Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Running with the Elites

For anyone watching the Boston marathon this week, you surely noticed the one runner who didn't belong. 

Sometime before the10k mark, right up there with Desisa, Meb, and the other top contenders, there was a runner with his bib number on his front.  The elites wear their names on the front and their numbers on the back, but everyone who does not get assigned a name bib wears the bib number on the front.  A simple way to see who has been invited to race.  His was the only "front" number in the lead pack. 

This guy was wearing number 162 (thanks Jennifer for noting it, I'd missed it, and I was dying to be able to look him up!).  Since the race is roughly 30,000 runners seeded by time, I knew the number 162 meant business.  I have a couple friends who are very fast, and they got 3 digit numbers, but even they weren't in the 100s.  I suppose the fact that number 162 was hanging with the leaders after 6 miles was another clue that he wasn't fooling around.  If it had been a number in the thousands, I would have assumed he cut the course somehow or jumped in late, but with a low number, it was pretty clear that he'd been hanging near the pack. 

The commentators kind of made fun of him.  He was up there at the front for long enough that they went to the trouble of pulling up his name, but they were clear in saying that he didn't belong. 

I have mixed feelings about it.  I'll note at the outset that his info says he is from Fort Worth, but I don't know him, and as far as I know, no one I know knows him (or else I bet it would have been all over FB!). 

For the record, the commentators were right, he set himself up for a crash and burn.  He had a massive positive split. 

Some positive split is normal at Boston, but that's a big positive split.  That's no good. 

Basically his paces went from a 5:14average for the first 5k, to an overall average of 5:30 over 10k, to 5:52 over 15, to 6:07 over 20k, which is the first 4 markers.  That meant that his actual pace on each 5k was even slower than that since I was just looking at overall pace to date.  He hit the half at 1:20, which would have put him on track for a 2:41 if he held steady, but he ended with a 3:04:57.  His overall pace was 6:08 on the first half, and a 7:57 average for the second half.  Yow.  Note that I'm not claiming he's slow.  I can't run a 3:04:57 full to save my life.  Massively impressive.  But I can guess that it hurt a lot to go from a 5:14 pace in the first 5k to the 8:46 pace he ran from 30k to 35k. 

I've never been there at the 5:14 pace, but I'm sure I have slowed down by 3.5 minutes per mile in a race before, and I'm sure it was not pretty or fun.  I recognize I'm making assumptions -- maybe he really wanted to get the experience of running with the winners and thrilling his friends and family who saw him on camera, and then just chilling out and having fun, soaking up the course.  But maybe he wanted to hang and at least get the 2:40 overall.  Maybe (probably?) the positive split hurt. 

So I get what the commentators were saying about him not belonging there up there with the leaders around mile 5 or wherever it was. 

But at the same time, as the commentators acknowledged, it's part of the beauty of this sport, particularly the marathon.  It's one of the only sports (the only?) in the world where us mortals can be out there at the same time and on the same course, competing with the best in the world.  Anyone who is in that race, or pretty much any other race, can go for the win.  Sure, you have to qualify for some races, like Boston, the Olympic Trials, or the Olympics, but if you've made that cut, then you're game to win it.  Of course at something like Boston, there is a huge seeding process that means even if one of my friends had run the race in two hours flat, the fastest marathon ever, he or she wouldn't have been up with the leaders since they all started at least 4 minutes later (and it was my friends with the 3 digit numbers that started 4-5 minutes back; most people are 10, 15, 20, 30 or more minutes behind the elites, depending on their wave and corral assignments).  But in Boston, if you've earned a bib number in the 100s, you're starting very close in time to the elites, and if you're fast enough to hang with them, you can do it.  And if you're fast enough to beat them, then you get all that glory.

So while part of me thinks bib 162 was just going for his 5 minutes of fame, and there's almost always someone who does!, part of me thinks, hey, more power to him, that must have been fun!  Though yeah, I bet the next couple hours weren't quite as much fun if he really was crashing and burning.

He managed to get his re-Q by just a couple seconds, so he gets to go back next year and try again.   Though if he doesn't get a faster re-Q, he won't have a bib number in the 100s again. 

EDITED:  Wait!  162 and I do have a mutual friend!  There's a very popular runner in Dallas that some call Mr. O.  I think everybody who runs in Dallas seems to know him.  He's fast on the roads and on the trails, a recent cancer survivor, a teacher, a tattoo-buddy for those who want company, older than anyone would ever guess, pretty much the nicest guy you could ever meet, and a friend to all.  Anyway, Mr. O just shared a story on FB, an article about our friend 162, and congratulated him on his minutes of fame.  Apparently 162 was so happy his daughters got to see him on TV!  It was his one and only Boston, and he wanted to run with the elites, regardless of whether that meant he'd be "carrying a piano later" as one of the commentators said.  He's a professional triathlete and he's got a sub-30 10k PR -- he indeed earned that bib number in the 100s!  His goal was to lead the race for about 3 miles.  He thought he could do that based on past elite paces, but the elites this year started with a 4:37 mile, which is apparently just on the edge for 162, and he had to run a 4:27 to catch the elites, but he went for it and succeeded in his goal!  He apparently led the race for less than 2 miles he thinks, but what a cool memory for him.  I'm happy.  Yow -- a 4:27 mile to start the marathon.  No wonder there was an 8:47 average 5k later!  Hope he was just enjoying the course and soaking it all in.  As Kris Lawrence said in her Boston recap, "the memories are sometimes (most times) more important than the time on the clock."

Here's the article Mr. O shared:


  1. I think there's always one up there with the leaders, just wanting his picture on TV - and they always crash and burn! I remember one year this guy was taking a Gu at like mile 4 or something - right before falling off pace.

  2. Thanks for solving the mystery! I was thinking what you were--he likely just wanted to run with the elites while knowing he'd pay for it in the end. It sounds like he met his goal, so more power to him! And you're right that that's the beauty of the sport--there's a place for everyone, and, even if only for a short time, sometimes that's right up front.

  3. What a story! I was wondering about that guy. It's kind of sweet that he was excited for his daughters to see him on TV, but I can't imagine the let down and pain as he couldn't hold the pace any longer.