In 2016 I returned to run my second Boston Marathon. I never wrote a report of my first race there because I could never work out the story I wanted to tell. That first time took place in 2013 and many narratives of that race have already been told.
I was joined in 2013 by two great running mates. On a remarkable day in fantastic conditions, all three of us managed to achieve best times over the marathon. It was a day to be celebrated, and it started off that way as we enjoyed drinks in the Lenox Hotel, with a view of runners headed down Boylston St towards the finish line from one story above street level. The bombs that went off were to either side of the hotel.
By the following day armoured vehicles were parked on Boston Common, and at the airport, as we prepared to depart two days after the race we were interviewed by the FBI. The manhunt was still ongoing and they were interested in any photos or video from the finishing area.
I knew that Boston would respond and considered returning for the 2014 race, but it didn’t fit in with my travels at that time. So in 2016 I returned to enjoy a Boston Marathon trip from start to finish.
I had no company for this trip, but as I waited in a toilet queue I started up a conversation with a guy just behind me when I spotted his Seattle Running Club cap. Then it turned out that the guy in front of me was also from Seattle so we talked about favourite running spots.
I had qualified with a time five minutes faster than in 2013 but would start from the same wave and corral. In another parallel to 2013, my target was not to race flat out but rather to slip in under the three-hour mark. In 2013 I had gone three minutes under that mark for a PR.
Control every variable you can, but accept the variables you can’t control
On Valentine’s Day, I achieved my first running target for the year by breaking 17 minutes for 5 km. A month later I was ready for a single attempt in 2016 at my second target, to break 35 minutes for 10 km.
My time over 5 km predicted that I should be able to achieve my target and the intervening training had gone well. I found a perfectly flat course, although the nature of the race (predominantly targeting novice runners) meant that I would likely be running alone. But despite all of the steps you can take in preparation, a variable that cannot be controlled through training and preparation is the weather. Race day was cold, wet, and most importantly, windy.
With an extremely strong wind I would have likely called off my plans but instead, it was only stiff enough to ensure a tough day. The course featured a 2.5-km section of paved trail around the outside of Seward Park, run as an out-and-back, and then repeated once more. The headwind would be faced at the end of each “lap”.
A couple of years ago I realised just how difficult it can be to achieve great race results across varying running distances. The only times I felt in shape to mount a challenge at a respectable time over 5 or 10 km was in my training towards longer-distance races. At those times I wasn’t willing to incur the lost mileage of taper and recovery that the shorter distance race would require. Furthermore, my training was never focussed on improving pace over such short distances, so any times achieved would still have been short of my potential. With my focus firmly set on racing marathons and further I conceded that I would never achieve 5 or 10 km personal bests that would be representative of my capabilities.
Then in 2015 I had a period of struggle following a tough ultramarathon. I needed to refresh myself, and I decided to do that by focusing on shorter distances. All of a sudden I was including new speed workouts into my training plan, I had signed up for a series of short road and cross country races, and two very specific time targets evolved. I would look to break 17 minutes for 5 km, and 35 minutes for 10 km. During 2015 I did not quite make it, managing to lower my times to 17:13 and 35:17 respectively. I would start 2016 by having one shot at each target.
I signed up for a Valentine’s Day race over 5 km around Green Lake in Seattle. It was fast and flat, and other fast runners in the field meant that I would have company.
In late November I ran my 9th and final race for 2016. During that same period, I wrote only a single race report for my 100-mile effort at Cascade Crest 100.
But I have decided that this slow start can be overcome by a sprint finish. Therefore I will attempt to complete race reports for each of my seven road races over the last 15 days of the year. For each race, I will highlight a lesson either newly learnt or reinforced.