Boston Marathon non-race report: keeping focused in uncertain times
This post written by Jon Klein, co-founder at Verifiablee.
Today would have been the running on the 2020 Boston Marathon, and if everything had gone exceptionally well, I might be crossing the finish line right about… now. But of course, due to the ongoing pandemic that has changed all of our lives, there is no Boston Marathon today. If we’re fortunate, we’ll be running it in September, though of course, nobody really knows what the world is going to look like then either, in terms of sporting events and mass gatherings.
After a race, many runners write up detailed race reports describing the ups and downs of the training leading up to the race, and then all the details of the race itself. Though the Boston Marathon is not happening today, there are still a lot of stories to tell about the race, the training cycle, and everything else that has happened in the last couple of months. With that in mind, I’ve taken the opportunity to write up a Boston Marathon Non-Race Report. And like a lot of race reports, the story starts off with a previous race.
What are you capable of?
A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with a running buddy, where he asked: “if you quit your job and dedicated yourself exclusively to training, how fast do you think you could run a marathon”? We discussed things like training volumes, nutrition, rest, coaching, and both put forth a number. I came up with 2:50–though I’d run a dozen or so marathons and gone sub-3 a couple of times, improvements were getting more and more difficult and I saw diminishing returns on my training. I felt that at my age, and with the genetic hand I’d been dealt, 2:50 was my absolute theoretical limit.
In October 2019, at the age of 41, and after years of plateau, I ran a 2:46 at the Hartford Marathon. A breakthrough performance, I had beaten my previous personal record (PR) by over 10 minutes. Given my age and how long I’ve been running, this was unusual. And while not particularly fast in the grand scheme of things, it was a major accomplishment for me. Not only had I beaten my previous PR, I had done better than I ever thought I was capable of. And even more amazing, I was left with a feeling like I could do even better — I was hungry for more.
Training in early 2020
After the race in Hartford, the next race on my calendar was Boston, in April 2020. Boston is a difficult race and though I’ve run it 6 times, I’ve never done particularly well —every single time I’ve always been foiled by the weather, injury, difficult winter training cycles or various combination of all those things. But after the Hartford race, I was determined — this year would be different. Even if I couldn’t beat my Hartford time, getting in the neighborhood of 2:50 at Boston would be an amazing achievement, and I knew now I was capable of it. So building off my fall fitness, I began an aggressive training cycle.
Things went okay at first, but as the days went on, the training cycle proved to be a slog. My household got hit with several illnesses (having a 1-year-old in daycare bring home colds did not help), and I found myself fighting a knee injury that, while not enough to keep me from running, was more than enough to make running difficult and not-at-all enjoyable. Time after time, I would be forced to take a couple of days off of running, work the training load back up, and only to be hit with another setback.
By the time the end of February rolled around, I was amazingly still at a level of fitness where I felt I could work to achieve a good performance in April, but all the setbacks were taking a toll. I was still dealing with the nagging knee issue, and the on-again off-again training left my body feeling worn down. Still, I kept my training moving forward with a focus on achieving a strong Boston performance.
But as I worked through a difficult training period, something more sinister was looming for all of us — the growing threat of a global pandemic. As the days wore on, it became more and more clear it was going to have a major impact on all of our lives. It gradually became obvious, even before anything was formally announced, that runners would not be lining up in Hopkinton April 20th. Still, lacking an official announcement, I continued the slog through my training schedule, doing the workouts, the long-runs, putting in the mileage. But it was tough — staying motivated in an already difficult training cycle, knowing deep down that it was all in vain.
“What am I even doing?”, I remember wondering during a particularly fatigued training run before the announcement was made
The other racing shoe drops
The official announcement was made on March 13th: the 124th running of the Boston Marathon would be postponed until September.
I didn’t run that day.
Or the next, or the one after that.
Was there any point in even training anymore? Not only was the Boston Marathon postponed, but there would be no races of any kind in the coming months — major marathons, neighborhood 5Ks, summer trail races, all cancelled.
I even had to ask myself a more existential (for a runner) question: was there any point in even running anymore? Fortunately, facing that question helped me to move on. Of course there’s a point to running — I ran for many years before I ever ran a race. Races are not the reason I run.
Three days after the announcement, I went out. But instead of running on the road and doing the hard workout that had been scheduled in my training plan, I went into the woods and ran gnarly, rocky, rooted trails. Instead of monitoring the pace on my GPS watch, I power-hiked up steep & rocky inclines and flailed recklessly down the other side.
This set the tone for the next several weeks of running. I just ran wherever, whenever and however I felt on any given day. Sometimes I ran fast, sometimes I ran slow. I ran a lot of trails, and did a lot of bushwhacking through the woods where there were no trails at all. In one run, I clocked a 22:44 mile (bushwhacking through the woods up a mountain) and 5:45 mile (downhill on a mountain road) back-to-back.
Most importantly, the focus of running has been on what drew me to running in the first place. Even though running can be difficult and sometimes brings pain, it keeps me sane, happy and healthy.
Life imitates running?
Of course, what is happening in the world doesn’t only affect running. At the start of the year, I also took the leap to try to start a new business focused on helping businesses build customer testimonial videos. Suddenly, it was a very precarious time to be building a new product.
With lockdowns and stay-at-home orders in place, it became clear very quickly that this would change how every business operates. For many of the businesses we were talking to as potential customers, our product was suddenly the last thing on their minds.
Like the Boston Marathon announcement, the first days of lockdown brought lots of difficult changes, both at home and in the workplace, which had somehow suddenly become inseparably linked. With schools and workplaces closed, the house was now always full with kids, and a wife with her own busy work schedule — each with their own work and never-ending schedule of Zoom meetings. Even the 1 year old had a Zoom meeting.
At one point, as with running, I asked — “What am I even doing?”. And as with running, it took me a couple of days to figure it out. I accepted and tried to embrace the changes this time would bring as best I could. I started to adapt the product for some of the changes we saw coming (I wrote about those changes here). And like running, I had to focus back on the reasons I was building something new in the first place.
What Comes Next
I think this is what we’re all wondering. The effects of the first wave of the pandemic have just passed their peak right now in many places throughout the United States, including in Boston, and the current wave appears to be subsiding. But the idea of going back to “normal” in the near future seems crazy. The idea of running the Boston Marathon in September sounds lovely, but I won’t be holding my breath until we see how the coming weeks & months play out.
In spite of this, my training continues, and my work continues. I don’t know what my goal race is now, but I know there’s a goal. While I may not know what I’m training for, I certainly do know why I’m training.