On Friday as I was arriving in Virginia Beach for our final tune-up race before Boston I got a text message from a friend telling me that Boston Marathon Bib Numbers and Corral assignments were up on the Boston Athletic Association website.
With the exception of elite athletes who are “seeded” by their bib numbers at major races, where the “favored athletes” or those most likely to win the race are given the lowest numbers – a bib number to the rest of us is usually just a function of how early we registered for a race.
The lowest numbers go to the “early-birds”, while the higher numbers go to those runners who register later in the process.
Boston is a bit different however as for the runners who have “qualified” for the race – everyone is seeded. The fastest runners down to the very second in their qualifying races are given a lower number than the runner just behind them.
Runners are then separated further into groups of 1,000 into one of the nine starting corrals for each of the three starting waves.
Wave 1 will accommodate runners with bib numbers 1 – 8,999 or the first 8,999 athletes.
Wave 2 will accommodate runners with bib numbers 9,000 – 17,999.
Wave 3 will hold the balance of the athletes from 18,000 and above – including the charity entries with the lowest bib numbers.
The first wave will go off at 10:00 a.m. EDT, the second wave at 10:20 a.m. EDT and the final wave at 10:40 a.m. EDT.
All of this is done with great care to enhance the race experience for all of the athletes in the event. The thought being that each runner will be paired with runners around them of similar abilities and pace strategies. This will make the trip from Hopkinton, MA to Boston along a relatively tight course easy to maneuver for more than 26,000 runners.
This year our qualifying time at the New York City Marathon of 3:08:09 earned us bib# 5280. Wave 1, Corral 6.
A perfect spot. With a goal time under our qualifying time, we will be in the corral with runners who have finished a marathon between approximately 7:08 and 7:14 pace. This will play to our advantage if the majority of the group around me does not go out too fast as I am hoping to run the first two miles of the race right about 7:00 min./mile. Gradually increasing our effort to fall into goal pace of 6:52 by mile 4.
As I have said before, Boston can be a cruel race. The opening 15-16 miles of the race is decidedly downhill. You couple the topography with the added adrenaline at the start of one of the largest and most prestigious road races in the world, and it is very, very easy to get sucked in to a pace that is too fast, too soon.
Disaster in the marathon.
One of the things that I found most interesting looking back on our three half-marathons over the course of this training cycle is that the slower I started, the bettter I finished.
The longer the race, the greater the penalty for starting too fast. In a 5K or 10K a runner can tough out the final mile or mile and a half and “hang on” to the finish.
In the half-marathon this gets far more difficult after mile 8 or 9 leaving more than 4 miles to go to the finish. A :15 or :20 slow down can mean as much as 1:30 added to your race time.
In the marathon, this can start as early as mile 15 or 16, with 10 grueling miles to go, including the final 10 kilometers where the athletes body is already depleted of those precious glycogen stores and is now resorting to burning fat as fuel which is much less efficient.
Now a slow-down that might be :20 or :30 a mile could be as much as 1:00 to 1:30 each mile. Adding 10-15 minutes onto your race time.
When I talk about my goal of negative splitting Boston, or running the second 13.1 miles faster than the first I get quizzical looks from many of my friends – runners and non-runners alike.
How can you plan to do that with all of those tough hills in the second half of the race?
The reality is the “tough hills” in Boston are the down hills over the opening 15-16 miles of the race, not the 4 climbs from miles 17-21.
Running 15 downhill miles will take far more out of a runner than 3 miles or so of uphills.
Running in control and clicking off marathon pace miles at or just above 6:52 pace will mean that I am actually running 7:00 to 7:05 “EFFORT” over the opening half of the race. Problems will arise if I am running 6:52 “EFFORT” at the start of the race, translating to something closer to 6:40 pace over the first half.
You would think that you are “banking time”, allowing for a larger fade over the course of the final miles of the race, but what you are really doing is robbing yourself of any chance to dig deep and hold pace late.
We are going to try to thread the needle in Boston this April with a 1:30:30 first half and a 1:29:29 second half.
If the hills in Newton rob us of our strength to close out the race strong – we should still have enough left in the tank to ward off a huge late fade and finish with a strong race and a new PR in the marathon at Boston.
But if we get it right, and all of the hill work, racing and high mileage has done its job, maybe, just maybe we can pull this off and come through that chute with our “A” goal of 2:59:59 or better.
A 1:23:46 half-marathon translates roughly to a 2:58:00 marathon. Add a couple of minutes for the course in Boston and we are right in that 3:00:00-3:01:00 range from a capability standpoint.
Right now it’s up to health and the weather. I’ve got to work a little soreness out of the top of this foot and hope that the race day weather Gods are kind to us in April.
What started out 18 weeks ago as a journey with many, many variables is now down to only two. One of which I can control by being smart and patient with this sore foot, the other I really can’t do much about at all.
In 2010 we ran out of corral 8 with bib number 7929 affixed to our shorts.
Two years later we are 2,649 athletes closer to the starting line in corrral 6.
Two years older, two years wiser and with any luck, we’re about to finally get this race exactly right.