Getting Back to Boston

Posted: April 23, 2013 in Training
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There was a time when running the Boston Marathon was my absolute, no questions asked, number one goal when it came to distance running.

In May of 2009 I calmly stood at the starting line of the Pittsburgh Marathon after the most aggressive and difficult training cycle I had ever completed with a couple of numbers etched in my mind.  3:19:59.  7:37.

7:37 pace would give me my qualifying time of 3:19:59.  If I could lock in, navigate the hills in Pittsburgh and run strong to the finish I would find myself at the starting line of the greatest footrace on the planet that April.

In one of the top 5 race plans I have ever executed regardless of distance, I ran fearlessly to a 3:17:43 finish at 7:31 min./mile pace.  I, just a novice runner who took up the sport in 2006, running in my third ever footrace at any distance and second marathon had qualified for Boston.  The experience was surreal.

In just over a month we would be made aware of Dom’s illness.  Cancer would come into our lives for really the first time up close and personal.  Boston became much more important than just a footrace.  It became part of a two marathon in 13 day adventure that changed my life forever.

In 2012 I went back to the Boston Marathon not running for Dom or against cancer or for any other “statement”.  I was now a multiple marathoner having run a 3:08 in New York in 2011 and I went to Boston as the 5,280th fastest qualifier for the race.  I “belonged” in Boston and was looking forward to my second attempt at slaying the dragon which is the course from Hopkinton to Boston.

Fate threw us 87 degree temperatures in 2012 and I never really got to do any racing.  I decided I would just “trot it in”, live to fight another day and reload for a different marathon somewhere down the road.  “Boston” had been crossed off of my list not only once, but twice and I doubted that I would ever return to Hopkinton and if I did, it would be a long time down the road.

Perhaps when I turned 50 I thought or if I was still running marathons at age 60, maybe that would be a race that would mean something to me.

Last Monday a lot of things changed for a lot of us.

“Boston” all of a sudden became something that I know in my heart that I need to do next year.  I am a runner and more appropriately, I am a marathoner.  And the place where a marathoner belongs next April is at the starting line of the Boston Marathon.

For the first time in a few years I do not have a “Boston time” in my back pocket when registration opens in September.  Knowing the outpouring of support in the running community for the victims of the blasts last Monday and the support for the city of Boston and its iconic road race – this will be the most competitive registration process ever for Boston.  Registration will open in the middle of September and the race is going to fill up faster than ever.

Due to some changes in the way the registration process works that started for the 2012 race, runners with times 15 minutes better than the qualifying standard will have an exclusive registration window to go first.  Then runners with a time 10 minutes better than their qualifying standard.  When that period ends, it will be runners with better than 5 minutes and then finally everyone with a qualifying time that is :01 second to 4 minutes and 59 seconds better than their BQ or Boston Qualification.

The “faster” runners with the better times will get in before the “slower” runners vs. their goal time.  So the cutoff will more than likely be somewhere in the 2 minute to 4 minute range based on previous years.

As a runner who will be 46 years old next spring at Boston my Qualifying time is 3:25:00.  7:48 pace.

A 3:20:00 will more than likely get me a ticket to the party – right back to my friend 7:37 pace.  The irony is not lost on me.

With a solid training schedule and good health, we should be able to comfortably run a marathon on a neutral course in neutral weather conditions in 3:05-3:10.  2:59:00 is really the target goal that we have our sights set on.  But the marathon is a fickle race and a lot of unexpected things can take place.  So we are going to be taking nothing for granted.

The biggest problem for us right now is the “when” not the “if”.  I needed to find a fall marathon that would give me an opportunity to run my Boston time prior to registration opening.  After looking long and hard at all of the races around the country, very few in the month of September presented a great chance for cool weather and a flat or fast course before September 16th.

After a lot of consideration today we registered for our next marathon.  Big Cottonwood in Salt Lake City, UT.

A race quite frankly I had never heard of before last week’s bombings at the Boston Marathon.  A race that was run for the first time last year.  But the dramatic downhill course coupled with a 6:40 a.m. start (7:40 Austin time) and it’s point to point nature if weather conditions are optimal will allow us the opportunity to toe the line with a great chance of executing our race plan and earning our way back to Boston.

At some point on September 14th the battle is going to start.  My body telling me that it is ready to quit and my mind telling me that we have more to fight for.  In a strange way I am looking forward to the pain, because just like 2009 I know that I have what it takes to set all of that aside and fight tooth and nail for that Boston time.

If I run a new PR, good for me.  Break 3 hours?  Even better.  But if things don’t set up that way for me through the half-way point and we are not clipping along at 1:28:30 and the elevation is taking a little bit of a bite out of us – not to worry.  We still have a lot to fight for and come hell or high water I can honestly say that I am willing to do whatever is necessary to hang on like grim death over the final 10 kilometers to the finish.

I am going to be flying out to UT alone on Friday morning, running the race on Saturday and flying home alone again on Sunday morning shortly after sunrise.  There will be no wild celebrations, no post-race breakfast parties or dinners out with friends, no hugs from Dawn and Landry at the finish line or high fives to my runner buddies here in Austin.

This is nothing more than a business trip.  I am going to collect my medal, pose for the post-race picture and savor the day for a few moments.  I will then immediately start thinking about April 2014 and how we are going to prepare for our greatest effort at the greatest road race in the world.

I would not miss being there for anything.

On to Big Cottonwood.cottonwood

  1. You’re kind of making me want to do this, too. Since 2012 was my only Boston, I feel like I still need to race it anyway!

  2. Robin says:

    Good luck! I think you are right though, people are rallying to get back. I’m qualified but I think that although everyone got in this year who registered, perhaps that will change for 2014 and you will need the 5 minutes. Hard to say. I’m still undecided as it’s still so fresh and hard to comprehend but I like that I have the option.

    • joerunfordom says:

      I have a feeling Robin, and of course a lot can change between now and the Fall – but a higher percentage of runners with a BQ are going to register, as a lot of runners with that time don’t make a point of it to go back to Boston every year. It is logistically tough, it’s expensive etc. – but all those reasons kind of fall by the wayside for 2014. It will be interesting for sure to see where the cutoff is – but I’m betting it falls around 2 minutes or so …. hopefully I won’t have anything to worry about – but I’m going to run my heart out in Utah.

  3. Dom, I hope your plan works out. In your shoes I would be a little worried that registration for Boston may open before your qualifying race takes place. As the BAA website says, “Registration for the 2014 Boston Marathon is scheduled to open in September. The exact date will be published by July 1.” But you can’t wait, right?

    Like you, I’ve toyed with going back back to Boston but need a BQ. At age 42, I need a 3:15. That’s what I ran the race in in 2009, allowing we to return in 2010, at which time I ran a 3:10. At a marathon that fall, I was on pace to finish in 3:01:xx but had inadvertently shaved 1.5 miles from the course with a few other guys. I haven’t run a marathon since.

    Last summer my training for the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon was promising, as I was aiming for a sub 3-hour finish. Then, last August, I ripped something in my calf during a track workout. I had to give up running altogether, turning to cross-country skiing, fat biking and some aquajogging through the winter. I’ve only been back running again for a few weeks now, and I’m feeling positive about the running for the first time in ages.

    I’m signed up for the Marquette (Mich.) Trail 50K in mid August. For that race I’ll need all the endurance and toughness I can muster. Speed I won’t need, which is fortunate because I’m rather fearful of doing speedwork given that 400m repeats caused my latest injury.

    But what happened at Boston a week and a day ago leaving me wondering: Could I muster a BQ by the time registration opens in September? Should I bag this trail race, as much as I was looking forward to it, and shoot for a road marathon instead?

    “The place where a marathoner belongs next April is at the starting line of the Boston Marathon,” you say. That sentence is going to haunt me.

    You’re a bastard, you know.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Joel! So sorry to hear about that injury. Ugh, such a tough one to come back from, but it sounds like you are well on your way. Registration should open on the 22nd keeping with previous years as the B.A.A. Is very likely to do.

      If it is a week earlier than before, those marathons like Erie, PA, Big Cottonwood should be safe …. That’s what I’m banking on. If not, we’ll, such is life. But I’m going to do all I can to get there.

      (Hope you decide to go for it!)

  4. Well, wouldn’t you know the Fox Cities (Wis.) Marathon, at which I ran my first BQ time in 2008, is set to take place September 22. Could registration for Boston open AND fill up before I hit the finish line? That’s very possible.

    So there’s two other marathons in Wisconsin and upper Michigan on August 24 and 31 respectively. Either way, I get about 16 weeks to train for a 3:15 or better. And I’ve run only 16-21 miles four times in the past six weeks. That ain’t much of a base.

    I don’t know, man ….

    • joerunfordom says:

      It is going to be interesting. I think if you can post a BQ minus 6-8 minutes you are going to be safe to get in. And keep in mind, you can still use times up until the race fills, not just when the first round of BQ minus 15 minutes opens.

      You can always set a short term goal of seeing if you can step up your mileage the next 4 weeks to 25, 30, 35, 40.

      If you can get to 40 pain-free with a long run of say 12-13 miles, I think you can make it fairly comfortably. That said, nothing is worth risking long term injury, so if it isn’t in the cards, there will be another one in 2015. But I think next year on April 22nd, that is going to be the place to be 🙂

  5. Jim in Maine says:

    Morning Joe –

    Just spent some time on the Big Cottonwood site … looks like you picked a fine one and with the dedicated focused drive you maintain I have no doubt you will exceed that BQ. I believe you are correct about the strong desire to toe the line in 2014 … certainly here in New England it is prevalent in all discussions with marathon runners.

    As you may recall I had set as a goal to BQ by the time I turn 60 – and I still hope to do so. But I too want to run it next year so with Patti’s blessings (and Bob K’s assistance and support) we are putting in an application to be a charity runner for Boston’s Children Hospital. I won’t know if I am accepted until November but I am gonna’ keep training and running in expectation of going out in that last wave …

    Perhaps I’ll see ya’ there and we can tip back a couple of cool ones again afterwards … in the interim I will enjoy following your progress and new coach assisted approach.

    Our best to your family …

    Jim (& Patti)

    • joerunfordom says:

      Jim, that is tremendous and if anyone can help with Boston Children’s, it is Bob K.! I love this Jim and we will absolutely have a couple of chilly ones post-race. Will be great to see you and Patti once again in Boston.

      Best to you Jim and train like this will be your last race. That is my mindset going into Big Cottonwood. I am going to run like I’ll never run again.

  6. Eric Matyskiela says:

    Joe, love your attitude!

    We just returned back from running Boston and we can’t wait to go back! Flying up there I saw this race a a one-time deal, but seeing the positive, professional and caring response of the people of Boston during this horrific event and the unbelievable uplifting nature of the race itself, has inspired me to run this race every year that I’m capable of getting there! Those two jokers picked the wrong friggin city to pull their crap in! The city-wide response was basically “OK, GAME-ON”!

    I bested my BQ time for my age (52) by just under 7 minutes on Monday so I’m pretty sure i’m good for 2014. Can’t wait to get there and hopefully we’ll get a chance to meet you there! Not to mention the Sam Adams 26.2 lager is pretty good too!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Eric – was so impressed by your race and that course is a tou one to execute on. You earned your way back and I am excited that you will be there. BQ minus 7:00 should be very safe come registration. Not sure about 2-3 minutes, but 7:00 should be golden, especially with only the early Fall Marathons left for qualifying (in cool weather) really remaining.

      Congrats again Eric! Looking forward to hopefully seeing you guys in Boston next year!

  7. Abbey says:

    Joe – I found your blog as an intern for the Pittsburgh Marathon compiling mentions of “Pittsburgh Marathon” but have since enjoyed following your blog on my own.

    As a fellow runner and lover of the sport I’m sure we all felt the same sickening pain in the pit of our stomach when we heard about Boston. But like the true spirit of runners, we are carrying on in a unique fashion.

    I wish you the best of luck in your training and good luck in your upcoming races!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Thanks so much for the message and I bet you are so excited for the Pittsburgh Marathon in just a couple of weeks. I have a great friend Winston Kenton coming up for the race from Wichita, KS. I have shared all the reasons why I love the Pittsburgh course.

      The plan right now is for me to run Boston next spring, then return in 2015 to Pittsburgh which will amazingly be 5 years since my friend Dom passed away.

      Best of luck to you this year with the race, you continue to make it better and better each year, I can’t wait to return!

  8. John Potts says:

    This race doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. The potential for injury “pushing” for a sub three is high. The risk reward doesn’t justify it. You need a sub 3:25 to qualify, let’s say 3:15 to make it comfortable. This is easy. Go run Grandma’s on June 22. They have a 3:15 pace group. At most this would hurt your training by two weeks. You don’t need to make a big deal of it. Start to taper Monday before the race. Once you have a qualifying time, then stick to Steamtown for a legit sub three effort. Sign up for Houston as a backup. You can use the improved time to better your position at Boston. There are several choices between now and September that make a better fit than Cottonwood. Cottonwood works best for runners acclimated to 5000 ft. plus.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi John – thanks for the visit and the message. Coming from where I was this winter – 5 weeks off in January – I really couldn’t get the appropriate volume in for a spring half – and even through weather could/should be solid for Grandma’s – the potential is always there for a hot day in June – so it really just didn’t set up well for me there.

      As for Cottonwood – I’m a big believer in specificity when it comes to marathon courses. I’ll be ready for the downs in September and the elevation while challenging for sure coming from 900 ft. here in Austin should be tempered pretty significantly with the downhill start through the canyon during miles 1-17. If those two variables more or less cancel each other out – I think I’m plenty capable of nailing those 6:50’s. Obviously there are a ton of variables with the marathon. Right now I’m just hoping to stay healthy, continue to run the plan as prescribed and with 13 weeks to go – I’m feeling pretty darn good about things. Some of this sport is all about challenges – I think I’ll get plenty at Cottonwood – my hope is I’ll be ready to answer them when they come. Stay healthy and run strong John.

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