Quest to Qualify Series: Ken

For many runners, qualifying for the Boston Marathon is the pinnacle of their running careers. Some are talented enough to nab a qualification on their first marathon attempt, while most work for years to finally run a qualifying time. And qualifying is not always enough, With Boston Athletic Association’s already tough standards, in recent years a cut off time was put into place due to a higher volume of qualifiers, causing qualified runners to lose a spot.

The Rogue Racers Quest to Qualify Series will tell the story of each of the Rogue founders’ journey to their first Boston Qualifier. In this, hopefully you will find inspiration and motivation to keep pushing and keep improving.

Ken

I started running at the age of 41 after many years of not taking care of myself. I started off running about one or two miles about twice per week on a gym treadmill. On my 42nd birthday, I ran my first half marathon and was absolutely hooked. I ran two more half marathons that summer before running my first full, the 2011 Columbus marathon.

That marathon hurt; in typical beginner style, I went out too fast and was not properly fueled. I hit the wall hard at 19 miles but somehow managed to hang in there and hit my goal of being under 3:45. At that point, I really did not believe I would ever be capable of qualifying for Boston and I wasn’t sure I would ever want to put myself through that pain again.

A year later, I found myself back in Columbus for my third marathon and first BQ. What a great race that was for me. I never hit a wall and felt fantastic the whole race. The realization that I was going to qualify for Boston was an amazing feeling and I felt a wave of emotions as I crossed the finish line in 3:07:06.

Registration for Boston 2013 had closed a couple of weeks before that marathon so I would have to wait until 2014 to go to Boston. So I sat in my cubicle at work during the 2013 marathon tracking the dozen or so friends who were there. I remember seeing on the tracking website that my last friend had crossed the finish line so I closed the browser and started to go about my day. Around ten minutes later, I started seeing text messages asking is anyone had heard if this person or that person was okay. I thought this was really bizarre and began to realize something really bad had happened. So I jumped on CNN to learn that two bombs had gone off near the finish line. I was shocked and horrified but relieved that I knew all my friends had already crossed the finish line.

The bombings in 2013 made the 2014 Boston Marathon pretty special. There were crowds of people everywhere and the atmosphere and anticipation were electrifying. I had arrived on Saturday and toured the finish line area and picked up my packet. I tried to stay off my feet as much as possible the day before the marathon, but hard to do when you have your family with you and you’re visiting a city as historic as Boston.

I woke up early marathon morning and took the train downtown, dropped off my gear check bag and boarded the bus. Security was extremely tight and the bus ride really made me realize how far I was going to have to run to get back to Boylston Street. It was chilly as I sat there in Athlete’s Village, but the sky was clear and it would warm up quickly.

The walk from Athlete’s Village to the starting corrals was amazing. There were people out in front of their houses routing us on. I remember one group of people offering cups of beer, which I declined. I also remember another family in front of their house passing out sunscreen. I once again declined but would later regret it.

I was pretty nervous standing in the starting corral but also very excited to get going. My goal was to try to run a steady 6:50ish pace the entire race. It was easy to maintain that pace in the beginning of the race, especially with all the downhill during the first 6 miles. It was very crowded, but most people were moving my pace. I do remember seeing someone go down hard early on after being tripped. That made me nervous.

I heard several times that you should take it easy on the downhills because they would tear up your quads. Unfortunately, I was overconfident and ignored that advice. But it didn’t take me long to figure out that my legs were not responding well to the downhills. I quickly realized how the lack of hill training was going to make this a tough run. By mile 11, my legs were already quite fatigued and I knew I was in trouble.

By the time I reached the Newton hills I was hurting and the temperature was rising. Because the race doesn’t start until 10 am, the sun was already getting high and I could tell I was starting to get a sunburn. Heartbreak Hill really did me in and by mile 21 I found myself waking for the first time in a marathon. I felt horrible. The warm weather was getting to me and my legs were shot. But this is where  Boston really stands out. As I walked I could hear and see crowds of people yelling for me. Literally looking right at me and cheering me on. And when I would start running again, I would hear them erupt in cheer. Wow! It was amazing and emotional. It really helped me to keep going. I took a number of walk breaks those last five miles, and each time it would happen again. The crowd would push for me and every other struggling runner out there. It was fantastic.

Crossing the finish line on Boylston Street was an incredible feeling. Physically, I was hurting badly but mentally I was ecstatic. Although I was well short of my goal and disappointed with my performance, I knew I learned so much from this race and was already looking forward to going back the following year.

Read about other Rogue Racers’ Quest to Qualify stories here.

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