Boston Marathon 2015

Boston Marathon 2015 wasn't your typical year. That's if you were a first timer. Then again, it wasn't a typical year either back in 2012. The heat wave and early summer that we experienced made sure of that. Of course, for Malaysians, we should have felt right at home: Like the 32 degrees Celsius kind of 'at home'. 2013 was much more promising with an almost perfect weather. But we all knew what happened 4:09 hours into the race. Boston, typical? It is an oxymoron. 

Ironically, the day before and after the race was beautiful. They were those "Hello Spring" days. We could bloody hell predict the rain, head wind and sub 5 degrees temperature to the Tee, but could we do anything about it? Not a thing. 

So, we knew that it would be cold, windy and wet. No thanks to the 2013 bombing, the runners gear check-in rule was changed since 2014 due to security threats. We were to check-in our belongings at Boston Common before we even hop on the bus to Hopkinton. Previously, we had the luxury of doing that right before heading to our corrals at the Athletes Village in Hopkinton. That meant you will risk getting hypothermia unless you bring along warm clothing that you are prepared to discard or donate, right before gun off.

Choo Hooi and I were the two Penangnites who were less prepared. I had misunderstood that they were only going to have our gears inspected at Boston Common and we would still be able to lodge our bags later at the Village. This was a costly oversight. So, we were freezing ourselves numb when we got to the Village. Thank God that space blankets were given out to all runners. And a few of my heat pads that I brought along kept us warm enough before the race started.

With Choo Hooi before departure
Coming into this race, both our aims were a bit different. Choo Hooi, having qualified for Boston last year, had already achieved an amazing feat in Tokyo 2 months earlier with a 2:58 PB. So, Boston was just a victory lap for him. He was just there to soak in the experience. However, for me, this would be my attempt for sub 3. Yet again. After countless failed attempts since 2012. The closest I have ever come to tasting it was in Berlin 2013 where I clocked a 3:00:25. So, the hope was high, but the stakes, even higher.

Training for it was a constant struggle. Methodology aside, there were life issues and age factors that came into play as well. Not an easy thing at all to juggle. But, finally, here I am. Time to put the theories and training to the test.

So, I was assigned to Wave 1 Corral 5. Choo Hooi was just right behind me in Corral 7 (he registered with a 3:07 time when he first BQ'ed). After the American anthem, we were gun off amidst the cheers of thousands of spectators in Hopkinton. The atmosphere was electric! Needless to say, fueled by the adrenaline rush, and with a downhill start, most couldn't help but sped off with a faster than usual pace. Very early on, my GPS was already recording an average pace of 4:00 per km. 

Higher functions would have it that I should be sticking to my planned 4:10 pace. But somehow, the rush of the moment overrode all plans. Hindsight is always 20/20. But at that moment, my pace of 4:00 felt easy. Deceptively comfortable. Therefore any nudge to persuade myself to fall back into 4:10 pace was quickly and foolishly dismissed. The assurance of sub 3 was almost tangible. I was convinced that it was a matter of how well I finish below 3 hours. 

I ran the first 10 km in 40 minutes. Choo Hooi overtook me momentarily at the start. But by 16 km, I caught up with him and went ahead with my quest for sub 3. By half way, I was clocking 1:25. My best half to date. I was still feeling so strong. Emotions were more fired up than ever. However, I dropped my pace a little to 4:03 in order to conserve for the last 10 km. 

Reached the 30 km mark in 2:07, with the cheering crowd and numerous high 5s, I felt invincible. But after a few more km down the undulating route, I began to fatigue. Took my 2nd gel and then the third but they didn't make much difference. So, the honeymoon had finally come to an end when I reached the infamous Heartbreak hill. I was beginning to regret my decision to go fast in the initial first half instead of sticking with my original game plan. Classical moronic mistake only a rookie could make. I thought I was seasoned enough to know the difference. 

The Heartbreak Hill broke me. Beyond that I just could not muster up the strength to push forward. It felt like running with lead strapped to the legs. No amount of 'digging deep' mattered anymore. I reached the 35 km mark in 2:34. I knew it was over. 

The remaining journey was brutal. Hefty price to pay for foolishly defying the natural law of physiology. Any further attempts to speed up was met with sheer pain and impending cramps; but what got me more worried were the dizzy spells that I have never experience before. "Fight another day." I thought. Just get back in one piece. 

In the last few km, I slowed to an almost 6 min pace. Whatever was gained were all canceled out and I was drawing on a gross deficit. If I had conserved at a 4:10 pace, I think I would not have even done so badly. In fact, I could have even pulled off a sub 3 if I had been more rational and disciplined right from the start. I have had my Derek Yorek moments. 

Finished in 3:13. Or rather, it finished me. As I ran the last 10 km, over a thousand runners overtook me. I was wondering why they could have sped up so much. But on hindsight, it was me that had slowed down. These runners were well en route to a sub 3 finish and they were merely maintaining a steady pace. It is of course clear as day now, but for what seemed like an eternity during the last few km, it was extremely disheartening to be left behind. Bonking really sucks. 

So, it was a disastrous Boston 2015 for me. Made the most classical textbook mistake that any rookie could make. And I blew it by single-handedly throwing away any chance of making sub 3. 

What I took away from this, at the end of the day, is the realization of my own impetuous nature. A more deserving person would be one with enough sense to keep it altogether. Certainly one more disciplined than me. A course like Boston could never be underestimated. The first half was deceptively easy and many fell victim to the temptation to go out too fast. The real test is the second half where the hills await. Knowing your pace (and sticking to it) is the key to making it through without blowing yourself up. 

A very costly lesson. One which I hope I will learn well and eventually put behind me. Of course I was disappointed. But ultimately, sub 3 or not is not my only goal in running. It would be nice to achieve it. And I will always endeavor to give it a shot. My worth, however, is never based on an achievement. If that were the case, I would have been devastated and crushed.

At the end of the day, I believe a good pace strategy, coupled with some adjustment to the training would better prepare me for another day's battle. I will regroup and come back stronger.

It's not over til the fat lady sings.


  1. Howdy,
    I have your blog in my RSS feed as we seem to have both been chasing the 3 hour dream for a while. I came up short as well at Boston this year; 3 1/2 mins short. The conditions were rough out there - especially the ~2nd half of the race as the winds picked up.
    Keep your head down and keep plugging away - we will get there some day. And even if we don't... it is the journey that counts.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement Ted. Boston is a tough course. Never to be underestimated, even without factoring in the weather. Well, we will continue to work on it. And I agree with you, its the journey that counts. :)

  2. Indeed, it ain't over man. Not by a long shot. Defiance, defiance!

    1. Counting on that, Jamie! Will defy that in GC !!!! Upwards and onwards!

  3. I'd take your bad race over my good race any day, Francis. Like you said, it ain't over till the fat lady sings. An incredible run nonetheless, Francis!

    1. Nick, I have a feeling that you are much more 'cool headed' than I. I know you will do well in GC. We will do it together!

  4. Congrats for another brave run. This is a tough run given the route and the elements of the day. I guess we share the same experience while attempting for a time - started with good feeling and thought it is the day, and felt the effect at the end of the run, and we repeat it again even if reminded ourselves not to. How to gauge it is crucial. I wish I can share your experience of running there one day.

    1. Kent, I think it is a matter of discipline that I lack. A costly lesson.
      You already qualify for Boston with your recent Seoul result. Why not think about a trip there in 2016? Registration usually starts in Sept 2015.

    2. Ya Francis, we know about discipline but we just unable to control ourselves every time, especially when there's a target. I made the same things every time. May be we all need a race when everything comes together. I don't feel I'm ready for Boston yet. It's kind of a big project and I feel I'm not competent to handle it. Probably few years later if everything goes well.


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