Virtual Boston Marathon 2021 Race Recap


The pandemic has turned all our lives upside down so it’s good that there is at least one upside – the ability to run the Boston Marathon, virtually. They had a virtual edition last year and we don’t know if the 2021 will be the last of its kind for another few years or maybe another 125. We don’t know.

I took advantage of the opportunity and managed to qualify by signing up faster than the 10,001st person to register and I secured a spot. 

That was back in March and since then I have been training, working on improving my diet and have been counting calories to release some weight.

My last blood test revealed that my A1C glucose levels are at a healthy range after fall of 2020’s test results showed that I was at a diabetic level again. Check.

And, I’ve been watching everything that I eat and am down 12 pounds since March. Check two.

In terms of training, I’ve been setting new highs for training over and over again. For the first time ever, I was able to run over 200k for a month for the past 3 months. Check three. 

After a successful Sean O’Brien 30k, I was riding high and was ready for the Virtual Boston Marathon.

We had a 3-day window in which to complete the 26.2 mile activity. I chose Friday so I would have the whole 3 days in case weather turned to cr@p and I had to re-schedule the day.

The weather report said there could be rain but I went ahead and picked the Friday.

I made a big decision and did not use the net downhill course that I had trained on. I didn’t want the hassle of finding transportation to Ojai so I started at my usual Ventura Beach launching point, a free lot near the Emma Woods RV area. I knew this could jeopardize the downhill run strategy that I was banking on to get a fast time but I would just see what would happen.

I headed off around 8:30am and it was cool and damp from the night’s rain. I wore a short sleeve New Basin Blues running group shirt which would be warm enough for a couple of hours but not too hot if the temperature picked up too much in the last morning.

I had also planned on doing a series of out and backs, using my car as the aid station but that plan changed as well. I’ll get to that in a bit.

After I took a pre-race selfie and started the run the legs felt OK but there wasn’t any kind of big rush of adrenaline to catapult me forward. The first couple of miles were OK but they were slower than I thought they would be. The third was slower and it was already at this point where I figured by “A” goal was going to slip away. I thought I would do 4 miles out on PCH then go back to the car and do the next out and back towards the Ventura Beach area but decided to do another mile on PCH, then another. 

Yeah, A goal was not going to happen. This was starting to fee a lot like the long run I did in training here which wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t fast or snappy. The thought of doing a bunch of out and backs to the car no longer seemed appealing. I had on a hydration vest and also a single bottle waist belt so I had a good amount of hydration. I just felt like staying on PCH and seeing where it would lead me.

Mile 4 came and went, I did one more, then another and eventually I hit the furthest point I had run up PCH. If you are not familiar with this part of the highway – by the way, PCH is Pacific Coast Highway – this is a two way highway with about an 8 foot shoulder that is used by bikes and pedestrians. Cars zoom by and bikers/runners are not protected but there are bike lanes. There are parts of PCH that are further south of Oxnard and those are right up against crazy speeding traffic. I ran up against traffic so I could see cars. At that point I would run in the bike lane which has been recently re-asphalted and it pretty nice. When a car approaches though I move in more on the rough part of the road and that always slows me down.

Miles 6 and 7 passed and I was still running every step but slow. The overall time wasn’t the biggest factor at this point. I was more about viewing this as a journey. I kept going and saw that in the middle of the highway there was a split between the highway and the 101 freeway and there was a strawberry field in between. Farmworkers were hard at work. This was an interesting site. 

I kept going and hit mile 10 and the road went under the highway and onto a protected bike path. I knew there was a bike path but never knew how to get to it. This went right next to the 101. After being on the bike path for another mile it dumps out to a road where there is a freeway onramp and exit. As soon as I crossed the road my watch beeped 11 miles and I turned back. 

When I got to the start of the bike path again I took a quick break at a port o potty then continued running. Right about there is when I first started walking. My legs felt heavy and while my “I feel fine” chant trick my work with 6 miles to go in a race with a lot of downhill, it wasn’t going to work with a flat 14 miles to go. I tried to run walk but any running felt super forced. It was time to get my mind right to make these last miles as painless as possible so I could actually finish the distance.

During training, I did a half marathon on this same part of PCH. I did a 6.6 out and 6.6 mile back run and finished feeling sluggish. Nothing had changed.

As I continued to walk mostly then run a little, I hit the half marathon point in under 3 hours. Even though I knew I was going to be doing a lot more walking at the much slower pace, I was a bit surprised that I had even gone that fast. 

When I got to 30K, around 18.6 miles, I found that I was just a bit of the time ahead of where I was when I did the Sean O’Brien 30k only the SOB race had several thousands of feet of elevation gain. I laughed because it seemed like all the training I had done wasn’t targeted towards a fast marathon time but a “fast” 30k time on the trails. 

I finally got to the car at mile 20 and I had just hit the 5 hour mark. B had cut up some watermelon for me and I had made a couple of PB&J sandwiches. I took down some watermelon and stretched a bit and felt better. I grabbed a sandwich and started eating it as I continued down towards Surfer’s Point. 

I ran a little and walked mostly and the miles started to click by. It was a Friday so there weren’t that many people at the beach. I get energy from being around people so a weekend crowd would have helped me more in this section. And, because I was walking a ton I felt a bit down that here I was doing a marathon and not shooting down this beautiful seaside path. 

There’s a part of the beach where there is a little half mile loop but it is on a really rough road and that always drains me. I chose to keep going onto the road and that led me to the only traffic light on the entire course. I barely crossed the road then turned back with 3 miles to go. I wasn’t feeling horrible or hurt at this point but the legs were too tired to run much. I picked up the pace a bit the last couple of miles and was happy when I got back to the car, finishing up my first road marathon in 6 hours and 44 minutes. My moving time was 6:38 so I did a great job not wasting too much time along the course.

Takeaways and general thoughts

These virtual races are tough. A regular race atmosphere provides a lot of energy, a sense of competition, friends, food and drinks and a set course. A virtual race is a design your own kind of deal. I’d be interested to see if there is any kind of study on the time differences between a virtual race times and actual times while at similar fitness levels.

One of the decisions I made was not to use any structured race plan. That might sound like a path to failure but, structured plans can also lead to confusion (difficult to understand how to do a specific workout), burnout (if you don’t want to do the workout at the time you’re supposed to), and can de-motivate you and cause you to not do any of the plan and to not do any training.

Now, I had no idea if I could make it through such a crazy long training block and work on other goals at the same time. I was just trying to get the miles in. But when I ask the tough question of why I wasn’t able to get closer to my race goal of hitting a 5 hour marathon, the answer has to be that I didn’t do the necessary workouts to push my speed and to help me assess where I was. The closest I would do is a 6 mile run with two or three miles as sub marathon pace. These workouts were sporadic and too short. The multiple half marathon runs that I did were all at the 3 hour mark. There’s no way I was going to hit a 5-hour marathon if I couldn’t at least crush a 2 hour 30 half marathon. I expected that to happen with the increased mileage I was doing but those workouts never happened.

I went back to see what kind of training I was doing back in the 2014/2015 era when I was running a 2:33 half marathon and I was doing a lot of speed work. I was going to the track once or twice a week and doing 8 x 400 workouts. With all the tracks being closed that hasn’t been an option and even if the track was open I probably wouldn’t have gone because I’ve been doing most of my running in the morning. 

When you miss your big goal, it’s easy to beat yourself up about it. I know that even the fastest people in the world beat themselves up after their best performances. That’s the spirit of someone who always wants to progress but it also can cheat you from a chance to celebrate.

My fastest marathon, although it was a mountainous one, was 9 hours and 47 minutes. I improved my time by three hours. My fastest estimated marathon was 8 hours and 13 minutes (set during my Leona Divide 50k race). I beat that by a hour and a half. That’s a massive PR and that’s something that I am proud of.

If I keep training on the roads and get in the right kind of workouts I think I can shave a lot more time off my new marathon PR. 

What’s next?

I’m looking forward to doing the Leona Divide 50k next month. I’m riding this current fitness and knowing the course fairly well, I think the road running will pay off big time. Shall I set another big goal? I want to shave off two hours off my 2016 time and cross the finish line in under 8 hours. 

I hope your racing is going well, now that things are opening up more and more. What do you have coming up? Will you be at Leona Divide as well this year? Let me know and make sure to say Hi!