Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The 2015 Boston Marathon - A Return to Glory

The 2015 Boston Marathon was a return to glory in many ways, and a welcome one at that. For the first time in two years, the chatter among the chilly 26,000+ runners in the starting area tents returned to the familiar topics of weather strategies, expected PR’s, and life journeys to this moment, and no longer of survivors, redemption, or douchebag terrorists facing the death penalty. Those stories are now just historic footnotes in a race that has already survived 119 years, and shows no signs of stopping (tip o’ the hat to bomb survivors toeing the line at the Boston Marathon). The field of elites had never been stronger, nor the hardiness (heartiness?) of the Boston volunteers and cheering fans who don’t blink an eye at the expected rain and 20+ mph winds. This was to be my 11th consecutive Boston Marathon, and I reveled in its normalcy.

(kit ready!)
 The only strange personal twist was that the 119th Boston Marathon landed on 4/20 this year, the odd (and somewhat random) day of celebration among the marijuana enthusiasts that I now call “my industry”. They all personally know I’m a bigger fan of the runner’s high than anything green, but still, it would be strange not to partake at some level on the worldwide weed holiday. The cannabis industry is mid-renaissance here in the USA, and if the shout out today from Jon Stewart on the Daily Show was any proof, perhaps already nearing its shark-jumping moment. I’m a classic Silicon Valley guy, so I simultaneously fear I am too early and too late in this global phenomenon, but am here for the big wave surfing thrills that occurs when a $100 billion+ industry rises like a phoenix around you. It could be decades before my astrological sign combines my favorite two vices again…a shame not to embrace what fate hath destined.

 Luckily common sense stopped me from any pre-race, epitaph-worthy indulgences. That and deep-rooted personal preference, of course…we always start with the runner’s high if the opportunity presents itself. ALWAYS. EVERY DAY. Am I right?!? Today also happens to be Boston Marathon day, so a runner's high is basically guaranteed. Exercise addiction is so much more fun! (ha, ha)

(Here we go!)
  I walked down to the start amongst my pajama- and swag-clad brethren, enjoying the decorative new fashion reality brought by the restrictive no-bag drop policy. It’s good to know that 40,000+ donations are made annually to Big Brother/Big Sister and other charities in the area, but honestly, I have secretly enjoyed how wardrobe randomness is becoming one of the more charming parts of the Boston experience. One thing for sure – I wasn’t going to shed my goods in this frigid air until we all heard “30 seconds to start”. This once forgotten piece of clothing is, at this moment, the most important thing I have. Tomorrow, it may do the same for another. A powerful lesson in the humblest of moments.

(Keeping the extra clothes until the last minute)
“30 Seconds to Start.” 

 I exchanged pleasantries and good lucks to the runners around me, as we cheered on the Elite Men taking the start. The elites were definitely dressed to go fast, adding little more than gloves and hats to their singlets and shorts. Meb Keflebsghi had returned to defend his outstanding win last year, but would have to beat the best in the world to repeat, including Lesisa Desisa (winner, 2013), Dathan Ritzenheim, Wesley Korir (winner, 2012), Bernard Kipyego (third, 2012), and many more. It was also awesome to see trail runners Alex Varner (wha? didn't he just WIN the Lake Sonoma 50m last weekend?), Mike Wardian, and Sage Canaday in the pack. The elite Women were already en route to Boston, with Buzenesh Deba (2nd, 2014 with a 2:19), Mare Dibaba (another sub-2:20 runner), and American Desiree Linden setting the pace early. The wheelchair racers were going so fast ahead of them, they would finish before Wave 3 of the marathon even began. The best of the best, the fastest of the fast, and we are lined up behind them! Such a cool feeling.

(Here we go! Photo courtesy of CBC)
 As we crossed the start at 10am, I clicked on the Garmin and leaned into a relaxed but fast pace (6:40 min/mile) for the first two miles. It was cold, but the body heat could be adjusted with the pace so I just optimized for core temp. I hit the first 10k in 39:20. Fast, but it sure felt good to be warm!

(The rain made for challenging photos)
 The rain splattered us through Ashland (mile 4), Natick (mile 9), and into Wellesley (mile 11), and by the time I hit the Scream Tunnel (mile 12), I couldn’t feel my hand wet-noodling through hundreds of high fives. But I still went for it, of course!

(Fun accidental photo from a rain drop!)
 We hit the halfway (mile 13.1) in 1:23:11, and kept on pace (6:25 min/mile) into the hills (miles 18). So far, I was executing the same Boston strategy that has produced some of my best marathon finish times – pace evenly and aggressively to mile 18, count on your trail running roots to get you through the hills quickly, and the last 10k simply becomes “let’s see how bad you want it”. If you’ve done the speed work, you’ll have the gears both physically and psychologically.

 The fans were amazing through the hills, and the decibel of their excitement was exhilarating. Heartbreak Hill (mile 21) handed us a headwind on the way out, but the downhill was more than enough to hold the pace into the final flats. I glanced down at my watch and, despite working well together with my fellow fast finishers, we had slowed to a 6:35 min/mile pace. Curse you, headwind! With some quick math, I guessed I was still 30 seconds under a sub-2:50, so a little more work to do.

(Santa was there once again!)
 As we turned onto Bolyston (mile 26), it was a free for all. I leaned forward (my best Boylston kick, according to Strava) and crossed the finish in 2:48:33, right on schedule, and feeling good. That is, until we all stopped and simultaneously realized how f’ing cold it was. Foil burrito wrap thingy, please. PLEASE. NOW!!! The volunteers were angels.

(Get wrapped fast!)
 I shuffled into the warmth of the subway (free for runners!), and hustled back to the hotel room for an immediate steaming bath, lunch, and lots of water. What a crazy and adventurous Boston! The elite finishes were amazing too, with Lelisa Desisa (2:09:13) claiming the win and reclaiming the awards ceremony he missed when he won in 2013. Ethiopian Yemane Tsegey (2:09:48) and Kenyan Wilson Chebet (2:10:22) came in soon behind. The Women’s finale was epic, with Mare Dibiba and Caroline Rotich sprinting down Boylston until Rotich pulled away in the last 200 yards. Boston is most definitely back in full form.

(Lelisa Desisa, 2015 Boston Marathon champion)



 I hit the Beantown Pub for beers and stories of the day, then grabbed my PAX and settled into Carrie Nation’s for some cocktails, billiards, and quiet speakeasy celebration. The self-medication has begun! Or did it begin this morning at 10am? Vices do enjoy the company of other vices, after all. 

(If Don Draper were alive today, this is how he'd roll)
 Congrats all runners and volunteers, and thank you Bostonians for another epic adventure. I’ll see you next year! Now off to the Big Sur Marathon to complete one more set of beautiful Boston 2 Big Sur bookends, and cheer in that 46th birthday.

- SD