A Bargain with the Devil: The Coffee Taper

Conjure up that feeling you get when you’re an hour or so behind on getting your morning coffee; the lethargy, the fuzzed focus, the general hatred of the world and all things in it.

Now imagine being 48 hours into that feeling, knowing you have another 48 hours to go.

Welcome, my friends, to the Coffee Taper, or Shit We Try When PRs Are on the Line.

Not exactly a fringe practice but also probably not quite mainstream, I happened upon the idea from Brad, who in turn got it from his coach, Neely Spence Gracey. She’s blogged about it before, but a quick summary:

  • It allegedly takes a couple days for your body to drop out of the caffeine cycle and get the full benefits again, so come Monday/Tuesday of race week, you’re off joe. Dunzo.
  • Neely claims decaf’s OK, but I went completely off, since decaf isn’t zero caffeine (and some decaf’s nearly as a strong as regular coffee).
  • That’s basically it.
  • Oh, yeah, try to hang on by the tips of your fingernails until you can have coffee again.

The last part’s the fun bit, obviously, but I’m living proof it can be done. Not gonna lie, though: It’s murderous.

I quit coffee after Monday, and Tuesday was like wandering through Silent Hill 2 with slightly less Pyramid Head; definitely fogged in, not quite sure what was going on, just trying to survive until the next save point.

It’s less bad after that, but it’s still not easy. I don’t drink coffee before running, so my tuneup workout and other runs felt fine—not even really all that sluggish—but grinding out a desk job on those days ranked just shy of a “no” on the Bueno Scale.

Then it came…

Race Day

I switched it up this year and opted to focus on hitting my stride for a 5K that runs through my neighborhood, with the dual goals of finally ducking under 19 minutes and defeating the other fast dads (if I could do the first, the latter became feasible). I’ve (oddly, maybe) struggled on the shorter end of the race spectrum, probably because I don’t have a ton of top-end speed—I don’t really hit my stride until the race gets to 15K/10 miles or so.

Coming into the morning, I felt good about my training—essentially the Daniels 2nd and 3rd edition 5K plans Frankensteined together—but the only thing that mattered when I woke up was the French press downstairs.

A caveat here: I have no idea exactly when you should reintroduce caffeine on race morning to get the most benefit. I guessed at roughly an hour before the gun to balance risk/reward, but there may be actual science out there that says something smarter.

Regardless of exact timing, you’re gonna notice that first cup hitting your system. I downed a second cup, got set and jogged the seven blocks to the start line.

The good news: an abbreviated warmup was enough to even things out and get me feeling ready. The bad news: coffee jitters were hitting like the Riders of Rohan showing up at Pelennor Fields, and there were only about five minutes to let myself settle down.

Well, I wouldn’t need to worry about my heart rate being too low at the start, anyway.

The competition was obvious: Local D1 College Kid (clear favorite), Dude in the Fast Club Singlet, and Fast Dad #2, plus some other guys who looked like they could mix it up. Fast Dad #2 had posted a 2017 time in this race just slightly faster than I planned for this year, so he was my target.

Weather didn’t look like a major factor, although morning rain was tapering off, leaving things a little sloppier than would be ideal. Temps were great—right around 50—and wind wasn’t going to play havoc.

Mile 1


As is Local 5K tradition, a couple 10-year-olds sprinted ahead of everyone at the gun and blew up two blocks into the race, and the rest of us jockeyed for position. I tethered myself a few seconds back of Fast Dad #2 (in blue) and another dude, and I rolled with Local Run Club Guy I Sorta Know (in red) before gapping him around the race’s first choke point, a tight turn on to some busted slate sidewalks.

I was running this mile entirely by feel, knowing that Fast Dad #2 was easily capable of opening in 5:50–55, which meant I could be on PR pace with no problem, provided I didn’t feel like I was killing myself.

(I didn’t feel like I was killing myself.)

Mile 2

If there was a rain factor in the race, this is where it showed up—most of mile 2 is either on those busted slate sidewalks or just busted sidewalks in general, with the addition of a couple hard turns and a hairpin at the end of the mile—looking at the splits, I played it pretty conservative, then surged over a goofy hill (really a ramp) just before the hairpin, pushing it down a gear to prep for the final stretch.

Mile 3

I immediately traded back-and-forth with the dude who had initially been hanging with Fast Dad #2 (who himself gapped us solidly in mile 2).

This stretch has, for whatever reason, been both a mental and physical block for me—after swinging around a building on Girard College’s campus, it hits a long straightaway that’s turned into a fade in past races.

This time, energy was going to be no problem (thanks, coffee!). Block-by-block, I ratcheted the pace down, still not bothering to look at my watch—this was just going to be about finding what I could in the late going. Hitting the penultimate turn, I checked off my mental reminder to start the final press at the gates to Eastern State Penitentiary, rather than risk leaving too much in the tank, and I put in one last surge at the final cross street before hitting the line in 18:48.

So, of course, the big question: Was the coffee taper worth it?

The answer isn’t a strict yes or no; it’s somewhere around a marginal yes, getting to a stronger yes in the late going.

It’s definitely a strategy I’d employ for a longer race (say like a half that starts at 7:30 a.m. or something stupid like that), but I don’t know that the payback on the whole process ends up as a significant benefit for just a 5K (versus just normally drinking coffee before the race).


Broad Street 2018: Eh, let’s just wing it

The first Sunday in May has been circled on my running calendar for the past eight years—but even though Broad Street is spring’s highlight, it usually comes on the heels of at least one other race, so there’s not usually much mystery when I come up out of the subway station at Broad and Olney.

Except this year.


Embrace the Kick Face.

It had been nearly six months since my last race—the Rothman 8K back in November—and the only real benchmark I had to go off was a tempo run a couple weeks ago in which I averaged a 6:19 mile.

Sub-63 was probably in play (I’d only need to average a second faster per mile than that tempo workout), but as I stepped out on to Broad, I didn’t have a big, red number flashing in my brain.

And in a way, it was freeing.

It’s not to say I wasn’t trying to PR or didn’t have any expectations, but after four years of swinging the hammer through goal after goal and chewing up innumerable miles in the process, it wasn’t do-or-die about a specific number. Instead, I could go all Zen on this race.

The weather was favorable(ish)—high 50s, a little on the humid side, mild tailwind—and I got in my standard Broad Street warmup, so I was mentally checked in and set to throw down.

Miles 1–3

The logjam that is the first quarter-mile of Broad Street was no less stupid this year—really, one of these times, people aren’t going to jump corrals or lie about their times—so I hammered a good bit harder than 63-flat pace until I cleared the worst of it, settling in around the half-mile mark. Legs felt good, lungs felt good, and I ignored time and pace until I zipped past the first mile marker at the 6:15 mark on my watch (forgetting, of course, that I should check the time differential on the course clocks).

Now, a 6:15 mile should’ve been too fast; it’s only just off what I averaged at Rothman for five miles, so keeping that up for 10 should’ve been a dangerous prospect. On the risk/reward scale, though, a downhillish first mile a few seconds faster than planned wasn’t sending things into the red just yet.

When mile 2 passed in 6:15 again, despite feeling like I’d settled in to something more comfortable (and the data claim my heart rate actually dropped a bunch), I felt a lot better about the sub-63 prospects—and a 6:13 in mile 3 only strengthened that.

Miles 4–5

As the remainder of the hills spooled out and I hit my neighborhood (another 6:15 in mile 4), I subconsciously ticked it up slightly—getting a little bit of a boost from an unexpected cheering section at Fairmount Avenue—and hit the midpoint with a 6:07 split, putting me unofficially at 31:08… or a second faster than what I’d done at Rothman in November.

Hoo boy, this was gonna make the back half interesting.

Miles 6–8

One of these years, I’m going to figure out why my pace flags around City Hall—it’s not a tangent thing or a crowding thing (mostly), but I inevitably lose a bit, even though the crowds pick up and there’s more energy.

This time put it at a 6:20 mile—maybe not an unexpected regression from that speedy fifth mile and the end of the hills, but an annoying one all the same. I started looking for people to key off to get back on pace and saw a runner I recognized—Hollie, who can straight-up thrash it—and mentally latched on.

Things improved as we headed through Washington Avenue, which is a rough 10K mark, and into the dreaded flats of South Philly. Mile 7 went down in 6:15 and Mile 8 was by in 6:17, so I was still well under 63 with just two miles to hang on.

Miles 9–10

I’d overtaken Hollie somewhere in mile 8, but the stretch between Marconi Plaza and the 95 overpass just after mile 9 turned into a back-and-forth between us—I slipped a notch with a 6:19 to the mile 9 flag and fell a few yards back, then tried to pull out a few stops in the downhill to the Navy Yard gate, when a bunch of runners surged.

I knew I didn’t have a quarter-mile kick in me; I wasn’t exactly hanging on for dear life at that point, but I knew what my legs were going to allow me, which meant conserving for a push at the final mothballed ship—I hauled it into whatever that last gear was, and I came into the line at about 62:53 on the clock, pushing a 6:18 final mile for a chip time of 62:41—a 47-second PR.

Postrace/what’s next

For the first time in a few years, I didn’t beat my gear bus down to the Yard, which was slightly disappointing, but whatever, I had my pretzel and a nice walk back to the Broad Street Line to keep my legs loose.

With a seventh PR in eight years, I’m pushing the curve closer to 60-flat, although I don’t know that I’ll get there—I did a quick and dirty look at what I’ve done since 2011, and it’s hard to miss how much more incremental my PRs have become in the last few years. Sure, I’m improving, but dropping a couple minutes at a time is already way in the past.


Some of that might be in part because of a focus on longer distances and less on speed, which is something I’m flipping around for the rest of 2018—I’m shifting to a 5K plan heading into the fall, since I’ve never really focused on top-end speed, so we’ll see what that does for me in the 8K/10K range, too.

At some point before the end of the year, I’m going to be at 18:XX for the 5K, and then it’s just a matter of seeing how far I can extend that kind of pace. If I can make my 8K pace my 10-mile pace in six months, who’s to say what a year from now holds?

An average BQer’s guide to the Boston Marathon

It’s the unicorn.

The Boston Marathon is the race—a universe encapsulated in a marathon, with its attendant mythos elevating it beyond almost every other race.

boston map

That mythos can be overwhelming, and it gets hard to remember that this is, in a lot of ways, just another race. It’s a big one, an important one, and in many ways the milestone—but at its heart, Boston is 26.2, just like any other.

Of course, every race has its quirks, and Boston has its own logistics to consider, so here’s the average Boston qualifier’s take from prerace to well after the finish:

Getting downtown

Check the weather when you wake up; if it’s going to be cool in the morning, make sure you have some tossable layers—even though the race organizers have this down to a science, you’ll still be hanging around in the athlete’s village a while, and you don’t want to be chilled to the bone when you’re heading to the start.

But now you need to drop some gear and catch a bus. If you’re in a hotel/Airbnb/friend’s house outside Boston, the good news is it’s not bad trying to get in for the race, especially if you’re in the first wave. I snagged a Lyft with no issue, and Lyft and Uber cars were all over the place; public transportation is also a great bet, assuming you’re somewhere convenient to the T or buses. If you opt the Lyft/Uber route, it’s a good idea to schedule your ride ahead of time.

Also, if you’re at a close-in hotel, check to see if there’s a shuttle running into Boston Common. My hotel had one, but it was leaving a little later than I would’ve liked.

Once you’re down at the Common, it’s a short wait to get your gear checked (they’re masters of efficiency)—although remember, if you bring it to Hopkinton, the only way it’s getting to the finish is if you’re carrying it.

The wait for the bus is equally short, if not shorter—these guys have logistics beyond nailed down.

Up to the athlete’s village

The bus ride’s as long and as dull as advertised. If you can catch a quick nap, it’s not a bad idea—you’re not missing much. If you’re not napping, just relax—hype time is still hours away. No sense in getting amped up way ahead of time. You’ve got about 45 minutes before you’re in Hopkinton.

Getting set

The athlete’s village is crowded and crazy, but if you’re not trying to jump in the massive line for a photo with the Hopkinton sign, it’s thoroughly organized chaos. Grab some coffee and some food if you need it (coffee’s more than decent) and find a place to relax out of the sun—no sense baking yourself this early.

If you’re meeting up with people, aim for specific areas—tent corners are a good bet; the tents are massive and hold a small town’s worth of people, so you’ll get lost without a specific meetup spot.

If you’ve forgotten anything, the village pretty much has you covered. Keep an eye out for stands between the tents—Clif had one, among others.

Otherwise, you’re going to be hanging around a while. Bring an old yoga mat or buy one or two of those foam interlocking workout mats—your butt will thank you (and leave ’em for the next wave of humanity, whose butts will also thank you).

Don’t worry about a warmup in the village (beyond maybe a little dynamic stretching). Waves will start getting called well ahead of the start, and you have about a half-mile walk to the corrals, which (combined with that fairly easy first mile) should be enough.

If you didn’t bring sunscreen, stay to the left on the walk down and make use of the tanker truck’s worth of it that one of the cancer charities puts out. Trust me, you’re gonna want it—otherwise plan on looking like a boiled crustacean when you get back to Boston.

And if you need a bathroom pitstop before the race, don’t worry—between the village and the start area, there are acres of portable toilets. You’ll be fine.

The race itself

Hey, you made it to Hopkinton! Enjoy the prerace buzz for a minute in the corral, get yourself situated and set, and just wait for the gun. You belong here, you earned this.

Miles 1–6

As everyone will tell you, Boston starts off with a decent downhill—enough of one that you should barely be pushing it in the early going (and you won’t really be able to, it’s so crowded). Mile 1 is the Don’t Worry About Your Pace Mile—if you’re within about 15 seconds or so of goal pace, you’re more than good.

You’ll ride out some rollers and mostly finish out the biggest chunk of downhills by the 5K mark, when you’ll be heading into Ashland. You’ve probably noticed that the crowds have been pretty quiet to this point, but you’re finally into one of the towns, and you’re going to get an energy boost—try not to hit the gas too hard.

From Ashland, it’s a decently flat section into Framingham, the next town on the route; the course is opening more from the forests at the start, and you’ll be glad for having smeared on a ton of sunscreen (if you didn’t smear on a ton of sunscreen, now would be a good time to curse yourself).

Damn it, Natick

They aren’t the Newton monsters by any stretch, but Natick throws the first chunk of decent hills your way. The energy you saved through that first section should power you pretty easily through here, but it doesn’t hurt to be a little conservative, especially if race day is on the warm side.

The good news is Wellesley College and the Scream Tunnel are waiting on the other side of town, and the halfway mark is in sight.

Past the half

Right after Wellesley is a sign saying “Wellesley Hills,” which is just cruel. The climb isn’t brutal, but your legs are going to be feeling it. You’ll get a bit of shade through the next 5K, and you’ll get a wonderful boost from the steep downhill toward the Charles River right around Mile 16—this is Newton Lower Falls, and that name should be setting off some alarm bells.

Newton Hills

Here they are. Crossing Route 95 seems like a bear, but the Firehouse Turn is where people start getting straight-up murdered. If you’ve paced it right to this point, you’ll be able to grind it out on the shorter, steeper uphills and gain some time back on the longer downhills—and people will be crashing out all around you. Ignore them; this is your race.


Heartbreak Hill will not break you. That’s not to say it’s not tough, or that it doesn’t show up at the least opportune time, but it will not break you.

The good news is it’s not nearly as steep as the three Newton climbs. The bad news is it feels like it goes on forever—keep it steady and you’ll be fine. There’s a bit of a flat at the top of Heartbreak that feels like its own mile, but the downhills are looming.

Into Boston

Revel in the drunk college kids at BC, because you’re not getting anything immediately after them in the Haunted Mile. You’re riding the downhills past the Chestnut Hill Reservoir to Beacon Street, which is flat and seemingly unending—the Citgo sign is a billion miles away, but it will seem tantalizingly close. Getting to the sign means one more climb over the Mass Pike, which will throw one last big punch at your trashed quads.

The final stretch


Once you’re past that thoroughly evil Mass Pike overpass, you’re essentially home—a gentle right puts you on Commonwealth Avenue, the last significant straight shot, although you have to navigate the idiotic little dip under Mass Ave., and climbing out of it can feel five times steeper than reality.

The last two turns are in front of you, though—right on Hereford, with its mild incline, and a left on Boylston.

Boylston is the defining finish stretch—the crowds and towers of downtown press in, and you can’t help but feel triumphant, but it’s a solid quarter-mile. If you have it in the tank, start the kick on making that last left, but otherwise, just slowly press the gas a little harder until you hit the Prudential Center’s street-level plaza, then turn it loose with whatever you have.

Broad Street redemption

From my debut race—38 seconds faster than goal time, and my first time hitting 10 miles—through 2015 (63:58), the Broad Street Run was the red-letter race in my schedule: year after year, it was blazing fast, lots of fun, great crowds and a major PR.

Coming off a winter injury in 2016, though, I was only good enough to match my best in what ended up being something of a harbinger for the year—a tough, mentally draining slog through cold and rain.

After a brighter start to 2017 at Boston, I was aiming for major improvement at Broad again—it was just a question of whether my Boston training would be enough to carry me through and if I was recovered enough from the marathon to pull together the performance I’d need.

On race day, it turned out the only question was whether I’d be able to catch a Broad Street Line train in time for the start.


Catching up with a former coworker/fellow Broad Street addict Sean after the race.

The runner’s mantra is, of course, “Never anything new on race day,” so naturally, I did almost everything new. Rather than getting a ride to the start (my driver was asleep along with the munchkins in the house), I braved SEPTA—not exactly new, since I’d ridden the Broad Street Line most years, but this time, I was trying to snag a train from the Girard stop, halfway up the line.

Emphasis on trying.

I was in the wrong spot to try to wedge myself into the first express that rolled up a few minutes after I arrived (around 6:45 a.m.), and after that, it was a steady stream of trains that either didn’t stop at all or were so overcrowded, not even my skinny ass could thread through.

As the number of runners waiting on the platform grew and the clock inched up toward 7:20 (my drop-dead time for getting on any train to the start), I gambled, walked toward the back end of the station and waited. And waited.

And then a local rolled up at 7:20 on the nose—the doors opened, I jumped into the smallest available space that would fit a me-sized human being, and it was off to Olney.

(Hilariously, one guy suggested to his running partner that they get off at Lehigh—”It’s only a couple blocks,” he insisted, despite the reality of 3.5ish miles; they hung in there the rest of the way.)

Getting to the start area with less than 20 minutes to spare (even just getting out of the station was a 5-minute logjam) meant I’d have to do an abbreviated version of everything this time—way different than my normal routine on the cobblestone blocks just west of the start area.

No, this time I had time to find the first open gear bus and drop my bag; I’d already done a little bit of an active stretch down at Girard, so I went right into a casual jog down Old York Road, turning that into about a five-minute warmup with some strides thrown in there, and then it was time to zip into the red corral.

The start—like every Broad Street start—was a bit of a disaster; between corral jumpers (aggravating) to people who straight-up lied about their anticipated finish (no, you should not have a seeded women’s bib if you’ve never run under 90 minutes), it was a battle for 200–300 meters until I was in the clear and settling on pace.

Miles 1–3 (18:59 split)

The good news: I didn’t go out crazy fast (looking at you, 2015’s 18:40 split).

I was, however, totally uneven; mile splits of 6:12/6:26/6:18 weren’t exactly what I was hoping for, but it was averaging out to roughly where I wanted to be—well into PR territory and under 63:30. Past the initial chaos, I was one of a smaller group opting for the right side of Broad (oddly enough, the elites went to the wide side for the first half, so they were even faster than splits would indicate).

Despite clocking a slower three-mile split than the previous two years, I was in a more open field (although in 2015, I was one corral back from the elite/red combo start) and didn’t really have to worry about crowding (water stops aside), even if that meant I lost any potential pack advantage.

Miles 4–5 (31:45 at the half)

I probably got too focused on using the early downhills to benefit effort; mile 4 slipped to a 6:34 pace, and I immediately kicked it back into gear, splitting 6:12 to get through the half dead on 63:30 pace.

Although I was significantly (11 seconds and 23 seconds, respectively) off my previous PR half splits, I felt way more in control—I wasn’t slipping over the bleeding edge of my ability and praying for a decent second half, I was instead setting up for an attack through South Philly.

Miles 6–7 (44:29 at the 7-mile split)

One of these years, the City Hall mile is going to fall where I want it to—but 2017 was no different from any other year, and I slipped off pace to a 6:27. Unlike the previous two years, though, I was able to recover (6:16 in mile 7) and pull myself back to my overall average, putting 2017 Bryan four seconds ahead of 2016 Bryan and just five seconds behind 2015 Bryan.

As I passed through the Washington Avenue intersection, I knew it was roughly 5K to go and geared down into that mindset.

Miles 8–10

Things held about steady through mile 8 (6:19) but slipped just slightly (6:24) through 9, where I saw one of the Kelly Drive regulars overtake me—but I still had some left in the tank and passed a handful of runners through the 9 flag heading toward the final downhill beyond the 95 overpass.

And although I didn’t quite have a massive kick, I spooled up the pace through the Navy Yard gate and managed a decent sprint to close out the race with a 6:15 mile and come home in 63:28, good for a 30-second PR—and, as it turns out, 2 seconds better than my (forgotten) Strava goal for the day.

It also meant I eked out a tiny negative split on the day—31:45/31:43—my first since 2013 and only the second time I’ve ever negative split the course, so we’ll call it a success on multiple levels.

That said, I probably could’ve carved another 10–30 seconds off that time with a more even effort; cutting down that 6:34 in mile 4 and the City Hall mile would’ve gone a long way toward getting me closer to the 62:XX threshold.

Still, with race day coming 20 days after Boston, this was probably as close to the best I was going to muster—and those inconsistencies give me something to work toward for 2018, when I can target Broad Street with everything I’ve got.

My full race on Strava.

121st Boston Marathon: My performance by the numbers

If you watched the Boston Marathon broadcast, one of the things the color guys mentioned was that Wave 1 arguably makes up the strongest starting field of any marathon in the world.

The statistics bear that out—I’m a good marathoner: my best finishes (Wineglass and Los Angeles) put me in the top 2% of those fields, but in Boston, I could only manage the top 13%. It’s staggering how stacked a race it is.


In LA, I’d be the only runner in this photo.

Here’s how my race performance broke down:

Overall: 3,351st of 26,411 finishers (27,221 started, with about a 10% no-show rate)

Men overall: 3,000th of 14,438 finishers (14,842 started)

Men 18–39: 1,894th of 4,774 finishers (4,921 started)

Philly runners: 20th of 105

The number of DNFs—810 overall—didn’t surprise me, given the conditions, nor did the number of DNFs out of men 18–39 (close to one-fifth of the total).

Interestingly, though, despite the volume of DNFs in my age group, the DNF rate was either roughly in line with other age/gender groups, which generally fell in the 2.5–3.5% range until the 55-year-old groups and older (with everyone 65+ getting hammered by the heat).

I would’ve thought the machismo factor—either an unwillingness to change strategy or a tendency to push harder than conditions allow for as long as possible—would’ve been more in play, especially at Boston and especially given the conditions, but it looks the weather and other factors played pretty even across the board.

Beyond that, I’m generally pleased with where I ended up—being in the top quartile of men and the top two-fifths of a crazy fast age group are both pretty good accomplishments (if also something of a reality check—I’m good, but nowhere near great).

Race report: 121st Boston Marathon


I wanted the Boston Marathon to be a blaze of glory: a PR, maybe something close to 3-flat, enough energy for a triumphant final sprint down Boylston.

Reality, of course, had other plans.

With the forecast looking uglier and uglier as we got closer to gun time—and after taking a ride up Heartbreak Hill with Dan, a fellow marathoner, who pointed to a spot midway up and said, “Yeah, that’s where I stood for a few years to watch people just die on the hill”—I knew I would have to make adjustments.

Time goals got rolled back—it became “try to re-BQ” with 3:05 as a stretch—and I concentrated on defeating the Newton hills, which I figured were going to chew up runners like a Bagger 288 gone insane.

Heading into the town of Wellesley, though, I was ripping up most of those goals and focusing on something a bit more tangible:

Don’t lose to the guy dressed as a fridge.


You think I was joking?

Spoiler alert: I left the Fridge in the dust, and I survived the stretch through Newton and Heartbreak, which looked like the aftermath of a bad Michael Bay movie.

But there was so much more to the race.

Running the unicorn

I slipped into Corral 7 of the first wave just after the national anthem and figured I could be hanging around a bit while they released us—but nope, four minutes after the elites were off, I was across the start line, still half-amazed I was running the damn Boston Marathon.

From the start, I tried to focus on 5K splits rather than mile-by-mile (the hills, if nothing else, were going to throw havoc in my pace at some point)—conveniently, consistent 22-minute 5Ks would not only yield a PR, they would put me only slightly off my stretch goal (3:05 or faster). Easy, right? Mmm. Sure. Easy.

5K numero uno (The Hey, This is Easy 5K)

Following the advice of roughly everyone on the planet, I kicked off the race almost casually, dropping a 7:16 first mile, right about what I figured was in store; the steep downhill right out of the gate made it feel like any of my warmup miles down to Kelly Drive in Philly, an almost sleepy mile toward getting on pace. I mostly tried to keep it easy and even, rather than braking and shredding my quads—being in the middle of wall-to-wall runners, even though they were all right around my ability, made doing that much easy.

By the 5K mark, I’d ridden the rest of the downhills and the route had cleared out a bit, leaving me just a handful of seconds off my revised goal pace. Nothing to worry about. Things are cool.

The second 5K (The Making Up Ground and Ignoring the Heat 5K)

I picked up a bit of speed down through Mile 4 (I’d missed the Mile 3 split and only knew I averaged about 7-flat through 3 and 4—turns out 4 went down in 6:51, oops) and cleared the 10K mark almost dead on where I wanted to be (my math skills may not be PhD level, but even I can figure out that being down six seconds in the course of six miles is decently close).

To that point, it didn’t feel like I was pushing—and going by my Garmin, my heart rate was staying where I wanted it (mid-150s toward upper 150s). Clearly, the plan was going well; even if things turned to shit, I wasn’t overdoing (much) it in the early going. I was conveniently ignoring the lack of a significant tailwind (we were getting maybe a quartering wind and more of a crosswind), the building heat and the total lack of shade—the last bit being one of the key challenges at Boston, as it turns out.

5K Part III (The Gooood Morning Framingham 5K)

Cruising. Just cruising. Marathons are easy, right? Marathons are totally easy. Framingham was pretty. Nice train station. (This was feeling way too easy).

I hit the 15K mat, again more or less exactly on pace (even my marathon-addled brain can add 22 repeatedly, it turns out), although I’d dropped a few more seconds here and there. It wasn’t anything to be concerned about just yet.

That lack of a tailwind and the exposed course were starting to compound problems already, though—I may have been drifting off pace slightly, but others were already coming back to earth, either trying to conserve energy for later or just wilting.

May the 4th 5K be with you (The WTF Natick 5K)

Hey, what gives, Natick? Hills? This early? Not cool, man, not cool. I burned about 30 seconds climbing but thought I could get it back—and I did jump back on pace after two less-than-stellar miles (7:23/7:16 in 9/10).

By now, I was feeling the heat and realizing I needed to manage the back half of the race to mostly just avoid dying. The good news: I’d already managed the front half decently. The bad news: the back half is stupid hard.

5Kx5 (Wellesley College Girls are Easy 5K)

The Scream Tunnel helped pull me back to goal pace (no kisses, gotta try to BQ again), and I still had (mildly delusional) visions of 3:05 maybe being in play (OK, 15 hits of peyote delusional). Coming down into Wellesley itself, I spotted Captain Refrigerator (yes, with the joke on his back) and mentally jotted down that D goal: Don’t lose to the Fridge.

I passed him and managed to continue rolling pretty much right on pace—but what’s this, something called Wellesley Hills? Damn it.

Worse yet, my heart rate was climbing. Getting baked by the sun for a half marathon had pushed me into the low 160s, meaning I was going to be—at best—riding the edge of the danger zone for the back half.

And that was if everything went well.

5K number 6 (The Hold on to Your Butts 5K)

Woo downhill! Sweet relief! Woo!

Wait, hold up, the most terrifying two words in distance running.


And you thought velociraptors on the loose were bad.


Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

No, it’s cool, we planned for this. The Newton hills are not going to kill the goddamn Batman. Yeah, I shed some pace here, but the damage wasn’t terrible—I was crumpling that 3:05 goal, but a re-BQ (i.e., under 3:10) still seemed possible, even if it was going to be tight.

I hit the turn at the firehouse hill and felt strong making that long, sweeping climb while people started dying all around me, a shambling mass of the walking wounded, winded or dejected—a confidence-boosting moment, for sure (and something I needed, since I was rapidly approaching the Pain Cave).

Seventh 5K (Pat Benatar Memorial 5K)

There’s a big fuckoff hill toward the end of this one and I didn’t die on it, but it seemed the majority of the runners around me were. Carnage. Just carnage. People dropping with medical teams swarming. A dude with the M 50 bib walking. Bad. That’s all I’m going to say about this 5K split, because it was otherwise the start of the Shit Fuck Just Hang Together section of the race.

Octo 5K (The Citgo Sign is a Cruel Joke 5K)

Coming off Heartbreak was the scariest moment—a guy had gone down hard at the side of the road and appeared unconscious; Boston was brutalizing the field, and there was no ignoring it any longer. The E goal emerged: self-preservation. Time was now immaterial.

It was probably a good time to come to that realization—the Haunted Mile is as terrible as advertised, and I’m disappointed in dead people for not cheering or at least having amusing signs taped to their gravestones. Beacon Street is too long, the mile signs can’t arrive quickly enough and I’m near-redlining it in terms of heart rate. Math is beyond me at this point; I know I’m well off pace and have almost no hope of BQing at Boston. A bank thermometer reads 71 in the shade, and I pray for the sweet release of death (I’m only slightly exaggerating).

The final not 5K that’s basically just 8 minutes or so of pain


Not apparent: the monster salt patches on those red shorts.

I’m going to go Liam Neeson in Taken on the guy who threw the Mass Pike overpass in here. Running on the fumes of fumes. Go under that stupid overpass on Commonwealth (this might be worse than the Mass Pike climb), see a guy who looks like he’s going to pass out get caught by two other dudes as he falls backward, wonder why the hell I keep doing this to myself. Right on Mount Hereford. Left on Boylston. Finish is so far away. Somehow feel like a gladiator coming down the Appian Way to cheering throngs. Right, this is why I keep doing it. Believe I’m a superhero for a minute. Finish. Just finish. Cross the pad in 3:13:17.


Done with this madness for now.

My full race on Strava.

The start line is extremely fucking nigh

Well, there’s no ignoring it: the calendar’s about to flip over to April, and that means my journey to this scene in Hopkinton is looming.

I’ve been pretty quiet about training this cycle, mostly because I haven’t wanted to jinx it. After my somewhat disastrous Philly Marathon experience back in November, it was clear things were going to have to change to avoid a repeat this spring in Boston.

Part of that was purely mental—a focus on being more relaxed, especially on easy runs, and trying to divorce myself from the daily pace grind. I vowed to only worry about pace on workout days; otherwise, those three digits couldn’t matter any less.

The larger part was my training plan—after three straight Pfitzinger cycles, I decided to cut back to a 12-week cycle (18 would’ve left me no recovery after Philly) and try something I referred to as “something that kinda looks like Pfitz but isn’t.” The structure is largely Pfitz—I kept in a midweek longer run (up to 12 miles) but shifted workouts back to Fridays; otherwise, it was two days of about an hour’s worth of running and two days of 30–40-minute recovery runs.

More importantly, it included a significantly larger proportion of 20-plus-mile runs; of the 12 weeks, 5 hit at least 20 and another 4 were in the 17–18 range. Most of those have been easy; a 21-miler had some marathon-pace chunks (as will this weekend’s 16ish-miler), but it’s been more about being comfortable going long, week in and week out.


A bunch of big circles must mean something, right?

Anecdotally, I’ve felt great on those long runs—probably better than in any other cycle—and despite being easy, they’ve clocked in as my five fastest long runs (20–21 miles, anyway). I’ve felt mentally fresh on them, too—I haven’t dreaded the start or obsessed about how much distance there is to go.

This stuff all goes in the Good Things column, but I’m feeling even better thanks to three key workouts:

  • A 10K tempo run in mid-February where I casually dipped under 40 minutes. This was significant, considering I intended to go out and do a hard tempo around my half marathon PR pace (6:32/mile), but by three miles in, I was down another gear and not even feeling it. Although I slipped back a few seconds per mile in the late going (that little climb up to the Art Museum plus a little mental fatigue), I was still more than fresh enough to push it just under 40 for the tempo section.
  • An unofficial 10K PR in a solo tuneup race in early March. This progressed much like the 10K tempo in February, only I started off faster and kept pushing it. After flipping around at the Strawberry Mansion Bridge, I punched it down toward 5K pace and held it together just off my 5K PR to close out at 39:10ish (give or take a second or two). If there was anything bad about this workout, it was that I didn’t think to try to push it a bit harder in the first half to get to 38:5X, but that’s not much of a downside.
  • Another unofficial PR—clipping off an 8K just under 31 minutes in late March. This wasn’t a ton faster than my 2015 Rothman 8K (a difference of about five seconds—my watch had the tuneup at 30:56), but it was a lot smarter, smoother and controlled. I rolled it out essentially right on 5K pace and kept my splits inside a 5-second window, knocking down the miles in 6:10, 6:08, 6:13, 6:13 and 6:10.

Those combined for arguably the best set of key workouts I’ve done in any marathon cycle so far and point to a marathon somewhere just north of 3-flat (we’ll say 3:01 to be safe), which seems possible at Boston—although we’ll see how things are feeling close to race day.