17 April 2012

Boston Bake-Fest, Part One

It was epic. I can’t think of any other way to begin to describe yesterday’s Boston Marathon. Utica may have their Boilermaker, but we had ourselves a Broilermaker. And how hot was it? That depends on who you ask. The Weather Gods said it would be seventy-five at the start. Some reports had it over eighty. I can’t say for sure except that it was hot. Those same Gods said we’d see eighty-five by the finish in Boston, assuming you finished by 1 PM. Some reports had it closer to ninety at various points on the course. And most didn’t finish by 1 PM. It kept getting hotter.

To steal the Arizona joke, “Yeah, but it was a dry heat.” Truth be told, it was not summertime oppressive. The humidity probably stayed south of fifty percent. That saved us, or at least it saved those of us who were saved. That made it possible to control the core temperature, and that was the key to the day. But not everybody succeeded at that game.

When was the last time you went to a race where the race director told you (in this case, via email, the day before), to consider this not to be a race? They suggested we look at it as an experience. Well, they certainly got that right. It was an experience like no other.

Cutting to the car crash, I’ll tell you that I survived, and survived quite well. I suggested pre-race that my seemingly increasing tendency to feel cold the last couple winters probably worked in my favor. I’ve never thought of myself as particularly heat tolerant. But hey, those senior citizens sit in the rest homes under blankets with the heat cranked to eighty-five. Perhaps heat tolerance is a function of age?

I went into this race thinking significant Personal Best. No, scratch that, I was thinking that when I was expecting a traditional Boston Marathon, doing the traditional planning for how to keep warm at the village, what clothing to donate at the start, whether to don the long sleeves, you know, the usual Spring in New England survival stuff. When I found my baggage bag mysteriously light, since there was literally no warm clothing in it, when I found myself seeking the tents at the Athlete’s Village not to stay out of the cold spring rain but for shelter from the 9 AM sun, when I couldn’t even don my traditional modesty shroud (a.k.a. long garbage bag) to hide the, ehem, in the starting corral, the reality of the day was inescapable. Slow the pace twenty to thirty seconds per mile, stay to the right for maximum shade, drink obscene amounts of fluid, and settle for whatever time comes up on the ticker, so long as your own ticker is still ticking and you are vertical all the way down Boylston Street.

And I say all the way down Boylston Street, because it was so tough a day that even having the finish line looming large in your sights wasn’t enough. Upon returning home late Monday I found a phone message from the Beth Israel Hospital Emergency Room, trying to reach me as they had a friend and co-worker of mine in their possession and hadn’t been able to reach his wife yet in Canada or his travelling companion (who of course had his wallet and passport, because these things always work out for the least convenient option). Dave made it to Boylston Street. But not all the way down Boylston Street. Twenty-Six-Point-One, lights out, woke up in an ice bath in the E.R., and learned that his core had been at one-oh-five. And another two hundred were scattered across the city in various hospitals, they being the worst of the twenty-five-hundred treated in the med tents. That’s what kind of day it was.

At nine miles, I knew a loyal friend would be waiting with her traditional oranges, but this year also with ice. Approaching, I bellowed out “ICE” to make it clear that citrus was detritus in my eyes. My reward was a healthy Ziploc of life sustenance (and the ire of several runners who didn’t get that targeted prize, but yes, I shared). Using a trick from a friend in my church band (thanks Julie!), I gripped those cubes in each hand till they vanished a mile and a half later. Hands turned radiators. And it seemed to work.

It was those kinds of tricks that kept me going. Ice whenever available, clutched with abandon to squeeze out every kilocalorie of kool. Water from every table and many rogue sources, two sips for me, the rest over the body. Pictures have me utterly drenched, but it was worth it. Even the bathwater served up at some of the sunnier stations served as effective evaporative cooling. Not just a family refueling, but a complete belt swap at Newton Lower Falls, and complete consumption of every drop of rocket fuel in both belts. And rather than donning a hat against the sun, which I know from training runs does nothing but wick fluids away from my head to drip, pour, roar uselessly off the visor onto the street, I opted for the freebie headband given away at the expo courtesy of JetBlue. Geeky? You bet. Effective? Priceless.

Dropping the pace meant turning down the burn rate, which combined with all those tricks meant I hit the half feeling pretty good. And though I was on two-fifty-seven pace, knowing that I never run Boston in negative splits, that was in fact evidence to me that I’d kept the pace well under control. The other way that was obvious was the notable absence of mental math. I didn’t count, didn’t know, didn’t care how many seconds were in the bank for any given time goal. It just didn’t matter. After all, on a day when a ton of people are already walking at five miles, yes, five miles in, having started in the second corral with the front ranks, you know it just doesn’t matter.

Into the hills, it was a game of metering the effort to control the temperature, which meant slowing the pace as much as needed, into the high sevens here and there, and not caring what time was lost. In a typical race I’m wondering whether my glycogen stores will hold out. In this race I thought of nothing but whether my temperature would stay down.

In a typical race, I’d never try anything I hadn’t done in practice. In this one, I had my “In case of emergency, break glass” plan in my back pocket, a sample pack of electrolyte capsules I’d never tried. Somewhere between eighteen and twenty-two, can’t even remember if it was before or after Heartbreak, I broke the glass. Here goes nothing, let’s hope they go down and don’t come back up. Two miles from the finish, feeling no ill effects, down went the other half of the pack. Did they help? Who can say? But with the calves starting to twitch around twenty-two, telling me that electrolyte levels were not where they should be, it seemed a reasonable gamble.

And here’s the irony. This was the first Boston since 2008 where I never stopped for a walk break. Certainly the eased pace helped with that, but still, I am somewhat mystified how that was possible under the conditions. And that was really what turned this into a big success. I passed few when they were actually running, and was passed by plenty of running bodies. But I passed scores and scores and scores some mores of walkers, some time after time after time as they’d blow past and pull up short in the heat. I’ve nothing against walk breaks and know they can improve your final time. But Monday those cool-down walk breaks the other guys were notching didn’t match my luck in being able to maintain temperature while continuing to motor on.

Running with bib number 1520 (adorned with Meb Keflezighi’s and Bart Yasso’s signatures for divine protection), which isn’t an exact seeding due to the mysteries of elite number assignment but is pretty close, I halved that by the end, nabbing my best Boston finish ever place-wise. Granted, nearly five thousand didn’t come to the starting line, though the bulk of those were not in the first two corrals. Granted, nearly one thousand didn’t finish. Still, I have no complaints. On a day when most people I knew ran twenty, forty, even sixty minutes or more behind their normal expected performance, I pulled it in less than nine minutes off my Boston best in 3:05:07, for 742nd place, and a surprising 38th among the 2246 finishers in the 45-49 Old Farts Club. For an added bonus, possibly due to a few of my teammates pulling out for injuries, possibly not, matters not, I scored for the Greater Boston Masters team. It was nice to know I could contribute to the cause.

Sixteen marathons, six Bostons now in my bag. None like this one. Not one I’d like to repeat. But it’s nice to know it can be done.

More stories on the Bake-Fest will follow in future posts.

Oh, and not to forget, that first photo courtesy of Ted Tyler from Coolrunning by way of JimRhoades.com. Thanks, as always!

1 comment:

  1. awesome race report. i would be one of the ones that finished 30 minutes back from where i wanted to be on a normal day. :)


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