On 16th April 2018 I ran the 122nd Boston Marathon in 2:58:18. Not a personal best but definitely, secretly, really a personal best given the race conditions/my condition.
I did Hal Higdon's Advanced 2 plan (again). I had used this for my first marathon in Manchester. That cycle I got really ill and missed some significant training. I did a 3:07. I considered it easier than Pfitzinger's plan and I wanted the easy option. Turns out it was absolutely not easier. I must have done something wrong first time because do it properly and this plan will really test your mental fortitude. I think this is a quality over quantity debate.
These are the runs I did. Not nescesarrily the order.. from week 15 I just fit runs in as appropriate depending on my back issues/pain levels.
The plan was initially just to get fit again and do better than NYC (3:29). The plan was going really well so I kept on changing my internal target until the point where I knew I was sub-3 fit.
I remember vividly letting my ego take a hold and thinking that I should post on Facebook about how I was going to nail Boston. I got my ego in check and its just as well.. I then got injured.
It was runs like this which whilst mentally.. the worst.. let me know I was there. Also fuck track
I am not sure what triggered it. I did a gym session before the PRR 1st Half marathon, and then I did the half. It was around that time that I got the first signs of a back niggle. I carried on training and whilst I can't remember how it progressed I know that during my time in Portland I couldn't sit on the bus, walk for more than 30 minutes or do much of anything. I just had consistent debilitating lower back pain. Portland sucked as a result. Going on vacation to lie in bed all day - eugh.
I went and saw a chiropractor 3 or 4 times who basically did nothing. When I went back to Seattle I got a sports massage, and then I also saw a chirporactor in Victoria BC. Vast expense, nothing solved the issue (I am still dealing with it) but it did become manageable enough for periods that I was able to get most of my core workouts in in advance of my taper.
At some point I took a week off and did lots of swimming. It got a bit better but then just came back. Generally swimming is always my go-to injury cardio.
My taper than became a cliff edge taper. Just enough to keep my muscles awake but the idea was just rest and hope it 'heals' enough to finish the race (spoiler - it did).
I have blogged about diet before so I will give it a brief section.
I ran Boston at around 67kg. 5kg up from what I ran Berlin.
At the star of the training cycle I was 72kg. I lost 5kg just training. I ate literally whatever I wanted, I just wasn't a fat greedy bastard at any point. Poutine, burgers, dougnuts, lots of restauarnt food, and a shit tonne of dark chocolate. God I love chocolate.
One thing. I dont really drink. That is super helpful. Also I paid vague attention to sugar consumption. Like have a doughnut or two, just not every day. I had a couple of ice cream binges too. Ice cream is great. Same thing - not every day :P
I eat a lot of protein. Eggs and dairy.
Oatmeal for breakfast. Always.
The plan was simple - Go for broke. Run like I was going to sub 3 and adjust if my back issues flaired up. To all extents and purposes there was only a plan A but subconciously plan B was to re-qualify (so I could return and get vengence), or worst case scenario.. just finish.
Plan was a positive split - bank a little time in the first half (on the downhills) and then give it back in Newton. I was very aware not to overshoot on the downhill - the intention was a fastest pace of 6:43 per mile.
Rather than mention it over and over.. watch the race, look at the weather report. The conditions were awful. Constant rain which every 20 minutes or so would get super intense. Soul destroying gusts coming from all direction except behind. It was tough. Constant zig zagging trying to hide from the wind BUT to be fair when I saw 20mph headwinds advertised I did think it would be a lot worse.
Miles 1 - 6
The first mile was slow, not fast. I decided I didn't care. The next were fast. I was aware it was averaging out below target pace. I acknowledged that the weather was an absolute disgrace and as I crossed the 5km timing mat that someone somewhere was probably tracking me. No issues.
Miles 6 - 13.1
No real issues. Had a GU at 6 and 12. At mile 11 I remember thinking this is a real slog. Not 'Im about to die' but more 'This is boring'. My back flared up on the left. It crossed my mind that I might be done. Got to halfway, knew I was 'on plan'.
Miles 13.1 - 16
My back started hurting on the right. To be fair this was kind of good. I was hilariously happy with the idea that it might just alternate sides at a bearable level of pain.
I was aware that the Newton Hills were coming up. I wanted caffeine in advance and arbitrarily decided at around 15.5 miles to get a GU Roctane gel in. I was having a bit of a nightmare with water. I was wearing gloves and kept having to have 4 or so attempts to not drop the cups. A guy at the start had said he had driven the course and Mile 16 was the worst because it was a long hill. He lied.
Miles 16 - 21
People were shouting about the hills and psyching each other up. I have no idea which was heartbreak hill because people kept on yelling "Here we go, heartbreak hill !". People had said these hills are overhyped. To be fair they are not - they are tough, but you do get restbite in between so its bearable. I think one of the middle ones was the hardest. Didnt want to try and take gels whilst running up hills. Took one at the end.
Back calmed down. Win.
Miles 21 - 24
Slow (mentally). I knew I'd done the hills but I was pretty blasted at this point and I knew I wasn't playing with lots of spare time. 0/10 did not enjoy.
Miles 24 - 26.2
Opened another GU Roctane. I was fading. I consumed it slowly hoping that the act of 'doing something' would keep me alive. I also noticed that my calves were teetering on cramping. I knew if I cramped I was screwed so it was a balancing act. This was mentally soul destroying. I 'think' I sped up down Boylston and i'm pretty sure that by the finish line I was a few steps from full on cramp. Job done.
Ecstatic. I never thought I would PB. I was never trying to. That said in the conditions I think I ran 'better' than my 2:52 Berlin PB. That is to say I think this race corroborates my thoughts that I am at/above Berlin level fitness.
This was a mentally soul destroying build up. My taper was a cliff edge (see above) and what seemed like I perfect training cycle had fallen apart in the final 6 weeks. Easy to say in hindsight but I think I made the right decision in taking that serious step back.
Chris and Krisztina in Victoria, BC. They took me to their chiropractor. Given that my back issues are still not fixed he clearly didn't fix the problem but I 'think' he probably improved things and he was certainly much better than the other chiro I saw. He also made my neck make noises that I never want to hear again. They also went above and beyond helping me with pain management - heat pads, inversion tables.. the works.
Walter and the runners at Forerunners, 4th Avenue, Vancouver, BC. They let me join them for their long runs and some of their speed sessions. Walter made me do the PRR 1st Half Marathon (which my training plan said I should do, but I really didnt want to) and lit the competitive flame in my head.
Natalia in Vancouver, BC. Let me use her massage chair. It made me feel like things were going to be OK. She was also just generally super friendly.
Gigi at Back Health Care in Boston. She strongly advised a massage in advance of the race and gave me a deep tissue massage (that was actually kind of gentle) that actually resulted in an improvement the day after. By race day I was in pain again, but I certainly think this got me to the finish line and she also gave me ideas for resolving my issues more properly going forward.
I originally started running because of a bet about the feasability of running a marathon untrained. I've probably blogged about that somewhere.
I don't feel that it is fair to post a race report and imply 'just do the training plan and job done'. This training cycle cost me a lot. It was similarly physically challenging to my Berlin build up but it was also financially costly.
$240 USD + $55 CAD on chiropractors, $250 on massages, $200 on compression gear, and probably about $100 on medical supplies.
If I had not invested so much time, and mental energy into my training I wouldn't have been prepared to front the financial costs. I also had the incentive of sunk costs of flying/staying/entering Boston.
When I'm training my business output goes to shit. To be fair this time I was travelling so I wasn't working anyway but the flipside is that it is super hard to motivate yourself to go and see a statue or a museum when you are shattered from the morning 20 miler.
BUT. The reward is worth it.