JFK 50 Miler

Marathon Monday, 2010 - Race - Hopkinton > Boston - 26.2


Mile 22 – This was where the wheels on bus 4280 from Hopkinton to Boston started to come off. My right hamstring cramped up, and I stutter stepped from the shock of the sudden pain shooting up my right leg. Not again, I thought.

(The wheels on the bus go...)

In all of the excitement of cresting Heart Break in 2 hrs and 30 minutes, I had forgotten to follow through on part three of Plan A: race the flats, survive the up hills, and control myself on the down hills. Hamstring cramping has always been an issue for me, and the one issue that I’ve always had at Boston, and other marathons, including my qualifer in Portland, Maine late last year…

October 4th, 2009 - Race - Portland, ME - 26.2

I drove up to Portland the night before the Maine Marathon, and stayed in the same hotel as John and his timing crew from Bay State Race Services. They were the ones responsible for the timing of the race itself, and John managed to obtain a free pass for me to run the marathon. I was also allowed stay in one of the hotel rooms, since there was still room available after putting up his timers, at no cost to me. A big THANK YOU for everything, John!

Conditions on race morning were pretty close to ideal for a long distance run. Overcast skies, mid 50's, and your typical cool fall were in the forecast for the entirety of the race. If only the weather could be like this come April 19th, 2010....

Fortunately, I didn't have to get up as early as the rest of John's timing crew to set up (I think they were up around 4AM as this was a 7:45AM race), so I slept in a bit later and was able to take my time getting ready. Once I was ready I made my way down to the race area near the U of Southern Maine campus (less than 15 minutes from the hotel). There was plenty of parking in the garage, and packet pickup was less than a block away. This is exactly what you would want in a "big" race: stress-free organization. I actually couldn't believe how everything had fallen into place, and how smooth things were going so far. A sign of things to come for the rest of my first BQ? Hopefully.

I went out to the start/finish area to see John, and to kill about an hour of time before the race was scheduled to start. I was still basically wearing what I wore to bed the previous night, sweats and a sweater. John also gave me access to use the timing trailer/HQ to get ready and change into my running clothes when the time came. The trailer was about 10 feet from the starting line. Too good to be true.

After wandering around, anxiously, for about 30 minutes, I finally got on my battle gear and did a short warm-up. As they say, the longer the race, the shorter the warm-up.

I knew that I was ready coming into this day. I didn't follow any particular marathon training regiment, but I'd put in what I felt was the right amount of training to get me ready. I just had to focus on my goal and be disciplined enough to stick to it for the entire race.

The only goal for today was to just average under 7:17's per mile in order to get below the magic number of 3:10:59. I think every training run I had put in prior to this was comfortably below this threshold.

The very scenic Portland course is relatively tame based on what I had been told, and what I had read. I also received a few last minute tips from veteran runners who had completed the course, and it jived with all of my expectations. John gave me one last tip that still stays with me to this day: For the start of a marathon, find a comfortable pace and back off from that.

I positioned myself near the front of the pack, but not too close as I remember from timing this race in prior years that the race organizers love to use a cannon to signify the start. The mini Civil War cannon definitely packs a wallop and makes you jump right out of your shoes, and that’s exactly what everybody did, myself included, when it went off at 7:45AM.

I quickly settled into a 7:05 pace and tried not to get pulled into the early rush. Runners of all shapes and sizes quickly passed me, mainly due to the fact that the half-marathon event ran the same course as the full (similar to Baystate), before a turnaround point at mile 6 for the half.

I tucked behind other runners who I felt were going to run the same pace as myself, but quickly found myself ahead of them too. There was one cute girl that I ran with for about 2 miles, but looks can only take you so far in life, and running, so I dropped her around mile 4. We were now out on the outskirts of Portland and this was where the rolling hills began.

It was around this point that I came up on Dwane M. who I still stay in touch with to this day. I found out that he was from the Boston area and was also attempting to qualify for Boston. We stuck together for the next 20 or so miles. This was the first time that I had ever been able to run with someone, side-by-side, for this long during a race. It helped that he needed the same qualifying time as me, sub 3:10. Like runners often do, we silently agreed to work off one another and pull each other along.

It was easier to pace ourselves once we reached the 6 mile mark when the half-marathoner’s turned around to head back to the finish area. We now knew who were racing against and, surprisingly, Dwane and I weren’t that far behind the lead pack! We managed to fight the urge to go any faster, stuck with our 7:05 pace, and only going sub 7’s on the down hills.

Dwane and I would talk in short bursts and I would intermittingly announce our pace every few miles. We were consistently hanging onto a 7:05 pace at this point, and more importantly, it felt effortless. The one thing that I remember, from my run with Dwane, was that he knew how to run the down hills. I would fly up the hills (Thank You USATF NE Mountain Races!) and he would repay me the favor by flying past me on the down side. I wanted to stick with him, so I followed him down just as fast. We were now starting to pass the runners that passed us earlier.

The lead runner was about 2 miles ahead of us when we saw him, and the lead pack, come back home on the out-and-back course. It was nice to get some encouragement from other runners, still heading to the turnaround at mile 13, when we started to head back home ourselves. I still felt great with a split of 1 hr 32 minutes at the halfway mark.

It was around 15 that I took my first GU. I had another packet on me, and my plan was to use that one around 22 for the final kick. The other packet was actually a Hammer Gel, which I discovered at the Applefest Half a few weeks earlier, was much better at delivering the crucial energy that I would need. I just think that GU requires too much water to digest properly, and then it takes awhile to deliver the energy.

Around 20 was when I first noticed that Dwane was starting to fall back every time I made a surge to get up and down another set of hills. He was now fighting his own battle and I couldn’t stick around to help him. I had my own fight ahead of me. Just as quietly as we agreed to run together, we slowly parted ways.

I later learned that his legs started to cramp up on him, which was also in the back of my mind. Legs cramps have always been an issue that I’ve had in marathons, especially during my Boston bandit days. But I also kept on telling myself that that was Boston, and the nature of that beast. This is Portland. It couldn’t happen here too, could it?

That’s exactly what happened. Right on cue around mile 23, my legs muscles started to twitch and show the tell-tale signs of cramping. I eased up on the gas, and dropped my pace just a tad. I had one packet of GU left and I decided to take it for the final 5K, hoping the leg cramp would hold off just a bit longer.

I came up on the final hill, a bridge crossing the Back Cove, around Mile 24 and I remember a cross-wind was howling during this half mile crossing. Once I cleared this section in 7:28, I finally felt the surge of my final GU kicking in.

With that obstacle behind me, I now only had to hang in there to finish under the goal of 3 hrs and 10 minutes. I was on pace for about a 3:07 marathon. I began to see the final finishers of the half marathon as I came around the bend in the Back Cove. This stretch of road reminded me of running on a banked track. In other words, it felt very fast.

I started passing the half-marathoners’ as they cheered me on. Race photographers were set up in the middle of the road, snapping my pictures. Each cheer and each snap acted like a checkpoint in a racing video game, giving me a boost of energy at each crossing. My Garmin beeped off Mile 25 in 7:01.

I kicked it into overdrive and began my final sprint to the finish. My legs were loose and my mind was focused on one goal: finish strong.

I hit sub 7’s at a couple points during the final mile, and flew into the finish area not knowing where to go! I couldn’t recall if marathoners finished on the right or the left chute. I still don’t know if my timing buddies at the finish were playing a practical joke on me or they really thought I was a half-marathoner, but they started pointing to the left and then to the right, and then back to the left! I quickly slalomed between the road cones and finally settled on the left side, the correct side. I was lucky (and them too!) that I didn’t pull a muscle.

I finished the final mile in seven flat, and crossed the finish line in 3:07:14 for a 25th place finish out of 959 runners.


Dwane, my runner partner for 20 miles, managed to work out his cramps and finish about 38 seconds below the Boston cut-off time for our age-group!

I quickly cooled down and packed up my belongings. I was riding a tremendous high, and a faint hint of sadness, as I left Portland.

The only thing on my mind now, as I made my way home down 95 South, was…



  1. We were pointing you to the correct side...well, I was anyway...who knows what the rest of them were doing behind me!! :)

  2. Sure. You were in on it too, Jackie! :)