Boston, You Make My Heart Sing – 2011 Boston Marathon Recap

After running amongst 25,000 of the Worlds fastest runners, with another 500,000 or so people cheering from the sidelines, I now know there’s a reason the Boston Marathon is THE marathon…it was an experience I surely won’t soon forget…that is of course (2 days later), if I can totally clear my head and remember….here we go…the marathon of all blogs (you may want to grab some gatorade to get through this one)!

If you’ve been reading along and following my blog, you’ve read some stories from the past few months of my training…you’ve read along and discovered what drives me, and hopefully have been encouraged to find what drives you and take some action to obtain whatever it is you seek.  You know where I stand when it comes to health and fitness, and why I believe one must be “Fit to be Live” (as in vibrant and full of energy)…or expanded one step further…ALIVE…..and if you made it all the way to last week….you understand that I’ve learned some very important lessons along my journey to this point….and maybe most importantly, that peak performance relies equally on mental strength and endurance as it does physical prowess…..and that my friends….a lesson in the balance of mental and physical strength and toughness is what the 26.2 miles through the towns surrounding Boston and down Boylston Street hammered home…..enjoy my Boston Marathon weekend recap below:

When Friday evening finally arrived, and my work week was officially behind me, it was time to really focus on preparation…..eating or “Fueling” had become a sport as I was attempting to truly carbo-load and consume approximately 5 grams of Carbohydrate / lb. of body weight…or near 750 grams of carbohydrate (please NEVER do this unless you too are training for a serious endurance event).  It was ridiculous…I felt like I was stuffing myself, and with plenty of the things I’d normally recommend limiting to someone looking to say fit (plenty of refined carbs, pizza, juices and gatorades)…in this very rare instance, the more carbs the better.  I went to sleep full to the brim, and woke up the next morning feeling the same.

When we arrived in Boston on Saturday the first thing I wanted to do was drive the dreaded “Newton Hills”…a series of 3 hills (so I thought..more on that in a bit) that stretch from mile 17 through 21, to see just how dreaded they were.  And after going up them in a car…I wasn’t scared…but not to worry…they didn’t disappoint!

After sitting in Fenway park traffic (damn Red Sox) we finally made it to the expo and I was back to fueling…except this time my wife Amy and I got to sample every energy bar, gel, drink, or any other running-guru product our hearts desired at this legendary pre-race tradition.  This was an event unto itself….I got my calves (reluctantly) massaged, I tried on compression gear that had built in compartments for icing, kicked in my fair share of the $35 million dollars that this weekends events brought to Boston, and even met one of my idols, Dick Hoyt.  If you’re not familiar with Dick and his son Rick’s story…you’ve got to see their video at  http://www.teamhoyt.com/.  What an amazing inspiration!

(side note, when I met Dick and asked him if he was ready for the race he calmly stated “No, I tore my hamstring a month ago and have a partial tear in my meniscus…I’ve only done two 5k’s (3.1 miles) to prepare for this race (26.2 miles)…..but after 30 years of doing this, I think I’ve got a decent base!”)

Me and Dick Hoyt

And after we’d spent enough time (and more than enough money), Amy and I decided to walk the finish line…I wanted to see and cross the finish first hand so I could envision a successful event 48 hours prior to actuality…and looking back, it was a good thing I did.

Sunday came, and I had finally decided my race strategy (better late then never I guess) and was ready to calculate my splits….I was going to go for it and do my best to break the 3 hour mark….this was my life-time running goal…something I hadn’t yet totally prepared for physically or mentally….but having had the benefit of an incredible support network back home (16 of whom made the trek to support me) that included an amazingly passionate “family” (both blood related all those members of the greater Pro-Activity family), a team of colleagues that include physical therapists and trainers who know a thing or two about running, and a few local elite runners (Julie Culley & Frances Koons) that I had the humbling pleasure to train with a few times….I started questioning just how much capacity I had….and even started believing that it MIGHT be possible…and with that (and another helpful push from more stringent qualifying standards for next year’s race)…I decided I was going to go out and get up to speed fast, and try like hell to hang on.

(An aggressive strategy…7:00 min @ mile 1, 6:50’s x 2 miles, then 6:40’s through mile 16, 7:20’s through the Netwon Hills, and 6:50’s through the finish)

In retrospect, I think it took me so long to come to this goal because, in full disclosure, I was afraid of failure….God forbid I expose myself a bit for the world to see….but this single act, to state publicly (or at least to some closest to me) and get out of my comfort zone, that I was going to go for it…has proven to be the best lesson I could have learned…..so after a night of tossing and turning, on a stomach filled with pasta….I awoke (at 5:30a for a 10:00a race), ready to stare Boston in the face, and give it all I had…

After I choked down a half bagel (still full from the carbo loading), some gatorade, and nibbled on a powerbar…I along with other race participants staying at our hotel were shuttled to “Athletes Village” at Hopkinton High School, where we would sit for 2 hours prior to being corralled into the starting gates by estimated finish time…and interestingly, with all these phenomenal runners around, I couldn’t help but feel homeless as we huddled together to stay warm wearing trash bags and sitting on old newspapers to keep our rear-ends dry (see picture)

Athletes Village....a home for "homeless" runners pre-Boston Marathon

At 9:15a, (after plenty hydrating and subsequent porta-john visits)….my “wave” was called…it was an honor to be in the first “wave” of runners amongst the fastest, and having the opportunity to start just a few minutes behind the Elite’s that included last year’s winner Robert Cheruiyot (Kenya), American record-holder Ryan Hall, and this year’s winner (who happened to run the world’s fastest marathon time ever recorded) Geoffrey Mutai (Kenya).  And at 10:00am, after the national anthem and a last second prayer…I was off!

Tight out of the gates....I did a lot of lateral movement and could only get up to a 7:15 pace in the first mile

Experts say to take it easy on the quick descent out of Hopkinton and save your quads for later in the race…I did my best to listen (as I sit here with heat packs on my quads to loosen and then stretch), and the crowds kept me a little slower than I would have liked….after mile 1 I was already about 15 seconds behind where I wanted to be…..thankfully things started to spread out, and I was able to begin making up some ground by quickly moving my pace to a 6:45 / mile, and finished my first 5k only 12 seconds behind my target.

At that point, I really started to hit my groove, and the next 4 miles seemed to fly by…I’d look down at my Garmin GPS watch and I’d find myself zipping up and down the hills averaging around a 6:35 pace and feeling amazing…..I’d be slapping high fives with little kids along the way…..and by the 10k (6.2 miles) point I cautiously started to get optimistic….maybe I could actually do this…

Another 1/2 mile passed and I was feeling great physically.  I couldn’t believe that my fitness was at a point where I could run a 6:30-6:40 mile consistently after 6 miles in the books and not be gasping for air….and just when I started to lose focus a bit…I caught a glimpse of my Mom and cheering contingent out of the corner of my eye….and another 200 meters up….I heard the familiar bellow of my Dad….(at one point his big mouth, “squeeze” chants, and rebel yells were literally legendary amongst NJ wrestling…kid you not)!  And just when I needed…my brother Greg jumped on the course with me….

Almost Missed Them...but these Loudmouths could Scream!

Greg was great…he’s this positive guy who knows just who he is, and isn’t afraid to stand for what’s important to him (thankfully in this case that was me)…and although none of us Eisenhart men stand with tremendous stature…..Greg had no problem pushing his way through runners who were elbow to elbow, just to clear a path for me!  Thanks Greg…you are truly one of a kind!

At about the 15k point (9.3 miles) I was cruising…feeling great, and gaining confidence….the hills kept rolling, but so did I…6:45, 6:40, 6:35, 6:30 and at this point I was under target pace and averaging a 6:48 mile!  I kept rolling, uplifted as I went by the sight of family and friends…even had the energy to blow a kiss to my wife (what a cheeseball I can be)!

My Family Keeps Me Pushing

As I closed in on the half way mark, I began realizing that I was about to PR (personal record) my half-marathon distance by a substantial amount…and while the infamous Wellesley girls were most definitely loud around mile 13-14, I can’t say it was them that got me across 13.1 at 1:29:03 (39 seconds faster than my previous PR in VA Beach this past September)!  But shortly thereafter….reality set in…..I had to repeat the effort I just put in, and still get through the hills (side-note…..why do people make so much of the “Newton Hills”….the whole damn course is up and down hills).

The next few miles were a bit of a blur…I remember coming through a few towns…and the support on the course from the locals and other spectators was phenomenal…but I just kept focusing on “the hills”, which I expected to start at mile 17 just after turning into Newton.  I knew I was still on pace to finish sub 3 hrs. but I’d have to average 7:20’s through the hills….and then to my surprise…”the hills” seemed to start at mile 16 and my right quad was starting to let me know and talk back to my brain and the slight confidence it possessed.

And then, like clock-work one of my biggest cheerleaders popped out of nowhere….ever see the movie Rudy where the guy says “you’re 5 foot nothing…100 and nothing….”…well that’s my sister Amy….but like Rudy….she’s got enough heart for an army…and she got me up that unexpected hill and kept me in check.

Enter Newton, the dreaded terrain, the true “race”…I knew I couldn’t do it alone…if at all….and I was starting to fatigue big time.  I needed to average 7:20’s through the hills to have a chance at sub 3…and if there was one person who is tough enough, stubborn enough…and inspiring enough to help me through…it’s my brother Mike (an Ironman in training who ran a 10 mile PR just the day before).  Mike picked me up around mile 17, and the plan was to take me through mile 21, leaving me at Boston College for a final cheer from my Loudmouths and push to the city.

The true race begins at mile 17!

Through the Newton hills Mike was an absolute machine…having just finished a race the day before…and running at a pace likely a shade faster than his norm…he kept me moving….when the wind blew in my face, he jumped out ahead and tried his best to “get big” and allow me to draft (not that easy for a guy who’s been shedding weight due to Ironman training)….when I needed fluid / fuel…he ran ahead to the water / gatorade stop…gave me one and carried another just in case….when I thought I had nothing left climbing hill two of three (just before heartbreak hill)….he screamed at the crowd….he announced our precense!  “THIS IS ERIC, THIS IS ERIC…FIRST TIME BOSTON MARATHON….GO ERIC!”, he yelled to the crowd and got them to return!  And he did this while climbing up the hills with me at about a 7:35 pace, and down sub 6:30.  Mike was strong, but my tank was running close to empty…and my calves started to feel as though they were literally boiling…the strangest cramping sensation I’ve ever had….and then there it was….mile 20 and HEARTBREAK Hill!

I don’t remember a ton about this part of the race…I couldn’t look up to the top for fear of what it might do to my head…I just wanted to get through it…for it to be over…..Mike continued to build me up….and as we crested the most famous hill in all of marathons….my mental strength started to waver.  I decided at that point I had to stretch, concerned that if I didn’t, my calves may lock-up and not let me finish…that, and mentally I was not prepared to push through another 5 miles….what would turn out to be the longest 5 miles of my life.

As the next half mile slowly ticked by…all I could think about was “it’s only a 5 mile loop”….you see, growing up my Dad would run this 5 mile loop course around our house….it has since become a staple of my training routes.  But as I did my best to talk myself up to where I needed to be to break the 3 hour mark (about 6:40 from here on out)….my body would not agree as my calves and quads continued to “boil” with cramping…and my mind even less…..At this point I knew sub 3 hours was out of the question….and I immediately shifted my focus to my original goal…sub 3:05 (a 5 minute PR).  Mike encouraged, and pushed me….”Where do you want to be from here on out?”….and in between breaths…I told him 7:03’s….as this would ensure I’d break 3:05.

Things are still a little cloudy from this point and I was struggling to maintain a 7 minute pace on as we strolled down Beacon street into Boston…..I so desperately wanted to just stop.  I could see the famous Citgo Sign oustide of Fenway park…I knew I was close…but still it seemed so far away.  And with only one mile left, just before the final two turns onto Boylston street….with my brother hollering, blocking the wind, encouraging me….for a brief 20 seconds….I stopped to stretch AGAIN.

If you would have told me that I would not have the mental strength to push myself non-stop through the last mile, I would have never believed you….but in that moment (and looking back)….it was the most risky…yet likely rewarding move I made in the race.  Stopping too long would assuredly make me miss the 3:05 mark…but not stretching at all or collecting my head would likely have kept me from my final push.

Mike told me last night that my final kick was impressive…that we passed at least a hundred people in the final turn onto Boylston street….I remember seeing the finish…seeing all the faces in the crowd…but couldn’t hear them as my head was 100% filled with the finish line….I remember desperately trying to repeat an uplifting song on my ipod (consequently causing me to “donate” my ipod to Boston as it flew from my hand)….I remember passing a runner as he looked back to help another…but don’t remember “the other” who had just fallen face first only a few yards from the finish…….I remember completely emptying the tank….leaving it all out there and pushing the last 100 yards to the finish…I remember Mike telling me to hold my hands high and be proud…I remember giving thanks to God for helping me get through it, and for all the people both in Boston and back home who were routing and supporting me….I remember stopping my watch as I crossed the finish with a 3:04:45 PR!  I remember giving Mike a hug and thanking him…he’ll probably never know just how much he did for me in this race…but I know I wouldn’t have made it without him.  I remember stumbling through the gates pleased with my PR and my most recent running accomplishment.  But, like you might expect if you know me at all… having now learned that I can in fact break the 3 hour mark with the proper balance of mental & physical endurance…..I’m not yet satisfied!  See you at Marine Corps!!!

The Final Push, .2 miles at 5:15 pace to PR!

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4 thoughts on “Boston, You Make My Heart Sing – 2011 Boston Marathon Recap

  1. Herm Hoffmann

    Eric,

    Congratulations! What an amazing accomplishment that is so well chronicled. I really enjoyed reading your “step by step” journey. What a supportive family.

  2. Thanks Katelyn….it was quite an experience! When is Mike’s tri…would like to come watch / support

  3. Katelyn

    Wow – congrats, this is awesome. What an achievement! Loved the blog, makes me want to run…well almost 😉

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