116th Boston Marathon 2012...A Personal Review

Boston. April 16, 2012. Patriot's Day.

The weather forecast: HOT with no chance of rain.. Local inhabitants would have welcomed the early arrival of Summer (skipping Spring altogether), but for runners in the 116th Boston Marathon, it was a different sentiment. The promised temperature: 32+ degrees Celsius. And with that kind of heat, no amount of experience or training could prepare you for what was to unfold. This would go down the history as the Hottest Boston Marathon, ever! 

In fact, the organizer urged some runners to consider abandoning the run in view of this freakish climate change. But if you were someone like me who had to fly 22 long hours to get there, quitting at this point would never be an option. But what I had to abandon was all hope of a Personal Best. 

More than a year of planning had gone into this. From the point of qualification since Oct 2010 to the moment of actually receiving a confirmation of participation, and finally taking that flight and touch down in Boston, you could understand the level of frustration and disappointment one would naturally feel. We were utterly at the mercy of the weather. And there was not a thing one could do about it.

Race day morning was cool. Temperature was in the range of 20+ degrees. I was half hoping that the weatherman got it wrong this time. But it was an empty hope, unfortunately.

We made our way to down town Boston to board the buses that would take us to Hopkinton, the Starting point. This is the Boston tradition: to start off in this little town and make our way to the finish line in the city centre. 


The journey took about 45 minutes. When we reached the Athlete's Village, the sun was up and you could feel the temperature rising. The crowd was massive. We had almost 2 hours of waiting before gun off. Therefore, Adeline Tan and I roamed around between the tents, stuffing ourselves with bagels, bananas, Gatorade etc. Food was in abundance. They have done this a thousand times, and they know what the runners need. The wait was less than desirable though. 



I suppose it was natural to compare. Only a common competitor's knee jerk reflex.We were looking at the bibs of the runners as we walked around. You see, when you qualify with your BQ, they will assign a bib number to you based on your time. Therefore, the lesser your number, the more "elite" you are. For example, if you are a sub 2:30 runner, your bib number would probably be 127 like our Malaysian elite runner Woo Chan Yew. Mine was 7842. Tells you a lot, doesn't it? 


Well, by 10am, the sun was already scorching. I could feel my skin grilled as we made our way to the start line. I was beyond worried. While waiting, managed to bump into WS Moey, another fellow Malaysian Boston Qualifier. We took a look around and agreed that "Today is not the day!" No way was it conceivable to attempt a PB in that kind of heat. Moey took out his camera, and was prepared to convert this race to a running-cum-photo-snapping LSD. I was still holding on stubbornly to the hope of doing my best. In Hokkien: Bo-Kum-Guan.

My new game plan: Let's see how the first half goes. I knew from the elevation chart that it was going to be mainly down hill in the first half. So, there is no harm going a little faster rather than being too conservative. Seemed a little reckless but, hey, Reckless's my middle name.

Gun off. And off we all went with a slow walking pace. Took me 5-6 minutes just to get to the starting line. But beyond that, you could see that you are running amongst fast runners as everyone seem to be moving in unison. This is where Boston Marathon is unique compared to other races. By arranging the runners according to their BQ and starting them off at different waves and corrals, it eliminates the problem of congestion at the start and allows the runners to get on with their usual pace early on in the race.

The start was always the part where most get a little carried away. The pace was faster than usual because your adrenaline rush hands you a confidence boost. But soon enough as one moved beyond the first couple of km, the pace began to settle as reality sank in. And when the heat started taking it's toll on some....

I was cruising at 4:15min/km pace most of the time during the first half. Aided by the overall downhill. But at the back of my mind I was a little cautious because of my concern about the heat and it's effect on me. So, I tried to conserve too as much as I possibly could..

Eventually, it was becoming clear that the organizer DID know what they were talking about. Mind you, their consistent message was not targeted at novices in this sport. All participants were qualifiers. Naturally, one would assume they know what they were doing. Experience should account for something, so we thought. But in fact, this is where the danger lurked. The competitive tendency in us, if unchecked, would spell disaster in this kind of heat. And eventually, it did for hundreds of runners.

From the start, amazingly supportive local spectators lined up along the route. They were the highlights of the race. Their presence, in fact, were the reason why this race was so special. There were interesting and humorous remarks i.e. "Quit tent 1 coming up.", "It's HOT, but so are YOU!", "Bikes for rental." etc. etc. Families and local communities did their awesome part by giving out oranges, drinks, Popsicles and sprinkled their water on runners to help us cool down. But the most memorable for most of us had to be the Wellesley girls at the 20th km. They lined  up for almost a full km along the route as they cheered and offered kisses to the runners. I resisted the urge to do so, against my better judgement. On hindsight, I think I should have! It was in the name of good cheer and fun! But I did receive endless high fives from the girls. It was electrifying. It was as though energy was exchanged with each of the high five. I felt invigorated. And that stretch made me forget all my fatigue momentarily.

I finished the first half in 1:32. But 1:30 on my GPS. A very decent pace, so I thought. But the second half of the race was a whole different ball game.The heat was beginning to play tricks on the mind. I was actually actively seeking out sprinklers along the way to cool down. At each water station, I was gulping down lots of Gatorade and pouring cups after cups of water over my body and head. But it was so hot and dry (humidity 25%) that I never actually felt drenched. Blisters began to build up as I ran because of the soaked shoes.

I tried to block out the thoughts about the heat and fatigue. And aimed to maintain the pace as much as I could without slowing down. The route in the second half was a lot more hilly. Of all that was running through my mind, all I could think about was to take one km at a time. And in 2 hours, I had covered 28km. But beyond that, cumulative fatigue and heat had to take it's toll. Inadvertently the pace slowed as I climbed each elevation. And the more challenging part came in the form of the famous Heart Break hill at 33-34km. But it was not the incline. In fact it was not all that steep. BUT, at 34km when you are already depleted, even without the onslaught of the heat, a molehill would seem like the Everest. And it was for me too.

But there is always a silver lining. Beyond that wretched hill, the rest of the course was mainly flat and down hill. However, at 35th km, I felt an ominous twitch coming on in the right thigh and calf. It was at this point that I knew that I would not be attempting any PB on that day. My projected time based on my pace was to finish 40km by 3hours. But after the 35th km, I had to slow down lest the twitch in my legs regress to a full blown cramp. It would be the end of me. So, I gingerly tread on, trying my best to not aggravate the twitch. Eventually, I completed 38km in 3 hours. But for the rest of the course, it was a struggle to keep going. The body was shutting down. And the mind was in a semi-conscious state. I knew I was moving ahead. But I wasn't sure what was driving it. The only thing that I remembered was the roaring crowd in the last few km. It kept the spirit alive and certainly kept me going. The last 500m stretch seemed the longest. I had the Finish arch in sight but somehow it was taking forever to reach there. Most were picking up pace as we ran towards the end. I mustered up something, but fell short of a sprint because of the twitches....

Eventually, I had to be contented with 3:21:33 on that day.

Overall, for me, the 116th Boston Marathon was an amazing experience. I had to race against myself and the element. And from it, I had gain a renew respect for heat. I couldn't say it was an enjoyable experience though. But the spectators and support made it all worth while.

I would hesitate to mention this. But since some friends did ask, I would say that without the heat factor, I could have done better. Even coming close to or God willing, better my PB. But one thing I have learned from this is never to complain. Rather, take it as a valuable lesson and move on. Such "failure" only gives me the impetus to improve myself all the more in the coming races.

It's not the end of the world.




Comments

  1. Congratulation and well done in Boston!
    PB or not it will still be another great experience to run in Boston!

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  2. Absolutely Neoh! One of the runners said to me: Regardless of the weather, to me, this is a Victory Lap.

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  3. Tough run but what an amazing experience. Congrats!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks Kah Yen! When the dust had settled, I realized that I hv more to gain despite not achieving my PB...

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  4. Well done Francis! An awesome experience and very well writtem. Salute and high respect to you for completing it with a respectable timing. Congrats again!

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    Replies
    1. thanks Deo. I think the whole trip was like a personal pilgrimage to me. Learnt a lot. :)

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  5. Replies
    1. thanks Xiang Yun. I hope to do better next time.

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  6. Congrats Francis! PB or not, you still did awesome in my book!

    And I'm still envious of those Orange GOrun's you have ... LOL!

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    Replies
    1. thanks Nick. I hv gain a lot from this. Yes, PB or not, it was still an awesome experience.
      Btw, it was because of ur blog that I learned about the GoRun. Thanks to u for making that discovery!

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  7. Wow...that was some experience!
    Thanks for sharing, great write up. =)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Lisa. Yes, an experience of a lifetime. haven't seen u for a while, still running?

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  8. We all know what 42km is all about, fantastic!

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    Replies
    1. Each race is a new experience. That's why we keep going back for more!

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  9. Good to know that this topic is being covered also in this website & there are a lot of developers working on this segment but this is one of the best innovative idea ever seen.

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    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Power Plus. More of a personal running journal.

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