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Dr. Erik Heine's 2018 Boston Marathon Recap

Training for and running a marathon is an experience that is difficult to describe, and once it is over, it is easy to fall into a bit of a depression, as the monumental task has finally been accomplished. While I’m not feeling depressed, I’m still coming to terms with where I’ve gone on this process. I guess I should start with the days before the race…

Click the image below to watch Heine cross the finish line.

Erik Heine Boston Marathon

The Weekend Before

Leading up to the race, which was on April 16, I’d already run close to 750 miles for the calendar year. I arrived in Boston, with my wife, healthy and injury-free. My legs felt strong and I was excited about running. We spent Saturday, April 14, exploring and walking around Boston. We went to the Paul Revere House, among other sights, and enjoyed a reasonably good day of weather. Sunday’s weather was entirely different. The temperature hung around 32 degrees all day, with light snow flurries and a powerful wind that brought the wind chill down to 20 degrees. We went to the Marathon Expo, picked up my bib and race packet, did a little shopping, and headed back to the hotel to rest for the race the following day. I tried to go to sleep early, around 8:30 p.m., but didn’t really fall asleep until almost 11 p.m.

Pre-Race

On Marathon Monday, I woke up at 5 a.m., got dressed, gathered my belongings, and headed to the train station across the street from my hotel to head to the finish line and drop off my gear. The temperature was 35 degrees with a steady rain and 20 mph wind. I sat next to a gentleman from Ohio who was a CPA and enjoying not doing people’s taxes the weekend before they were due. After depositing my warm clothes at the finish line, we walked a little over 0.7 miles to the buses at Boston Common that would drive us to the start line in Hopkinton. The walk in the rain and wind made it challenging to keep the poncho hood covering my head and to keep my feet dry. Once on the school buses, we were, at least, out of the rain, but the buses were not warm.

My seat-mate on the bus was an actual rocket scientist who works for Space-X in Los Angeles. He designed the rockets for the Falcon Heavy project that launched in February. This was his 21st consecutive Boston Marathon. His advice to me was to try to take in the entire experience, don’t spend everything in the first half of the race, and that the hills wouldn’t be that bad. He also said that the miles would absolutely fly by. The bus ride took about 75 minutes, and as we neared Hopkinton, we saw snow on the ground.

Once we arrived, it was a quarter-mile walk to the Athletes’ Village, a place that is normally buzzing, but on this day, was a muddy mess. Most people just looked for a small plot of real estate under the tent, pulled their knees toward their chest, and tried to stay warm for an hour and a half. I sat next to a man from Maryland who works in research and development for a pharmaceutical company. This was his 8th consecutive Boston Marathon, and he’d already qualified for the 2019 race. We chatted for quite some time and had a nice conversation before we headed out for the 0.7 mile walk to the starting corrals. 

The walk was unpleasant—wind, rain, cold. We were not warm, and now, we weren’t that dry. Everyone was still wearing their disposable sweats and rain ponchos, and some people even chose to begin the race in their pre-race gear. I was shepherded into my corral, Corral 1 in Wave 2, where we had to wait another 15-20 minutes before our wave started at 10:25am. At 10:15, I took my pre-race Gu. At 10:22, I stripped off my sweats and got ready to go. At 10:25, we started running. The weather was 38 degrees, raining, and we would be running into a headwind for 26 miles; I could see my breath. The word of the day was “survival.”

2018 Boston Marathon Race Map

2018 Boston Marathon Race Map

Miles 1-11

Most of the first six miles of the race, through Hopkinton, Ashland, and Framingham, are downhill, so it’s very easy to start too quickly and burn out long before the finish line. I had a plan to run very conservatively because of the weather, and hit my first mile in 6:51, right where I wanted it. 

At some point in that first mile, I thought to myself, “I’m actually running the Boston Marathon,” almost became misty-eyed, pushed the emotion back down, and focused on the task. 

My 5K time was 21:04, and 10K was 42:14, nearly even splits through just over six miles. But at that point, I knew it wasn’t going to be my day. Although I wasn’t breathing hard at all, my legs just weren’t getting warm and loose, especially my calves. When I went to take my Gu after Mile 7, I could barely grab the water cup because my hands were so cold. It was a challenge to tear the packet open, and a bigger challenge to actually get all of the contents out. The water/Gu stop cost me over a minute of time. From there, I don’t remember much until about Mile 12. My bus-mate was right: the miles passed extremely quickly. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the town of Natick was uninteresting, but I couldn’t feel my fingers, my feet were soaked, and it was hard to see because of the rain blowing in my eyes.

Miles 12-14 

Why Mile 12? Just before Mile 12, I heard it in the distance: the famed Wellesley Scream Tunnel. This was the pick-me-up that I, and likely everyone else, needed. The students at Wellesley College come out for the marathon and scream for hours on end, some offering kisses of support to the runners. While I didn’t steal a kiss (and yes, I did have permission!), I took some high-fives, about 150 or so in a row. We passed the 20K mark (about 12.5 miles) somewhere in the scream tunnel. I looked at my watch as I exited the tunnel – I was running a 6:35/mile pace, and I felt strong. This was my favorite part of the race. The course went down a hill and took us to the halfway point, which I hit at 1:31:38, still conservative, but I wasn’t finishing in under three hours like I had hoped had the weather been good. Somewhere in the next mile, things started to fall apart.

 

Erik Heine
Erik Heine at mile 24 of the Boston Marathon

Miles 15-20

I took my next Gu after Mile 14, but my hands were so cold that I really struggled trying to grab a cup of water and trying to open my gel packet. I lost nearly two minutes at this stop, and it was so awful that I decided to forgo my last Gu at Mile 21 because I knew my hands wouldn’t be getting any warmer. My legs continued to stay tight, and I started to feel like if I pushed to run faster, I’d pull a calf muscle or a hamstring. I don’t remember much about running through the town of Wellesley. I remember when it ended, though, as Newton is famous for its four hills, the last of which is known as “Heartbreak Hill.” A deep drop took me across the 25K mark, and then into Newton. I wish I could say that I charged up all four of those hills, but I can’t. My leg muscles wouldn’t let me shift gears. I passed runners on each of the hills, and a couple passed me, but the cold temperatures were unkind to my legs. Once again, my bus-mate was right––those hills really weren’t that bad.

Miles 21-26.2

Once I reached the crest of Heartbreak Hill, I had just over five miles to go. I looked down at my watch, and didn’t like what I saw. Again, the word “survival” popped into my head. Getting to the finish line on this day was going to be the primary objective. Time goals were no longer important. Miles 21-24 went quickly, even though they were some of my slowest of the day. I knew my wife would be waiting for me at Mile 24, so that provided a little boost, but I still couldn’t shift into another gear because of my cold muscles. At Mile 25, passing Fenway Park, the noise began to grow, and knowing that the finish line was near was both a blessing and a curse. This mile seemed to take forever. Then, the “right on Hereford, left on Boylston” happened. The finish line was in sight. I still couldn’t put in a finishing kick, but it didn’t matter. I crossed the finish line in 3:16:15, a miserable second-half time of nearly 1:45:00. But, as I told someone earlier in the day, 

“If the worst thing that happens to me today is that I finish the Boston Marathon, it’s a pretty great day.” It was miserable and brutal, but great. I survived it.

It’s easy to think that my experience was a disappointment, but it was not. Emotion is largely how something is framed. Why was I running the Boston Marathon in the first place? To meet a time goal? No. I was doing it to inspire people to help me fund an endowed scholarship for music students at Oklahoma City University. By doing the work and preparation, I was able to meet a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon. 

Participating in the famous race was the objective, but finishing the race in the adverse conditions shows how far I’m willing to go to support my students. 

It shows that even though I didn’t meet my desired time, I still completed it. It shows that despite the cold, the rain, and the wind, I still completed it. It shows that even though I couldn’t feel my hands for most of the race, or my feet for the last six miles, I still completed it. 

It shows that even though things won’t always break your way, you still need to finish the task. 

Post-Race Reflection

It was not the race that I wanted, but it was the race that I got. As musicians, we can’t always control the venue, the sound system, or the stage. As runners, we certainly can’t control the weather. I was ready to run much faster, but it was not to be on this day, and I am content with it.

According to the Boston Athletic Association, 26,948 people began the 2018 Boston Marathon, and 25,746 people finished it, 95.5% of those who started. While my time may not have been what I had hoped for, I finished 4518 out of 25,746, easily in the top 20% of finishers on this day. Bib numbers for this race are assigned based on qualifying times. I had bib number 8561, so there were about 8000 people with faster qualifying times than me. My finish saw me ahead of many of those people. Because of the horrible weather, now I get to tell people that I ran the 2018 Boston Marathon, and, like all stories, I’m sure the weather will get a little worse with each passing year.

After completing the marathon, I’ve had multiple people tell me to requalify so that I can run it again. I’m not interested. The marathon is not a great distance for me. Both my mind and my body know it. People think I’ll change my mind. I won’t. I have other things to accomplish, in respect to running, in respect to my job, and with my family. It gives me great joy in knowing that my last marathon was for the students at Oklahoma City University. Having the star on my shirt for the race makes me proud.

If you’re wondering, What’s next, I’ll tell you. I’m running the Oklahoma City Memorial Half Marathon on April 29, pushing my son in his running wheelchair. I have three articles due in June, one in July, one in August, a brief book chapter due in October, and one, possibly two, conference presentations in November. I’ll be engaging in other work, and likely fundraising for other organizations, but my fundraising task for the Deb Heine Endowed Scholarship is still incomplete. We have approximately $15,000 to go before I can be satisfied. Please consider donating and helping one deserving student per year finish their degree. 

When I was struggling in the last few miles in Boston, I thought about how my students were depending on me to cross that finish line. Now, I’m depending on the help and support of you to get this endowed scholarship across its finish line. 

Read the history of my running for Oklahoma City University students, including winning a 12-hour race, here

Help fund the Deb Heine Endowed Scholarship!

Donate here