Guest Post: Blowing Up Boston

The following is a guest post by one of my run club buddies, Dan Scarrow. He apologizes for the long blog post, but he had 10+ hours of flying time to kill and he’s only ever going to write one, so he figured he’d get it all in.

For many people, the Boston Marathon represents the culmination of years of hard work and dedicated training.

I’m no different.

My Boston Qualifier (BQ) journey began 6 years ago when my friend Ben Maas (Marathon PR 2:44) dragged me to my first Alma Running Room clinic. He was concerned about me, because after a successful rowing career through university, I had let myself go. I went from a racing weight of 160lbs up to nearly 200lbs, through the dangerous combination of a sedentary lifestyle and an almost solely pizza diet.

My first few months of running were humbling experiences as I saw 60 year old grandmothers consistently roar by me along our traditional summer beach route. But they also inspired me to improve my fitness and start to treat my body with respect. I combined daily running with extreme dieting – my daily diet consisted of a protein shake for breakfast, a footlong Subway sandwich for lunch, and another protein shake for dinner – and began to shed the weight and increase the speed.

That said, for me, as I’m sure it is for most people, the dieting and regimented exercise took a psychological toll. Exercise is hard enough when you’re fit and motivated. I was overweight, out of shape, and in a mild state of consistent starvation. I was seeing small, incremental improvements, but dieting as a sole motivator is pretty depressing. I needed something else I could focus on to get me through the tough days. On a whim, I decided to sign up for the London Marathon.

Ben and his mom had already signed up, and I had never been to Europe before, so it seemed like a great opportunity. There was still 6 months to go before it started, so the goal seemed both ambitious and attainable: two key components to any successful goal. And it worked. My whole mindset changed from simply trying to shed weight and get fit to actually completing a marathon. My attitude improved, my weight started to drop more quickly, and my times got faster. In the 6 months leading up to London, my half marathon time dropped from 1:49 to 1:27.

With that 1:27 half marathon in my back pocket, I reconfigured my marathon goal from simply finishing to Qualifying for Boston (BQing). It was an ambitious goal in the best of conditions, and unfortunately, the Marathon Gods conspired against me, dropping a heat wave on England the day of the race and making it a miserable 3:31 slog through the streets of London.

It was a humbling experience and I became wretchedly sick for the next 2 weeks, or the remainder of my trip through Europe. I had done a marathon, something that was almost incomprehensible only 6 months prior, and I was proud, but it was also so painful that I couldn’t possibly think of doing another one.

But then again, I hadn’t qualified for Boston. So I kept training.

It’s said that you have to forget about the pain of your last marathon before you’ll do another one. That’s been completely true for me. I’ve now done 4 marathons in 6 years and the pattern is always the same:

  1. I finish my marathon
  2. Vow to never do one again
  3. Spend a year maintaining my fitness but not really pushing myself
  4. Forget about how much it hurts
  5. Impulsively sign up for another marathon
  6. Train like a banshee for 6 months
  7. Race and relearn why I vowed never to do one again

In the 6 years since I started running, I’d run 3 marathons and over 20 half marathons. I’d qualified for Boston twice, broken 3 hours (2:57 PR), and even won the prestigious Rubber Ducky Half Marathon. The one thing that I hadn’t done was run in Boston.

My goals, as usual, were ambitious but attainable. I had forgotten about how much marathons hurt so I wanted to run sub-2:55 to get the guaranteed entry for the New York City Marathon in the fall where I planned to just jog the race with a camera to record the sights and sounds of a big marathon. Also providing motivation for me was my new running partner, James Weber, who I had recruited to replace Ben after he had moved to NYC. I convinced James to run the Vancouver marathon, his first, and we put a wager on who would be faster. I have the experience, but James has the fitness. Just a month prior to Boston, James toyed with me during a half marathon, beating me by 14s (1:22:41 to 1:22:55), but doing so effortlessly.

I had two concerns going into Boston that I thought could make my goals unattainable: (1) weather and (2) GI issues. Unfortunately, I was right to be concerned.

When I got to Boston, the talk of the town was the potential for a record-breaking heat-wave to hit the city on Marathon Monday. On the Friday, it was still a 50/50 chance, but by Saturday, it was near 100% chance of what was forecast to be a high of 90 degrees (33C) with no cloud cover and a slight tailwind, just enough to ensure that runners would effectively feel no breeze. I made the decision that it wouldn’t be feasible to meet my A goal of running sub-2:55, so I instead focused just on my B goal of finishing. It was a very wise decision.

That decision allowed me to thoroughly enjoy the weekend. I spent a lot of guilt-free time on my feet, exploring the city, wandering around the expo, going to a Red Sox game, and watching my friend race Dartmouth at the Harvard-Dartmouth rowing duel regatta. After all, I just needed to finish.

Easy, right?

Wrong.

I clearly had forgotten about how much a marathon hurts. 42km is a really long run, even if you’re just jogging.

Marathon Monday was as hot as advertised. I got up at 6am after only 2.5 hours of sleep due to a combination of jet lag and Canucks disappointment. I heeded the advice of my friend Francie Rudolph who implored me to ‘use the bathroom before getting on that damn bus,’ and made my way to Copley Square to get shuttled to the start line in Hopkinton.

The event itself was extremely well organized. My first marathon was London, England, and my impression is that the systems they have in place in Boston are superior. I waited in line in Copley for only 20 minutes before boarding the bus for the hour+ ride to the start and had just enough time in the Athletes Village to use the facilities, take some pictures, apply some sunscreen and body glide, check my bag, and make my way to the start.

The race itself went according to plan, except in slow motion. I had already adjusted my goal down to simply finishing, but in my head, I still wanted to run a respectable time. I figured I’d go out at a 3:10 pace and see what would happen. The heat really was unbearable for me though, and even 1 mile in, I knew that 3:10 would be unattainable. I managed to go through the 10km at 44 minutes and the Half at 1:40, but by then, I knew that just finishing would be a challenge. I ended up stumbling my way through a 2 hour miserable second half to finish in 3:40, a full 45 minutes off my original goal.

But it didn’t matter. I was done. I’m pretty sure it was the most painful thing I’ve ever done, although, since I have forgotten about how painful my previous ones were, I suppose I can’t say for certain. I had seriously thought about stopping multiple times throughout the race. I had odd chills, light-headedness, and heart palpitations that scared me a little bit. It was not safe, but I had already bought the Boston Marathon jacket, so I had to finish if I wanted to wear it. I ended up only using one of the 4 gels that I brought and really didn’t need the energy from them. Beating the heat was all I cared about and the salt tablets that I brought certainly helped. I didn’t cramp at all through the race as I shuffled by other fast runners whose bodies had succumbed to the heat.

At the finish line, I vowed never to run another marathon ever again. The over/under is a year before I forget about the pain and sign up for my next race.

I took photos and video of a lot of the race, stopping here and there to set up good shots. You can see my race here:

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