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Boston Marathon 2014

      By Jacob Gilden
          Posted July 2014

Getting There:

Qualifying and running the Boston Marathon was never a realistic goal when I first started running. I had putzed around with a 4 or 6 miler here or there during college, largely to try to get rid of the Freshman 15 that had struck, but never with the intent to race or train with any sort of volume or intensity. This changed when I moved to the DC area. I had completed a 70.3 over the summer and in the fall of 2010, I decided that I wanted to run a marathon. With minimal training and no real plan, I suffered through a painful, tendonitis-filled 3:40 Marine Corps Marathon. I was hooked.

That spring, after committing to proper training over the winter, I ran a 3:09 at the National Marathon, qualifying for Boston. The finish time was a shock and completely unexpected. I didn’t own a GPS watch and had no idea how fast or far any of my training runs had been. Training and racing on feel, while not advisable, likely did help me better understand how the body should feel during a race as brutal as a marathon. However, with a new registration system based on time of finish rather than first-come first-served, I was shutout of the start line by a matter of seconds. The disappointment of missing a slot by so little was a motivating factor in placing qualifying for Boston as a central goal of my racing. In 2012, after hiring Eric Sorensen as coach, dropping a significant amount of weight, and building training volume, I had a breakthrough race at the Richmond Marathon, finishing in 2:49 and securing a spot for the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Training:

The winter of 2014 was a less than ideal period to train for a marathon. As everyone experienced, the freezing temperatures pushed much of my training indoors to the treadmill. While I may be one of the crazy few who enjoys indoor running, it doesn’t provide the varied terrain and durability in the legs that outdoor training does. Second, because of work, school, and health reasons, all of my training was pushed to the early morning hours. While I had plenty of time for workouts, any two-run days were basically out of the question.

Even with these barriers, I was able to get my weakly mileage consistently between 45-55 miles a week. Most of these workouts were at relatively high intensity with an easier run 1 day a week coupled with a weekend long run. While more miles would have been welcome, I was consistently getting in high quality workouts. A benchmark came 3 weeks before race day in a 16 mile time trial to set my target pace for Boston. Feeling the best I had in months, I was able to keep my pace under 6 minutes per mile. Eric and I set my target pace at 6:15 per mile for the race, which would put me just under my goal time or 2:45.

The Race:

I flew up for the Monday morning race on Saturday. On Patriots Day weekend, the marathon completely takes over the city. BAA jackets are everywhere and people are constantly thanking you for coming and wishing you good luck.

On race morning, buses pick you up from Boston Common and make their way out to the small New England town of Hopkinton, exactly 26.2 miles from the finish on Boylston Street. With the late start time of 10am, the next few hours were spent eating and drinking in the field of the local high school. Even with layers of clothing and space blankets, the athlete village was still freezing. As the first few waves made the half-mile walk down the hill to the start, I ran into Kevin. As I was starting in a corral a few minutes ahead, I joked that given our target paces he should pass me at about mile 23 or 24.

The first few miles of the race are significantly down hill, but even in early corrals, there was a lot of weaving around other runners and little hope of finding clear pavement. After the first two miles, the group spread out and my pace dropped down to around 6:08 miles for the first 10. With the incredible crowds that lined Ashland and Framingham, it was difficult not to get caught up and run too quickly. The temperature was also starting to rise at this point, pushing towards 60 degrees.

The halfway point through Wellesley is one of the highlights of the race. The so called “scream tunnel” that Wellesley students form is like running through a stadium. All you can hear from a half mile out is a wall of screaming girls. At this point, the race really starts, as you begin to hit the more serious undulations of Wellesley Hills and Newton. The famous Newton Hills consist of four relatively small hills that start at around mile 17 and run through mile 21. At this point, I was still feeling solid and was fueling well. While my pace slowed a bit over the hills, I felt great going up and over Heartbreak Hill, which marks the last ascent of the race.

While people dread running up Heartbreak, running down did me in,. At this point, I was hovering around 2:42 or so pace. The pounding of the early miles manifested themselves in the final descents, blowing away my IT bands and quads. The last three miles were as rough as any I can remember with the only highlight being Kevin predictably coming flying past at around mile 23. The left turn onto Boylston Street was a madhouse with crowds five and six deep on each side, pushing you down the long straight towards the finish.

I crossed the finish line in 2:45:16, just barely off my goal time, but still posting a personal best.

Lessons Learned:

Boston is a course where some experience would be highly valuable. A few lessons I learned from the experience include the following:

1. Run hills, especially downhills, late in your long training runs.br/> While a downhill feels nice at mile 15 or 16, it was a killer for me at mile 21. I wish I had put some tough hills later in training runs to prepare myself for the type of conditions that Boston throws at you.

2. Go as slow as you possibly can for the first three or four miles.br/> While this is common advice for all marathons, it is especially true at Boston. With the big downhill and crowds lining the roads, it is very easy to run the first few miles of the race much too fast. I wish I had dialed back my pace by 5 or 6 seconds a mile over the first 10K.

3. If you’re going to wear racing flats, make sure your legs can take the beating.br/> I had done a number of long runs in flats and felt comfortable in them, but the constant beating your legs will take on the Boston downhills is tough to simulate in a training run, unless you want to set up a point-to-point workout.

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