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 Quadbreak Hill. Bricks' Boston Marathon Race Report
Runworks 2005 5M Racer
Joined: 09 Dec 2004
Posts: 222

Quadbreak Hill. Bricks' Boston Marathon Race Report Posted: Thu Apr 20, 2006 8:22 am 

One thing I’ve come to realize about the Boston Marathon is that while so many runners share in their desire to make it to that common destination, they all get there way there in very different ways. I know my path wasn't typical by any stretch, since just a couple years ago I would have never even considered it remotely possible. I also found it fitting that Boston, witch requires so much more to ‘get to’ than other marathons, is a race that follows a course that spends its entirety actually ‘getting to’ Boston. The hour bus ride out to Hopkinton was yet another one of the many mind games you play with yourself leading up to the gun. Every mile the bus stayed on the highway meant another mile we had to go back the opposite direction on our own two feet. And like the different journeys runners take to make it to Boston, the race itself that takes you that last 26.2 miles to Boston is different for all those runners too. Leading up to the race you hear endless accounts of Boston veterans’ past experiences, observations and lessons about the race and the course itself. Heartbreak Hill, the fast start, the crowd support… I took in every account trying to mentally prepare for what was to come not realizing at the time that my journey, like theirs, would be unique to me and to me alone.

I did know that my goal time was not important, that is to say, not in the sense that I cared at all if I ran one minute faster or slower than any randomly selected number. That kind of nonsense was for qualifying. But the marathon not being such that you can walk to the starting line without some kind of plan and simply wing it I set out to run somewhere in the 3:15 to 3:20 range. I planned to run the first half of the race as comfortably as possible and assess things then for the second half based on how I felt up to that point. The hilly course goes up and down for the length of the event, but the steeper climbs fall in the second half of the race in the town of Newton where everyone warns to save some energy for. It’s also where Heartbreak Hill resides around the 20.5 mile point of the race. It’s where all the lore has built up over the years and where you’re taught to be afraid of. The Newton Hills would be no different for me, but not in the way I envisioned.

I had an amazing supporting cast there to help me with the last leg of my journey. I had friends and family that were to be strung out along the course at the 10K mark in Framingham, halfway in Wellesley, Heartbreak Hill between mile 20 and 21 and my parents camped out for hours near the finish line to see the end. They couldn’t have all been spread out more perfectly.

I was surprised how fast the time went once we got to the Village. The noon start had worried me. With two bathroom line trips and other small preparation, I really had only about 15 minutes to kill before we had to walk quite a way from the athlete’s village to the start corrals (about a half mile). I was in corral four and couldn’t wait to get moving. Two military jets did a fly-over and the jitters were replaced by goose-bumps. We crested a hill on the walk to the start and for the first time saw what the elevation chart looked like in real life. It truly was a steep downhill start. Trying to stay relaxed, not go too fast, negotiate the crowd, and get into a rhythm was a monumental set of undertakings… not to mention trying to soak in the atmosphere surrounding the town.

I did my best to get comfortable and clocked a 7:35 first mile which was right about where I wanted to be. Still descending at a healthy clip, the next few splits were fast (7:10, 7:15, 7:14). The course was indeed constantly going up or down. New York was similar, but less steep (rolling). This was flat out Hilly as far as I was concerned. The first climb came near mile four and I learned 7:32 was what a mile time looked like when I had to go up. Then the course settled into a steady dose of ‘a little bit up’ and ‘a little bit down and I got more comfortable. The next several miles seemed to fly by 7:22, 7:21, 7:22, 7:23, 7:28, 7:28, 7:28, 7:29 and I was really in a rhythm and gaining confidence. The first half of the race could not have gone better or more according to plan, really. I crossed the halfway mark at just under 1:37 and was spot on where I wanted to be. This was the part of the course where we passed through Wellesley College. The reputation preceded it, but I was still blown away at the high-pitched blare emanating from the valley where the school sits. Dogs for miles around must be going nuts on marathon day.

Here come the serious hills. I personally though the first half was challenging enough, so the thought of what these coming hills would be like was looming large. Sticking with my pre-race plan to reassess at half, I decided to dial it back. I slowed my pace to make sure I could manage these hills. I was too far now to risk ‘blowing up’. I wanted that medal. I wanted to finish and I wanted to do it running the whole way. Just after the 14 mile mark I would encounter what, to me, is the toughest part of the Boston Marathon. I have since named it Quadbreak Hill. It’s the bookend reciprocal to the last, more famous hill (Heartbreak) a few miles down (up) the road. Quadbreak Hill is a brutally steep decline that lasts for over a mile between miles 14 and 16. What was left of my quads from the preceding 14 miles of net downhill running would be finished off in this previously unknown (to me) portion of the race. Looking back now at the elevation chart, I don’t know how I overlooked it. It’s right there and it looks nasty. But being right before the more famous subsequent four climbs it’s easy to focus on those. On this descent, which looked endless below me, my quads would start to ache like I’d never felt before. Literally throbbing, they were screaming at me to get this over with. I tried slowing down, worse. I tried speeding up, worse. When is this hill going to end? Finally it does and I immediately have to climb back up the other side. I was in pain. I thought ‘The first of the Newton Hills and I’m already reeling from that last downhill’. I start to climb, but the further up it I go, the better my legs recover from the pounding. I’m actually resting running up the steepest, longest uphill on the course (from what I could tell). I knew however that there were still three to go whenever I got to the top of that one and that Heartbreak looming.

At this point in the race I have ‘thrown away’ my watch. I hit my splits at the markers, but I don’t even look down. I’m just running at this point. The clock is meaningless compared to negotiating these hills. For the record, my splits from miles 14-21 were 7:28, 7:42, 7:30, 7:53, 8:02, 8:01, 8:11, 8:15. The second uphill was not bad at all compared to the first one and I passed up scores of runners on the ascents, many of whom had just zipped past me on the down. The third hill was tough, but I took it easy, saving something for Heartbreak. I got to the bottom of the infamous hill and thought, ‘this doesn’t look so bad’. And it wasn’t. I charged up the left side, looking for my friends. Eventually I saw them and my girlfriend popped out into the road with a huge smile on her face, telling me I looked great. For some reason (though probably obvious) I decided to use the time I had to get one sentence out to say “I have no legs left” which couldn’t have been more accurate, but she didn’t need to know that. She tried to give me one last gu, but having done three already, the mere though of it turned my stomach. I would only take water from here on. This is where everyone tells you you’re ‘almost done’. True, the climbing was behind me now and I only had five and a half miles to go. I also knew I had plenty of gas in the tank, but as I told my girlfriend, I had no legs left. So, my new found relief was short-lived as I was reminded, ‘it was all downhill from here’. I know full-well this was good news, but considering the state of my quads, it was the worst news imaginable.

Traditionally the last five or six miles of a marathon is usually the hardest part as you have burned through your glycogen stores and are running on fumes and on shear will alone. For me, at Boston they were the hardest part of the marathon Because they are downhill. I contend that Heartbreak Hill isn’t brutal because you have to get up it, it is because once you do, you still have to get back down from it. Energy-wise, I had plenty of gas in the tank in the final miles. My breathing and heart rate and aerobic effort were stronger than any other marathon I’ve run at that point in the race. However, my legs were destroyed. I simply had no power and they ached and pulsated like I had a refrigerator in tow. I trudged through the last miles doing my best not to think about my quivering quads, and instead focus on the deafening crowd support entering Boston. I would even hear ‘go Fleet Feet’ (the running store name that was on the front of my singlet) over and over again amongst the noisy crowds. I even got advice to shake out my arms from an observant and intelligent spectator that saw I was tensing up “Drop those arms Fleet Feet!” I took his advice. 7:56, 7:58, 8:03, 8:16, 7:55 and I turned the final corner to look for my parents where I gave my dad a high-five and tuned my sights on a finish line that I never dreamed I’d see just meters in front of me.

My journey(s) to Boston; both that morning from Hopkinton; and the last two and a half years, 110 pounds, and some 4000 miles; now complete. I would say after the race that “Boston is all legs”. I think the marathon is usually about stamina. Boston is still about stamina, but so much of it is about muscle strength (not forgetting mental strength). I feel happy to have had enough of all of them to get through. I finished the 110th Boston Marathon in 3:21:10. Not lost on me was the symmetry of the pounds (110) I shed since my journey began to simply ‘get in shape’ and the number (110) of the Boston Marathon that I can’t believe I just ran.


Joined: 14 Dec 2004
Posts: 225

Re: Quadbreak Hill. Bricks' Boston Marathon Race Report Posted: Thu Apr 20, 2006 9:39 am 

Amazing report, Bricks. We're all proud of both you and Rickshaw. Man, that feeling of "I trained for it, and I did it" is like no other.

Runworks 2005 5M Racer
Rochester, NY
Joined: 28 Nov 2004
Posts: 262

Re: Quadbreak Hill. Bricks' Boston Marathon Race Report Posted: Fri Apr 21, 2006 3:19 pm 

Way to go Bricks. I was following you and Rickshaw on race day, and saw that you'd finished well. Congratulations on your hard-won Boston experience!

Runworks 2005 5M Racer
San Francisco, CA
Joined: 26 Nov 2004
Posts: 1157

Re: Quadbreak Hill. Bricks' Boston Marathon Race Report Posted: Mon Apr 24, 2006 9:08 pm 

Awesome race report. Way to go man! You definitely have come a long way, with the weight loss and all those miles. Congratulations! I hope you wear your medal with pride. :-)

It sounds like our races unfolded very similarly. Like you, my major problem in the final miles was leg pain, not aerobic exhaustion. I guess neither of us really expected that, but ultimately it didn't really matter. You had the right attitude in not worrying if you were a minute faster or slower than some random number: it was all about being there and soaking it all in.

Sorry we didn't sync up in the runner's village, but I also spent almost the whole time waiting in line to pee. Next time we'll plan something better!

Runworks 2005 5M Racer
Joined: 09 Dec 2004
Posts: 222

Re: Quadbreak Hill. Bricks' Boston Marathon Race Report Posted: Tue Apr 25, 2006 7:45 am 

Thanks Rickshaw, and of course Congratulations to yourself!

Are you putting together a more offical race report for us to enjoy?

Also, I want to discuss how you're recovering from this race (when i have a bit more time, maybe in a fresh thread) as it has been very different for me thus far than in the past...


South Orange, New Jersey
Joined: 19 Dec 2004
Posts: 367

Re: Quadbreak Hill. Bricks' Boston Marathon Race Report Posted: Tue Apr 25, 2006 8:25 am 

Another congratulations to you both! I monitored you both from teh BAA web site (which was very sluggish and delayed by about 5-10 minutes in reporting split times). It was interesting to see how you two ran such close split times. It's funny how Boston is so well known for the long climb up Heartbreak Hill and yet it's really the down hills that get you.

I recall when I did it in 2002 I started off at a very slow 9:00 min. pace so that I could run with my brother-in-law and his friend. I had trouble running that slowly and found myself speeding up and then stopping at the water stops to wait for them. After passing the halfway point I was starting to have problems with my calves tightening up as I waited at the water stops. I realized I need to keep on running and so decided to go on without them. I managed to pick my pace up a bit (maybe an 8:30 pace) but was still running easy. Since I had gone out so easy I had trouble discerning which hill was Heartbreak Hill (actually a series of three hills). I had just crested the third hill when I asked the person next to me where Heartbreak Hill starts and she told me we had just passed them.

So, if you've trained well and run the race smart you probably don't have to worry much about Heartbreak Hill. But you also need to train for running down hills to run well at Boston.

Good job guys. I'm planning to do the Mount Desert Island Marathon in the fall. Depending on how fast, or slow, I actually run that marathon I may do another marathon that same month. Why do so many of the good marathons all have to be within 3-4 weeks of each other?

Runworks 2005 5M Racer
San Francisco, CA
Joined: 26 Nov 2004
Posts: 1157

Re: Quadbreak Hill. Bricks' Boston Marathon Race Report Posted: Tue Apr 25, 2006 5:11 pm 

Thanks! Yeah, I posted my super-duper-long report in the "I don't even like to drive that far!" thread.

Are you having some post-Boston recovery issues? My quads were sore for most of a week, but everything seems mostly back to normal now. What kind of issues are you having?

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