never DNF’ed a race I still approach every race with that possibility from both a training and from a logistics standpoint (so far so good). So once I passed BC I knew I could finish, I might still blow up, but I knew I could get myself there. That said though this is where the race really became tough for me.
While the crowd only grew in size as you get closer and closer to Boylston you’re still 4-5 miles out and you’ve got a long way to run. There aren’t many ‘oh cool’, landmarks and I knew I wouldn’t see any family along this part. So if anything, this, three miles from the finish, is the doldrums of the Boston Marathon (for me).
I also became aware that my stretch goal of 2:40 wasn’t going to happen and my goal of 2:45 was also slipping from my grasp. Slowly the heat, inexperience and exhaustion were taking their toll. I could feel my form slipping, my head tilting to the side, my foot striking in the wrong place, stride becoming more and more condensed. I kept mentally plugging myself back in and trying to regroup, but it just becomes difficult time and time again. However, the upshot was that I was getting closer and closer. I eventually saw the Kenmore sign and I was instantly elated. I now felt I was in Boston proper and running on roads I’d run hundreds of times before. I slowly felt the energy reserves release into my legs and I started to pick up the pace. At this point I was still easily passing people who were wilting under the warmer temperatures, I while I was feeling it too I dug deep and pushed on. Through Kenmore with the crowd getting me going and turned down Comm Ave and through the underpass. The last hill I thought to myself and quickened my pace up the short hill and up onto the street.
By now I could taste it, I knew, somewhere, just in front of me the finish loomed. I spotted people taking the right onto Hereford street. I started to surge, I knew I was no further than two or three minutes from the finish line. I started to drive harder and took the hard right on to Herford and saw Boylston just ahead, pushing hard I tried to keep my turnover up and ignore my tired legs. Little did I know that right then I cruised by Carly and the rest of my family who had found a primo spot on Hereford. Huge cut-out heads and all they screamed (I found this all out later) as I pushed towards the finish… At this point all I was aware of was the general noise of the crowd and my desire to get across that finish line as quickly as possible.
Taking the hard left onto Boylston I saw it, just a few hundred meters away, the finish loomed large. Boylston seemed strangely wide with only a few runners down its length. The crowds on either side shouted encouragement and felt strong I pushed hard with a solid effort in the final meters to cross the line.
And then, just like that, it’s over, you suddenly become acutely aware of the throbbing knee, the right foot that must be one big blister and the general exhaustion. I walked on, towards the aid tents and volunteers who handed out the medals, water and copious ‘Congratulations’. I slowly made my way away from the start to the location Carly and I had picked out to meet near the Hancock Tower. I had my picture taken a few times and not till a few minutes later did I even realize I still had the tape over my nipples, it had worked like a charm! I found a small spot on the curb and laid down to wait for my family. I had no idea how long they’d be (or where they were) so I just zoned out and blankly stared at other runners meeting their families after the race. I had done it, the race that decades ago was nothing more than a joke finally materialized. In the end I ran a 2:48, a solid time that, for both my first Boston and second marathon I’m incredibly happy with. Could I run faster? Perhaps, but today, that was the time my body could muster and that was enough for me.
I was happy and ready for some BBQ. A huge thanks to my entire family who showed up and supported me on Race day and of course a very special thanks to Carly who gets me through every race.
Short Video of me going down Hereford: