Boston Blog: Master Class In Humility

Boston Blog: Master Class In Humility


Kevin McCarthy ran his third Boston Marathon in-a-row but all didn’t go to planned. Here he writes his race blog and how to cope when things go wrong for the first time and the ability to be grateful. Read his story:

2016 was my third Boston Marathon in a–ow, so you might expect me to know what I’m doing, to have a plan, to know the course and to be prepared.

I was prepared, I did have a plan, I know every step of the course and yet this year I was bewildered, defeated and frustrated – and that was only mile 16.

I’ve had a chance to reflect my race this year and I feel better about it than I did in the day or two immediately after the race.  I’m a relatively new runner, I started running about four years ago so I have plenty to learn about distance running but this year Boston was my Master Class in humility.

I love the Boston Marathon, I’m crazy for it. It’s big but not the biggest marathon, there are plenty of big city marathons with more runners; it’s even not the fastest, NYC has lower qualifying times, some 13 minutes faster than Boston.

Still, there’s something magical about Boston that motivates me to train through winter so I can savour Marathon weekend in Boston, line up on race day in Hopkinton and arrive exhausted on Boylston Street. I visualise the last mile on nearly every training run – I feel like I’m entering Olympic stadium and it’s great!

Runners know the drill at big races; even with wave and corral starts, it’s crowded at the start of the race and it’s hard to find your pace for the first few miles. That’s okay, you know to expect that and you’ll settle in to your goal pace when it thins out in mile or two.

So it went for me this year at Boston; the first few miles were congested but miles three to seven or eight were good and I was reeling it in. It was hotter than I’d have liked so I adjusted my hydration plan (translation: I stopped at most of the water/Gatorade stops). The truth is that I never really found my rhythm this year and by mile 14 my race was derailing even though my average pace was roughly on track.

By mile 15, I had a bad feeling and by mile 16, I got leg cramps that dogged me for the next ten miles. For those who don’t know the Boston Marathon course, it’s a point to point from Hopkinton to Boston and is net downhill, meaning that it starts 400ft above sea level and finishes at sea level.

It does however have some hills, the last of which is affectionately known as “Heartbreak Hill.”  The hills are not all that bad; honestly, you’ve probably run races or trained on bigger hills but it’s where the hills are in the race that is the challenge.

The transition from downhill to uphill really starts at mile 16 in Newton Lower Falls. The course rises over the bridge for Route 128, rises past the hospital and on to the Fire Station. From there, the hills rise and flatten and rise and flatten several times until finally you crest Heartbreak at Boston College at mile 21.

That’s five miles of hills after 16 miles of downhill and when you finish those, it’s five more downhill miles before you can claim Boston Marathon glory.

The contrast for me this year versus last year could not have been greater and has given me a new perspective on races, especially Boston. Last year I cruised up the hills and still had energy to crank out the final five miles feeling good; this year, I was forced to stop to massage cramps every half mile or so. I’ve never been so frustrated. I was quietly spitting curses at myself, tears of frustration every time my legs locked up and I had to limp to the barrier, massage my legs for a minute and walk or run on again.

Rationally, I know that sometimes you have a bad day and I’ve had a couple of crappy training runs where nothing felt right, I never loosened up, etc. Up until Boston this year, I’d never had a bad race; all my races went well and I certainly never had a physical meltdown like this – of all the days for this to happen!

When I broke an unwritten rule and called my wife DURING the race, the act of pulling out the phone was an implicit admission that I was screwed!  All the crazy thoughts runners have went through my head. I even thought about dropping out but my ego refused to suffer the indignity of a ride in the wagon! So I told myself I could drop out at the “next” Medical tent and then the “next” one until I only had three miles to go.

Another contrast to last year is how few people I remember seeing this year versus last year. I was loving life last year, encouraging other runners and trying to spot all the Irish runners; I saw dozens of club singlets from Ireland. This year I must have had my blinders on and was feeling so sorry for myself that I can only recall one RCSI and one Raheny singlet – not doing my usual paddy-spotting and calling out encouragement was my loss!

When I crossed the finish line this year, I couldn’t even bear to look at my time; in fact, I didn’t look at it until that night: 30 minutes slower than last year.  Ouch! I was a bit stuck on what “coulda been”, “what shoulda been” but have since reminded myself how very lucky I am to have finished Boston three times. Three times…what a privilege. I’ve had a lot of encouragement from other runners who’ve had races like I had at Boston this year.  They’re asking me which race I’m planning to use to BQ. We’ll have to see…

If I don’t make it to the start line in Hopkinton for 2017, I’ll be cheering from the sidelines, so Raheny, Clonliffe, RCSI and all you other Irish runners destined for Boston next year, let me know when you get your BAA Passport. One way or another, I’ll see you in Boston.