When sayin' you're gonna go for it just isn't enough.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Boston. That's it, Boston.

Where to begin...

I loved Boston. Loved the town, loved the people, I even started loving the Red Sox despite them sucking when we were there. As a Cub fan, there's kind of a bond you can share with Red Sox fans, minus the 2 World Series titles they have picked up in the last 6 years.

Love the Boston Marathon...not so much. That's a little harsh. It's a great event. But it really kicked my ass. Here's how and why -

I know there may be some newer folks reading this so here's a quick recap. I ran a 3:05:18 in Chicago in October of 2009. You can read that epic race report here. It was a race that I'll fondly remember forever. Everything just seemed to click that day. I signed up for Boston shortly there after and had loosely set my sights on going sub 3 in Boston.

I tried to just keep the fitness and ran just enough through the holidays. I prepared to start a 12 week training program at the end of January. I tried to get a nice base of all easy running in the three weeks prior and hit 40,44 and 61 miles the week before training really started. But those following 12 weeks of training were the most inconsistent I've ever had. Here are the miles by week: 51, 30, 60, 65, 70, 58, 36 (Half marathon was this week), 56, 70, 49, 46 and then a pre-race week total of 25. It seemed like things just kept popping up that made it really tough to get the running in that I wanted.

After the 1:26:57 Half in mid-March, I kind of let the sub 3 dream go. But the next couple weeks (after taking it easy the immediate week after), I started making some gains with my heart rate. I saw enough improvement in my heart rate and runs generally became easier, so I figured I was close enough to going sub 3 that I may as well go for it.

The Trip
I am very lucky to have a supportive wife and daughter. We made the trip together and had a great time. Also joining us were my mom, brother Nick and sister-in-law Jaime. I can't thank all of them enough for their love and support of my marathoning. We went to the Red Sox game on Saturday night and just tried to enjoy the city the other days.

I also got to see a bunch of my running friends - some new friends, some old friends and some in between. There really is a special vibe in Boston with all of these runners everywhere. I don't know if it's like that in Chicago or not, but I'd guess no. I have never stayed in any place but my own home for Chicago. There's a certain quaintness about Boston that's hard to put a finger on. You also get that feeling that the Boston Marathon is just as special to the people of Framingham, Hopkinton, Wellesley, Boston etc. as it is to the people actually running it. Most places we would go, people would ask if I was running the marathon. And every one of them would wish me good luck.

I got a couple of runs in Boston in before the race. On Saturday morning I met Steve, Brian, Kevin and Kevin's dad as we ran along the Charles River. It was very cool and something I'll remember. On Sunday, I went out for a short shake-out run and ran through Boston Common. My legs were feeling okay. Not great, not terrible, but I have learned to never put too much weight into those last couple runs.

The Race
Isla did great in Boston. However, she didn't sleep really well the night before. I think I fell asleep at 12:30 or so. Not really ideal, but I usually sleep like crap the night before anyway. I think I slept pretty well for 3-4 hours or so and my alarm was going off before I knew it. I showered and shaved down to a mustache. I looked at myself in the mirror and shook my head. No way. I looked like an asshole. One who liked to give candy to children or possibly even impersonate a cop. I shaved everything off at that point and proceeded to get ready. I said my good byes, grabbed my bag and headed down to the buses. After waiting a bit, we got on and make the long trip out to Hopkinton. Plenty of good, solid conversation on the bus, a lot revolving around race strategy as my bus buddy Chris was also shooting for sub 3. I also ate a half a bagel from my pal James. I think he had like 30 bagels with him.

We finally arrived in the Athletes Village and made our way to the tarps that Ron and Steve had laid out. Everyone joked around a bit, helped each get ready (taping pacebands, writing on arms, taking pictures) and before you knew it, it was go time. I was walking to the bag buses with my buddy Walter, a fellow Chicagoan. He was also shooting for a sub 3 and we were in the same corral. Somehow I lost him and before I knew it I was making the trek to the starting corral all alone. I struck up some conversation with some dude before I finally came up on some people I knew. We shot the breeze for a few and them it's off to Corral 3. I make my way up there and am looking for some familiar faces and come up empty. I settle in and out of nowhere comes John King, wearing his Macho Man sunglasses. We talk for a bit as we're inching closer to the gun going off. I brought along my empty 32 ounce bottle of gatorade in case I'd need to go to the bathroom. I get the urge, ask John for some coverage, he obliges and I take care of business. I get done and about 20 seconds after, some dude comes up to me and asks me if he can use my bottle. You know, the one I just put about 20 ounces of urine in. I said, "Sure, pal, it's all yours." John asks me if I knew the guy and I say, "Nope, do you?" He said no. That wasn't weird at all.

With a few minutes before the race was supposed to start, Mike, another friend from Runner's World comes up. We introduce ourselves (he saw me because I had ZAB on the back of my shirt) and decided to give 2:59 a whirl together. Very nice. I was hoping I could find someone to pal around with for the next 3 hours. Shortly after that, the gun sounds and we're off!

Miles 1-3 7:07, 6:43, 6:45
Everything I had heard was to not take the first mile too fast. Mike and I were on the same page, but we actually went a little too slow. It was pretty congested those first few miles. Things felt pretty easy early on as the downhills helped keep the effort level in check. Mike and I are just getting to know each other a bit here and keeping each other loose. I'm hearing "Balls" and "Balls on the Table" in some nice New England accents from the get go and it couldn't be any more awesome. This continues the whole way.

Miles 4-6 6:50, 6:55, 6:41
More of the same. It's not feeling super easy, but it's not feeling tough. I was feeling pretty good with where I was at. Mike was wearing a Greg Maclin pace band (accounting for the terrain) and we were pretty close to that throughout. Our Garmins seemed to be a little off as sometimes his would be reading in the 6:30's and mine would be in the 6:50's. We'd just take the middle and go with it. Note to self: Boston's water and Gatorade stops are much shorter than Chicago's. Sometimes there were only a few people handing out Gatorade and I'd end up with water when I wanted Gatorade.

Miles 7-9 6:51, 6:50, 6:52
There we go. Settling into a great pace. Took my first Gu Roctane at mile 8. I'm feeling pretty good at this point, but my heart rate is climbing a little higher than I'd like. I hit an AHR of 171 at mile 8, about 5 miles earlier than I was hoping to hit the 170 mark. I tried not to think about it too much and from this point forward, I think I will not look at my HR during marathons until the last couple miles. Mike and I are still having solid conversation and we're bumping into a few other guys hoping to hit 2:59's. I am not sure why, but they were asking us if we were on pace.

Miles 10-12 6:50, 6:51, 6:41
Great miles, but I start to feel like I am working too hard. AHR now in the mid 170's. If I was a little smarter, I may have started to back it down a touch, knowing the Newton hills are looming over me like an albatross. But, I don't. I think I can power through it and use my mental toughness to hang on.

Miles 13-15 6:53, 6:46, 6:57
Still hanging on, holding pretty steady. AHR was 178, 179, 179. That's just about 90% of max with 11+ miles still to go. Oh boy. Here comes a downhill mile before the hills. I take my second Gu at 15.

Miles 16-18 6:37, 7:04, 7:00
This actually wasn't too bad - time wise, anyway. I saw my support team just before 17 and it was a huge boost. I can't really say how awesome it is to see 5 people there rooting me on in Boston. This was actually my first marathon that wasn't in Chicago since December of 2005. It's definitely a different feeling not being familiar with every mile, where the mile markers are, etc. I knew my legs were pretty well trashed after the downhill on 16 followed by the first hill. But, I am thinking, you know what? If I can get through 21, I still have a shot. I'm telling myself, "Just...get...through...the...hills."

Mike (in the green) and me

Miles 19-20 6:43, 7:03
Solid. The downhill-ish 19th mile was a nice break. Still feeling it in a bad way, but pushing on. Just trying to mentally get through 21 and over Heartbreak so I can run again. But 20 was a struggle. AHR was a 189, 94.5% of max.

Mile 21 7:31
I lose Mike in this mile. I can feel him pulling away and my legs aren't working like I want them to. I can see him looking over his shoulder for me and then yells, "Zab!" I yell back, "Go!" He gives me a fist pump and pulls away. I finally crest Heartbreak, see my split and know how my legs feel and know I'm toast. I'm pretty much out of gas. Damn. It's been a long time since I have felt like this in a race. I'm trying to mentally pull myself together because I'm a mess physically. My legs are shot. The point in a race where your goal slips through your fingers is tough to comes to terms with. In the back of my head, I am still thinking I'll get my legs back, I just need a little bit of time. AHR was still at 189. Also took my last Gu here.

Mile 22 7:07
Wow! Not bad, but I'm running on fumes. And I am having fueling issues. I am starving. I'm grabbing anything and everything spectators are handing out to runners, namely water bottles and slices of oranges. Those oranges tasted amazing.

Miles 23-24 7:36, 7:44,
I'm pretty sure I saw both wheels fall off and roll right by me here. I'm still grabbing all kinds of oranges and water bottles from the crowd. I'm just focusing on finishing and looking over my shoulder, hoping to see some of my pals that were shooting for sub3. I never saw them. Oh, and I'm getting passed like a son of a bitch. The crowd is cheering me on, but I'm just mustering thumbs up to them. In the back of my head, I'm thinking, come on, you can still PR and give the finger to those people who told you that you don't PR in Boston, let alone your first Boston. I'm also thinking how much I hate marathons and I'll never run this course again because I just got my ass kicked like it has never been kicked before. And I still have 2.2 miles to go.

Mile 25-25.2-26.2 7:38, 1:35, 7:19
I get a boost in between 25 and 26 near Fenway. I get a second wind and decide to embrace the crowd and I get them cheering like a bunch of drunks for me as I'm raising my arms up and down. I'm yelling, "Come on, get up!"And they are loving my shirt. I'm giving out high fives and feel like I am running freely for about a quarter of a mile. Oh, I see the one mile to go mark and I retardedly hit the lap button. Yep, the 0.2 comes after mile 25 in my race today. Anyway, I'm pretty much giving it all I have left (which is not much) and realize I'll be coming in with a 3:03 something. The crowd is really awesome here. I make the last couple turns and try to position myself for a good finish line photo. Seriously, that's what I am thinking about. I raise my arms, hit the mat with a 3:03:41, a PR by 1:37. Thank you, God. It's over. Quick side note: the ironic thing is there is no finish line photo of me on marathonfoto. Unbelievable.

I am actually moving pretty well after I cross the line, unlike most of the people around me. I go over to the spot where they're handing out medals and I make eye contact with one of the volunteers. She tells me to come on "ovah." In her Boston accent, she says to me, "I have been waiting for you. Great job out there. You earned this medal." I am not sure why, but I almost started crying when she said that. Again, the kindness of the volunteers shining through. I told her thanks and I appreciated it very much as she put the medal around my neck. She said some more nice things and I went on my way through the corral.

I am walking faster than everyone, grab my Mylar blanket, bag of not-so goodies and finally make it to the bag pick-up. I grab it and the the end of the finishing corral is right in front of our hotel and I finally see Tiffany, Isla and my mom. I give them all hugs and kisses and they were all so happy and proud of me. They also seemed to be concerned that I was going to be upset that I didn't go sub 3. The truth was that I wasn't at all. I was really happy to see them and I was just exhausted - and the 2010 Boston Marathon was officially in the books.

Post-race Thoughts
I am really proud of my time and I really did the best I could. I was really on the fringe of going sub 3 and if I knew then what I know now about the course, I would have called myself slightly crazy by going for it. My training cycle was far from ideal and I definitely made a few mistakes from fueling (how could I forget my breakfast staple- Peanut Butter! and the later start messed with my eating schedule) to a lack of hill training (not that I can truly simulate that here in Chicago). But if I would have run it a little more conservatively in the first half, I maybe still could have ended up with a 3:01 or 3:02. In my mind, who cares? I went for the 2:59 and ended up with a 3:03. I'll put my balls on the table every time when that scenario comes up.

Garmin total: 26.43 miles, 3:03:42, 6:57 pace, 169 AHR (although my HR battery seemingly crapped out on me the last few miles, so I am guessing that number is closer to 175.) Splits of 1:29:41/1:34:00.

Thoughts on the Rest of the trip
  • I'm really lucky to have such a supportive and loving wife and family. There weren't many other families from out of town that came to support their runners.
  • Boston cabbies don't like it when you pay with your credit card.
  • On the flight back home, we sat next to a guy that bandited the marathon. He claims to have taken the green line(D) out to mile 16 and cabbed it out to Hopkinton. He showed up 2 hours late and proceeded to still run it in 5 hours from when he started. The best part is that he was really impressed with my 3:03. He seemed to think I would have no problem setting a new "PBR" in Chicago in the fall. Yes, that's right a "PBR." The hybrid of a personal best and personal record is apparently a Pabst Blue Ribbon, so PBR me ASAP.
  • The "T" is pretty solid, although it does get a little crowded at times.
  • If you like Dunkin' Donuts, you'll love Boston.
  • Congrats to Mike for bringing home a 2:59. Great job and thanks for keeping me company for 20 miles.
  • Boston is kind of like a smaller, cleaner version of Chicago...with awesome accents. Everyone was really nice. Tiffany and I definitely want to go back for a visit sometime.
  • Here's a link to our family blog that features more photos from our trip.
That's about it. Thanks for reading and for your athletic support.


  1. pk - what an awesome experience to share with you! I definitely think Boston is our "second city" and I couldn't imagine a better way to go there than with you, watching you accomplish such an amazing feat. You're always my inspiration - and YOU ARE FAST!! ;) My heart bursts with pride. I'm forever by your side to share a PBR (time or beer) and our little woman is certainly ZAB's biggest fan! We love you! Look out 10.10.10...

  2. Well worth the wait. What a GREAT report and all those wonderful photos. It's so cool that you ran with Mike, we had just bumped into him in the hotel that morning. But oh, the inner dialogue, you always make me laugh and this was a winner.

    Seriously, with that cycle (which you were unsure of for weeks at a time) you had a fantastic finish time. Really impressed. And with this under your belt, Chicago is going to be a crazy great race for you, that's a given. Great meeting you finally and BOTT!!! That's what it's all about. :-)

  3. Hey Zab--Awesome RR! I haven't been feeling it much since Boston but reading this has me pumped up about running again. Loved the pics of your beautiful family. It was fantastic to run with you through mile 20 but hard to see you falling off pace. But you still pulled out a PR--BOTT!


  4. Way to go Paul!!! That is awesome!!! If it makes you feel any better I finished 13.1 in 2:59. Yeah. Real funny.

  5. Nice report Zab! I also love that inner voice! Giving the finger to the doomsayers on the PR classic!


  6. Finally....j/k ;-)

    I'm really impressed you held on so well the last 4-5 miles. It sounds like your legs were ready to quit, but you held a great pace in spite of that. Chi-town is where it's at! Looking forward to seeing you there! Oh, and good call on shaving the molestache...

  7. Paul,

    Thanks for sharing your report. You certainly earned that medal and I was very happy for you! I appreciate your feelings at the finishline. It's hard to explain, but you know it if you've been there. I fell in love with Boston last year and you were right with the quiantness. The city really makes you feel special that weekend. Great place and I hope we can do it again. Nice pics here and on the family blog as well. Great job Paul!


  8. Zab - great report from the best dressed guy in Boston - where DID you get those arm warmers? You have amazing perspective - sounds you were able to have fun, run a great race and appreciated at the time what the moment meant for you and your family. It's also awesome that your running is something the whole family takes part in. Many happy returns.


  9. As always, a great race report, one filled with a dose of humor and great insight. I'm so glad that you were able to experience the greatness that is the greater Boston area. As someone with strong allegiances to both Chicago and Boston, I totally get where you're coming from in terms of your impressions of the area.

    I also know what you mean about not getting in the training I wanted for this race. So our race-day successes given what we encountered along the way are very impressive. Sub 3 is our for the taking this fall!!

  10. Zab,
    Another awesome RR. I continue to go back and re-read your RR from Chicago last October when I need a little extra motivation. I absolutely love the “PBR” reference, as it is my beer of choice! Can’t wait to see you go sub 3 back home on 10/10/10

  11. Nice post...Looks the run is very fun...I like your outfit zab so cool...you're doing good!!!