Back in April, our friend Tyler Hansen ran an impressive 7 minute PR on a hot day at the Boston Marathon that saw many runners struggle just to finish. Here, he shares the story of his race and the preparation that led to his outstanding performance. Photos by Tyler's wife Vanessa Hansen.
The Boston Marathon has been on my race “bucket list” for years. Last year my wife, Vanessa, and I decided that 2017 would be the year to run Boston. It was sometime in May of 2016 that I set out on this endeavor. So I signed up, trained and ran a qualifying marathon before registering for Boston in September. The qualifying race that fit my schedule was the San Francisco Marathon in July, a tough course with close to 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The race went well, as I took 1st place in my age group and earned my Boston Marathon qualifier, with a PR of 2:43.
Fast forward a few months to December, when I started my specific training for Boston. This meant 6am runs before work and a long run every Saturday. The benefit of running at 6am in Santa Barbara is watching the incredible sunrise every morning along Cabrillo Boulevard. I completed six 20+ mile long runs, most included the later miles at race pace. To test my legs in race conditions, I ran the San Diego Half Marathon in March, dropping a PR of 1:12:22. This was exactly where I wanted to be as my Boston Marathon goal was approximately 2:30-2:35.
Once we landed in Boston, my wife and I hit the ground running, literally. Our first few hours in Boston were crazy! Vanessa and I took a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Boston. We landed at 6am and met our friend Amanda at the Airport, took the subway to our Airbnb to drop off luggage, jumped back on the Subway and were at Boston Common by 9am as Vanessa was running the 5k at 9:30. Immediately we were emerged in the spirit of Boston, as we were surrounded by 10,000 people getting ready to run the 5k. At the finish line I met up with a few friends, including rabbit’s co-founders Monica and Jill. We watched some incredible finishes, including Ben True beating his own American record, running a 13:20 road 5k, Molly Huddle was out kicked in the final stretch as she got trapped behind a couple “slow” guys and Michael Wardian ran blindfolded, in his Elvis costume and still finished in 19 minutes. After that we stopped by the rabbit pop-up shop where Vanessa got an awesome Boston rabbit shirt!
That afternoon we went to the race expo. The line to get to packet pick-up was longer than that of a Disneyland ride. The expo literally had hundreds of vendors and thousands of people, it was a massive production. While in the expo an announcement was made over the loudspeaker that there was going to be a moment of silence at 2:49pm. It was the 4-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing and 2:49pm was the time of the incident. That minute of silence was an incredible moment to honor the victims. We stood thinking of that horrific day, the victims and how it impacted each of us, and there we stood united and Boston Strong!
The following day was Easter Sunday and we went to a church service at the historic Old South Church, which is right by the Boston Marathon finish line. The service included an honoring of the athletes and a guest speaker, Carlos Arredondo, who was one of the first civilian responders to run towards the bombing victims most recognizable in photographs with his iconic cowboy hat. I don’t know if it was just me or if others felt that all the events leading up to the race, made for a truly incredible experience, but it was immensely impactful.
Now, onto race day! The weather reached into the 70’s, with 85% humidity and it sure felt hot. I arrived in Hopkinton (where the race starts) around 8:00am and jumped on a shuttle to the Athletes Village. Most runners were already there and filled two massive fields. Everyone is doing their prerace preparations as we waited for our wave/corral to be called out. I was in wave 1/corral 1, so my group was called out first. We made our way down to the starting line, where we stood like cattle in our corrals for about 30 minutes until the race started. Standing in the herd you really don’t have much of an opportunity for a warm up. I made my way toward the front, assessing where a good spot would be, there was probably only a hundred or so runners in front of me. There I stood wearing bib #606 surrounded by bibs in the 100-300s. As I looked around me I had wondered if other athletes with significantly lower bibs thought I was out of place or perhaps overly confident. Haha. The start was really quite something, with masses of onlookers, people cheering, cameras every which way and wave after wave inching closer and closer to the starting line in anticipation. I was ready. It was humbling and inspiring to be standing within a few feet of some of the world’s greatest male distance runners. When the gun went off we started shuffling forward and settled into a pretty good pace by the time we reached the starting line. The first few miles were intense being surrounded by hundred of other runners. I’m fortunate that it was crowded for just a few miles from the start. As the pack thinned out I was able to settle into my “zone” and a good rhythm. I couldn’t believe this moment was finally here, I was running my first Boston Marathon.
I had reviewed the elevation profile countless times and thought I had an understanding of what to expect, but what surprised me on race day is that the course constantly fluctuates, either you’re running downhill or uphill. There are very few flat sections where you can settle into a consistent pace. The first few miles are all downhill and very fast. I did my best to keep relaxed and smooth, so I wouldn’t overexert my muscles early in the race. Due to the hotter/humid temps I was doing my best to keep hydrated and regulate my body temperature by grabbing a cup or two at each aid station one to drink and the other to pour over my head to keep cool. I settled in and was running at a 5:45 pace, but around mile 10 my body started feeling heavy and more exhausted then it should have this early on in the race. Around mile 20 or so would have been more typical. I knew at that moment the rest of the race was going to be very mentally and physically demanding.
I had to make a decision, either let the pain and negative thoughts slip into my head and take over or make a slight adjustment, find the positives, and keep my mind clear and focused. So I adjusted my pace and really tried to absorb the energy of the crowd. The mental aspect of racing is probably one of the most important attributes to be a successful endurance athlete. In every race there will be moments you feel invincible and other times you’d like to quit, but a strong athlete has the ability to quickly check those negative thoughts and convince their body that all is well and to keep going.
I decided to take in more calories than originally planned, which would give my muscles some extra energy. I had two gels on me at the start, grabbed a couple at mile 11, then another at 17 and 22. I ended up taking six gels, whereas I initially planned on only taking three. The thing with racing is that no two races will-ever-be-the-same and you have to be ready to adapt. It can be anything from how your body is feeling, to a tactical race strategy from an opponent, the weather, a mishap during the race, etc. This is what makes racing exciting and challenging. You won’t always run your best or fastest race, but it’s about giving it your all and walking away from the race knowing that you ran the best you possibly could on that given day.
I tried to take my mind off the way my body felt and really took in the crowd’s energy. From the starting line to the finish, people lined the course cheering us on. It was unlike anything I’ve ever raced before. Little kids had huge smiles on their faces and hands out ready for a high five, which just makes you feel good! It reminded me of watching the Tour de France on TV with people packing both sides of the street. That energy is so incredible and encouraging especially in some of the hardest moments, like the hills leading up to Heart Break Hill and the last mile of the race. A noteworthy highlight during the race was certainly the last mile, running through downtown Boston and rounding that final turn onto Boylston Street where the finish line is within view a quarter mile away. To be honest, I expected the finish line to be closer than it was, but that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying the final moments of the Boston Marathon. I looked around at the high rise brownstone buildings, the streets lined with flags of different nations, people packing the sidewalk cheering and police officers everywhere to keep us safe. I crossed the iconic Boston Marathon finish line and as I slowed to a walk, looked down at my watch to see my time of 2:36:57. Although it wasn’t as fast as I had hoped, it was nearly a 7 minute personal record, so I was pleased. After the finish the runners have to walk about a mile to get out of the athlete area. I was wiped out, but when Vanessa walk up with a huge smile on her face to congratulate me, I forgot about being tired and was so excited to see her and tell her about the race.
Vanessa had to get back to the race as she was photographing for rabbit (her photos are featured in this blog). We made our way back to the corner of Boylston where runners make that final turn towards the finish. It was so awesome to watch as thousands of runners kept running by to accomplish their goal of completing the Boston Marathon. We were looked for runners wearing the Boston rabbit race singlet, so that Vanessa could capture their moments. It was really something, to spot familiar faces and fellow Boston rabbits, cheering them on as they raced towards the finish line.
Later that evening we attended the rabbit post-race party, (how cool is it that rabbit threw a post-race party) where all the Boston rabbits and friends could get together to share our stories of how the race went for each of us. This was an awesome way to hear about everyone’s race and the experiences they had. I think we all agreed the race was amazing, but the heat was tough, as people dealt with muscle cramps, extreme fatigue and even collapsing once or twice on the final stretch to the finish. Somehow, despite all the suffering endured, we had smiles on our faces as we shared our stories. I will be telling my story, of the time I ran in the Boston Marathon, for the rest of my days.
- Tyler Hansen, BOSTONrabbit