Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Boston to Comrades

Looking keen at the start

Backwards running to avoid being run over by a wheelchair, like at Honolulu

With a single night in Boston, I had a way too short trip to my favorite road marathon. And what a ridiculous year it was for speed and records. In case you're reading this (i.e. have at least some vague interest in distance running) and don't know that the elite men rewrote the record books, Geoffrey Mutai ran 2:03:02 and Moses Mosop ran 2:03:06, both smashing Geb's 2:03:59 from Berlin a couple of years ago.

However, it doesn't count as a world record since the course has too much gradient (a net downhill of around 400ft) and the start is too far from the finish. The official requirements are discussed in an interesting article in the Boston Examiner here about whether it should count as a record. My two cents are that Boston is typically harder than other major courses, so even though there was some tailwind benefit for some of the race, I was there and it wasn't enough to make up for the slower course. Yes, it was a great set of conditions for Boston, but both those guys ran the best, most impressive marathons ever. Ryan Hall's American Record of 2:04:58 should stand for the same reason.

Anyway, although there was a lot of other interesting stuff I could write about in the men's and women's elite races, I'll switch focus to the rest of the event. So this starts with me flying in on Sunday morning and watching the looped mile races. The school boys/girls races were good, but the elite men and women put on a great show with photo finishes in both. I mainly mention this because it's an excuse to include my photo of British Olympian Andy Baddley just pipping a high schooler (Lukas Verzbicas) on the line. Andy took it a bit too easy and this kid will go on to great things given what he showed against pros.

Andy Baddley winning the invitational mile race...just

And as ever, the actual marathon for the masses was a seriously fun race with fantastic, enthusiastic support, often from intoxicated students. The morning was cold thanks to the light wind, which was a pain for the long wait after getting the official buses to the start in Hopkinton. I started to think how much more relaxed and fun the start of an ultra is and why I make sure I do stuff other than just the huge city marathons. But even though there were too many dead-pan faces, too much lycra and more stress in the air than necessary, there was also a great excitement and nervous energy. Many people take years to get a qualification time and you can tell how much the event means to both the racers and the locals.

Once I got into the starting pen I tried to find Brett Rivers, who'd just gone off to join a toilet queue minutes before. We'd agreed to run together for a 2:44 pace but I couldn't find him and so hoped to somehow spot him in the deep crowd as I ran.

2:44 was for two reasons. Firstly to continue my slightly pointless, yet excellent for pacing practice, marathon minute game (with gaps of just 2:34, 2:41 and 2:44 from 2:32 to 3:12). Secondly to get training in for Comrades, which will require that speed for 54 miles of hills if I hope to break into the top ten this year. So I needed to feel comfortable the whole way, run the Newton hills strongly and finish feeling fresh.

When I randomly caught up to Brett at about eight miles, I was sticking to this plan but he was struggling slightly to keep on pace. So we only ran together for a minute before he told me to go on ahead. Halfway  meant the screams of the Wellesley girls and their demands for kisses. I only high-fived them, but that still increased the pitch of the screams and I didn't see anyone who didn't smile as they ran through.

The weather was perfect without a doubt and the wind only generally made things easier, so I was able to feel fine the whole way through to the Newton hills, which start from around 16 miles and go through to the top of Heartbreak Hill just before mile 21. People started to flag around the hills but I didn't see more than a couple of walkers.

Then, as I approached Heartbreak Hill, I decided to see what I had in my legs, with the aim of then taking it easier to the finish line through the biggest, noisiest crowds of locals. And what a great feeling it was to switch pace that way, although not a great race tactic if that had been my goal. It didn't cause any problems and actually made it easier to run the final miles faster, which meant I had to continuously look at my Garmin and pull back off the pace or I'd miss 2:44.

Those last miles were almost as enjoyable as last year, when I'd sped up and had a zen-like run through for the last 5k. And my final goal was achieved when I crossed the line since I was genuinely fresh and ready to keep running. Maybe not a double marathon at that pace, but I have a bit more time and a taper to hopefully help with that.

It got me thinking about how I want to feel running Comrades. It's a far harder course than Boston, with 7,000ft of climb but if I can do the first half like Boston then it'll set up a race in the most satisfying sense of the word. It takes a huge mental effort to focus throughout a race and never give in to those internal voices that say you can't do it, you're not fit enough or any other excuses. I can't focus that hard too often or I'd feel burnt out but I've been saving up for Comrades this year and want to see where I'll end up. Whether that's where I want to be or not I can't tell, but I'm determined to make it be at my absolute limit so I have no regrets.

Then there's the little matter of racing Western States four weeks later. But one thing at a time.

In the meantime, it's just a few days until Two Oceans 56k in Cape Town and it looks like Mike Wardian is really focusing on this one, so good luck to him in the fastest 50k race in the world (followed by 6k extra).


  1. Good one Sharman, Its always inspiring to read your report(s). Best wishes for WS100 & Comrades. I am too slow even to qualify for Boston, but I agree with you on the Record not being official. It indeed sucks, but then again its the historical Boston course.

  2. Coincidentally Lukas Verzbicas is also an outstanding triathlete. Just saying. :)

  3. Congrats! That is quite a lineup of races you got there. Will keep checking for race reports. Good luck!