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the races of 2015: part 3, the final countdown

January 3, 2016
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Because nothing could be more gripping than an amateur athlete’s race reports, I present to you the final edition of my 2015 race season recap. I ended the year on a crazy high with a satisfying sub-1:30 half marathon, a Boston Marathon qualifying time and a ridiculously fun 5k with my running team. Without further ado:

Race: B.A.A. Boston Half Marathon


Date: October 11th, 2015
Distance: 13.1 miles
Time: 1:27:23
Pace: 6:40
PR: yes
Place: overall 142/6,380
Strava

Pre-race shits: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD
Post-race shits: no
Injuries: none
Pre-race pain: none
Post-race pain: none
Shoe’s stayed tied: yes
Swag: long sleeve tech shirt / medal
Scale of 1-10 post-race happiness: 10 

This was my 3rd time racing the crisp autumnal B.A.A. Boston half marathon. 2013 was my first go at this race and, at the time, ended up being my longest run, ever. I was still very new to running but eeked out a 1:40 finish time; however, I was ridiculously sore afterwards due to bad running form, improper training and having no clue what I was doing (like running in brand new shoes I had never run in before).

With the race starting in 5 minutes I had to seek refuge in the woods with a discarded balled-up Dunkin’ Donuts napkin that, most likely, had been previously used to wipe sugary residue off of someone’s lips.

By the fall of 2014 I had completed a full marathon, several 13.1’s and a handful of triathlons. I corrected my running form and became a slightly more seasoned athlete and greatly improved my race times. My goal was to break 1:30 at the Boston Half—I came close, but ultimately missed the mark by a little over a minute with a 1:31 finish. (Still, a nine minute PR.)

Fast forward to the fall of 2015. I had recently completed my first 70.3 Ironman and was in the midst of training for the Marine Corps Marathon. I had been logging a lot of miles, heavily focused on achieving the ever elusive BQ [Boston qualifying time]. I wasn’t sure if going all out at a half marathon was a smart thing to do just a few weeks before my full marathon. I had considered pacing my wife who was also running the half, but I hadn’t quite committed one way or the other.

The night before the race I decided to just run the course, but not race. This decision was concretized by enjoying a fatty dinner and many glasses of delicious red wine.

The following morning I arrived at the race start area and simply couldn’t stand the thought of not racing. It was a perfect autumn day—sunny and crisp, but not cold. (I raced in a singlet.)

2015 BAA half

Unfortunately, due to some poor dietary choices from the night before, my stomach was not feeling particularly well. The lines for the port-a-johns were crazy deep—in the hundreds. With the race starting in 5 minutes I had to seek refuge in the woods with a discarded balled-up Dunkin’ Donuts napkin that, most likely, had been previously used to wipe sugary residue off of someone’s lips. Not the proudest moment in my life, but honestly the only other option was going in my shorts.

I self-consciously saddled up to the starting line worrying that I might smell like a combination of shit and frosting. Just… so, so gross. But before I could worry about my bittersweet butt odor-problem the race started… “Fuck it,” I thought and bolted out of the gate.

The Boston Half is one of my favorite races and it just so happens to snake through my neighborhood comprised of much of the Emerald Necklace park system. It’s a beautiful and winding 13 mile course of picturesque Boston green-space, but not the most forgiving route embattling participants with an almost three mile climb at the end.

The course ends on a track which is always a lot of fun, especially to sprint it out watching the clock, either in your favor or mocking what could’ve been. In this case, I was very, very happy to kick it in with a 1:27 finish—a four minute PR from the previous year and three minutes below my 2014 goal of a sub-1:30. Very, very rewarding. And very much demanding of an immediate shower.

Race: Marine Corps Marathon


Date: October 25th, 2015
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 3:14:25
Pace: 7:24
PR: yes
Place: overall 377/23,183
Strava

Pre-race shits: oddly, none
Post-race shits: no
Injuries: none
Pre-race pain: none
Post-race pain: my calves!
Shoe’s stayed tied: yes
Swag: long sleeve tech shirt / medal
Scale of 1-10 post-race happiness: 9 

“Stop right there! Don’t Move!,” My first and only thought was, “there’s no way this guy is going to catch me.” My brain made a split second decision instantly weighing the possible pros and possible cons of jumping a security barrier to get to the Marine Corps Marathon Starting line. Possible pros: make it to the starting line, have time to use a port-a-john, warm up. Possible cons: be zip-tied, tasered or shot by an armed police officer on the steps of the Pentagon.

And there I was… hopping a fence, at the Pentagon, running for my life.

But let me back up a little.

Frustration was mounting and one of my fellow racers said to the cop, “Hey, what if we just jumped the fence?” to which the cop replied, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

I arrived at the Marine Corps security check-point a full hour and a half before the race start. 23,000 entrants had to pass through the equivalent of typical airline screening, minus removing of the shoes. Unfortunately the race directors didn’t think this through and only provided a total of eight screeners. Anyone can do the math and figure out that 8 / 23,000 = a lot of fucking screening. But the number was actually much, much higher because people not racing (replete with strollers) were also waiting to be screened, presumably to see off their loved ones. So, I would wager there were probably more like 40,000 human beings trying to get to the race start area.

In one hour and twenty minutes I inched closer to the check-point exactly four feet. I was still thousands of people back. “There is no way I am going to make it to the start,” I thought.

A rumor started to spread throughout the crowd that security was letting runners not checking bags bypass screening. That’s me! Off to the right I saw a steady stream of people moving quickly towards the gates ostensibly bypassing the screening area. I deftly maneuvered way off to the side and followed the edges of a security barrier getting as close to the screening area as possible. Sadly, the rumor was just that. So there I was on one side of the fence, on the other side glorious, spacious freedom—but more specifically and tangentially a well-armed police officer just feet from the barricade.

Frustration was mounting and one of my fellow racers said to the cop, “Hey, what if we just jumped the fence?” to which the cop replied, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Within a few seconds a bunch of guys started to jump the fence, and I didn’t hesitate.

“Stop right there! Don’t Move!,” I sprinted about as fast as I could into a huge crowd of people, stripped off my throw-away clothes and promptly joined about 100 dudes peeing onto the bank of the Potomac. I had exactly two minutes to get in some leg swings and sprint to my time specific corral which was very close to the starting line. Without hyperbole, I made it with less than a minute to spare before the cannon went off and the Black Hawk helicopters did their flybys starting the race. Not exactly how I wanted to start my marathon.

 

My very first marathon (Paris, Spring of 2014) I was not only injured, but also zero-trained but completed the race in 4:25. (At the time I had never run longer than a half marathon! D’oh!) My second marathon (Philadelphia, Fall of 2014) I was semi-injured and half-trained finishing in 3:45. 2015 was my first full year of training completely injury free and my first 100% fully trained marathon. I had an excellent training schedule, a solid base, and friends that paced and endured my weekend long runs. Aside from an upper respiratory infection nine days out, I was ready.

The goal was to BQ.

I studied the course and had a full-fledged plan of attack including detailed fuel and hydration stops, all marked-up on my arm with a sharpie. Pro tip: sweat is a powerful eraser.

The course was fantastic but it seemed like it just flew by. So much so that I didn’t have the visceral high I thought I might’ve experienced. I thought I might tear-up at the blue mile. I thought I might weep having my medal placed on me by a Marine. But there was none of that. I think I was just very, very focused.

I’ll end the suspense, I did in fact BQ, but not by much. The qualifying time for Boston (and most of the World Majors) for my age group is 3:15. I finished in 3:14:25. That is pretty, pretty, prettty close.

In looking at my splits I did everything right. I was seemingly on track for a 3:10 but I suffered the last four miles. I had some serious calf cramps, but I made myself power through. My pace ended up being slower during those miles but not so much that it pushed my average beyond my time limit. (Again, it was close!) And of course, the tangents. No one runs an exact 26.2 miles. Weaving and maneuvering throughout any course over 26 miles will add distance. In my case, 4/10th’s of a mile, which is significant when staring at your Garmin 920XT wondering where the finish is.

I can’t think of any other time where the voice in my head was so brutally strong. During the last, painful four miles my mind would not let my body stop moving. I knew if I did, it would be impossible to restart the engine. It would’ve been the difference between 3:14:25 and 3:16:25.

I was happy to BQ, but it would’ve been nice to have a bit more cushion. Still, I can’t complain. If I had missed my BQ by 37 seconds I would’ve been devastated, instead, I can say I qualified and I guess that’s kind of cool.

Race: Yulefest c5k


Date: December 13th, 2015
Distance: 5k
Time: 18:50
Pace: 6:04
PR: no
Place: overall 68/3,000 – 2nd in masters
Strava

Pre-race shits: yeah
Post-race shits: no
Injuries: none
Pre-race pain: none
Post-race pain: no – but felt super dizzy afterwards
Shoe’s stayed tied: yes
Swag: pint glass award – a lot of free cider and food
Scale of 1-10 post-race happiness: 9 

A long time ago when I first started running 5k races, I would show up and long to be part of a group trading high-fives, wearing matching shirts and hanging out together at the post-race party. I was the sad, lonely kid starting out at a new school. And then I met my running club, Forest Hills Runners. This would forever change the trajectory of my running career, and in some respects, my life.

A lot has happened since those first 5k’s. Not only have I run half-marathons, full marathons, trail races and even triathlons with my friends and teammates, but I’ve accomplished more than I ever thought possibly imaginable. So, it was a real treat to have a record number of members from Forest Hills Runners race an end-of-year 5k in Cambridge, MA this past December. In total, 73 of us represented our amazing group from Jamaica Plain.

C5K, or Cambridge 5k, hands-down puts on the best 5k race you will ever compete in. The race fee is a few bucks more than your typical fun-run (usually around $35) but you get what you pay for:

First, the swag is the best. Forget about a t-shirt you will never wear because it is hideous and littered with 20 indiscernible corporate logos. The C5k t-shirts, or in the case of Yulefest–a winter hat, is something you will actually want to wear. No logos, just a cool fucking design. Second, the post-party food and libations is all local. No Bud-Light here… instead 4-5 craft brews and ciders are served up until it’s gone… no drink tickets, no limit. Third, the dance party bumps some of the best old-school hip-hop this side of Brooklyn. (Mr. Energy!) The Race Director, Ed O’ Connor, just understands how to put on a race. (And how to throw a party.)

 

Because of our team size our group was rewarded with a VIP tent stocked full of our own supply of beer, cider and plenty of food. (Sandwiches and breakfast burritos.) This was also super convenient because additionally we had check-in priority and a place to stash our bags. Most importantly… VIP = no wait lines for beer!

For me, my race year was over and Yulefest was mostly a fun way to connect with my team, run and then drink some cider. Regardless, I put in a good effort and finished sub-19 and won 2nd in masters (which was awesomely awarded to me by Yuley the Yulefest mascot). Forest Hills Runners won 3rd place for fastest team, so we went home happy with a couple of trophies.

In Summary

Man, what a great year. I don’t even know what to say other than I feel really lucky and blessed to have had such a stellar race year. I remained 100% injury-free the entire year. I PR’ed every distance I competed in. I ran a 18:31 5k. I technically qualified for Boston, and I successfully completed a half-Ironman. Not boasting, just happy and yes… just a wee bit proud.

I look forward to this coming year and hope to ride 2015’s wave into 2016 while rocking my first 140.6… (with exception to having to use a discarded Dunkin’ Donuts napkin).

Dying for more race reports? You can read part 1 of 2015 here and part 2 of 2015 (triathlon edition) here.

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