Prologue: My original plan was to have two separate posts for this. I was going to do a pre-marathon post reflecting on my build-up and then a recap. Below is an excerpt of what I wrote on the plane to Boston on Friday morning:
If you were to tell me a year ago I would be running my first Boston Marathon I’d probably laugh at you. The thought of running a marathon or even two for that matter was outrageous. I never considered myself a marathoner nor did I have any desire to join that group. Yet here I am, on a flight to Boston looking to PR in a distance that is still uncharted territory. With three days until Boston it’s as good time as ever to reflect on this build up.
The road here has been both some of the best and worst experiences of my running career. I spent the majority of this training block grinding through aches and pains in an obsession to reach 100 miles healthy. That 7 week block of training was the most consistent I’ve ever been with my running and showed me just what I can do when I put my mind to it. Chasing those miles brought me back to enjoying running for the first time since my last season at Tiffin. I was 3 days out before my Achilles let me know it was time to take a break. I spent the next month aggressively rehabbing in an attempt to hopefully make it to the line pain free. At some points during that time I was terrified that I may have damaged it to the point where I’d have to spend significant time off, no Boston, no running. The last month has been a roller coaster of emotions, from wondering if I was going to be able to even finish to now creating a race plan for a big PR with at least some confidence to go after my original goal: 2:29.59. Somehow with 3 weeks out, through consistent rehab and the help from the staff at Fit For Life I’ve been able to turn things around. I’m healthy and it’s such a relief to be able to type that out. The weather may not be looking great at this point but I’m still going to fight. I just have to remember, I came here to race, not to just finish.
Soon after I wrote that sentence we had to prepare for landing and I had to put my laptop away. I would get to it later that weekend (as you can see that didn’t happen).
I had a very different Boston weekend than most. Instead of touring the city and exploring the various marathon weekend festivities, I, in typical Cris fashion, took a 7 hour excursion through Vermont and Maine visiting indulging in seafood and bucket list breweries. This meant that I ended up not running on both Friday and Saturday, the first due to the road trip and the second because I ended up sleeping in after a wild night out in Portland. Not really the most responsible thing to do before a big race but I’ve found that these trips take the nerves off of me. I’m already fit, the last thing I need is to be nervous. I was already nervous for Boston, mostly due to the last 7 weeks of almost no down mileage and rehab to get to the line healthy. The last thing I needed was to have my whole weekend be me thinking about it. The beer trip served as a much needed vacation before it was time to get to business.
I also had the opportunity to meet an awesome fellow from Mexico, Sigfrido. Through my Boston posts on Instagram we ended up following each other. He shot me a message the week leading up asking me what my plans were for packet pickup and that he was looking for some help navigating through the city as it was his first time at Boston. By some chance we were in the same hotel and I let him know I’d be happy to take him along with us to get our packets together and get to the race. I’ve had so many people help me out in my travels throughout the country; I felt like this was a great way to finally pay it forward. Plus, any time I get to practice my Spanish is always a plus!
I started my Sunday with a short shakeout from the hotel. Despite getting to bed early, I felt incredibly groggy and tight. My last mile was 6:40 and it didn’t feel all that great. I kept thinking to myself, I want to run almost a minute faster than this tomorrow? I brushed it off, I’ve had rough shakeouts before and on the bright side my Achilles was completely healed. The last couple weeks of rehab and easy running had proved to be just what I needed to get to Boston healthy.
While physically it was not a great day, mentally Sunday was a cathartic experience. I toured the city with my family and Sig, picking up our packets and checking out the finish area. The energy surrounding the finish area made me excited to be there. This was a much bigger deal than I thought it to be. Everywhere I looked I saw people in Boston jackets. The city was filled with runners from across the world all here to toe the line and try and conquer Boston. The atmosphere was so positive and welcoming, we all made it here one way or another, and it was as though we all were in this together. Sunday made me proud of the work I did to get here despite the setbacks. I made it here and there was nothing I could do to make me any better. One foot in front of the other for 26.2 and if I was meant to run fast I would. At this point I had done everything I could do given the circumstances. I went from almost reaching 100 miles a week to spending the last 7 weeks averaging less than 30 miles per week.
I had no race plan besides just focusing on effort. My buddy Zach had called me Friday night with tips on how to tackle Boston: Hold back for 10 miles and not get too excited with the downhill. Once the route levels out, move, maintain up Newton, then crush the finish. He warned me multiple times, go out too fast and the last half will break you. The excitement of the crowds will make you want to go, be patient. He had negative split this before and run low 2:20s. It was possible to run fast here if you didn’t do anything stupid.
Monday I awoke still not feeling great. I had trouble sleeping and wasn’t feeling my bouncy self. In all honesty, this was probably the worst I’ve felt before a big race. It was a complete 180 from Erie where I felt I was ready to kill. I tried turning on my I-Pod Shuffle to get me focused. Dead. Looks like I wasn’t going to need that during my race. My intention was to have it ready for the second half, put the headphones on and block out the pain and focus. I was a bit thrown off; this was really how my day was going to go.
Getting to the start line felt like a mission in itself. Rain smacked us as we made our way to the bag check and on our way out to Hopkinton. As we came closer and closer to race time, the rain seemed to not let up. It seemed like we were in for another 2018 but with warmer temps. The forecast called for the rain to clear just before race time and I crossed my fingers it would hold true. I came prepared for the rain and mud in the athlete village. I wore some old sweats over my racing kit and kept my racing shoes in a plastic bag to avoid them from getting wet or muddy. I would keep all of this on for as long as I could and once we got away from the mud pit I would ditch the old clothes and head to the start line dry and ready to go.
With about 45 minutes to go the rain finally cleared. What was left was a light breeze. We all moved our way to our corrals trying our best to get some type of semblance of a warm-up routine. It was a bit of chaos getting to the line with people trying to get some jogging in, some trying to find a way to sneak a last bathroom spot out of sight to avoid the long lines, and others just taking their time walking, looking as though the rest of us were crazy. Rookies, they probably thought.
After somehow making time for two more bathroom breaks, I finally arrived at my corral, Wave 1, Corral 1. We would let the elites go out first and two minutes later it would be our time to tackle Boston. Two minutes out, bang, the elites are now off. The next 120 seconds felt like time slowed to a standstill. We all stood there, antsy, just waiting for those seconds to click off and we can finally make our journey toward Boylston.
I can’t say I remember much about the start of this race. I just remember running, trying to force myself to slow down. The downhill was a bit of a shock to my system to start, definitely did not expect it to start like this. And oh, an uphill? I really should have done my homework a bit more, I thought to myself. My first mile was a bit slower than I wanted it to be but I didn’t let myself be too bothered by it. I’ll take a 6:07 first mile now if it meant I didn’t crash and burn in the second half. I was ahead of pace from my marathon PR already so there was worse things that could happen. As runners around me began to settle into their pace I began to get into rhythm, moving by groups rather quickly. My pace dropped pretty significantly to a 5:47 and it felt easy. I made a decision then that I would not focus too much on my pace. I would monitor my breathing and my effort and take a glance at each mile just to see where I was at. I settled in, sticking with packs and moving forward, the beep of my watch my guide as I moved forward. The crowd was incredible, people lining both sides of the streets loud as could be, cheering on strangers as they passed. It was easy to get caught up in the hype, but I remained controlled, focusing more on my position. The goal now was not to lose position, just gradually move forward. The goal was now to try and negative split.
Going through Wellesley I got a little too excited. Unlike in Erie when I was just focused on blocking out the race, I got into the crowd and started having fun with it. I would raise my hands and encourage people to cheer, give high fives to people on the sides, and look for people I knew. After seeing my family right before the Wellesley Scream Tunnel, the pace started to drop into the 5:30s. Luckily I caught it before I went too long here, while the downhill was over, we still had the hard part to go.
And this is when the wheels started to fall off.
I maintained steady through 16. I had crossed the half at 5:47 pace and was going to work on the hills and try and average 5:30’s for the miles following heartbreak. As I came down the final steep downhill at 15 I began to start feeling something off. My hamstring had started to tighten up, most likely due to the first couple miles adjusting my stride for the downhill sections. As I saw the Newton sign the race had changed and it seemed like the crowd atmosphere had too. Whereas the first 10 miles seemed to be a celebration of the accomplishment of being there, the second half of this race were more people trying to motivate runners as they tried to survive the second half. The runner’s faces of joy had become grimaces, the discomfort of the beating downhill section now starting to settle in. With the crosswind now gone, the reality of the warmer temperatures had also now begun to take their toll. The crosswind masked the heat, leading me to not hydrate as much as I should have in the early miles. Now making my climb up the Newton Hills, signs of thirst became apparent. I took small drinks through to try and satisfy that feeling and kept moving. The pace had slowed but I expected that with these hills. I would make sure to keep it under 6:00 and then as soon as I crested Heartbreak the dash for home would begin.
The hilly section of the course wasn’t all that terrible. The hills themselves were gradual and your legs definitely felt it but it wasn’t anything close to the mountains back in California. What made this tough was that my legs were already beat by the downhill. My hamstring tightness had now begun to impede my running form a bit, my muscles now shooting small sharp pains as each foot hit the ground, but I pushed forward and finally made it to heartbreak. After seeing the top of the hill for what felt like forever, I finally crested it. I had skipped GU at 20 thinking that I was close enough where I wouldn’t need it. I tried dropping the pace after cresting heartbreak but I couldn’t move. I felt stuck, tight, and lightheaded. I kept trying to fight the negative feelings and block out the pain and I got myself back under 6:00 for the next mile.
As I inched closer and closer to mile 22 my form broke down and I began to crash. As I passed the water stop at 22 I made a decision, I had to stop. At the last table I came to a complete stop and asked the volunteer for water. I drank as much water as I could and took my last GU. Overwhelming emotion came over me, I felt like I was quitting, but almost instantly as that thought came into my head I took my last cup of water and got back out there. I didn’t travel this far out for my race to go to crap in the last 4 miles. Mile 23 with that stop was a 6:42.
The last 4.2 miles of that race were some of the hardest running moments of my life. My feet had begun to start burning and my muscles were aching but I kept fighting to try to get my pace close to where it was before I crashed. I began to count down the time in my head, 25 minutes, 19, minutes, etc… After all that work I had put in the winter I could survive another couple minutes of discomfort. As I arrived into the craziness of the city I made one last effort to finish strong. With one mile to go I pushed hard, I could see the clock, 2:33:00. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t lose all that much time and if there was a chance I could get under 2:35. I sprinted, I sprinted as hard as these legs could take me and I crossed the line, 2:34:46, 193rd overall and the top finisher from Ohio. My body hated me and I could barely walk but I finished my second marathon with a big PR.
With a month and a half since Boston, I’ve had a chance to really think about my performance. I’m not completely satisfied with being a 2:34 marathoner but considering what my buildup was I’m proud that I was able to run that. I really shouldn’t have been able to run like I did with those last 8 weeks of training. This race humbled me a ton and changed me as a runner. The support I received during and after the race was overwhelming. So many people reached out to me and congratulated me for the performance and it’s now become one of the most proud moments I’ve had as a runner. This journey introduced me to a new community of runners and helped me get more involved in the Columbus running community. Big shout out to Fleet Feet/Front Runner, Columbus Track Club, Hoof Hearted, Zach, and Fit for Life Physical Therapy. Without the help and support of them I wouldn’t have gotten this far. Also shout out to my mom and brother for coming out short notice to surprise me. Seriously guys, that made this trip even more memorable.
I’ve always thought of myself as a cross country and steeplechase guy but I guess it’s time for something new, it’s time to take this marathon thing seriously.
Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon, watch out, I’m coming for you.