OK no not literally, but it’s going to be somewhat improbable of me to talk about the 2014 B.A.A. Half Marathon without interweaving some effusive explosions of joy all throughout my review, so if you want the Elevator Pitch version (or the “Continental” version, for you “Metropolitan” types who like using “quotation marks” around “everything”), it’s basically this: Awesome race. Awesome weather. Awesome run. Can’t wait to do it again. -FIN-
Still with me? Good. I like you, kid. You’ve got Wessonality!
I’ll never, ever quality for the Boston Marathon on my own. I know, you’re supposed to espouse all those “Never say never!” virtues and blablabla, but let’s get real. I don’t have the time, wherewithal, or inclination to devote the vast majority of my life to fitness and running in order to maybe, MAYBE do a 3-hour marathon. I could get in on a charity bib (and hopefully will, one day), but until then it’s just not in the cards.
But the Boston HALF Marathon? There’s no qualification time. You just need to be skilled enough to submit your registration as quickly as possible and hope to get real lucky.
Boston is my favorite city in the USA. I lived there, went to school there, went through my truly transformative years there, and adore it as one of the most beautiful, vibrant, cultured, intelligent, social-minded, historical and FUN places to visit and explore. So running a race there seemed like a no-brainer to me. But running a race in the autumn? Now that sounded like paradise, especially after an entire summer of hot, sweaty, sweltering, nasty, muggy, and vile training in South Florida.
So yeah. There was no question this was a good idea.
We arrived in Boston on Friday night around 9:30 PM. It was already cooler and infinitely less humid than South Florida, which was most refreshing. The next day, however, was cold, rainy, and overcast. It wasn’t the best of tourist-accommodating climates, but I didn’t want to spend too much time on my feet anyhow. We decided to take a quick trip to Faneuil Hall Marketplace — talk about touristy! — to shop, sight-see, and grab some killer grub. And killer grub was grabbed with abundance! Clam chowdah, crab cakes, bacon-wrapped scallops, desserts… listen if you’re gonna carb up, you might as well do it right, right?
Yeah, methinks the food porn was a bit strong there. Apologies.
We did some shopping (Newbury Comics was fun but nowhere near as cool as it once was) and headed back in the late afternoon for an early dinner. We ended up at the Freeport Tavern near our hotel in Dorchester, and I couldn’t recommend it more. Nice ambiance, awesome service, and great food. The Lobster Mac-n-Cheese was pretty much to die for. Consider this a hearty endorsement, pals.
We crashed early that night. The race was scheduled to begin at 8:30 AM; I planned on getting there around 7:00, which meant a 6:30 AM cab ride. After showering and laying out my clothes, gear, and bib for the next day, I was asleep by 9:15 PM and woke the next morning at 5:40. A quick check outside confirmed what the forecast had assured us: it was freakin’ cold. COLD!! For this Florida kid, anyhow.
To be sure, it was in the low-40s at that time and man was I feeling it. My running gear consisted of pretty much full-body compression attire: CW-X running tights and an Under Armour long-sleeve compression shirt, over which I threw on my Mickey Milers jersey. Man I was a site. The full-body gear was mostly there to keep me from shivering to death before the race. Once I started running, I knew I’d warm up almost instantly.
Breakfast consisted of a bagel with cream cheese, banana, and Gatorade. Nothing major, just enough to get me going. I also brought a Honey Stinger cookie for just before the race and two GUs (Root Beer and Caramel Macchiato) for during. By 6:25 our cab had arrived and we were off on our way to Franklin Park. Our hotel was only 3 miles away, and we arrived fairly quickly at the drop-off area on Blue Hill Avenue. From there we had about a 10 minute walk to the Start Area. Thankfully it was quite a pleasantly freezing morning for this lizard, and it was a scenic walk past forested paths, a golf course, and plenty of swell fall foliage.
The Start Area was located in the park’s athletic field, adjacent to both the Franklin Park Zoo and George White Schoolboy Stadium. We’d be running through both later that morning, but when we arrived there was still plenty of hustle and bustle in the cold early morning. We made our way down to the race shirt pickup area, where I was able to snag my official race tech shirt… which, I might add, was pretty damn sharp. All black, long sleeves, and the BAA logo and stripes in bright yellow.
I noticed there seemed to be a rather sizable crowd standing around a large graphic representation of the Course Map. I thought there might have been something new and fascinating, given the whirlwind of activity around that area, so I wandered up and starting staring as well, like the good sheeple I was pretending to be. How ridiculous! Actually I was reviewing the elevation info for the race. I knew this was going to be a very hilly course, mostly downhill on the way out and mostly uphill on the way back, with plenty of rolling up-and-downs in between. This gave me pause for concern, since (a) South Florida is generally pretty goshdarn flat, and (b) As often as I do bridge repeats (at least once a week) it just isn’t the same as real hills. But I wasn’t too worried. I figured my lack of real hill exposure would be offset by the colder weather. There was *zero* chance of overheating now. I could live with that rather well, thank you.
Here are some action snapshots of the Start Area:
By that point my iguana-blooded extremities were near-frozen, so I grabbed me a cup of complimentary hot cinnamon and berry tea (MOST needed and welcome, I must add) and headed over to the sunny portion of the field, where it was thankfully less arctic. After posing for a few pics I managed to bump into fellow Mickey Miler (and Mass. native) Kimberly, where we posed for this awesome action snapshot:
After bidding adieus, I hit the bag check-in area. Normally I never need to use bag check-in; I carry everything I need, and everything else either goes in the car or Boots holds it for me (usually car keys or my wallet, something small like that). Nothing doing here. I wasn’t running with my prized Hard Rock hoodie, which meant stuffing it in a bag and checking it in. Saying goodbye to my hoodie for a while was pretty sad for me because ZOMG FREEZING! No no, it wasn’t THAT bad, but I was cold. No matter. I’d be running within half an hour now.
After a final ceremonial trip to the Porto-Potties, I kissed Boots goodbye and stood next to the 10:00 min/mile pace sign. While there were no corrals, the Half started in waves, with runners lining up according to how they think they will pace. I like this honor system quite a bit, but I could see how it could get out of hand with the larger races (read: wall-to-wall walkers scurrying to get as far ahead as they can, in order to get a huge head start from the sweeper vans). Maybe corrals are the way to go. Anyway, some technical problems with my Bluetooth headphones caused me to miss the National Anthem — grr! — but once I got that squared away I realized one fascinating observation during the minutes ticking away before the race:
I was shivering. Hands shaking, teeth chattering, the works. What a lightweight!
Some Start Line pics:
The race began promptly at 8:30 AM. There was no real countdown or ecstatic display of joy. Just an airhorn and lots and lots of cheering. Since I was in the fourth wave, my race began at 8:40. I dialed up my latest Zombies, Run! mission, plugged my earbuds in, and as I crossed the Start Line I began my BAA Half Marathon adventure!
Here’s a look at the course map, courtesy of my Garmin and Google Maps:
… and as an EXTRA added bonus, the course Elevational Profile, courtesy of the BAA website:
This visually stunning, mostly out-and-back course took us through and adjacent to many of Boston’s Emerald Necklace parkways and waterways. We left Franklin park to the southwest, then turning northwest on Arborway past the Arnold Arboretum. Once we reached Jamaica Pond, Pond St./Jamaicaway took us north past Wards, Willow, and Leverett Ponds. The first turnaround was at Riverway (within spitting but not visual distance of Fenway Park, dadgummit!), which brought us to the western shore of the aforementioned ponds as we headed south. The course took us back to Franklin Park by mile 9, where we proceeded behind Lemuel Shattuck Hospital, past Scarboro Pond, and adjacent to the golf course until we reached the second turnaround just past mile 10. From there it was straight back up the hill, past the Start Line and into Franklin Park Zoo itself! A final turnaround occurred at Mile 12 inside the zoo, and from there it was a sprint to the Finish Line on the track at White Stadium.
Now that we’ve gotten all that mishegas out-of-the-way, let’s talk the race itself. To say that it was pretty much the most visually stunning race I’ve ever run is putting it mildly, to say the least. Almost every other race in which I’ve participated has mostly involved city streets, residential and industrial areas, adjacent to the beach, or inside (or near) theme parks. I’m used to it. I accept it because it’s familiar.
But this course took us almost entirely through or next to parks and parkland. Every step of the way seemed to be welcomed by trees, shade, winding paths and serenity. There was even some fall color to the leaves, enhancing the visual experience with pinpoints of red, orange, and gold foliage. Almost from the start there was a pervading sense of transcendentalist peace. Emerson and Thoreau would both be proud.
Which reminds me of that ol’ Bon Jovi song: Thoreau is like RALPH EMERSON… RALPH EMERSON is what I read, whoa-oh-ohhh…
Back to the race: OK yes, visually it was to die for. But let’s talk about the big topic of discussion for the day: THE HILLS. Take another gander at that Elevational Profile. Even the race announcer at the Start Line was constantly reminding us to “leave a little gas in the tank” because the course was going to be mostly downhill in the first half and equally uphill during the second. I was constantly preoccupied with my memories of the 2013 Rock N Roll USA half, in which the majority of the second half of the race went uphill in continuous spurts. That race added 16 minutes to my time from my previous race, barely a month before, on completely flat territory.
My strategy was simply this: go at it easy. Take my time. Don’t wear out, don’t get too excited, don’t try to go too fast on the downhill, and keep things steady and consistent. I’ve done PLENTY of bridge repeats throughout my training, so I knew how to handle inclines: keep the stride short, lean into it, don’t over-exert, and go.
So how’d I do on the first mile, which was almost completely downhill? A 9:20 split. NINE-TWENTY. Insanity. I was cursing myself for going out too quickly, but honestly that was all because of the downhill momentum. I really wasn’t trying that hard; you couldn’t anyhow. It was pretty crowded coming out of the chute.
Boots caught me just before Mile 1 with this incredibly buttkickin’ action snapshot:
After the big decline things leveled out, and from that point on it was pretty much rolling hills. You’d go up, you’d go down, but there weren’t any serious upward inclines during the first half. I was running my usual 5:1 intervals, but I was also playing it by ear; if my interval ended and I was on a decline, I’d continue running downward until I reached the bottom and take my walk interval there. I cannot understate how well this strategy worked for me. Seriously. I never felt worn out, tired, or lacking energy. As a matter of fact, even during the long, upward climbs, I never felt winded either.
During the entire race, my energy never seemed to flag. The combination of much-cooler temperatures, scenic views, and good spirits fueled me just as much as my Honey Stingers and GUs. I remained consistent throughout the entire race — never flagging, never slowing down, keeping an even pace throughout. Don’t you just LOVE runs like that?
Here are some more buttkickin action snapshots taken during the race:
Not to mention this little number right here:
After the first turnaround I recognized another Mickey Miler named Scott coming the other way (based on our awesomely catchy running jerseys!) and we exchanged happy pleasantries as we passed. From that point on, it was a southbound return to Franklin Park, but this time it was a lot more uphill running. As I mentioned earlier, it never really felt altogether that difficult. More exertion, to be sure, but my energy levels seemed to be up to the task.
By mile 9 we were pretty much back in the beautiful, shaded vistas of Franklin Park, making our way to the final 5K of the race. This portion of the race took us adjacent to the Golf Course and all the way to the second turnaround, just past Mile 10. I saw Kimberly coming the other way and we exchanged a joyful high-five as we passed each other. Yay team! Mile 11 took us to the sharpest upward incline of the race — basically going up the extended downhill that started the race. Again, all that had to be done was put your head down, lean forward, and run.
By the time we reached the top of the hill, we were right near the Start Line with about a mile and a half to go. The course then took us into Franklin Park Zoo. While there wasn’t much in terms of actual animals to view and cheer us on — I think I saw a single bird enclosure — it was a nice change of scenery. Mile 12 took us to the final turnaround of the day, a sharp curve on an unpaved trail which looked a little like this:
My phone is in my hand because I was trying to get my music to work after a technical malfunction. Needless to say, I managed to fix the issue without breaking my stride. I punched up the “William Tell Overture (Finale)” from the Lone Ranger movie soundtrack. And with that triumphant brass fanfare, I was off to the race — The Last Mile.
At that point I was full of excitement. My energy was strong, I felt upbeat, driven, strong, and ready to give the rest of the race my all. Surrounded by cheering spectators from exiting the Zoo to the Finish Line, I really wanted to finish as strong and upright as possible. The course took us up Pier Point Road, between Overlook Ruins and The Steading, on a steady upward path that took us into White Stadium. The stands were filled with cheering crowds and that was all I needed. I pushed it with every ounce of speed I could muster — careful NOT to cut anyone off or act like a Finish Line jerk who’s slamming into people and elbowing others trying to get that last bit of glory at the end — and crossed the Finish Line with my fingers in the air, like the amazingly colossal dork I am!
My official race time? 2:11:17. For those of you keeping score — meaning me — that is my third best Half performance out of nineteen races.
To say I was pleased would pretty much be understatement of the year. I was over the moon! The sun was shining brightly, I was surrounded by cheering spectators and happy runners, I had run one of the most beautiful races I’ve ever done, in my favorite city, no less… and I did infinitely better than I thought I would have. I was convinced my race time would be around the 2:23 I did in Washington, and I ended up doing my best race time in twenty months.
Check out my splits:
You can see I was pretty even throughout. I had an extra 0.2 miles of side-running, which meant I wasn’t exactly sticking to the tangents, and that’s OK. With an actual average of a 10:00 minute mile throughout, I barely deviated from that pace. I was quite happy, to put it mildly. I mean, check out this awesomely smirking post-race selfie:
After being knighted with my well-earned BAA medal, I went to stretch over by the side, where I was greeted by the sounds of at least three runners retching and puking their guts out. Good Lord. I guess they went at it too hard or something. I could sympathize, but in my state of mind I could hardly empathize. Not to rub it in too much, but except for maybe following my very first race, I had never felt BETTER after a half. I continued making my way out, grabbing a bagel, banana, Power Bar, water, and Gatorade recovery shake along my way. B.good was also providing hot food in the form of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and veggie burgers (plus fixins!) but that was pretty much the LAST thing I wanted. I’m rarely hungry immediately after running a race, and the thought of a hot greasy cheeseburger going into my digestive tract didn’t sit very well with me. No matter. I was good.
I grabbed my bag from check-in and met Boots at our pre-arranged meet-up area. We sat and relaxed for a bit while I snacked and regaled her with tales from the Most Awesome Race Ever. It was warmer now, but still very cool and stunning out. Check out this view from the field:
Well that was that, as they say. We returned to the hotel for a shower, change of clothes, and a return to the Freeport Tavern to enjoy brunch and watch the Pats spank the Bills. My ankle was feeling a wee bit sore so it was good to be off of it, and it was even better to be enjoying this pumpkin Shipyard ale with a cinnamon rim for my troubles:
The 2014 B.A.A. Half Marathon has now, for me, become the race to beat when it comes to Half Marathons. It was everything I wanted in a race. Well staffed, well-organized, a beautiful course, considerate runners, and held during probably the best possible time of the year. Would I do this race again? In a freakin’ heartbeat and THEN some. Thank you Boston. You made this Iguana-Blooded Kid most happy indeed. Here’s the video: