Michael Rolnick's Boston Marathon Re-cap
I came to Boston feeling like I was in great shape. My training had been solid and I had seen some noticeable improvements in my workouts which gave me great confidence that I could hit my goal.
So, as our train pulled into Back Bay station Thursday afternoon from New York, I was feeling like everything was coming together, despite the warm weather being forecast for Marathon Monday. My only worry was a twinge in my right calf that I thought would be fine by the start of the race.
I left my family at the hotel on Friday morning and got to the Expo at the Hynes Convention Center right as it opened. By 9:45 there was a short line of runners waiting outside for the doors to open. Once inside, we all gathered again at the base of the escalators to go up to the second level of the convention center for the bib pickup which started promptly at 10 a.m.
Some Boston veterans had warned not to “leave your race at the expo” so as we headed back downstairs to the expo I was curious to see what could keep folks on their feet for so long. Well if you’ve never been to a major city marathon expo before, the size and scale of the booths at Boston will be a surprise. addidas, New Balance, Saucony, Brooks, Clif Bar, Gatorade, title sponsor John Hancock and so many others have huge booths and for a first-timer, it was easy to see how you could want to wander to see everything.
My family had already purchased my Boston jacket, so all I grabbed at the expo was the free poster from addidas that lists each participant’s name. It’s a very cool souvenir and they had a display wall featuring everyone’s name on the outside of their booth as well. A few pictures later, I wandered out onto Boylston to see the finish line, stopped by the New Balance store to see their annual Boston edition shoes, meandered back up Boylston to Marathon Sports, and finally checked out the Addidas Run Base, which has a great topographic map of the race course.
Even now, before lunch on Friday morning, the city felt a buzz, like a giant convention of runners gathered for something special. Folks were wearing their past year’s marathon jackets, newbies were wearing this year’s green version, and it was the first indication to me that no matter what anyone says about other races, no city embraces their marathon like Boston.
I did my last shakeout run in Newton on Saturday morning as the city and the BAA continued to prepare the course from Hopkinton to downtown. Promisingly, my right calf felt better than the day before, and the day before that. Each day the hotels filled up with more and more runners. I caught up with an old college friend at our hotel and they commented how everyone there had that same runner’s build. It felt great to be among others who pushed themselves to be here and, regardless of their stature or age, everyone was happy to share their BQ story or how many times they had run Boston.
Sunday, we caught an early dinner with my training group at Kenmore Square and by the time we finished there were lines of runners everywhere waiting for their chance to carbo load on Marathon Eve. Servers in restaurants, strangers on the “T”, Uber drivers, everyone wanted to know if we were running in the morning. It made you feel like a minor celebrity no matter if your race bib had your last name on it or if you were a charity runner in one of the wave 4 corrals. I went to bed early hoping that sleep would come quickly.
I woke up at 5:30 to eat a light breakfast and head downtown to meet my training group and grab our bus out to Hopkinton. One plus when you train with a crew of multiple time Boston runners is that you can slip into a system that has been refined over many years. In my case, that meant a private bus out to a BAA parking area near the start, where we caught a quick BAA bus to the Athletes Village. But instead of waiting there, we headed over to a house near the start line where we were hosted by a fantastic family who allowed us to stretch, use the bathroom and watch the pre-race coverage on TV before we had to go down to the corrals.
Some of the wheelchair athletes were warming up on the street in front of the house when we got there and it was so cool to see these same competitors on TV tearing down the long downhill first mile just moments later.
Before long, there was a helicopter flyover and the Wave 1 start which went off at exactly 10 a.m. It was warm already and the nervous chatter inside our house was rising as I left with a fellow training partner for our Wave 2 start.
I have to give the BAA credit for how smoothly they move 30,000 plus runners through the small village of Hopkinton. Each wave has 8 corrals seeded by your BQ time. So even though you are with 1000 fellow runners in your corral and they send off 8 corrals every 25 minutes, you all start running at the same speed down this narrow two-lane road when the gun goes off. So if you ran 3:13 to BQ, so did basically everyone else standing around you waiting for the gun to go off. Yes, it is crowded, but it works as well as it can, especially when you realize you are standing at the same starting line as all of those greats who have run this race over the years since they moved the start to Hopkinton in 1924.
Right before the gun, I heard someone behind me say, “How cool is this?” And I had to agree. Like everyone else, I was appreciative at that moment of everyone who had helped me get to that starting line; all of the training, and all the hopes that lay ahead of me in the next 26.2 miles back to Boston.
My coach had told me to run the first mile 30 seconds slower than my planned race pace, the second mile 15 seconds slower than race pace, and then reach race pace by mile 3. It was great advice to keep from going out too fast and to keep me from trying to weave through the crowd before space would start to open up by mile 5. From the beginning, two things stood out – first, the crowds were amazing right from the start, and second, it was warmer than we had hoped.
We floated through the first 6 miles and reached Framingham right on target pace. My family was waiting for me at the train station, standing out as joyous faces among the throngs that were lined on both sides of the road and armed with a great handmade sign proclaiming, “My dad is faster than your dad!” which made me laugh and carried me into the next mile.
Everyone talks about how the Boston course is downhill to Newton, then the Newton Hills, and then downhill from Heartbreak to the finish. Which is true, but there are enough rollers to make you work for it all the way through the entire route. You better have done your hill repeats and your downhill training if you want to do well running Boston.
We hit the 9-mile mark on pace and it was getting warmer and the headwind had picked up. I took my first GU and made sure to keep drinking a little water and Gatorade every mile.
As we came into Wellesley, I was still on pace and feeling a bit more tired at 12 miles than I had in previous marathons. I kept working and keeping up my effort and heard the first sounds from the famous Wellesley Scream Tunnel. Veterans had told me that I would hear the girls well before I could see them, and man do you hear them from far away. It’s not very often the weekend warrior gets to feel like a super star and this was just one of many times Boston made me feel like a pro athlete. The women of Wellesley scream, offer high fives, and kisses to runners from the elites to the last charity runners. It’s an awesome tradition and a pick me up that carries you all the way to the halfway mark.
I saw my family again as we entered Wellesley Hills and it was here that I started to feel off. My calf was starting to cramp and I felt like I couldn’t push off, especially on any uphill. Not ideal as you head down the last big drop to Lower Newton Falls and where the marathon really starts.
On the first climb up over the freeway, I knew my goal was falling from my grasp and I was going to have a long afternoon in the pain cave. By the time I made the turn at the fire station in Newton, it was a battle not to walk. My parents had come out to support me just down the street from the fire house and I told my dad as I went past that I was cramping up. By the time I got to the top of the second hill I was in trouble. Dizziness and nausea were coming over me in waves. I felt crushed that all my training had taken me from feeling like “this was my day” during those first 9-12 miles to wondering why I even run marathons. With a cramped calf, I had to do something to salvage my first Boston.
I started high-fiving little kids, taking Popsicles from strangers, walking through every water stop, and thanking volunteers. It took what seemed like forever, but I did shuffle all the way up and over Heartbreak and started down into Chestnut Hill.
From here on it was a slow painful slog to the finish, but the crowds were now growing larger and noisier. The downhills really started to hurt as a result of changing my stride to compensate for my calf and I was seeing more and more people walking. However, the crowds kept getting even bigger and more boisterous. The cheering was incessant and punctuated frequently with even louder roars when encouraged by a runner asking for more. It was amazing how the noise never let up.
By the Citgo sign, there was only one mile to go and it was time to make a final, feeble push to the line. It felt like that right on Hereford would never appear, but it did and the left onto Boylston was everything you have ever heard about. I don’t care how you feel; you have to try to run your hardest down Boylston. The finish is further than it looks, but there it is, spread out in front of you and somehow the noise gets even LOUDER.
And then it was over.
And it hurt.
I was given a bottle of water, then my medal, then a heat blanket and every 30 seconds someone seemed to ask me if I was ok. They kept us moving on down Boylston. They gave me a bag of food, then a protein recovery drink, and more people asking, “are you feeling ok?”
I limped into the family reunion area and found my wife and kids. There, they presented me with my green marathon jacket (which I had left in its packaging for months waiting for this moment) and the marathon shirt they had given me for the holidays, which I refused to wear until I was an official Boston finisher. Despite the pain, and the slog through the second half of the course, it was all worth it. For my family to see my medal, give me that shirt and jacket after all the early morning tempo runs and Sunday long runs, it was worth it. Why? Because Boston made me feel like a star even when I felt like I was letting them down.
This star treatment continued into the evening, through breakfast, and even lunch on Tuesday, where everyone wanted to know how I was feeling, how I did and was I coming back?
Runners were lined up around the block on Boylston Tuesday morning to get their medals engraved with their name and finishing time at the addidas Run Base, and lined up again down the block at Marathon Sports where they were embroidering “2016” onto past years marathon jackets. One guy I saw had every year for the last 12 years. Another I met had just run his 40th Boston!
The star treatment kept going. At security at Logan Airport, the guy who checked our luggage asked me about my race and how my legs were holding up. The TSA agent checking our boarding passes and IDs told me how much she loved seeing everyone’s medals going through the X-ray machine. The flight attendant congratulated me as I boarded the plane. People, total strangers, who in any other town really wouldn’t have known there was a race or cared that I took part, weren’t just being polite, but earnestly wanted to know my story.
So I missed my goal because I cramped up. So what. I got over it. Why? Because it’s Boston and the city treated me and my 32,000 fellow runners like heroes.
I can’t wait to come back next year. #BOSTONSTRONG
Nike Pro Combat short sleeve shirt
Patagonia Strider Pro shorts
New Balance Fresh Foam 980s
adidas Boston Marathon Celebration Jacket
adidas Boston Marathon Race Tee
Pro Compression Calf Sleeves
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Absolutely awesome! Thanks for sharing!
Proud you’re a member of my family!