The 2016 Boston Marathon was a lonely race for me. I pushed alone, from start to finish, occassionaly passing other isolated souls. It can be a long slog from Hopkinton to Copley Square when you traverse mile after mile without spotting another competitor, trying to find motivation from the cheers of the spectators. The 26.2 miles made longer because the race for you has ended miles ago, and the pain you feel coursing through your body is being endured for pride alone. When you finally cross the finishline the meaning is lost. There is no happiness or relief. Your body gets to shut down, at long last, but your mind will keep running the race until you force it to stop.
Sometimes racing is hard to stomach.
I was infected with a wave of excitement my first day in Boston. The sky was blue my first morning in town as I stretched my arms through a training run on the Charles River. I hadn't raced since January, and despite the frustrations my body had put me through over the past few weeks, I was stoked to race.
The week that followed was relaxing, as all pre-marathon weeks should be. Morning runs along the river, lingering lunches ending with a fresh juice, half a ball game at Fenway complete with peanuts and a Fenway Frank. I was looking sleek with a new helmet and glasses from my new sponsor POC, and my ribs were painfree for the first time all year.
Expectations are minimal for me in Boston. The course presents some unique challenges to me that come into play as soon as the starter's pistol fires. The course begins with a few screaming downhills for the first 5k, and the race itself drops some 400ft from start to finish. Going downhill is not a particular strongsuit of mine, meaning I typically treat this race as a timetrial; trying to remain as close to the leaders as I can down the first few hills and then setting a grueling pace and picking people off person by person as the race goes on.
I entered the race with no expectations. I still didn't trust my body, and after the leadup that I had, I was at a loss for predictions. Out of the major marathons, Boston has provided the biggest challenge and the lowest finishes for me. The course does not suit my strengths even on a perfect day. It begins with an enormous downhill stretch that leaves me off the back of the pack and chasing from the start. The past couple of years I have managed to run very strong races, however. Behind a strategy of treating the race like a time trial and racing for the front instead of racing the guys that I catch along the way, I've been able to close large swaths of ground on the leaders and missed the top 5 by less than a second last year. The strategy requires two things to work, however; a strong understanding that you will need to endure a lot of physical discomfort, and unfaltering self-condfidence.
I was not confident in Boston this year. I hesitated at the beginning of the race, and after I saw the pack drift ahead of me I was forced to reduce my pace ever so slightly because I was not confident I could sustain it until the end. This year I raced safe. I didn't recklessly barrel forwards in pursuit of the leaders no matter whether i could survive the charge or not. This year I raced for the next race.
For me, the best thing about the Boston Marathon. Is that the next race is always only six days away.
Next stop, London and its marathon.