Rupp Wins (Yes, Wins!) Chicago Marathon

Two years ago, Mrs. RunnerPub and I flew to the Windy City to race the Chicago Marathon. It was definitely one of the best running experiences I’ve ever had.

This morning, we got to relive all that excitement and then some — while sipping coffee in our pajamas on the couch — by watching this year’s Chicago Marathon live on TV. It was exhilarating, with Galen Rupp waiting, waiting, waiting, then CRUSHING the pretty solid international field using a string of 4:30 miles to become the first American-born champ since Greg Meyer in 1982.

Not sure how long that footage will stay online, but it’s worth watching while it lasts. Duly inspired, I’ll post a few random thoughts while they’re fresh in my mind:

– Sure, the race wasn’t that FAST. In fact, it went out super slow, all things considered, with a 1:06 first half. They weren’t even breaking 5 minutes a mile. This meant that the lead pack was huge (on the men’s side anyway; the women’s race couldn’t have been more different).

– That actually made it more fun to watch, I think. With no rabbit, it really became a race, almost like a cross country race. It was fun watching the likes of Aaron Braun (who?) lead for much of the race, with the current world record holder, Dennis Kimetto, et al, in pursuit. You could even see Noah Droddy hanging on in back, with his mustache and long hair. I’m a fan of his Twitter feed.

– Given that, it was hard to discount the likelihood that Rupp stood a real good chance in this. You kept waiting for things to break open, and waiting, and waiting…

– I need to track down his splits for this race, but I was blown away to hear that Rupp broke things open with a series of 4:35, 4:31, 4:31 around miles 23, 24 and 25. That’s how you win marathons these days, folks, and something Rupp is certainly aware of. It is, after all, exactly how he got dropped in the final miles of Boston this past April.

– There’s been so much noise in recent years around the Al Salazar, NOP, etc. But c’mon, how could you NOT feel the emotional pull when Rupp gave his longtime coach a hug and Salazar had tears streaming down his face. Whatever your opinion of the coach and his program, there’s no disputing this was the crowning achievement of years and years and years of careful planning and progression.

– It must be said; the Rupp family is very cute.

– Looking forward, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rupp doing London next April and really gunning for a fast time. It’s frequently a 2:03-2:05 race, which hasn’t been the case in Chicago in recent years since they got rid of rabbits. Now that he’s got his first big victory, I expect he’ll start going for some fast times (an American record?).

– Finally, Mrs. Runner Pub’s hot take on Rupp’s win: “You could tell that Galen’s win brought him a lot of confidence and I think that’s going to motivate him to train even harder and set his sights on things like breaking the world record. You could see the satisfaction and confidence in his eyes afterwards, like he has what it takes and is doing the right things.”

Live Blogging Berlin

Call me crazy, but it’s 3:12 a.m. in Connecticut and I’m wide awake. I’ve gotten up a few hours after going to bed, come downstairs at my parents’ house, where it’s pitch-black outside and I can hear the nocturnal insects chirping in the yard.

The reason, of course, is that it’s the Berlin Marathon — the Super Bowl of this event (at least in recent years). I’ve decided to liveblog the 2017 race, which has all the ingredients of being a classic — Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele and Wilson Kipsang are all duking it out (along with a handful of other distance running studs who could steal an upset) with the stated intention of breaking the world record of 2:02:57 (set here in 2014).

It’s looking like the rain has stopped in Berlin, but it’s still foggy out and temps are in the 50s -– pretty solid weather for this. The athletes are currently lined up by the Siegesaeule, or “Victory Column,” in the heart of Berlin — close to where I once lived! — on the starting line, and ready to go.

First 5K:

All off at 3:16 a.m., Connecticut time; super foggy there from the sky camera, but not so bad-looking on the actual road. Looks like Kipchoge is taking off with the fast pacers, who are being asked to run 60:45 through the halfway point. Bekele and Kipsang are also going with the three rabbits. Apparently Bekele and Kipsang wanted the pacers to go out slower (61:00-61:15 for Kipsang; Bekele didn’t offer a time). The announcers are saying now that perhaps Kipchoge didn’t ACTUALLY want to go out so fast (he reportedly had asked for them to do so last week); we’ll see…

Looks like they came through the first kilometer around 2:52 — at least that’s what the pace car says, which is showing the aggregate time and also the pace they’ve been running for the previous 500 meters — announcers say that’s actually 1:59:xx marathon pace, so maybe a little too sporty, so to speak.

We’re now closing in on the 5-K mark with three pacers and five racers (the big three all included, so nothing crazy’s afoot) in it. The roads look a little slick with water, some leaves floating about. Spectators are wearing sweaters, jackets, etc. When he set the current world record, Dennis Kimetto came through the 5k in 14:52, the announcers just said.

Today’s 5-K split: 14:28

5K-10K (3.1 – 6.2 miles) –

So apparently Bekele actually came through the 5k slightly faster last year, in 14:21, according to the announcers, so the pace here can’t be called suicidal. In that thrilling race, Bekele hit the halfway mark in an all-time fast 61:11, I believe.

It’s a tight pack of 8 still (3 of them rabbits). Aaaand, we’re going to the second commercial break of the race. I really hope they’re getting all these out of the way early on — you can really miss the decisive moves in these races during commercials; it’s a disservice to fans. Maybe they should make it more like soccer games, with commercial-free coverage and the “This portion of today’s match is brought to you by….” sort of thing.

And we’re back, approaching 8-K. Kipchoge looks machine-like tucked in behind the pacers. Bekele and Kipsang are right behind him, and Kipruto and one or two other guys are back there.

Ahhhh, bummer, I just missed the 8-K split (~5 miles) because I was standing up to close my parents’ living room window. Sorry, loyal readers.

According to our announcers, it was 23:11 through that point, about 7 seconds faster than world-record pace (2:02:57). So it’s stll a hot pace, though they’re showing more restraint than they might have (which is certainly a good thing). These guys are really trying to turn marathonning into a track-like event, of just taking off like it’s a 10K and rolling, rolling, rolling.

Quick thought: they zoomed in on Kipsang and it looks like he’s sweating like crazy. Not sure if it’s raining again, though the fans are putting up umbrellas, so it must be. Not sure if that’ll help or hurt them — or neither.

Coming up on 10-K…

Just hit a 2:55 kilometer split through 9-K. (2:54.8 is WR pace)

Coming up on 10-K now, and let’s see how we’re doing.

Annnnnnd, 10-K split is 29:04. So that was a 14:33, and they’re aggregate time is about 4 seconds under WR pace…

10K-15K (6.2-9.3 miles)

Aaaand we kick off this portion of today’s race with a “Type-2 Diabetes” commercial. Is this really the target audience — those of us who’ve woken up in the middle of the night to watch the Berlin Marathon?

All right, now we’re about 12.5-K in and they’re spot-on for WR pace — not looking to hack that mark to death, at least not in the opening miles, which is probably for the best considering what can happen in the latter phases of a marathon. We’re about half an hour into the race and they’re split-screening it to show what I assume is Wave II of the race — ie: the masses. One German man is dressed up like a beer bottle — gotta love the whole experience…

Here’s my split judgement at this point — predictably, Kipchoge looks like a machine, Kipsang looks calm, Bekele is hanging on back of the group of eight. Bekele is always a little enigmatic; he could spit off the back of this pack and then again he could hang on to it and at some point dominate (he is, after all, still the world-record holder at 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters on the track).

That said, Bekele could ALSO fall off the pace — especially if we start surging here, and then, in an act few else have shown themselves capable of, come back and catch everyone — and then dominate things.

Great, another commercial break at 13.5 km, 39:25…

While we’re away for the break, if you’re looking for an intro on Kipchoge, check out this Nike teaser that ran before the famous “Breaking2” performance in Italy:

All right, we just hit 15K in 43:44. That’s two seconds over WR pace, which isn’t bad, especially considering that Kimetto had negative split the current WR here…

15K-Halfway (9.3-13.1 miles)

So we’re chugging along now, roughly at WR pace. Nothing big has happened since the start (unless, like me, you consider the unfolding of this Great Drama as something big in its own right). They’re just beyond 1/3 done with the race. Every marathon runner knows the race really takes part in the third “third.” The announcers are saying that this is probably shaping up to Bekele’s advantage — let’s hope so, because I suspect Kipchoge won’t crumble here and that bodes well for an epic ending. I need to be careful, because we can’t write off Kipsang, nor the other two guys in there…

Kipsang is currently hanging on the left side of my screen (right side of the pack) and Kipchoge is right on the heels of the pacers, looking downright businesslike.

FWIW, the women’s leaders just came through the 15-K in 49:33 and Ryan Vail, the great American hope here, apparently came through that in 46:50 (apparently 2:11/2:12 pace). Vail’s training is always fun to read here.

Good thing my parents have a big TV; they’ve now split-screen the coverage to show highlights from the kids’ “Bambini Run” — again, this is 3 a.m. eastern time; we’re not the type of viewer who is thaaaaaat concerned with how the fun-run went.

Commercial break again as we hit 18K…and we come back with a nice montage showing all the recent world records set here in Berlin — including 2013, when Kipsang did it in 2:03:23, only to be outdone a year later by the current owner of that title, Dennis Kimetto, who ran 2:02:57.

Coming up on 20K now, which is 12.4 miles, right before halfway. During that lengthy break, it looks like nothing big happened in our lead pack. Bekele is hanging on back of the pack, almost looks like a meter or two has separated for him — cause for concern, perhaps, though we’re entering a water station, so maybe he was just trying to get a clean path to his drinks.

All right, here we go, hitting 20-K in….drumroll…58:18 (~16 seconds faster than Kimetto came through in 2014).

Gosh, they zoomed back to the top woman, who looks good but is running alongside tons of really fast guys, and, sadly, the guys look so…well, compared to these lead guys on WR pace… like freaking hobby joggers. Where would I be in this mix? Far, far behind even them! Glad no one’s sticking a camera crew on me on my next race!

I digress. Now, let’s get pumped for the halfway mark…and…it’s…in…1:01:29, absolutely PERFECT! Right on WR pace; you’d want to see a nice negative split in something like this, so now it’s right in the hands of these guys. We’re down to two pacers now…

Halfway to 25-K (15.5 miles):

We’ve got a race on our hands, friends. At some point, the two remaining pacers will drop off. Then we’ll see who can win this thing. They’ve really got two things on their minds: one, winning the race; two, world record. Kipchoge almost never loses these marathons, which is almost absurd of a notion. Kipsang’s got an almost-as-impressive resume.

Good quote from our commentator, a former running stud, but I didn’t catch his name. Anyways, this is it, rregardingthe marathon: “Run your first 20 miles with your head, with your watch. Then run the last 6.2 miles with your heart.”

Oh dear, Bekele is dropping off the pace. Noooo! It’s 22.3 km and 1:05:05 in. What’s up with that, he’s quickly fallen off. As defending champion, he’s wearing the Number 1 bib. He’s either not got it today or he’s regrouping, which is a weird concept in a marathon, but something he showed he’s capable of last year. I just don’t think he’s gonna do it today at this point (sad face).

Women through 20K in 66:05 (back-to-back 33-min 10ks, yeesh, that’s fast)

Bekele has really dropped off in the last 90 seconds or so. He just finished a drink and is checking his watch. Who knows, maybe he’s doing his own thing. He always seems to be a bit of a loner, not wanting to run anyone else’s race. He looks like he’s 7 seconds back right now.

Aaaaand commercial…c’mon, the race is just beginning!

During this break, I’ve dug up highlights from last year’s Berlin marathon, where Bekele did fall back a couple of times, though I’m not sure he fell back this far. Here it is, Bekele outperforming Kipsang:

Aaaand, we’re back in foggy Berlin. Looks like Bekele hasn’t completely fallen off the pack. Not sure how far back he is now, as we approach 25-K, but it doesn’t look like the leaders have dropped the hammer. Kimmetto came through in 1:13:08 for the upcoming mark; these guys are coming through in….1:12:50 — yikes! FWIW, that’s right on pace to tie the WR.

It’s Kipchoge, Kipsang, Kipruto and Aoulo (??).

25-K to 30-K (ie: 15.5-18.8 miles)

The remaining pacers are supposed to go through 30-K and not to finish. I’d like to append here a map of the Berlin course for your reading pleasure:

Die Strecke, as they say auf Deutsch

And here’s why the course is so fast — check out the lack of hills!

Nice and flat

I’ve just looked up the other two guys in the lead pack. We have Vincent Kipruto, a 30-year-old Kenyan who once ran 2:05 in Rotterdam, and Ethiopia’s Guye Adola, who is 26 years young and has a 59-minute half marathon to his name.

These are the remaining men: Kipchoge, Kipsang, Adola and Kipruto. Bekele has clearly fallen off, sadly, but is championing on at his own rate. One of the two pacers dropped back, with about a mile left in his reporting duties, the announcers said, and is maybe trying to get Bekele fired up again (as if that’s something that can easily happen deep into a marathon).

Coming up on 30-K now, still seem to be running 2:54/km, which is roughly WR pace.

And it looks like Kipruto is falling off. Wow, gotta say, Adola looks really smooth up there! It’s his debut at the marathon also — yiiiiikes.

Here’s a shot of these guys now, mixing it up, here’s the 4:40 a.m. drama in my life:

Things are tightening up front

Hit 30-k in 1:27:24 and Kipsang just dropped out!!! He just dropped out alongside the pacer. Shoot! Man! F*%$!

So we’re down to Kipchoge and the debutante, Adola.

30K-35K:

Well, well, well — that happened fast. There was a big pack, then next thing Kipruto falls off, then the rabbit steps off at 30-K, and then Wilson Kipsang JUST. DROPS. OUT. It was right after the fluids station. He got his drink, crossed the split marker, then just stepped off. This leaves Kipchoge, who looks freaking awesome as always, and Adola, a rising star?

So we’ve got about 6.2 miles to go and it’s these two guys duking it out for the world record — and they are significantly faster than Kimetto was at this point in 2014 (note: though in his run Kimetto absolutely CRUSHED this 5-k here). Adola is hanging onto Kipchoge’s shoulder. We did see when Kipchoge won the gold medal in Rio that he dropped an absolute hammer for the last 10-K — has he been holding anything back up until now? He just looks so freakin’ smooth out there. He wins this race, he’s the greatest of all time (well, he probably is the so-called GOAT already). He gets the world record, then that gets carved in stone.

Coming up on 35-K and we’ve got Kipchoge and Adola…this is fun. They’re flying up through West Berlin and — what’s this? — it looks like Kipchoge just asked Adola to quit drafting him and to lead for once. He just pointed at the blue line on the ground! He’s egging Adola on — I’ll bet Kipchoge is gonna drop the hammer any second now….

Kipchoge looks like he’s smiling. They’re passing my favorite Berlin bulding right now, the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church — check it out)

1:42:04 through 35-K, with Kipchoge and Adola — they’re now 17 seconds SLOWER than Kimetto ran, but only like 5 seconds behind the WR pace. But I’m not seeing them dropping it YET.

35k-40k:

They’re 6 seconds over WR pace at 35-K and the two guys — a Kenyan and an Ethiopian, as is so often the case — are now duking it out. The GOAT and the newcomer. The announcer is “suprised” that Kipchoge hasn’t made a move here yet. It now looks like Adola is edging ahead of Kipchoge!

Adola is gapping Kipchoge now. He’s officially gapped him. It’s like 5 meters, he just turned around, and now he’s pushing, pushing. We’re at 37-K, 1:48:12. Kipchoge is running the blue line, the tangent, the shortest distance from turn to turn, and Adola, the newcomer, isn’t.

But Adola nonetheless has a good 3 seconds on Kipchoge — could this be a passing of the torch?

Both of them are falling off of WR pace; bummer! They’re about 13 seconds off of it, according to the TV crews. We’re at 1:50:33 now, almost 38 KM in. Kipchoge still looks like he’s smiling (or grimmacing?) and now seems like he’s catching Adola again. This is a great two-horse race. He’s now caught Adola again. Less than 5-K to go, Adola is still hanging tough, a few steps ahead of Kipchoge.

Wait for it, now Adola is pulling ahead again — they’re running 3:01 or so per kilometer, so they’re not gonna get the world record today, bummer. And Adola is pulling away again from Kipchoge — I think he’s gonna win this thing!

We’re probably down to 10 minutes or less of racing — this is really bringing home how hard it is to run a world record, putting in perspective what these great times we’ve become accustomed to seeing these guys run is really all about. Adola now seems to be about 3 seconds ahead of Kipchoge — whenever they cut down to the street view, with the motorcycle camera behind Kipchoge, it looks like, “No way he’s gonna close this gap.”

But then, Kipchoge is a wily veteran! There’s less than two miles to go. This is Adola’s debut! And he’s got two seconds on Kipchoge with eight minutes of running left. Can Adola hold him off? The greatest of all time? I must say, Kipchoge looks super calm in the face. He’s closing in again on Adola at 39.8 km, 1:56:36.

Oooooh, snap, now Kipchoge just grabbed the lead again at the water station at 40-K in 1:57:08.

Now it’s Kipchoge by a body length, with just over a mile to go. But Adola is hanging tough, re-attaching himself to Kipchoge’s shoulder.

The drama!

Neither has been able to drop the other. Now it’s Kipchoge in the driver’s seat, but Adola — who has tremendous 10-K speed on the track and is a good seven or eight years younger, so fresher legs? — is right with him. We’re at 1:59:02, 40.7 km, and Kipchoge, looking machinelike as always, is opening up a 5-meter gap.

Adola is hanging, hanging, hanging…

We’re gonna turn onto Unter den Linden and soon be approaching the Brandenburg Gate, then it’s a sprint to the finish.

Kipchoge now up by…15 meters?

Kipchoge has been pulling off a master’s class — he’s been running the tangents (the blue line, the shortest distance from street to street) while Adola hasn’t been (rookie mistake?). In fact, he was egging Adola on, urging him to go ahead of him back 5 kilometers ago; was this spart of the wily master’s plan all along? He’s not going to get the world record, but he’s gonna get the win — and winning is the most important thing ($$$!).

The Brandenburg Gate is up ahead now. Props to Adola, who’s now getting dropped pretty handily. This has to be one of Kipchoge’s hardest recent marathons in terms of winning the damned thing.

Der Koenig

Well, it may not be a world record, but it’s gonna be a fast-as-hell time.

He’s kicking in, he’s crossing the line, he’s won it in 2:03:34 — and he is smiling and not even wincing, crazy.

Adola looks pretty pumped also at 2:03:47.

Well, it’s now 5:23 a.m. here in Connecticut and I should probably go back to bed. Am I jazzed up? Yes. It was exactly what you first of all hope in a marathon: a good race. It was dramatic right up until the final mile. It wasn’t clear if Kipchoge, the G.O.A.T., or Adola, the upstart, were going to win. It was clear they weren’t going to get the world record. I guess that just brings home exactly how hard that is to do.

Kipchoge, who almost never loses a marathon, will surely be wondering about the World Record, though, when he returns to Kenya — he’s run 2:03:05 in London; he’s now run 2:03:34 in Berlin (to say nothing of his 2:00:25 in Italy for Nike’s Sub2 project). Maybe he’ll be back in London next spring; for now, I think he’s earned himself some time off.

And I, friends, have earned a little more shut-eye. As the Germans says, “Auf Wiedersehen!”

From London to Falmouth

You wouldn’t know it from RunnerPub’s prolific posting of late (err, not), but we’ve been rather obsessed with the IAAF World Track and Field Championships that just wrapped up today in London.

It’s incredible to think how far American distance running has come in the past 15 years or so.

We offer a huge congrats to all the U.S. medalists:

  • the surprise steeplechase heroics of Emma Coburn, Courtney Frerichs and Evan Jager (gold, silver and bronze, baby!)
  • Jenny Simpson’s silver in the 1,500 meters
  • Amy Cragg’s bronze in the marathon (so close to the top!)
  • Paul Chelimo’s thrilling bronze in the 5,000 meters (a historic race that saw Mo Farah beaten for the first time in years)
  • Ajee Wilson’s gutsy bronze in the women’s 800 meters.

Did I miss anyone? We crack open multiple cans of RunnerPub’s finest beer in your honors (or, we did last night, anyway).

Now, does the fact that World’s is over leave us with a gaping void in our lives?

Hardly!

Why? Because next Sunday we’re taking part in one of my favorite events, the Falmouth Road Race. Back in high school and college, I used to go up to that Cape Cod town with my family (and sometimes my friends Kyle, Dave and Eric) where my grandparents Fred and Casey lived.

It’s an iconic road race. It was part of the Running Boom that stormed the nation in the ’70s on the backs of such legends as Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter and Alberto Salazar (who often make appearances there even today).

I’ll delve more into the race’s history later this week, but for now I’ll leave you with a video of the seven-mile course that winds from Woods Hole to Falmouth Heights.

I think it nicely captures the rolling hills, the beachy vibe, the stretches of rustic trees and the iconic downhill finish. It’s filmed by two guys named Adam and Josh Hill with a GoPro mounted on a racing wheelchair, which they call the “Thumbs Up Express.”

Here’s to hoping for such great weather next Sunday!

Boston Marathon — From Hopkinton to Bonkton

Ho boy. Writing this one’s gonna hurt — almost as much as it hurt to run the thing.

No, that’s impossible.

In a future post, I’ll explore the difference between “bonking,” “hitting the wall” and just plain sucking. For now, the much-overdue Boston Recap:

A few months back, Leslie and I headed up to Boston to run the world’s most-famous marathon. For a couple of jittery days, we enjoyed soaking up the vibes of the great New England city in the company of my mother, Leslie’s parents and our friends Nick and Ashley.

On Easter Sunday, the day before the big day, Leslie and I stepped out of our hotel for a shake-out jog and cringed when we discovered it was 85 degrees and sunny. On TV, newscasters were joking that, while the following day probably wouldn’t be quite as hot as this, it sure was looking like a fine day to watch the Boston Marathon.

And so, I fretted — and drowned my system with enough water to send a camel across the Sahara.

IN WHICH WE GO TO HOPKINTON:

Finally, race morning arrived. Getting up at 5, Leslie and I took our hotel shuttle to Boston Common. Strolling across the park, we watched warily as the sun began to climb in the sky and assert itself.

Gearing up for battle in Boston Common

On Boylston Street, near the bag check-in area, a homeless guy was in the spirt of things. Clinking some change in a Dunkin’ Donuts cup, he offered up unsolicited advice.

“Watch out for Heartbreak Hill,” he said with a cackle. “It’ll get ya!”

Leslie and I took a race-provided school bus on the 45-minute trip out to Hopkinton. Rolling into that quaint New England town, the first thing I saw was a large man standing on his front porch with a small boy in his arms, each of them waiving to all of us arriving runners.

At the Athletes’ Village at Hopkinton High, Leslie and I found a spot under one of many tents. For two hours, we hunkered down for a routine of: sip water, sip Gatorade, go to bathroom, repeat process.

When the organizers called my starting group, I joined the mass of bodies making the mile-long trek to Hopkinton’s town square. It felt like marching off to battle.

I was in Wave 1, Corral 2, which put me a stone’s throw from the actual start line. This was exciting because at 9:45 a.m., the elite men paraded out from wherever they’d been waiting (no doubt, not under some crowded tent). They passed right by us, slapping people’s hands.

For a running nerd like me, this was like the start of the Super Bowl: There’s Meb! There’s Abdi! There’s Galen Rupp!

Up above, the helicopters circled. The sun arced higher.

Then, the gun went off.

IN WHICH TIM GIVES THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT:

I had read a thousand times that Boston starts with a downhill — but holy sh–, I didn’t expect it to be a half-mile cliff! It was crowded, of course, and I tried staying relaxed on the left side of the road while people were flying past me and/or diving into bushes to relieve themselves. One man, clearly a veteran of this thing, was telling his buddy: “We’ll be seeing lots of these idiots later — when they hit the wall.”

“Not me,” I thought. “I’m prepared.”

Now, a downhill start can be tricky. It can lure you into dashing off faster than you should. But if you try holding back too much, you could beat up your quads by applying the brakes.

Not that it was easy to hold back. Bostonians are known to go bonkers on Marathon Monday — but even so, I was gobsmacked to see just how rowdy they can get in the early miles of Hopkinton, Ashland and Framingham.

This got to my head. Dispensing with all my pre-race plans to take myself seriously, I hammed it up — slapping kids’ hands, waiving to people who’d called out my name (which was written on my singlet), putting my hands behind my ears and DEMANDING MORE NOISE!

In short, I was being an idiot.

IN WHICH TIM PONDERS GREATNESS:

In summer races of the past, I’ve often suffered when the sun is roasting and drains your fuel reserves faster than you can possibly replenish them. In most cases, though, I’ve only had another mile or two to slog through.

Boston Course

In this case, I started feeling trouble brewing at Mile 6 — with another 20 to go.

The tailwind — ordinarily a welcome gift– wasn’t helping. It was blowing about 10 miles an hour, roughly the speed we were moving. In effect, this robbed us of any cooling effect we might have gotten from breaking through the air. It felt like running in an oven.

There were, of course, plenty of hydration stations. I took to them with gusto, wading into the crush of bodies at each curbside table and fighting through the tangle of limbs to obtain a cup of water and Gatorade. I downed about half of them, tossing the rest over my head.

I was perhaps overzealous in this. By Mile 10, I began feeling somewhat nauseous from all the sugar. In any case, I don’t think my body was absorbing much of the fluids — certainly not as fast as I was sweating it out.

In fairness, there have been hotter Boston Marathons over the years. Still, temps were in the 70s, much warmer than anything I’d run in since, well, probably October. Thanks to the 10 a.m. start, the sun was high overhead, unblocked by clouds and therefore free to fry all of our faces and shoulders.

Despite all that, I reached the half-marathon mark in a respectable 1:22:48, right on pace for my pre-race goal of 2:45. This, however, came with a catch. In my four previous marathons, I’ve come through halfway thinking: “Piece of cake — I can do that again!”

But not on this day. The best thing I had going for me at this point was this dude:

It took me a moment to comprehend his sign. Then I recalled Tom Brady’s come-from-behind heroics in this year’s Super Bowl and began wondering (surely an early sign of my slipping grasp on reality): “Could I, lowly Tim, be on the precipice of one of the greatest comebacks in the history of Boston sports?”

IN WHICH TIM IS SOMEWHAT HUMBLED:

It was riiiiight about then that my left calf cramped up. I’d never experienced this before. Out of nowhere, it felt like a snake had bored into my leg and experienced a panic attack in trying to escape.

Over the next couple of miles, the calf kept seizing up on me, each time worse than the last. By Mile 15, I had to take stock of things. I realized I was breathing way too heavily for the pace I was running — a vexing situation, since I’d run a 15-miler a few weeks earlier in Central Park at a faster pace and feeling strong.

I knew the Newtown Hills were looming ahead, where things could really unravel.

The first big hill began at Mile 16, and it was a crusher. It forced me, for the first time, to resort to jogging. Scooting to the right, I watched helplessly as swarms of people began flying past.

“I’m one of the idiots,” I realized.

Near one medical tent, I mulled dropping out. I saw a volunteer there with an empty wheelchair, eyeing me with considerable interest.

But onwards I forged, up to and over that vaunted Heartbreak Hill, which actually lifted my spirits.

“That wasn’t soooo bad,” I thought.

Half a mile later, I discovered I had not, in fact, even reached Heartbreak Hill.

Shuffling through Newton CREDIT: NICK DEFELICE/ASHLEY ALLEN

By this point, my memory gets a little fuzzy. I do recall getting to and climbing the actual Heartbreak Hill (without resorting to walking!). I also recall my calf seizing up on me at the top and realizing once and for all that I was no longer looking for a particular finish time.

I was simply looking to finish.

IN WHICH TIM’S EMOTIONAL STATE IS ALL OVER THE MAP:

First, however, I had a landmark to reach. At Mile 24, Leslie and my cheering section awaited — my mother, Leslie’s parents, my Uncle Mike, my cousin Bridget and her husband Will.

I vowed to run to them. Then I realized this was foolish.

“Better off preserving some energy,” I told myself. “Then unleash it all in a heroic burst past them, giving off the impression that I’m truly elite.”

Entering Brookline, I slowed to a (gulp!) walk. With my calf cramping up again, I felt dejected. I saw a few other guys walking along Beacon Street, most of them stopping-starting-stopping-stretching-starting-stopping like me.

“This sucks,” I said to one guy, hoping to wallow in our collective pity.

“Don’t be so negative!” he shot back. “We’ll get through this.”

Now, I’d been shamed, too.

After getting scolded by a fellow walker, I was feeling the Mile 22 Blues

The man was right, of course. I was being ridiculous. Beacon Street was mobbed with screaming fans. One college kid reached a Bud Lite in my direction. I nearly took it.

“How selfless do you have to be,” I thought, “to hand out all your beer to strangers?”

At long last, I saw the “Mile 24” sign looming ahead. Seeing all the familiar faces was a bigger boost than I’d expected. I slapped their hands, reveling in the familial bonds, but didn’t stop to explain why it had taken me so long to get there. What was the point? Frankly, I’m not sure they even realized I’d been slowing down in the last eight miles.

Getting a much-needed boost from our family’s cheering section
CREDIT: STEVE BARRIE

Feeling somewhat rejuvenated, I tore down the ensuing downhill like a champ (well, relatively speaking). A couple hundred meters later, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” was blaring from speakers — a Red Sox favorite, yes, but also a family favorite. My grandfather Fred — who once dropped off my Uncle Mike at the start in Hopkinton — used to sing it to my grandmother. Coming on the heels of seeing my mom and Uncle Mike, and considering the sorry state I was in, the song packed a particularly emotional punch. I started sobbing — and yet, because of my state of dehydration, there were no actual tears.

“Do it for Fred!” I told myself. “No more walking the rest of the way!”

And so off I went, fighting the good fight, pressing on all the way to Mile 25 — that is, until my body started shutting down again. Upon further review, I decided that Fred, ever the personality, would probably be eating up the crowd experience instead of beating himself up for having an off-day.

And so, I vowed to soak up the moment. Slowing to a walk again, with perhaps a mile to go, I heard a complete stranger scream out: “C’mon, Tim! Boston strong, baby!” Nodding dutifully, I sped up to a shuffle. The crowd went berserk.

Infused with this conquering spirit, I turned right on Hereford Street, the race’s final hill — a tiny block-long incline nicknamed “Mount Hereford.”

“To the finish!” I cried.

Chugging up, my left calf started convulsing like crazy. Then my right calf joined in the protest. Not to be stopped, I pushed on, lifting my toes and stomping on like a savage caveman.

From there, it was a left turn onto Boylston Street, where I expected to see the finish line only steps ahead. But in a final cruel joke, the Boston Marathon places the actual finish about 600 meters down the road.

I’d started my kick too early. My calves were going haywire, and now my quads and hamstrings were seizing up, too. It was a nuclear explosion of leg pain. I had to stop one final time, collecting some energy (and a f—- race photographer was there to immortalize the moment).

“Let’s go!” someone screamed. “You’re right THERE!”

Regrouping, I broke into a plod, then accelerated to a shuffle, then, when the finish was truly near, I pulled myself together for what might charitably be called a “kick” to the finish.

IN WHICH TIM IS CROWNED FIRST IN SOMETHING:

Is the Boston Marathon really all that hard?

Certainly, there are more challenging marathon courses. And even in Boston, there have been hotter years. While I know the heat got to me some, I was initially at a loss for what exactly had gone wrong.

My legs, of course, were in tons of pain. I felt, too, like I’d been sapped of life. This is pretty standard after a marathon, though. By now, marching onward from the finish line, I joined the mass of people getting draped in those metallic sheets to stay warm. Their reflections made for a really bright ambiance that irritated my eyes.

“Excuse me,” I asked a woman with a wheelchair. “Can I, um, sit down?”

“Not unless you need to go to medical,” she said. “How are you feeling?”

“A little dizzy.”

“All right, sit down!”

The woman whisked me into the medical tent. It was hopping in there. Runners were sprawled out on cots, showing various degrees of agony. The guy to my left was puking. The guy to my right was hooked up to an IV.

The doctor set me down on a cot and took my pulse and blood pressure.

“Get this guy a bullion cube,” he called out to an aide.

I probably laid there for about 15 minutes before the doctor cleared me to go. He gave me a sheet of paper to carry to the check-out table that listed my pulse and blood pressure (along with the word “coherent” circled). At the table, they informed me I couldn’t leave yet because my doctor had forgotten to sign it. They asked me to go back to him. Then they said, “Nevermind, we’ll do that.” While they were gone, I got dizzy again.

And so, back I went to the cot.

It was almost pleasant lying there. I had no idea bullion cubes dissolved in a cup of hot water can be so refreshing. After another 15 minutes, the doctor came back.

“You’re looking a lot better now,” he said. “You think you’re actually ready this time?”

“I think so.”

“Because I don’t want to see you again,” he said, smiling.

“I don’t want to see you either.”

So it hadn’t been my day. I’d missed my goal time by about 30 minutes. But there was one achievement that belonged to me alone. As I was getting up to go, feeling a bit more steady now, my doctor’s assistant handed me my check-out paper.

“Tim,” she said, “is our first medical re-entry of the day.”

 

Go Time

After months of training through the cold and snow, through countless loops of Central Park, fartleks, long runs and tempos (and recovery beers), the time’s come to toe the starting line tomorrow morning in Hopkinton and race to Boston.

Ready to go!

For now, I leave you with a song that damn well better get stuck in my head somewhere near the foot of Heartbreak Hill…

Pint With a Pro: Aunt Beth (Two Weeks to Boston)

Well, we’re down to two weeks before the Boston Marathon and we here at RunnerPub are in full-on preparation mode. We’re cutting down our mileage, resting up our legs and doing our homework about the race course.

Last week, we consulted my Uncle Mike for tips. Today, we’re turning to my Aunt Beth, another Boston vet, for more insight.

Beth kickin’ butt at the 100th Boston Marathon in April 1996

Beth, it’s worth noting, is something like RunnerPub royalty. Back in 2008, she flew to Paris to visit her daughter Kristin, who was studying there. I was living in Berlin. We all partook in the Paris Marathon that April (it’s still my personal best; more about that race here) and celebrated our achievements with some fine French food and wine (err, in my case beer).

In addition to seeking last-minute Boston advice, I was also curious to hear about Beth’s running career.

What follows is our conversation:

RunnerPub: Growing up, I recall seeing race pictures and trophies displayed on your family-room bookshelves. When did you get into running? And what got you started?
Beth: I would say my brother Michael got me into running. I was living in Boston at the time and my roommate was training for the Bonnie Bell (now the Tufts 10K). I trained with her and ran it for my first race on the streets of Boston, finishing in Boston Common. After that, I was hooked. It was October 1983.

RunnerPub: What was your first marathon?
Beth: It was the Stamford Marathon in Connecticut in April 1986. It was a great race. I ran a 3:20.

RunnerPub: Nice time! I had no idea Stamford had a marathon. Did anything surprise you about the distance?
Beth: I was shocked — I finished 10th in the women’s division and won $100. The marathon started down by the water — cobblestones on the road (horrible) — and went up to the Merritt Parkway. Then it turned around and headed back to the water. It was a lonely race because there weren’t many people watching. The last three miles were a nightmare. I cried all the way to the finish.

RunnerPub: And yet, you took home 100 bones! That makes you a professional, I should think. Back then, did you look up to any fellow pros?
Beth: I admired Joan Benoit. She was a tough competitor. Her will and determination were amazing. Just 17 days after knee surgery, she ran the first women’s Olympic Marathon trials — and won.

RunnerPub: That was right as you were getting into the sport. Did you see her win the gold medal in Los Angeles?
Beth: Yes, we watched the Los Angeles Olympic Marathon on TV. It was amazing. When Joanie came through that tunnel and did that lap on the track to the finish, I got very emotional.

RunnerPub: Growing up, you spent a lot of time in the Boston area — do you have any memories of the marathon from those days, from before you and Mike became runners yourselves?
Beth: I lived in Boston for a few years after college. I watched the marathon near Boston College with friends. That was in 1982, 1983 and 1984.

RunnerPub: So when did you first race Boston yourself?
Beth: My first Boston was the 100th running of it, on April 15, 1996. I had run Hartford to qualify. My husband John, who had run a few marathons himself, put together a great training schedule for me. I was so excited to participate. Boston, in my opinion, is one of the must-do marathons before you hang up your sneakers.

RunnerPub: So marathoning’s been a family affair — we can get behind that. Can you tell me a little about the training?
Beth: I have fond memories of Sunday morning long runs. During my training for Stamford, John would follow me around town with water. My daughter Sheila, who wasn’t even a year old yet, was in the car seat in the back alongside the Sunday paper. We were living in Cromwell, Connecticut at the time, which was pretty flat. So when it came to the Stamford race, I think the hills nearly killed me.

RunnerPub: Boston’s got some famous hills, too. How’d you mix up your training before the 1996 one?
Beth: In training for Boston I did some track work with Mike in Farmington, Connecticut. I hated it. I also did hills.

RunnerPub: How was the weather on race day?
Beth: I don’t remember it being bad.

RunnerPub: And how was Heartbreak Hill?
Beth: I feared the hill. I had heard so much about it. I had been running with this woman for a few miles, who was wearing new sneakers (big mistake) and as we started up the hill she developed blisters. She was in so much pain. I remember staying with her and telling her we were going to get up this hill together. We did. We finished the race together and I never saw her again. Only in a marathon.

Somewhere in here is Aunt Beth!

RunnerPub: How’d you feel after? And equally important, how’d you celebrate?
Beth: Afterwards, I remember wishing I had run a bit faster (doesn’t everyone feel that way?). Then we ate and drank a few beers 🙂

RunnerPub: Right on — RunnerPub’s recovery drink of choice! Have you done Boston since?
Beth: I ran it again in 2009. That was special because I ran that day with my daughter Kristin. (I finished first, haha). We ran much of the race together. I don’t remember giving her any grand advice beforehand. Just: “Take it all in. The crowds will carry you. They are amazing.” And, most importantly: “Don’t go out too fast!”

RunnerPub: What’s your favorite aspect of Boston? And what, in your eyes, makes it so unique?
Beth: What makes Boston so special is all the history — the greats that have run it before you. The fact that it starts in Hopkinton (such a small New England town) and ends in such a great city. The people watching and cheering you on are terrific.

RunnerPub: Can you share a particularly fond marathon-related memory?
Beth: Stamford in 1986 was great because it was my first and my personal best. Everyone came to cheer me on. My sister Diane was living in this little red house in Fairfield at the time, about a half hour from the finish line, with a couple of girlfriends. She hosted a huge post-race party. I remember my dad, Fred, pulling me aside and telling me that he was so proud of me, that he didn’t think I could do it. Priceless.

RunnerPub: Got any more marathons on your radar?
Beth: Well, the big 6-0 is looming. I’m looking at running another one in 2017, just to celebrate life and that I still can do it.

Pint With a Pro: Uncle Mike (Three Weeks to Boston)

It’s all my Uncle Mike’s fault, this obsession I have with running.

It started on a warm, sunny morning in April 1990. I was standing on some hill in the suburbs of Boston. I was 5. Family members were chatting about how this “Heartbreak Hill” that we’d trekked out to could be such a killer.

Somewhere out there, Uncle Mike Freeman — my godfather, no less! — was hammering out mile after mile between the town of Hopkinton and where we were cheering. When he got to us, I recall him zipping by, looking pretty relaxed all things considered. He even turned and waived!

Mike Freeman, bib 3136, kicking it in for his first Boston Marathon

It was a rush for me. I knew even then that this Boston Marathon had some special lore to it. What I didn’t realize — until I reached out and asked him for tips this past week — is that it was Mike’s first time racing the thing.

And so, with three weeks until we here at RunnerPub make the pilgrimage to Boston, I decided to ask Mike about his running career, his favorite race, and what we can learn from his experiences.

RunnerPub: Thanks for chatting with us today. Growing up, I remember you always being a big runner. But when exactly did you get into the sport? And what got you into it?

Mike: I played team sports growing up but found running a good way to stay in shape as an adult. I got hooked on road racing after watching a friend finish the Freedom Trail Road Race in Boston. I think it was in 1980. In those days I ran alone after work and raced in local Rhode Island races every weekend. On a few occasions I’d race Saturday and Sunday, and once I raced in the morning and again later in the day. There should have been an intervention after that one.

RunnerPub: Hardcore! That’s the sort of obsession we at RunnerPub love. So when was your first marathon, then?

Mike: My first marathon was in 1981, the East Lyme Marathon in Connecticut. I just wanted to finish. I enjoyed the scenery and the company of my fellow runners. I probably should have socialized less and run faster. My finishing time was 4:18.

RunnerPub: Did you have any running heroes in those days?

Mike: Running heroes in those days were Bill Rodgers and Joanie Benoit. They were both New England locals and incredible talents. I’ve met them both and they are wonderful people.

RunnerPub: When was your first Boston Marathon?

Mike: My first unofficial Boston was in 1984 when I paced a running buddy for the second half of the race. He was running sub-6 pace (around 5:40 a mile). I ran a personal best for the half just trying to stay with him. In 1984, Boston was also the Los Angeles Olympic qualifier for many countries. Running at that pace, we were running with some legends. I recall passing Rodolfo Gomez, a three-time Olympian from Mexico at Mile 22. We also ran a few miles with Ingrid Kristiansen. But my first official Boston was in 1990.

RunnerPub: Ahh yes — I recall the day. Before we get to that, can you tell us about your training leading up to it?

Mike: I had qualified the previous fall back at the East Lyme Marathon with a time of 3:11. A lot less socializing that day. My training, starting in January 1990, consisted of base building (averaged 40 miles a week, increasing the distance of the long runs on weekends). By February I was averaging in the high 40s per week due to longer runs of 18 miles. By the end of the month I started double workouts — six miles at lunch, four miles after work. But that quickly took a toll on me and I had to stop the doubles.

While I cut back on mileage, I added some hard runs a couple days a week. By the end of March I was running in the high 50s and added a track workout of repeat miles (4 x mile at around 5:50 pace). Beginning of April I started tapering by reducing my long runs to 15 miles then 11 miles a week before the race.

RunnerPub: Okay, and how’d the Big Day play out?

Mike: Race weekend was awesome. I drove up on Saturday to Fred and Casey’s house (editor’s note: that’s Mike’s parents and my grandparents), went to the Hynes Auditorium to pick up my number and wander around the exhibition hall. On Monday morning, Fred drove me to the start. He clearly enjoyed the whole thing. I can remember how excited he was; one our best rides together for sure.

I was very nervous at the start. They didn’t have waves in those days or seeding, except for the elite runners. The crowd of runners was massive and it took a long time for us to be able to start running. At the mile mark my time was just under 10 minutes, so of course I made my first mistake of the day trying to weave through the crowd to get to a place where I could run my pace. Miles 2 and 3 were both at 6:47 pace, followed by the next 6 miles at sub 7 pace (way too fast for a 3:11 qualifier). I ran the Hills okay, but heading into Cleveland Circle I was in great difficulty running 8’s and then 9-minute miles. I finished in 3:25.

The 1990 Boston Marathon, courtesy of the BAA:

With the largest group of runners ever entered (9,412), the 94th running of the Boston Marathon boasted one of the most competitive fields in the history of the race. Gelindo Bordin of Italy became the first Olympic gold medalist to win the men’s race (2:08:19); Olympic champion Rosa Mota of Portugal became the first official three-time women’s champion (2:25:24); John Campbell of New Zealand returned for a second consecutive win in the masters division, setting a course and world mark (2:11:04). In her Boston debut, Uta Pippig was runner-up.

RunnerPub: Pretty solid! Nonetheless, I recall you looking pretty good on Heartbreak. I seem to recall it being sunny that day, but how’d it feel out there for a runner?

Mike: The weather was warm and sunny. I recall Fred finding me after the race and pointing out that I had a pretty bad sunburn. So my tip, wear sunscreen!

RunnerPub: Duly noted. So let’s cut right to the chase — just how bad was it running up Heartbreak Hill?

Mike: Heartbreak Hill is overrated unless you go out too fast, are really racing and trying to drop someone, or hanging on to someone. It’s actually the last of three hills. None of them are too long or steep but, at 20 Miles, it doesn’t take much. I found the run down to Cleveland Circle after the hills much harder than the climb.

How’s your Italian? Here’s some footage from Gelindo Bordin’s victory that day:

RunnerPub: Ouch. That’s scary to hear! What’d you do afterwards?

Mike: As I mentioned above, it was a tough day for me but it was my fault. Fred found me after the race and we headed back to Milton like a conquering hero. Didn’t do much the rest of the day but watch the Sox laying on the couch.

RunnerPub: Ah, yes, that other Boston sports institution, the Red Sox. Have you done Boston again?

Mike: Yes, in 1994.

RunnerPub: What’s the best part of the race?

Mike: Running down the to the finish line is the most unbelievable experience you will ever have in running, guaranteed.

RunnerPub: Wow, I’ll try to keep that in mind on the dreaded downhill portion toward Cleveland Circle! So what, in your opinion, makes Boston so unique?

Mike: Boston is the biggest race in the sport for runners and fans alike. Personal opinion, it’s bigger than the Olympics.

RunnerPub: Since I’ll never make the Olympics, I’ll go right ahead and agree with you on that. Got any final tips?

Mike: In addition to the sun screen thing, train smart, go out easy and enjoy the day. Even though it’s a net downhill course it is not a PR course. Have fun and look for us out there at Mile 24 — we’ll be there, cheering for you and Les!

Race Report: Philadelphia Marathon

Well, it’s been four months since Mrs. RunnerPub and I ran the Philadelphia Marathon.

We have five weeks until Boston.

What better time — well, aside from the preceding four months — for a full recap of Philly?

With that, here it is:

Pre-Race Thoughts, Goals

Heading down to Philly in late November, my goal was to beat my personal best, which is still 2:49:55 from Paris ’08. Ideally, I wanted to run between 2:44 and 2:48.

In the final weeks of training, that seemed like perhaps a biiit of a stretch. For one thing, I’d been battling a strain in my left glute that had me nervous. For another, my legs didn’t seem to have much “pop” in them during our final workouts.

In particular, I’d bombed our final “marathon-pace” run of 15 miles. That workout’s supposed to be a beast. Still, I hadn’t expected my legs to turn into tubes of cement by Mile 10 and to struggle and strain through the final loop of Central Park.

And so, with Philly approaching, I was hoping that the combination of tapering and “magic of race day” would afford me the necessary boost to reach my goal.

Race Morning

Ready for battle, circa 4:30 a.m.

By the time our hotel’s shuttle bus dropped us off near the start line at 5:15 a.m., the wind was already howling. For some reason, the security guards weren’t letting people into the fenced-off prep area until about 5:45. So we stood there for a while like idiots, shivering from the cold and our pre-race jitters, along with several other early arrivers. I wondered if everyone else had decided to skip the race.

“They probably saw the weather report and said, ‘F— it; I’ll just run the local Turkey Trot on Thursday instead,'” I thought.

Once inside the prep area, Leslie and I sought refuge from the elements in a big tent. Before long, a few hundred similarly bundled-up runners had joined, creating a sense of warmth and camaraderie — and nerves!

At 6:40, twenty minutes before the start, we came outside, checked our bags and found our respective corrals. I was in the “Maroon” wave, right behind the elites. Leslie was right behind in the “Black” wave. She was looking to beat her 3:27 personal best from Chicago ’15.

Les is trying to stay warm in the pre-race chill

After the Star Spangled Banner was sung, I pulled off my two pairs of sweatpants and long-sleeve T-shirts and tossed them in a bin. Marathon legend Bill Rodgers was on a stage, speaking into a microphone, recalling his own victory here in 1974 on a similarly cold and blustery day.

Then the race director gave final commands.

And then, the gun went crack!

Early Miles

The Philly course opens with a lovely stretch to and around City Hall. Since I hadn’t put myself at the front of my corral, I spent much of the first mile weaving in and out of people. I hit the mile in 6:47, pretty solid, and things started opening up.

Around here, we ran by a dive bar called Paddy’s Pub (just like in the TV show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and therefore an early highlight). Then we turned right on North Columbus Avenue, taking us right past our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express — Penn’s Landing (temptation to run back inside and go to sleep: averted).

The sun was rising over the Delaware River and neighboring New Jersey. I was loosening up, picking people off, looking for a group of bodies to hide behind before we’d turn west — straight into the wind.

You could kiiiind of see Independence Hall from the race. We saw it up close and personal the day after the race

First, though, we looped around Philadelphia’s “Old City,” which was nice considering it was still early enough for us to appreciate the sights — including Independence Hall. The crowds were pretty decent in this residential area, including one person holding up a sign that said:

“Run like you’re being chased by _____: a) Voldemort b) Darth Vader c) Steve Bannon.”

It was early enough in the race to laugh — and be frightened.

During this stretch, I picked out a tall man with a bald head and sunglasses to tuck behind. He looked tough, clad in a singlet and shorts, despite the cold. He looked to be in his early 40s. Turning one corner, we encountered a preview of gusts to come and he muttered:

“Every time I get into a rhythm, we hit a f—— headwind!”

At Mile 5, things started heating up. We turned left, heading west up Chestnut Street. This stretch constitutes the “Big City” portion of the race, progressing beneath the downtown’s towers and lined with cheering spectators. It was also straight into the wind. I bunched in with four others, forming a line behind Bald Guy. We clipped off a couple of miles in the 6:20s, right where I wanted to be. I was feeling good.

At one point, Bald Guy veered to the side, as if begging us to pass.

“I’m trying to get out of your way,” he said.

“We want you in our way!” someone called back.

Bald Guy didn’t seem to mind.

Settling In

At Mile 7, we caught and latched onto another group, transforming us into a Pack of 10. This was a rush, like we were elites bunching together for the opening stages of the Olympic Marathon (it was still early enough for me to be imaginative). We headed over the Schuylkill River for the first time, ascending a bridge that was the race’s first uphill. This brought us to “University City,” where we kept climbing past Drexel University’s Fraternity Row.

An annotated course map

This was another highlight, with a collection of frat boys on the sidewalk hooting and hollering, banging pots and pans, blaring “Surfing USA” from speakers. They looked like they hadn’t made it to bed the night before — or, perhaps, hadn’t been up this early in years.

Either way, they brought the funk.

Fired up, I pushed to the front of Pack of 10 on the ensuing downhill, hoping to catch Bald Guy, who’d since pulled ahead. He was, someone had informed me, shooting for a time of 2:45. Rather than catch him, I wound up becoming the Pack of 10’s resident pacemaker, blocking the wind for everyone else’s benefit as we entered the course’s hilliest portion.

Mid-Race

Mile 10 dealt the first body blow, a hill longer and steeper than I’d imagined. I tried slowing things down, shooting for “steady effort” rather than “steady pace.” In so doing, I lost more ground to Bald Guy. A couple of members of the Pack of 10 floated past. By the top of the hill, we’d entered Fairmount Park, where the wind was truly whipping.

Here’s what the wind looked like that morning (credit: Weather Underground)

A note about the wind: according to Weather Underground, Philadelphia that morning had sustained winds of 20 m.p.h. at 7 a.m., 23 m.p.h. at 8 a.m., 30 m.p.h. at 9 a.m., and 26 m.p.h. at 10 a.m. Gusts exceeded 40 m.p.h. It blew mostly from the west, though occasionally surprised us.

By the time I’d gotten to Fairmount Park, my quads and calves were starting to feel heavy. From here, we followed a big downhill out of the park (not helping the legs, that) and cut back along the western bank of the Schuylkill to the halfway point.

Here, we were isolated from the crowds. The road was cambered, making it hard to find flat footing. My left glute was tightening up. I was getting nervous.

I passed the Half Marathon mark in 1:23:40.

Rolling Along

From there, we doubled back over the Schuylkill, passing right by the finish line (so close, yet so far…) and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (of Rocky fame). Thus commenced a long, lonely slog up Kelly Drive.

“Easy, boy,” I told myself through Miles 14 and 15. “Keep ticking off these miles. Once you get to the turnaround at Mile 20, it’s smooth sailing, wind at your back, all the way to the finish!”

This, of course, is called “wishful thinking.”

Over the next few miles, I formed a tight unit with a couple of other guys to battle the headwinds up the eastern bank of the Schuylkill. At one point, we began roping in Bald Guy again. Then, out of nowhere, Bald Guy stepped off the course. Then Bald Guy entered a porta-pottie. We’d never see Bald Guy again.

By now, it was a classic “out-and-back,” so that while you trudge past Miles 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, you also pass Miles 25, 24, 23, 22, 21 on the other side of the road. This might have sucked, reminding me of how far I had remaining. But for some reason, it had the opposite effect, making me feel closer to home — including when we “passed” the leaders at Mile 18 (for us) and Mile 22 (for them).

The drawback?

Feeling so close to home, I pushed the envelope.

By Mile 19, reality was setting in. Cresting a 50-foot hill that felt more like Everest, I encountered a gust and quickly lost contact with my two companions. It was a real blow — literally and figuratively. All at once, my legs felt like they’d tripled in weight.

Still, I forged ahead, trying to force myself to relax. Up ahead was the funky suburb of Manayunk, perhaps THE highlight of the race, I’d been told. Following miles of relative solitude, you’re thrust into a party town that goes bonkers on Marathon Day. I imagined miles of college students banging pots and pans, funneling beers, blaring Springsteen hits. They didn’t materialize. Maybe it was too cold and windy. Maybe I was hurting too much to notice.

Either way, I didn’t get the Manayunk Boost while scaling another unexpected incline that brought me to the Mile 20 turn-around.

Looping the set of orange cones, I gazed ahead at the final 6.2 miles and thought: “Uh oh.”

Heading Home

Retracing the rolling hills out of Manayunk, I had a couple of unsettling realizations. For one thing, there was a growing possibility that I would epically “bonk.” For another, the tailwind I’d hoped would propel me home would not, in fact, live up to the hype.

Mentally, I was struggling. Sharing the two-lane road with thousands of runners on the other side of the road was no longer fun. While I was ahead of them now, I was sure that every one of them would catch me — and how they’d laugh! The upside of this fit of paranoia was it distracted me from some of the pain of Miles 21 and 22.

Miles 23 and 24 are best forgotten. Over that godforsaken stretch, we zagged southwest (into the prevailing gales) and ran beneath rocky cliffs that seemed to collect all the wind of the world and unleash it in our faces.

“Where’s the g–d— tailwind?” I inquired of a fellow sufferer as we endured one particularly potent blast.

“What the f—!” he replied.

While my pace hadn’t yet fallen off a cliff, I was entering the Danger Zone in which at any moment you can start losing whole chunks of time — in other words, bonk. I was fighting tooth and nail to stay under 7:00 a mile — not exactly clipping off 6:10s and 6:20s like earlier. I checked my splits. I attempted some mental math. I wanted to know if breaking my old personal best was still achievable. As best as I could tell, the prospects were fading.

At Mile 24, I caught one of the two guys I’d run with from Miles 14 to 18. Evidently, he’d also entered the Danger Zone. We ran together for the next mile. Then, he took off, leaving me in the dust. Minutes later, I reeled him in again and, to his credit, he offered: “Go get ‘em!”

It was now the final mile and I resorted to an old trick.

“New goal!” I lied to myself. “Get your sorry butt to that line of porta-potties and then maybe you can walk!”

Once there, I told myself: “New goal! Get your pathetic excuse for a body to that traffic light and then you can give up.”

Once there, I told myself: “New deal! Just carry this failing pile of flesh to that Japanese flag and then…”

And then, upon reaching the Japanese flag, I realized I was at Mile 26. All that remained was a final quarter-mile “sprint” to the finish.

Digging deep, I unleashed everything I had in the tank. It certainly wouldn’t qualify as a “kick,” but it did bring me to the Promised Land.

In 2:50:21.

Twenty-six seconds slower than my personal best.

Nooooo!

Post-Race

At which point, I nearly cried.

Every time I’ve finished a marathon (four of them, now), I’ve experienced a similar torrent of emotions. Pain, of course. And relief. And pride. This time, I felt frustration, too, for so fleetingly missing my best time. But it was impossible to be overwhelmed by that, for I felt badass, too, for enduring the windy weather. And grateful for the fans who’d cheered along the way. And kinship with the strangers I’d run alongside, whether they’d ultimately pulled away from me or I from them.

Hobbling forth, I felt undying love for the old ladies who wrapped me in one of those metallic blankets and bestowed me with a “Finisher!” medal. Hobbling still further to the food tent, I felt primal joy for the lines of bananas, oranges, soft pretzels and steaming cups of chicken broth.

Checking my watch, I realized Leslie would finish any minute. So I hobbled back to the finish and felt stoked to see her zip past looking like a rock star (see below).

“Tiiiiim,” she said, once she’d spotted me and begun hobbling over.

“It hurt so much…”

Well, she’d shaved 12 minutes off of her personal best, finishing in 3:15.

Reunited now, we hobbled back to the food tent. Then we hobbled to the big tent where we’d started the day, which was now being used for massages. Leslie sprawled on the ground.

We were back in this tent, but didn’t look as chipper as we do in this shot taken hours earlier!

“Hey!” a race official barked. “Medical tent is that way!”

“I don’t need medical,” Leslie whimpered. “I just need to sit.”

“And warm up,” I pleaded.

The official took pity, handing us a collapsible chair. His unspoken message: If you can’t park your butt on this, then drag your butts out of here — all the way to medical.

The man looked stressed. As more and more finishers streamed in, all cold and cranky and aching, they vastly outnumbered the official and his team of masseuses. The situation soon reached its inevitable climax:

“Sir,” the official told one runner, who looked to be in his 20s, “you can’t get a massage if you’re that cold.”

“How the f— do you know my temperature?!” the runner rejoined. “Do you have a thermometer?”

The runner was blue in the face, but he had a point. I’m not sure anyone was warm enough for a massage. Fortunately, Leslie and I had another option. Checking our phones, we learned our friend Amy (who happened to be in town) had found a spot near the finish and filmed our “kicks” with her cell — and sent along the footage.

“LIKE A BOSS,” she’d texted.

Now, Amy, was headed to a highly regarded cafe in the vicinity.

“Should we hobble over?” Leslie said.

“Let’s hobble forth,” I said.

And so we did. Once inside that warm and beautiful cafe, we eased our cold, creaky bodies down at a table. Then we began swapping war stories and inhaling large volumes of recovery latte.

It was, without a doubt, the most welcome caffeine rush of my life.

Boston Countdown: Six Weeks (Go Meb!)

Six weeks to go until the Boston Marathon, and Mr. and Mrs. RunnerPub are pumped.

We’ll be racing this year’s event, and I’m glad to report that, thus far, our training’s gone pretty smooth.

To get psyched to toe the historic starting line in Hopkinton on April 17, RunnerPub’s kicking off a “Boston Countdown” in which we dedicate a post each weekend to someone/something inspiring.

Today, it’s Meb time.

Of course, you know of Meb Keflezighi. He’s one of America’s best marathoners ever, with an Olympic silver medal from Athens. It doesn’t hurt that he ran for UCLA, where Mrs. RunnerPub kicked butt back in her college days.

This guy’s so badass, his book is called “Meb For Mortals”

The Meb Moment that’s seared into my memory (one of my all-time favorite running achievements) was the 2014 Boston Marathon. That’s when Meb, at 38, ran away from the pack mid-race and hung on to become the first American winner in over 30 years.

Not just that, but it came one year after the horrific Boston bombings — I mean, you couldn’t have picked a better time or person for this. I recall watching the race that morning on my computer at work, literally jumping up and down and screaming:

“Come on, Meb! You got this! Hang on!”

I may have cried. I confess to still watching this video every now and then (and crying) to get pumped up for a tough workout.

So here it is, the first of our Boston Countdown:

Digesting the Turkey (Trots)

Here in the U.S., Thanksgiving could pretty much be called National Running Day.

Since the holiday’s consummate dinner plate is a glorious mess of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries and dinner rolls — all flooded with a deluge of gravy — we here at RunnerPub decided to cook up a heaping mess of random thoughts concerning the Big Day of Races.

Thought #1) Have we hit the Million Racer Mark?

According to the industry research outfit Running U.S.A., Thanksgiving is the most popular day of the year for people to run road races, also known as Turkey Trots. In 2015, a record 901,753 people crossed a finish line ahead of their holiday feasts. The upward trajectory in the last half-decade has been impressive:

Turkey Trot finishers
2011 – 684,334
2012 – 808,806
2013 – 811,186
2014 – 812,905
2015 – 901,753
2016 – ???
Source: Running U.S.A.

That, of course, raises the question of whether the million-runner mark was reached yesterday or will be reached some year soon.

Thought #2) RunnerPub wasn’t helping!

Okay, so we took the year off. In our defense, we’re in recovery mode following Sunday’s Philadelphia Marathon. Technically, that’s not a Turkey Trot, but race organizers may want to consider playing up its proximity to the holiday…a kickoff, perhaps, to Turkey Week?

In any event, Mr. and Mrs. RunnerPub obtained footage of ourselves grinding toward the finish (credit: Amy Tennery). All I can say is, I sympathize with the fate of the turkey we consumed last night (ie: “Stick a fork in me, I’m finished!”):

Here’s Mr. RunnerPub’s “kick”:

Here’s Mrs. RunnerPub looking somewhat better:

Thought #3) Buffalo Roots!

In 1896, the world’s first Turkey Trot took place in Buffalo, N.Y. It’s the oldest “continually run footrace in North America,” according to the race website, meaning Thanksgiving races have played a key role in American running from the start (note: it’s also a few months older than the Boston Marathon).

While it can’t claim to have kicked off America’s original “Running Boom” (which some say started with Frank Shorter’s victory in the 1972 Olympic marathon in Munich), the Buffalo rendition did feature a man named Henry A. Allison dominating five others in a cross-country style event (and, presumably, he crossed the finish, yelling: “Gobble, gobble, mother f******!”).

Thought #4) Top Turkey

Connecticut’s Manchester Road Race, one of the country’s preeminent Turkey Trots, held its 80th running yesterday. The winner of the 4.748-mile event (what’s more Turkey Trot than such an oddball distance?) was Ben True, a RunnerPub favorite.

The race was a doozy and well-documented by the Hartford Courant’s Lori Riley:


— Lori Riley (@lrileysports) November 25, 2016