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Wandering the World

Stories and tips from around the world.

Boston Marathon

My first marathon of 2024. Would it also be my last one this year, or would I manage to fit a marathon into the autumn? I think this time around I started training far too late as I didn't have a good base to be working from after having had an easy summer following quite a few months of reduced training from other non-running issues. My half marathon at the end of December was so bad, I knew I'd got a long way to go. Speed work in this training block was particularly bad with no average faster than 6:50/mi (previously this would be 06:30/mi) on my 5 mile sessions, and couldn't really cope with 8 mile tempo sessions like I used to.

In terms of long distance, this had at least improved a little since last year with a faster time at Hillingdon 20, but still managing a pretty appalling 22 mile time for me a couple of weeks later. It may not have helped that my races weren't the usual 10K, Half Marathon, 20 mile, in the build-up either, but a 20mi, Half, 20mi, and then a 10K during tapering. It wasn't until the end of March that I managed to run a half marathon without walking at a slower pace than normal. By this point I'd usually expect to be able to run 20 miles without walking, with a faster average than I'd done there.

What had gone well though was hills. I may not have done as many hill repeat sessions this time, but I've made sure that the majority of my runs included a long slow hill to go up and down. As I said Hillingdon went better too, and that was managing more laps without walking than previously. Maybe it's not all bad.

Taking into account what sort of paces and distance I'd been managing, I'd got three goals:

  1. Bronze: sub-3:39 so I'd beat my Manchester time from last year,
  2. Silver: sub-3:26 so I'd beat my London time from 2015,
  3. Gold: sub-3:20 to get my fastest time since the pandemic.

As long as I could beat the bronze goal, my hope was that this would put me in a good position to beat my Guernsey Ultra 36 time from last year when I return there in a few weeks time. If I can do that, then my training is at least back to going in the correct direction.My left knee wasn't perfect going into this though, and the right hand side of my neck had been stiff from a restless night the weekend before. Fortunately neither were feeling too bad at the minute so my hope was to not aggravate them further before Guernsey.

It didn’t help I’d barely slept last night though. You would think having a room window level with a street light that they’d put some decent blinds in, but no, it was the one negative for where I was staying. I laid in bed for some time, not really thinking about the plans for the day, but hoping the rain I could hear beating against the window would stop sometime soon.

Eventually I had breakfast, and spent the next hour taking it easy. I’d decided I was going to leave 45 minutes before the race start as it was only a ten or so minute walk to the race village. I may as well try to keep dry for as long as possible.

People were hugging the shop entrances, trying to avoid the torrential downpour that was ongoing. It felt like there was barely anyone about to start with. I stood around with some and there were a surprising number who had said that if they’d been local they wouldn’t have bothered turning up today.

When I made my way over to the race start I found there was a reasonable sized field, no pens or anything or barriers, you could just casually walk over. Doing a smaller race for my spring marathon sure is a different experience. Fortunately the rain, whilst still coming down, had eased off for the start.

I set off at around 07:30/mi pace, and tried to keep to it as much as possible. We’d been warned there were places on the course where there were 3 inch deep puddles. I don’t do inches so not sure how deep that actually was, but hoped that they weren’t too early on in the race as I wanted to keep my feet dry for as long as possible to try to avoid any blisters today.

I found I’d misjudged my starting position as I found for the first few miles I was overtaking a lot of people. After the first 5K things were still going well, and it seemed we were leaving Boston behind us. I was surprised about the oncoming vehicles - I’d assumed there’d be closed for this race. I did wonder if out of town they’d be traffic managed. It also passed a Warhammer store and I thought to myself that if I could beat my London 2015 time, then I’d stop by there after the race.

At some point the route then split away from the half marathon route, and wouldn’t rejoin it until we’d got just 8 miles left to go. At four miles I had a sip of the lemon Tailwind, and thought it wasn’t as overpowering as the orange one had been a few weeks back. I think it’ll definitely be the one to use for Guernsey.

As we headed out into the countryside we were less protected from the wind, and it felt more miserable than ever. The puddles were getting bigger too, and I decided I’d rather break one of the rules of racing, and weave to avoid them. Not only that, I was jumping across them, trying to find the shallowest points to cross when I could, and when I couldn’t I’d leap onto the muddy embankment - hoping that I wouldn’t slip or get my shoes caked with mud so thick it’d make running harder. It was an unnecessary waste of energy, but I’d rather that than the risk of blisters too early in the race. It did however mean that my feet remained mostly dry, or at least, were not noticeably wet.

The miles ticked on by, and at times we had to slow for cars on the single track roads, but for the most part they were very mindful of the runners around them. It felt good enough that I felt pretty sure that I was going to be doing at least half of the race without walking, but kept thinking: Could this be the marathon I don’t walk for?

At Leverton Outgate, a small village it seems, I could see the lead car heading back in the opposite direction with the race leaders closely following. That put them 3 miles ahead of me, so despite the conditions they were having a fantastic race. As soon as I left there, the headwind I was facing was pretty immense, and I was unsure how long I could cope with it. I wanted to walk, I really did, but I could see ahead of me it was eventually going to turn, and I hoped that would get me out of the headwind for at least a while. I started to question how much of this I was actually going to run if the wind was getting that bad.

I noticed another water station somewhere in this 3 mile loop, yet as with every other station I ran straight passed in favour of taking a sip of Tailwind, a plan I was trying to stick to for every 4 miles. It was then my turn to see the runners about to start that loop, but only briefly as it then peals away to go closer to the east coast.

When I passed 13 miles I figured it wouldn’t be a problem to run another mile. This was now my plan: take it one mile at a time, and convince myself it’s just one more mile. I did this for the next few miles, but it was also getting cold again so I put my hood back up. When the wind stopped my glasses steamed up quickly and I couldn’t really see where I was going now. I tried peering over the top of my glasses, but it wasn’t really practical. Fortunately the runners in front of me were wearing bright colours that I could just make out so just carried on following them.

splash I felt a sudden coldness up my legs, and within seconds my toes were starting to feel very cold. I hadn’t seen a pretty deep puddle coming up, and I just had to accept it and keep on going. The ‘squelchiness’ of my shoes wasn’t so bad after several metres, and I decided now they were wet I may as well run through every puddle regardless of how deep it was. Some of them were certainly deeper than anticipated, and I may not have taken the optimal route through them as a few were almost knee deep at their worst. It turned the running into more of a gallop, and just after 16 miles I’d had enough. My hands, hidden away in drenched gloves, had already vanished up my sleeves in an attempt to keep them warm.

If I’d kept on going at least until 20 miles, then I would most likely have gotten around a 3:20 time, which whilst certainly not a PB, it would have made me very happy. I started to think though, did I really need to be pushing hard in this weather? Even though the wind eased every now and then it was tiring. Not only that but there were times when I tried to breathe through my nose and it’d feel like drowning due to the amount of rain water being blown into it. I thought maybe I’d need to put my hood back down to stop my glasses steaming up, and I kept thinking.

No. If I start to take walking breaks, and ran at an easier pace for the next 8 miles I’d still finish. I’d still get some sort of reasonable-ish time, and maybe it’d still at least be sub-4 hours. Though maybe I was giving in too easily, I’d kept on going during the Hillingdon 20 when it felt harder than this. As soon as I started walking, my glasses started to clear, which I wasn’t expecting. It reinforced my decision though. The miles still ticked past faster than I was expecting, and I was just concentrating on keeping moving. I did almost stop once when a 4x4 decided to pull off a drive, but I got away with just slowing to a walk again.

There were times around 22 miles in when the wind was so strong it felt like even when I was trying to walk I wasn’t actually moving anywhere. I’d stopped taking sips of Tailwind at this point as well, not having had any since around mile 16.

When I passed the “We’ll Meet Again” WW2 museum I realised just how far from Boston the route goes as it’d been somewhere I’d looked at on the map when seeing if I could waste time on the Saturday after arriving. I knew it was a 15 minute drive away from the centre of Boston. Things like that do put marathons into perspective.

Just after mile 23 I managed to find a pothole hidden in a deep puddle on the outskirts of Boston. I felt my ankle roll into it, and was immediately concerned it could be a problem. I ran on for a for more minutes before walking, and it actually felt okay - it seemed I’d gotten lucky and remained injury free. Whilst there had been a time around half way my left knee hadn’t felt great, that too seemed to be doing okay.

Whilst my overall pace was dropping, my walking breaks were getting longer too, and I wasn’t that bothered. I just wanted to get it done, but wasn’t willing to put in the effort. I looked at my watch, 25.5 miles. Well, when I get to 26 miles I guess I’ll run from there to the finish. I thought to myself.

As I got to a bridge there was oncoming traffic that the marshals were holding back whilst directing runners to keep right. Despite the conditions, the marshals were all friendly, and supportive.There were some cones now, I guessed as long as I stayed inside those I’d be fine. I saw someone ahead of me turning right towards some buildings and I felt that was the University. It seemed likely, so I got running, having realised I’d missed that I’d passed the 26 mile marker. I could see the finish was around the next corner after that, but really couldn’t be bothered to sprint.

I finished 237th out of 661 finishers, with a time of 3:37:14. Maybe I hadn’t beaten my London 2015 time, but then, London that year had experienced considerably better conditions than I’d faced today. I’d at least beaten my Manchester 2023 time, and maybe that was okay. It was certainly progress to moving in the right direction at least anyway. It was certainly a lot further back in the list of finishers than I’m used to, but there were also a further 42 runners that had not finished.

At the finish there was water, bananas, and they were handing out medals and t-shirts. Sadly the bag drop was in the open air, with the bags sitting on some tarpaulin so they were all getting very wet. I wished I’d brought a waterproof bag with me, but I had at least had the foresight to use a waterproof poncho to keep a warmer layer dry inside the bag. I think it was a lot wetter out there than the organisers had expected - the announcer before the race start had commented that in the last 15 years (I think it was), it had never been so wet.

With Manchester booked for next year, I’ll concentrate more on getting back to improving marathon times then, but for now, it felt like I might actually be in a reasonable position for GU36…

Tags: 26point2 marathon race running sports

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© David G. Paul