BACK TO RACING
We were and still are in a pandemic and things have been far from normal for a very long time. One of the things that changed or stopped rather, was racing. How can you justify gathering thousands of sweaty, gross people to race against each other if it’s going to become a super-spreader event?
Once it was decided that being outside was safe and that the vaccines were available, races started to pop again. The B.A.A. announced that the 2021 Boston Marathon would take place, but in October instead of April for safety, and I wanted in. My 2019 Eugene Marathon time of 2:57 was used as my qualifier and it got me in!
TRAINING FOR A MARATHON AGAIN
Running is fun, right?
I was very excited at the idea of running a marathon with my peers again so I started amping up mileage this summer. I was doing a lot of 15-17 milers for fun but no speedwork or real structured training. Then, I started running with my speedy friends BW and Jim (and a few others). One day we were out running and they were like, “Baker, where are you in your training plan?” I was like, “Training plan? We have 3 months until the race, so I haven’t built one yet.” They replied, “Baker… the race is in 12 weeks.”
So I built an aggressive 12-week training plan.
During this training plan, BW and I would push mileage far with some long runs, getting up to 23 miles. It would turn out to be my best training cycle since the 2015 Paris Marathon (my PR).
TRAVERSE THE PLANET
Emily and I jumped on an 11AM train out of Penn on Saturday that got us into town by 3.
It was a brisk 55-60 degrees out and we walked to our hotel (The Bostonian) over by Faneuil Hall. With not much to do until dinner, we decided to hit the Expo and get my bib. It was pretty painless, not crowded and very safe as far as a pandemic goes. I told Emily she was in charge of a place for us to go afterward for snacks and wine.
She directed us to a place just off Boylston called Krasi. It was a Greek place that was evidently new and pretty hot. As we approached, there were a group of well-dressed Bostonians waiting for Krasi to open at 5. Things were heating up.
We took the only seats available which were at the bar – the whole place was booked with reservations. We ordered 5-6 items to share off the menu and had a number of amazing Greek wines, which I love. Every time someone came in to grab a table, the staff notified them that were no availabilities until 9:30pm! Emily had rocked it in regards to picking a great dinner spot for us!
THE HARD ROCK CAFE
We had a room in The Bostonian, right across from the Hard Rock Cafe. I think that if you 100% love getting diarrhea and heartburn, then yes, Hard Rock Cafe is for you. But I’m not a fan. I can confirm because I was employed by them in Baltimore, so I know where that food is coming from.
Anyway… those assholes have an outdoor PA system playing music to lure unsuspecting victims into their establishment. At like 3AM I woke up because their music was still blasting. I had to call the front desk… in my calmest demeanor. As it turns out, they had already called the cops because a bunch of other guests (probably runners) complained and soon after, the shitty music stopped. But my point is… if this were on race night it would NOT have been ideal. So that’s what I was thinking about the rest of the night.
THE DAY BEFORE THE SHOW
Sunday morning, I did a 2-mile shakeout run around Boston Common, which is something I’ve done the last few Boston Marathons I’ve run. It’s a pretty simple run, but you get to see a lot of other runners doing the same thing. It’s so fun and inspiring.
We went to breakfast followed by Barking Crab for lunch, a tradition I’ve kept up since my first Boston Marathon. We met Emily’s friends Matt and Ariel there and had a really fun and relaxing time.
The rest of the afternoon was spent at the hotel watching Despicable Me and staying off my feet.
I had made us reservations at Fox and the Knife, a restaurant that had popped up on my radar and looked pretty amazing. We arrived at 6:30 and BW joined us shortly after. We had a caesar salad, tortellini en brodo, wild boar bolognese and chocolate cake as a closer. I also had 2 glasses of delicious Falanghina wines while BW chatted race strategy.
In bed and asleep by 10… and no, Hard Rock didn’t wake me that night thankfully.
I woke up at 6AM easily… I’m old now so the early stuff doesn’t hurt as much as it used to. I also skipped going out to the club last night. I grabbed us coffee at the Dunks and chilled for a bit as I had a little time to relax. After gearing up, I kissed Emily goodbye and set off for battle.
PRE BATTLE THOUGHTS
As I was walking through town I got a little emotional and said out loud, “The Gods are with us today.” Trust me, there are races where the elements are not in your favor, and those days are very tough because all of your training becomes void. I knew we had weather conditions in our pocket which meant… perfect training, good health, great sleep, proper fueling… no excuses. I was going to set it off.
THE SH(COOL) BUS
I tried to find BW at our designated meeting place, but he’s bad with directions so was nowhere to be found. At 7:30 I made the call to just go. Approaching the Wave 1 buses I saw my little sister (as I like to think of her) Robin and hugged her. I then heard “Baker!” It was D who was waiting in line to get on a bus. I jumped on the bus that was in front of his with plans to intercept him at drop off.
In an odd twist of events the bus we were on drove down the road we would normally walk down to the start, bypassing the school waiting area. Totally wild. It was like a limo drove us to the very front. I have no idea why this happened but all of us on board loved it.
I united with D, Ben, and BW at the porto potty stop right before the start. Weirdly enough this is the spot I’ve linked up with other runner friends in years past. It was a rolling start this year, meaning, you just start running when you feel like it, so I was completely at ease without the anticipation of a start time.
BW, D, and I walked up toward the start line (like bad asses mind you as Aerosmith’s ‘Dream On’ was blasting). We stopped right on the blue and gold painted start line, fist bumped, hit start on our watches, and began running. It was beyond cool; it was epic. To be toeing the line in Boston with no one around was a truly amazing feeling.
FALL FROM THE SKY
Miles 1 to 16 in Boston are all downhill. The goal for us was to hold back and keep it together running a steady 6:50 pace. It’s very easy to get caught up in the downhills and speed ahead of pace, destroying yourself in the beginning only to have a horrible back half.
BW and I were having a good time. I would shout out paces “48!” meaning 6:48, every time we hit a split. It’s very suburban for the first 9 miles, maybe even rural, but the crowds were out in full swing cheering us on! We started sharing aid station duties to conserve energy. I would take BW’s order, which was either Gatorade or water, and then hand it off to him before getting my cocktail of choice. At the next aid station, BW would take my order. It’s very strategic and really helps keep the pace on target.
We were hitting the numbers spot on and feeling good. I ate my first of two gels at Mile 9.
WE’RE HALFWAY THERE
At the 13.1 mark we clocked in at 1:30:xx which was good, but not great if we were aiming for 3 hours. It would leave little to no wiggle room, plus we had the Newton Hills to tackle up ahead.
At Mile 14.5, my Aunt Jen jumped onto the course yelling and cheering me on, which gave me a boost of energy! She lives right off the course and always has an amazing Boston Marathon party. I attended one year and had fun, but also had severe FOMO from not running.
PREPARE FOR LANDING
Just before Mile 16, you finally hit this monster downhill followed by a right turn toward Newton and its many hills. We took it as easy as we could going down the hill and I noted that my quads were already busted bad.
I then saw Gary and Jill cheering us on!
PREPARE FOR TAKEOFF
Miles 17-21 is a series of 3 uphill climbs ending with Heartbreak Hill. The strategy was to conserve energy and reduce our stride, saving the attack for after mile 21.
These hills actually felt good, since it was my quads that were destroyed from the downhills. I stayed steady, used my arms and tried to keep my breathing rhythmic. It was on these hills that I saw friends Shane, Susan (my new colleague… did you hear that I joined Triplemint?), Aimee and a few others cheering me on. It helped push me tremendously. Our pace here was just over 7 minutes per mile.
I was also waving to all the Boston College kids to bring the noise, which they did.
As we crested the top of Heartbreak Hill, BW picked up his pace and I followed. Miles 22 and on are false downhills so if you want to make a move, that’s the place to do it. I had my second of two gels here.
We were still hitting the 6:45-6:50 pace mark, which I thought was good, but BW disagreed. He cruised up next to me at Mile 22 and said, “Baker, you need to run the last 4 miles at a 6:30 pace flat to hit your goal.” I yelled to him, “6:30s?!” His response was a somber nod. I inhaled deeply and took off like it was the end of the world, arms swinging, legs BURNING.
The aid stations were on the right for the last 4 miles, so I moved all the way left, planning on not taking in any more fluids, focusing on getting to the finish as fast as possible.
I summoned up some strength I never knew I had for this final battle. I did not look at the crowd but straight ahead, with tunnel vision, running the tangents and keeping my running form in check. My legs hurt more than they have ever hurt in my entire life, but my heart was steady and my mind clear. I kept saying my mantra over and over in my head, “There is no pain, only glory.”
Mile 22: 6:38
Mile 23: 6:41
Mile 24: 6:26
Mile 25: 6:31
Emily was cheering around the Mass Ave. bridge, but it was so crowded, I missed her.
At this point I felt like I was running in some alternate dimension, passing everyone. As I took the right on Hereford and the left on Boylston, the finish line could not have seemed further away.
Approaching the finish, which only took about 2 minutes in total, I was running harder and faster than I’ve ever ran in a Marathon. I left everything I had on that course.
Mile 26: 6:37
Mile 0.2: 5:53
As I crossed the finish line, I had no clear idea of what my time was. I checked my Garmin, which said I was a few seconds over the 3 hour mark.
I was thrilled with my performance. My time didn’t necessarily matter as I knew I had pushed myself to the brink of collapse.
I walked on past the finish line with a huge smile on my face. I stopped to stretch on the side and to wait for BW to come through. He finished seconds after me and was happy as well. We chatted about the race while walking through the chute before finally parting ways.
FAMILY MEET UP
I grabbed the bag of crunch Cheetos from the snack pack they gave me (yes, there were actually Cheetos) and munched on them while I walked to the family zone to find Emily.
After a few minutes she found me and gave me a big congrats hug. She also let me know that my finish time was 3:00:00! 3 Flat! How does that happen? I was thrilled at the obscure finish time. We then hopped in a cab to make our way back to the hotel so I could shower before the after party.
AFTER THE PARTY IT’S THE AFTERPARTY
After a quick shower and change of clothes, we walked over to The Black Rose, an Irish pub I specifically picked as it sounded ominous. My friend Kiera and her boyfriend Vince were already there. We celebrated with beers and some hearty Irish fare before heading out to the train at 5.
What a day this was! What a hard, painful race this turned out to be. Was it shocking? No… it’s The Boston Marathon, one of the hardest marathon courses out there. I’m thrilled though. I executed my race plan to the tee and it paid off. Have a plan! Follow the plan and do not deviate!
Thank you to everyone who believed and still believes in me. I saw you on the course cheering. I got your text messages and emails. It fuels me and is why I do this. The running community is tight and I cherish everyone I’ve met through the years that support me. I hope you enjoyed the show.
The human body is capable of so much more than our mind is trained to understand. Free your mind and push your body to new levels. We are all Beyond Defeat… we just need to rise to the occasion.