I ran my first Boilermaker 15K in 2001, at the tender age of 17. It took me an hour and a half, and over the next five years, I would only improve to about 1:10. Finally, in 2006, after realizing that training year-round has huge benefits, I ran a huge PR to break 60 minutes for the first time with a 57:27. Every year since then, I have been lucky enough to finish the Boilermaker in under an hour. My times have ranged from low 54 minutes on an unseasonably cool day to 58 minutes after taking several weeks off to tramp about Europe the month before.
This year I was shooting for my 12th consecutive year under 60 minutes. Despite having a hip flexor injury in the beginning of the year, my training was progressing nicely through May. Then, my gallbladder had to be forcibly extracted, which came with a 4-week moratorium on running. I had about four weeks to train for the Boilermaker, starting at a level where even walking was still painful. To add to the worry, I also was in my friend Andy’s wedding the night before the race, out in Albany. So, I resigned myself to the fact that my streak of sub-60s might end this year.
Race day came, and my alarm woke me up in the hotel at 4:00. I was dehydrated, exhausted from dancing all night, and regretting my decision to drink as much beer and wine as I did. But I slowly re-hydrated on the drive to Utica, and by the time I parked, I was feeling mostly normal, except for some slight pains in my hip flexors. I was lucky that the weather was fairly mild; it was only 60 degrees and not at all humid.
I met up with my friend Mark Saile at the start, and we agreed to run together as he wanted to break the hour mark as well. As usual, I started out conservatively; my first 5K split was 20:02 and Mark was right beside me. We opened it up on the downhill after mile 4 and I was rewarded with a 5:40. Mark’s younger, fitter legs propelled him to an even faster time and I lost sight of him (he went on to run 57 minutes!). I split the next 5K in 19:15 feeling good. The hill from mile 6 to 7 always drains me, and this year was no exception. Still, the course is mostly downhill after that, and I was able to use that to pick up the pace. I always feel that this course affects my legs more than my lungs, so that by the last mile, I am running as fast I can while not even breathing hard. Despite this, I was able to pass many runners in the last mile, and split an even faster final 5K on 18:54 to finish well under 60 minutes with a 58:11.
Yes, this is my slowest sub-60 clocking since 2008, but it’s also my proudest. I was most worried about this year, given my lack of fitness and pre-race activities. However, I was able to stay calm and collected, and use an intelligent race strategy to achieve my goal.
So what’s the moral of this story? I think it’s two-fold:
- Don’t try to make up for lost time. I was smart and cautiously increased my mileage after my surgery to about 40 miles per week. Had I panicked and immediately started cranking out 60 mile weeks in an attempt to get fit, I have no doubt that I would be injured now. Instead, I listened to my body, carefully adjusted my training load as I healed, and went into the race as fit as I could have hoped for.
- What you do on the day before the race doesn’t have as much of an impact as you think. I had too many drinks, did not re-hydrate well enough, and danced so much that I was actually sore. But when the gun went off, I felt fine. This is why many college runners can “double” in meets; running one event one day and then coming back the next day for a different event. It takes 24-48 hours for a stressor to really affect your body, so you’ll be fine even if your preparation isn’t optimal. Don’t stress over it, and you’ll be fine.