Against the Wind
“…I was living to run and running to live…”
-Bob Seger in his song: “Against the Wind”
My heart sank when I saw the weather forecast. It’s silly because of course the weather is something we can’t control (except for the fact that it made me pack my warm Hoka hat…which in retrospect I’m very glad I did) and to worry about it only made me unnecessarily cranky.
Anything but a headwind! I cringed at the thought of a cold and wet breeze hampering my pace. Thinking back to my days as an aspiring mechanical/aerospace engineering student at Cornell (a program I quit after 1 year) I remember calculating drag coefficients and how wind speed resulted in exponential relations. In other words, the faster you go the more of an influence wind has at an alarmingly increasing rate.
Running close to 5min/mile (12mph), straight into a 13 mph (projected) headwind would result in what would feel like a 25mph wind! Any other day the entire week in Boston would’ve been a “faster” day to run the marathon!
I became quite discouraged and spiraled into a negative thought cycle. The “weather excuse” had been played out over and over in my mind in the final few days leading into Marathon Monday.
But the night before the race I had to pinch myself… I had to remind myself that I was in Boston to still run my very best race possible and also place as well as possible. It appeared that going for an Olympic Trials marathon time (sub 2:18:00) was going to be a long shot goal if the wind was blowing head-on at us at over 10-15mph for most of the race. I decided that the only thing to do was “play it by ear.” I’d have to respond to weather and how I felt on the fly…I had to be flexible to execute my ideal race.
Knowing from my prior experience at Boston (ironically an epic blow-up on a perfect weather conditions day in 2010 when I wasn’t coaching myself) things really start to get real in the Newton hills. Actually in any marathon things get real around mile 20 as how I feel there (usually on the edge of blowing a gasket if it hasn’t happened already) usually determines whether or not the race is going to be an epic melt-down or a “slow fade into the wall” (the latter of course being much more of an ideal race with relatively even mile splits). I could only wait and see based on my sensory data and prior knowledge what kind of pace I might be able to sustain when I reached that point on the course.
Hope. I felt hope right before the start in Hopkinton. There was news that perhaps the wind and rain was coming in a bit later in the day.
“Perhaps I could beat the headwind at least to the Newton hills?”
I thought to myself…gaining confidence that my attempted goal of averaging 5:15 mile pace for an Olympic Trials Qualifying time could still be attainable for me!
Standing on the starting line right behind last year’s champion Meb, there was a sense of calm…the rain hadn’t started yet and I didn’t feel too much wind. It was on…
I was going for an OTQ time!
While the leaders shot off the line at 4:30/mile pace I sat back in about 30th place, coasting through the first very downhill mile in 5:00. I joked with one of the guys next to me that I hoped it wasn’t our fastest mile split of the day (while knowing deep down inside that it was very likely going to be …)
As we settled in for the first 5km or so (16:08) a large gap formed between us and the real elite lead pack. I got antsy with the mile splits as running in a pack with 20 or so guys seemed to be inconsistent and things started to slow down. We had some 5:18 and 5:20ish mile splits in there. I figured with the substantial downhills early on that 5:10s would be much better to hit to even have a shot at a sub 2:18:00 (5:15 average mile pace).
I briefly told some of the guys that I’d like to try to come through halfway in 1:08:low. A couple of these runners already had trials qualifiers though, and were more interested in place. [After that talking pretty much ceased as I was breathing pretty hard already!]
I was put in a tough position…trying to force to run for a time in a group that was (very understandably given the wind) much more interested in place. Coming through 10 miles in about 52:20 I was just under 2:18 pace and started noticing the wind. I had a critical choice to make:
- Forge forward solo into the wind and try to catch a “pack” of 2 guys that I saw about 300m in front of me.
- Sit back with a “safer pack” of 15 or so guys who could help shelter some of the burden from the wind.
I went with my first choice and I’m glad a did as it ended up probably being my most decisive move of the entire race. Leaning into the wind as the course opened up heading towards Wellesly I recorded my halfway split at 1:08:38. About exactly what I wanted, but it didn’t feel very good! The noticeable gusts of wind bothered me and I ran solo (with gaps of about 200m in front and behind me) for the next 5 miles towards Newton.
Coming into the infamous Newton Hills I finally caught two foreign runners Danilo Goffi ( a former 2:08 marathoner who placed 9th at the Olympic Games in 1996, but was now competing as a 42-year old masters runner for Italy!) and Sergey Zyryanov (I couldn’t find much about him, but he was from Russia and ran really tough!). As we tackled the Newton hills …Danilo would amazingly surge on the uphills and gap us, while Sergey would come flying back on the downhills. It was a free-for-all competing for place at this point though, so helping each other with drafting against the wind wasn’t really happening all too much!
Near Heartbreak hill at mile 20 I felt my time goal slipping away as I thrashed my arms to get my stiff legs moving. My stride rate slowed. The cold wind and rain pounded us as the threat of cramping, hypoglecima and hypothermia sunk in. Pain clenched my entire body like a vice clamp slowly tigntening its tortuous grip. As I popped my 4th Vfuel gel, I tried to regain mental focus as my body was starting to crumble. I thought about how funny it was that I was still wearing my warm HOKA hat as I had never warmed-up enough to chuck it to the crowd (like I had assumed I would’ve much earlier)!
1:45:10. I came through 20 miles exactly 10 seconds off my goal pace. It was the first time I had been behind pace all day and I had a gut feeling that getting back ahead of pace was likely not going to be a reality in the last 10km of the race. My legs were on edge, and even despite running a bit with Danilo and Sergey, the wind was making 5:20 miles feel wickedly hard.
Over the final miles we moved up in place as many from the lead pack had seemingly dropped out. I had no idea what place I was in until about mile 23 when a spectator yelled out I was in 16th. By then Danilo had pulled away convincingly and Sergey was right behind me. We ended up finishing exactly in that order.
When I hit the final stretch heading onto Bolyston street and amid the ultra-supportive crowds that had braved the cold wind and rain I saw the finish banner about 385 yards away. Just then I [painfully] saw the clock click past 2:18:00.
After mustering up a weak kick I finally finished in 2:19:12. 72 seconds off my goal, but in 16th place overall.
In hindsight my experience in Boston was very positive. It was my best placing in a world marathon majors race (besting my 17th place at Chicago in 2010), and a much better improvement from my prior Boston performance (a 2:24 on a perfect weather day in 2010 where I totally blew a gasket). I ran the race I wanted to in terms of strategy, tactics and pacing and the effort wasn’t a horrible positive split or complete bonk (like many of my marathons have been). I will admit though that it was a little bittersweet to miss my goal of qualifying for the US Olympic Trials for the second time in 6 weeks.
I went for it, held nothing back, and came up a little bit short. I will try again though! (the qualifying window is open until January 17th, 2016).
Right now it’s all about regrouping, recovering, and cranking up the mileage again for my first road ultra (that just happens to be the largest and most competitive ultra marathon in the world): Comrades!
I’ll post a video report/reccap as well soon on my YouTube Channel to continue on with the “OTQ series”
Again, thanks so much for following along on this journey. I really appreciate all your support, feedback, kind words! I hope your running is going well and I wish you the best of luck in any future events/races you may have coming up.
Thanks again for all the support!
PS I’m helping raise funds for the charity Team World Vision South Africa as part of my Comrades marathon build-up. The charity helps provide clean drinking water and food for children in need and I have a goal of raising at least 8,000R (about $650 USD) We’re almost 50% of the way there so far with nearly 4,000R raised! Thank you!
Here is my donations page: (CLICK HERE)
I’m also proud to announce that 65% of all proceeds from my film sales of “MUT Runner” (available for digital download HERE) will be going directly to this fundraising goal as well. Any support would be much appreciated!!
Thank you again!
SHAMELESS SPONSOR PLUGS:
For Boston I used/wore the following gear and products.
Shoes: The HOKA One One Clifton (no special version, just the regular model!)
Calf sleeves: Compressport USA R2 calf sleeves and for the plane flights/recovery after race I put on the Full Sock V2 Compression socks (use code: SAGE15 for a 10% discount on all products at CompressportUSA.com)
Socks: Drymax max protection = no blisters after the race!
Nutrition: 5 Vfuel gels during the race (peach cobbler flavor) = no bonk and no stomach issues!
Pre-Race Breakfast: (after my usual toast and almond butter I ate a Ugo Bar…(Anutter flavor) 2 hours before the start of the race)
For day-to-day Training: 2 Tablespoons of Flora Health “7-Sources” oil as an Omega-3 source.
Trail Butter pouches (mainly after a Long Run or long car/camping/mountain travels!)
Fluid/Hydration/Camera Carrying gear for filming and some training: Ultimate Direction packs!
Drink: Avery Brewing IPA (sometimes a Joe’s Lager, Ellie’s Brown Ale, or special Maharajah though!)
Training Log/Workout recording: Strava.com and a Garmin 620 GPS.
All my training is recorded and posted on Strava!
Shades: Julbo Stony model (it was too dark and gloomy on race day to wear them though!)
About the Author (Author Profile)2-time Olympic Trials Qualifier, Mountain runner, Author of "Running For The Hansons," trail runner, videos for Vo2max Productioins, LLC.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Ultramarathon Daily News, Thurs, Apr 23 | April 23, 2015
- 2016 QUALIFYING FOR BOSTON MARATHON | April 25, 2015
- COMRADES MARATHON TRAINING 2016 | April 25, 2015
- 2016 JANUARY 13 MARATHON | April 27, 2015
- 2016 COMRADES MARATHON TRAINING PROGRAMME | April 28, 2015
- 2016 MARATHON GERMANY | April 28, 2015
- 2015 Speedgoat Race Report: Chasing Splits | Sage Canaday: Mountain-Ultra-Trail Runner | July 29, 2015