Boston ’07 – Wet, windy and wild!
Don’t believe the news - Best racing weather in 10 years!
Posted Saturday, 7 July, 2007
It was an interesting race last week. It played well to my affinity for a quixotic adventure. Of course I was on a business trip in the Midwest as the weekend approached with its media-driven hysterical foreboding of meteorological Armageddon. It has become tradition for me to be flying home on Friday from parts unknown and I usually have to squeeze my aching butt back into an airline seat on Monday night! Who says the universe has no sense of humor.
Wednesday night I got my first hysterical email. “Do you think the race will be cancelled?” It asked. (This being my 9th Boston I’m evidently perceived as having some useful input on these matters.) I usually can be counted on for input, not so sure about the useful part. I responded that I doubted it would be cancelled.
After all we’ve been going about this for over 100 years now. We’re New Englanders. We’re supposed to be a miserable and stoic bunch. Go out to Gloucester and read the monument under the bronze fisherman. We’ve cheerfully sent 5,000 of our scions to the briny depths in search of Cod; a little rain shouldn’t stop us from a 26 mile jog.
Just to be sure, I sent an e-mail of to Dave McGillivray – that compulsive race director and runner of races. I was guessing he’d be too busy to answer, it being 4 days before the big event, but compulsion runs deep! I had the following encouraging correspondence from a hotel room in Milwaukee as I watched a heavy wet snow fall on the rental cars and thought about skipping my last tempo workout in the morning.
From: Chris Russell
Sent: Wednesday, April 11, 2007 7:27 PM
To: Dave McGillivray
Subject: Dave - any inside scoop?
What's the inside scoop on the swirling rumors of cancellation and postponement?
From: Dave McGillivray
Sent: Wed 4/11/2007 9:27 PM
To: Chris Russell
Subject: RE: Dave - any inside scoop?
False, false, false and false.....and false. I know I'm running...the other 24,000 need to decide for themselves!
From: Chris Russell
Sent: Wednesday, April 11, 2007 9:48 PM
To: Dave McGillivray
Subject: RE: Dave - any inside scoop?
Ha! Bunch o' wimps...
From: Dave McGillivray
Sent: Wed 4/11/2007 9:52 PM
To: Chris Russell
Subject: RE: Dave - any inside scoop?
With that settled we were left with having to put up with the senseless apoplexy of the network news. As un-American as it sounds, I’m much happier when I don’t watch those folks. Back at home Friday I took Buddy the Wonder Dog for a final short prance as is my habit, and settled myself mentally for a weekend of relative inactivity and forecast watching.
It was raining pretty hard and any hope of beginning the spring sports season for the kids was squashed as all the fields were closed and all the games were cancelled. It rains in Boston in April. That’s why they talk about ‘April showers’. It’s our version of the monsoon. In Vermont they call it ‘mud season’. It still doesn’t stop our civic minded and over-scheduled populace from stewing about it.
Saturday the girls and I took the train into the Hynes to get some free food and posters. An interesting outgrowth to my relative marathon longevity is that my kids have grown up with tramping into Boston every spring on the Saturday before Patriots Day. To them it’s a grand adventure. They know all the food vendors at the expo and have even begun inviting their friends to join along in the fun. As they turn into teenagers I’m just an adjunct in this whole process, a curiosity and an appendage – a means to an end with a wallet.
One of my strange traditions is to wear the previous year’s race shirt to the expo. I suppose it started the second year as I wanted to show them all that I belonged among the hardy few, that I was one of their hale companions. After this year I gave all my race shirts to my Mom to see if she can make me a quilt! My personal marathon shrine in the laundry room was getting a little crowded and a tad creepy!
The expo was way crowded, probably because the weather drove everyone inside. I bought a pair of shorts for race day. I tried to buy a hat but they were sold out. The long sleeve windbreakers were a hot item as people began to panic. One of the charity runners from my club was leaving frantic messages on my phones. “What do we do? What should we wear? Will they cancel the race?” To which I replied, in a nod to Douglas Adams, “Don’t Panic”.
In my own strange little world I was starting to hatch a plan, because, believe it or not, the weather looked pretty good to me. My PR at Boston was in 1998 on the last blustery day. This is the kind of weather that an albino Clydesdale thrives on. It’s usually way too hot for me – like in 2004 when it was 88 degrees and sunny – now that was a miserable race. But, mid-40’s and drizzly? That’s my optimum racing weather.
The only wildcard was the wind. The forecasters had started to use the Nor’Easter phraseology. As the name implies, a Nor’Easter blows north east. Not as bad as a hurricane, but winds gusting up to 30-40 mph are still a little tough to run directly into for 26 miles.
It was only logical and equitable. We had escaped cataclysmic weather events at all the spring races. Derry, Martha’s, Stus’ Eastern States – all good. We were due for some meteorological weirdness.
The night before I lay awake and listened to the roar of the storm as gusting winds drove the rain in angry sheets against the house. Torrents of water gurgled through the gutters and out the drain pipes. The last remnants of dirty snow melted into the ground.
Monday broke cold, mid 30’s, and rainy, but the wind wasn’t too bad. I figured that at least this year would be interesting. I put dry socks, shoes, gloves and my Gu in a plastic bag. I put on thin tights and a couple shirts and threw my new shorts in the bag. I got out a large black plastic trash bag and had my daughter tailor it into a tunic of sorts, replete with smiley faces. (One year I had her draw flames on my shoes with crayon…)
I wasn’t stressed because I didn’t really have anything riding on the race. I was going to finish. I turn 45 next year and they’ve given me the gift of ten whole minutes on my qualifying time. It might not be enough, but it didn’t matter.
I trained ok, but not too seriously this spring. I knew with my travel schedule and the fact that I broke my ankle in August I wouldn’t be able to train hard. If I did, I’d just be miserable and probably injured. I trained well instead. I adjusted my targets to my new old-guy qualifying standard and followed a moderate Yasso program. My strategy was, as it has been for a few years, to train enough for the race to not be miserable, but run it for fun.
If I can offer up any Boston recommendations for my mid-pack friends, the primary one would be “Don’t race this race, run it for fun.” I tell people to train and qualify in the fall, but train and enjoy Boston. It’s too much of a spectacle to waste staring at a 3 foot square patch of pavement for 3 hours. Lighten up. High five the kids. Hug the girls. Have some fun. Think of all the folks who never get here.
I leaned on our great support community of mid-packers up here throughout the spring. I worked the majority of my long runs around local races. Why go out and slog about by yourself for hours when you can slog about with some like minded folks?
We kicked off the campaign on January 1st, ironically enough in the poring rain, at the Hangover Classic 10k, and I did take my ocean plunge for the mug! Next we gathered up our mountain climbing gear and had a strong outing at the Derry Boston Prep 16 Miler.
Onto the ferry and out to Martha’s Vineyard in February for a 20 mile jaunt with the islanders, (where I discovered that I had 17 miles worth of the race in me!) Then I woke up one sunny day and decide to go west for the grueling Stu’s 30k – an excellent training run for Boston and, as is traditional, it was snowing when I crossed the finish line.
The free Run to the Beach 30k was next with a killer hill set early in the run, but a nice down hill ride after mile 15, a mini-simulation of the Boston course. Finally we toed the line in Kittery for the Eastern States 20 miler. I was feeling strong and injury free. Not the best shape I’ve ever been in, but what the heck, on paper I was all set to go. New England is a great place to be a runner.
Through the whole process I traveled non-stop for business. Some of my training highlights include running up Camelback and Squaw Peak in Phoenix in lieu of tempo workouts. Ambling through the still destroyed rubble of New Orleans – (why aren’t we doing more to help our own?) Cruising the length of Hollywood Blvd to the pier and dipping my fingers in the Pacific and Atlantic in the same day. Daybreak loops in the Galleria in Houston, and countless other generic treadmills, sidewalks and parking lots. It all blended together, but I usually got my runs in. Not the best training, but a still moving forward.
As I drank my coffee and rubbed the Flexall into my legs on Monday morning I began to think, “Why let this splendid cool weather go to waste?” If I could stay out of the wind and keep my feet relatively dry this was a day for racing. You have to be patient and respect the distance, but I figured I’d at least put myself in the position to race if it turned out to “be my day”.
We made our way out to Hopkinton in the intermittent showers and it was warming up. I quickly got naked and switched to my new shorts and a long sleeve technical shirt. It was raining. We took some pictures, cracked the same old jokes and hit the porta-potties. We boarded the buses and talked to all the folks from all over the states and the world, all ages, all sizes, veterans and newbies.
For some reason this year the buses took the long route getting back on 495 and going down another exit instead of taking us into town. With the rain and the traffic we ended up spending a good 30-45 minutes on the bus, but we were warm and dry.
Unloading at the high school it was raining hard and the wind was gusting 20-30 mph. It was too late to make it down to the lower field. We got in line for a last pit-stop. I amused my friends by screaming at the tempest, “Is this all you’ve got?!?...You call this rain?!?”
There were folks in all kinds of waterproof clothing. Some of it was sophisticated - full white hazmat get ups. Most of it was impromptu like my glad-bag tunic. Folks had their feet wrapped and taped up in swaths of plastic grocery bags. Many had those one-use rain ponchos like they give out at the ball games.
Hopkinton is getting all new sod this year. They’ll have to, because any patch of grass was quickly trampled into a sucking quagmire of mud. I had been telling the newbies to stay away from the fields because there just wouldn’t be enough tents for everybody – like life boats on the Titanic. In the end it didn’t matter because by the time I was relieved – we were being called for the start.
Listen as I’m politically correct so I don’t get verbally harassed like I did last year…
This year they started some of us with 10,000 numbers and lower at 10:00 AM and a ½ hour before those other runners with higher numbers who trained just as hard and are just as serious and proud wonderful people in their own rights…Actually I firmly believe the folks in the back corrals are morally superior individuals and I hope they are nice to me next year when I might join them.
So…anyhow…we had to hustle to get to the corrals. They were singing the national anthem as I got there. No time to stretch. I un-wrapped my plastic package and put on my dry green Locos, dry hat and fresh gloves. I stripped off and tossed away my sweats – adding my castoff clothing to the grand pile of leavings there on the sidewalk. The corral was full. I couldn’t get in until they pulled the ropes.
And then it stopped raining. The weather becalmed itself like some atavistic miracle bending to our collective wills. If you were to look at the weather map for the day you would see an isolated patch of nothing between the rain bands that would hold for us through the day.
I tore off my plastic bag, said a prayer of thanks and decided it would be a fine day for racing.
It took us 10+ minutes to gain the start mat, but after that things cleared out almost immediately and I was quickly on pace. The inclement start seemed to have bled off the typical early jitters. Everyone was running easy. No one was doing the usual useless trying to break through or lane changing. As a result we were off easy and clean through the early miles.
My plan was to hold a good pace to the top of Heartbreak. Stay out of the wind and save energy. My race would be decided in the last 10k. In this way the first 20 miles are an exercise in patience and the last six are an exercise in courage. The more patience you have, the less courage you need. You never know what’s going to happen after 20. You just have to give yourself a chance, to set yourself up for the ultimate challenge, the thing that we all love, the final test where it is just us against ourselves.
I try to pace so that I hit 20 miles with 5 minutes in the safety deposit. That way if I crash I can still make my time – maybe. At the five mile water stop I was already 4 minutes up, steadfastly ignoring my big brain’s call for reserve. My big-brain put its foot down and pulled the car over to walk the water stop and stunt the growth of some shrubbery.
Then a deep breath and back on the road at a slightly more sensible pace. The wind was gusty and right at us most of the time. Everyone was running great; nice and steady. It made drafting easy.
People asked me all week, “Wasn’t the wind bad?”
“Not where I was!” I can draft an underfed 8-year-old. At one point we actually had a tail wind for a little bit. With my strategy and the wind I was trying to put away a Gu and walk a water stop every 5 miles. I figured I’d need the strength when we dropped down the slump into Kenmore and there was no protection. It made me a little sick, but that was ok, it slowed me down a little.
I met the typical medley of nice folks from all over, and had some good laughs. There seems to be a waning of the iPod craze. Maybe it was the weather or the harsh warnings from USATF, but not everyone was in their own music video this year. It made it easier to talk to folks.
As the miles rolled on I noticed that the clothing crisis continued. There was stuff everywhere. The plastic bags were a wee bit treacherous as they rolled like tumbleweeds in the wind amidst the runners legs. If I had some way to carry it I could have gotten a full wardrobe of running stuff. Nice stuff too, technical hats, gloves, windbreakers – you name it.
At the same time there were people running in full warm up clothes like they were going on a snowmobile trip. People wore their plastic bags the whole race! I saw guys in the high miles with the shreds of plastic grocery bags safety-pinned to their shoes like they were homeless people fleeing an apocalypse. They must have been too tired to take the stuff off.
The DNF’s were almost nonexistent compared to previous years. People were walking in the hills, but not wrecked like in previous races. The cool weather kept them in it. After the final accounting I believe only 300 odd people hit the med-tents compared to over 1,000 in ’04. The newscasters didn’t let the facts blur their strong emotional leads of how brave and courageous everyone was to be out there. I can tell you it was awesome running weather – at least for me.
The crowds were still out. These are professional spectators. They can’t be stopped. The girls were out at Wellesley. Their screaming was once again a mad animal howl that can be heard 2 miles before you get their. All the old guys perk up their paces and slap enough hands to qualify as level 3 sex offenders. I’m smiling just thinking about it – thanks ladies!
In the middle miles my new shorts started to chafe. Ever hear that advice about not wearing anything new for the race? Luckily I had thought ahead and had a small tube of Aquafor in my key pocket. I splurged it on but dropped the cap, so I had to toss it.
One amusing anecdote... I finally got my answer as to whether anyone eats the Vaseline they offer out in great gobs on tongue depressors just before Newton Lower Falls. Frank saw some gentleman from the Far East take one and eat it. Must have thought it was clear Gu! That’s got to be hard to swallow.
I found a nice Canadian couple to follow through the hills. They were setting a great pace. Finally the guy turns around on Heartbreak and says, “What the hell is wrong with you? You’ve been following us for miles!” I shrugged and moved on. I wasn’t stalking you Dudley Dooright, I just liked your pace.
At mile 20, I was scheduled to walk the water stop and shoot a Gu, but I just didn’t want to give up the momentum. At the top pf Heartbreak I had 6 minutes in the bank and felt fresh. Hoo-hah! I picked up another minute on the back side in the next 2 miles. A perfectly executed tactical marathon, now all I had to do was keep my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road.
I don’t know about you, but I start playing a math game with my banked miles that goes like this… “I’ve got five 6 minutes so I could run all 9 minute miles in and still get my time…” Then “I could walk the last 3…” And if you stay on pace the numbers just keep getting rosier.
As you get closer to the city the boys have had a few too many beers and heckle the walkers in a good natured way. They bend to the task with boozy “Cm’on you can do it! Get moving! Let’s go!” The Green line trams tempt us all to take the last couple miles for free.
For awhile I was near a guy running with a life preserver on. The crowd was yelling “Stay afloat!” – so he must have had that written on him somewhere. Again in the interest of harmony I’ll say that I’m sure whatever charity or website you were running for is a wonderful thing. Next year I’m thinking of running in a leopard-print thong to raise awareness for old guys with back hair.
My marathon photo proofs came in the mail and it shows me smiling as I cross the finish line. A big happy grin as I easily beat my target time by 8 minutes. I feel like the cool weather allowed me to steal one!
All in all it was a fantastic day. I think I have one more in me – at least.
I’ll see you all out there!