Boston Marathon 2003

Injury recovery

Reckless training, racing and the steep down hills in the first few miles of Clarence DeMar Marathon resulted in my right hip and/or upper hamstring injury at about mile 10 of the marathon on 9/30/2001. Continued recklessness reinjured the spot again and again, and together with improper stretching, finally caused an injury at the middle point of my right hamstring. I knew every right thing to do to heal my injury, but execution deviates from theoretical thinking to a great degree. Boston 2002 had to be skipped painfully. Year 2002 turned out to be a marathon free year. What a shame! My normal training did not resume until the end of 2002.

Battling the bitter 2002-03 winter.

The 2003-03 winter was by far the most bitter winter that I had ever experienced since I moved to New England in late 1996. I happened to quit the health club (Healthtrax in Beverly, MA) half a year before the winter started. I joined the club a four years ago mainly to help training in the winter during severe weather. After enjoying the club for a few years, I thought I could not afford the time to go to the club at least a few times each month to justify the cost and I could get through the winter without using treadmills by just being a little bit tougher. I found that I needed to be significantly tougher to get through the 2003-03 winter during which wearing balaclava was necessary most of the time. Wearing balaclava means no high intensity work because it makes breathing difficult. When the roads were slippery or snowy, for my safety and the benefit of motor vehicle drivers I could only run a few miles each time in a residential area where there is little traffic. The health club would have been the most useful during this winter.

My average weekly mileage is miserly 56 miles from 1/1/2003 to 4/2/2003. High intensity workouts such as speed work and hill work are scarce. I tried my best to maintain the most important workout for marathoning - long run, but I could only get 8 long runs during this period, however the quality of these long runs was not bad. They include two races: Boston Prep 16 Miler on 1/26/03 (1:48:03, 6:45/mile, 31st/436, extremely hill course), Stu 30K on 3/2/03 (2:05:56, 6:45/mile, 16th/358, in freezing rain and sleet). The last two are 22.8-mile with Jeff Ingalls on 3/8/03 (7:27/mile), 22-mile on 3/22/03 (7:15/mile).

Forced extended tapering

I usually taper for 10 days before a marathon. I had abort a hill work on 4/3/03 due to stomach ache. Fever followed. It turned out to be a food poison. It took four days to completely recover from this. I am proud of my immune system that handled this without any pills except some antacids. April snow followed my recovery. By 4/10/03, my seven-day mileage fell to 10.2 miles, the lowest since 5/3/2001. This made me more determined to make my plan-B - running the Boston cautiously and do an all-out marathon in late May or early June.

On 4/12/03 (9 days before the marathon), out of desperation, I went out in bright sunshine after a pouring rain to do a 19.3 miler. The temperature was above 10°C. I was running toward Crane Beach hoping the sea breeze would help me. My hands were numb by mile 10 and it made me expect trouble would come. I felt OK at mile 17 and ran it in 6:38, then the next two mile in 10:43 and 10:38, with less than 100 meters from my home my leg muscles started to cramp and I had to walk very slowly. My face was covered with crystals and the dehydration is about 2 kg (more than 3% of my weight). This refreshed my memory of the numerous dehydration cases that I have suffered in my long runs or marathons.

The last week

I did a hill workout consisting of 16 uphill repeats with relatively low intensity on 4/15 followed by an easy 3 miler the next day.

On 4/17/03, four days before the big day, I did a 13.9 miler to deplete my glycogen store (windy at 30 km/h, mile lap times: 8:33 7:52 7:49 7:16 7:18 6:48 4:22 (0.6 miles) 6:40 6:48 6:42 6:36 6:51 6:35 6:30 1:33 (0.3 miles). This run told me that I am in sub-3 shape. I ran 2.6 miles every day in the following three days.

Starting from Friday. 4/18, I kept my urine clear by hydrating me frequently. I increased the carbohydrate portion of my meals slightly. As always, I followed my taste buds closely.

On Saturday, 4/19, I stopped by All Asia Cafe in Cambridge for a quick lunch (seafood special) on my way to the expo at Hynes Convention Center where I picked up my race packet. I did not find any interesting running apparels, shoes or souvenirs. I almost bought an electric scooter for the sake our environment, but its claimed range10 miles is barely enough to cover my round trip to work. I bought three bags of Stacy's chips that excited my taste buds. To my surprise I met Bobbi Gibb, the inspiring first female Boston Marathon runner, at Tom Derderian's table. She autographed her little book To Boston with Love. Tom is the author of multiple books about Boston Marathon that I have read all. It is always a pleasure to see his truly running family. I red Bobbi's book in the evening. Her beautiful writing, interesting drawings reflects what a wonderful human being she is. Her genuine love for running and nature, her kind heart, courage, determination and wisdom have made her one of the most lovable runners for me. She is donating all the proceeds from the book to the Angel Fund that raises money to conquer amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

I couldn't help finishing a bag of Stacy's Pita Chips Texarkana Hot BBQ, the fattest one of Stacy's chips. My taste buds urged me to do this.

I stayed at home on Sunday, 4/20 without going to the B.A.A Freedom Run that was called International Friendship Run before. Recently I developed some temporary distaste of the word "Freedom". I left my beloved motherland for this great nation mainly for her freedom and opportunities. I truly appreciate the freedom than most other people enjoying it and I understand the frustration, fear and hopelessness caused by totalitarianism more than those who have never tasted it.

Instead of going to the Pre-race pasta dinner at City Hall Plaza that usually is a lot fun, I made my own pasta using sun-dried tomatoes. It disappointed my taste buds and I had to swallow it just for the sake of getting its carbohydrate. I have not been able to find a good pasta sauce after trying a dozen or so. I miss seeing the lovely Boston Billy who is always at the pre-race dinner. My neighbor Pizzo family gave me a hearty steak dinner. I finished the shrimps, potatoes, vegetables and the pie, but left the steak for post-race recovering.

This year, I did not have extra duties as I did in previous four years because Chinese Athletic Association decided not to send any athletes to the Boston due to the Iraq war following the instruction from the Foreign Affairs Ministry. This is unfortunate because they have been steadily making progress at the Boston. Yingjie place 4th last year. Both Yingjie and Yanan have the potential to contend the title. I usually met them before the race and congratulate them at the award ceremony followed by a banquet at my favorite Chinese restaurant in Brookline - Sichuan Garden.

I went to bed at 22:30 after trimming my toenails. My mind had been very calm and relaxed in the past week.

Pre-race on the race day

I got up at 5:00 and finished my oatmeal and multi-grain bread breakfast at 6:00. My mind was still very calm but my renal and GI systems got nervous. I went to the bathroom three times before I got out of my home at 6:15 to try to reach the bus at Boston Common by 8:00, 15 minutes later than planed, but I gave me 30 minutes safety margin. It takes me about 1 hour to get there.

I stopped by my favorite grocery store - Wild Oats Natural Marketplace to get my last carbo-loading meal. To my surprise, the store does not open until 8:00. Aren't most health conscious people who are the main customers of such store morning persons? I decided to go to Shaws supermarket at the next exit. I missed the exit but fortunately a drive way to a shopping plaza near the exit allowed me to reach Shaws. I grabbed a few organic bananas and a loaf the only fresh-baked bread - Italian bread (my favorite is French baguette). I had to use the bathroom again. When I rushed to my car I found the organic bananas were not ripe at all. I had to go back to get some conventionally grown bananas.

I parked my car on Memorial Drive near the Science Library of MIT and headed to a Red Line T-station. T was supposed to be free for marathon runners on the race day, but I paid the fare by mistake. I arrived at Boston Common at 8:00 and found long lines of people waiting for bus. I trusted BAA would have enough bus to transport all runners to Hopkinton in time. I went to a Porta-Jons and then sat on a park bench reading with my Pocket PC and drinking Gatorade. I went to the bus line at 8:30 when it was supposed to be the end of bus transportation, but there were still lines of runners. I waited till 9:15 after going to the Porta-Jons again and saw no sign of bus coming, I decided to take my last meal of Italian bread and fermented tofu. This is the first time I did not eat Chinese steamed buns as my pre-marathon meal because I ran out them. This should not matter. All I need is some low-residue (i.e. low fiber) carbohydrate food. I hit the Porta-Jons again before getting on a bus of the very last fleet at 9:48 and striking a good talk with Bill from LA. I ate a power bar on the bus (a mistake!)

It was 10:40 when we arrived at the Athletes' Village. I started looking for Porta-Jons immediately after getting off the bus. My experience at the Boston was paying off. Instead of joining the lines of more than 50 people each in the Village, I went to a side street near the corrals where each line has fewer than a dozen people, then I went to an shaded area near my bag bus to complete my pre-race ritual - wearing Championchip, pining my bib number, changing clothes, putting on sunscreen and anti-chaping cream, stretching. I handed my bag to the bag bus at 11:30, then headed to the Porta-Jons again.

The temperature was in 22°C, higher than forecast. I could have worn just shorts and singlet, but to warm me up to combat the heat, I was wearing a long sleeve T-shirt from Paul Perry 5 miler race and a pair of Docker's Khakis pants that were among the clothes set aside to donate to Big Brother and Big Sister's Foundation. I had no time find Jeff Ingalls near the Church. It was 11:50 when I entered #2 corral. By this time, I had used toilets 9 times in the morning each lasted more than 5 minutes except the last one. My GI and renal systems were scared.

The race

I took off my pants and long sleeve T-shirt and threw them to the volunteers collecting shed clothes at 11:55. I drank the last drop of water in a bottle. By now, I had drunk three 0.591-litter bottles of Gatorade and one 0.5-litter bottle of spring water. The weather forecast of the day before worried ne and the higher than forecast temperature scared me. The weather condition reminded me of the two Boston Marathons (1999, 2001) where I crashed (but finished). I was nervously anticipating crashing again at certain point this time.

Two F-15 fighters roared over the sky. After US National Anthem, some runners started to shout "U.S.A.", but only a small number of people followed. I believe almost everyone in the crowd truly loves this great nation, but nowadays shouting U.S.A. indicates something beyond pure patriotism.

My bib number is 2077 so I was supposed to be in the front of #2 corral, but my fear of the heat continued to intensify gradually and I knew there are always many rabbits at the start so I stood in the back of that corral. The race started sharp at 12:00. It took only 43 seconds for me to cross the start line.

I tried to be relaxed, focused and keep a comfortable pace. I ran first four downhill miles in 6:46 6:53 6:46 6:56, flat mile 5 in 6:51. I was happy with the control of my pace. I saw waves of people passing me but it never bothered me a bit. I learnt enough about how bullets drop quickly. I felt I needed to go to the bathroom soon after the start just like at every other marathon I've run. I usually use an organic bush style bathroom that is a abundant along the first half of the course. I saw a Porta-Jons in mile 6 and decided to try it for the first time on the Boston course. A man came out of it 2 seconds before I reached the door. I cost me only 20 seconds to take care of my bladder. I ran mile 6 in 7:16.

The heat started to bother me from the very beginning (maybe psychologically initially). I heard later there was some mild tail wind. This made the heat even worse. I felt I was immersed in stagnant air being gently steamed. There was no water station probably until mile 2. I did not miss any water station. Most of the time I drank Gatorade and poured plain water to my body to cool it. After 10K, I saw few people passing me; instead, I started passing people one after another. It was encouraging. I saw North Shore Striders Mary, Mario, Rich at mile 12 water station, the permanent spot for NSS volunteers. My pace from mile 7 to 12 are 6:58 6:53 6:58 6:55 7:05, 6:53.

The 400 meter chute by Wellesley girls is always the most memorable spot of the course. The deafening screaming of the girls is usually a big speed booster. Since the heat fear factor was dominant, my speed was not boosted as much as it would have been. I finished mile 13 in 7:02.

I reached the half point in 1:30:27. I never felt the looseness and lightness of my legs that I usually do after the first 10K or so, but I did not completely gave up my hope for having a sub-3 Boston. I dared not to push me any harder, instead, I tried to maintain the same effort regardless of what my pace was. Not only did I not miss any water station for drinking and cooling, but also I started to accept the cups held out by the little hands of lovely kids. I ran mile 14-16 in 7:06 7:10 7:03.

I crashed twice in mile 17. I was nervous when approaching that mile. I felt fine after passing the bridge over Rt. 128 where I crashed last time. I was relieved but I knew crash could happen at any time under this hot weather and I was just delaying it. The spilled over Gatorade made my legs sticky and this bothered. I had to stop at a water station to wash my legs. I finished mile 17 in 7:41. The hills start from this mile and continue to mile 21. I could feel the heat was having its toll on my body. My hands were getting a b numb and my breath was getting a bit shorter. I got some ice and put them in my cap and singlet. I still felt the power bar I ate on the bus was still lingering in my stomach. I even had some minor reflux. I will never again eat such bar soon before a marathon. I did not grab any power gel when I passed the gel chute. I ran the next three miles in 7:34 7:27 7:44.

Heart Break Hill finally came. I was still fearing crash and did not dare to attack the hill. I was maintaining the same effort so my speed dropped significantly on the hill. I suddenly saw a big banner saying " Peace for Humanity" on the left sidewalk of the street. I waved to them. This banner is like a big dose of adrenaline. I almost felt my blood was boiling and my emotion was high. I wanted to fight, fight for peace. My current enemy was my body and I regarded it as Hitler. I attacked the last part of the hill. Finished mile 21 in 7:48.

It seemed that the temperature dropped a little bit, but my fear of crash continued. I kept drinking water and pouring water to my body. The inspiring banner of "Peace for Humanity" injected a fighting spirit that would last till the end. Every mile without crash is a victory. I tried to conquer them one at a time. I started to see the famous CITGO sign. I learned to ignore it because the sign seemed to be at a constant distance every time you look at it until you are really close to it. It seemed that I was passing people at higher and higher rate. I passed John Gillis in mile 24 after talking to him briefly. He looked good, but probably felt worse. He is faster than me normally. I ran mile 22 to mile 25 in 7:12 7:21 7:02 7:14.

After passing mile 25 mark, I still did not exclude the possibility of crash. I dared not to sprint, but I pushed me a bit harder. The crowd got denser and denser. I was watched and cheered in mile 26 last year and saw plenty of people in miserable form and that made me swear I would never run a marathon without being fully prepared. I stayed in the middle of the road with needle-like focus. I was trying my best to keep a good form and did not wt to cause anyan type of discouragement to spectators. Once I turned onto Boylston Street, my fear of crash ended. I started to squeeze out every drop of gas to sprint to the finish. Staying in the middle of the wide Boylston Street and hearing the roaring cheering, I felt victory and grandiose. I crossed the finish line at 3:07:52 with a chip time of 3:07:09. I ran the last 1.22 miles in 8:25 (6:54/mile). I am glad that I could run the last mile the fastest in my second half. However my second half is more than 5 minutes slower than the first. It is always disappointing to fail to run negative splits.


I planned to run a cautious race so I can execute my plan-B and the heat made me run even more slowly, so the damage of this marathon is not near as much as it would have been if it had been an all-out one. For the first time I could untie my Championchip by myself without any volunteer's help. When I turned onto Berkeley St., the funneled wind made me shiver with cold. I headed to the change tent after picking up my bag. I met John Gillis at that time. We complained about the bitter winter and the unexpected heat briefly. It was my first time to use the change tent. I entered it when it was still empty. All the chairs were folded. Soon runners started to crowd the tent. I chatted with some of them and everyone agreed that the heat was a blow.

I headed to the Arlington T-station through Newbury St. instead of a shorter route through Boylston St. I met Neil Bernstein on the train. He was upbeat as always even though he suffered from the heat badly (his second half was 17 minutes slower than the first one). He went home to attend Dave Sullivan's post-race party while I was planning to attend the official post-race party for the first time. I went into my car at MIT and had a nap of half an hour, then after giving a thought about going to an Indian buffet restaurant nearby, I decided to follow my plan to go to International Restaurant by my favorite oriental supermarket Kam Men in Quincy. I pigged myself out at International with its six bars of huge selections of food. I did my shopping, but the cooked food section was closed after I checked out. It was already 7:15. I have never been to the post-race party place - the Roxy, Matrix and Jukebox and had little idea about its parking situation. I did feel tired. After debating for 10 minutes or so in my mind while driving, I decided to head home.


I went to work for half a day the next day (4/22), then went to the Boston Public Library to attend the lecture China: Future Democracy that is enlightening but the speakers are not completely familiar with the reality especially the mentality of Chinese people in mainland China.

I ran 2.6, 2.6, 4, 2.6 miles in the following four days (4/23 - 4/26) respectively. The lower ends of both of my inner quads muscles (Vastus Medialis) were quite sore in the beginning, but soreness disappeared in three days.

On Sunday, 4/27, I ran 14.5 miles and did the last 8 miles with Jeff. We had very pleasant talk mainly about the race. I started to feel antique toward the end. After the run, I had a very enjoyable breakfast with him and his wife Maureen at Williams in Ipswich.


Mile lap times:
6:46 6:53 6:46 6:56 6:51 7:16(Porta-Jons) 6:58 6:53 6:58 6:55 7:05 6:53 7:02
7:06 7:10 7:03 7:41(wash leg) 7:34 7:27 7:44 7:48 7:12 7:21 7:02 7:14 8:25(6:54/mile).


Courtesy of B.A.A.

Category Entered Started Finished Percent
all 20223 17567 17046 97.0%
male 12626 11080 10737 96.9%
female 7597 6487 6309 97.3%
Open 18-39 9559 8235 8003 97.2%
United States of America 17362 15095 14623 96.9%
Massachusetts 4516 4145 3941 95.1%
China 5 5 5 100%

Courtesy of B.A.A.


Originally written on 4/26/2003

Online since 2003
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