The Boston Marathon 2010
by Dionn Schaffner
3:32:57. If you want to know more, read on…but make sure you are seated comfortably….you know how I can get with my race reports….
Sometimes a race is more than just a run. It seemed to be a common theme this year in my circle. And what better stage than the 114th running of the Boston Marathon.
At the beginning of my marathon training season this year (which began about 10 days after my Triathlon season ended), I’m not even sure I had a specific training goal…as in a goal pace for the race. I just went in knowing that I would be doing a lot of running.
Last year, I had to balance my running within my Ironman training and while I successfully completed both my first Boston Marathon (with a 3-minute PR and requalifying for 2010) and my first Ironman (just over 14 hours), I knew I hadn’t given each race its all out best effort. But that wasn’t my goal that year. My goals that year were to get there, get it done and have an absolute blast while doing it. And, boy, did I!
However, Coach Maurice aptly put it, last year, I “participated”. This year…..this year was the year to “race”. That meant giving each race its own time, space and attention to train. And more importantly, Intensity on race day. He even went through my 2010 Tri Race calendar and crossed off races that I had planned on doing. I had already signed up for the Gulf Coast 70.3 as a GREAT practice for IMFL. The only problem was that it was 3 weeks after Boston. Mo said, “No way. You will spend time tri training for that race instead of focusing on Boston. And then you will run Boston with that 70.3 in the back of your head saying, ‘I can’t blow up – I have another race coming soon’ and you won’t give it your all.” Clearly, he knows me too well. Criss-Cross – off the list. Boston. Boston. Boston.
I had some early wins in the Team Rogue training process. Training runs where I kept up with Nedra and Ruth on shorter runs, staying shoulder to shoulder with Cindy Schlandt during strides, and keeping up with Chuck Duvall and Amy Anderson on some early long runs. They may not seem like big deals, but it got the wheels turning… hey..I’m hanging with kids who went 3:30 last year….could I do a 3:30 this year? And there it was…the little seed. Planted.
But seriously…3:30? That’s like 8 minute miles. For twenty-six point two miles.
That’s a long way to go at that speed for me. Especially considering my last year’s PR was 3:42… an 8:24/m pace. Shave twenty-four secs per mile…for twenty-six miles point two miles? Immediately the chant begins: BE AGGRESSIVE. B-E AGGRESSIVE. B-E A-GG-R-E-SS-I-V-E!
And with some convincing from instigator friends, the hunt began. I started training with the 3:30 pace group with Team Rogue. I had some good days and I had some bad days…but most days, I was keeping up. Mind you, it was BARELY keeping up, but keeping up nonetheless.
But as race day approached, I began to realize that it wasn’t going to be a physical challenge….it was going to be a mental one. This race was going to be more about what was going on in my head and in my heart than anything my legs were doing. I just wasn’t confident that I was physically capable of pulling it off. I’m not a runner….as Sisson so aptly puts it, I’m a dancer who runs…. I’m an accidental Boston qualifier, a poser. Sooner or later, I was going to be exposed for that…and this season might be it.
As many of you know from my FB statuses, I was needing A LOT of affirmation from you all. I held on to every positive workout I had. I looked at the pictures of my garmin that showed paces that started with 6s and 5s (albeit for super short distances – but I was needing every little bit of positivity I could find). I honestly had serious, SERIOUS doubts that I could pull it off. And yea, I was fishing for reinforcement and y’all didn’t disappoint. You kept feeding my positive vibes, telling me I could do it, reminding me of all the hard work and training I’d put in. I knew as my friends, y’all would back me on whatever crazy endeavor I said I wanted to do…and would do so exuberantly. Coach Sisson…on the other hand…he’s a straight shooter. He will tell you exactly how it is.
In fact, I was so nervous that my goal was such a stretch and that he wouldn’t agree to it, I was too scared to even talk to him about my final race plan. Everybody else had ironed and finalized their mile by mile plan with him…but I didn’t. I was way too scared. Scared he was going to say, No way. Give up that dream. It’s not going to happen. You aren’t that fast. I didn’t tell him what my plan was…until the night before.
And as I suspected, I did not get the RAH RAH, You are totally gonna crush it, pat on the back, you’ve got this thing, no worries kid, type of speech that my friends gave me. He said, “This is a big goal for you. You are going to have to have a really really good race and have lots of things go right to get it. But you know what? You have your plan, now go execute it. You’re a gamer. Somehow you bring it on game day. You have a plan and you follow it. That’s what you do.” I knew he didn’t want to completely rain on my parade, but I could tell….he had serious, serious and realistic doubts. He’s no bullshitter.
I walked away from that conversation thinking, I knew it. He doesn’t think I can do it. Why do I think I could possibly do it? But I AM a gamer. There’s definitely something different about race day conditions for me when I’m there to race and not just participate. I’m a performer…Give me a stage, or a spotlight, or some screaming fans…and baby, it’s On! I think that’s one of the reasons I love racing in my team kits. Gives me that performance-level super suit feeling. Race days aren’t every day training days. You suit up special for race day because race day performance is special.
I mulled over my talk with Sisson during our last team dinner. Listening in on everyone’s conversations around me, but circling, circling in my head. I was so nervous, I didn’t even have a beer! Can I? Should I go for it? Is it too aggressive? Will I show up on race day? Am I physically capable of pulling this off? Am I mentally capable? This is WAY out of my comfort zone here and I had lots and lots of doubts.
I leaned over to Mike, “Sisson doesn’t think I can do it.” “What?” he replied. “He doesn’t think I can go 3:30.” Mike: “Yes, you can. Trust your training. You can do it. I know it.” I mulled it over some more. Maybe Sisson is trying some of his Jedi mind tricks…throwing down a challenge, because you know I’m always down for a challenge. Some of his athletes need the Rah Rah speech, maybe I need the “Oh yea? Then prove it to me” speech.
Fortunately the rest of the evening was filled with positive messages, calls and texts from my inner circle. Supporting me, cheering me, calming me, energizing me and most of all believing in me. And by the time I went to bed….I believed in me too.
Race morning was surprisingly uneventful. I was nervous…but the good kind of nervous. The kind of nervous that you can morph into a powerful energy and use. It felt good. It felt invigorating. I felt alive. I felt ready.
We got through all of the logistics of getting ourselves to the club buses that then took us to the start. It’s kind of weird riding in a bus for what seems like over an hour and think, ok – now just run back the way you came. Team Rogue took up a lot of the first bus. It was good to have everyone around. Everyone was feeling pumped and ready to roll. We’d all been through some bad ass training together and now it was time to prove that it works.
I was one of the few Team Roguers that were in the second wave, so I hung out on the bus after all the wave 1 folks left, hit the restroom a final time and made my way to the starting line. I was in corral 17. Just three back from the start of wave 2. A good place to be….but it was crowded. 3:45 qualifying time must be popular!
I was loaded with all my nutrition, my paceband and garmin on my left wrist (auto pause off, virtual running partner on 8:01/m pace, autolap ON), my faithful timex on my right (that would keep track of chip time in case something screwy happened with my garmin and GPS..I wanted to make sure I knew what the running clock was at all times.)
Overall race plan was this:
Miles 1-5: Get in. Get going. Find your groove. Bank a little time, but not a lot.
Miles 6-16: Ten miles of exposition-type rollers. You can do these in your sleep.
Miles 17-21: Warm up is over. Time for some hill work.
Miles 22-26.2: Close. Leave Nothing on the course.
And we were off! I was a little nervous in Mile 1 because my plan called for banking 8 secs each mile for the first 8, so I could have those for the hills. So that meant 7:53/M pace. But everyone in that corral was running closer to 3:45 (8:25/M) pace. I had to weave and go around folks..and it was making me nervous. And rightfully so. Mile 1 came…8:05. Shit. Shit. Shit. I need to find some open space and find my groove. Move people. MOVE. Anything I feel before mile 5 doesn’t count for shit. I know I need 5-7 miles before I start to feel like an actual runner, but I need to get moving here.
Miles 2-4, I made up some time per my plan by going 7:42, 7:46, 7:47. Ok…I’m back on pace where I should be. Phew.
Mile 5. Oops…relaxed a little too much 8:05. Plus dealt with throwing down a Gu. That always slows me down a bit. Dang it. Get back after it D. You’ve only got bankable miles through Mile 8…then its steady MGP time. Get there.
Miles 6-7 went 7:51 and 7:53. Ok…back on pace. Good. Toss down some thermolytes.
Mile 8. Dang it. Again with the too much relaxing. F*ck! 8:08. No problem. Miles 9-16 are supposed to be steady MGP, but I feel good at just sub 8’s, so I’ll get there. Here we go:
Mile 9-16 went steadily by. I didn’t take as much notice of my surroundings as last year. I could hear all the fans yelling and screaming, but they were really just ambient noise this day. My inner dialog was cranked up to 11! My splits went: 7:58, 8:00, 8:04 (oops), 7:59, 7:56, 8:07 (battled getting my Gu down and then getting through the water stop and trying to actually get some water in my body instead of up my nose…nice, D, you look like a freakin’ rookie out here trying to get water..sheesh…how embarrassing. Focus. FOCUS!), 8:11, 8:06.
And then the real dialog began.
Bing, BING, Bing. Attention. Attention. May I have your attention please. We are now entering the hill phase of this workout. Please fasten your seatbelts and put your tray tables in their full upright and locked position. The warm up is officially over. Please prepare to WORK.
Ok, D. Here we go. We have a 10-mile run workout that starts now. 5 miles of hills. 5 miles of closing. You are a little bit behind pace, but not too much. We have one goal at this point. Get through the hills and give yourself a chance to close. That’s it. You don’t have to crush them, just do them. All we need is a chance to close. Just the opportunity. You are a closer. That’s what you do. You close. We just need to get in a position to give ourselves a chance to do what we do best. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Just a chance. Let’s do this thing.
Mile 17 – 8:21 (shit. 10 seconds slower than what I wanted. C’mon D.)
Mile 18 – 8:15 (better. Plan said 8:16. Good)
Mile 19 – 8:01 (plan was 8:05. Getting close)
Mile 20 – 8:21 (plan was 8:15. Still having trouble navigating water stops. Dang it. I’m running with a damn bottle next year. F*ck it.)
Mile 21 – 8:32 Heartbreak Hill. Even though I was passing people right and left, my plan said 8:21. Dang it.
Bing, BING, Bing. Attention. Attention. May I have your attention please. You are now leaving the hill phase of this workout. Congratulations. Now go kick some ass.
I came out of the hills feeling good. Yea, my quads were a little tight, but my spirit was awesome. I looked around and saw the agony and defeat on some other runners faces and thought, not me. Not this day. I’m fixin to close the bad boy out right here. Let’s do this thing. WOO HOO!
I had fire and I was ready to go. I’d lost a little time in the hills and sub 3:30 was probably out. But I still felt very confident about 3:30:59. I was ready to get back to 7:50s and lower. I’m a closer. That’s what I do. And now it was time to close.
But then I felt it. That little f*cking tingling whisper in the back of the calf. What? WHAT? You have got to be kidding me! I take a quick glance down at my race belt. Nope…didn’t miss taking any nutrition or thermolytes along the way. I drank TONS of water (even inhaled some through my nose for good measure). My belly wasn’t sloshing or anything. WHY? WHY? I do NOT have time for CRAMPS!!
I started into the emergency stash of Thermolytes….please lord let these get there in time. I switched to Gatorade at the water stops. But to no avail…the tingling was getting stronger and more frequent.
God Dammit! I had just been watching a special on Apollo 13 the earlier in the week and I felt like that command center. Ok, we’ve had an explosion with our main thrusters…we need to switch to auxiliary power systems to guide the ship back safely. Shut down the calves STAT! (I knew Mike would cringe at that word and I smirked through the pain). Re-route all systems. GO GO GO!! We only have a few seconds to shut those down before they explode and crank up the other systems so we don’t lose time. Move it, people. MOVE IT!
So instead of using my calves, I switched to running, one-legged cycling drill style…..all hip flexor, no calf, no foot. I was flat footed and loud as I kept pounding the pavement. I could hear what Amy’s response would’ve been (“quiet feet Dionn, quiet feet!) …but I had no choice. I did not, could not stop for cramps.
Miles 22 and 23 went 8:11 and 8:18 as I battled, willed, begged, pleaded, emplored by calves to not cramp up. Please, please, please. I just need a few more miles. You can do this. Stay with me. Stay with me!! Ugh. I was cramping even earlier than last year. Last year hit me at mile 24 and barely made it those last two miles…now I’ve got to keep it together for four????? F*CK!
Going into mile 24, I felt like I’d mastered my no calf/no foot running style and started to pick up the pace. Little circles with the hip flexor. Circle, circle, circle. Just picking up the foot. And putting it back down. Pick it up. Put it down. 8:05. Better. But I think we’ve missed our window of landing on the moon. Now our job is to return everyone home safely to Earth. Pick it up, put it down. If we have the wrong entry trajectory, we will simply burn up entering Earth’s atmosphere. We need to focus on getting in and getting in safely. No hot dogging. Mile 25 – 8:06.
I was definitely bummed as I didn’t get my chance to close….and I was really, really ready to hammer it home. I said to hell with it, we’ve got 1.2 to go…let’s push it just a little bit more. I pushed and cramped and pushed and cramped my way down to 8:00. I knew I was resembling those video clips of runners hobbling down the final stretch…dragging a cramped and locked appendage towards that finish line. The last 200 meters or so I limped, hobbled, ran at a 7:50 pace. Crossed the finish line, clicked my watch and could barely read the 3:32:xx. Damn it. So close. So. Close.
I hobbled through the finishing chute and each time I stopped to pick up whatever goody they were handing out (water, blanket, goodie bag, medal, dry clothes bag), snipers shot me in the back of my legs and full throttle cramps seized my calves. It took me a few moments to get going each time but I managed.
Dammit. Dammit. Dammit. I missed it. GRRRRR!!!! Tears welled up in my eyes. Last year I cried for entirely different reasons. This time it was from disappointment. And now I’m crying in the finishers shoot. Medical asked me if I needed help. I said No. I can’t believe I couldn’t pull together 2 minutes…..2 freakin little minutes over the course of 3 and a half hours! Seriously, D…how lame is that! DAMMIT! I mean we are talking, what, 3 seconds of every minute. There…in just that long to think that statement, I could’ve run faster and made 3:30. GRRRRRR!!! UGH! All that hard work…and to miss it, by two minutes. Dammit.
But then my iPhone started pinging and vibrating. Text message after text message. Facebook alert after Facebook alert started rolling in.
“You did it!”
“Way to rock it!”
“I’m so proud of you!!”
“You are my inspiration!”
And I was like…hey, wait a minute….yea…maybe it wasn’t such a bad race afterall. I DID take 10 minutes off my time from last year. I did requalify. I posted a quick status on FB to which more responses came pouring in. And with each one, I began to feel better and better about the race. As I continued the couple blocks walk through the finish line and back to the hotel, I felt better and better with each step. (Although my calves still felt like shit). And by the time I got to my room and through a quick shower, I was excited.
I joined the rest of the team in the bar, got HUGE hugs and congrats from my teammates. And also a very heartfelt hug and “I am so proud of you” from Coach Sisson. Who honestly stated, “I didn’t think you could do it. I wasn’t sure if you had it in you…here (pointing to my heart), but you did. And you did it! Now we know what’s possible…when you believe. And now you believe it. And I believe it too.”
A few moments later I got a text from Coach Maurice: “You are a BAD ASS!! Welcome to racing! You know how to do it!!” To which I responded, “Was that enough race intensity to start the season?” “You put a big “!” after Intensity.”
We continued to celebrate into the late night, rehashing our journeys mile by mile and step by step. Everyone had personal struggles, both physically and mentally, that they had to overcome to get to the starting line and down to the finish. There were cheers and tears, laughter and libations as we toasted well into the night.
It’s been a fantastic journey…one I couldn’t have done without so many of you. My sincerest thanks to my family for their unwavering commitment and putting up with my crazy schedule, my friends for your words of encouragement and support, my teammates for dragging me around runs and urging me to test my limits, my coaches for their wisdom, plans, critiques and comments. This 3:32 is every bit yours as it is mine…for without you…all of you….it would not be.
And now..get ready, people. I’ve got a taste of racing…and guess what… I LIKE IT! I’m going sub-3:30 next year. Boston 2011. Who’s in?!?!?!?