The Boston Marathon Race Report By FatBird Anthony
It was at the Sydney Marathon in 2015 that I unexpectedly qualified and eventually was accepted into my first Boston Marathon, a dream for most serious marathoners to at least participate once in this holy grail of marathon-ing.
I have heard so much about The Boston Marathon, its glories as well as all the controversies, but more so about the unpredictable weather challenges and the famous Newton Hills and HeartBreak Hill that makes it one of the more challenging races for any experienced marathoner. I was part of a group of 30 from Singapore for the Boston Marathon 2016, and I took up the VIP package from Marathon Tours as recommended by the Boston Marathon website, twin-sharing with my travel mate Ngee Hung. Before departure, I had much help from fellow FatBird Ngee Hung with all the bookings as well as the advice on how to prepare for the challenges of the weather in Boston Spring.
The flight into Boston was a torturous 26hr affair with a 6hr stop in London Heathrow, making us so tired when we finally got to Boston Marriott Copley Place on Saturday afternoon. We hopped on to the nearby race pack collection and expo upon checking into the hotel. The crowd was thick as the whole city of Boston was suddenly full of marathoners for the big race on Monday Patriot’s Day.
We collected our bibs with no problems but moving around the expo was difficult. I went straight for the ‘must-buy’ Boston Marathon jacket but missed out of the very popular tee shirts as the men’s sizing was gone by the time we arrived. We took a few photos before going back to the hotel and had a good rest.
On Sunday morning, we put on our race gear for a short ‘testing’ run along the scenic Charles River. Lots of running groups were up and about and we even bumped into Meb Keflezighi. The weather looked a lot more promising and we were satisfied that race day would be better weather than the rainy and cold Boston 2015.
The rest of Sunday morning was spent checking out the finish area at Boylston Street and Copley Square, meeting fellow Singapore runners for lunch and dinner, and shopping for race essentials.I turned in early for the night and had a good rest before waking up bright and early Monday morning. Took a breakfast of peanut bread with coffee before the VIP bus brought us to the start point at Hopkinton, some 40min drive away. We had a private staging area away from the public area, which was really good as it gave us some space to prepare ourselves and access to the toilets.
We over-prepared ourselves with food and warm clothing and blankets, but were quite happy to leave them on the bus to be donated to the needy as the weather was warm enough not to require them. At 9:45am, we put on the bare essentials and made our way to the Athlete’s Village and start corrals.
We checked into Wave 2 at 9:55am and were soon in the queues for our respective corrals. There was about a 1km walk to the start line and along the way bumped into fellow Singaporeans and even the famous Tarahumara Runner Quaimare who was in my corral. The excitement was high as the groups of runners prepared for the start.
Wave 2 was flagged off by the gun at 10:25am. By the time I stepped on the chip-mat, it was 4.5min after the first corral left. The first 10km of the course was generally down slope and this is the portion where many a marathoner have made the mistake of running too fast and paying the price when they come to the hills between 26km-32km.
I took the initial miles very carefully and kept to a conservative pace of 5min/km along with many of the steady lady runners. There were water points every 1mile, well stocked with Gatorade and water. Loud cheers rang through from supporters on both sides of the roads, making the atmosphere a highly charged and motivating one.
It was warm in the first 15km of the race with the sun beating down on us furiously. I was contemplating if I should remove my inner piece of clothing, but decided against as the weather might change to be colder – anything could happen to the unpredictable Boston weather. I was more tolerant of the heat than many of the American and European runners who were showing signs of heating up.
I got my first Clif gel at around 17km, and popped it in with some water provided at the next hydration point. I was maintaining pace at 4:55min/km and soon was hit by some strong headwinds and cool weather. I was glad I had my beanie and gloves on as it was starting to get a little chilly. The Half Marathon mark was crossed in 1hr43min.
Soon I could hear very loud cheers and screams by thousands of supporters in the horizon – yes, the famous Wellesley Girls screaming and waving with boards asking to “Kiss Me” and all holding out their hands for high-fives. The atmosphere was electrifying, and I too gave them high-fives at various stretches of the 200-300m line up.
After the euphoria, we soon arrived to the first challenging hills of the course – the Newton Hills. The climb was rather steep but quite short, so it did not pose too much of a problem for most marathoners in my wave. Once we passed that, we were hit with the famous Heart Break Hill, which actually is a series of rolling hills. Coupled with the headwinds, this stretch really zapped much of the energy out of many of us. I almost broke into a hamstring cramp, but was contained only when I slowed down for the tingling to ease off.
That hills took us to the 32km mark, and from there, the final 10km was generally more down slope. If one had run the first 32km well and not expended their full resources, the final 10km could be a breeze and a chance to make up for lost time for a strong finish. I maintained my pace at 4:50min/km and was able to overtake many of the tiring runners along the way.
The Final 10km
The female runners were very strong, keeping up with their steady paces all the way. I ran along with them most of the time to keep to a steady pace, along with my trusty Garmin 235 as a guide. The crowd got thicker as we approached the city of Boston and got nearer to the finish at Copley Square along Boylston Street. The cheers were incessant, and that provided a lift to my tiring legs as I continued to stride along to overtake more slowing runners.
The turn into Boylston Street was euphoric as we approached the final 600m. I could see the iconic Boston Athletic Associations emblem in the finish arch in the distance as I picked up my strides to go for a quick finish. My legs were feeling good and with both sides cheering, I crossed the finish line in a net time of 3:29:43, a Boston Qualifying (BQ) time for my age group of 50-54 – my third BQ since the first one in Sydney 2015.
I felt happy and thankful that I completed Boston strongly and feeling great. As I walked along to collect my well-earned Unicorn finisher medal and space-suit, there was a surreal feeling of calm and quiet within me. I moved on to get some bananas and chocolate milk to replenish lost carbs and protein before going to the S segment to meet with Team Singapore runners.
Lots of exchanges and photos later, I was with Ngee Hung back at the hotel for a nice hot bath and stretching out of the legs. There were already postings of my timing splits in facebook from friends in Singapore monitoring the race, many whom were rooting and showing their support. I would like to thank all of them including my family and close friends who have been quietly supporting and cheering me on as I complete this historic and iconic marathon race, which many have deemed the holy grail of marathon running. With my first Boston Marathon in the bag, I have a couple of observations and takeaways for others who might be interested to attempt this race one day.
Lessons & Takeaways
- Prepare well for the unpredictable Boston weather – the temperatures can blow hot and cold even during the race, so wear very versatile clothing which can be stripped off when it gets too warm, but never throw anything away until you cross the finish line on Boylston Street
- Start & maintain a conservative pace for the first 21km, especially the first 10km when it is generally down slope. Coupled with the adrenaline rush, many runners tend to out-pace themselves and have to pay the price when they hit the wall in the second half of the race where the series of hills and winds come in
- Hills & More Hills – the rolling hills after the HM mark have been known to break many a fast runner’s strides to a crawl, offsetting early gains in the flatter portions by a huge percentage. Do more hills runs and repeats during training, best to put some steep rolling hills after the 25km mark for that enhanced simulation of actual course conditions
- Have a good hydration and fuel plan – with the many hydration points and 3 gel points (1 on both sides of the roads at every mile), there is no excuse for being under-hydrated and under-fueled
- Race starts from 10am, and there could be a waiting time at the Athlete’s Village for 2-3 hours. Get yourselves comfortable with warm clothing and some food while in the tents, and bringing the bare essentials when you are called into the starting corrals.
- Official merchandise sells out very quickly, so you might want to hit the race expo as early as you can find time