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Boston Marathon Re-Cap

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 Posted by Travis Saunders
Photo by Paul Keleher.

After 5 days on the road I am finally back from the Boston Marathon (actually I am zooming through Dorval on a Via Rail train, but close enough)! My legs are still killing me – I have what’s referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, which tends to peak around 48 hours after the race, and makes you walk a bit like Frankenstein’s Monster. I also destroyed my big toe on one foot (for a cell phone pic of my foot, click here), and the combination of my halting gait and my purple toe make it look like I was beaten by the mob. That being said, this trip was a great experience by any measure. I love road trips, and the past 5 days included over 20 hours of driving, 4 different trains, and a 2 hour flight. How’s that for celebrating Earth Day? It was also the first time that my parents had met my girlfriend’s parents and that went very well as well, which in a way is more relieving than finishing the race. So all-in-all, a very good trip.

The atmosphere of the race was unique from start to finish. Waiting for the start-gun, you could see thousands of people in every direction, fighter planes zooming overhead, and of course smell the strange mix of excitement, fear, and Gatorade that you find among people minutes before starting a marathon. Once the race was underway, it was amazing to see the fans that lined the 26 mile course, many of whom were offering oranges, bananas, water, or just a high-five to the runners. I must have high-fived at least a hundred kids throughout the race, and probably as many female undergrads at Wellesley College (although I modestly refused their requests for kisses as I was still foolishly hoping to run a fast time at that point in the race). Without a doubt the best part of the race was the final 1km, running through downtown Boston with tens of thousands of people cheering. It’s great to be supported by anyone, let alone by complete strangers, and I can’t tell you how nice it was to hear the roar of the crowd over the last few minutes of the race.

The Boston Marathon is a point-to-point race, meaning that the course starts 26.2 miles outside of Boston in Hopkinton, then travels through several small towns (including Framingham, home to the famous and influential Framingham Study) before finishing downtown. I had been warned to start conservatively and I did, running between 6:00/mile and 6:15/mile for the first few miles, a pace that would put me just shy of the 2:40 I ran at the Manitoba Marathon 2 years ago. The first 16 miles of the race are a fairly significant net downhill, with rolling hills from miles 16 thru 21 (including the famous Heartbreak Hill), and finally running mostly downhill again from mile 21 to the finish. Although this may sound surprising, the downhill sections were FAR tougher than any of the uphills. Running downhill actually generates significantly more muscle tension (and thereby muscle damage) than running uphill, and by the 7 or 8 mile mark my legs were already starting to throb. This was a real concern, as the first half of a marathon should feel relatively comfortable, with the real discomfort coming only in the last 6 miles. By the halfway mark I knew I wasn’t going to run a personal best, and the focus switched to finishing, trying to enjoy myself, and desperately hanging on so as not to lose to my girlfriend (see my previous post on my pre-race goals, here).

On the topic of my girlfriend, she ran a tremendous race, finishing in 3:11:38, a personal best, and was the 206th woman overall. It’s not often that people run personal bests in Boston, and she did it despite having leg pain which was at least as severe as mine. My own time was 2:50:43, just outside of my goal time range of 2:40-2:50, and placed me 487th overall. I am a bit disappointed with my time as I’ve had some great training lately, but for whatever reason my legs just did not handle the downhills well at all, and there’s not much I can do about that. And I still hit 3 of my 4 pre-race goals, the most important of which was having fun.

So, would I do it again? Not for at least a few years. Boston was a cool experience, especially since our parents were able to come and experience the race with us. But the race also hurt a LOT, far more than any marathon I’ve ever run, and this might sound strange, but the atmosphere was a little too intense for my tastes. I got into marathons as a way to relax, because I was tired of running super-serious intercollegiate track and cross country races. At most road races the runners and walkers are very chill, and even the competitors aiming for a fast time tend to be quite relaxed and chatty over the first few miles. In contrast, in Boston the competitors were nearly silent, and the race really lacked that feeling of camaraderie that I enjoy so much. I’ve been in marathons where other competitors wish you good luck even as you bump them out of a prize-money spot; in Boston no one said boo as we ran towards a placing in the high-400’s. I didn’t hear people thank the volunteers, or even see many people wave to the fans. Everyone was so focused on running a good time that I’m not sure many of them thought about having a good time, which is absolutely fine, but it’s not the reason that I am running at the moment. This may explain why I didn’t run a personal best, but it’s the same attitude I’ve had for all of my marathons, so I’m not overly concerned. I plan to do other marathons in the future, maybe even another one this year, but it will be some time before I have the urge to do Boston again.

On a personal note, I would like to thank Daun’s coach Steve Boyd, who did a great job of training her over the past 8 months, and who helped me get into shape over the past 2 months as well. I’d also like to congratulate Agathe Nicholson and Murray Jamer, two Masters runners who ran 3:11:11 and 3:02:18 respectively. Agathe was Daun’s training and racing partner over the past 8 months and I know it really added to her experience, and Murray is a fellow New Brunswicker and all around nice guy who works with my father. A huge thanks to the thousands of volunteers and fans who came to the race - my family and I were constantly commenting on how helpful and welcoming people were in the Boston area, and I would certainly go back again anytime. And finally, I would like to thank our our parents for making the trip, which really added to the experience for Daun and I.


UPDATE: For all of the pictures of me taken by MarathonFoto, click here.

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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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