Running Boston at age 65 meant a lot to me – a bid for immortality. My stretch goal was to run at the same pace I ran it at age 48.
It’s an inspiring course. The first 4 miles of downhill tempt everyone to a fast start. The next 11 are about controlling pace over mostly flat roads. Then, the course dives down a long steep hill to Newton Lower Falls and the race really begins. The Newton hills demand grit. Finally, one hopes to have gas in the tank for a fast finish down through Brookline into Boston.
Four weeks earlier on my birthday, I had run the first 22 miles of the course and felt great – started in the dark on a beautiful cold morning; ran a steady pace on the flats with a slight tail wind; felt the passion to accelerate over the hills; crested Heartbreak Hill to see the sun rising over the city; stopped at Boston College feeling confident for a strong final four miles on race day. A great run and a peak experience in itself, but perhaps a training error.
I figured I had four weeks to recover and hoped to be as strong or stronger on race day. I did some shorter, faster training runs and rested up. In the week or two before the race, with several years of training behind me, I worried that I’d get hurt or catch COVID. The day before the race, I stumbled going up the stairs in flip-flops, felt a twinge in my hamstring and thought it was all over . . . but the hamstring loosened up.
On race day, I went out at 8:40 pace, about 15 seconds faster than I had run four weeks earlier. I gambled that I’d be able to maintain that steady pace over the hills and average out to a slightly faster run than four weeks earlier. In fact, I averaged the same pace through mile 22, but I was decelerating, not accelerating. I didn’t have much left in the tank after Heartbreak.
Near Cleveland Circle, there was a man holding a sign that said “Finish on Empty.” I yelled over to him – “Hey, I’m already on empty.” Not quite empty, I had enough to finish down Beacon street running 9:00 to 9:30 pace, but not the fast finish I’d hoped.
My tank was so empty at the finish line that the short walk to the Public Garden to meet my wife felt longer than the race. I noticed that a lot of other finishers didn’t seem to be walking so slowly.
I had finished in 3:52, about 13 minutes slower than I had in 2005. So much for agelessness.
Most of the people around me on the course were from out-of-state – T-shirts and accents from across the country and around the world. I had not fully appreciated how far people at all levels of competition come to run this race. Lucky we are to live in this state.
As a public servant, I marveled at the brilliantly executed logistics of the event: The clean online sign-up process, the clear pre-race communications, the military marshalling of all the region’s school buses to convey 30,000 runners to the starting line (not to mention the marshalling of all of the region’s portable bathrooms), and the great support on the route – a massive volunteer army.
Hats off to the Boston Athletic Association and their race director, Dave McGillivray, and enormous gratitude to all the volunteers. Great thanks also to the communities who host the event and all the public safety personnel from dozens of agencies who mobilize to keep the event safe.
Special gratitude to all who came out along the route. I ran my first marathon at 16 and I’ve been doing long races my whole life. I am grateful to live in a sports town that celebrates runners.