Monday, May 4, 2015

Boston Marathon Report by Billy Shue

The Prelude:

It many ways it seemed just like yesterday that I was in the starting corral waiting for the 2014 Boston Marathon to commence last April. With so much going on in our lives, it really can seem just like the blink of an eye that you get from one year to the next. In another way, it seemed like the 2014 Boston Marathon was forever ago, as I dealt with injuries to a degree I had not before. Within 10 minutes after finishing last April’s Boston Marathon, I began feeling unusual tightness and soreness in my left Achilles, which would develop into Achilles tendonitis over the coming weeks and be the primary injury that would result in May through early August being a virtual wash for running. In my earlier years, such an injury scenario would have been very hard for me to handle. But last year, I had reached a point in my life where I was able to put my running into the right perspective. Last summer, I took a lot of joy in getting more involved again with swimming and, particularly, swimming with Patty Waldron’s awesome Mecklenburg Swim Association Masters, where I completely forgot about my injuries and running when I was challenging myself in the pool with my masters swim teammates for fun, competitive, challenging

workouts. I also took joy in cycling more outside and enjoying the beautiful splendor of Myers Park on the Booty Loop and the open roads and rural scenery of Waxhaw. It was on many of these rides that I was able to admire God’s creation and just spend time alone with Christ. I also enjoyed my bike rides and triathlon training with the Training Camp (TC) boys – Chris Lamperski, Greg Shore, Dan Matena, Kent Morris, Glenn Carroll, David Brinkley, and Brian Baum. I enjoyed getting into a more structured strength-training regimen and hopping into more group fitness classes at the YMCA each week. I also had the awesome, awesome support of my wonderful coach and friend Caitlin Bullock, who continued checking in on me to make sure I was doing well and not getting upset with being unable to run. Caitlin has been coaching me for almost 5 years now, and she has the patience of Job to have handled me as her athlete for so long and counting!

By the time my body was ready to get back into the swing of things from a run-training standpoint in August, I had a refreshed outlook on running. I was just thankful to be back running without feeling any pain and grateful for all the other fitness opportunities I was able to capitalize on to keep me in good general shape during my time off from running. That refreshed outlook helped keep my mind in the right place late last summer and during the fall as I gradually was able to get back into the running shape I was aiming for and generally held the right perspective along the comeback trail. Just less than three months of injury-free running later and a great training plan and coaching from Caitlin, I was able to achieve a personal best time in the November Charlotte Thunder Road Marathon. At Thunder Road, I could not have been happier, as I felt great before, during, and after the run. Again, I was just primarily thankful to be able to run pain-free and enjoy it. After taking off quality time to recover from Thunder Road in November, I gradually got back into the running grind again. Post-Thunder Road, I would enjoy another pain-free marathon-training cycle, which included an 8k personal best, my best 5k effort in two years, and more personal-best times in both the half marathon and 4-mile distances leading up to the 2015 Boston Marathon. Through the injuries and time off I experienced in the previous summer, the Good Lord had provided with the wisdom and maturity to have the right perspective on running – to not obsess or idolize the sport, but to enjoy the opportunity to run for fun, fitness, healthy competition, and most importantly to glorify Him through it.

Race Weekend:

I could not have asked for a better weekend leading up to this year’s Marathon Monday. With the exception of missing my family (who I kindly advised not make the trip so that they could focus on financing my sister’s November wedding), I had a wonderful time with Caleb Boyd, as we split a hotel room Saturday through Tuesday, and then with Ryan Werner who was able to join us for Sunday and Monday. We had a great time exploring the city, eating at great restaurants, checking out the expo and nearby athletic shops, running into fellow Charlotteans and other friends from all over who we met along the way, and relaxing. The hotel we stayed at was the Taj Boston, right along the Boston Common. Since I stayed there last year with my family, the Taj had reached out to my mother soon after last year’s trip and they negotiated a great, discounted deal for the hotel arrangements that Caleb, Ryan, and I were able to enjoy this year. We enjoyed a window view of the Boston Common and what I would consider to be royal treatment from the staff there! The Taj was also able to book restaurant reservations for us throughout our stay in Boston. I definitely plan to be back there again next year! Caleb was even kind enough to watch Game 2 of the New York Rangers-Pittsburgh Penguins first-round playoff series with me on Saturday night. Even though he is a Flyers fan, Caleb preferred to see the Pens go down in the series, so we were on the same page with that. On Sunday, I was able to get in a nice nap, while Caleb got in a short, pre-race run around Boston Common. We enjoyed more fine dining, exploring, and meeting up with folks throughout Sunday.

Going into race morning, Caleb, Ryan, and I had planned for the worst in terms of the weather. We had been hearing that, while the temperatures would be staying in the upper 40s throughout the duration of the day, there would be steady rain and headwinds of about 20 miles per hour. On Sunday, I had already begun the process of getting mentally prepared for the weather, thanks largely to really good friends of mine back in Charlotte and abroad encouraging me to keep a good perspective by focusing on running my race, giving my best effort, and enjoying the day. I was also encouraged by an ESPN special that Caleb and I saw Sunday afternoon of Tom Brady that discussed his path from college to the NFL, and particularly the critics and so-called experts out there who thought Brady would never amount to anything worth remembering in the NFL. I thought to myself how the experts were wrong about Tom Brady, so why can’t the meteorologists be wrong about the weather! Either way, I was prepared to run my best, regardless of the weather. My motto going into race day: “Ice up, rain & wind, ice up”.

Race Morning:

Ryan took the standard Boston Marathon buses, but Caleb and I had signed up for the Duke Hutchinson buses from MIT that morning that departed at 6:30 a.m. I cannot remember exactly when we left the Taj, but it was an Odyssey of sorts to get to the Duke buses, as Caleb and I walked with our pre-race nutrition bags and extra race gear across the Boston Common to the T-train station, where we found the right connection route and made it to our stop at MIT’s campus. What we did not know was that we still had what seemed like a mile to get to where the buses were parked and loading. Once we got to the street the buses were on, we jogged about a quarter-mile to make sure we got to the buses in time and were able to get situated onboard. The luxury of the Duke buses are that they are heated, have their own restrooms, and you can stay on them for as long as you wish prior to heading to the starting line. I had a wonderful time on that bus chatting with a mixture of Charlotte, Chicago, and Dallas folks, among others. I enjoyed talking with my fellow bus patrons so much that I was the most relaxed I have ever been going into a marathon, or any race for that matter. I was on the bus from about 6:30 through just after 9 and the time flew by, as I really enjoyed talking with the folks onboard. I kept being Mr. Positive for the people who were getting nervous or wary about the light rain and sporadic showers we were seeing out the windows. I told them we would be fine once the race started and, given that forecasts were not calling for a total 100% chance of rain that morning through 1 p.m., there was still a chance the weather would be tolerable – Lloyd Christmas would have been proud of me. Upon getting off our Duke bus, Caleb and I walked through Athletes’ Village, took our final restroom break, and headed to our starting corral. On our walk to the corral, I greatly missed the presence of Jay Holder, as I could hear a Nickelback song blaring over the sound system – oh, what I would have done to see Jay’s reaction to that! Once we saw the elites head into our corral, we knew it was time to get this party started.

The Race:

Boom! The gun went off, and Caleb and I wished each other well in waiting our turn to cross the starting line, which was 19-20 seconds for us. Upon crossing the starting line, I witnessed what looked to be either an iPhone or iPod falling off someone’s arm-strap and then subsequently heard the sound of a distinctive “crunch” as someone from behind ran over the guy’s device – not a good way of starting the Boston Marathon and hopefully not a bad omen-to-be for that particular fellow! I ran my first mile at goal marathon pace, still running within a sea of guys, and feeling like I was running a 7-minute mile. Shortly after the first mile, I skirted to the far left of the road where I felt like a young Steve Smith taking a kickoff or punt return down the sideline, which would prove to be much too fast at this early juncture. Shortly thereafter on that mile, I came across a pack of 5 runners who were in a wedge formation of sorts, with 3 guys up front and 2 on the back. I came upon them and asked what their goal times were, to which the consensus was sub-2:35. I knew that if I had a perfect day, there was a chance I could achieve that goal, but that would be a reach-goal. Moreover, my hypothesis was that if the headwinds did pick up (to which the race announcer stated they were just about 10mph at the start), I would have blockers ahead of me to shield the wind, and then hopefully I could do the same for anyone trying to latch on to me. When we hit Mile 2, I realized I had run that mile at close to 10k pace – oh my, waayyy too quick there! I made a conscious effort at that point to try to pull back on the reins and it seemed the guys in front of me did, as well. By the time we reached the Mile 3 mark, we had about 10 guys in our pack, and I had dropped to the back of the pack on purpose so that I could slow down and try to be smart, knowing there were a lot of miles left to cover. Even with trying to “slow” down on the 3rd mile, I ran close to what I ran on the 2nd mile. I made even more of a conscious effort to try pulling back on the reins as we approached the 5k marker to which the rest of the guys still seemed to do again, as well. First 5k was 17:37 – what can I say, I was feelin’ good!

I will not bore you with mile splits for the rest of the way, but I did want to illustrate that I started out much faster than I had planned to or should have. During the second 5k, I made every effort to focus on running comfortably, and particularly on the uphills, as I realized I had already banked quite a bit of time and there was zero need to get any extra greedy – I realized I was already playing with house money, and a lot of it. After the 4-mile mark, I realized that the fast early pace was going to result in me burning a lot of calories and energy, even if I didn’t realize it at the time, so I began consuming a cup of Gatorade Endurance at each water stop thereafter (roughly every even mile). After Mile 6, I decided to consume 2 gels, instead of the 1 gel I normally take at that mark. I always pack 6 gels in my gel belt, with the plan of only taking 4, but having 2 extra just in case – today, all 6 gels would be consumed. We hit the 10k in 35:26. Because I had been making an effort to back off on the throttle, I exchanged a good bit of high-fives with fans and kids on the course during the 2nd and 3rd 5k’s when our pack was close to a particular side of the road. The first real showers started when we were at Mile 8 and the showers/rain would be intermittent throughout the rest of my race – enough to cool us down without leaving us too soggy. When we reached the 15k mark, I noticed that 3 of our guys had dropped off, but they were replaced by 3 more and, at this point, guys started encouraging each other with, “Great job, guys! Keep it up!” We hit the 15k mark in 53:37. I was still feelin’ very good.

It was during the next 5k that I had the opportunity of pulling our pack. With each water stop, some guys were quicker than others with grabbing and consuming water or Gatorade, which would naturally change up the order of who was pulling and drafting. As we reached the 12th mile, I consumed 2 more gels, which would be 4 total gels consumed by the halfway mark. On the 12th mile, you could hear the Wellesley girls. These women line all along the 12th and 13th miles, hoping to each land a legitimate kiss on the lips. The last 2 years, I have been all business going through that section and decided I would do the same again this year, even though I was feeling the best I ever have at this juncture of a marathon. Once we could hear the girls, there were a couple of guys in our pack who started surging ahead and others pulled alongside of me. It was at this point that I became a literature professor, as I reminded them of the Sirens from Homer’s Odyssey. I told them that these Wellesley girls were the modern-day Sirens and that they would get them off their course of achieving their goal, just like they did to many unfortunate sailors who would be lured into shipwrecking on their island, if they accelerated their speed too much for what could be a costly smooch. One of the guys in our pack who took off for a kiss just beyond the half mark had shared with me earlier that he had never broken 1:16 before in the half. As it turned out, my first half split was 1:15:39 and he had probably surged 100 meters ahead of me by then. I would see that fellow again sometime later on the Newton hills where the tables had turned on him and the Sirens had complicated his journey.

I was still feeling great and proceeded to hit the 25k mark in 1:29:43, and our pack was still mostly intact, with the exception of the guys who gave in to the Sirens at Wellesley, but we gained a couple of others who looked like they were gaining speed for the final 10+ miles. Once we hit the Newton hills, our pack started getting spread out and – before we knew – it was then every man for himself. The wind up until this point was a non-factor for us and – frankly – would only be a minimal factor the rest of the way for my experience. From here on out, I would try to latch onto someone passing me for as long as I could to block the wind but also try to stay with someone. This was a strategy that seemed to work well, as I found a guy who would basically run with me all the way to Boylston Street with each of us taking turns leading – I would pass him on the downhills and he would pass me on the uphills with me trying to hang on to him – not literally, of course.

Although my pace was starting to slow (hitting the 30k mark in 1:48:25), I still felt very strong and knew that this part of the course would result in slower miles, especially given how fast I started out, which is why I had already consumed 4 gels and took my 5th one at Mile 18. It was during my Mile 18 that I started getting sporadic, split-second muscle spasms in my right calf – nothing that would affect my stride or pace, as long as I did not fully lock up. I remained confident that my training and fueling strategy during this race would carry me through. Given my first half, I did not expect anywhere close to an even split, but I did expect to still run a strong 2nd half and run my fastest 2nd half of the course in my 3 years of running this race, which would still lead to a major personal best. To wash down my gel, I grabbed another cup of Gatorade to mitigate the chance of cramps occurring. Fortunately, I have long realized my stomach can pretty much handle anything, which I can take gels with Gatorade. It was near the 19-mile mark when I saw the guy again who ran his first ever sub-1:16 half marathon with his half-marathon split and had taken off – like a starved man to the Golden Corral buffet line – to kiss one of the Wellesley Sirens. He was laboring, but continued running. I encouraged him to keep it up as I passed him, which he did. Remembering his bib number, I would see that he still finished just under 2:40, so major props to him for hanging tough.

I knew that if I could crest the top of Heartbreak Hill still feeling good, I would be home free. I ran up Heartbreak in 6:20 – I felt like I had run it faster, but it is the 4th Newton hill stretch and I knew the fast miles from the first 10k would have some sort of an effect on my last 10k, although I was still very confident it would be a strong finish. What was so, so cool was hearing folks and particularly the Boston College students at the top of Heartbreak chanting, “USA! USA! USA!” to each of us coming up the hill – that was huge. I would hear the “USA!” chant several more times down the stretch. I hit the 35k mark in 2:08:03, which meant I had run a 19:38 5k (averaging right at 6:20-mile pace for that portion). After Heartbreak, I consumed my 6th and final gel and had Gatorade again to wash that down. By the 22nd mile, I do not remember having any more split-second calf spasms. In total, I do not recall having any more than a handful of those short twinges – nothing to slow me down, but plenty enough to have me praying big-time that cramps would not come! Me and the guy who I kept changing leads with after Heartbreak Hill both realized that we were helping each other out by capitalizing on our strengths. He would pull ahead of me on the uphills with me drafting, and then I would be pulling him on the downhills. We would periodically encourage one another and try running side-by-side on the flats, although he was a stride faster than me on the flats, too, but I did everything to stay with him all the way to Boylston Street. I hit the 40k in 2:27:29, which meant a 5k from 35k-40k in 19:26 (6:15), which was 5 seconds per mile faster than my previous 5k.

The last significant hill of the marathon is cresting the overpass near the infamous Citgo sign at Fenway Park. For some reason, I think of the billboard eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, as the Citgo sign seems to glare at runners as they negotiate the final tough hill. However, if you are feeling good like I was, that Citgo sign is a welcome beacon! Upon cresting that hill, I heard just what I needed to hear – a DJ playing Britney Spears’ 1999 hit, “You Drive Me Crazy”, which brought me back to high school. Oh yeah, I heard the tune that would carry me through to the finish! I grabbed one last cup of Gatorade at the Mile 25 mark just to be safe for the final mile-and-change. The last time I glanced at my watch before hitting Boylston and seeing the finishing clock was at the 25.2-mile mark, where there is a marker you saying you have exactly 1 mile to go. I remembered seeing 2:29:49 on my watch and realized that if I could run under a 6:10 mile, I would be able to finish with a sub-2:36 and knew that – either way – I would have a major marathon personal-best time. Filled with emotion, I smiled at that guy I had been running with and shouted, “Yippee-ki-yay!!!!”. I accelerated down the hill underneath the dark tunnel, continued on Commonwealth, and eventually turned right onto Hereford, before climbing the ever-so-deceptive hill to turn left onto Boylston. I was giving it all I had and more to try to sneak under 2:36. About 100 meters into Boylston Street, the guy I had been running with since Heartbreak Hill put in a final surge that I could not answer – it was a Chad Crockford-like surge, as I was running well, but he just had a faster kick for which I had no response for. Maybe it was the “Yippee-ki-yay!” yell that inspired his kick, haha! We both ran our hearts out either way. As I got within clear sight of the finishing clock, I could see 2:36:01, 2:36:02, 2:36:03, etc. ticking by (within 100 meters or so of the finish), I knew if I could finish under 2:36:18 on the gun clock, that would ensure I would finish under 2:36. However, I crossed under the clock right at 2:36:19-2:36:20, and so my chip time ended up being 2:36:01, which still equated to a full 2-minute personal best from Thunder Road back in November. I had put everything out there on the course and finished with everything I had to offer.

My key splits ended up being 1:15:39 for the 1st half and 1:20:22 for the 2nd half (still, my fastest 2nd half split at Boston). While it may not have been anywhere close to an even split, I am very pleased with the time and effort of the 2nd half, relative to what I did in the 1st half. In the 2nd half, my training and caloric consumption throughout the race helped enable me to finish strong, which led to a 2-minute personal best. Aside from the handful of split-second calf shocks/spasms I got from Miles 18-22, my quads never felt particularly heavy and I really did feel as good as I could imagine feeling in a marathon. Still I know exactly what I need to work on in the next marathon – SLOWING down more in the first 10-15k and being more in control of my pace during the 1st half. I have yet to run a negative-split marathon, although I came really close at Thunder Road in November, but I would like to someday – just a key takeaway to work on and remember for the future!

In summary, I felt excellent on this day. In fact, I felt so good upon crossing the finish line, that I actually did the Cam Newton “Superman” pose for the photographers in the finishers’ corral – it’s too bad MarathonFoto didn’t have a video of that or a series of photos for me to use as a flip book! As I proceeded through the finishers’ chute, I high-fived the runners who had finished before me and the volunteers who were staying out there all that time in the rain. Races like Boston, or any race for that matter, does not happen without the awesome, awesome volunteers and fans. Caleb and Ryan would go on to run phenomenally, clutch times out there, as did many other Charlotte folks who crossed the finish line as well! I could not be more happy and thankful for a race like I experienced at the 2015 Boston Marathon. I thank the Lord, and thank you all for the prayers, well wishes, tracking, and kind words you shared with me after the race. It means an absolute TON to me! Thank you all so much!!!!

Billy Shue (left) and Caleb Boyd (right) celebrating with the Boston 26.2 Brew.

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