02 June 2010

A few words about Patriot’s Day and Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

The Boston Marathon:
Let me begin by saying this is not my declaration that I will post a Boston Qualifier later this year. I do hope to BQ eventually, but that is not my goal for this year; yet. This is just a few words about the most historic and longest continually run Marathon in history. Long before the Boston Marathon was a World Marathon Major or one of the premier distance races in the U.S., it was just a small race of around 24.5 miles held to commemorate the start of the Revolutionary War.

The very first race had a whopping 15 competitors and was won by John McDermott in 2:55:10. Since then the race has grown significantly, the 114th running of the Boston Marathon had over 22,000 finishers and the race was won in a staggering course record of 2:05:52; 1:22 under the old course record and 1:53 off the current Marathon World Record, held by Haile Gebrselassie. In those middle years Boston had changed significantly. It was one of the last major races to offer prize money; it has been considered (although about equal numbers disagree) not to be a fast marathon course; and in recent years, some have even thought of the elite competition as second rate. At the beginning of the race, the first winners were just out having fun. So what’s been going on since that first 2:55:10 to this year’s Patriot Day Course Record?

A lot. In 1969 the Boston Marathon saw record numbers of entrants. As a way to filter down the field, the BAA began to put in place qualifying standards, that following year. This went on year after year until eventually we got to the current standards. This next statement (in some form) has been said so often that it doesn’t need to be cited and I won’t fear a plagiarism case: “By limiting the field, the BAA had unknowingly made their race more popular; somewhat of a status symbol. A way to measure ones Marathon credentials.” Boston is the litmus test that many of us measure our fitness against. Even if someone is nowhere near a BQ, you’ll still hear comments to the affect of “Man, I was only 5 minutes off the 40 year old woman’s BQ,” or “My 5 hour PR would be a BQ if I were an 80 year old man.” “But Rich, I see a lot of people finishing Boston in way slower times than their BQ, why is that”? Well, there are two reasons; one is that some people run their BQ race for fun and not to compete. They will often run the race slower than their normal Marathon Pace, and just enjoy the scenery and camaraderie of the race. The other reason is because Boston made another change in 1996; along with along prize money they began a new charity program. This program allowed runners to participate in the Boston Marathon without having posted a qualifying time.

Charity Runners:         
Although Charity Runners run along the same 26.2 mile course as everyone else, their road to the start line usually takes a very different path. Their entrance fee is a little more, they have different color bibs and generally speaking, will be seconds or minutes per mile back on the rest of the race. While Charity Runners are not the only people running Boston without a BQ (past winners get comp entries; businesses and political entries and Bandits) they seem to attract the most attention. Whether it is right or not, the fact is that the charity partners do raise a LARGE amount of money for local and national charities. Personally, I think that some charity runners are ok, but the BAA allows a far excessive number to run race this way. These are entries that could be used by the people who have put in the work to qualify.

My Boston Journey:
When I started running in HS I don’t think that I could have said how long a marathon was. As I grew into running more and more distance, I learned of the Boston Marathon, but it was never in my sights. I had no desire to run any marathon, especially one that I had to qualify for. I ran for fitness.

Then I started thinking of races. I signed up for a 5k and a 10k. My running took on more meaning and I got more serious. I started talking to other runners. I thought about running a Marathon, but it was to be years down the road. My plan was to focus on 10k and shorter races for up to two years. Then spend a year doing Half Marathons. Eventually I’d sign up for a Marathon, probably MCM or Chicago. Still, I don’t know that a BQ ever entered my mind. I would run one, maybe two marathons and go back to shorter distances. Besides I’m a Sprinter, not a Marathoner. Well as I talked to more runners, and became part of the community, The Boston Fever caught hold. I figured I’d work to get a BQ, but I had no real desire to run the race. Just get the standard and move on; really who races on a Monday. Nothing wrong with that; right? Moreover I’m a Sprinter, not a Marathoner! Then a friend from my running group went to Boston (qualified in her first Marathon) and told us the stories of the atmosphere, the people, the glow and support of the city. Our ’Coach’ had also run it previously and after listening to them talk there was no way I could qualify and run not Boston. I’m a runner; I’m supposed to do so. Also, I’ll always be a Sprinter at heart, being a Boston Qualifier won’t change that.

My original road map for road racing hadn’t changed much with the thought of qualifying for Boston. I had decided to run a bunch of Half Marathon and 10k races until my times were within what I called the “BQ Window” (which is the equivalent times to running a 3:10 Marathon, possibly a little less so that I would know I would need to work to qualify with the proper Marathon Training). I was shooting for around sub-45 in the 10k and/or about 1:30-1:35 for the Half. I planned for a gradual increase in mileage and racing times. I was in no rush….Then I got a job offer to deploy to Afghanistan for 1 year. One of my first thoughts was “plan be damned,” this would be an awesome time to train for and run my “Cherry Marathon.” Before ever stepping foot in this country (for the second time in my life) I had worked out a way to use the full year to train for a Fall 2010 Marathon. Of course things don’t always go as planned. I did not keep up significant mileage over the winter. I ran seldom, and never very far. I did get focused early this Fall and put in some decent 30+ mile weeks before my Marathon Base Building actually started. And here I am running 35-45mpw and feeling good. I plan on running a good (letting my training dictate pace) Marathon this fall, then return to racing at shorter distances until I can get those 10k and HM times close to my “BQ Window”!

"The body does not want you to do this.  As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong.  You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy...It is not age; it is not diet.  It is the will to succeed."
          ~Jacqueline Gareau, 1980 Boston Marathon champ

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