Saturday, July 11, 2015

The weather was brutal. I don’t remember ever being so cold. - Mark Davidhizar (April 20, 2015)

Mark Davidhizar
Weather-wise this was one of the most miserable experiences of my life; but at the same time, Boston 2015 was one of the best experiences of my life.
But before talking about race day, what a great weekend it was in Boston! So much to do, no doubt about it, though we didn’t do or see it all. First off, I would like to say “thank you” to Meghan Irvine and her family for allowing us to stay at their house. Despite the fact we had to stay in a boy’s room with a bunch of Red Sox/Patriots stuff, it was comfortable and a lot cheaper than a hotel.

After a late arriving flight into Boston Friday night, Tina and I woke up early and drove a little over an hour into Boston for the BAA 5k. The weather was a perfect day for the 5k. Wish we got the same weather on Marathon Monday, but that’s another story… I was able to see Tina at a couple of locations on the course.  I also saw Sean Astin running the 5k. After Tina completed her impressive PR 5k, we made our way to the expo, stopping on the way for some quick pictures taken at the finish line.

Celebrities spotted in the BAA 5K: My wife Tina and Sean Astin

With Meb
Up next, probably the thing I was looking forward to most on this trip was getting to meet my running hero, Meb Keflezighi. Meb won the 2014 Boston Marathon, becoming the first American to do so in 31 years. But as good of a runner as Meb is, he is a better man. He is a strong Christian, very personal, and puts others first. Meb spoke on behalf of Generation UCan (think Gatorade but with a lot less sugar). It’s not a product I use, but I greatly respect his commitment to the company. Meb started to represent and being sponsored by Generation UCan five years ago in Boston when he met an eight year old who had so many dietary issues and needed a lot of help. The dietary program of Generation UCan helped the boy so much. Meb was so committed to the products and the family of the eight year old he came to the boy’s birthday party, not just to make an appearance, but to be there with him.

The rest of our day was spent at the expo and a Red Sox game.

Following all the walking on Saturday, we did our best to keep me off of my feet on Sunday. After the Duck Tour (a great way to both see the city and relax), Tina and I met up with Megan, Killi, and Dion (who also stayed with Meghan for the weekend), and went back to the house for an early carbo loading dinner and the chance to get ready for the next morning…

You go into events like the Boston Marathon with visions of what the day will be like. My hope was temperatures in the mid 40s, a tail wind, and overcast skies; and running my best race ever. Obviously our visions of what we expect don’t always work out the way we think they should. Race morning arrived with a temp of 42 degrees, but the real feel was in the mid 30s, windy and rain.
The alarm went off at 3:00 in the morning. Yep, awake at 3:00 for a 10:00 race. As expected, I really didn’t sleep too well the night before. We needed to leave Meghan’s house early because Meghan and Kelli needed to board their bus to Athletes’ Village at 5:45.

Pre-race photo with Meghan Irvine and Kelli White.
As you can imagine, the roads into Boston at that time of morning were empty. After we parked, Tina and I walked with Meghan and Kelli to the hotel they would leave from.  From there we wished Meghan and Kelli good luck and headed towards Boston Common, where we’d check our gear and board a bus to Hopkinton.

The race weather forecast was not very promising, calling for highs in the mid 40s, winds out of the east at 20 mph (yes, a nasty head wind), with gusts up to 30mph, and rain.

Tina and I arrived early at Boston Common and found a bench to sit and wait until it was time to load up.  I had made contact with a running friend of mine, Chad Ganger. The plan was to meet at Boston Common and ride the bus together. Those who know me well, know I am not very patient. I am the type of person who expects to be early. My worry started to kick in, for probably no reason at all, and I messaged Chad I was going to go ahead and get on the bus. In the crowd of 30,000 runners on this day, I never did see Chad in Boston (sorry guy). Nerves were obviously starting to get to me as I used the port a potties four times while in Boston Common.

Impatient me, off to the bus…
I have heard people say they hate the ride to Hopkinton because they have you go up in an uncomfortable school bus. I actually enjoyed it. I got the opportunity to talk with runners from all over the country about running. The common questions were, “How many Boston Marathons have you run before?, How many marathons have you run?, Where did you qualify?, Where are you from?, How did your training go? (typically asked when they knew your home had an awful winter)” And, of course, “What’s your goal for today?” People from all over the country, all kinds of professions, all with one goal, to run well at the Boston Marathon.

Athletes’Village was more of the same. People from all over the world, talking about running. Really, we didn’t spend as much time in the Village as I thought we would, maybe an hour and a half. While there you could get your photo taken beside the famous “It All Starts Here” sign, as well as a couple other places. I already put my money down to buy my race photos, so I was taking any opportunity I could to get my picture taken and get my money’s worth. Also in Athletes’ Village, I used the port a potties three more times (bringing the total to seven).  At 9:05, the first wave of runners were called to start heading to the starting corrals.

The walk to the corrals from Athletes’ Village is about a half mile long. On the way right before the corrals were tons of, you guessed it, port a potties. I figured I better make one more stop (total of eight at this point). Once in the corrals, I needed to go again (that’s nine. there is a reason I am sharing this with you, I promise). We were in the corrals by 9:30 with the race beginning at 10:00. Once again there were more conversations with runners. One guy was from Chicago, another from Edmonton. The one from Chicago had about the same goal as me, and I thought I would hang with him for a while.

My goals for the race were 1) Run under 2:55, a new PR [6:40 average] and if not, 2) Run under 3:00. Goal 3) was Run a BQ time.

For those who are not familiar with the course, the Boston Marathon is unusual in that it’s a point to point course with a net elevation loss.

After introductions of the elite male runners and the national anthem, the gun went off and we were on our way.  At this time, there was no rain and light wind. There was only one problem at the start, I had to pee again. I swear, I really didn’t think I drank that much water. Also at the start, I lost contact with the guy from Chicago I thought I could run with and pace with. I am not sure if he got ahead of me or behind me. The corrals were so crammed and it was impossible to move side to side. I was basically going to have to run my own race.

I have read and been told many times, when it comes to Boston, don’t push the opening miles. They will kill you later. All the people in front of you will slow you down, consider it a blessing. The first four miles are downhill: a couple of rolling up hills, but noticeably, you lose a lot of elevation. But I kept it easy, maybe too easy. First mile was 7:01. OK, that was too slow, but really I couldn’t help it. It was just that crowded so I couldn’t move faster. Second mile I was able to pick it up and ran a 6:37 mile. At the end of the second mile, there was some relief, a port a potty. After a 40 second pit stop, I was back running. Probably tried to catch up too much at once and ended up running the third mile in 6:48. Considering the added pit stop, where I did not stop my watch, this was way too fast. [Truthfully, I didn’t look at my splits too closely until I wrote this and now I am kicking myself.]

Mile 4 – 6:25, mile 5 – 6:38, mile 6 – 6:23, mile 7 – 6:28, mile 8 – 6:36, mile 9 – 6:45, and mile 10 – 6:35.

That was far from the plan, especially miles 4, 6, and 7. They say seconds in the beginning of the race equals minutes at the end. How would this all play out later? It was also around mile 8 it first started raining. The rain lasted for a couple miles. At this point, I had already thrown off my hat and gloves.

I also learned it is very easy to get distracted in Boston while running the marathon. There are crowds like I have never seen at a race before: I was giving high fives to the kids along the course, and trying to move among all the other runners. It became so much of a distraction I forgot about the fuel I planned on using at mile 8 and remembered it at mile 11. Oops.

Everything you have ever heard about running through Wellesley is true, although I have been told the volume and crowd was less than usual due to the rain. But for a first timer like myself, I didn’t care. They call the course along Wellesley College the “scream tunnel,” and for good reason. Wellesley College is an all girls school and you can hear them screaming from a mile away. When I first heard them, I just thought, “You have got to be kidding me.”  You couldn’t see them, but, man, could you hear them. Wellesley students are also known for trying to get kisses from runners. For this reason, since they are lined up on the right side, I stayed left so I wasn’t cut off by some guy trying to get a kiss. From Wellesley to mile 15 are just small rolling hills.

Mile 15 probably has the steepest drop on the whole course. You drop about 100 feet in elevation right before the climbing begins. Mile splits for miles 11-15: 6:40, 6:32, 6:38, 6:39, and 6:48. Amazingly, the most loss of elevation in a single mile, and it was a slow mile. By about mile 12 though, I knew things were not going very well and it could be a struggle. At the halfway point, I was at 1:27:05, 25 seconds ahead of goal pace.

At this point, the rain continued and the cold precipitation would last until the end. My hands were numb. I was struggling to grab water at the aid stations and was having trouble seeing.

Mile 16 starts the infamous Newton Hills, a series of four hills over miles 16-21. My goal at this point was to relax on the up hills. If the time slips some, that was fine. Mile splits on the hills were 6:36, 6:57, 6:59, 6:57, and finally 7:27 up Heartbreak Hill. Obviously, Heartbreak Hill was an ugly mile for me. At this point my legs are dead. It was really only a matter of how long until I hit the wall. At the top of Heartbreak Hill is Boston College. Warning to anyone who runs Boston in the future: Don’t take water from anyone who is not at an official aid station. More than likely, at least at Boston College, it will be beer. It may not sit too well in your stomach. No, I didn’t take any, but I could smell it as I ran by.

Mile 22 was run in 6:50.  Then finally, as we entered Brookline, I hit the wall. During the 23rd mile I walked for probably a quarter of a mile. Whatever chance there was of breaking 2:55 was gone. My 23rd mile was completed in 8:20. Usually when I walk, it means the rest of the way will be run/ walk.

I got going again and finished the race running, I didn’t need to walk. Final mile splits were 7:18, 7:10, 7:15. Nothing fast, but I kept moving.

Before getting to mile 26 were the most famous turns of all of running, Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston. As loud as Wellesley was, Boylston was unreal, and the elite runners had been finished for almost an hour. It was nuts. I was looking for Tina as I ran down Boylston, and for some reason I had it stuck in my head she would be on my right side. Turns out, she was on the left. Never saw her, but at least she saw me.

Finishing time was 3:00:43, so I missed out on my first two goals.

After crossing the finish line is where the long walk begins. First came water (thankfully the volunteers had the caps already off, because I still couldn’t feel my hands. They were still numb). Then they give you your medal and take some photos.

Then they give you a poncho to keep you warm (I really wish this came before the medal). I had to ask the woman for help because I couldn’t feel anything, and couldn’t get my arms through the arm holes.

At this point, I must not have been looking too good because three or four nurses asked me repeatedly if I was OK.

Then it was a long walk back to Boston Common to pick up my gear and meet Tina. They provided changing tents for all the runners. On an average day, this would probably go pretty smooth but with the rain and cold, everyone wanted to change, and it was packed full.

Tina and I had some time to kill before Meghan and Kelli finished, so we went and grabbed a late lunch at The Cheesecake Factory.

Can’t think of a better way to celebrate than with Red Velvet Cheese Cake. While at dinner, we got text alerts of how Meghan and Kelli were doing. Both of them ran impressive times, especially considering the conditions. Meghan ran a 3:44:07, and Kelli (first marathon ever) ran a 5:16:14.

Post-race photo with Meghan Irvine and Kelli White.
Questions I have been asked since finishing the marathon: “Daddy, Did you win?” OK, this one came from our daughters back at home. Simple answer, no, which was then followed by the question: “Why not?” Maybe I should stop running the local 5k’s and 10k’s to lower my kids expectations.

How did it go? Quiet honestly, it was one of the greatest weekends of my life. The experience of being in Boston for the longest running marathon was unreal. Along with that, I got to spend it with my wife, Tina.

But it was also the most miserable time of my life. The weather was brutal. I don’t remember ever being so cold.

Are you happy with your time? Yes and no. I didn’t hit my goal, and weather obviously played a part in that. But also, there were parts I just didn’t run smart. I believe I was ready to run a 2:55:00, it just didn’t happen. However, it is hard to be disappointed with running a BQ time in Boston.

Will I return next year? Well, I do have a qualifying time, but the answer, unless something drastically changes and we win the lottery (which we don’t play), the answer is no.

Will you return to run it again at some point? Assuming I keep up my training and maintain qualifying times, it looks like maybe in five years for the 2020 marathon would be the most realistic chance of returning.

My mother’s graph
Thank-You’s  go to all those who supported me along the way. First off, thank you very much to all who said they were stalking me (AKA: getting text updates or following my progress online). I have heard stories from people I work with, go to church with, and even my kid’s school teachers. Also, my mom had her students do some sort of graph of my progress. Truthfully, I think she had them do the graph to give her a reason to have her cell phone out while teaching. But most of all, a special thanks to my wife Tina who had to put up with my running schedule and me constantly talking about this race. She put up with a lot to get me here.

Mark Davidhizar
Elkhart, Indiana