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 26 miles? I don't even like to drive that far!
Runworks 2005 5M Racer
San Francisco, CA
Joined: 26 Nov 2004
Posts: 1157

26 miles? I don't even like to drive that far! Posted: Tue Apr 25, 2006 1:25 pm 

It's amazing how much the Boston Marathon resonates even with people who know next to nothing about running. In the week since the race, I've worn the Boston finisher's shirt a couple of times, and received some slightly awed reactions from strangers. A bookstore clerk grilled me about the race, and seemed genuinely impressed. A marine fresh out of boot camp wanted to know how I could possibly run that far. A friend of my mother sent her a copy of the Boston Globe with my name circled in the results. It's gratifying, and maybe a little embarrassing, but such is the power of this race in people's minds.


My marathon experience began on Sunday at the expo at Boston's World Trade Center. On the surface it looked like the usual collection of running gear for sale, although on a larger scale than I'd ever seen before. Spira (makers of the "banned" running shoe) had an eye-catching display. Someone had a free gait analysis clinic running. Every imaginable brand of shoe and gear were there, along with representatives from other marathons all over the world.

I caught sight of Dick Beardsley signing autographs. It's been 24 years since his famous "duel in the sun" with Alberto Salazar at Boston in 1982, but he still looked great and was rail thin.

Adidas was the main sponsor of the race, and their logo was plastered everywhere. This struck me as a little odd, since I don't think of adidas as a running company at all, but rather a company focused on basketball and other sports. I can't even think of the name of any adidas running shoes. I guess they're trying hard to change their public perception.

One very cool feature at the expo was a giant series of walls where every runner could write a short note for posterity. There was a small box maybe 3" x 2" for every single runner entered in the race, and lots of permanent markers. You just had to hunt for the box with your bib number, and sign a few words for the ages. I thought it was a nice touch.

On the way out of the expo, I ran into an amusing traffic sign:


I took the T (Boston's subway) in to Boston Common early on Monday morning. At first it was just me in my bright red running shoes along with crowds of Bostonians on their way to work, staring at the freak. As we drew closer to downtown, though, plenty more marathoners joined me, and there must have been 100 of us exiting at Park Street.

The bus loading seemed a little disorganized: I don't think they quite had the wave 1/wave 2 thing figured out, and some people got on the wrong bus. Nevertheless, it only took me a few minutes to climb aboard one of the awaiting fleet of busses and hit the road to Hopkinton. I chatted a little with a woman from Arizona sitting next to me, but she wasn't very talkative, and so I mostly eavesdropped on the conversations around me. It was a little intimidating. Everybody was planning to run a 2:40 pace, or so it seemed. I don't think I'd ever even seen a sub-3:00 marathoner before, and suddenly I was surrounded by them.

After what seemed like a very long journey, we arrived in Hopkinton around 9:00 and were dropped at the Athlete's Village. There were supposed to be two separate villages for the wave 1 and wave 2 runners, but I didn't see any separation. The whole division of waves seemed pretty lax, and I don't think it would have been any problem for someone to jump into the other wave if they wanted to.

It was cold in the village: temperatures around 50, with gray skies and a pretty stiff wind. That's decent weather for running, but not for standing around. Fortunately I'd brought lots of extra layers to keep warm while waiting. I'd planned to try to sync up with Bricks and check out whatever excitement the village had to offer, but in fact I spent most of the time waiting in porta-potty lines. The time actually passed very quickly, and while we waited, the wind died down. By 11:00, it was partly cloudy with occasional sun poking though, just a light breeze, and cool temperatures in the low 50's. Ideal running weather.

A Call To Arms

At 11:20, they summoned us to the start. The crowd's mood changed abruptly. Whereas a few minutes earlier it had been noisy and happy, the throng of runners suddenly grew more serious. They marched us half a mile down Grove Street, a procession of 10,000 runners off to war. Few people spoke, and when they did, it was hushed and nervous. Small planes and helicopters buzzed noisily overhead, adding to the tense atmosphere. You could feel that something really big was about to happen. The people of Hopkinton lined the streets, contemplating this strange parade of runners heading off to meet their doom.

Finally we reached the starting area, a surprisingly narrow street divided into 10 corrals according to the runners' qualifying times. I reached my place in corral 6 at 11:50, with about 5000 runners ahead of me and roughly the same number behind. I took one last drink of water, tossed my warm-up clothes, and stood ready. I gazed ahead and behind, searching the street packed with bodies in both directions. The other runners stood silently, or shifted nervously from one foot to the other. Five minutes to go. A pair of A-14's screamed low over our heads and tore off towards Boston.

Three minutes to go. I felt goosebumps as I thought of everything I'd done to get myself to the this starting line today, and everything that the thousands of other runners around me had done. It was one hell of a group. Everyone tensed, waiting for the release of the gun. Two minutes. One. I smiled at the runner next to me, and he said "I should have peed one more time."

Boom, the start. The crowd cheers, but we're standing still. A minute later, and we begin a slow walk forward. The walk speeds up, becomes a jog, and 20 yards before the start line we are running freely. I cross the timing mat, wave to the cameras, and begin my 26.2 miles to Boston.


I have a terrible habit of jumping out too fast during races, and fading later. Even when I concentrate on not starting too fast, I do it anyway. But since every single person I'd spoken to about the race had stressed the importance of starting slowly at Boston, I finally got it hammered into my thick skull, and I went out nice and easy. It was just a comfortable Monday morning jog. Loads of people passed me, but that was all part of the plan, and I didn't worry about it.

My intention was to run at about a 3:20 pace, meaning 7:38 miles. Anywhere else that would probably have been too conservative, but for this course, conservative was the name of the game. My plan was to run 7:38 miles through the rolling downhills all the way to mile 16, then bust a move over the Newton Hills from 16 to 21 before cranking out the final downhill miles to the finish. Or something like that. The first few miles rolled easily, with 7:57 for the first mile and 7:20's after that. I kept reminding myself to take it easy, and that there were lots of miles and hills yet to come.

Right away, you could tell that these crowds were something special. Not only were they deep and noisy, but you could tell they were really excited to be there. For many of them, I suspect watching the race was as big an event as running it was for us. Through the town centers in the early miles, people were packed in everywhere, hanging off lamp posts, mailboxes, road signs, and anything else they could find. The energy and enthusiasm was like a tangible force pulling us along. Little kids lined both sides of the route, hands outstretched, collecting hundreds of high-fives from passing runners. Oranges, candies, and extra water were offered everywhere.

I had my home-made "Rickshaw" shirt on, and I was curious to see what kind of response it would get from the crowd. It quickly became clear that "Rickshaw" wasn't the right thing to put on a shirt. Maybe people didn't know if it was a name, or an ad, or what. For future reference, if you want people to call out for you, an obvious first name like "Joe" on your shirt is the way to go. Or even better, put any kind of place name on your shirt. I ran along with a guy with a "Mexico" singlet for a few miles, and must have heard 100 shouts of "Viva Mexico!" Meanwhile Rickshaw got nothing at all, until finally one guy offered "Rickshaw sucks!" Not exactly the response I was looking for... :-)

I had a cheering section of friends and family on the course, who I hoped to see at mile 4, 22, and 25. That left a pretty big gap in the middle, but logistically it was difficult to do more without splitting everyone up. I found my crew right on schedule at mile 4, and slapped them all high-fives, while one of my friends jumped out to run with me for about a quarter mile. I told him that I was feeling great and that the pace seemed easy, but that he should still expect me to be a mess when I saw him again at mile 25.

So the first miles ticked off easily, rolling up and down, but mostly down, through the towns of Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, and Natick. I kept a nice consistent pace around 7:30-ish per mile, just slightly ahead of plan. By mile 10, though, I was starting to feel an unfamiliar sensation in my legs and quads. Not really pain, but pain's sneaky brothers fatigue and ache. I knew it wasn't going to be a cake walk, and wondered how long I could hold on.

At mile 13 we reached Wellesley, where I'd been warned to expect mighty throngs of screaming college women. Sure enough, there they were, shrieking and screaming like we were the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Passing through this scream tunnel, I noticed signs everywhere like "Flash Me! (men only please)" and "Kiss me, I'm Vegan." Groups of male runners leaped up onto the barricades, catching as many kisses as possible before jumping down, jogging on 20 feet, and doing it all over again. I skipped the kiss parade, but it was impossible not to get pumped up by that crowd.

I came through the half-marathon checkpoint in a bit under 1:39, right on schedule. On we went, down, down, to the route 128 overpass at mile 16. Thunk. We'd bottomed out, and now the climbing began. My legs were feeling a little funny, but overall I felt like I was still in great shape.

The next five miles were a series of hills, the fabled killer section of the course. I think there were supposed to be three hills, with the last being Heartbreak, but it didn't seem like an obvious succession of distinct hills to me. Rather, the course continued to roll, but with the overall trend now being up instead of down. I was feeling pretty good, and started passing people, which earned me a lot more "go Rickshaw" shouts than I'd been receiving up to that point. The hills were not really very steep at all, just kind of long. On a hotter day, I could have imagined a lot of people falling apart there, but with the great weather we had, most people seemed to be getting over the hills pretty well. I slowed a little in the hills, losing maybe 20 seconds/mile. Finally I came through mile 20 in 2:32:30, exactly on a 7:38/mile pace. Everything was looking good.

After mile 21, the course turned downhill again. I was feeling good, yet not so good. By most measures, I felt better than I'd ever felt before that late into a marathon. My breathing was relaxed, I was mostly comfortable, and I felt like I still had plenty of gas in the tank. But my legs were playing tricks on me. They felt hard and hot. It's a difficult sensation to describe, but it was more like being injured than being tired.

I almost forgot to look for my friends near mile 22, but remembered just in time, and caught a few more high-fives from them. I can't remember where I was by then... Brookline? Some place that could be reached by the T from Boston, certainly, because the crowd density kept creeping up and up. I also noticed that as the day went on, the crowds seemed progressively noisier and drunker. By the final miles it was like running through a keg party, with crazy cheering nut cases packed in deep on both sides of the road and climbing anything that could be climbed.

Somewhere along here, I noticed that my fancy new racing shoes were giving me a blister on my little toe. Fortunately it wasn't bothering me much, and I mostly ignored it. Who knows if the extra ounces I saved by wearing those shoes bought me any time? I think they likely did, although it's impossible to tell for sure. All I knew then was that I needed to keep turning my legs over, stepping one foot at a time east towards Boston.

If I'd had a major emotional investment in running 3:20, I think I could have pulled it off if I'd really gritted it out during these final miles. As it was, though, I felt that I'd already had a great race, and just wanted to hold a respectable pace to the finish. So I slowed a little in the last few miles, getting passed about equally as often as I passed others. Somewhere along the way, I finally crossed into the city of Boston, and it was about time. Here I'd been running the Boston Marathon for three hours already, without ever setting a foot inside the city limits!

The Citgo sign had been looming in the distance for miles, and finally I caught up to it, marking one mile to go. A last meeting with my friends and family past mile 25 gave me a kick in the pants to finish as strong as I could. I pressed on up Commonweath Ave, then hooked right, knowing it wasn't far now. I rounded the final turn onto Boylston Street, took in the sight of the finish line three blocks away, and powered up. I don't remember if I passed anyone or if everyone passed me, all I know is that I put it into top gear and held on until that gold and blue FINISH banner welcomed me home. My official finish time was 3:22:53. I was done.

Rolling Downhills
1. 7:57
2. 7:22 15:20
3. 7:29 22:49
4. 7:21 30:11
5. 7:41 37:52
6. 7:24 45:16
7-8. 14:55 1:00:11
9. 7:32 1:07:44
10. 7:36 1:15:20
11. 7:33 1:22:54
12. 7:30 1:30:24
13. 7:33 1:37:58
14. 7:37 1:45:36
15. 7:48 1:53:24
16. 7:29 2:00:54

Newton Hills and Heartbreak
17. 7:57 2:08:51
18. 7:57 2:16:49
19. 7:41 2:24:30
20. 8:00 2:32:30
21. 8:21 2:40:52

Downhill to the Finish
22. 7:42 2:48:35
23. 7:57 2:56:32
24. 7:58 3:04:31
25. 8:35 3:13:07
26. 8:09 3:21:16
F. 1:36 3:22:53


Across the line, I was quickly seized by conflicting emotions. Relief at being done, pride at having finished the Boston Marathon, and pain shooting all through my legs. These emotions combined to make me tear up and cry, which was a great way to attract the attention of every race volunteer who thought I'd broken my leg or something. I crawled on at a snail's pace through the finish area, never stopping, certain that my legs would violently seize up the instant I stood still. I grabbed some water, a blanket, and some other stuff I don't remember, all the while trying to hold myself together mentally. My head buzzed and my legs throbbed.

Eventually I made it to the chip-off area, where I had to stand still for a long, agonizing minute while a volunteer removed my timing chip. I commanded my muscles to relax, and miraculously, they obeyed. Pushing my way through the sea of humanity, I was eventually reunited with my bags, my family, and a shower. Another marathon, come and gone.

I like to reflect about what makes Boston great. After all, it's a pain-in-the-ass course on a not very scenic route, with an annoying noon start time, on a weekend that's notorious for bad New England weather. But that's not the point. The race is so steeped in tradition, it truly is the "Superbowl of marathons". The whole city seems to stop its business for a weekend, as everyone comes out to celebrate the marathon and its runners. And to be part of this race that's grown from a dozen entrants to tens of thousands, over 110 consecutive runnings, where greats like Johnny Kelly and Bill Rogers made their names, is a thrill that no marathoner should miss. I'm thankful to have had the chance, and with luck, I'll definitely be back.

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

Re: 26 miles? I don't even like to drive that far! Posted: Tue Apr 25, 2006 6:51 pm 

WooHooo! Great race report Rickshaw, and great race too! What do you suppose could have prompted the "Rickshaw sucks"? Apparently you're making enemies at competing running websites!

Re the Adidas thing, I've worn out two pairs of Adidas Supernova Cushion's in the past 3 years (along with many other shoes), and they were really pretty good, and for a decent price. I think Adidas continues to be quite active in the running shoe market.


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

Re: 26 miles? I don't even like to drive that far! Posted: Tue Apr 25, 2006 8:16 pm 

Great report Richshaw.

You should submit this one to the editors at Marathon and Beyond as a suggestion for their "My Most Unforgettable Marathon (and what I learned from it)" section of their periodical. Your report is one of the best I've read in a while.

You even managed to run a faster second half marathon than the first (negative split). Very nice! Best of all it sounds like you came away with a real sense of the Boston Marathon experience and not just another marathon race notched on your belt.



Joined: 14 Dec 2004
Posts: 225

Re: 26 miles? I don't even like to drive that far! Posted: Tue Apr 25, 2006 8:27 pm 

You did it!!!!!! Amazing RR, Rickshaw, and an unbelievable run.

So what's next?


Rest those legs and enjoy your time off. You've earned it, friend.

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

Re: 26 miles? I don't even like to drive that far! Posted: Wed Apr 26, 2006 8:21 am 

The "Rickshaw sucks" guy was a teen who was probably bored of yelling "Go so-and-so! You look great!" I don't take it personally. It sounds like something I might have done at a certain age. :-)

I forgot about the adidas Supernova. I guess none of the adidas shoes never made it on to my short list of potential candidates for my feet, so I'm totally ignorant about them. Are they pretty popular? Most people I know seem to be in Asics, with a few in Nike, Brooks, Saucony, Mizuno, and New Balance.

Mfox, I wish I'd run a negative split race! First half was 1:38:46, second half was 1:44:07, so it was a 5:21 positive split. Considering the hills in the second half, that's pretty good for me. The best I've ever done is about a 3 minute positive split, and my two races previous to Boston both had 10-15 minute positive splits. Yikes!


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

Re: 26 miles? I don't even like to drive that far! Posted: Wed Apr 26, 2006 8:46 am 

Rickshaw wrote:
Mfox, I wish I'd run a negative split race! First half was 1:38:46, second half was 1:44:07, so it was a 5:21 positive split. Considering the hills in the second half, that's pretty good for me. The best I've ever done is about a 3 minute positive split, and my two races previous to Boston both had 10-15 minute positive splits. Yikes!

Oops, I just saw the total time you had at 13 miles and the F: time you had at the finish thinking it was in hours and minutes for the second half. I neglected to realize it was your time for the last .2 miles of the race. Oh well, I'm still blown away by your 3:22 finish.

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